You see, I was disabled prior to my stroke, but for the most part it was an invisible disability. I had rods and screws in my back and artificial joints. I was well qualified for the positions and also well versed in ADA.
There are several things you must do and realize before you take a cruise.
Ships are internationally registered and are not subject to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). They do not legally have to make concessions for you as a disabled person. Things like accessible bathrooms and elevator access are offered as an added benefit to customers.
Forewarned is forearmed. Ask before you book your trip and find out exactly what accommodations they offer. Saying they accept disabled persons or have reasonable accommodations is not enough.
- Access onto and off the ship. How to get around the ship. How big is the elevator?
- Bathrooms around the ship with accessibility. You might not be close to your room when the urge to go hits.
- Dining options
- Excursions- remember you are going to a foreign country. ADA does not apply. You may want to go to the underwater aquarium in the Bahamas but be aware the circular stairs going down are going to be accessible with a walker or wheelchair. Transport to various sites are by taxi, boat, or bus.
- Your room- The room they designate for handicapped passengers may not be any bigger than a standard sized room. The bathroom may have handrails and a walk-in shower. This does not mean a roll in shower. If you require a bath stool, more than likely you will have to bring your own. Ask first.
- How far is the elevators to your room? Most cruise books have drawn layouts of the floors but that does not tell you distance.
- How much does the boat rock in rough seas? Balance is of the utmost importance to prevent falls. Several of the larger cruise liners have stabilizers which minimize the rocking under normal conditions, but hurricanes, squalls, and assorted other weather conditions will provide you with a challenge in motivating.
- How available is the staff to help you if the need or an emergency arises? While a cruise line may advertise 1 crew member per 10 passengers this includes maintenance, laundry, kitchen, and other staff.
- If in doubt ask around. Find a previous person who has cruised on this ship before preferably one with disabilities similar to yours.
I cruised as a secret shopper to see just how well Carnival's ships stacked up to the ADA challenges. While some engineer or legal beagle could tell or do what accommodations should be made, it is totally different than being disabled cruising on their ships. I reported directly to the president's office with no one else the wiser. With Atlantic, Caribbean, Canal, Alaska, West Coast, Mediterranean, and Asia to choose from I never cruised the same ship twice unless requested to do so. I always booked a handicapped room. It costs more but it's more centrally located. This was a perk. But I digress...
We were practicing the emergency station drill. Where was my emergency station? Up two gangway ladders. I couldn't climb stairs.
I was snorkeling in Cozumel and dislocated my artificial hip. I was 200 ft from shore. Once back on shore, I popped the hip back in place. I spent the next two days of the cruise in a wheelchair. Traversing the ship by manual power wheelchair is a trip. When the ship is the length of two football fields with multiple levels, you'll definitely get your exercise just going to dinner.
The onboard doctor is used to treating seasickness, but can halfway handle bonafide emergencies. He is expensive!
Carry the bottle for all prescriptions including over the counter drugs. Customs, Immigration, and drug enforcement officials may board any ship. One of those weekly pill caddies should be left at home. Different countries have different ideas of what constitutes an over the counter drug. I was detained and questioned.
Once, a fellow passenger slipped and fell in the shower. He died. It just so happened that he was in the room across from ours. The entire passageway was closed and we weren't allowed out of our room for four hours. No drinks or food until the body was removed. It turned out the passenger had a heart attack in the shower. I should mention that this occurred at our scheduled dinner hour. I also had two of four young daughters (10 and 12) with me. Really tight quarters.
Like I said previously, no mechanical difficulties or the ship sinking, but I can only imagine what the cruise would be like for me now with one side paralyzed. While I've been tempted, I haven't gotten the nerve up yet to try cruising again. Then again, I'm older and wiser now. Nah! I'll keep my feet on shore for now. Now cruisin' by car is another story.
Nothing is impossible with determination.