A wheelchair user’s cruise experience

by Gilbert Tan

It was a multiple stop cruise in Asian ports. Knowing the ‘Mariner of the Seas’ docks at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre was a bonus in convenience. Though I love travel, taking an aircraft is a major logistical challenge. Now with the MRT running to Marina South Pier station, transit is economically easy though there is still a 20-minute stroll to board the ship.

Cruising removes the need for sourcing accessible accommodation, a big bugbear for wheelchair users. Steps in the way, lifts that are too small, and doorways my wheelchair cannot squeeze through are not on the worry list. I must qualify that there are areas that non-ambulant persons with disabilities (PWDs) cannot go to such as the top deck. In my opinion, seating arrangements for PWDs in theatres on certain cruise ships are not catered to on Asian run cruise lines.

The food available on board is mind-boggling, hence the concern is over-eating rather than the meal hunting (which is an adventure in itself) needed on land excursions. People have often queried what are the things to do sailing out at sea. Well most of the time is spent drinking and dining and er… sleeping.

Then there are shows ranging from magic performances, samba dances, circus acts, ice skating extravaganzas, music from jazz to big bands to pop, K-pop to one of a kind ‘hypnotise the audience’ displays and imitating celebrities by an incredibly talented transvestite are the possibles in the itinerary each evening. More mundane dos are karaoke, towel origami, shopping, fruit art, swimming, rock-climbing, mini-golf, Jacuzzi soaking, sunbathing, read books, myriad games and the list continues.

Of course there are those that are payable if you got the cash such as arcade games, spas and massages, specialty restaurants, on board tours and pre planned shore trips, topless revues and the ubiquitous casino. The gaming area is where passengers really pay.

The ride to Marina Bay station was smooth. Disembarking and waiting for the allocated train to Marina South Pier station took more than ten minutes. The walkway to the terminal was mostly sheltered. Clearing customs proved to be similar to the experience at airports. Both people and luggage have to go through metal detectors (there was a quick body check for me), followed by passport screening and then one can proceed to the ship.

A slight kerb in between doorways

A slight kerb in between doorways

Having booked and paid online for the disabled accessible lodging, a cruise personnel scanned and allotted a type of credit card to each passenger as a system to pay for purchases on the sail. All along, the gangway was accessible except for a few bumps at joints in the corridor. We had hand carried bags while the heavier luggage was checked in and delivered outside our cabin door a while later. After a quick unpacking of sparing essentials, we were off to the cafeteria style eating. As usual, there was an overwhelming array of choices including the beverages.

A view of the washroom

Wheelchair-friendly toilet

The first evening on a cruise is the safety drill much like the video at the start of a plane flight. For this instance, knowing the place to head to in case of emergency is vital. Still, nonchalant folks taking the precautions lightly are commonplace. Dinner is offered in two time slots as it switches between two theatre show times for an interchangeable option.

Ports of call can be in a situation where it needs tendering. That means transferring to a boat to go on land, which takes the shore outing out of my list. The various destinations are Port Klang, Penang, Langkawi, Phuket(overnight) and back to Singapore. The only place my motorised wheelchair can get down was Penang. I could go down to the pier in Port Klang but there is not much to do there and transport to town was not available for my needs. The Penang port is a short walk to the city and has streets of shops and stalls.

At Langkawi, a very steep ramp discouraged me from taking the considerable risk to get to a sole souvenir shop at the ferry terminal. Phuket was only by tender. It may seem a waste not to be able to go on land but there are benefits. When a majority of passengers goes on shore, the whole ship seems deserted. Restaurant staff cater to your whims and other venues evoke the feeling of exclusivity accorded to celebrities and VVIPs. The swimming pools and jacuzzis are not crowded out, and leisure strolls hand in hand with your loved one is a most satisfying activity.

One has full awareness that such moments in time like this are the stuff dreams are made of. It is after all, a vacation away from the stresses of city living and materialistic pursuits of Singapore society.

TIP: This ship has room service during the day and food is allowed in the cabin, which is much-appreciated for a PWD. Breakfast in bed is a luxury as it shortens sitting periods and delays the tiredness of a long day.

Gilbert Tan is a member of the Disabled People’s Association. He is a writer and an artist who actively participates in community work. His works can be found on his website: He has recently published a book called, ‘Hospitales: theatre of another kind’ that recounts his 11 month-long hospital stay. 

Cruising Around M’sia’s Ports (Dec 2014)

By Jorain Ng

In early December 2014, I went on a cruise holiday.

Since it was my first experience on a cruise and, to the best of my knowledge, there are no reviews on the physical accessibility of the ship, I’m taking this opportunity to share my thoughts.

Embarking & Disembarking the Ship

Boarding and leaving the ship was smooth and easy. The pathway connecting the ship to the port is wide enough for wheelchair users.

But there are no tactile surface ground indicators to guide people with visual impairments.

Physical Accessibility around the Ship

Pathway leading to cabin rooms

Corridor along cabin rooms

There are four lifts that stop at every deck. The lifts operate on touch-sensitive buttons.

But the lift buttons do not have braille indicating the floor levels.

Getting around the ship is a cumbersome process. Getting to the front and back end of the ship requires one to cut across some facilities like the restaurants, bars, lounges and casinos.

Thankfully, the main pathways connecting these facilities are wide and generally barrier-free, with gentle slopes at certain facilities.

The corridors along cabin rooms are tight and are usually cluttered with obstructions like cleaning carts.

Physical accessibility for people with visual impairment is dismal. There are no braille plates indicating the facilities available nor are there any tactile surface ground indicators to help people with visual impairments navigate around the ship.

Physical Accessibility of Ship Facilities

Sadly, I did not manage to visit all the facilities so I cannot say with certainty that all of them are wheelchair friendly.

The ones I did visit – the restaurants, lounges, duty-free shop, etc. – have main pathways that are generally barrier-free. I say “generally” because at some of these places, there are shallow steps leading to deeper portions of the ship.

The main pathways in these facilities are also wide enough for a wheelchair user to travel, but oftentimes there are physical obstacles like food trays stacked on top of tables.

Cabin Rooms

image3 image4

I stayed at a standard cabin room. The room is rather small and squeezy.

The toilet is even smaller, and is not wheelchair friendly either.

Upon research, I found that only four cabins are wheelchair accessible.

Emergency Situations

Crew teaching us how to wear a life jacket.

A crew teaching us how to wear a life jacket.

Before we sailed off, safety and evacuation demonstrations were performed to inform passengers how to react in an event of an emergency like a fire outbreak. A staff described the procedures via the loudspeaker, but there were no sign language interpreters.

The crew also did not explain how wheelchair users can escape from the ship in the event of a fire when all lifts stop operation.

Shore Excursions 

One of the activities available on this cruise was shore excursions.

The ship stopped at two ports – Penang Island and Port Klang – for one day each for passengers to disembark, have fun at the place for a few hours, and then return to the ship. So all excursions were jam packed with all kinds of activities at different costs. Passengers who are interested can choose their preferred excursion from a list, go free-and-easy or remain at the ship.

The crew made sure to indicate the wheelchair accessibility of all tour packages.

Overall verdict

Taken together, the ship is fairly inaccessible for wheelchair users and people with visual disability traveling independently. This is not surprising because the cruise ship I traveled on was Superstar Gemini – one of the older ships in the Star Cruises line.

Wheelchair users and people with sensory disabilities might be better off sailing with the Royal Caribbean. I have never sailed with this ship, but a page on their web interface indicates that they cater to passengers with different kinds of disability such as those with hearing disability, mobility disability, service animals, and visual disability.

Here is the link to the page:

For persons with disabilities interested in taking a cruise holiday, and wish to ascertain the accessibility of the ship before booking, here are a few questions to ask your travel agents and the cruise line:

1) Does the ship provide special accommodations for passengers with disabilities? (e.g. wheelchair-accessible rooms with roll-in showers, braille elevator buttons, sign language interpreting services etc.)

2) Does the ship allow service animals on board?

3) Are the routes in the ship’s facilities barrier-free? (e.g. Are there steps along the pathways?)

4) Are crew members properly trained on serving passengers with disabilities?

5) Are there evacuation procedures that take into account passengers with mobility and sensory disabilities?

Have you ever taken a cruise? Which cruise line was it? And was it accessible for people with disabilities? Let me know in the comments below!