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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: http://www.royalcaribbean.com/allaboutcruising/accessibleseas/home.do
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!