If you are considering a cruise and are visually impaired you may be wondering if it is possible. The simple answer is yes, but there are some things to think about before you make the decision.
I’m Chris, a blind cruiser from the UK, and my advice is to ask yourself the following five questions before cruising with a visual impairment.
What do Cruise Lines do to Support People with Disabilities?
Accessibility arrangements for cruise ships might be very different from what you’re used to at home.
There’s often much more forward planning involved.
Think about transport in the UK – you can book passenger assistance with just six hours’ notice on trains. But P&O Cruises for example require fourteen days, and NCL requires 45.
Sometimes the information provided online by cruise lines can be quite vague, for example, Celebrity Cruises state:
But other than mentioning that they have braille in public areas and elevators, and welcome assistance animals, don’t explain this any further.
NCL’s accessibility information is more descriptive, and mentions options such as a ship orientation tour.
My advice is to contact some cruise lines directly.
Everybody’s needs are different – explain what would help you, and see if they can accommodate it.
My first cruise was with P&O, and they were able to provide me with a large print daily schedule as I’m not a braille reader.
Which Ports Will be Accessible to You?
Similar to my previous point, remember that accessibility assistance might be very different from what you’re used to at home.
If you’re traveling to UK, USA, Canadian or Western European ports then you’re likely to have an experience that is pretty familiar. But if you’re traveling elsewhere, particularly to countries that are less developed, you might find your experience at shore more challenging.
Nobody knows your needs better than you.
If you can, use Google Street View to explore the places you’d like to visit.
Look for things like crossings, tactile paving, etc that you’d normally use to guide yourself around and see if they’re present.
You can never go wrong asking for advice, the Emma Cruises Facebook Group is a great place to start. You might not find someone with the same requirements as you, but you’ll almost certainly find people who have visited the same ports before and they’ll be happy to describe them to you.
Think about what you want to get from your holiday.
For example, if you have no sight at all, you might not be interested in scenery or landmarks but instead, enjoy the beach or a museum with an audio description.
When you’ve worked out what you want to do, see what ports have it!
Travel agents are great for helping you decide as they’ll have a wealth of knowledge about what’s on offer. If you are from the UK, you can book through Emma here: Book a Cruise.
You May Have to Tender to Port
Getting on and off the ship at your departing or final destination will usually involve a ramp or a jetty (like the ones you walk through to board planes).
But at some ports, usually, on islands with shallow waters, you’ll need to board a smaller boat called a tender to get from the cruise ship to land.
You’ll almost certainly be required to use steps and cross the gap from the ship to the tender without crew assistance – some might ask you to prove you can do this before you’re allowed to attempt it.
Check out this article for more about tendering, and consider whether you would be able to use a tender safely. If you think you’d struggle, it might be wise to consider ports without the need for tenders – and there are plenty of them!
What Excursions Would You Like to do?
The accessibility of shore excursions will vary by location, and not every excursion will be suitable for someone with a visual impairment.
Personally, I enjoy guided tours.
As I have some sight, I’m able to follow a walking tour without assistance from someone else, but the live tour guide adds useful descriptions to the landmarks we pass.
I also enjoy bus tours as they tend to link together points of interest easily rather than having to rely on public transport.
You should always think about your safety first, particularly if you’re traveling unaccompanied.
When considering things like bike rides, segways, boat trips, rock climbs, hikes etc, ask yourself “would I do this activity on my own at home?”.
There isn’t likely to be any additional support available, so if your answer is “no” then it’s probably a good idea to look at alternative shore experiences.
There are often specifically accessible excursions available.
But in my experience, these tend to be expensive and catered more towards people with physical mobility difficulties or wheelchair users as opposed to people with sensory impairments.
How Much Support do You Need From Other People?
The crew will do everything they reasonably can to make your cruise enjoyable and accessible.
They will almost certainly be happy to assist you with onboard facilities like the buffet. But they cannot help you with personal care such as dressing, going to the bathroom, washing, or eating.
Whilst they’ll be happy to give you directions or orientation advice, they can’t walk you around all the time. So if you would need help with any of the aforementioned tasks, you are required to travel with a companion.
You must also be able to get yourself to and from your muster station for the pre-departure drill, and during an emergency.
During both of these, crew members will be positioned around the ship for directions if needed.
What is the Perfect Cruise to Start With?
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably ready to book your first cruise! But where do you begin? Even after lots of research, I wasn’t sure whether cruising was going to be right for me.
So rather than waste thousands on a cruise I might not like, I went for the safe option. I booked an inside cabin on P&O’s Aurora for seven nights in November exploring Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Bruges, and Cherbourg.
Being off-season and close to home, I secured a deal for just £429pp.
I think this was a great cruise to start with because it meant I could experience my first cruise on a relatively small ship, visiting big cities where accessibility was likely to be better suited to my requirements.
You can watch the review of my first cruise here:
And that’s my final thought; I recommend starting small and seeing whether a cruise is right for you. Why not discuss your requirements with Emma? And happy cruising!
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