Friday, July 6, 2018

Disney Cruise With Special Needs: Accessibility On and Off the Ship

Disclaimer:  Abby has the ability to walk, but uses her chair for longer distances and to avoid stairs because of her decreased lung capacity and her severe kyphoscoliosis.  Our experience was with a child's collapsible wheelchair, which we bought for this cruise because we felt it would be easier to maneuver than her custom power wheelchair.  We were right!  I try in this post to include info about power chairs and wheelchair dependency as well, but our experience is with a child who is able to walk some.

When I shared that I would be blogging about our cruise experience as a special needs family, several people asked for me to look specifically at the accessibility of the ship.  I took special notice of how handicapped accessible each area was, because anyone who deals with a wheelchair knows that "accessible" is a relative term!

In the main areas of the ship, everything was pretty open and accessible.  We never had problems maneuvering the wheelchair in the main corridors or theaters.  There are handicapped areas available in the theaters, but only one other person could sit with the person in the wheelchair, so we found it easier to just fold up Abby's chair, put it outside of the theater, and sit in the regular seating.  If that's not an option for you, then you may have to split up your party a bit. Crew members were always helpful in showing us where to stow the chair.  If needed, I'm sure they would kick people out of the reserved handicapped areas too!

Most of the bathrooms had a handicapped stall, but there were a few that did not.  In these rare instances, there was a sign outside the door explaining where the closest accessible bathroom was.  You never had to go to another level to find one.  There are also some family restrooms with changing tables, which I know is something families look for.

You can request a handicapped accessible room.  We didn't because it wasn't necessarily for Abby to be in her chair while in our room, but if your child will need to transfer from bed to the chair, I would definitely get an accessible room!  There's a lot more space for the chair to roll. 

Abby doesn't like taking showers and all accessible rooms have roll-in showers.  If you don't need the extra room for a chair, then a regular room will probably be just fine. We had enough room for all of Abby's equipment.  We did unplug everything each morning and stow it under the bed (or take it with us) so that our room steward Winston didn't have to move it in order to clean up the room.

The one thing about the ship that I noticed that was not accessible was the water slide.  This wasn't a big deal for us because Abby didn't want to go anyway, but there is absolutely no way she would have made it up those stairs.  I wish there was an alternate way for people who couldn't climb them, because many people who fall into that category could still be stable enough to enjoy the water slide.  In the grand scheme of things though, it was not a big deal at all.

The three main restaurants can get pretty tight, so the servers ask that all wheelchairs and power scooters (and definitely strollers) stay out of the dining room if possible.  There were a few people in our dining session who relied on a wheelchair at all times and those people were of course accommodated!  If you let Disney know ahead of time (before boarding), then you will most likely be seated around the perimeter of the room where you will have a little more room to fit the wheelchair.  All of the families I saw with people in wheelchairs during our dining session were around the perimeter and space didn't seem to be an issue.

One really "tight" area of the ship is the cabin corridors.  These are very narrow and housekeeping often has cleaning carts in the hallway.  If this occurred, we were just barely able to squeeze Abby's wheelchair by it.  Someone in a wider chair would probably have to move the cart. In general, people coming the opposite direction could not pass our wheelchair and needed to "pull over" until we passed.
Abby happened to be walking in this picture, but you can see that two people walking side by side (a parent and child, at that!)  take up the entire corridor.  There are small ramps connecting sections of the ship together (you can see one in this picture), but they are very easy to go over with a wheelchair.

 I will say that the corridor we were on was never crowded, so it wasn't like a mad dash trying to get to our room or anything.  Our deck (6) was just cabins, so there wasn't nearly as much foot traffic as on other decks that had theaters or kids' clubs as well.  If you are concerned about traffic, you may want to choose a deck that has cabins only. When you book, you can look at the map of the ship to decide where you would like to be.

On port days, large ramps were set up to take us from the ship to land.  These differed by port and a few had some bumps, but they were all fine with a wheelchair.  They were all either paved or a smooth metal.

All of the ports we went to (Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan) were very handicapped accessible.  We had no issues getting around the ports.  The only time we ate at port was at a food truck at a picnic table, so I'm not sure what the accessibility was like in restaurants.  All of our land excursion buses were fine stowing a wheelchair, but we made sure to inform them at the time we booked.  All of our excursions required the person to transfer into a seat.  None of them had the option to anchor the chair.  If this is needed for you, you will have to hunt a bit more to find a tour that has this.  We were told that our best bet would be renting a handicapped accessible van if we needed it.  The public transportation did have some handicapped accessible buses, but they may not go to the destination you would like.  Since this was an Alaskan cruise, I can't speak for any of the beach Disney cruises!

Honestly, our biggest issue by far was at the elevators.  The elevators are TINY for such a big ship.  They were only wide enough for two people to stand side by side.  Our small wheelchair took up quite a bit of space so that only about 4 people plus the chair could fit in.  (That didn't stop people from trying, which was always pleasant!)  A power chair or electric scooter would take up even more space.  

There were multiple elevators at each area, so you kind of had to stand in the middle and look around to figure out which one would be coming next, then run to the one that opened!  Way too often, a family would come up after we were very patiently waiting and jump on ahead of us.  It was really annoying and we usually had to wait at least 2-3 times to get on an elevator.  By the end of the cruise, we got rather vocal when people would do this!  Once, I guess I exclaimed, "Seriously?!" a little too loudly, and the offending family guiltily got off and let us on.  But most of the time, it didn't matter if they heard us or not...they still cut in front.

In our family, one adult stayed with Abby in her chair and took the elevator.  The rest in our party would take the stairs.  Honestly, I feel that this is how it should be!  The elevators should be reserved for those who really can't take the stairs because of age or ability.  (Ie: My mom has a bad knee and took the elevator.  Perfectly fine!!  Able-bodied 11 year olds taking the elevator so that Abby's wheelchair couldn't get on?  Not fine!!)  We sincerely appreciated the few times that people GOT OFF the elevator and took the stairs in order to make room for Abby.  This was not expected, but so appreciated!  

So PSA:  If you are able to take the stairs and there's someone waiting who cannot, just take the stairs!  Your body will thank you, and so will those in wheelchairs!

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