All cruise ships that sail in U.S. waters must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), meaning they must offer equal access for people who travel on cruise ships. Even cruise ships that are foreign-flagged, meaning they don’t originate from the U.S., must be ADA-compliant if they sail through U.S. waters.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice reached a landmark settlement with Carnival Cruises that mandated that they provide equal access to their accommodations, as they were ruled as public places and need to comply with the ADA. It was the first time the DOJ required a cruise company to comply with the ADA, no doubt an exciting and reassuring development for the industry. Though some cruise lines may have already made changes to accommodate passengers with disabilities, the settlement set a standard going forward.
What does this mean for you and your clients? First of all, it means that in general, cruising is an accommodating way to travel and experience the world for travelers with disabilities or limited mobility.
Many cruise lines have accessible staterooms on their ships, meaning the dimensions and amenities in the rooms are specially designed to accommodate passengers with limited or no mobility or who are deaf or hard of hearing. Royal Caribbean, for example, has accessible staterooms on all of their ships. These staterooms have main room and bathroom doors that are at least 32 inches wide, which is wide enough for an adult-sized wheelchair. Pool lifts, whirlpool lifts, lowered slot machines in the casino and accessible Guest Relations desks are a few more ways Royal Caribbean offers equal access.
Holland America also provides great access for passengers with disabilities, with fully accessible staterooms on many of their ships. Their room amenities include telephones with amplified sound and kits that provide a visual or tactile alert for a door knock or a ringing phone. They also offer assistive listening systems at their shows, which gives passengers a portable receiver so they can hear the shows.
Service dogs are welcome onboard with major cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Celebrity, Holland America and Carnival. It’s important to note that most cruise lines will not allow emotional support animals, therapy animals, companion animals or pets onboard. In general, service dogs must be up-to-date on vaccinations, and passengers are encouraged to bring their service dog’s immunization records along just in case they’re required in a port of call for entry into that country. Some cruise lines even require this documentation from passengers once they’re onboard.
Since each cruise line can have a slightly different policy for service animals, it’s best to contact them directly to make sure your clients know exactly what to expect.
Cruise lines also make accessible accommodations for passengers with hearing and visual disabilities. Most cruise lines have braille signage and elevator buttons and offer familiarization tours of the vessels if requested. Norwegian provides a staff member for blind or low vision passengers to assist with their accessibility needs during the cruise. Holland America can provide large print or Braille menus if they have advanced notice. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity both offer Qualified Readers to read written materials like menus and ship newsletters.
This is a general overview of the accommodations cruise lines have to make their ships accessible for passengers who need it. As an agent, the most important thing for you to know is that these things are available for your clients, and you should always check with the individual cruise lines to ensure they have these things in place to make the seas that much more friendly for passengers who need it.