Everyone needs a vacation. But what if someone in your family is disabled? Does that mean that vacations are off the table? Absolutely not! Our youngest son is in a wheelchair. From the moment he was born, my husband and I made a pact that we would not let his chair define him, us as a family or the things we do together.
I have to admit that it is easier said than done at times. Even in this day in age, people look at our son and just see his chair. Not the amazingly awesome teenager, who doesn’t take “no” for an answer. So, we modify. We adjust. We figure out a way.
We decided to take a Christmas vacation this year; something we had never done before. We always stay home, for the most part, during Christmas break. But, the boys are getting older, so we decided to branch out. When discussing options, a cruise came up several times. So, that’s what we decided to do. Then came the planning.
When you research cruise lines, it is difficult to price a wheelchair-friendly room. Almost all of my searches ended with an error or a message to call a customer service representative. This was frustrating. Most of my research was done late at night, after the boys and my husband were in bed. So, after a long day of working, running errands, making dinner, helping with homework, etc., I did not feel like talking on the phone to anyone at midnight.
However, after doing some research, reading blogs, going to Facebook pages/groups, the same cruise line kept coming up…Carnival. I saw the same comments, “Great for families”, “Wonderful with kids”, “Worked well with disabilities“ over and over again. So, I decided to bite the bullet and call customer service. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. When I called, it was answered immediately. I was not put on hold. The customer service representative, Mary, was very sweet and wanted to know exactly what we needed. She was apologetic for me not being able to price a room online. She explained that with some many various disability needs, it is easier and faster to figure things out on the phone. She was right. Within minutes, she had a specific state room chosen and reserved for us. She was not pushy about making a decision right then. She put a hold on it for 24 hours so I could show my husband and decide together. She answered all of my questions and put my mind at ease. She convinced me that we would all have a fantastic time. Needless to say, we decided that we would give it a try.
On arrival day, the cruise terminal was packed. Not ever having cruised before, we had no idea where to go or what to do first. So, we followed the crowd and watched. We dropped off our luggage with a bell hop and he showed us where to go next. Before we even got in line, a Carnival employee came over to us and had us follow her to a separate line. It was a disability line and it was great. Only wheelchair users and their families were allowed through it, so it made the security process very smooth. At each checkpoint, the employees explained what they were doing and where we would go next. Everywhere we turned, someone was asking if we needed help with our son and maneuvering his chair through. We declined each time, but it was nice being asked.
Once we got onto the ship, we could see how accessible it was. There were very few steps anywhere on the ship. There were a few in some restaurants, but they had flat spaces too, so it was not an issue.
The only area where our son had difficulty was at the very top of the ship. This is where the sports area is…the slide, basketball courts, etc. There were numerous steps going up to that area. So, he could not access it without getting out of his chair and being carried up. He only wanted to go there a couple of times, so it wasn’t that bad. It would have been nice if they had added a ramp, though.
Our room was exactly how Mary had described it. We had a king-sized bed with a set of bunk beds. The space to move around was great for our son. He had no problems getting through the door or maneuvering in the room. The bathroom had a roll-in shower, with plenty of space to move around.
The kids’ clubs were accommodating as well. They can’t be hands-on much (can’t help with toileting, etc.), but they were happy to help him with anything else that he needed. Both our boys loved the kids’ clubs and were there every evening.
One area of concern was the ports of call. One of the ports had a tender ship, so we were apprehensive about how it would go. We were concerned for no reason. The crew was amazing. Once they saw us, they had us, and all other wheelchair users, get on first so we would have a spot. They knew exactly how to place the chairs so everyone had room. Then, they loaded everyone else. It was a very easy and smooth transition.
The only port issue we had was at our Jamaican port. To get to the shopping area, you have to take a bus. Their busses do not accommodate wheelchairs. The only way you could get a wheelchair onto the bus was if it was a fold-up chair. Our son’s was not. Luckily, a Carnival member told us this before we got to the port. The ship had fold-up chairs that anyone could rent for the day. So, that’s what we did. It was an adult-sized chair, so it was a lot bigger than what our son was used to. But, he was a good sport about it.
Overall, the cruise was great. Both of our sons had a blast and that was all that mattered in the end. Would I recommend cruising with a disability? I can’t say how other cruise lines are yet, but if you are considering Carnival…yes, I would definitely recommend it!