I travel with my husband who uses a transport chair or a cane to get around. He has difficulty walking and standing for any length of time after several back surgeries. This cruise review is written about how we managed our travel with his lightweight folding transport chair. This is our 2nd cruise taking the chair along after 4 other cruises in our younger and his more mobile days. We picked Alaska as we went there 12 years ago when we had happy memories of doing it all!
By that, I mean BACK THEN we took the helicopter ride and walked on the glaciers, rode the White Pass Yukon train to Canada and also enjoyed a bumpy zodiac inflatable boat to a trail for hiking. All that was do-able back then. But this review is about traveling at a slower pace, looking for easier travel options and choosing cruise tours wisely for someone with a disability.
We spent a few days in Seattle before our cruise staying at THE WESTIN SEATTLE. The hotel was conveniently located downtown and we took the monorail to see the Space Needle. My husband's admission ticket to the Space Needle and to ride the monorail was discounted due to his disability. We also went AFTER 6 p.m. and the admission was discounted for me as well. The monorail was clean and offered easy access. While in Seattle, we also toured Pikes Market, Pioneer Square and went for a fabulous Boeing tour to see the largest building in the WORLD. (Friends of ours who live in Seattle area drove us to those areas.)
Embarkation for the cruise was easy, FAST and efficient. Disabled cruisers were ushered in a separate line - can't beat that! We were on the ship in no time. Our cabin was 4156 with a balcony and was very nice although we had to fold the chair to enter and exit the room and had to do this each and every time while forcing the door to stay open. The heavy cabin door is set up to close unless held open by your body making pushing the chair into the room a real struggle. This did not seem so important at start of cruise but 7 days later it got to be a pain to deal with. I did not request a cabin with any special disability functions, so not sure if they have special doors in other rooms for wheel chair access.
We used the elevators to get to different deck levels. We passed up quite a few elevators that were crammed with people who encouraged us to squeeze in to join them but I would have ran over more than a few toes if we did. We simply allowed more time to get to and fro and I honestly think that is what you need to do when you have a disability as it takes us longer to get in and out of an elevator with the chair.
The waiters always folded the chair for us at the table and helped seat us both. Getting around the ship and moving quickly around the same deck level was always interesting. Some thresholds of the ship would come together so nicely and the chair would guide over them and I could push him from one end of the ship to the other end. Other thresholds would almost throw my husband out of his chair had we not paid attention to the change of flooring depth. As a somewhat "new caregiver" and "chair pusher", I found this a little surprising and jarring. I also found it was easier to stop and turn the chair around so I would pull him backwards over the metal threshold.
Getting around the ship to visit the various bars, pool decks, entertainment rooms, serenity deck, etc. led me to really go slow to avoid the numerous chairs and obstacles in the way. We even started to count the number of people who would jump in front of our moving chair to avoid having to wait behind us, but we gave up counting after a while. It was just something that we noticed. We realized that we were among a younger more mobile crowd on this ship. And people do seem to run quickly when leaving the Lido deck food area, out of the main show theater and after the muster drill to get where they want to go quickly. Transport chair or not....they'll run you over. It was easier just to wait until the crowd cleared. We stopped trying to even use the clear glass elevators with a transport chair. They were always too crowded.
In Skagway, we took the bus tour this time to the Canadian border and frankly saw everything we would have seen on the train without the hassle. My husband was 1st on the bus, then 1st off on the tour and sat in a "reserved for handicap" seat with me. Sweet!
In Juneau, we had the same courtesy treatment on the tour bus to view the Mendenhall Glacier, the Glacier Information Center and the Salmon Hatchery. The hatchery tour was particularly interesting.
In Ketchikan, we shopped on our own and I pushed my husband from store to store at a leisurely pace. I was amazed at how many people offered to help me lift the chair and my husband over a bumpy road or unevenly threshold. People can be so nice at times.
In Victoria, BC we only had a few hours to view Butchart Gardens which was the most beautiful garden we have ever seen. Pushing the chair up and down a few hills really got tiring for me but we were also rushing to see the gardens before it got too dark. There were special signs for the disabled to follow but not always easy to see once it got darker. This stop in Victoria is MUCH TOO SHORT to really do it justice. And the cruise ship is located quite a way from the gardens so you lose a lot of time just traveling in the tour bus. The bus driver tried to make the tour interesting to and fro, but I noticed that most people just sat in the bus quietly especially coming back late at night.
The Carnival Cruise itself was fine, enjoyable and worth the price we paid. Although we did not use all of the facilities. The shows in the main lounge were very good. Food was good and plenty of variety in both the main dinner room and in the Lido deck. There is no longer a midnight buffet - but to be honest...I think it was a waste of time, money and food.. We did NOT miss it.
The quantity and quality of food at the main dinner room seem to be a little less than previous cruises. I think it is good to give smaller portion as I still saw so must waste as it is. And you can always ask for more if still hungry. Service was good, not particularly great, but good and we had no complaints. We did not gamble on this cruise at all nor use any pool areas that allowed kids. There was lots of families in the pool. Everyone seem to be having a good time.
The seminar that Carnival featured on acupuncture was silly and a waste of time. Most trivia contests were just that - trivial, simply a time filler. We would rather read a book! We did enjoy the serenity all adult deck, pool and spa.
Oh - yes - the library is very disappointing - almost put in like an afterthought. REALLY, to all Carnival spokespeople.....are you reading this? Put in decent libraries on your ships and provide some free magazines to take/share!!!!!! Other cruise lines do this.
Some other complaints/comments we had were not related to any disability issues.
1. I used the self service laundry facility which was nice to have but it would have been nice to know HOW LONG the washer was going to take. A simple sign could have advised me. I ended up bringing the transport chair to sit on while I read book and waited. There was not even a chair in that room. Why not?
2. The TV reception was poor. The satellite signal on the TV kept going out making it difficult to watch any movie or program.
3. I had an encounter with a ship photographer who kept insisting that we pose in silly poses for pictures. We just wanted simple nice close up frontal poses of our heads. I should have simply walked away but when it was our turn to pose, I made the comment that the poses were silly and unnatural and to please simply take our pictures facing the camera.. To my surprise she argued back! What nerve! I later did complain but felt my complaint fell on deaf ears. WE all know they print and then throw away TONS of developed photos but it is clearly a waste to take all those pictures in silly poses. Even at the main dinner room, the photographer would come up to the table and try and take our picture while we were eating. We shooed them all away. Who wants a photo with a plate of food in front of you? And the cruise photo prices are WAY TOO HIGH! However , I left my BIG complaint for last - and it is worth sharing.
4. The price of the Carnival cruise dropped 3 times since we originally booked over 6 months earlier. We had a written guarantee on the lowest advertised price per their web site's promotion. It seemed fair at the time and it was our incentive to book directly with Carnival. But MUCH TO MY DISMAY, we had to contact Carnival each and every price drop as soon as it was posted on their web site and CARNIVAL GAVE US A HARD TIME each and every time we had to call. They placed us on hold for over an hour each time I had to call.
The 1st phone call I had to make regarding the price drop was a real experience. In fact I found the way I was treated as demeaning and insulting. I was told it was a one-time price adjustment only during this guarantee. I found myself thanking them as if they were doing me a big favor. HA! How stupid of me! Little did I know that price would drop 2 more times and little did I know I would have to first ask, be told no and then end up demanding that they honor their price guarantee as I was given a difficult time every time.. Each time the price dropped they wanted me to downgrade to a lower cabin with either no balcony or take an obstructed view.
The 3rd phone call really got to me as the Carnival rep was more than rude. I got the impression they were playing a game with me. I asked to speak to a supervisor and was placed ON HOLD for 1 hour and 20 minutes. ( I timed them.) I am convinced the "supervisor" was clearly another rep sitting next to the rude rep. I would have almost canceled had we not had a cancellation charge.
This price haggling REALLY took the fun out of planning this Carnival cruise. Yes, each price drop they had, I always did get the lower advertised lower price but it left me angry, disgusted with Carnival and NO ONE should have to argue to get their advertised price. I have no intention of ever booking a cruise with Carnival again because of this pricing guarantee experience!
Now, on a happy note...Disembarkation was a breeze. In fact it was the quickest exiting of any ship we ever cruised on. Boarding Southwest Airlines at the airport was more of a wait. It seemed like the entire cruise ship had our same flight and took a long time to get our boarding passes! But all in all - it was a very nice cruise and good experience EXCEPT FOR THE PRICING NONSENSE.
We are happy we had our own transport chair so that we both could enjoy the trip together and celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary at sea. At this time, I much prefer the lightweight transport chair over a heavy wheel chair. It folds up easily and it's easy to push. I also believe that as a chair pusher, one needs to stick to the right, let others who are in a hurry go first and watch so that we do not jab a chair's foot rest into someone's ankle from behind. Common courtesy works best whether IN a chair, PUSHING someone in a chair or WALKING NEAR someone in a chair.
I believe that Carnival needs to rethink "COMMON COURTESY" when it comes to adjusting their guaranteed lowest price with their customers on the phone! Are you listening, CARNIVAL?