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Accessible balcony and woman in mobility scooter
Accessible balcony and woman in mobility scooter (Photo: Yasemen Kaner-White)

10 Tips For Cruising With a Wheelchair or Mobility Scooter

Accessible balcony and woman in mobility scooter
Accessible balcony and woman in mobility scooter (Photo: Yasemen Kaner-White)
Yasemen Kaner-White

Last updated
Mar 1, 2024

Read time
5 min read

Cruising is one of the easiest and best ways to travel if you are mobility-impaired – but it's always worth planning ahead to make sure you don't get caught out when you're onboard.

Here are our top-10 tips for cruising in a wheelchair or mobility scooter.

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1. Bring Spare Parts for Your Scooter or Wheelchair

Mobility scooter charger
Mobility scooter charger (Photo: Yasemen Kaner-White)

Perhaps the most important thing: Bring a spare charger. I speak from experience, as I was sailing with my mother when her electric scooter charger broke. It is too easy to think, "it won’t happen to me." It can happen to anyone, and the last thing you want is to jeopardize enjoying the cruise that you’ve been looking forward to for so long.

Yes, you might be able to borrow a manual wheelchair, but that means it has to be pushed, and you lose a sense of independence. We were lucky that the staff onboard MSC Euribia were incredible, helping push the scooter, no longer electrically powered, but we did have to wait every now and then for them to come, understandably. The same applies to anything that can go wrong with a wheelchair: Think about any parts that could break and bring spares (wheels or footrests, for example).

Get more tips on cruising with a wheelchair or scooter from cruisers just like you at our Disabled Cruise Travel forum.

2. Pack a Cushion When You Cruise With a Wheelchair

The likelihood is that you will probably be in your wheelchair for longer periods of time on a cruise, out exploring, transferring on and off the ship, maybe in and out of chairs, sitting through a show if there isn’t a chair to transfer to or if you can’t.

To make your chair is more comfortable, pack a cushion, and consider an extra protective cover for it, in case it gets dirty while you're out exploring.

Learn about the 9 Best Ships for Cruisers with Disabilities.

3. Don’t Assume Cabin Stewards Are Mind Readers

Cabin stewards are there to make life easier and keep your cabins clean. They won’t know your personal needs unless you tell them. If, for example, you can’t stand up to bring the shower head down, you don’t want to be stuck trying to move it when lathered up with soap. Simply let your steward know in advance lower the shower head, behind the grab rail say, so you can easily reach it.

4. Be Kind and Courteous to Staff

Wonderful staff in the Yacht Club
Wonderful staff in the Yacht Club (Photo: Yasemen Kaner-White)

It should go without saying, but people are more likely to go out their way and go the extra mile for a guest who treats them with respect and kindness. If you take your frustration out on them, it won’t help you. Naturally if there is a problem, you are well within your rights to tell them, but your delivery is key and the difference between them going above and beyond to help you or doing the minimum.

Here are 10 tips for ensuring a great relationship between you and your cruise's crew.

5. Go on Private Shore Excursions if Possible

With our lovely tour guide Charline in Bruges on the Zeebrugge tour
With our lovely tour guide Charline in Bruges on the Zeebrugge tour (Photo: Yasemen Kaner-White)

If a shore excursion offered by a cruise ship is labeled accessible, it will be. A private excursion, however, gives you more freedom. You won't have strict timelines for bathroom breaks or a bus load of people waiting for you to return. Plus, you might be able to tailor your itinerary if the guide only has to accommodate you.

There are further perks. For example, you will probably have your own accessible minibus that will be able to park directly in the center of towns instead of the outskirts in a bus park. You will be able to be face-to-face with the guide as they explain what is outside the window instead of hearing a faceless voice on a microphone.

6. Book Your Cabin as Early as Possible

Pull handles in ADA room closet on MSC Seashore
ADA accessible room feature on MSC Seashore

Every ship has a limited number of accessible cabins, even more limited if you want to stay in any top-tier areas, so booking in advance avoids disappointment and quite often gets you a deal. Booking a year or more in advance isn't unheard of.

Learn when to book your cruise based on the destination in which is sails.

7. If You Have Reservations for a Live Performance, Show Up Early

Show on MSC Seashore (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)
Show on MSC Seashore (Photo: Chris Gray Faust)

Long lines of eager passengers wanting to grab the best seats can be overwhelming, so go to production shows earlier. Also, speak to a staff member to let them know you’ve booked and will need either an accessible seat where you can leave your scooter or chair while you slide into a standard seat, or if you want to remain in your own chair. Either way, they can then ensure you will have space and often the best view in the house.

Find out which cruise lines have the best onboard entertainment.

8. Give Feedback on Accessibility to Crew

Every wheelchair/scooter user is in it together, so if you see something that isn’t accessible, say a bathroom where the lock is impossibly high to reach, don’t be afraid to tell the staff.

Often when people are not in your position, they don’t think through what you need. So yes, the bathroom might be accessible with grab rails next to the toilet, but if you can’t lock the door unaided, it is inaccessible. Let the crew know, so they can improve their service for future users or even address it quickly.

Find out what you should expect when it comes to accessible cruising.

9. Advise in Advance You Are a Wheelchair User

Bar counter and a special needs sign at cruise ship (Photo: Igor_Koptilin/Shutterstock)
Everything you need to know about accessible cruising (Photo: Igor_Koptilin/Shutterstock)

An obvious one, but key: While everywhere on the ship should have accessible options, it goes a long way to reiterate it when booking a spa treatment or speciality meal, for example. That way, the staff will know in advance and can reserve the most appropriate seat for you, with space for your chair or scooter, the right level chair or even somewhere closer to the door so you don’t have to go through tight spaces.

10. Make Sure Your Cell is Charged and Connected to The Wi-Fi

Connecting at Sea: Internet and Phone Use Onboard (ID: 45) (Photo: tolotola/Shutterstock)
Connecting at Sea: Internet and Phone Use Onboard (ID: 45) (Photo: tolotola/Shutterstock)

Should you ever get into a tricky spot, make sure you always have a way of contacting either your fellow travel companion. You might have fall, are trapped and can’t reach the lock, or the battery of a scooter dies, for example, and you need help. A cell phone is a good way to contact your travel companion or the ship's staff through cruise ship's app.

When you board the ship, ensure you have the contact info stored in your phone for a member of staff -- perhaps someone from guest relations. This is especially useful if you're traveling alone.

You never know what you might get into, until you do, so be prepared. The good news is, staff onboard most ships go above and beyond to look after their guests. Cruising really is one of the best vacations to have if you have mobility issues.

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