Mobility and accessibility while cruising are a concern for many travelers and not just those with disabilities. Some people tire when walking long distances or may have sustained an injury before their cruise. Even if your mobility is a little compromised, navigating the distance between a stateroom and a ship's main dining room can be a challenge on today's mega-cruise ships. Having a wheelchair or scooter on hand may give passengers the confidence to make the trip.
If you need one, do cruise ships have wheelchairs? The answer is yes, but just for emergencies.
If you have to rely on a wheelchair or scooter during your trip, you could bring your equipment from home, depending on the model and type you own. Another option is to rent from Special Needs at Sea or Scootaround, the two companies that supply wheelchairs, scooters, power chairs, oxygen, respiratory equipment and other medical items to cruise passengers.
If you've never rented this type of equipment for travel before, you'll likely have questions about what you need and the ins and outs of the rental arrangement. We spoke to representatives at both Special Needs at Sea and Scootaround to give you the basics of scooter and wheelchair rentals for cruises.
As you consider your options, questions are sure to arise. Here are answers to a few of the common ones.
Should I rent a wheelchair or scooter? "To me the basic difference is independence," Andrew Garnett, president and CEO of Special Needs at Sea, advised. "If a person, who is not a full-time wheelchair user, uses a wheelchair, they will have to be pushed by their friends and or family members. If a person is using a mobility scooter, they will be able to go where they want when they want and the friends and/or family members will also have the independence of being able to do what they want as well."
Personal preference, cost and the size of the stateroom will also be factors in the decision-making process.
Can I rent a wheelchair or scooter on a river cruise? Garnett says that while his company does provide wheelchairs and cruise mobility scooters to river ships, there are still some challenges. Even if the vessel is accessible, river ships often dock in tandem and trying to pass through one or two other ships that aren't wheelchair accessible to disembark can be challenging.
Also, European destinations can be inaccessible, especially in old towns and historic areas lined with cobblestone streets and uneven curbs. That's why it's crucial to enlist the assistance of a travel adviser and research the ports of call ahead of time with the cruise line.
Both Special Needs at Sea and Scootaround are working to make cruising more accessible. The company you choose may depend on which cruise line you're sailing with, if they service a specific itinerary and location, or it may be the one your travel adviser recommends. No matter which company you select, as mentioned above, it's best to reserve in advance to meet your specific needs.
About Special Needs at Sea: Founded in 2007, Special Needs at Sea offers mobility and other medical equipment rentals in 215 cities and 68 different countries around the world. They are focused on cruises, but can also deliver to hotels before a sailing. In addition, they provide a concierge service where they work to secure equipment in less requested ports of call where they don't usually offer service.****
"So many people assume they can't travel because of their special needs, but providing this equipment changes things," said Andrew Garnett. "While this is a business, our goal is to help people realize they can travel."
Garnett recommends using one of the company's Certified Accessible Travel Advocate (CATA) to find and book a cruise. These travel advisers have been through a certification program and are familiar with the most accessible cruise itineraries, ships and ports of call. They can also assist in coordinating equipment rentals. Refer to its website or call the company to find an adviser in your area.
Special Needs at Sea is in the process of rolling out its new SNG White Glove Service with Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas in most ports and with Holland America in Seattle and Fort Lauderdale. With this service, a staff member will meet the passenger outside the terminal and give them directions on how to charge and use a mobility scooter. After the cruise, passengers will return the equipment to the staff representative in the terminal.
This service will be expanding to other lines and ports of call. Special Needs at Sea is also a Power Partner with Celebrity Cruises. Celebrity's customer service and reservation agents are all Certified Accessible Travel Advocates (CATA).
About Scootaround: Scootaround provides mobility and other medical equipment for travel to special events, hotels and cruise lines. The company works with at least 20 cruise lines in 50 major ports in the United States, Canada and Europe. With ample notice, Scootaround can also work to secure equipment in specific destinations it doesn't service directly.****
The company has recently signed on to be the exclusive provider to deliver equipment directly to a passenger's stateroom with Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings Ltd., which includes Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises. It has also been named the preferred provider for Carnival Cruise Line to deliver equipment to a stateroom.
Elvis Aguilera, director of worldwide cruise operations for Scootaround, adds that reservations staff are trained in the three levels of compliance for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Aguilera stated, "This certification helps them understand the reason why someone needs to reserve a certain piece of equipment. It also gives them more empathy and sympathy for the situation."
Rates are based on a number of factors including the embarkation and disembarkation points, duration and type of equipment rental. Cruises departing from Fort Lauderdale and Miami will have the lowest rates, while more exotic and less frequented ports will have the highest.
"We might have to ship equipment there from somewhere else because we may not normally have a request from that point," Garnett stated. "We'll also be dealing in foreign currency while charging our customers in US dollars."
Every rental will depend on the factors mentioned above, but here are several pricing scenarios to give you an idea of cost.
For a seven-day round trip sailing departing from Miami or Fort Lauderdale, you can expect to pay $85 for the weekly rental of a standard wheelchair or $185 for a standard mobility scooter with Special Needs at Sea. From Barcelona, Spain, also for a seven-day round trip, the cost is $235 for a standard wheelchair and $386 for a standard mobility scooter. These prices include loss and damage insurance at the time of this writing.
Scootaround's prices are for a transportable scooter (holding up to 325 pounds) and a standard manual wheelchair (holding up to 350 pounds). Its rate for the same length Miami-to-Bahamas cruise is $75 delivered to the stateroom and $50 if it's picked up in the terminal. The charge is $175 for a scooter delivered to the stateroom and $150 if it's picked up in the terminal. These prices do not include the cost of insurance.
In Barcelona, also for the same length cruise, the wheelchair costs $225 and the scooter $345, both delivered to the stateroom. Scootaround offers two types of insurance at an extra cost, but that is optional.
Both companies offer similar products and services for cruisers interested in renting wheelchairs, scooters or other medical equipment. Who you choose will depend on which cruise line you're sailing with and the type of service each company provides for the line. It will also depend on the company's ability to provide the equipment you need in a specific locale and at the right price.
As Garnett says, even if you are a slow walker, you may want to have a wheelchair available in case you have difficulty walking during your cruise. Whether it's a necessary rental or piece of equipment that will make you feel more secure while traveling, it's nice to know that there are affordable and convenient options to make your cruise less stressful and more enjoyable.