Rights for Disabled Cruisers Change as New E.U. Laws Kick in

November 21, 2012

(9:45 a.m. EST) -- If your travel agent asks you a series of questions about your health and mobility when you're booking your next cruise, don't be surprised. They will only be complying with new E.U. regulations that come into play on December 18.

From that date onwards, agents and tour operators will be obliged to inform cruise lines of passengers' special needs at the time of booking. This includes whether the passenger needs a specially adapted cabin, assistance in an emergency evacuation, whether they will be bringing any medical equipment onboard or if they require a wheelchair or a mobility scooter.

If the information is not passed on, cruise passengers could be denied boarding. Cruise lines are also entitled to refuse to take a booking provided they inform the customer within five working days.

In most cases, passengers will not notice any difference; the booking procedure already routinely asks for information about wheelchair assistance and other special needs. This new regulation merely makes the process more formal. But some disabled cruisers will notice the affect through cruise line policy changes.

For example, we reported a case earlier this year of a passenger challenging P&O Cruises for enforcing new rules about travel with mobility scooters (starting in the summer, the cruise line has insisted that guests bringing scooters book a wheelchair-adapted cabin or a mini-suite to accommodate the vehicle).

Cunard enforces to the same rules, as do Carnival Cruise Line and Fred. Olsen Cruises, while Thomson Cruises doesn't accept mobility scooters at all -– which makes it all the more important to create transparency at the time of booking, as nobody wants to be turned away at check-in.

Are you likely to be affected by the new regulations? Let us know.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor