Cruising to the Bahamas in a Wheelchair
- Published on Sunday, 30 October 2011 12:44
Traveling with a disability can be challenging, especially when visiting another country. It is even more challenging when you use a power wheelchair. Recently my children and I embarked upon this venture by taking a trip abroad. We decided to take a cruise to the
Bahamas with Carnival. It was a 5-day cruise aboard the Carnival Fascination leaving from Jacksonville, Florida. The Itinerary included 2-days at sea, 1-day in Half-moon Cay, Bahamas and 1-day in Nassau, Bahamas. Because of the various concerns I had before the trip, I thought it would be good to describe my experience, from an accessibility point of view, in the hopes of dispelling at least some of the worries others like me may have.
As a rule of thumb it is always good to book you cruise early in order to have a better selection of rooms, especially since the wheelchair accessible rooms always seem to go first. However, don't be deterred if you haven't made plans early. I actually booked this cruise 1 week before sailing and there was still a wheelchair accessible room available. But it's still better to be safe than sorry.
We decided to drive to Jacksonville since it was more cost effective for four people. Once we arrived at the Jacksonville pier, we dropped off our bags and went to the parking area. We were happy to find out that the parking would be free since we had a handicapped sticker. This is not a general rule since previous cruises have offered us no discounts, so this was a refreshing bonus. There was a golf cart shuttle to take you from the parking area to the Embarkation area. However, it wasn't wheelchair accessible but luckily it wasn't a long walk. There was a bit of a steep ramp to board the boat but it was short and there was plenty of willing staff available to help. For security purposes everyone and -thing has to be checked. The wheelchair user doesn't have to pass through the metal detector, however they will be patted down and it will be someone of the same sex.
Once we boarded the ship I was happy to find that most of the ship was accessible. The only floor that was not was the Sports deck which held the Race Track and Mini-golf. This was a little disappointing but there were many other things to do. All other circulation areas of the boat were fully accessible, with some steep, but manageable ramps. In addition, there were at least 10 elevators and stairs, which reduced the wait time.
We had booked a wheelchair accessible inside stateroom (windows are overrated). The room was definitely smaller than the average hotel room, but it was maneuverable. We opted for a king size bed in our room since there were 4 of us and we used one pull down bed, which wasn't in the main circulation area and could be put away easy. If you didn't have so many people in the room you could opt for a smaller bed to make more space, your steward would gladly change it for you. Also, there were lever door handles and the bathroom was big and accessible. But be sure not to leave your clothes on the floor during a shower because, as we found out, they will get wet. The one problem we did have met us at the front door of the cabin. The entry to the cabin had about a 1 1/2" step up which would made it impossible to enter the cabin independently. I was very surprised and talked to Guest Services about it. By that evening they had placed a small ramp on it which worked perfectly. The rest of the time we spent onboard the cruise ship, we enjoyed every activity barrier free and every crew member was exceptionally helpful.
I had done a lot of research on the ports trying to find excursions that would be accessible but hadn't had much success. I knew the boat didnt dock in Half-moon Cay, but I was told there was an accessible tender. I had tried to contact some wheelchair accessible transportation companies in Nassau through email but hadn't heard from all but one which was outrageously expensive ($100/hour Min.2 hours). So I just decided to go and hope for the best.
Our first Port, Half-moon Cay, did have a wheelchair accessible tender. And though it was a steep ramp onto the tender and no tie downs to secure the wheelchair it seemed safe and my chair did not move around. Once ashore there was no need for transportation since everything was close. There were wheelchair accessible paths throughout the island and up to the beach. There were beach wheelchairs available to use and there was a shaded sitting area if you chose to stay off the beach.
Our second port, Nassau, was my biggest worry because I really wanted to visit Atlantis and needed transportation. Once we got off the boat the shopping area was accessible and the city around did have curb cuts they just were a little steeper than the states'. It turned out to be very easy to find transportation. We went out and asked one of the cab drivers if he knew of any accessible vans. He said there was one always there he must have gone on a run and would be back. We only waited 15 minutes before he came back and off we went. He charged us $90 for all 4 of us round trip, and met us at a specific time to pick us up. He was very nice and took us on a drive to see a couple of other places for a little extra. We actually made out better than the ships excursions. I heard from another person who used a manual chair that they used the ferry.
All in all, the trip went very well and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.