Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cruises - A Great Option for Accessible Travel

My wife and I love the ocean.  We love the beach and all things saltwater however, that is not always the easiest or most convenient of environments for someone in a wheelchair or who has difficulty negotiating those sugar sanded shore lines.  So, in our many adventures, we discovered that cruise ships can deliver a 5-star hotel experience right on the ocean and most of the stops are completely accessible.  For the odd ports of call that aren't, the cruise ship crew make sure you are taken care of in their dogged pursuit for excellence of service and customer care!

On our most recent cruise, we did a 7-day cruise leaving out of Galveston, TX.  We visited Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel with Carnival.  First off, our accommodations were amazing.  We stayed on the Lido deck (where the main pools and restaurants are) in the forward of the ship.  We had an ocean view room and it was the largest room I have ever seen on a ship.  You might think, "It was noisy right?"  Not at all!  The rooms are removed from the Lido deck via several doorways and we couldn't even hear the neighbors in their rooms.  The bathroom was very workable with a roll in shower.  Service from our porter on the floor was just amazing.  He made sure we had everything we needed and took special care due to my physical situation to be sensitive of stuff in the hallways from the cleaning crew.

The entire ship was accessible to me via the elevators.  At the shows each evening, they would instruct us to arrive about ten minutes early so we  could be seated in great locations where my wheelchair would not be an obstruction to anyone and we could see the shows in style.  They made the trip very comfortable.  A big tip about cruise ships is that you will be surprised at the very healthy people who take the elevators instead of the stairs.  We had great success in planning our elevator rides during a major meal or show to avoid long waits.  Give a lot of grace to people that do not understand that the elevator is your life during that trip.  You can choose to sabotage your trip with anger and frustration or just know it's coming and get over it.

Sting Ray Encounter - Grand Cayman
So, the ship was great, but what did you do in port?  Glad you asked!  Grand Cayman is one of the cleanest and coolest little places I have ever visited.  Everyone was super classy.  Being a territory of the United Kingdom, they drive on the left and your dollars will not go as far there, but I am willing to pay a little more for service like this.  First of all, Grand Cayman is one of the stops that the cruise ship cannot dock to.  You board a water taxi to go from the ship to the shore.  This was done expertly by the crew. We signed up for the stingray encounter and were driven by accessible bus to the dock to pick up the excursion boat.  After a 20 minute ride over gorgeous reefs we arrived at a very shallow sandy area out in the middle of well....nothing but stingrays.

Sting Ray Encounter - Grand Cayman
The crew slid me into the water and the captain personally escorted my wife and I around to see the stingrays.  It was epic!  These stingrays are very large and quite like a big Labrador Retriever.  They swim right up into your arms and love to get a scratch from you on their backs.  The captain even brought their favorite treat - squid and we got to feed them by hand.  It was truly an incredible experience, and I would encourage anyone to jump right in (excuse the pun)!

Cozumel is a very special place for my wife and I.  We have visited the island about 6-7 times and are truly in love with the people there.  We are very spoiled because one of the pastors on the island is a personal friend, and he sets us up every time we come down for a visit.  It is advisable that you use one of the excursions available on the ship as they do a fantastic job of making sure everything is accessible and your needs will be covered.  The ship docks right up to a concrete warf, so no water taxis here.  Having said this, there a few tips and tricks you need to know about Cozumel.

Number 1 - Taxis.  AHAHAHA!  I know right?  Taxis..really?  No, REALLY!  This can be a real point of frustration for you if you don't know the system in Mexico.  Agree on a price and be certain you are agreed to the price before taking the ride.  TRUST ME!  All tourists must ride in taxis in Cozumel.  A local can receive a ticket if they are caught giving a tourist a ride.  You can rent vehicles to avoid this, but again make sure everyone understands the exact amount you are paying for the vehicle and it's in writing before taking the car/van/jeep.

Number 2 - Shopping!  A few miles from the cruise terminals is the downtown square and a really neat shopping experience.  You haggle the prices here and don't be afraid to go low.  When the vendor doesn't like your price just start walking or rolling away as the case may be and you will be pleased with the outcome.  If they let you go the first time, slide back by just before leaving, and it is amazing how the prices change.

Dzul Ha Beach - Cozumel
Number 3 - Explore.  The people of Cozumel are some of the sweetest people I have ever met.  Knowing some Spanish will be very beneficial, but most restaurants will have things in English also.  Go beyond the cruise ship terminal to discover the real thing.  Fishing is amazing and many of the guides are awesome (Know the price before leaving..wink!).  If you have people that can help you, a true secret spot is called Dzul Ha.  It is a public park that is open to anyone with a fabulous tiki bar/restaurant. The is that just off shore is where all the cruise ships bring their snorkeling excursions.  It's not a far ride by taxi, and you can rent snorkeling  gear from the tiki hut.  There is no cost to snorkel here BUT, be sure to buy something from the bar/restaurant as you are using there space and it is customary that you patronize since they aren't charging you to gain access to some of the best reefs on the island.  FYI - Dzul Ha is not an accessible area.  It is very rustic with stone steps going down to the water.  HOWEVER, I have been there on multiple occasions, and everyone helped me get me in the water and helped yank me out when I was finished.  I told you the people are sweet!  WARNING - the current is an issue so be sure you have someone who is a strong swimmer with you at all times unless you want to wind up in South America or Texas.

Jamaica...hmmm.  I am sorry to report, but Jamaica was not a great stop.  We asked for an accessible van to take us in to the main town for lunch and shopping and the taxi guys in Jamaica wanted to charge us $140 for a round trip.  After politely explaining to the gentleman that he was insane, we shopped in the terminal, got back on board the ship and ate for free all day.  I am committed on this blog to give you the truth.  I am going to share the touchdowns and the interceptions.  Visiting Jamaica from a cruise ship was an interception.

Stephanie and Scott Anderson
Adventure is something that simply cannot be had from a couch.  It must be pursued out there on the water, in the wild or on a ship.  The cruise ship continually becomes a better experience each time we go.  From the 5-star accommodations to the first-class service, it is hands down one of the easiest, no-brainer trips we have made.  If you would like to contact Carnival's guest services for special needs, Click Here.

- Scott Anderson


  1. Stingray experience looks awesome!

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    1. Thanks ranchoverd for the heads up. I have always had a dream of spending a month or two in Australia. Their site looks like a great time to be had by all. I am hoping to reach out to them and get some feedback.