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Cruise Diva's FOCUS is on
Accessible Cruise Travel

Welcome to a Wheelchair Accessible Stateroom on Holland America Line

by Linda Coffman

Accessible Solutions
A mere dozen years ago "accessibility" on a cruise ship meant little more than a few inside staterooms set aside for mobility impaired passengers. Most public restrooms and nearly all en suite bathrooms had a "step-over" entryway—even passengers without mobility problems often tripped until they became accustomed to them.

In the wake of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the cruise industry began demonstrating ADA compliance. However, some older ships may still have physical barriers in both cabins and public rooms. In April 2001, the family of Carnival Cruise Lines announced an ambitious six-year plan for ship renovations to comply with the ADA. Cruise lines have always welcomed disabled passengers and are now designing new ships from the keel up with wheelchair access in mind. 

Wheelchair Accessible Stateroom with Balcony on Holland America Line

When evaluating a cruise, passengers with disabilities (ranging from use of a cane or walker to complete dependence on a wheelchair) should pay particular attention to the facilities on board their chosen vessel as well as those they are likely to find in ports of call. More than the usual amount of pre-planning is necessary for smooth sailing.

Hint: Booking a newer vessel will assure more choice for disabled passengers. Cabins are often available in a larger variety of categories, some even with private verandahs. Public rooms are more accessible and facilities planned especially for wheelchair use are more common.

Passengers with Disabilities
Haven't we all seen people park their vehicles in handicap designated slots and emerge with no noticeable disability? Some health related problems aren't readily discernible. 

If you suffer from a chronic medical condition, inform your travel agent to alert the cruise line and bring along a report from your physician. Most ships' medical staffs are not available for ongoing daily care, unless you are hospitalized once on board. As a passenger, you must be prepared to care for yourself and your personal needs, including attendance at the ship's muster drill. If you are unable to function independently, you must travel with a caregiver to provide these services for you.* It is essential that the cruise line be notified of any special medical, physical, or other requirements as soon as possible. 

A Wheelchair Accessible Private Bathroom on Holland America Line

Holland America Line is in the forefront of accessible cruise travel and offers a variety of services to their guests with mobility, sight, and breathing impairments. To the extent possible, they attempt to accommodate guests with a wide range of disabilities. However, they cannot provide personal care and should not be expected to. Like all other cruise lines, Holland America offers a limited number of staterooms designed to be wheelchair and scooter accessible.

Beginning with embarkation, every effort is made to accommodate passengers who require assistance boarding. Even so, certain ship transfer operations may not be fully accessible to wheelchairs or scooters. When a ship is unable to dock, passengers are taken ashore on tenders, which can even be difficult for the able bodied to negotiate under adverse conditions. Some people with limited mobility may even find it impossible to embark or debark the ship at certain times of day when docked due to the steep angle of gangways during high or low tide.

For persons incapable of walking, a wheelchair is generally their primary mobility assistance aid for getting on and off the ship. In some situations, crew members may offer assistance that involves carrying guests. Situations sometimes occur when mobility-impaired guests may not be able to go ashore at the time they prefer, or they may be unable to go ashore at all in certain ports. For the safety of all concerned, the captains of Holland America Line ships make the final determination regarding carrying mobility-impaired passengers and their mobility assistance devices ashore (wheelchair, scooter, walker, etc.). They take into account all appropriate conditions including weather, the ship's location, weight of the guest, and so on. Captains try to realistically accommodate all passenger needs.

Holland America Line shore tender equipped with wheelchair accessible platform

Passengers should be aware that third party transfer and shore excursion facilities may not be fully accessible to those with disabilities. Cruise lines attempt to deal only with companies that comply with legal requirements. However, they can't guarantee that all those companies are able to provide accessible facilities to persons with disabilities, particularly those contracted in foreign countries.

For detailed information on accessibility issues involving shore excursions, Holland America strongly recommends visiting the Shore Excursion Office on board your vessel.

In limited situations where a person with a disability would be unable to satisfy certain specified safety and other criteria, even when provided with appropriate auxiliary aids and services, cruise lines may find it necessary to ask them to make alternative travel arrangements.

Holland America Policies & Conditions

Wheelchair Requests: Holland America Line has a limited supply of wheelchairs onboard each ship. In order to accommodate guests, they reserve the wheelchairs exclusively for embarkation and debarkation assistance in the pier facility, emergency situations, and time-to-time usage only. They are unable to confirm the exclusivity of a wheelchair to a specific individual for the entire duration of a cruise. Passengers who require the use of a wheelchair should plan to bring their own or rent one to bring along rather than relying on the availability of Holland America's equipment. Wheelchairs and scooters must be stored inside passenger cabins. Additionally, wheelchairs from the ship are not allowed to be taken off the vessel for shore excursions or land tours.

For guests participating in an Alaska cruisetour, it is important to know that complimentary wheelchairs will not be available on land. Holland America Line service offices in Alaska do not have access to wheelchairs for guests except in the case of an emergency. Wheelchair assistance that is requested for airports must be done directly through the airline. Holland America does not arrange for wheelchair assistance at airports.

Oxygen: Guests who need continuous oxygen for chronic conditions must make their own arrangements prior to travel. Contact your travel agent for more information. Also, bring the service company's address and their local contacts in foreign countries, as applicable. Holland America does permit oxygen to be brought on board their ships for personal use. However, the ships are not equipped to provide passengers with these services other than on an emergency basis in the ships' medical center. There are companies, however, that regularly provide supplemental oxygen and/or oxygen equipment for cruise ship passengers. 

All oxygen and oxygen equipment arrangements are the responsibility of the passenger and the third party provider. Passengers assume the entire risk of utilizing third party services subject to whatever terms or arrangements are made by the guest or on the guest's behalf with the service provider. 

Holland America requests that all passengers who require the use of oxygen and/or oxygen equipment advise the Access & Compliance Department once all arrangements have been finalized, in order to properly notify the ship.

Service Animals: Holland America welcomes service animals aboard their fleet. However, itineraries may or may not include ports of call that have very specific and strict requirements that need to be met prior to a service animal being allowed off of the ship. It is the passenger's responsibility to research each of the ports of call and the requirements of the local governments for a service animal. The best places to obtain specific information on required documentation and immunizations are the U.S. Department of Agriculture, local customs offices in the specific ports, and personal veterinarians. All documentation and immunization requirements are established by government authorities and not by Holland America. If a service animal does not have the proper documentation of proof of vaccinations, or if there are local quarantine requirements, the animal can be denied the right to leave the ship. In this case, the guest will need to remain onboard in order to take care of their service animal.

An Accessible Public Bathroom on a Holland America Line Ship

New Holland America Line vessels include these facilities:

  • More than two dozen wheelchair-accessible staterooms in various categories.
  • Dedicated elevator for wheelchair users, to assist with tender embarkation.
  • Two tenders equipped with wheelchair accessible platforms
  • Accessible areas at the bar counter and other public desks, wherever possible.
  • All public rooms accessible.

Companies that frequently provide wheelchair rental services for cruise ship passengers are:

CareVacations/CruiseShipAssist
phone: 877-478-7827
Fax: 780-986-8332
Email: csa@carevacations.com
Web site: www.cruiseshipassist.com

Special Needs at Sea
Phone: 800-513-4515
Fax: 800-513-4516
E-mail: info@specialneedsgroup.com
www.specialneedsatsea.com

If you plan to bring a scooter on any ship, please contact the cruise line first for their guidelines. For the safety of all passngers and crew, Holland America advises that scooters and other mobility equipment need to be securely stored and charged in staterooms; not in hallways or elevator lobbies. Scooters left in those areas could restrict people needing to travel through them in an emergency, particularly others using mobility aids, since they would have no way of getting by a scooter left in a hallway. For scooter rentals, see:

Scoot Around
Phone: 888-441-7575
Web site: www.scootaround.com

Two approved supply companies that frequently provide oxygen and oxygen equipment rental services for Holland America Line and other cruise lines' passengers are:

CareVacations/CruiseShipAssist
phone: 877-478-7827
Fax: 780-986-8332
Email: csa@carevacations.com
Web site: www.cruiseshipassist.com

Special Needs at Sea
Phone: 800-513-4515
Fax: 800-513-4516
E-mail: info@specialneedsgroup.com
www.specialneedsatsea.com

Another supply company that provides oxygen and oxygen equipment rental services to cruise line passengers is:

Advanced Aeromedical
phone: 800-346-3556
Fax: 888-481-2874
Email: info@aeromedic.com
Web site: www.aeromedic.com
 

If you have questions regarding a ship's facilities, please contact Holland America Line's Access & Compliance Department toll-free at 800-547-8493; locally at 206-281-3535 ext. 4514; or via e-mail at HALW_Access@hollandamerica.com. Every cruise line has a similar "help" desk to assist you.

Holland America Line deserves a special note of appreciation for the information contained in this article and for providing the photographs exclusively for CruiseDiva.com readers.

*While the above policies are those of Holland America Line, other cruise lines impose similar conditions for travel on their vessels.

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