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Cruise Views

Comfort for the Wheelchair Traveler

November 20, 1994|SHIRLEY SLATER and HARRY BASCH

When you're choosing a cruise to accommodate a wheelchair, bear in mind that a newer, larger ship is more likely to offer cabins designed for accessibility. Such a cabin should have doors at least 25 inches wide, grab rails in the bathroom and no raised sills. To make public areas accessible, the ship should have elevators with doors wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair and ramps over the raised sills leading to the deck.

Most cruise ships built before the mid-1980s still present obstacles to wheelchairs--no elevator to some public areas such as top decks and discos; narrow hallways on lower decks where most cabins are located; narrow doorways into cabins and bathrooms; oddly shaped bathrooms with fixtures close together and stairs leading into dining rooms.

Common inconveniences include closet hanging racks and elevator buttons that are out of reach for a person in a wheelchair, very heavy doors leading to the deck and inaccessible swimming pools.

While in general, wheelchair passengers should book only ships that always come alongside in port rather than sometimes taking passengers ashore in a tender, both Norwegian Cruise Line's Norway and Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2 are exceptions, since their big tenders fit flush with the ship's loading doors.

Wheelchair travelers who enjoy spending a lot of time on deck should steer clear of smaller, older ships as a rule, because the deck spaces are often chopped up with steep, narrow flights of stairs. Instead, study deck plans to find ships with unimpeded promenades all the way around, as on Holland America's new trio, Statendam, Maasdam and Ryndam. Each of these vessels also has four wheelchair-accessible cabins and bathrooms designated on the deck plans.

Princess Cruises' newest ships, Star Princess, Crown Princess and Regal Princess, each contain 10 wheelchair-accessible cabins measuring 228 square feet (for an inside cabin) or 280 square feet (for an outside cabin). The third sister ship in this series has 10 accessible cabins measuring 240 square feet with extra-wide doors and flush thresholds.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. with its three huge megaliners Sovereign of the Seas, Monarch of the Seas and Majesty of the Seas, although carrying 2,354 passengers, provide only four handicap- accessible cabins aboard each vessel.

On the other hand, Celebrity Cruises' Zenith and Horizon, which carry 1,374 passengers each, also provide four wheelchair-accessible cabins on each ship.

You might consider taking a traveling or sports-sized wheelchair instead of a standard one in order to make access easier into narrow doorways. Royal Cruise Line, for instance, requests guests to limit wheelchairs to a 35 inches width if they are booking a handicapped stateroom on the line's Crown Odyssey, built in 1988, but only 22 inches wide if they're booked aboard the Royal Odyssey and Star Odyssey, dating from the 1970s.

While you are studying the deck plan, look for the elevators. How many are there, and how convenient are they to the important public rooms, such as the show lounge and dining room?

Although the Cruise Line International Assn. 1994 Cruise Manual, which most travel agents use as a reference guide, lists only two ships that do not accept wheelchair passengers--Cunard Sea Goddess I and Sea Goddess II--many of the other ships on the list are also inappropriate for wheelchairs if the passenger wants to participate fully in shipboard life.

Access to all public rooms aboard, according to the manual, is not possible for wheelchairs on the following ships: American Hawaii's Constitution and Independence, Costa's Costa Marina and Eugenio Costa, Dolphin Cruise Line's Dolphin, Princess' Fair Princess, Paquet French Cruises' Mermoz, Regency Cruises' Regent Rainbow, Regent Jewel and Regent Spirit, Seven Seas' Song of Flower, RCCL's Nordic Prince, Sun Viking and Song of Norway, Norwegian Cruise Line's Southward and Starward, Premier's Star/Ship Atlantic, Sun Line's Stella Solaris and Epirotiki's Triton.

Full access to all passenger areas is also limited aboard Fantasy Cruises' Amerikanis and Britanis, Cunard Crown's Cunard Countess and Cunard Princess, Costa's Daphne, Commodore's Enchanted Seas, Costa's Enrico Costa, Princess' Island Princess and Pacific Princess, Delta Queen Steamboat's Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen, Dolphin's OceanBreeze and SeaBreeze, Pearl Cruises' Pearl, Royal Cruise Line's Royal Odyssey and Star Odyssey, Cunard's Sagafjord and Vistafjord, RCCL's Song of Norway and World Explorer's Universe.

In addition, small expedition vessels without elevators from cruise lines such as Special Expeditions, Alaska Sightseeing/Cruise West, Abercrombie & Kent and Society Expeditions are not feasible for wheelchair passengers.

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Slater and Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.

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