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March 02, 2008|Catharine Hamm

Question: I have some mobility limitations and use a battery-operated scooter that is somewhat portable. I'd like to consider a cruise, but I have trouble visualizing how I would navigate narrow corridors. Is a cruise even viable for me?

Jim Gordon

Thousand Oaks

Answers: Get out the suitcase and take the tux to the cleaners. Your ship has come in.

Which is not to say that you call up and book and away you go. It takes planning.

In fact, what you probably need is a travel agent who specializes in helping those with disabilities. Two good places to start: the American Society of Travel Agents' website, www.asta.org, which has an advanced search function that lets you choose "disabled/accessible" under specialties; and www.sath.org, website of the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality, or SATH, which offers suggestions on agents. (Type in "travel agent" in the search engine.)

But before you make that call, do a little research on your own.

Begin by going to the website of the Cruise Lines International Assn., www .cruising.org, and clicking on "Vacation," then "Plan Your Cruise," then "Special Interest Guides." Under "Wheelchair Travelers," you'll find a comprehensive guide to ships' features, including the number of cabins and whether the decks have ramps.

When you've chosen some ships that will work for you, peruse the line's website. (To obtain a listing of websites, go to latimes.com/cruiselists.) Look especially at the age of any ship you're interested in; the newer the vessel, the more likely it can accommodate you fully.

Consider, too, the destination. If you're planning on shore excursions, be aware of which destinations require passengers to disembark by tender. Sometimes, those little boats can't accommodate a disabled passenger and a scooter.

As with most things in life, timing is everything. Because accessible cabins are limited in number (and are available in various categories and prices, from the least expensive inside cabins to the more luxurious staterooms with balconies), you may need to reserve early, especially for popular itineraries, says Candy Harrington, editor of Emerging Horizons, a magazine about accessible travel.

"More and more people are cruising . . . so if you want a balcony-accessible cabin on an Alaska cruise, you might even book a year in advance," she said. "They go fast."

And there is something else you should consider: Rather than dealing with putting your scooter in the airlines' hands if you're flying to your port of embarkation, consider renting one and having it delivered to the ship through such companies as Scootaround and Care Vacations, says Jani Nayar, executive coordinator of SATH. (For more information, see SATH's website.)

With a little research and some help from a pro, you'll be on the deck with a frothy little drink before you can say, "Waiter, bring me another."

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Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@ latimes.com.

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