disney wonder

Extreme Makeover: Stateroom Edition

 

Leanna and I in the Bahamas with a classic (Magic) and new (Dream) ship. May 2012.

Leanna and I in the Bahamas with a classic (Magic) and new (Dream) ship. May 2012.

Sailing on the Disney cruise ships in non-accessible rooms used to be a cause of concern for me. Used to. Being the clever person you have come to know and love, I of course figured out a way to make (most) non-accessible staterooms on both the classic and new ships work for me. Of course, a true accessible room is always best, but they are not always available. Disney used to do a really good job of  holding accessible rooms back for passengers who really need them, but now it seems anyone can easily book one. Whether they need one or not. I’ve seen people who claimed to need a walk/roll in shower because they can’t climb in and out of a bathtub, but seem to have no trouble climbing in and out of the hot tubs on the pool deck. I know people request the rooms simply because they are larger, so I had to get creative with non-accessible rooms when none are available.

 

Roll in shower in an accessible cabin. There is a fold down bench, grab bars, a hand held shower head, and best of all nothing to climb over.

Roll in shower in an accessible cabin. There is a fold down bench, grab bars, a hand held shower head, and best of all nothing to climb over.

The Classic Ships: The Magic and The Wonder

I spent two weeks on the Disney Wonder in a non-accessible room, so I figure I can make just about anything work – one way or another. There is always the option of using the facilities in the Fitness Center should I not be able to create an environment suitable to my needs. The Fitness Centers on all the ships have  very nice walk/roll in showers.

 

On the Magic and Wonder, the main bed splits into two twin beds upon request. Brilliant.  This offers more flexibility for anyone, special needs or not. We had our stateroom host remove one of the twin beds and slide the remaining bed against the wall – lengthwise. This gave me plenty of room to bring my mobility scooter in, turn it around, and of course charge it at night. I brought along my own portable grab bar. These can be found in just about any mobility shop. I’ve also seen them in Target. I used the grab bar in the shower, and not only did I use it, but everyone in my travel party used it. We felt it offered more stability than the permanent grab bars. Crossing the Pacific Ocean was a bit bouncy and the grab bar worked great for all of us. Disney Cruise Line provided a raised toilet seat to complete our transformation into an accessible stateroom.

 

The New Ships: The Dream and The Fantasy

The first time I sailed on one of the newer ships was last year on the Fantasy. We  managed to obtain an accessible verandah room. On the classic ships, the accessible verandah rooms are all located at the back of the boat and have a white wall verandah. This doesn’t bother me, but some people prefer the plexi-glass verandah walls so they can see the water without having to stand up and peer over the verandah wall. On the newer ships, accessible verandah rooms are located all over the ship, the front, middle, and back. Our room was located midship and had a plexi-glass verandah. I’ll admit the plexi-glass is nice, but not having is certainly not a deal breaker for me. In my opinion, the biggest advantage the accessible cabins on the new ships are the automatic doors. To enter your cabin you simply tap your card against the RFID reader and your door opens, stays open long enough for a wheelchair user to enter and get out of the way, and then closes. There is a button on the inside of the cabin that you press when you are ready to leave. Non-wheelchair users have complained about the “nuisance” of having to wait for the slow moving to door to completely close before they can leave.

 

This is what I used to create "steps" to use in the non-accessible cabin.

This is what I used to create “steps” to use in the non-accessible cabin.

Recently, I stayed in a non-accessible verandah room on the Dream. There were only two of us in the room, so again, we made it work. Since the beds on the new ships do not split apart it was a bit more challenging than when I was on the Wonder. Our room was a “Family” stateroom, meaning it had a round bathtub instead of a rectangle one. This geometric difference made it possible for me to bring my mobility scooter into the cabin. The round shape of the tub, which was reflected in the wall next to the bed offered just enough room for me to squeeze in. This would not be possible in the rooms without a round tub. Speaking of the round tub, while it offered an advantage regarding bringing my scooter into the room, it simultaneously presented a new challenge. The round tub was higher and much more difficult to climb in and out of than the rectangle tubs. We solved this problem by utilizing my portable grab bar again, and bringing my own “adjustable steps.” Not knowing exactly how high I would need my “steps” to be, I needed something that could be adjusted and wouldn’t become a slipping hazard. I scanned the aisles of the hardware store for something and what I ended up with was floor mats designed for children. They are ABC/123 interlocking floor mats and they worked really well. I ended up stacking 7 of them together and secured them with a luggage strap. They are light and easy to transport, but they can take up a bit of luggage space. Disney provided a raised toilet seat again and the transformation into a semi-accessible cabin was complete. The biggest obstacle in this room was getting out. Since the beds on new ships don’t split apart, I didn’t have enough room to turn my scooter around. I had to CAREFULLY back up – there was little room for error in the narrow hallway leading from the bed to the door (the regular stateroom doorways are 25.5 inches wide). My friend had to open the door and then help me navigate backing out, with practice we got better and faster at exiting the room. I could not leave the room unless my friend was with me, thankfully she was always there to help me. I’m sure in a pinch I could call Guest Services and they would deploy someone, probably my room steward, to open the door and help guide me out.

 

Location, location, location.

Some people believe the best location is mid-ship, the cruise lines fuel these fairy tales by charging more for what they deem more desirable locations. The “theory” they peddle is the midship rooms will experience less movement. I’ve been on different decks and different locations and have not noticed any difference in the rocking. I believe it is merely a ploy to extort more money. For wheelchair users, the best location is going to be near an elevator. The hallways are narrow, filled with housekeeping carts, and other guests going to and from their rooms. Additionally, if your scooter is too large to fit through your stateroom door, you’ll probably need to park it in the elevator lobby. There are electrical outlets in the lobbies, so you can charge your scooter.

 

Accessible rooms are indeed best for me, but if none are available I’m not going to let that keep me from cruising with Mickey and Captain Jack.

 

My friend Lonnie and I on Pirate Night. December 2012 on the Disney Dream. Oh, and that's our friend Donald Duck in the center.

My friend Lonnie and I on Pirate Night. December 2012 on the Disney Dream. Oh, and that’s our friend Donald Duck in the center.

Accessible Travel: Disney Cruise Line

 

Disney is an industry leader when it comes to accessible tourism, and their cruise ships are no exception.

All aboard!

In November, my father and I took a 5 day Bahamian cruise on the Disney Wonder. We didn’t want to commit to a longer cruise in case there were accessibility issues. You never know – yes, this is Disney we’re talking about, but it also a ship. The restaurants, shops, showrooms, spa, pools, even their private island are all accessible. And of course the Cast Members are more than happy to assist you in any way, including accommodating any dietary needs.

A massage on the beach at Castaway Cay = Heaven! They can fill up quickly so book ahead of time, before you leave or at the Open House.

Some areas are more accessible than others. For example, if you’d like to book a pedicure be aware that the chairs are not really accessible because they require the guest to climb up a couple of pretty big steps – without any sort of handrail. If you’d like a pedicure discuss your needs with the salon staff and they will be happy to accommodate you. If you’re looking to book spa and salon experiences, be sure to stop by the “Open House” on the first day of the cruise and check out the facilities to see what will work for you.

Just relaxing on our private balcony - can I just live here?

We were lucky enough to book an accessible stateroom – these are limited. I have friends who have cruised with Disney a few times and one of them uses the same scooter as I do, they don’t book an accessible room because they don’t need the modified facilities. They simply ask the crew to remove the coffee table so there is more room for the mobility scooter.

The ship is equipped with elevators, ramps, and wide doorways – making the ship pretty much entirely accessible. The one problem I encountered was the thresholds. Some of them came to a pretty steep peak and my scooter would get stuck, but there was always someone there to help me. After about a day or so, and a lot of bottoming out of my scooter, I learned which doorways to avoid and everything was fine.

Check out my ride! Taking in the ocean air on Castaway Cay’s adults only beach after my massage. Life it rough!

Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay is very accessible. From the disembarking process to providing free sand wheelchairs – they’ve done everything possible to ensure mobility challenged passengers can really enjoy this island. The tram that takes you from various locations on the island is accessible and everything is pretty flat making exploration easy. You may run into some trouble if you want to take on the beautiful sandy beaches, but that’s when you grab a sand wheelchair – but

I couldn’t make this stuff up!

heed the warning on the back of the chair: “Not a floatation device. Do not attempt to propel in water.” Which only means that at some point someone had a few two many Mai Tai’s and attempted that.

Please note that depending on your cruise itinerary, the ports of call may require you to tender (take a smaller boat) to shore and the accessibility of this type of transfer can vary from port to port and be dependant on weather conditions. The port in Nassau, Bahamas didn’t require a tender transfer so going ashore was pretty easy there. We even managed to flag down an accessible taxi to take us to and from the Atlantis Resort – which was very accessible too. The main shopping area of Nassau offered various levels of accessibility. There were curb cut outs on just about every corner, but the shops and restaurants were hit and miss with accessible entrances – however, most of them were wheelchair friendly.

Me and Gilligan, just kidding, that’s my dad

An added bonus…. The children are “contained” in their own little world on the ship. They are not running around the decks causing chaos and knocking over us gimpy, balance-challenged folk. Disney has designed amazing interactive areas for kids of all ages to enjoy. That coupled with the many adults only areas of the ship makes avoiding potential tripping hazards, disguised as cute little princes and princesses, easier. The easy assumption is that a Disney Cruise is taken over by kids, it is not. Other cruise lines have fewer offerings for the younger sailors and therefore they get bored and end up running all over the ship. It may sound counterintuitive, but if you want to enjoy some grown up cruising – then hop on board with Mickey! No, seriously. The fitness center, spa and salon are all adults only. There is an adults only area on the pool deck which includes a pool, hot tubs, bar, and coffee bar. There is even an adults only restaurant for a small additional fee and an adults only area on Castaway Cay. It is worth noting that the adults only restaurant was the only “up sell” I encountered, unlike other cruise lines where there are numerous ones making the phrase “all inclusive” a bit of a stretch, in my opinion.

I would highly recommend the Disney Cruise Line to anyone looking to sail the high seas.