Cruise with me

Lisa has been cruising with her husband, Gerry, for over two decades. Their most recent trip was 16 days aboard the Carnival Spirit, which took them from Seattle down along the West Coast to stops in Mexico and Costa Rica, through the Panama Canal, over to Colombia and lastly up to the final port destination of New Orleans. In this blog, Lisa, who has ataxia and uses a wheelchair, shares insights and tips on cruise accessibility. [Check out Lisa’s bio here]



Before we get started: All of the insights shared in this blog pertain to Carnival Cruise Lines in general and the Carnival Spirit in particular. Different cruise lines and different ships will be different. The Spirit is 20+ years old. For our next trip, we will cruise on the Carnival Celebration, which is around 2 years old. I’ve been told that it is much more ADA compliant and HUGE. We'll see how THAT goes. 😀 Now let's dive in.


  1. Getting on and off the ship (or in cruise language “embarkation” and “debarkation”)

At embarkation onto the cruise ship and debarkation off the cruise ship, the crew is usually there to push me. They actually prefer to push me, or sometimes back me down a ramp instead of my husband, Gerry, doing that. Usually, the accessible ramp connects to a lower deck and then the next ramp so that it is not so steep. No problem!

However, for debarkation in New Orleans, Gerry pushed me the whole way. Something about the level of the ship in the water and the level of the pier meant that we got off onto a pretty level, but kind of back and forth (like an airplane ramp), to get into the terminal. That doesn't take away at all the fact that the customer service has been spectacular on the ship and in the terminals!


  1. Getting around the ship

Outside every bank of elevators, there is a map that shows the ship so you know which way you were going (some people get lost on the ship 😉).

Also on that map is a line that shows an accessibility path, like how to get where you want to go if you are in a wheelchair or using a walker or are otherwise disabled. 

However, the most difficult part of moving around the ship is going outside to the deck. There is quite a steep incline and decline right at the door. If I can get a bit of a start myself and the door is automatic, I can do it. But if your wheelchair is low, then it might scrape against the top of the incline. Sometimes my footrests have done that, but it’s not too big of a deal, and I can still get over. There are some other places around the ship where there are slight inclines or declines. They're not difficult for me, but sometimes they are a surprise. The theaters, restaurants, and the main dining room all have dedicated ramps.


One deck was not accessible

I don't think that I have come across ANY area on the ship that I can't access, except for deck 11 on this ship. The elevators only go up to deck 10. Sometimes an accessible route means going up a floor, across, and then back down a floor. But that’s not too big of a deal - I often do that anyway so that I can roll around in my wheelchair on flooring instead of carpet. The carpet is very challenging for me to roll on for any length of time. 

If there is an activity on a deck that is not accessible to you, let them know right away! I did this for a workout class, and they were more than happy to move the location immediately (…that was, of course, after double and triple checking that the deck really wasn’t accessible to wheelchair users, which nobody quite realized).


There are very few acceptable accessible washrooms

There is one washroom in particular that I use often because I know exactly where it is, and it is a full-room accessible washroom. It has an accessible door button on the outside and inside to open the heavy door (most of the doors on the ship are very heavy). And it locks from the inside.

The rest of the washrooms have (or don't have) stalls big enough for a wheelchair, but I was often unable to reach the sinks and soap. 😕 There might be other full-room accessible washrooms but I didn't find them.


There are accommodations for different types of disabilities

There is a big screen on Lido deck that tells how Carnival is sensitive to disabilities. They offer headphones for those who need less sound, and they offer sunglasses to those who might be bothered by flashing lights. I don't know if these were available for adults or just children. I found scents and sounds to be bothersome at times.


  1. Let’s talk FOOD

Main Dining Room (MDR)

After just one night the servers always had my chair moved out of the way before we got there so I could get to the table in my wheelchair. The menu always gives you great choices for food! They are also very accommodating to food requests. That includes restricted diet types like gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan or whatever you might need. The servers would show you the next night's menu just before you left the supper table so you could work out what was best for you for the next evening -- and it would be just as you had requested! They will do that for you every night.



Lido is the deck where they have most of the pools and hot tubs and loungers for spending time in the sun. They also have a buffet set-up for food, including a sandwich bar, pizza, Mexican food, etc. The locations are behind glass, and it’s kind of like a cafeteria – but when you are in a wheelchair, the shelf to hold your tray is at about eye level.

Blue disability/wheelchair signs are placed around the food lines saying that help is available for anybody needing it, and crew (or other passengers) will help. should have asked for more help with getting food, although Gerry mostly got my food. A few times crew offered to help me. The signs are there, and it seems most of the time that you need to actually ask for help, which isn't unreasonable.

There are also beverage stations all around the Lido deck. However, I could not reach the coffee machine or any of the beverage machines. Again, their shelf is at eye level but the machines are higher and further back and I can't reach them. So again, fellow passengers or crew or Gerry helped me make coffee or mocha or whatever!


Specialty Restaurants

Another option for food is the specialty restaurants, just like on land. On this ship there was a Steakhouse, Bonsai Sushi, and more. I imagine that they will move chairs and help you in any way they can. Some of them have high tables and bar stool height seats to transfer into, if that's possible for you. We did not eat at any of these restaurants, as we had more selection than we could ever want already. And there usually is an extra charge for those specialty restaurants, so we eat in the MDR.


Room Service

On this ship, you could order a quite extensive continental breakfast for free and have it delivered to your cabin from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

For someone who is disabled in some way, oh my goodness, it is so nice to have food and coffee delivered to your cabin if you are having a bad day or it just makes things easier to get your day started. I do believe you can have room service most of the day, but it is only the continental breakfast between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. that is free.



Most of the bars around the ship have really high service counters, so I pretty much have to roll backwards in order for them to see me so that I can order. It can also be hard for them to give you your drink. And if you are ordering something, you always have to sign the receipt so the charge can be added to your account. There is no way for me to sign except on my leg. 😕 So it’s difficult for the server behind that tall counter AND myself to complete the transaction. But there are always crew members and passengers who will help you. Sometimes I ask, and sometimes I don't even need to ask, which is nice. 

Tip: For most of the dining options, except maybe the specialty restaurants, you can order or put together a plate for yourself, cover it with a napkin or a nice plastic cover from the main dining room, and bring it back to your cabin to eat or save for later.


  1. Accessibility in port cities

It's getting harder and harder for us to go to the beach and especially for me to get in and out of the water.

We didn't even try to go to any beaches on this trip, which is sad. 😕 I have pretty much accepted the fact that we won't go to beaches unless we are on a Cruise Line's private island with beach wheelchairs. Those ports are normally in the Caribbean, which we did not really go to on this voyage. You can always ask, but this is just what we decided to do on this trip.


Seattle, Washington

It was very very smooth getting into the terminal and ready for embarkation. We probably had to show our passports and our boarding passes two or three times which is not problem. And there was a line-up for the elevator for people who had mobility challenges and needed accessibility help. Seattle and the cruise terminal were completely accessible. 


Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Crazy heat! It was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, plus humidity. I only lasted about an hour in port and then went back to the ship. I think I might have had a mild case of heat stroke which lasted for a couple of days. I just didn't feel well. Of all the ports we were going to, I expected this one to be the most accessible, considering it is a destination in itself for vacations. We didn't go too far outside the port area itself, which is always pretty accessible. So that wasn't a problem at all in Cabo.


Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Oh my goodness! There was pretty much a sidewalk on both sides of the road, but the word sidewalk can mean a lot of different things -- bumpy, hills, holes, rocks. And then at the side of the sidewalk on both sides there was quite a big ditch, maybe one foot by one foot, for all the rain they get during the rainy season. There was no way to get over them.  There were some ramps of various condition, but they were often quite steep and I ended up losing my foot rests. Not losing them losing them, but I had to take them off. So Gerry pushed me on the road a good portion of the time! It was pretty hard and painful on my thighs to keep my legs up so long.

At one point there was an 18-wheeler truck blocking the sidewalk. There were no ramps anywhere close, so I bent all the way over and pushed myself right under that truck! Gerry walked around it.   🤨🥴


Panama Canal, Panama

Everybody was up early to see the beginning of our journey through the locks. It was a little difficult to find a spot along the railing. I had a bit of an advantage in that I could ask people if I could be in front of them in my wheelchair and they would still have a good view. We went to a few places on the ship as we went to lakes and locks through the Canal to get different pictures and viewpoints. For a little while, there was only about one foot between the wall and the ship! The bigger, newer ships now can't go in this older Panama Canal. They have to go in the newer wider Panama Canal. Who knew that there were 2 Panama Canals?


Cartagena, Columbia - Best Port Ever!

The service we received made it the best port ever. Very memorable! The accessibility was very good in some places, but (very) poor in most other places. There were lots of ramps and very good accessibility at the cruise port and very close to the ship. As we moved further away from the ship and into the old city, things changed drastically.

We had a taxi driver who took us to the old city. We gave him the time that we wanted to head back, and he was right there waiting for us! And Gerry helped him with the wheelchair on both ends and it was fine.

We also had our own personal walking tour guide! We told him where we wanted to go, and he knew exactly how to get there and the easiest way for a person in a wheelchair; he was fabulous! Accessibility was fine as long as you stayed on the road. There were very few cutouts at intersections or in front of stores, which was quite challenging. Gerry went into a few stores and left me with our guide sitting at the edge of the road. There was just no way of getting into most stores. There was one time, though, when five men picked up me in my wheelchair to lift me up from the road to the sidewalk!

When we had had enough, our guide took us right to where our taxi driver was waiting. The taxi took us to the shuttle to the ship, and the Carnival employees took me up the ramp to the elevator to head to my cabin.


New Orleans, Louisiana

Debarking from the ship took longer than it's ever taken for any of our cruises. We don't mind. Gerry would love to be the last person off the ship every time if he could! 🤣 We just spent the time playing cards and availing ourselves of the breakfast buffet that they kept open and coffee and drinks. I think we got off the ship at about 10:30am.

Our hotel room in New Orleans is quite accessible, and I'm very happy with it. But again, there is a tub. 🙄 [See Lisa’s blog on bathroom accessibility] Thankfully, a shower chair was delivered. 😀 And apparently there is a remote control on the wall for the blinds. The engineer who brought me my shower chair is going to work on the remote control when we go out for an early dinner. So far, great customer service in New Orleans!

I did fall in the hotel room. I had to let myself fall kind of safely to the floor. Didn't really bang anything but it's not encouraging. I think maybe a good idea is to leave my shoes or sandals on so I won't slip on the somewhat slippery carpet.

I was right and very wrong regarding the accessibility of New Orleans. I was right in the fact that there are really nice cutouts at the four corners of each intersection. And if it's a big intersection there is a resting spot if you can't make it to the other side before the light turns red. But, oh my goodness. The sidewalks! Broken, holes of various shapes and sizes, cracked, different levels, construction that sent you on to the road, and more. All of the sidewalks were sloped and it was very difficult for Gerry to push me. I couldn't have done it myself.


  1. Highlights

Highs of the trip

Lots of time together! This has been our best cruise ever! There is lots to do on board, and it seems we are either getting ready for, or at, or returning from, some kind of meal or activity or show. And often times that activity was playing cards together for quite some time. Just relaxing.

Getting a tour of the Bridge from the Captain! We met him at dinner one evening, and he invited us. AND it was fully accessible!


Lows of the trip

Having a 9-hour layover in Boston's Logan airport, although we are already laughing about it and talking about how we have quite a memory to go with this cruise.

I fell a few times on the cruise ship. I think it's because I don't have my grab bar beside my bed. Also, the bed is a bit lower, the wheelchair that I am using is a little lower, and the carpet is slippery. And my legs are simply weaker. 😕 

So simply being in a different environment without your usual supports makes things more dangerous? Or maybe I just need to be more cautious and slow down.


My best tip

If you are a wheelchair user, bring an extra pair of your favorite gloves if you normally use them! I lost one of my gloves in Seattle close to the beginning of our trip. And we had to go looking in short order for another pair. The only ones we found were really completely rubber on the palm and didn't allow me to control angles and turning whatsoever. I just got jerked around when I tried to use those gloves. Bring two pairs of your everyday gloves!


Are you considering a cruise? Have you been on many cruises? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.


  • Thanks, Karen for your really encouraging comment. We have been cruising , it’s nineteen ninety nine. We have gone from when I could walk to when I had a cane to win ahead of Walker and now to when I use a wheelchair full-time. We have always been accommodated pretty well and really enjoy ourselves. It’s a great way to travel and vacation and go to multiple countries and only unpack once! For me, as long as I don’t have to cook or clean, I’m pretty happy! Try it out! And have a grey time! I would be really in your experience as well.

    Lisa Hetherington
  • THANKS for the insightful and thorough review. You answered questions that I never knew I had. I have always wanted to go on a cruise, and ikt seems now to be less intimidating and much more likely, I really enjoyed reading your adventure.

    Karen Winston

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