MIAMI -- Cruise executives at the 2003 World Congress for Travelers
with Disabilities and the Mature here reported increases in the
number of disabled passengers as the cruise industry moves to
accommodate this emerging market.
Cruise lines began to step up their efforts to attract these
travelers about two years ago, according to a cruise session at the
congress, which was sponsored by the Society for Accessible Travel
& Hospitality (SATH).
"In the last couple of years, I've noted a huge increase in the
growth of groups with special needs," said Kay Stowderman, manager
of the access and special needs department at Carnival Cruise
Lines. "Our numbers for groups of blind and deaf passengers have
really taken off in the last two years. So there's really a market
out there for these groups."
She noted, for example, that the line recently hosted a group of
60 blind guests, including 20 service dogs.
"It was a huge success," Stowderman said. "And the group has
booked again for next year."
In expanding its capacity for disabled passengers, she said,
Carnival is in the midst of a retrofitting project, adding more
wheelchair-accessible cabins to existing ships, the last of which
will be completed by the end of this year.
The program also includes adding braille signage, accessible
seating for the main show lounges and lifts from the spa to the
upper sun deck.
Through its sensitivity training program, Carnival also has
added a purser assigned to implement guests' special needs.
"We get a lot of great feedback from that," Stowderman said.
Laura Amor, access specialist for Royal Caribbean International,
Celebrity Cruises and Royal Celebrity Tours, said increases in the
number of disabled guests on the company's ships and land tours
have prompted the streamlining of the reservations process for
Res agents no longer are transferring travel agents to the
request desk for special requests, she said, but faxing travel
agents a new form that asks for all essential information about a
client's special needs for accommodations or services.
The agent then has the option of awaiting a written confirmation
that the requests have been fulfilled or asking the access desk to
confirm through a return phone call.
Royal Caribbean began placing a new emphasis on accommodating
travelers with disabilities in 2000, Amor noted, launching a $5.5
million project for upgrades to equipment and training.
All 16 ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet will be upgraded by
December, she said; Celebrity's nine vessels will be complete by
the end of next year.
Among the new amenities are braille menus; braille nameplates at
the bottom of stairways will be installed by year's end.
For the deaf or hard of hearing, strobe fire alarms are
available in staterooms along with text phones. In addition, the
company is developing a text pager that will transmit all ship
On Royal Caribbean's new Voyager-class vessels, wheelchair
access onto tenders has been designed into the ships, she said.
As for Royal Celebrity Tours, the company provides lift access
to the second level on its rail cars in Alaska, Amor said, along
with the assurance of accessible hotel rooms.
Jennifer McCloskey-Alvarez, who runs Holland America's access
and special needs program, said HAL also began expanding its access
programs about two years ago.
The line launched a retrofitting program on its older vessels,
extending accessible cabins to higher categories as well as inside
cabins, she said, adding that seven ships have been completed.
In addition, six HAL ships are equipped with a custom-made lift
system for tenders. A lift rises from a tender and attaches to the
ship, enabling a passenger in a wheelchair or scooter to roll onto
the lift before descending into a secure area of the tender.
This year, two more ships will be retrofitted with the system,
The line's new Vista series of vessels -- the first of which was
the Zuiderdam -- will have two of the lifts, she said, adding, "the
tender-lift system has really done a lot for us."
For its Alaska land tours, McCloskey-Alvarez said, HAL last year
purchased four domed rail cars that are wheelchair accessible on
two levels, including accessible lower- and upper-level dining.