How To Cruise As A Wheelchair User; Norwegian Epic Review
If you are a wheelchair user and have not traveled on a cruise because you are afraid the cruise line doesn’t cater to your specific needs, this article is for you. Earlier this month, my family and I went on a cruise to the Caribbean onboard the Norwegian Epic. My husband had his leg amputated in October of 2022, months after we made the cruise reservation and the final payment. We considered canceling our trip but are so glad we decided to go. We had a great time! Let me tell you all about it. (This is NOT a sponsored post! Just my honest review.)
When we arrived on embarkation day since my husband was in a wheelchair, we were sent thru a different check-in area and the total time spent checking in was less than 10 minutes. We were off to a great start to our vacation!
Wheelchair User Cabin
We had originally reserved a room with a balcony. It was not wheelchair user friendly because we didn’t need it when we booked it. When my husband’s leg had to be amputated, we never thought we would be able to make the cruise. Our children, who were going on the cruise with us, kept urging us not to cancel. We are so glad we listened to them.
I called our Norwegian Group representative and told him about our situation. My husband’s leg amputation was a life-or-death situation. It was one of the most difficult things we have ever lived through. He was hospitalized for 33 days. The Norwegian Group Representative was so empathic with us, he said he would take care of us. Within a few hours, I got a return call stating that we were moved to a wheelchair-accessible room (at no extra cost to us). We were still a bit worried about cruising, but we faced our fear and went for it.
Our room was huge! Once we used our card to unlock the door, the door itself opened automatically, remained open for a bit, and then closed automatically. It allows the wheelchair user enough time to get into or out of the room and not worry about reaching over to try to close the door.
Halfway down the room, they had buttons for opening and locking the door to the room. This was a perfect placement because he would press the button and by the time he reached the door, it would be opened enough for him to get through. He had enough space in the hallway to turn into the position he needed to go.
The Norwegian Epic had recently gone through a renovation where they split the shower and the toilet into two separate “rooms”. Our bathroom still had both in the same room. It was big enough for him to be able to enter with his wheelchair comfortably.
The toilet area had various bars for him to grab. It even had a bar that could be pulled down if he needed yet another one to grab onto. It made it easy for a wheelchair user to transfer to the toilet.
The shower area had a bench that we could lift or lower as needed. It was very easy for him to transfer himself from the wheelchair to the bench for his shower. Once he was in the shower, I removed his wheelchair from the bathroom and closed the door for him.
The one issue we had was the wet floor. I don’t know how that could be prevented, but once his shower was over, there was water in the entire bathroom. There was wraparound drainage, but that didn’t keep the floor dry. If either he or I would need to use the toilet shortly after someone showered, we would have to be careful because the floor would be wet and our pants could get wet, or worse, we could slip and fall. But again, I am not sure how that could be prevented. They did provide a towel so we could put it on the floor, but there was a lot of water on the floor after a shower.
The closet bar with the hangers had a handle that a wheelchair user could easily reach and pull and the closet bar with hangers would come down to their level. My husband could easily reach his clothes and hang them back up. Once he was done, he used the handle to lift the bar back up to its original position and closed the doors. I thought this was a great touch.
A ramp was installed that allowed a wheelchair user to move easily from the room to the balcony. There was enough space to turn the wheelchair (and scooter which I will get to in a minute) and get back inside.
Here is a video I found on YouTube that shows the cabins available to wheelchair users on the Norwegian Epic cruise.
Wheelchair Accessible Closet shown in video above
Rental Equipment Is Waiting for You
It was important that my husband had as much independence on this cruise as he could. At home, he moved around in his wheelchair without much help, but the cruise would be different. Where to eat was a distance away. And getting around the ship on his own would have left him exhausted by the middle of the afternoon with his manual wheelchair. That isn’t at all what we wanted for him. We wanted him to enjoy this trip.
The ship offered equipment rentals for the wheelchair user that we took advantage of. We looked into it and decided to rent him a scooter for the entirety of the cruise before embarkation day. This was by far, the best decision we made. Renting this scooter was not an obvious choice on their website though. I found it at the footer of their main page under Accessible Cruising. There you can see all the equipment they rent.
Based on his weight, we selected the appropriate scooter and added the insurance. We immediately received a call from the third-party vendor that rents the scooters to confirm the ship, date, port, and height and weight. The scooter was waiting for him in his room when we arrived on the ship. He could easily move in our stateroom and around the cruise ship.
He did have an issue once with the scooter when he was trying to access the ramp to the balcony. The scooter stopped working when he was halfway over the small ramp. We had to call the ship’s Guest Relations in order to get someone to help him. Someone arrived pretty quickly to take a look at the scooter but he couldn’t fix it. He told us he would report the issue and someone would come by. It took well over two hours to get him a replacement scooter. But, we had no additional issues with the scooter moving forward. It was great to see that they had a replacement on the ship.
He would use the scooter all day and charge it all night. We never experienced a low battery issue or any other issues. It worked great!
Ports of Call Access & Excursions
One thing we found out was that if you are a wheelchair user, you cannot go onto the tenders in order to get to the port. None of our ports required tenders so we were set. But I would say it is important to find out which ports your cruise will require the use of tenders to disembark at the port. This is important because you will not be able to access the tender on your wheelchair. If you can take a few steps and fold up your wheelchair, you will have more opportunities available to you. That was not our case.
Getting off and on the ship was probably the most challenging part of using a scooter. The ramps can be pretty steep sometimes. But we were never left alone. The ship ALWAYS had staff that would help guide my husband on and off the ship. Once we were off the ship, I was amazed at how everything was wheelchair accessible on the islands we visited. We were able to go almost anywhere we wanted to. The sidewalks were wide as well. The scooter’s battery worked perfectly the entire time. We visited every port, except one because it was raining when we arrived and we took that as our rest day. Plus, the town seemed a pretty long distance to walk to.
We did not go on any excursions. So, I cannot review them. But we did notice that most of the taxis and bus services available on most of the islands, did not have a wheelchair ramp. So, we stayed close to the port or the surrounding areas. If you are interested in shore excursions, I would recommend you reserve these as soon as possible. There are a few excursions that will allow for wheelchair users, but I’m sure there is limited space, so I would recommend you reserve the ones you want quickly.
Restaurants, Venues, and Restrooms
Going to different restaurants was not an issue for us. We would get to our table. My husband would transfer himself to the chair. And our son or a staff member would move his scooter (if necessary).
The only restaurant where we had issues was the Garden Café. This was usually quite full and he could only access tables that were closest to the entrance of the sections because his scooter would not fit between so many tables and chairs. We did not eat at the Garden Cafe much, but later we found out that there were tables set aside for wheelchair users. We did not know that. The other issue eating at the buffet caused was getting his food. I would have to get his food and mine and make several trips before I could sit down to enjoy my meal. Not my preference for sure. So, we usually had our breakfast at O’Sheehan’s. It was very convenient for us and we enjoyed their selection. Lunch was usually at the pool deck and dinner was at one of the many dining options.
We love going to the evening shows. There were not many on this ship, so we went to all the ones we could. There are several sitting areas for wheelchair users. My husband is an amputee, so he couldn’t just get off his scooter and take a few steps to sit somewhere. I wondered how they would seat him. Well, they have sections at the back, before you go down the steps, that are reserved for wheelchair users. Since my husband was always with us, they would simply open a balcony for us and we would enjoy the show altogether with him. The accessibility to the theater was really terrific.
At each end of the ship and in the middle, there are restrooms for the handicapped. You hit a button and it opens the door for the user and then closes it for them. This made it very easy for my husband to use the restroom without having to return to our stateroom. One thing I forgot to mention about all the bathrooms, even the one in our stateroom is that they all had an emergency call string that the user could pull to get help. Very much like the ones they have in hospital restrooms.
So Many Helping Hands
The staff and even the passengers were always so willing to lend a helping hand. At every port disembarkation, there was ALWAYS someone helping him. At the restaurants, they would always find a good table for him. When on the elevators, people would hold the elevator doors for us while he maneuvered himself on and off the elevator. While at the buffet, a staff member helped find him a table. Another day a staff asked him if he needed help getting his food. And yet another one brought him coffee while I got his food. Everyone was very helpful and made this experience one that we will definitely repeat.
Living with a handicap isn’t easy. It is scary to try to do things that we are not used to doing. My intention with this review is for you to feel more at ease with cruising while in a wheelchair. It was such a great experience for us. We are already planning our next cruise for next year!
What has been your experience traveling while in a wheelchair?
Comment below. I’d love to know.
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