Keep Your Abilities in Mind When Choosing a Cruise

On my first glorious day in Athens, I walked among Greek ruins, traipsed up and down hills, strolled historic streets and browsed through sidewalk shops. It was a marvelous beginning to my 10-day cruise on the M/V Athena titled “Hidden Gems of the Dalmatian Coast & Greece.”

Sisi’s Castle in Corfu has a beautiful staircase.

However, it was also the day one of my 32 fellow passengers decided the trip was too strenuous for her and that she should go home. It was a good decision and a wise reminder that people should investigate a trip before booking it.

The woman arrived in Greece on the same flight that I did and, at the time, I worried about her ability to participate in the very active trip. She walked with a cane and had difficulty exiting the plane and needed a wheelchair to get to our waiting bus.

A note written in italics on the Grand Circle Cruise Line booklet chapter titled “Keep Your Abilities in Mind” is a good reminder for any traveler. It notes that “we reserve the right for our Program Directors to modify participation, or in some circumstances, send travelers home if their limitations are impacting the group’s experience.”

Mobility is required for some Alaskan cruise activities.

On our Athens visit, the Greek city is a dream place to visit, as are other sites on our itinerary but there are no easy ways to climb some of these ruins or to walk these ancient streets. The Grand Circle Cruise Line booklet I received in the mail before my trip spelled out clearly what we would be doing and was very specific about the physical requirements:

“You must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted and participate in 6-8 hours of physical activities each day, including several sets of stairs, up to 300 stairs, uphill and downhill.” The sites we will be visiting mean “travel over uneven walking surfaces including ruins and archaeological sites, unpaved paths, hills, stairs and cobblestone.”

On some cruise ships and some itineraries, people with mobility problems can have a very enjoyable time. However, The M/V Athena has no elevator and the ship and trip are not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters, the Grand Circle booklet says.

Research a Trip Before Booking

I always emphasize that prospective travelers should research a trip before booking it. Read as much as you can about it. Talk to travel experts and tour companies. If possible, talk to people who have already taken a cruise. Read reviews but remember to take some of them with a grain of salt. Almost anyone can write an online review and they are not always accurate or fair. A traveler’s review of a fantastic trip I took aboard the Amadeus Silver II said the ship has a swimming pool and no elevator. It is just the opposite. The Silver II does have a great elevator. No pool.

A sandy path leads to a lovely beach in Tahiti.

It is disheartening to hear travelers complain about something on or not on a ship that would have been easily discovered with a little bit of advance research. On a Blount Grand Caribe cruise from Nashville to St. Louis, a passenger complained bitterly about the ship not having a fitness center. The small ship’s brochure noted that. Instead, the woman would walk circles around the top deck every day to exercise, muttering as she went.

On a recent cruise to French Polynesia aboard the beautiful Oceania Sirena, I was given a seven-page brochure with about 50 shore excursion options. I really appreciated that the shore excursion booklet had detailed information on all the choices. It had a good description of what each tour would entail along with the difficulty (easy, moderate or extensive) and the length of time the tour would last.

To give you an idea of the thoroughness of the brochure information, look at this listing for the Huahine Jeep Safari:

Duration: 3 ½ hours. Difficulty: Moderate.

Please note: This tour is not wheelchair accessible. Walking is mainly at guests’ discretion during the stops; however, a high step is required to board the jeeps. As this tour involves some bumpy off-road driving, guests with limited mobility, back and/or neck problems, pregnant women or those who suffer from motion sickness are discouraged from participating. Jeeps carry up to eight guests.” 

London tours often feature long walks to famous landmarks like the famous Tower Bridge.

The Sirena excursion desk crew also were helpful in suggesting what might be good or not good for passengers. A passenger named Anne from Miami had sprained her right wrist before the cruise and had it wrapped in bandages. Taking a tour where she would have to climb up or down, swim or be bounced around might not be advisable, destination services team member Nancy Schwarze said.

Although she had signed up for a jeep safari, Anne canceled it and opted instead to visit a vanilla plantation on a tour bus. When I saw her later that evening, Anna said the vanilla plantation visit was delightful and she was glad she had switched from her original choice.

Knowing what is offered on a cruise and being realistic about what your body is capable of doing can certainly make any trip more enjoyable. I have never been much of a jogger but I can’t run since I had ankle surgery back in the 1980s. I also can’t – or don’t want to – carry all the camera gear I used to carry years ago. It’s a hard reality but a good reminder that all people need to “Keep Your Abilities in Mind.”

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

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