Life with MS

Let’s Cruise

By Betty Gibson

Multiple sclerosis isn’t fun, right? But cruising is, and you can do more than you realize when participating in this great activity. And, if you have never cruised, now is the perfect time to try it. Why? There are specials that will save you money. Do you use an “assistive device” such as a rollator, wheelchair, or scooter? Planning makes that easy. First try to book an accessible cabin. They book fast. Advantage? They offer extra space for your comfort, and bathrooms with grab bars. Not possible? A regular cabin may work well depending on the size of your device, but it is a bit awkward. All right, you have chosen your cruise. You have selected your cabin at the location you want, on the deck you think will be right for you. Not too far from an elevator is a good choice, and at the “food” end of the ship. This is usually aft, the far back of the ship.

Now the fun times

The crew will help you in every way possible. There is always someone ready to assist you at the breakfast and lunch buffets if you care to use them. We always do. Otherwise those meals are available in the dining rooms. Meals can be delivered to your cabin, but if at all possible, go out and enjoy the ship and meet other cruisers. There are activities listed on your shipboard news delivered to your cabin each day. Do as many things as you care to, then add one more. Meet people!

Shore excursions may offer a bit of a challenge, but again there are wonderful, strong young crew persons to help you get off and on the ship. Enjoy their services. Also interact with them. These crew members live very challenging lives aboard ship, away from their families for months at a time. They are so ready to share personal goals with you. Some have families at home, and send most of their pay to them. Some are saving for college.

Always talk to the persons at the excursion desk about what trips match your interests and abilities. They are usually very cognizant of each excursion’s content and physical requirements such as steps. With a railing, I manage fairly well. Without? Not a chance. Be honest about your limitations and they will help you find something you can enjoy doing in port.

Some guidelines for cruising

Choose a destination you really want to visit. You are probably one of a pair, traveling with a husband, wife, family member, or friend. Some cruise lines assign a travel consultant to you, who, by phone and email, will guide you through everything from booking your cruise to printing your luggage tags. Matt, our cruise consultant, even strongly suggested (chose) our cabin on our first cruise with Holland America. It was perfect. Our second Holland America cruise, we registered late. He watched for a handicap cabin to become available. The day before that 28-day cruise sailed, he accomplished the miracle. Usually, your ship will dock at each destination.

The ramp for disembarking will range from a medium slope to somewhat steeper. Have no fear. Crew members will usually help you down (and up later) without you asking or when you stop and look pitiful (rarely necessary, but fun). Either way, you will have help. Best of all, they are always cheerful and never in my experience have made me feel like a burden, but more like a friend.

If you “tender” at a location where you are going ashore, what does that mean? You will transfer from your cruise ship to a small boat, or “tender,” which will give you a ride to shore. Always check with the cruise line to see what is allowed on tenders. Folding wheelchairs are usually accepted as well as walkers. Powerchairs and electric scooters are not able to accomplish this transfer, sorry. It is a safety factor for many reasons. If you use an allowed device, don’t worry about tendering. Enjoy the ride. No, this transfer is not as easy as walking or rolling down a ramp, but is very doable, with help always available.

Some background

Now that you are totally prepared, a little personal background. My husband and I have cruised to Alaska four times, the Caribbean several times, and just enjoyed the 28-day cruise up the Amazon river in Brazil. Our 33-day cruise, Voyage of the Vikings, on a Holland America ship was excellent. We arrived home just before COVID-19. Good timing. These are just a few of our adventures.

Planning makes your cruise go smoothly. Assess your “disabilities” honestly, but more importantly, consider your abilities. Can you walk with a cane? A walker? Do you need a wheelchair at all times? Or just part-time? Cruise ships do get a bit unsteady at times. Personally I do use a wheelchair then. I order one through a company that has a chair waiting in your cabin when you arrive. It stays in your cabin until the end of the cruise. My rollator is perfect for all other times.


Special Note #1:
For cruisers that are not physically able to do some of the ports, there are always some programs aboard ship. Also, you have the buffet with fewer people to block your view of all the special food varieties. This is also a wonderful chance to find a place with a view, where you can relax, read, and also see the activities ashore.
Special Note #2: If you are in the Caribbean, do watch for the flying fish, as well as dolphins.

A quick summary

Cruising is meant for us. If you are at all mobile, think of these advantages:
• See the new territory you have chosen.
• Ravel without packing and unpacking each night. Unpack once and relax.
• Meet new people. You have a chance to learn about other countries and cultures when talking with fellow cruisers. I use my very basic Spanish whenever possible.
• Enjoy the entertainment. From large stage shows to small jazz programs, so much is available.
• When you dock, go ashore when you care to. There is always something to see and do ashore.
• Don’t forget the food. We always go to the buffet for breakfast and lunch. The variety is amazing. For dinner, we go to a dining room.