13 Tips for Using a Mobility Scooter on a Cruise Ship
Have you put the brakes on taking a cruise because you use a mobility scooter at home and don’t think you can take it on board? Or maybe you think you can’t do all the walking and standing that today’s mega-ships require? Here’s the good news: using mobility scooters has become the norm on cruise ships and is easier than you think. (In fact, competing for a parking space in the dining room might be the biggest concern you have all day on your stress-free cruise vacation.)
A scooter can easily give you access to the joys of sailing on the open seas without standing on your feet all day. (Insert “pooped deck” joke here.) A mobility scooter gives you the freedom and flexibility to get around virtually the entire ship, is often easy to operate, and starts lots of conversations. Best of all, a scooter is a lot of fun to ride around a cruise ship.
Here are the 13 top tips you should know to become a cruise ship scooter expert:
1. You don’t have to be “officially disabled” to use a scooter onboard a cruise.
Anyone can bring or use a mobility scooter (or wheelchair, walker or other mobility devices) on a cruise ship if it will help you comfortably enjoy the cruise. Whether you’re a slow walker, are pre/post surgery, have an injury, or just know you’ll be too tired at the end of the day to enjoy yourself, you are a candidate to use a mobility scooter. If you don’t bring a scooter from home, you can rent one through your travel agent. It will be in your cabin, ready to go as soon as you are.
2. You can bring your own scooter or rent one and it will be in your stateroom.
If you already have a mobility scooter, you can bring it along and ride it from your car or cab ride onto the ship. The security and check-in processes are the same. Note that the gangways onto the ship are steep and you may have to walk or push it at some point. Don’t exceed the weight capacity with everyone’s carry-on bags (like I did). It could cause the scooter to temporarily shut down.
If you’re flying, you can bring your scooter on most airlines at no additional baggage charge. (A Flying With Your Scooter post is coming soon.)
Renting a scooter and having it ready and waiting for you may be the best option, even if you have one at home. Work with a travel agent who is a SNG Certified Accessible Travel Advocate to make arrangements as soon as you book your cruise. The cruise lines do not rent this equipment. Your travel agent works with the accessibility equipment providers. You need to provide your height and weight to determine which of the three scooter sizes you’ll need. Don’t wait until you get on the ship to ask about a scooter; they may not be available, and even if they are, you will pay more.
3. If you bring your own, don’t forget your power cord, battery charger or key.
It sounds simple, but double and triple check that you have the power cord and the key if you bring your own scooter. Having to leave it in the car because you can’t find the key, or not being able to use it once the initial charge fades are both guaranteed to throw cold water on your cruise trip, no matter how warm the water is at the private island. And if you can’t believe someone would leave their power cord at home, I did just that after buying a scooter the week before we embarked on the ship. The photo our daughter texted of the cord still plugged in the wall at home (“Is this it?”) is the first exhibit in my Vacation Hall of Infamy. I got lucky and borrowed a power cord, but please do as I say, not as I did.
4. Mobility scooters are easy to drive, even for first timers.
Don’t be intimidated at the thought of maneuvering a scooter. Once you adjust the seat height, arm rests and the tiller (steering post) to your comfort level, go for a test drive. Most have one lever to move you forward, and another to go in reverse. To stop, just let go: there are no brakes. Scooters have an easy turning radius and are very intuitive. If a 15-year-old can drive a car, you can drive a scooter.
Cruise line crew members are usually on hand to help as you get on and off the ship at a port call.
5. You (and your scooter) can leave the ship at the ports of call.
The ramps off the ship can be pretty steep, so don’t count on being able to ride up or down them. Most of the time, the cruise line crew members are there to assist you. If not, most scooters come apart into two to five pieces and can easily be carried a few steps to skip the slope. This is easier done with help. The rental companies are OK with the scooter leaving the ship, as long the equipment comes back in the same shape it left.
6. You can leave the ship at tender ports, but your scooter might not.
When a ship can’t pull up to the dock at a port of call, small tender boats are used to transport passengers to and from shore. The ship’s staff decides, based on the conditions at each tender port, whether scooters can go ashore. In most cases, wheelchairs are allowed on tender boats. Again, if you think you want to bring or rent a back-up wheelchair, planning ahead is key.
7. Check before you book a shore excursion if it can accommodate a scooter.
Whether you book shore excursions through the cruise line or with an outside company, a JOB (Joy on the Beach) wheelchair can be a great substitute for your scooter during a beach excursion. It has large air-filled tires that easily travel in the sand and can even go in the water. Talk to your travel agent about how to rent one.
8. Going up or down? You have more choices than that to make when it comes to elevators.
Elevators are crucial to your success motoring around a 17 deck ship. But they take a bit of planning. If you have someone traveling with you, they can play traffic cop for you, holding the elevator door and letting the elevator passengers know you’re coming aboard so they’ll make room. You can drive straight in or back in, depending on your comfort level. If you’re by yourself, you’ll probably have to go straight in. The elevator doors close too quickly for you to execute a two-point turn and back in. Experiment and see what works best for you.
The usual elevator awkwardness can be even worse when you’re at everyone’s shoulder level, but people are usually open to a quick conversation about how things are going as you sail to or from paradise. (I usually promise not to drive on their toes.)
9. You don’t need an accessible stateroom for most scooters, but it’s great if you can get one.
Accessible staterooms have more square footage (usually about 50 percent more) and other ADA features including roll-in showers. Cruise lines don’t charge more for accessible staterooms than other rooms in that same category. However, there are only a small number of these rooms in each general stateroom category. But don’t worry, accessible staterooms are only required if you have/rent the largest size of scooter or wheelchair (usually for a passenger above 400 pounds). The standard (250 pounds) and heavy duty (350 pounds) scooters and wheelchairs generally fit through the door of a regular stateroom.
10. Charge your scooter every night to keep on rollin’ the next day.
You’re going on a cruise to recharge your batteries, so make sure you do the same for your scooter. Plug in the charger each night to make sure it has plenty of juice to make it through the next day’s activities.
11. Take charge of your charging.
Cruise ships have many things to offer, but lots of power outlets in the staterooms doesn’t make the list. It’s always a good idea to throw a small power strip in your carryon bag to make sure you have enough outlets to charge all your electrical devices, especially your scooter. (Some cruise lines might have you remove a power strip if it’s in your suitcase when you board. They’ll give it back at the end of your cruise, but it’s easier just to carry it on.)
12. Avoid the top decks on sea days.
The scooter will take you just about anywhere you want to go on the ship. On a recent cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, I was stopped in my tracks only a couple of times. And there was always an easy detour that got me on my way in just a few seconds.
If you stay on board the ship during a port day, you might develop an unrealistic idea of how much space you have on the top one or two decks. These decks are open to the sun and contain the pools and lounge chairs. What had been clear four-lane highways on the port days becomes narrow one-lane bridges on the sea days when everyone is catching the rays. The lounge chairs that were stacked up by the hundreds now occupy most of your previously open roads. Expect a much slower journey or find an alternate, lower deck route.
13. It’s OK to get a little help from your friends (even if you just met them).
The main thing to remember, especially if you don’t normally use a scooter at home, is that (cue the “High School Musical” score) we’re all in this together. Sure, there will be people who dodge in front of you because they think that might be the last elevator that comes today. You can wait, you’re already sitting down.
But most people are in a wonderful frame of mind. They’re on a magical cruise vacation. A bad day on a cruise ship beats a good day just about anywhere else. They’ll hold the elevator door, step aside if they’re going faster or slower than you are, and even help push you when you get stuck going up the gangway the first day on the ship. This may not be covered by the Code of the Sea, but I like to think most people will rise to the occasion and do the right thing. And by the way, don’t worry about finding a parking place at dinner. You’ll do fine.
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