Cruising On Carnival Radiance- An Accessibility Review

Cruising On Carnival Radiance- An Accessibility Review

Going on a cruise is luxurious and fun. It can also be a more economical means of taking a vacation, because many cruise lines provide package deals which include the cost of room, transportation, food and entertainment for one complete price. However, if you don’t book your cruise during the off-season, when prices are lower, that all-inclusive price tag can be pretty steep. For that reason, it is important to understand what a cruise is and is not, and how to get the most out of your experience, before forking over a pile of Benjamins to buy a cruise ticket. Fortunately, there are several blogs and websites dedicated to demystifying the general cruise experience. So, this blog post will describe some of the accessibility perks and pitfalls that I observed during my recent cruise experience.

On January 29, 2024, my mom and I embarked on a four-day Carnival cruise with stops at Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico. We flew into LAX airport on the morning of January 29th. Then, we took a Lift to the cruise terminal in Long Beach, CA, which was about a twenty-five-minute ride. Since I am blind and have been on only one other cruise in my life, I stuck pretty close to my mom during our cruising adventure.

Arriving at the cruise terminal, we proceeded to the cruise check-in counter, where we presented our passports and identification cards and had a picture taken for security. For my mom, this was a straight-forward process; however, for me there was a bump in the road. After scanning my passport, the agent stopped and said that I would need to visit the Guest Services counter to complete my check-in. When I asked why, the agent said they did not know, but my passport flagged me for special check-in at Guest Services. Concerned, I retrieved my passport and luggage, then followed my mom across the terminal to the Guest Services counter. At that point, all was revealed. There was nothing wrong with my passport, the cruise line simply wanted me to go through their ADA check-in to ensure that I received appropriate accommodations. Relieved and slightly annoyed, I completed my check-in process, received my Sail-N-Sign photo ID card, and we were able to check our bags and board the ship.

To get on the ship, we walked along a couple of wide-railing pathways and up a slightly inclined ramp. At the top of the ramp, we were met by various employees who scanned our Sail-N-Sign cards and directed us to Lido deck 9, where we could get lunch while waiting for our state room to be ready.

On the Lido deck, I was instantly hit with the overwhelming sensations of bright sunlight, hundreds of people milling around, the smell of cooking food, and loud music blasting from various speakers. It was the Welcome Aboard party and all of it was almost too much for my heightened senses to tolerate. We managed to get some fast-food and settle on the far-side of the deck, away from the speakers, where we ate and discussed our plans for the day.

Around 1:30pm, we were able to get settled into our state room, which we discovered was on deck 1 at the back of the ship. Getting inside our room, it was immediately clear that we did not want to stay there, because being at the back of the ship on the bottom deck, put us near the engine room, from which we could smell the diesel, hear the engines, and feel every wave beneath the ship. So, after contacting the ship’s Guest Services desk, we were assisted with moving to a state room located on deck 9-mid ship, which was much more comfortable and centralized near ship activities and dining.

In our state room, we found some standardized accessibility features; namely low beds and audio description on the TV.

While settling into our state room, I explored the Carnival Hub app a bit and found the onboard safety video. Listening to the safety video, I was delighted to discover that it had good audio descriptions.

Also in our state room, we found a channel on the TV that played a reading of the current days schedule of activities, read by the cruise director Paulie. This was a welcome alternative means of accessing the schedule.

Walking around the ship, for me, was not much of an issue, as I am fully ambulatory with a sighted guide or my white cane. However, I noticed some features of the ship which could be challenging for some people—especially people in walkers, wheelchairs, and those who use crutches or a support cane. Most of the hallways are pretty narrow, making it near impossible to walk side-by-side with somebody. Also, most doorways are pretty narrow, possibly causing challenges for people with mobility devices. Additionally, throughout the ship, the hallways and paths are not completely flat. There are metal plates and slight ramps sporadically located in most public areas, which could trip-up an unsuspecting traveler.

We found the main dining room to be of similar layout and function, compared with most modern-day restaurants. However, one key difference between cruise dining and main-land restaurants is the variety, quality, and portions of food. If you enjoy trying new and exciting food, served as small, multi-course portions, then the cruise dining experience is for you. Over the course of the four days, we were onboard, I tried some exotic and truly excellent dishes ranging from roast duck with a coffee glaze, frog legs, crawfish fritters, and much more. There were also more familiar food options like burgers, steak, sandwiches, and hot dogs for the less adventurous foodies.

Day One

On the first day of the cruise, we woke up to an announcement saying that the ship had arrived at Catalina Island and those wishing to go ashore would be tendered over by boat.

So, after breakfast at the Lido deck buffet, Mom and I proceeded down to deck zero to board a tender.

Getting on the tender required us to traverse a series of ramps leading from the ship to the idling transport. Fortunately, the walkways had ample railings for safety and there were ship staff standing every few feet, ready to assist anybody in need of help. Onboard the tender, we found booth-style tables for sitting at during the crossing. In all, getting from the ship to the island by tender took approximately thirty minutes.

Arriving on the island, we walked about a block to the golf cart checkout. After standing in line for a bit, we were able to check-out a small golf cart for two hours. Being the sighted driver in our duo, my mom drove the cart. We wove along city streets, to the top of the island’s tallest hill, where my mom said that she could see all the way to San Francisco. Then, we hopped back into the cart and took the scenic route back to the return station, located near the port.

Returning to the ship, we decided to join in the trivia fun at the Red Frog pub, which was a lot of fun. Then, we spent a little in the casino, before winding down in our state room.

Day Two

On the second morning, we woke up to the announcement saying that we had arrived in Ensenada, Mexico. So, after breakfast at the buffet, Mom and I cued up with the other passengers getting off the ship. This time, the ship was able to dock at the port, so we were able to walk across the ramps leading directly from the ship to dry land. The weather was sunny and comfortably warm for the end of January, so I was content wearing only jeans and a t-shirt in Ensenada.

Stepping off the ship, we were met by several locals trying to entice to buy this or that. There was one man holding a parrot, who offered to let me touch the bird and take a picture for a price, which I politely declined. Nearby, we found a bus that would take us to the downtown area, so we happily paid the fee and climbed aboard.

In downtown Ensenada, we explored some of the open-air shops, finding that shop owners in Ensenada can be relentless when trying to make a sale. The moment my mom or I started looking at any of the merchandise, there was inevitably a shop owner at our side trying to up-sell us on this or that. Frankly, it became a little exhausting after a while of smiling and politely explaining I was only looking.

After a couple of hours browsing through the various shops, we decided to return to the ship. So, we boarded the bus for the trip back to the cruise port. While on the bus, the driver’s cell phone started ringing, and I held my breath hoping that he would ignore it while driving, so that we could make it back to the ship safely. Fortunately, the bus driver did not pick up his ringing cell phone, so I gave him a tip after getting off the bus at the terminal.

Before boarding the ship, Mom and I went over to the dock railing to observe a cluster of noisy sea lions who were swimming, barking, and playing on the beach about thirty feet beyond the erected barrier. It was really an unexpected treat to hear all of those sea lions doing their thing mere feet from where we were standing, but after a few minutes of watching, we decided to go up the gangway, back on to the ship.

It’s kind of funny… being back onboard the ship felt safe and familiar, after spending only a couple of hours in Ensenada.

We spent the afternoon walking around the ship, engaging in various activities. I even played some more trivia games in the Red Frog pub before going to an adult comedy show in the evening. By the time we reached our state room that night, Mom and I were happy to crawl into our beds and sleep.

Day Three

The third day of the cruise was a full day at sea. We started our day in the main dining room, where we were treated with a Dr. Seus-style green eggs and ham breakfast. The experience of eating decoratively colored eggs and pancakes along side characters such as Cat in The Hat and Thing one and two was quite whimsical and fun, even for adults.

Next, we browsed through the gift shops, in search of souvenirs. We also spent time in the casino, photobooth, and in the Red Frog pub playing trivia games. While the day was more relaxed and informal compared with the two prior days, it was not entirely laid-back. The entire day was fraught with rough seas. The ship was constantly rolling and bucking beneath our feet. In fact, we had to for-go lounging on the Lido deck, because of the rain and wind.

That evening, we listened to the debarkation presentation from our state room, which described the process for leaving the ship the next day. Then, we packed our suitcases, left them outside our room, and went to bed.

Debarkation Day

On the morning of debarkation day, we had breakfast at the buffet, then walked around the ship a bit before heading to deck zero to join the cue of passengers getting off the ship. Since this was the same port in California that we left from three days earlier, the process went pretty smoothly in reverse. We stepped off the ship, walked down the ramps and walkways, and entered the cruise terminal. We had our passports and identification compared with the photos they took of us on the day we boarded, then we were given our suitcases and left the terminal in search of transportation to the airport. After climbing into our Lift car, we settled in for the long drive to LAX. In the car, our driver shared that there had been a big storm the previous day, completely flooding the roads with water. Recalling the rough seas we had experienced the day before, I surmised that the same storm at sea had battered the city of Long Beach.

Arriving at the airport, we thanked the driver and went inside to check-in for the flight. Everything went pretty smoothly until we were waiting at our gate and an announcement came over the PA system saying that our flight to Portland would be delayed another two hours. So, we sat back in our chairs and waited. Fortunately, the airline compensated us with a $20 food voucher, which we used to buy a light lunch. Then, we were finally boarding the plane that would take us back to where we started.

The flight was pretty uneventful, but when we touched down in Portland, it was clear that the vacation was over. We collected our bags, took a Lift to my brother’s house, where I reunited with my loveable guide dog, then we stayed at a hotel over-night before driving home to Yakima the next morning.

Before going on the cruise, I admit I was a bit apprehensive. I worried about a whole host of things from whether I would be sea sick, to what I would do for entertainment during the days at sea… But I shouldn’t have worried. The cruise was a wonderful adventure and I am so grateful for having the opportunity to experience it. So, to anybody with a disability, wondering if it is safe and accessible to take a cruise, I say go for it and have fun!

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