The Smyth's Family Cruise

Julie Smyth describes their family trips with husband Ian and daughters Evie and Marni who has SMA Type 2.

Initially we chose to go on a P&O cruise because it sailed from Southampton, which was a way of having a holiday abroad without having to fly. This meant that we didn’t have to worry about Marni’s chest being able to cope with the flight, all the equipment we needed to take and the added stress of it being broken in transit. (These were our concerns as parents rather than Marni’s as she got the go ahead to fly by the specialists).

On the morning of the cruise we loaded up the car; the girls’ cases were huge! We also took a cough assist, bi-pap, portable hoist and shower chair. We had tagged each item with a luggage label which we had received with our cabin details. We pulled up at the dock and unloaded our baggage which was then delivered to our rooms. Our car was then driven away and parked as we had booked car parking (an added cost). All we had to do was board, which was very efficient as there was a special registration desk for disabled people. We then posed for our first picture and went off to explore the ship - such a relief and all totally stress free! 

The ship was very accessible as there were lifts everywhere to all the decks. This gave Marni freedom to go anywhere she wanted. The adapted cabin was very spacious with a wider door, plenty of room to get the wheelchair/hoist around and a wet room.

On the ship there were numerous swimming pools with jacuzzis. The food and entertainment were amazing - there were 2 theatres, a cinema, casino, nightclub, numerous bars and a kids’ club! You could literally eat 24/7 - including free room service- which I was totally unaware of until Evie informed us on the way home that she had been ordering double hot chocolate, baguettes and crisps each night!

When we booked our first cruise we were very naive and found that some of the ports were ‘by tender’. This means that the boat drops anchor out at sea and passengers access the port via a small boat. This was totally impossible for Marni, even with a push wheelchair. On our next cruise we checked out the ports beforehand. In some ports we had to return to the ship earlier than other passengers because of the tides, as this affects the steepness of the ramp. 

Once at the ports we boarded the buses that drove into the main town. Most of the time the buses were accessible, but if not they provided wheelchair-friendly minibuses. Sometimes this was not possible, but this did not generally cause a problem as the town was within walking distance of the port.  Marni’s favourite port so far has been Gran Canaria because the beach has a big decked platform for wheelchair users, and they have beach wheelchairs to hire so that you can go on the sand/in the sea. They offer tours further inland to particular points of interest. Though this is an additional cost, when we were there we were able to use some of our onboard spending money to pay for Evie and our family guest to go.

We had to get Marni’s insurance separately from the rest of the family. We went with Fish Insurance as they specialize in insurance for people with disabilities. It was slightly higher in price but not unaffordable.

We had a fantastic time and would recommend it to anyone. We have sailed with P&O twice and we have just booked another cruise this summer, our third cruise in three years which says it all!

Our tips for anyone considering booking a cruise are:

  • Check out the ports before you book to make sure they are accessible, some can be ‘by tender’, which means they are not wheelchair accessible.
  • Book early in order to secure a wheelchair accessible cabin. You can’t get a wheelchair through the door of a regular cabin.
  • Negotiate some on board spending - the ship is cash free and works on a card system which you use to buy drinks or shop purchases. Discuss any planned excursions with a cruise advisor to make sure that it is wheelchair accessible and that they can book wheelchair friendly transport.
  • And finally relax and enjoy your holiday!

This first appeared in the Autumn 2013 edition of our Inspirations magazine