Written by Chillie Falls, Access Adventure, April 27, 2022
On my recent cruise on Navigator of the Seas, sailing from Los Angeles to the Mexican Riviera, I found some accessibility items done very well. But also found several things that were most troubling. This review will cover both in detail.
The embarkation procedures were the best I have found on eight cruises so far in 2022. By the time I requested wheelchair service, and my Uber driver, got out to unload my suitcase, computer case and walker, the wheelchair was there. I sent the suitcase and walker with the porter, and I kept my computer case and portable oxygen unit. The port wheelchair pusher was a nice lady who got me through security, and check in with almost no waiting. And yes, special needs folks like me, seemed to get expedited service.
As is usually the case, partway from check in to the gangway, my wheelchair was turned over to Royal Caribbean personnel who took me onto Navigator of the Seas. Once on board, the wheelchair attendant stopped by Guest Services and explained that my scooter was to be delivered to the cabin and I could not access it for another hour or so until the staterooms were opened. I would wait in Boleros.
Guest Services dispatched a runner to retrieve my scooter.
By the time I was taken one floor down to Boleros, ordered an adult beverage, and before I could take a sip, the scooter was delivered.
Even though it would be awhile until I could access my cabin, I could go to one of the open restaurants or explore the ship other than the stateroom floors.
Disembarkation at the end of the cruise went almost as smoothly. I was given an 8 AM time to report on my scooter to Boleros. Within five minutes or so, I was transferred to a wheelchair and taken off the ship. At the same point, I was handed off to port employees. My wheelchair attendant took me through customs and to the luggage area, got a port for the bags and walker, and proceed to the shuttle bus to LAX. I was at the airport actually before 8:30AM.
My accessible accommodations on Navigator of the Seas was just that. Accessible. Very spacious. Roll in shower with plenty of hand rails and balance rails. All laid out very well. The room itself was plenty big enough for my scooter to be charged each night and turned around so I did not have to back in or out.
Since I now travel with a surge protector, I had plenty of outlets for all of my charging stations. I generally plug in the oxygen concentrator to a main plug. My phone, computer and portable oxygen unit to the second plug on the T-bar. I have quit trying to match up and use the European circuit.
The other area that was better than most in accessibility was the attitudes toward mobility challenged from the dining / food service crew. In both the main dining room, where I ate every night, plus the buffet where I ate every breakfast plus a couple of lunches, I was allowed to roll up to the table, an attendant would remove a chair, and I could just rotate the scooter seat so that I was sitting at a table like a “normal” person. I have been in dining rooms where I would be forced to leave the scooter, sit in a dining room chair, one of the waiters would then remove my scooter and bring it back after the meal.
Just like my feeling about lifts for the pools and hot tubs, getting from my scooter onto a dining room chair puts on a wonderful spectacle for everyone to gawk at. Most of us that are disabled and/or challenged, can not do that daintily. So, yes, let’s sit back and watch the big fat guy making a scene. It is embarrassing and humiliating, especially if you are like me, traveling solo and are breaking bread with virtual strangers.
On Navigator of the Seas, I had none of that. The waiters would assist me getting around and through the tables. That wasn’t an issue going in as I am always early so few people are in front of me in the dining room. But after dinner, before the second seating, or my time seating, and some early dinners are still present, it can be dicey. Even some of the guests would happily assist. Ironically, done right, that can be a huge help. Done wrong, and it can be a huge embarrassment. On this cruise, everything worked right in the dining room.
Also on the positive side of the ledger was the tender port of Cabo San Lucas. Most of the tender boats were handicapped accessible. While it is always a little nerve racking going from one rocking vessel to a smaller more rocking one, it can be done. And the tender crew seems to be very aware of challenged guests whether wheelchair, scooter or cane/walking device. And we all went ashore.
On the negative side, there were no accessible excursions or tours offered by Royal Caribbean or any independent vendors I found in the three ports we visited. While I am perfectly happy to get off the ship and visit Senor Frog’s in Cabo San Lucas, or the Green Bar in Mazatlan, other guests might want to see things or do things I did on my first visits there in the late 70s. Some serious efforts need to go into developing accessible excursions and tours.
One of the most popular venues on Navigator, and any other Royal Caribbean ship I have been on, is the Schooner Bar, which is usually a piano bar. The entire main bar area, including the piano, is on a one step platform. There is no wheelchair ramp despite 5 entrances to the area.
Obviously, this is not a problem for me on my scooter, or for wheelchair users. We would run into the step and that would stop us. But, what about at night, dark, crowded, and someone with a cane is trying to get to a seat in the middle. Trips over the step, and down he or she goes. In the light of day, one can tell that is a railing and a step up. But at night, while the performer is performing and you are watching/listening/singing along and not paying as much attention as you should and we have an unnecessary medical emergency.
Another issue I found very troubling was on Deck 5 near the Atrium.
If you were on a power wheelchair, or a scooter and were rolling toward the atrium. take a quick glance at the picture below. Looks level, right?
It is not. Look at the same area from a different angle.
Let’s assume you were rolling from the right side of the picture toward the beauty of the atrium and while moving, you run off the step which flips you over the front of the scooter and the scooter on you. You would be crashing head first into the railing and shield with the weight and momentum of the scooter or power wheelchair crashing on you. What if you were light weight enough to be flipped over the railing? I point this out because I have had an unexpected scooter accident. Scary to me, plus all of the people around that witnessed it (just ask Elizabeth On Location who witnessed mine).
I am not sure how to correct this issue. Maybe better lighting. Maybe better markings. Maybe redirecting the traffic flow so you can not come on it straight ahead where it appears to be level. Maybe just a sign that says STEP.
Then there is the stair lift to the miniature golf course.
This chair lift, and there is also one from Deck 14 Viking Crown Lounge to Deck 15. These are always locked. And nobody has the key. I asked numerous times.
The casino has areas that are totally inaccessible, although most is somewhat accessible. Crowded evening hours, it become impossible. Especially for a craps player. I am not sure there is enough room for a Plus Sized person walking to get to the craps table. And it is surely inaccessible for scooters or wheelchairs.
While these are a collection of reasonably minor items, the most dangerous violation of ADA compliance came on the Solarium hot tubs. Yes, I can walk up 3 or 4 stairs to get to the hot tub. But, there is no railing into or out of the hot tub. So one is expected to go down3 or 4 blind steps into a hot tub with nothing to hold on to, and more importantly, nothing to help pull one out of the tub. I am shocked more people do not slip, fall and crack their heads on the way down.
This report is by no means an indictment of Navigator of the Seas or Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. I loved the ship, and especially loved the crew. And some of the accessibility items I look at were better than any of the ships I have been on this year. I hope and pray some of these weaknesses can be improved or corrected before anyone gets hurt making the ship better for all that are disabled or mobility challenged.