Wheelchair Accessible Cruising in Alaska 

Readers Kathy Dunn and Vladimir Drobashevsky recently shared two very different Alaskan cruise experiences. Kathy Dunn and her parents, Lois and Chuck, cruised the Inside Passage on the Regal Princess, while Vladimir Drobashevsky and his wife visited Alaska on the Sky Princess. Both reports demonstrate how essential it is to choose cruise ships carefully.

A Regal Princess Cruise by Kathy Dunn

The Sky Princess Cruise by
Vladimir Drobashevsky

A Regal Princess Cruise  
by Kathy Dunn
© 2000

I cruised the Inside Passage with my my parents Lois and Chuck, my sister Patty and her husband Bob, along with my roommate Betty. This was the 28th cruise for my parents. My mother is quadriplegic due to MS, so we are fairly familiar with the features of a variety of ships.

We had a wheelchair accessible cabin (D 103) near the showroom, on the deck above the promenade deck. The bathroom was fairly well designed. The shower was roll-in, with a large flip-down seat and good grab bar placement. The main problem was that the shower extension hose was too short, and it was difficult to control the water shut off and diversion valve. There was no anti-scald device installed, and water temperature varied a lot, so you had to be very careful. The cutout under the sink was adequate, but could have been deeper as you could not fully pull up under the sink. Bathroom shelves were good—placed lower for wheelchair access. Grab bars were adequate (although only on one side of the toilet), and the toilet was at wheelchair height. The entire closet bar was lowered. It would have been nice to have a small section with regular height, as dresses could not hang fully and tended to wrinkle at the bottom. The bifold closet doors were a pain to keep shut. Sliding doors would be more practical and allow better wheelchair access. Shelving replaced drawers in some room locations, and there were plenty of wheelchair accessible storage spaces as well as a desk. Bed reading lights were not very good and were difficult to turn on and off from the bed. While there was a switch for the overhead lights near the bed, reaching it was very difficult. There was a remote control for the television. There was sufficient room under the bed to accommodate a portable lift, and extra pillows for positioning were provided without problems.

Dining rooms and public areas were fairly accessible, although the doors from the pool area into the casino were narrow on the starboard side, requiring two people to hold open two doors to allow the width of the chair to pass through. All doors to the outside areas were ramped.

The wheelchair seating for both the show room and movie theater was poor. In the show room, the seating is at the very back of the balcony, and companions must sit in uncomfortable regular chairs, which also took up wheelchair seating area. At best there was room for only six wheelchairs (there are 10 accessible cabins, plus many other part-time wheelchair users were on the ship in regular cabins). The line of sight was interrupted by a grab-rail just at eye level when seated in a wheelchair. In the movie theater no chairs were provided for companions, and again the seating was way in the back. The best seating for viewing forward from the ship was in the casino area, which was noisy and smoky, but allowed seating at the bow or either side with a good view. The Sun Deck (highest deck on the ship) was accessible, but the solid railing was so high that it did not allow a person in a wheelchair to see anything except at the stern, where the diesel smell was pronounced when under way.

Only a few accessible tours were available at each of the ports (Juneau, Skagway, and Sitka). Although the brochure lists these tours as "wheelchair accessible," the ship crew was surprised that we needed a lift van, as the assumption was that the person using the wheelchair could also stand and climb a few steps. Although it does not indicate this on the tour reservation form, it is required that after booking your tour you also notify the tour desk of the need for fully accessible lift-van transport. This is a weakness of this program.

On only one occasion did the crew assist in pushing the wheelchair at buffets, which makes the assistant attempt to push the wheelchair and carry two trays. Assistance was always provided in the dining room, so we ate there most of the time.

There is no lift available for either the swimming pools or hot tubs on this ship.

While there were many lift-equipped taxis in Vancouver, there was some confusion about getting vouchers for our departure, although this was confirmed by fax several weeks prior to the cruise with the Princess corporate offices. There was not sufficient space in the wheelchair seating area where we were asked to gather prior to departure. There was a lot of variation in experience and expertise in moving wheelchairs up and down the gangway and in and out of tenders, and a companion had to be fairly directive to keep this safe.

Shore Visits

Juneau: van (lift equipped) tour of Juneau to include the Alaska State Museum, Mendendall Glacier, tour of a natural botanical garden, and visit to a fish hatchery. All were accessible, although the botanical garden, which featured local medicinal plants, has gravel paths and required assistance from a "pusher" with a manual chair (it was fairly level). The single elevator to the visitors’ center at the Mendenhall glacier was a little crowded, as the only other entrance included many stairs and a longer walk.

Bathrooms at all sites, including a "port-a-potty" at the garden were wheelchair accessible (did not check the hatchery bathroom). The fish hatchery was technically accessible, although difficult to see, and this time of year there were no fish, so it was pretty boring. We would have preferred more time at the museum. Van service was excellent. We also visited the shopping areas in town and found most shops accessible, although a few had some path-of-travel problems.

Skagway: did not go into town, but two of the 10 shuttle buses ($1 US each way) were lift equipped, and there were curb cuts everywhere, so could have done this if we wanted. You could also push into town if desired, as it was less than 1/2 a mile. We did take the Whitehorse and Yukon Pass train, which picks you up right at the ship dock.  There are several lift equipped cars, and you ride in your wheelchair if desired (no tie downs, but we still felt safe).

Glacier Bay was spectacular. The best viewing for a wheelchair user was on the port side of the Casino, where there are floor to ceiling windows. Get there early to save a spot. Outside on the deck was cold, crowded, and The solid bulkhead railing was too high to see over from a wheelchair, except at the stern where you had to smell the stack smoke.  No disembarkation here, of course.

Sitka: also took a van (lift-equipped) tour here, visiting the Archangel Russian dancers troupe, State Park (native American exhibits) and St. Michael's Russian Orthodox cathedral. All locations were accessible, with accessible bathrooms at the park and hall where for the dancing.

In Vancouver, it was easy to get ramped accessible taxis, and, as we had requested, these were provided for transportation to and from the airport at

This ship had better access than the Grand Princess (which we took two years ago), even though it is an older ship. The only real "down" side was the showroom and movie theater seating.  For the "accessible" tours that they market (roughly 1/3 in each port), don't assume that this includes a lift equipped van. You must mention this need at the tours desk prior to the port arrival to assure this will be provided. We have commented to Princess about this, as we consider it false advertising to say it is accessible and not provide this.

We shop around pretty closely and know what to ask/look for on ships so have not had any terrible cruises as far as access, although Grand Princess left much to be desired.  This was my parent's 28th cruise, and my 8th. I do know that Renaissance cruises has chosen to provide no wheelchair accessible cabins on any of its ships, although all four have been built since 1990.  I also liked the Celebrity Zenith, and my parent's favorite is the Crystal Harmony.

Overall, we had a good trip, and while this ship was not our best cruise experience, we could recommend it for others who are considering the Regal Princess.

Enjoy Dunn's other cruises on the following pages.

Alaska: A Regal Princess Cruise

Trans-Pacific Crystal Harmony Cruise

South America: Holland America Ryndam Cruise

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