Going the Distance
Special services at sea open the world of cruising to travelers.
By Susan J. Young
For those with physical, medical, or developmental challenges, taking a cruise vacation may seem daunting or even unattainable. And while potential special-needs cruisers must carefully assess individual medical requirements and risks, for many, a dream cruise awaits thanks to today’s special services that provide assistance for smooth sailing.
Slow walkers and scooter-, oxygen-, or power wheelchair–users often turn to a specialized travel agent to book their cruise. “We can do this, we’re just going to do it a bit differently,” says Debra Kerper, owner of Easy Access Travel in Carrollton, Texas. “Just be honest when talking to your travel agent and explain your mobility challenges or special needs.”
A wheelchair/scooter user herself, Kerper has also hosted special-needs group cruises in Europe. Her clients range from amputees to those living with multiple sclerosis, from paraplegics and quadriplegics to stroke survivors and people with breathing or joint issues. That said, they can’t wait to explore the world and she helps them do that.
Beyond these kinds of arranged trips, cruisers around the world can rent mobility scooters, power wheelchairs, oxygen, nebulizers, hospital-type beds, power lifts, and more from Special Needs Group, a Fort Lauderdale–based company that is dedicated to fulfilling these special-needs requirements. The company — whose mission grew out a passion and belief that the fun of traveling should be available to everyone, despite physical challenges — aims to make travel easy, comfortable, and accessible.
Andrew Garnett, Special Needs Group’s president and CEO, says the company has one focus: “We will work with you or your travel agent to help get you the equipment needed for your cruise vacation.” In most cases, it’s delivered directly to your stateroom.
Special Needs Group has relationships with all major cruise lines as well as representatives in more than 150 port cities in 35 countries. Equipment is cleaned and tested pre-rental, plus the company has a 24-hour emergency hotline. If a guest has an issue, “we work diligently to resolve the issue,” says Garnett. “In some instances, we would be able to have our agent in that port meet you and possibly bring another scooter to swap out or repair it on the spot.”
What’s more is that considering today’s trend of multigenerational cruising, it’s wise to offer this service for the cruise lines’ guests so that the entire family can benefit.
“If grandma needs oxygen or a scooter on board or for a shore trip during a family reunion cruise, and grandma doesn’t get that, the whole group doesn’t go,” Garnett says. “And often, grandma is paying.”
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