February 2016 Issue  Volume 17  Number 2

Access to Travel

Cruising as a Senior with a Visual Impairment: How to Get the Most Out of Your Adventure

For many adults who have worked hard all their lives and managed their finances wisely, retirement years are a time to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Many seniors enjoy traveling, either alone or with others. If travel is the goal, the method of travel and the destination become the obvious questions to answer. Visual impairment is a factor that determines how many people, young and old, decide to explore the world. For a blind person, a driving tour is impossible, unless someone else takes the wheel. One method of travel that is accessible to both blind and sighted alike is taking a cruise. Your ship becomes your home for a time, and service is part of the experience.

When an individual with a visual impairment decides to take a cruise, the list of questions to be answered can become quite long, and possibly daunting. Where can you go? How much will it cost? Which cruise line will give you the best experience? What challenges will you experience on your journey?

Bill Kociaba: an Experienced Cruise Taker who is Visually Impaired

Bill Kociaba knows a thing or two about cruises. From a young age, his family took numerous trips at sea, and Kociaba sold cruises for a living for about five years. All told, he has been on at least 50 cruises in his lifetime. Kociaba is not a man who allows blindness to define who he is. Of his current work, he likes to say that he is a fitness instructor who is blind, not that he is a blind fitness instructor. He was not born with blindness, and Kociaba has not allowed blindness to keep him from doing the things that really matter to him, and that includes taking cruises. When his business as a fitness instructor began to slow down in 2009, he turned to booking cruises for a living. Although he does not currently sell cruises, his passion for cruising is still alive and well today. He has been on a couple trips to Europe, numerous vacations to the Caribbean, and an Alaskan cruise. After 50 cruises, the destination isn't as important to Kociaba as his time aboard ship, but the destination possibilities are virtually limitless.

Cruise Lines

When planning a cruise, you should ask yourself what you want to get out of the experience. If you enjoy the party life, Kociaba recommends Carnival. If you want to be pampered, Celebrity Cruises might be more to your liking. Some cruise lines are geared more toward the family, while Holland America specializes in meeting the needs of seniors. The important thing to keep in mind is that each cruise line has a different focus, and therefore your experience will be somewhat different depending on whom you choose to travel with.

Cruise Expenses

One nice thing about taking a cruise is that it is possible to pay for pretty much everything up front. If you don't care to have a balcony cabin with a window, it may be possible to spend not much more than $100 per day for sleeping quarters and food. If you want a balcony cabin where you can drink coffee by yourself and enjoy the ocean, and if you decide to opt for more intimate dining with specialty foods, you may spend significantly more for your trip. Also, Internet connectivity will cost extra, so be prepared to spend some time offline. If you will need to be online more frequently, be sure to factor that into your budget when you book your cruise. Many options are available, and you can customize the cruise to your liking.

Planning for Your Cruise

There are a lot of details to consider when booking a cruise, and a mistake could cause you to be barred from boarding your ship when it comes time to depart on your adventure of a lifetime, so Kociaba recommends that the novice traveler seek the advice of someone who sells cruises for a living. CruiseCompete is a site where you can enter your destination and receive alerts of competitive offers for your trip. Some organizations like Mind's Eye Travel book cruises with the needs of the visually impaired person in mind. Although it is possible to book a cruise directly with the cruise line you plan to use, Kociaba says that an outside agency can often give you a better rate.

Although a passport isn't absolutely essential for every cruise, it is highly recommended. If you are somehow separated from your ship during an excursion, not having a passport can greatly complicate your return to the United States. All documentation must match your passport, and someone who is familiar with cruise line policies can help to ensure that all travel documents are in order.

It is possible to bundle airfare with your cruise, so that you literally don't have to give your luggage a second thought from the time you board your airplane at home to the time you arrive at the door of your cabin on the cruise ship, but this will certainly increase the cost of your trip. Many people opt to take care of their own airfare and transportation to the port of departure.

Cruise Ship Accessibility

Although Kociaba generally takes cruises with his wife, he often chooses to walk independently on the ship. He states that he usually cannot go more than 15 or 20 feet before a crew member asks him if he needs assistance. If he does, the staff member will generally walk with him to his destination rather than giving him general directions. It is worth stating again that each cruise line has its unique focus. If service is of the highest priority, a blind person may be able to obtain more assistance than they would on a ship where the focus is on setting a party atmosphere. Braille signage is common on doors and elevators, and braille menus can sometimes be obtained.

Activities While at Sea

Although you may be taking a cruise to an exotic location, the fact remains that you will spend most of your time at sea. Larger and larger cruise ships are being designed and built, and the activities provided onboard these vessels are becoming increasingly elaborate.

It is possible to eat pretty much 24 hours a day on a cruise, if one chooses to do so. Buffets of every type, fixed formal dining, and intimate dining featuring specialty foods are all a part of the experience. Drinking, dancing, magicians, and music are dotted throughout the ship. Swimming, sun bathing, and simply relaxing with a good book are also possible.

Kociaba says that the newest ships are going all out, providing activities such as wave pools, zip lines, and bumper cars. After 50 cruises, Kociaba doesn't even really care about the destination anymore, because the latest ships have so much to offer that one never needs to leave the boat, if they choose not to.

Finally, while it is possible to enjoy much food and drink for the price of the cruise, alcohol, soda, and some specialty foods cost extra. It is possible to purchase prepaid packages for these amenities in advance, or on the boat once you arrive.

Cruise Excursions

As amazing as these floating cities are, most travelers will want to take an excursion or two when the ship docks at the various ports of call along the way. Whether it's swimming with dolphins, feeding stingrays, or touring the landmarks of Europe, there is plenty to do if you leave the boat for the day.

Kociaba says that cruise lines aren't responsible for you once you leave the ship, so you may want to do a bit of homework before you decide what excursions to take.

Handling the Unexpected

Although medical facilities do exist on cruise ships, keep in mind that they are limited. A cruise line such as Holland America may be more likely to be able to deal with the needs of seniors, as that is their focus.

One concern that many people have is that of seasickness while they are on the ship. Kociaba says that cabins up high or toward the front of the ship will experience more movement than those in the center, down lower, and toward the back of the boat. That being said, the newest ships on the ocean are massive in size, and are equipped with stabilizers that reduce motion to a great extent. One may be more likely to experience a gentle, rocking sensation at night rather than any feeling of being tossed on the waves.

The Bottom Line

If you take a cruise, you will travel in style, with a staff to take care of your every need. You will have the consistency of a familiar environment whether you are away from home for three days or three weeks. You can choose to spend only a few hundred dollars, or several thousand, depending on type of cruise you take and the luxuries you decide to include.

If you are a senior who wishes to enjoy retirement by traveling the world, the life of a cruise ship might just be the life for you!

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