This is what happens when an accessible cruise is not!

Is this Celebrity cruise really an accessible cruise

What would you do if you required and booked a wheelchair accessible cruise but once onboard, found out it wasn’t? That is the terrible dilemma in which Russell Lash recently found himself.

This story is troubling on many levels. And it points to a problem in the cruise industry. Should a cruise that can’t deliver all passengers to all ports of call be permitted to call itself an accessible cruise? Lash’s cruise did just that, and he feels misled.

Can the Elliott Advocacy team help?

Did Celebrity’s Summit deliver an accessible cruise?

Lash had heard great things about Celebrity Cruises. Friends had told him of Celebrity’s commitment to making sure it provides an accessible cruise to all passengers.

Since Lash is confined to a wheelchair, this was very important to his travel planning. So when he and his husband decided to book a last-minute cruise, they turned to Celebrity.

They made their cruise plans with an agent at Vacations to Go. And they settled on an 11-day journey to Bermuda and New England. The agent reiterated that Celebrity’s Summit provided a wheelchair-accessible cruise. The couple was thrilled and, just days later, set off on their spur of the moment adventure.

The problems started soon after the couple boarded the ship and reached a crescendo on day five.

“We were so excited to board Celebrity’s Summit,” Lash recalled. “But I immediately realized that I would have problems on the ship. Although the Summit is advertised as accessible from “Bow to Stern,” it has structural flaws. These problems make it quite difficult to maneuver a standard wheelchair in the public areas.”

Lash explained that the joints that connect the public areas on the ship have a slightly raised metal lip. He said that the small wheels on the front of his standard wheelchair would catch on these barriers. This put him in danger of flipping forward in (and out of) his chair. He solved the problem by “jumping” the metal strips each time he encountered them. Unfortunately, in a few dimly lit hallways, he missed the strip and had several close calls.

This problem was only the beginning of Lash’s difficulties on the Summit. From unavailable wheelchair-accessible dining to no attendant available to work the accessible lift at the pool, the cruise was turning into a nightmare for Lash.

But then came day five.

An accessible cruise with no way for wheelchair users to get off the ship?

On the fifth day of the cruise, the Summit arrived at Newport, R.I. Lash explained:

A line of wheelchair users was at the gangplank that morning. We were all turned away. It was embarrassing and frustrating.

Then a guest relations representative made it clear that this was not really an accessible cruise. She said this port (and others) was not wheelchair accessible. It would be impossible for wheelchair and scooter users to leave the ship since the tender was not accessible.

His accessible cruise didn't give him access to two of the four ports of call.

Of the four ports of call on this cruise, two were inaccessible. Lash says that Celebrity had not conveyed this information to the passengers before that moment.

We tried several times over the next few days to get a meeting with the guest relations manager (Huda). We wanted some explanation. Why hadn’t we all been informed? We also wanted to address the horrible way their guest relations staff treated so many disabled people on board — right in front of dozens of other passengers.

Finally — a meeting with Celebrity’s guest relations manager on the Summit

Lash said that when Huda finally accepted a meeting with the outraged passengers, she apologized for the situation. She agreed that the Summit is not currently offering a fully accessible cruise. Celebrity Cruises has scheduled the Summit for a complete overhaul in 2019. At that time, she told them,  the vessel will be entirely accessible.

But Huda ultimately blamed the confusion on the passengers’ various travel agents. Huda told the angry guests that Celebrity lists the inaccessible ports of call on its website. And she suggested that each guest contact their own travel agent for an explanation.

Lash says that Huda’s lack of empathy for her guests’ situation was really astounding. She offered no resolution or explanation. And she also was unable to point out the information on Celebrity’s website concerning the ports of call for this cruise being inaccessible.

“She told us, ‘I can’t find it right now, but I know it’s there,'” Lash told me. “Then she showed us the door, indicating we should leave.”

And that was the end of Celebrity’s onboard response to the pleas for help from these bewildered guests.

Will Vacations to Go offer an explanation for this disastrous cruise?

When Lash reached out to the Elliott Advocacy team to ask for help, he had been following Huda’s advice. For several months since the couple had returned from the disastrous cruise, Lash had been searching for answers from Vacations to Go.

Although his travel agent was sympathetic, he placed the blame back on Celebrity. The agent told Lash that he was trying to get an explanation from Celebrity, but that no one would respond to his emails. He didn’t know what went wrong.

Lash sent me 55 pages of back-and-forth communication with Vacations to Go. His correspondence was always polite and, for the most part, Lash followed all the problem-solving advice that can be found in this article by Christopher Elliott.

Some self-advocacy problems

However, there were two significant problems that I could see were preventing Lash from reaching any resolution. First, Lash loves to write long, descriptive emails. We don’t recommend writing these types of novel-length explanations in your advocacy efforts. It’s vital that the critical parts of your problem jump off the page at the reader. You must keep in mind that not everyone is going to be captivated by your rendition of your problem. So you need to get right to the important stuff.

But I did read all of Lash’s paper trail.

In his complaints, Lash detailed a multitude of problems with the Summit that made the cruise ship truly inaccessible for him. Each one of these issues was a serious and valid problem. But there were so many that I predicted that no one else would read the long list.

A complaint such as Lash’s should be presented in a bullet point fashion. Bullet point notes help the reader quickly scan the problems.

I noted that Lash had buried critical parts of his experience inside the giant narrative.

Things most of us take for granted — like being able to open a bathroom door on your own

Many of the things that Lash encountered are things that most of us take for granted. If it’s true that Celebrity will soon refurbish the Summit, then most of what Lash experienced should be addressed in the overhaul.

For instance, Lash said that the doors on all of the bathrooms in the public areas were much too heavy to open on his own. Lash says this problem forced him to ask strangers for assistance to open the doors. This was true even on restrooms with the “handicapped” placard.

The surprise discovery that wheelchair users couldn’t leave the ship in half of the ports was only part of the problem with this 11-day cruise.

But the second problem with Lash’s attempts to get some explanation after he returned home was that he never tried to contact Celebrity directly. He relied on his travel agent to mediate his case. And based on the paper trail, I suspected that this agent never contacted Celebrity. Lash’s experience was awful. So if Lash’s agent had really contacted Celebrity, it was puzzling why no one had responded.

Lash shared my assessment of the situation:

I guess I just didn’t want to believe in my heart that yet another person in this situation was taking advantage of us and just assuming I wasn’t smart enough to continue to press the issue with someone. For some reason, people hear the word “disabled” and they automatically think that means some sort of brain development issues as well (not that I perhaps graduated from college Summa Cum Laude and worked as a producer in top-rated network television programming before I got sick).

It’s important to remember that if you find you’re hitting a wall in your self-advocacy attempts, it might be time to abandon that path and redirect your focus. And although Lash initially wanted me to contact Vacations to Go, I believed that Celebrity Cruises should be our target.

Celebrity Cruises: An accessible cruise from “bow to stern”

The Celebrity Cruises’ website advertises “An unrivaled cruise vacation for Each and Every Guest” This appears on Celebrity’s webpage under the title “Accessible cruise.” And it would appear from this information that Celebrity prides itself in making its cruises accessible.

So I wondered what went wrong here.

I searched Celebrity’s website for the information that the guest relations manager said could be found about the inaccessible ports. And although I found Celebrity’s page with inaccessible ports highlighted, the two cities on Lash’s’ cruise (Newport and Bar Harbor) were not listed.

Huda was incorrect.

There was no way that these cruisers could have used this information to predict that the Summit’s itinerary included nonaccessible ports of call.

This accessible cruise was a big disappointment.
Newport nor Bar Harbor are listed as ports of call that are inaccessible for wheelchair users.

Is the Summit an accessible ship?

And then I checked out the information specifically offered about the Summit. Celebrity Cruises advertises this ship as a completely accessible cruise – bow to stern.

Does Celebrity really provide an accessible cruise from bow to stern?
Celebrity Cruises indicates that the Summit provides an accessible cruise from “bow to stern”

All information about the Summit and this itinerary would give guests every impression that they were boarding a wheelchair accessible cruise.

So I reached out to our executive contact at Celebrity to see if I could find out what happened.

I made sure that my inquiry was concise and hit the major problems that Lash encountered.

As I suspected Celebrity wanted to make this right. Within 24-hours of my email to Celebrity, Lash finally got the response that he was hoping for from Celebrity.

Celebrity Cruises responds

It is still unclear why Celebrity did not warn the passengers in advance about the inaccessible ports on this cruise. But Lash received a personal apology from the executive level of Celebrity for the difficulties that he experienced during his voyage. And Celebrity refunded a portion of the cruise in cash, not a future cruise credit. And anyone who knows anything about cruise lines knows that cash refunds are very difficult to extract. So this is quite a victory for Lash.

Lash is currently busy planning a replacement cruise. And this time he’s doing extensive research before he makes his plans — since all accessible cruises are not the same.

And this Thanksgiving, Lash says he is grateful that someone at Celebrity finally heard his pleas. The refund was a nice surprise, but the apology and validation were much more important to him. And the experience has set Lash down a new path. He is now an advocate for wheelchair users everywhere and has started his own non-profit organization with a focus on increasing accessibility.

My new goal in life is to help other disabled people escape their prison cells we call home (our wheelchairs) and join being a part of the human experience with everyone else. This whole experience with what happened on the Summit has really caused me to to face how inaccessible so many aspects of the travel industry are.  

How can you find an accessible cruise that meets all your needs?

Since accessible cruises are not one-size-fits-all, it’s important to make sure that your travel agent and cruise line are familiar with your needs. There are a few things that you can do to lessen the chance of finding yourself in the same position Lash found himself.

1) Use a travel professional who specializes in accessible travel. A website such as Travel Leaders has a search option to filter only agents who have a stated experience in planning accessible travel. You may need to interview a few agents and ask for references before you settle on one. Your unique needs require a unique agent who is interested in learning about you and helping you plan a successful vacation.

2) Make sure that your cruise line is expecting you (and your needs). In Lash’s case, his cruise itinerary made no mention of his wheelchair use. This omission may have contributed to some of the onboard problems he encountered. For example, on several occasions, his dinner reservations placed him in the center of the dining room. This location made it quite difficult to maneuver his standard wheelchair to the table among the crowd.

Most cruise lines, Celebrity included, have a pre-arrival guests special needs form. This form helps the guest relations team to determine and prepare for your needs before you arrive on board. It also gives an opportunity for the cruise line to let you know if it can’t accommodate a specific need.

3) Consider renting specialized mobility devices for your cruise. Lash noticed that many of his fellow disabled passengers were using scooters. Those scooter-users were maneuvering about the ship much more easily. In fact, those guests didn’t seem to be “tripping” over the metal bars on the floor. On his next cruise, Lash plans to rent a scooter for his adventure.

A company such as Scootaround will deliver a wide range of mobility devices directly to your ship. The company currently services all major cruise lines and can be an excellent resource for passengers hoping to make sure their next cruise is fully accessible.

Do you think this travel agent could have done more to assist Lash with his accessible cruise planning?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend