Cruising is becoming more popular each year with people opting to go on a cruise liner as their holiday than a land based holiday and with that the travel industry is seeing more people with disabilities venturing on a cruise ship due to cruises being like a five star hotel, the accessibility factor and the increasing dream destinations you can go too, such as the Caribbean.
i went on P&O Cruises newest cruise liner Britannia around the Caribbean for 16 nights visiting Barbados, Aruba, Curacao, Tobago, Saint Vincent, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Saint Kitts, Antigua and Martinique. Throughout the holiday I felt I had jumped into the pictures of the brochures seeing stretches of golden white sand beaches, crystal blue seas, palm trees and having the warm sun all day long- pure paradise! But one question remained throughout is it as accessibility as it seems?
Flight and Transport – No Hassle!
There is no denying how stress free it is travelling from start to end with P&O Cruises. It is very well organised with checking in your luggage, getting an identity tag for your wheelchair, boarding the flight and arriving at your destination. When I arrived in Barbados my wheelchair was brought to me and I was taken to a wheelchair taxi, where I got to sit in the back in my wheelchair travelling to the cruise terminal to board onto the ship. It is those added extras that you appreciate and enjoy being with P&O.
Designed with British in Mind
Stepping on-board a cruise ship is always a magical moment even it is your first time or tenth as it is an exciting time seeing what you are staying in for the duration of the holiday. I felt this when boarding the Britannia as it is P&O’s newest cruise line. I was intrigued with what they have come up with and I was surprised as I thought I would be welcomed with all sparkly and dazzling details instead I was greeted by the past with the Décor of the ship representing the 1920s of glamour and sophistication of colours of Brown, White, and Blue to represent when cruising became popular. At first I was unsure about the colour scheme that flows throughout the ship, but as days went on I understood it was a homage to British Heritage and I began to like the elegance and luxury feel of a hotel. The designers have carried that honour of the past with the Atrium as well- the heart of the ship with a Starburst chandelier with shards of glass and mirror bursting downwards from the ceiling, changing colours of bronze and blue. The Starburst Chandelier has been put on the Britannia to show significance of how the stars played a role in navigating ships. I thought the Starburst was a lovely touch to the ship and is always great to see every time you are in Atrium.
Room Facilities- A Home from Home Feel
I stayed in an inside adapted cabin as all cabins classed as adapted cabins for wheelchair users and those who need mobility scooters all have larger manoeuver space for the chair to move around independently and wider doorways to access in and out. There is a choice of what size bed you wish to have, two single beds, one double bed or king-size. Bathrooms in adapted cabins have all wet room showers in them with either a shower seat or bench going round the wall with grab rails round the shower and toilet. There is a ramp to access the bathroom from the bedroom and balcony adapted cabins have ramped access to the balcony. The cabins are designed with that boutique feel of refreshing greens and whites throughout and offer extra amenities of tea and coffee facilities, White Company pamper package, a large flat screen TV, hairdryer, a safe, a wardrobe with a pull down rail and storage space. For those with visual impairment, text phones, visual alert systems and literature in braille is available in the cabin upon request. Also certified assistance dogs are allowed on board. I believe the adapted cabins are at an excellent standard and have got all the facilities in place to make you as independent as you can be on your holiday without no struggles and have the same luxury and comfort inside your room as everyone else. I extremely enjoyed my stay in the cabin.
Mobility Equipment Information
You are allowed to take more than one mobility aid with you on board but I recommend you take only one with you as you have store it inside your cabin as you’re not allowed to leave it outside your cabin door as it is a health and safety risk. So if you need to take a mobility scooter/electric chair please book an accessible cabin as you might be asked to leave if it doesn’t fit inside your cabin. You can charge your chair inside your cabin as long as your battery charger is at 240 Voltage. If you can, I believe taking a manual chair would be easier to take and use on board as they fit inside accessible cabin and can fold down to store on transport when travelling in taxis, minibuses and shore excursions available.
Dining Facilities – Food Glorious Food!
If you love your food then cruising on P&O Cruises is for you as you are never spoilt for choice with over ten places to dine on Britannia and all is accessible for you in your wheelchair and you get to choose from two options, Freedom Dining and Club Dining. Freedom Dining gives you the flexibility to turn up at the Meridian and the Peninsular between 6:00pm and 9:30pm .You will sit in an elegant and sophisticated atmosphere with a five course dinner. There’s the option to dine there for breakfast from 7:00 till 9:00. Along with freedom dining you can eat at the Horizon, Lido Grill and the supplement restaurants.
Club Dining is where you dine at the Oriental at set sitting times of 6:30pm or 8:30pm, sitting at the same table every night surrounded in elegant décor being supplied a five course dinner. There’s an option to dine there for breakfast from 7:00 till 9:00 and I highly recommend you do as there is no rushing to find a table as you get to sit at the same table you sat previously on the night time and get served your breakfast in a quiet and relaxed atmosphere. It is a great way to start your morning before you go and see the latest port. You can request your preferred sitting time when you book your cruise. With Club Dining you also have the option to eat at the Horizon, Lido Grill and the supplement restaurants.
Supplement dining areas consist of; The Glass House, The Beach House, Sindhu, The Epicurean, The Market Café, The Limelight Club, Eric Lanlard’s afternoon tea and Celebrity chefs hosted dinners. There are a range of bars around the ship to visit each with their own personality, where you can purchase drink packages from soft drinks to wines.
You will be spoiled for choice with the food available on board as you get to eat array of cuisine from around the world and a cruise is always a good time to try something new. The standard of the food served is very high and always delicious! That’s why I recommend you take different style of outfits – fitted for the first week and stretchy for the next as they say you put a pound a day on in weight!
Entertainment Facilities- Razzle Dazzle!
The one thing P&O excels at is the entertainment they provide you while you are board. If you fancy having a lively or relaxed night they have something for everyone.
There is the Headliners Theatre that showcases some amazing productions from West End to Comedy shows. There is spaces for wheelchairs users to sit in and watch at the front of the stage and at the back of the theatre.
The Live Lounge is the place to go to at night if you want to watch a live band and tribute acts such as Beautiful World- showcasing Take That’s Greatest Hits and Pulse singing ABBA to Prince!
The Studio host array of events showing the latest blockbuster films from the cinema, guest speakers to cookery demos.
The Crystal Room is the place to dance the night away in the glamorous surroundings with sparkling chandeliers and even learn a few moves from the experts.
The Sail away parties are what P&O is known for best for as you say goodbye to the beautiful island you have just visited, you will be thrown into one of the best parties at sea with the entertainment team singing and dancing you can’t help but join in and drink ‘The Cocktail of the Day’. Even after all that it doesn’t finish as you can watch more entertainment from the Entertainment Team on deck and dance in the moonlight until the early hours.
The Limelight Club is the newest entertainment lounge to P&O Cruises and is exclusively for adults only. It is a dazzling and lively experience where you get to enjoy the finest European dishes listening to guest entertainers. While I was on-board I got to see Gareth Gates preform a range of songs and meet him for a photo. If you want that up close and personal feel watching five star entertainment all while wining and dining, then this is for you. It was a night to remember! (Thanks to my auntie and uncle for surprising me).
The Cookery Club is a cooking class at sea where you get to gain new skills and prepare your own masterpieces under the watchful of eye of the Food Heroes of P&O Cruises- Marco Pierre White, James Martin and other Michelin star chefs – on selected cruises. The classes start from £45.00 per person and you can book on your cruise personalise.
The bars around the ship offer entertainment throughout the day and night from bingo, quiz’s, interactive horse racing nights and musical workshops. But if you are feeling Lucky head to Brodie’s Bar for the Casino.
Spa Facilities – Unwind, Relax and Enjoy!
If you need some time to relax and rewind then go to the Oasis Spa for some time out. The Oasis Spa has the Hydrotherapy Suite, where you can pay £30 per person for a day pass to enjoy the warm hydrotherapy pool with its massaging jets, heated loungers to lie on, saunas and steam rooms to sweat out the carbs in and waterbeds you can lie down on. It is a place you can close your eyes and just have peace and quiet in the tranquil atmosphere. The Hydrotherapy Suite has accessible changing rooms and showers and each facility flows from one to another with eights steps into the pool with handrails each side to hold onto. I loved the Hydrotherapy Suite! it was perfect for a day at sea as you have all day to unwind and take your time in the suite enjoying all the facilities, I was that relaxed I fell asleep on the waterbed. It was ultimate bliss.
The Oasis Spa also offers a salon, a Lash and Brow Bar, Foot Therapy, where you can have foot baths and other treatments and the Oasis Villa where you can relax in a private whirlpool spa, order champagne, relax on loungers and have a range of spa treatments. For that added luxury head to the Retreat for adults only and feel like a V.I.P in an open deck area with your own lounger, towels, bathrobe and slippers, unlimited access to the whirlpool spas, stewards supplying you healthy food and drink throughout and spa treatments. It is a great addition to your cruise experience that adds even more luxury. The staff are very friendly and always are on hand to offer. You cannot go on your cruise without a visit to the spa!
To book a spa package you can contact Customer Contact Centre on 0385 355 5111.
There is also five pools with four whirlpools to unwind in looking out to the ocean and soaking up some sun. You request a hoist to get in and out of the pool.
If you’re guilty of treating yourself on holiday to a bit of shopping, then this is for! If you want a souvenir, jewellery or a handbag P&O has you covered. The shops are situated over the three decks of the Atrium and all is accessible to get around in your wheelchair. Throughout the cruise there will be offers on a range of products to save you some extra money, which you can check out in your Horizon magazine delivered daily to your cabin. They have a range of beauty and fragrances on offer from Marc Jacob, Dior, Benefit Cosmetics and Mac, where you can have a free make up and skin consultation and pick up some beauty tips! If you’re a brand addict you will love the handbags they have from Ted Baker, Riley, Guess and many more. I could have brought them all! If you want to buy something special for your other half, head to the watches and jewellery and talk to the specialists or go and watch one of the presentations about the latest brand of watches and gemstones in the diamond rings. Also if you have forgotten to pack an essential item when rushing to get everything together for your holiday don’t worry as there is a shop full of the essential items like shampoo, toothpaste, sun cream and healthcare products and if you wish to pick up a memorable gift of the ship, you can and personalise it to your own taste. After all that shopping you will probably be thirsty so have a Costa Coffee or try a new cocktail they have made, like the delicious 180 Degrees Cooler I tried when in the Atrium they were showcasing how made cocktails and all types of food.
Shore Excursions- Go and Explore!
Shore Excursions are that added excitement you get going on a cruise, where you get to choose what you want to do and see in a port and book with the shore excursions team. P&O sends accessible shore excursions for full time wheelchair users or you can’t board a coach after the medical questionnaire is sent back to them. You can book private accessible tours and vehicles too. I think it is good that accessible tours are on offer and I understand safety comes first but could still do with improving as there are not many to choose from in the Caribbean and I can’t understand why the accessible tours are not in the original holiday information book along with the other excursions available for everyone else to see. I believe in doing your research into each port you are visiting and decide what you plan to do ahead of the cruise and look for the accessible factor as only you know what you are capable of doing. I did book one shore excursion and that was the St Kitts Trolley Train, which wasn’t classed as an accessible tour and I am so glad I got to experience it as you get to see the Island of St Kitts and its breath taking views from the comfort of inside the train drinking a Pina Colada. There is three steps to get on the train and a toilet on-board. When we booked we stated about my wheelchair, but in the morning in the Horizon Magazine it was stated that no wheelchairs and pushchairs were advised not to go on this trip due to storing the chair but we carried on and no hassle was made about my chair as the driver folded my manual chair next to me on the coach and they folded it up on the train. I do think as long as you take a manual chair with you and can step up at least three steps into a mini bus or coach you can see the paradise of the Caribbean. Also when you get off the ship in the Caribbean as each cruise terminal is accessible to walk around and visit all the bars, restaurants and shops.
Is it as accessible as it seems? The answer to my question is yes! Ok there is things to improve on like the shore excursions available and more information regarding the accessibility of each port but I cannot fault the accessible factor on board the ship. The adapted cabins that are provided are at five star standard with all facilities inside to make your stay even more comfortable. It is being able to stay in your wheelchair and move around the cabin independently and the wet room style bathrooms that gives you the independence to be able to wash freely without having to struggle stepping in and out as you can take your wheelchair into the bathroom, it’s those little things to an able bodied person makes a big difference to someone who is disabled on holiday. You shouldn’t have to worry about what the bathroom is going to be like when you are away but you don’t have to with P&Os adapted cabins. I like that you can go and explore round the ship in your wheelchair and go to any dining facility and have the option to stay in your chair and the staff are very friendly and always offer to help with what you need. This goes with the entertainment as well as there are wheelchair spaces in the theatre so you can watch the latest production in your wheelchair along with everyone else and don’t feel excluded. I highly recommend you take a holiday with P&O if you have a disability as they have the facilities on board to make your holiday as relaxing and memorable as anyone else. I hope in the near future I get to talk to P&O about their shore excursions and what more can be done because they are great brand and I truly enjoy each holiday I go on with them. As you are sipping on a cocktail looking out into the sea with sun shining, you really are saying ‘This is the Life’.
Laura May Adams