Princess Wheelchair Policy: Separating Fact From Fiction

I’ve received a lot of e-mail regarding my blog post back in December, about Princess Cruise Lines new tendering policy for wheelchair- and scooter-users. Some folks shared their experiences about their denied boardings to tenders, while others couldn’t believe Princess was allowed to do this. (Unfortunately they are, as they consider it a safety issue for both the crew and passengers.)

But the most interesting message I received came along with an copy of the new policy; something that’s been hard to obtain from the cruise line before. The person who shared it with me is not a writer, and I have no doubt that’s why she finally got it. And I also have to add that although she was very persistent, it wasn’t easy for her at all. In any case, I felt a follow-up post was in order; one that includes the official Princess policy word-for-word, along with my translation — based on reader feedback — of what actually happens on the ship.

Official Princess Policy — Access at Docked Ports

Embarking and disembarking can be challenging for those with limited mobility. Many major ports of call provide easy access for wheelchairs and scooters. However due to various conditions; steepness of the gangway, weather, shore-side facilities, tidal and sea conditions, passengers using mobility devices may be required to transfer to a stair climber or be precluded from going ashore. Princess staff will make every effort to assist but are not allowed to individually physically lift more than 50 pounds (22 kg).

How it Really Works

Basically if you can-t get down a steep ramp or navigate steps at a pier, you will have to transfer from your wheelchair to a Princess manual wheelchair and then use the stair climber to get you down to the dock. An employee will then bring down your wheelchair or scooter. Since employees are not allowed to lift more than 50 pounds, it will take several of them to carry heavier wheelchairs and scooters down to the dock.

You cannot use your own wheelchair on the stair climber. This isn-t mentioned in the policy, however it-s how it works in real life. No exceptions, even if you have skin break-down issues or specialized seating needs. It should also be noted that Alaska has some huge tidal fluctuations, so although you may roll off easily in the morning, you may find the gangway too steep when you return in the afternoon. In this case, you will have to transfer to a Princess manual wheelchair and use the stair climber to board the ship

Official Princess Policy — Access to Tenders

Some ports of call require the ship to anchor off shore. Passengers are then taken to shore by small boats or tenders. When tendering is required, passengers using mobility devices will not be transferred into or out of the tender, if lifting in excess of the above limitation is required. Many tender ports do not provide wheelchair access so even if the passenger can board the tender they may not be able to disembark ashore. Again the shore-side facilities, movement of the tender, weather and tidal conditions can also preclude tendering.

How it Really Works

In most cases you have to be able to walk to board the tender. I’ve had countless e-mails from travelers who were told “scooters and wheelchairs are not allowed on tenders”. Period. And apparently Princess is enforcing that policy. Again, this was a new policy last year (May 2009), so if you cruised prior to that you may have been able to access the tenders back then. Not now. Princess Cay is especially a problem. Additionally, I’ve had several reports from wheelchair-users who were able to walk a few steps to board the tender, but they were still prohibited from tendering, as the crew would not allow any wheelchairs or scooters to be brought aboard.

Official Princes Policy

The decision to allow any passenger to board a tender or disembark the vessel will be made by the Captain on the basis of the safety and welfare of all involved and is final.

How it Really Works

Many captains have opted to totally ban wheelchairs and scooters on all tenders; in fact in some cases this ban is printed on the front page of the Patter (the daily newsletter). Although all captains have the final authority regarding the safety of tendering, it seems that many Princess captains have made an across-the-board decision to ban all wheelchairs and scooters from tenders.

The bottom line is, you need to choose your Princess itinerary carefully, and avoid tender ports. Now if going ashore is not something you even want to do, this shouldn’t matter; however if you really want to explore the ports — including the tendered ones — then chose carefully. Remember that any port can potentially be a tender port due to traffic. This doesn’t happened often, but just keep it in mind. In any case, when cruising with Princess choose your itinerary wisely.

I’d also like to offer my thanks to everyone who shared their Princess Experiences with me. Keep em coming!!