I’m planning a Caribbean cruise and I need an accessible cabin. I’ve tried two different cruise lines and all of the accessible cabins are booked for my preferred dates. I asked the reservation agent if these cabins were booked by disabled passengers, and she told me that she really can’t release that information. It just seems that because there are so few accessible cabins, they should go to people that really need them. What exactly is the law on this issue? I thought that the cruise lines were covered by the ADA. Is there anything that I can do?
Well, you are partially right. Although cruise ships that call on US ports are technically covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are no access guidelines on the books yet. In other words, right now ships aren’t required to have accessible cabins, or any other facilities, for that matter. That said, many cruise lines have responded to the market and have voluntarily added accessible cabins to their fleets. At some point the Department of Transportation (DOT) will issue the regulation on this matter, and then accessible facilities will be required.
On the other hand, the DOT issued the Passenger Vessel Operators Non-Discrimination Rule a few years ago, which outlines a specific booking procedure for accessible cabins.
Basically, accessible cabins must be withheld from the general reservation pool until all cabins in that class of service have been reserved. If a passenger with a disability requests an accessible cabin he gets it, but if an able-bodied passenger requests it, he can only book it if no other cabins in that category are available.
And although the cruise line cannot ask for medical certification, they can ask passengers to self-certify that they have a disability and need an accessible cabin. And if they lie, the cruise line has the authority to deny boarding to the offending passengers.
Keeping this in mind, I would contact the special needs department (not general reservations) and ask if they could check on the disability status of the passengers in the accessible cabins. The special needs department is more likely to do this because they only deal with access issues. If the special needs department discovers that a passenger in question isn’t disabled, there’s a good chance that they can relocate him to a standard cabin.
Additionally, it’s also a good idea to ask the special needs department if any accessible cabins are being held in group space without a reservation. Sometimes travel agents hold these cabins anticipating they will be able to sell them to their group; and although the cruise lines don’t usually have problems releasing them, you have to know to ask.
It could very well be that all the accessible cabins have been booked by disabled passengers, but it never hurts to ask. They key in this situation is knowing the right person to ask.