We went on a 7-day Eastern Caribbean Cruise on the Regal Princess in February of 2015. The boat left the port in Fort Lauderdale and sailed first to Princess Cays (Princess Cruise Line private port), then to St. Thomas and lastly to St. Maarten before returning back to Florida. We had three full days at sea.
We stayed in a wheelchair accessible balcony room (room B303) on the starboard side of the boat, close to one of the banks of elevators. This was very convenient for going to and from our room.
The room was tastefully decorated with modern, neutral colours. I am not sure why but our room only came with two twin beds. I had requested a queen instead of two twins but there must only be one configuration for this room. It worked out okay because we had to have two cribs in our room as well, so we put one of them in between our beds and one over by the balcony.
Although the room was not huge, there was lots of storage space in the room for luggage and clothes. Just to give you an idea, we had two strollers, four pieces of luggage, two playpen-type cribs, the wheelchair and all of us in the room. Having the balcony definitely helped as we were able to see the natural light and get fresh air into our room.
The bathroom in our room was great for accessibility. There was a wheel-under sink, a shower with a fold-down bench and a toilet with grab bars. There was even an alarm next to the toilet for someone to push if they were in distress in the bathroom. Unfortunately this alarm was well within reach of our little people and there was no way to disable it 🙂 We had the front desk calling us several times some days when our kids couldn’t keep their hands off of the buttons.
The balcony was fully accessible. There was a metal piece that dropped down to cover the threshold after the sliding door was fully opened.
The ship itself was very accessible. There were plenty of elevators, albeit slow ones. Several of the common areas had nice, smooth tile on the floors, making it easier for a wheelchair to get around.
The back of the boat had a few different levels, which you could access via a lift. The very top level of the ship had a mini-golf course and you could access that level using a stair lift.
As with most cruise ships, this one had something for everyone. The Regal Princess had a casino, theatre, spa, adults-only pool area, a gym, a walking/running track, movies under the stars and a night-time water show. The kids particularly enjoyed the Seawalk, which is a glass floor walkway that extends out over the edge of the boat so that you can look down into the ocean.
Our first stop was at Princess Cays. This is a private island owned by the Princess Cruise Line and they use it as a port of call on their Caribbean cruises. This was a tender port and the cruise representatives said that my husband would only be able to get to the island if he could get onto the tender boat without assistance. Given that he can’t walk, this is impossible. We took our chances and headed down to the gangway and the people loading passengers on and off the tender boat had no issue carrying him on. I often find this to be the case. People are more than willing to help you when you are right in front of them but the official position often is that they aren’t supposed to do it. The boat ride to the island was about 5 minutes long. There was not much there other than the beach and a buffet-style lunch place, but the sand was soft and it was nice to get off of the boat for an afternoon. The island itself had some paved pathways that were easy to wheel on.
Our next stop was St Thomas. Last time we were there, we realized that there wasn’t much to do if you didn’t have some form of accessible transportation. This time we got pro-active and booked an accessible excursion to the Magic Ice Bar. The vehicle that picked us up was an open air bus, but they had a lift at the back and it all went pretty smoothly. They were even able to fit two people in wheelchairs on the bus.
The Magic Ice Bar was actually pretty cool (no pun intended!). When we walked in, they gave us big winter parkas to put on and, from then on, we felt right at home! There were ice sculptures everywhere and even ice slides for the kids. There was a long ice bar inside and they let us sample various flavours of rum (i.e. coconut, pineapple, cherry, etc.).
Our last port on this cruise before heading back to Fort Lauderdale was St. Maarten. We had been here before and walked through the downtown shopping area that time. This time we decided to head to the beach and spend a day hanging out by the ocean. The water taxis to get to the downtown/beach area are not accessible per se, but the operators have always been extremely helpful and we have never had an issue getting on or off. We had to pay to rent a big beach umbrella to provide some shade on the beach but it worked out okay and the kids had a blast playing in the sand and water.
All cruise lines operate differently in terms of dining, reservations, gratuities, etc. We found Princess somewhat more challenging with kids because if you wanted to eat anywhere other than the buffet, you had to book a reservation or wait in line for a long time. Because of this, we ended up eating at the buffet for every meal. The buffet food was good but the buffet area always felt very busy and it was sometimes tough to find a table.
Getting through the hallways on cruise ships in a wheelchair can be a challenge, especially when luggage is left in the hallways on embarkation and disembarkation. It can also be a challenge getting to your room during the day when the housekeeping carts are in the halls. The best strategy is to book a room very close to the elevators so you don’t have to traverse a long hallway to get in and out of your room.
This boat did not have an accessible pool or any accessible hot tubs and did not have any pool lifts.
This cruise ship was definitely better-suited to adults or families with older kids. The boat had a mini-golf area, sports court and a shallow pool area but not a lot for younger kids.
This was a very classy ship and it was practically new when we were on it. There was nothing ugly about it.
The Regal Princess was a beautiful boat with some very cool features. I enjoyed the Seawalk and the water shows at night. I appreciated that they had room service and we had a very lovely room steward for the week who took good care of us. Although we didn’t suffer in the food department, I would have liked it if the specialty restaurants had more flexible dining options.
In terms of accessibility, this specific itinerary is a bit of a challenge for wheelchair users as two of the three stops require being hoisted onto a tender boat or water taxi. If you cannot walk at all, you may be better off selecting an itinerary with no tenders. If you have some mobility, however, you may find it to be more manageable than we did.