Accommodating a wide range of needs is a crucial part of good design – and this is no different on board cruise ships. The cruise world has always prided itself on being an accessible industry – with the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) working closely with the International Maritime Organization to develop international standards to aid the accommodation of persons with disabilities.

As well as this, cruise holidays are very popular for adults with disabilities. According to the Open Doors Organization, approximately 12% of adults with disabilities have taken a cruise in the past 5 years. When compared with the general US population, who are cruising at a rate of 10% [CLIA], you can see that those with disabilities are just as likely to choose a cruise holiday. Also, for many travellers, cruising is the only way to travel overseas, providing cruise lines with a unique opportunity to provide better solutions to this market and tap into it. This provides a unique commercial opportunity to gain more revenue by appealing to a wider range of passengers.

It’s interesting to note that a large proportion of the growing 65+ population may not identify as having a disability – however, the US Census Bureau tells us that 50% of those 65 and over have a disability, with 37% having a severe disability. With a large chunk of the cruise market aimed at older generations, designers will need to bear the mobility of their target market in mind.

Some cruise lines are more accommodating than others, and all ships are different. Modern cruise ships are generally more accessible than older ships, with rooms in older ships often having to be refitted to meet accessibility standards. Below we look at some of the ways in which architects ensure that their cruise ship designs are accessible to all.


When designing for accessibility, architects need to consider multiple factors in their designs. Starting off with cabins, but applying to the entire ship, door thresholds need to be low or non-existent. For those with mobility disabilities thresholds can impede access to staterooms. These doorways also need to be wide enough for wheelchair users. Doorways on board Royal Caribbean’s ships are always at least 32 inches – the average width of a wheelchair can be anywhere from 21-30 inches and above, making the doorways on these ships a suitable width.

All cabins and suites on Saga Cruises’ Spirit of Discovery are wheelchair accessible. Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Horizon provides 65 accessible staterooms with three cabin designs to choose from depending on the disability. These include fully accessible cabins with access to the bed from both sides for passengers with mobility-related issues, fully accessible cabins with single-side bed access, or even an ambulatory-accessible cabin for guests who don’t need the space for a wheelchair or scooter but who may benefit from other accessibility features.

All the staterooms on board Saga Cruises’ Spirit of Discovery are wheelchair accessible

Once inside, the room needs to be large enough, with enough floor space to be manoeuvrable for a wheelchair user. All the cabins and suites on most of Royal Caribbean’s ships feature a 5-foot turning radius in their staterooms, including bathrooms and sitting areas, enough for any wheelchair user. In case of emergency, Saga Cruises include visual alarms in their staterooms for deaf or hard-of-hearing travellers. Disney Cruise Line also offers many accommodations in its accessible cabins, from open bed frames to emergency buttons.


As the comfort of knowing the location of your ‘home’ aboard the ship can’t be underestimated, cruise lines also need to create accessible wayfinding. On all P&O’s cruise ships the cabin numbers are written in Braille, as are the lift buttons. On most modern ships, access to rooms will include automatic doors to ease access – this includes doors into staterooms, as well as doors into bathrooms and onto balconies.


Access to bathrooms is crucial. As such, designers need to bear several different aspects in mind. For wheelchair users, roll-in showers are a must, as well as the inclusion of a pull-down shower seat. All the adapted cabins on older P&O cruise ships, including Ventura and Aurora, feature pull-down shower seats, as well as grab rails for the showers and toilets. Similarly to bedrooms, bathrooms need to have no thresholds and be wide enough for a wheelchair user. Once inside the bathrooms, several alterations make things easier to use. For example, Royal Caribbean ships include lowered sinks for wheelchair users and those of shorter stature.

Accessible stateroom on board Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas

Outside of staterooms, bathrooms still need to be easily accessible. This means that bathrooms around the ship need to follow a similar design to those in staterooms – i.e. low/no thresholds, wider doorways, and grab bars.


Entertainment is a key part of the cruise experience – and cruise lines put on a huge variety of shows and events that need to be accessible to all. To ensure they are, a few key areas need to be considered. In theatres, assistive listening systems and wheelchair-specific seating areas ensure shows are accessible – such as on P&O cruises. In public spaces, gradual inclines into seating and dining areas are a must – as well as a shallow end in pools, with a lift or chair hoist such as on P&O’s Brittania.

All of the restaurants on board Disney Wish are accessible to wheelchair users

The casinos on Royal Caribbean ships feature lowered playing tables and slot machines for wheelchair users. On Saga cruises, braille or large print menus and other reading materials are useful alternatives – Saga also provide braille playing cards!


For those with vision impairment disabilities, navigation around the ship can cause problems. To combat this, designers will consider certain elements of the ship. Most ships, especially those built more recently, feature braille signs on cabins, lift buttons, and stairway rails – aiding wayfinding for all cruisegoers. Some cruise lines also provide orientation tours before or near the beginning of the cruise to aid with navigation.

Moving forward

As more and more cruise ships are built, advancements in the accessibility of these ships will continue to improve. As the light continues to be shone on the difficulties of travelling with disabilities, more effort can be made to accommodate the needs of all travellers – from accessing the ships themselves to embarking on tours on dry land.

Refresh your knowledge, source suppliers for your next project, and connect with representatives from world-leading cruise lines at Cruise Ship Interiors Design Expo Americas. Find out all about the next event here.