Cruising with the GRIT Freedom Chair: Natalie’s Story

Many of our riders are excited to hit the trails when they receive their GRIT Freedom Chair, but did you know we have several riders who purchased the all-terrain wheelchair for cruising the high seas?

We’ve had lots of people ask about the functionality of the Freedom Chair on a cruise ship, mostly because some cruises were built before the ADA acts, and in fact, “while all cruise ships (even foreign-flagged ones) sailing in US waters should be compliant with the US Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there aren't standards specifically addressing cruise ships, which means that some lines do more than others.”

To help you navigate the world of cruises, we brought in one of our riders, Natalie, to share her experiences of cruising with the Freedom Chair.

 
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GRIT: What is your disability, and how long have you been living with it?
Natalie: I have mitochondrial disease, so my body can't produce enough energy for everything to function. Some days I can walk, others I can't. I have been living with "mito" for 8 years but have only been diagnosed for 5 of those years. For a long time, it was a mystery illness that left me in bed most of the time. Now that I have learned to manage it, I am occasionally able to go exploring in my GRIT Freedom Chair.

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GRIT: How many cruises have you been on?
Natalie: I've been on two, plus I have one booked for this October and another for next November. It is definitely the best way to vacation, especially for those with disabilities. Where else can you go from pool, to water park, to 5-star restaurant, and back to your room, without really going anywhere? It really works out. For about the price of just a hotel on a land trip, a cruise delivers hotel, travel to exotic locations, unbeatable food, plus tons of activities and shows. It's really the most bang for my buck. I am looking forward to one per year for the foreseeable future, alternating between couples’ cruises one year and family cruises the next.

GRIT: What is your favorite thing about the Freedom Chair?
Natalie: I love the workout. I was not able to exercise (and was even told not to) by doctors when I was first diagnosed, but now they are seeing that exercise is an important tool in managing this disease.

Thanks to my Freedom Chair, I am able to get out and exercise without fear of falling or passing out.

GRIT: Why did you choose to purchase the Freedom Chair?
Natalie: It was really a no-brainier for me. I live out in the country, where a regular manual chair just doesn't cut it.

The Freedom Chair makes the difference between sitting around waiting for someone to be available to take me places, to being quite independent.

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GRIT: Did you have any hesitations about bringing the Freedom Chair on a cruise?
Natalie: I was worried, especially with the width. I did a lot of reading about handicap-accessible routes on the boat so I would know how to get around. Cruise ships are kind of like a pre-ADA world. They just don't think when building these ships about accessibility issues. There will be places you just can't go.

GRIT: What were the pros of the Freedom Chair on the cruise ship?
Natalie: I loved being able to get out on my own and not rely on others to “take” me places. It was incredible to get out at each port and do some tourism in my chair. It was great to be able to hop curbs and not be slowed down by the very deteriorated sidewalks in port. It would not have been possible in a regular chair.

The most obvious pro [was that] I had no trouble wheeling down the beach in the sand. I did use the sand tires; they were great! It was a little work inching through soft sand, but wet sand was no problem.

GRIT: Were there any challenges of having the Freedom Chair on the cruise ship?
Natalie: ELEVATORS! The elevators are frequently very crowded and I had a lot of difficulty with people just having no respect for others. The chair fits fine in most of the elevators, though I found that the glass lobby elevators were smaller and more difficult to use.

[Another con was the] crowded decks and dining rooms. The staff will help to make a path, but the groups of tables and chairs and the placement of lounge chairs on the pool deck can become a problem.

GRIT: What would you say to somebody who is considering bringing a Freedom Chair on a cruise? Any helpful tips? Anything to avoid?
Natalie: Do it, but be ready for a few inconveniences. My biggest advice is this: On the first day, pick a deck and stay on it. Everyone is going exploring that day and several times I was frustrated to tears waiting for 10-12 fully packed elevators to pass before I could finally fit into one. After the first day, it gets much easier. Feel free to ask for help, as there are always staff members around who are happy to help.

Be sure to book a handicap-accessible cabin. If you don't, you will be disassembling your Freedom Chair in the hallway because it won't fit through the door of a standard cabin.

Also note that the hallways where the rooms are can be very small. On days when luggage is placed out in the hall, it can be very difficult to get through. Thankfully, most handicap rooms are very close to the elevators so you can zip up to a more passable deck before shifting toward the front or back of the boat.

For our riders: Do you have any other tips you can offer on cruising with the GRIT Freedom Chair? Were there any cruise lines that offered better accessible amenities than others? Let us all know in the comments section!

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