It included members of AIDA’s Barrier-Free Travel Expert Council which, among others, includes people with limited walking, visual or hearing abilities, who advise the cruise line on matters relating to disability. Also joining the voyage was two-time Olympic champion Kristina Vogel – the council’s patron – who was paralysed from the chest down following an accident in 2018, as well as visually impaired TikTok star Nikolaos Rizidis.
Vogel remarked, ‘For a long time, vacationing in a wheelchair was associated with many challenges for me. On board AIDA, I immediately felt comfortable and welcome. The ships are well thought out, and pretty much all areas on board are barrier-free for wheelchair users. To be able to pack my bags just once and discover several dream destinations in one trip – for me, that’s pure luxury that feels wonderfully normal.’
The June 3-10 Expert Council sailing was the second of its kind to have occurred; the first took place on board AIDAperla in May 2022, a month after the council was established.
Workshops held on board AIDAnova
Workshops were held on board the ship which saw optimized and simplified personalized booking processes and digital registration forms explored in-depth, and how excursion options could be expanded to accommodate those with disabilities. Conversation also honed in on providing more detailed information on recommendations for disabled passengers, and digitalization/the development of apps relating to any restrictions on board.
A spokesperson for the council said, ‘AIDA takes a leading role for barrier-free travel both in the cruise market and in comparison to land-based offerings.’
Steffi Heinicke, AIDA’s SVP guest experience, added, ‘The close and trusted cooperation with the Expert Council is a great benefit for all involved. The continuous exchange and common understanding are essential for us to make our ships even more barrier-free and to enable all our guests to enjoy a carefree travel experience.’
Starting this season, barrier-free excursions will be offered by AIDA for the first time at no extra charge and bookable via myAIDA. AIDA’s excursion program identifies excursions that are suitable for passengers with limited walking ability. Shore excursions will be divided into five levels of difficulty, so passengers can make the choice that is right for them.
Further enhancements have been made on board AIDA ships, based on recommendations by the Expert Council, including optimized guiding systems and signage – especially in the service areas of restaurants and elevators – and ring induction loops in the theatre on board all ships. A specially designed AIDA catalog for barrier-free travel can now be read aloud using ReadSpeaker text-to-speech software. Similarly, safety-related topics such as the barrier-free digital safety briefing have been implemented.
Other measures to support accessible cruising
Several measures are in place by AIDA aimed at supporting passengers with disabilities. Specially trained employees are available to customers with impairments for personal travel advice in advance of booking a barrier-free trip. A meeting on the first day of travel ensures proper orientation on board, where questions about excursions, restaurant reservations, individual assistance, equipment rental and more can be answered.
Numerous aids may be borrowed on board, for example wheelchairs and walkers, shower stools and toilet seat raisers, mobile grab bars for the sanitary area and deaf set (signal system). Almost all public areas, such as bars, restaurants, lifts, outdoor decks, public toilets and cabins are accessible without barriers and equipped with orientation signage in profile and Braille. For example, walkways at the buffet are wide enough for wheelchair users to manoeuvre and serve themselves comfortably. Several tables are reserved near the entrance area for passengers with mobility impairments up to half an hour after the restaurant opens. All restaurants are prepared for allergies or food intolerances, and only gluten- and lactose-free dishes are offered at the Schonkostbar.
Passengers with limited hearing are provided with reserved seating at shows where acoustic signals are amplified for hearing aids and implants with tele-coils or inductive receivers.
AIDA’s barrier-free balcony and inside cabins are designed to meet the needs of passengers with physical disabilities. They include a wider, inward-opening automatic door, plenty of space, clothes rails that can be easily reached by means of a lift system, and the bathroom has a height-adjustable sink and a ground-level shower with a shower seat also barrier-free. If required, a deaf set with vibration alarm function and pager can be installed in all cabins – for haptic alarm signals, calls, wake-up calls or door signals.
In the spa, individual solutions can be found by crew, by arrangement, to suit individual need.