Ultimate guide to cruising blind or visually impaired

Cruises offer a unique opportunity for those looking to explore several different destinations in one vacation. Cruise providers and the amenities they offer are as varied as the variety of [ports they visit. But what if you or someone you are traveling with has a vision impairment? Let’s talk about some basics of cruising with limited or no vision, whether you are a seasoned cruiser or looking to book your first cruise, I hope you can find some helpful tips here.

Choosing a trip package 

Deciding on a cruise destination and cruise line can be overwhelming. Will you choose a warm locale like the Caribbean? or a colder destination like Alaska? Once you figure out where you want to go, it refines a few factors. If you are looking to head to The Bahamas, Costa Rica, Belize, or other tropical destination, the dates you travel should at least include hurricane season. Hurricane season in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean officially runs from June 1 through November 30. Although the exact paths and initial development of individual hurricanes are hard to predict, the season is generally busiest between mid-August and mid-September. We have traveled many times during hurricane season and so far, only had to deal with a few days of rough seas between ports. You just never know though.

 If you are looking for that bucket list Alaskan cruise, be aware that cruise lines only offer specific months for those cruises because of weather. Alaskan cruise season is May through September with July and August being the highest season attracting the most travelers. Typically, the best months to cruise Alaska are July and August when the temperatures are at their highest and the weather is generally sunnier.

 When it comes to choosing a cruise provider, they are similar in many ways. For the larger lines like Princess, Carnival, Norwegian, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean your food will be included along with soft drinks and iced tea, hot tea, and coffee along with a variety of onboard activities. Each cruise line offers a variety of additional services like Starbucks and fast food like Johnny Rocket’s Burgers at an additional cost. Alcohol is also not included in your sailing cost and this is something you need to weigh the cost of, because the premium cocktails packages costs an average of $70 USD per day, this price can vary depending on the time of year, destination and cruise line. If you like to sit by the pool and have a tropical cocktail, they usually run an average of $15 USD each and it does not take much to get to the drinks package price if you include a glass of wine with your dinner. Depending on your cruise line, sometimes it can be more economical to buy the drinks package when you book your cruise, and other times it can be beneficial to buy it after. On a recent holiday trip with Royal Caribbean, they offered the drinks package at a discounted rate for Black Friday so in that case it worked out to not buy at the time of booking.

A fancy room aboard a cruise line. A hot tub can be seen in the room and the windows open to a view of the ocean

Choose your room

Passengers can choose from interior rooms, ocean view, balcony and suites. We have stayed in all levels of accommodation aboard cruise ships and tend to choose our level of accommodation based on where we are going and our planned shore activities.

Interior rooms

These rooms don’t have a window that looks out on the water, but they do often have a monitor or television that shows what it looks like outside, it is a great feature. We tend to choose interior rooms if we have been to a location previously, as they are always the most economical, and guests can usually find a room higher on the ship (which we prefer) at a significant savings over rooms that look out on the water.

Ocean view

This is a good first-time cruise option. Passengers get to look out on the water, and they don’t cost as much as having a personal balcony. I have often heard that there is concern over interior or Oceanview rooms because they will make some feel claustrophobic. I have not found this to be the case for me. Interior and Oceanview rooms feel like hotel rooms to me in general. I have also heard that higher rooms are always better, and that rooms in the middle section of the boat are the way to go for the smoothest ride overall. From my experience, it depends more on the time of year that you are traveling. If the seas are rough, then the boat is going to rock whether you are in a suite or an interior room.

Balcony Rooms

For me, this is a good starting point when I am looking to book a cruise. Balcony rooms offer the opportunity to open the door and step out on your balcony to take some photos or just breathe in the sea air. Do consider if this is a necessary cost, because for the most part, guests are in their rooms when arriving in port and waiting for departure. If you are one of those people who like to squeeze every moment out of a port of call then come screaming back onboard just before the boat sets sail, then a balcony room might not be a good cost consideration, because you won’t have as much time to enjoy it.

When booking your trip, you can occasionally come across a cheap balcony room, and this can often happen because the room offers an obstructed view. Sometimes the tender boats are hanging in most or part of your view. Do your research and if a room is cheaper than the others it is usually for a reason. These are great for me, I can’t see the view, but they still have the option to step outside and enjoy the sea air.


Larger than a balcony room, and available in different sizes depending on the boat you are sailing on. Suites for me are overpriced and I tend to not bother with them unless the cruise line is offering an upgrade package – which they do a couple times a year where you can pay for a balcony and get a junior suite as a free upgrade.  

Cruise length

If you have not been on a cruise ship before, it may be a good idea to dip your toes into the proverbial water with a short venture. All of the cruise lines offer a 3 or 4 day trip, I personally like the Long Beach to Ensenada, Mexico, and the Caribbean cruises that visit one or two ports like Nassau. These cruises are usually pretty cheap, and airfare is reasonable. 

A heavy set man standing on the deck of a cruise ship holding his stomach looking ill. The waves in the background looks very rough.


It’s the elephant in the room when you are talking about cruises. There are a variety of bands to wear on your wrist, and medications that can be taken to combat seasickness, and what works depends on the person. I can speak from personal experience, the first cruise I went on I put on the scopolamine patch, which is a small patch that goes behind your ear and slowly releases the anti-nausea medication over a few days.  This is only available by doctor’s prescription, but I recommend this patch over the oral medications like Dramamine or Bonine because once you start getting seasick it is usually difficult to keep anything down, and the patch can quickly alleviate symptoms.  Do be aware that these medications can make you more sleepy than normal.

I have not used anything since my first cruise, and only once ever felt like I needed medication and that was in the Caribbean during hurricane season, we sailed across the edge of a incoming hurricane and it was rocking pretty good those two days.

Navigating the ship

So far, we have covered the basics of booking a cruise package, let’s talk about navigating the ships with limited vision. In general, cruise ships take advantage of every inch of space available. This means that things can feel cramped and be a bit difficult to navigate, especially if you are using a white cane or a guide dog. First and foremost, realize that the boat will be moving, and it can be difficult to navigate. It is not usually as sudden as turbulence on an airplane, most times you can feel the boat moving one way and you can be ready for it to move the other. Just pay attention to the movement. I have noticed that those who are visually impaired usually do better on a boat because they are more aware of their surroundings.


The corridors on the ships tend to be thin, because of this I use the hand trailing method along the walls as I travel. There is not enough room generally to swing a white cane, especially with other passengers around. The rooms have been well marked with braille similar to a hotel on all the ships I have been on.


Don’t fall overboard is usually the first thing I hear from friends when I say I have booked a cruise. The reality is that there are plenty of open rails around, but the bulk of the balcony areas are enclosed like in the pool areas. (a generality and will vary depending on the ship you are on.) It is always a good idea to be careful around the rails.

Limited space

As mentioned earlier, the tight quarters on the ship can lead to navigation hazards for those of us who cannot see. Areas by the pool can be very tight to navigate with lots of lounge chair legs sticking out. Dining rooms can be very tight in areas, with little room to swing a cane. I usually opt to sighted guide for those areas. The bars, entertainment venue and other common areas are usually very tightly packed with chairs tables and other things for us to run into. Take things slowly until you learn where the hazards are and always be aware that navigation is made more difficult by the possibility of the ship rocking.


Just like a hotel, floors for the most part all look and feel the same on the ships. In general, there is little indication of what floor you are on when taking the stairs which is why I usually opt for the elevators, when possible, Elevators are usually marked with braille, and announce the floor on most cruise lines. Most of the ships just tell you the floor number you are on, and not the amenities available on that floor. I usually make a cheat sheet on my phone which lists the locations of things like the dining room, pool, bars and other points of interest in the event the elevator just announces the floor numbers. This information is all readily available and can be set up before you leave home. I have found that it is easy to get turned around because everything on the floors looks and feels the same. Once I know where things are I usually like the challenge of taking the stairs over the elevators.

The staff

The staff on most of the cruise lines are international in nature, meaning they hail from many different areas of the globe. In my experience, most staff don’t understand the need to ask an obviously lost or turned around partially sighted or blind person if they need help.  For this reason, passengers need to be ok with asking for help and being an advocate for themselves when it comes to navigating the onboard environment. The willingness and understanding of the staff when it comes to assisting blind or low vision passengers is hit and miss at best, The staff aboard a recent trip on Royal Caribbean was not good about asking me if I needed assistance at any point in the cruise. Language is not usually a barrier, but do be aware that the training for the staff is usually not stellar, and get ready for the point and tell you “it’s over there” treatment when asking for directions


On most ships there are a few options when it comes to food. There will always be a large communal dining hall, where the passengers sit and order from a limited menu. Breakfasts usually have the passengers sitting in whatever location is available while lunch and dinner service is usually with the same server. I appreciate this, because I have been on cruises that after one meal the server sat down next to me and read the menu to me for each meal until the cruise was done. I of course tipped the server well for this at the end of the cruise.

There is (almost) always a buffet option. The buffet is usually more low-key than the dining room, and passengers can usually eat in swimwear and flip flops for lunch service. As always, check with your cruise line for rules around meals. Buffets are always a difficult fare for those of us who cannot see. There is almost always no braille option to tell what a dish is, and even if there is a braille option the contents of the chaffers are getting swapped out so often, I have found that you cannot trust what the signage says. The servers behind the buffet are almost always too busy to help passengers, compounding the problem. Additionally, buffets offer the dreaded serving spoon difficulty. Other passengers don’t always put the serving utensils back in front of the chaffers with the food, so the vision impaired guest needs to try and figure out where the spoon is, usually burning themselves on the tray in the process. Buffets are just terrible for those of us who can’t see. The bad thing is that the buffets are always where the biggest variety of foods to try can be found so dining in the buffet can be worth the trouble.

Depending on the cruise line you are traveling on, there are usually options for higher-end dining. Usually, the ships will offer a steakhouse or other similar place. I usually reserve these for special occasions and just suffer through the steak in the dining room.  

In the vein of food add-ons, it should be noted that not all the food is included. Expect to pay a premium price for burgers and some fast food options including Starbucks and other coffee shops onboard.


Everything on a cruise ship takes advantage of the available space. The rooms are much smaller than a usual hotel room. The good thing is that this makes it easy to get the lay of the land for your room because there isn’t a lot of space. The bathrooms are very small, and the shower stalls are tiny and have poorly marked shampoo and shower gel bottles.

Though the rooms are usually well marked, the entry system can be a bit confusing. If you are traveling alone or this is your first time, I suggest calling ahead to see if you can get someone to bring you to the room and show you the entry system and the room amenities. I mention this because often the shower facilities are different than your traditional hotel room and I find myself getting frustrated. If you ask ahead of time, then you won’t need to wait for the room stewart to come to help you figure out the shower while you are trying to get ready for breakfast or to head into port.  This will of course all depend on the cruise line you are traveling with, because it feels like every cruise lines rooms are a bit different.

A golden Retriever guide dog in harness sitting on the deck of a cruise ship.

Service animals

Traveling with a guide dog on a cruise can be a challenging experience. In general, after the first day, passengers and staff are used to seeing the dog leading you, so that concern fades quickly. There are times when you won’t want to have your guide with you, like at the evening entertainment. This means that as a guide dog user, you will have a lot of homework to do before you leave port.


Some cruise lines require guests to fill out a form explaining their accommodation, As an example, Norwegian cruise lines have a specific form for guide dog users. Passengers are responsible for amassing all of the needed documentation for your dog to depart ships at port of call. This can vary depending on where you are going and seems like it is always changing. It is best to call the cruise line you are looking to book with and get the latest information about service animals. Always keep in mind that different ports of call have different requirements, so make sure to do your research. Always carry vaccination records and a current health certificate – this means scheduling a vet visit before your trip. I always carry vaccination records and health and licensing information in a pouch on my guide’s harness along with a few waste bags and cards that explain the ADA access rules for guide dogs.  

Alone time

Before leaving for your trip, make sure your guide is all good with spending time alone, and able to perform a prolonged sit/stay. The nightly entertainment often includes amplified music which would be too loud for a guide. I usually opt to leave my guide in the room. I also like to swim, so I ensure that my guide is good with me placing her on a down while I am in the water nearby. This can take some practice but is well worth the effort.

Even if you bring a guide dog with you, remember to always pack a cane. You never know when your guide will get sick, or you will need to leave the room without them. A side note about the evening entertainment:  I suggest bringing earplugs just in case the volume is too much for you. I always have a pair in my bag no matter where I am going, but my ears are very sensitive. 

No more emotional support

As of this writing, most cruise lines have opted to not allow Emotional Support Animals onboard. Guide Dogs are of course still allowed under the ADA. There are specific cruises that are pet friendly, just check with your service provider. 

Long trips

I generally don’t recommend long cruises with guide dogs. A few days is usually just about right. The longer week plus cruises I have taken tend to be a bit much for most guides. I usually opt to leave my guide home for longer trips.


The rooms onboard are very small. If your guide gets antsy, or is not comfortable in smaller hotel rooms, either a larger room like a suite might be a consideration or of course leaving them home. Remember onboard there is no place for the dogs to run so exercise will be relegated to the walking tracks and along the decks. I always opt to take the stairs when I have my guide with me, because it helps her to practice stairs and stretches her legs at the same time.

You are on duty

Remember that the Crew will not watch your dog for you. I have heard a few isolated occasions when the person was in a wedding onboard and a crewmember babysat the person’s guide but this is not the norm. Crewmembers don’t have time to watch your dog for you.


Next to documentation, and waste bags, food is perhaps one of the most important things to remember. The ships do not stock food options for animals, and there will likely not be an option to pick up any in port due to the regulations of bringing food onboard from port. I triple and quadruple check that I have food for not only the length of the cruise, but also for additional days in case there is a problem with the boat or an issue in port. You never know, and having your poor pup eat buffet food is not going to go well for the rest of your trip.

Relieving areas

Did I mention that you need to bring waste bags? Being self-sufficient when it comes to supplies for your guide is of utmost importance. Relieving areas are available, and the crew will usually provide a box for the dog to relieve itself in – usually with some faux grass, mulch, or woodchips. This is a good time to remind you about the homework you need to do before the trip. Making sure your guide is comfortable relieving on asphalt, turf and woodchips is very important. Always clean up the solid waste, the crew will always provide a garbage can for the waste. Be sure to tip the staff at the end of the cruise that is responsible for your relieving area.

Getting on an off the boat

We all cruise so we can visit the cool new places. Do be aware that some of the locations you might visit may not have the best infrastructure for those of us who are blind or partially sighted. When boarding the ship, you often start on a dock, and then board the boat via a ramp. This ramp can move with the water so be aware and know where your handrails are. Depending on where you are boarding from, the dock may or may not be equipped with safety rails so be aware. When exiting the ship in port, sometimes the ship will come up to a dock and you will use a ramp to exit, and other times you will need to board a tender or smaller ship which will ferry passengers to and from the shore. Depending on the conditions of the water, this can be precarious so make sure to ask for help if you need it. When getting off the tenders, be aware of the possibility of no safety rails on the dock areas as mentioned earlier.

Show me your papers!

Whenever you exit the boat, remember to bring your identification. You will usually be given a card with the boat information, your photo and other relevant details but always bring your ID card as well.


Most ports are used to dealing with USD. Mexico destinations and most Caribbean ports accept USD (or Pesos and their local equivalent). When shopping, I use my credit card and never a debit card.

Shore excursions

Shore excursions are an amazing opportunity to learn all about an area you are visiting. The people running the tours are usually passionate about their home and often give a lot of interesting information. I always recommend the shorter ones so that you are’nt pressed for time in getting back to the boat. I also do my research before leaving home, I call ahead to see if any of the excursion companies offer a more accessible approach and understand working with those who have limited or no sight. A quick google search will yield the tour options for a destination and either a phone call or email can get you the information you need. Pro Tip: Contacting the tour companies directly can often save you money rather than booking through the onboard services.

Sometimes it is better to just play it by ear. In Ensenada the tour companies run the buses that take you to the town center from the dock and offer a couple of different tours right from the busses you take from the cruise dock to the town center. They are usually a lot cheaper, but your mileage may vary.

Cruise on the cheap

If your schedule is flexible, there are a ton of options for booking last minute cruise deals, and many of these can be found right through the cruise line websites. A three or four day jaunt can cost a few hundred dollars a person and might even include air.

Have a good time!

There can be some frustrations with the staff and crew not understanding the needs of a visually impaired passenger, and the quarters can be tight, and difficult to navigate if you are blind or low vision. Oh, and did I mention the buffets are always the bane of those who can’t see? But you know what? A cruise is a great time! You wake up in a new port every day, and the shore excursions are still some of the most fun I have had traveling. Go into the situation with a good attitude, expect to have the staff not understand your needs. But remember it is a vacation and an adventure.

What do you think? Have you been on a cruise? Tell me about your experience and don’t forget to include the cruise line, destination and cruise length. If you have questions about cruising with a vision impairment, feel free to drop me a message here on the contact page or on social media at the links below.

“Traveling, without sight, is an extraordinary journey of exploration. In the quiet footsteps and whispered winds, you discover a world painted in sensations—the warmth of sun-kissed stones, the rhythm of bustling streets, and the symphony of unfamiliar voices. Each tactile map, each shared laughter, becomes a constellation of memories etched upon your soul. In the vastness of the unknown, you find not darkness, but a canvas waiting for your touch—a masterpiece woven from courage, resilience, and the sheer wonder of exploration.” – Ted Tahquechi

About the author

Ted Tahquechi is a blind photographer, travel influencer, disability advocate and photo educator based in Denver, Colorado. You can see more of Ted’s work at www.tahquechi.com

Ted operates Blind Travels, a travel blog designed specifically to empower blind and visually impaired travelers. https://www.blindtravels.com/

Ted’s body-positive Landscapes of the Body project has been shown all over the world, learn more about this intriguing collection of photographic work at: https://www.bodyscapes.photography/

 Questions or comments? Feel free to email Ted at: nedskee@tahquechi.com 

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Twitter: @nedskee

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