Draft Passenger Vessel Accessibility Guidelines
Holland America Line and Windstar Cruises
300 Elliott Avenue West
Seattle, WA 98119
July 28, 2005
United States Access Board
1331 F Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20004-1111
Holland America Line and Windstar Cruises support the industry comments submitted to the US Access Board by the International Council of Cruise Lines. As a supplement to the joint industry comments, this document focuses on additional concerns identified by Holland America Line and Windstar. While not applicable to the industry as a whole, the topics of modified accessible staterooms and an exemption for small sailing yachts are important and warrant review.
Modified Accessible Staterooms
One of the key issues facing the Access Board, Department of Transportation and the cruise industry in this process is the extent to which cruise lines will be required to modify existing facilities, and most specifically cabins, in order to meet the barrier removal standard of the ADA. In an effort to meet the needs of guests with partial mobility disabilities, Holland America Line recently retrofitted nine staterooms on each of our S Class ships (Statendam, Maasdam, Ryndam, and Veendam). (Each of these ships also has six fully accessible staterooms.)
These modified accessible staterooms provide access for guests who require the use of a walker, cane, crutches, and/or part time use of a wheelchair. These modified accessible staterooms provide a shower only configuration with a small threshold to contain water runoff, accessible grab bars within the bathroom, and lowered closet rods. The specifications for these rooms were negotiated and agreed upon as part of a court-approved settlement agreement with Access Now, one of the disability rights groups that sought enforcement of the ADA through litigation while this regulatory process was ongoing. Implicitly acknowledging that retrofitting staterooms is a costly process, and that not all guests with disabilities require fully accessible staterooms, Access Now worked with us to develop a set of standards that would be appropriate for those guests whose needs can be met with less invasive modifications to existing facilities.
These existing modified accessibility staterooms that meet the needs of guests with partial mobility constraints should be accepted as accessible staterooms without the need for further retrofitting.
Windstar Cruises, along with Holland America Line and the industry in general, is committed to achieving accessibility within its fleet. The Windstar fleet is highly unique, however, being comprised of three small sailing yachts carrying less than 310 passengers each. Modifying the existing fleet poses challenges for these small vessels beyond those faced by the larger ships and we therefore respectfully request that vessels of this size be considered separately from the larger vessels. Specifically, for the reasons set forth below, existing vessels in this category should not be required to undertake the significant alterations and/or retrofitting that would be necessary to make the ships fully accessible.
The good news is that many of the proposed guidelines for guests with sensory disabilities may be easily implemented. Indeed, many may have been incorporated already as part of Windstar’s continuing effort to provide the best service possible for all guests. As an example, Braille stateroom directories and menus are provided to guests. However, other proposed guidelines, namely those relating to guests with mobility disabilities, will be infeasible on vessels the size of Windstar sailing yachts. These ships are required to meet the same maritime requirements to sail in international waters as dictated within the rules of The International Convention on Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), The International Loadlines Convention, and several others as large cruise ships. However, they face unique challenges based upon their small size.
As noted above, the Windstar fleet is made up of three sailing yachts: two four-mast vessels each with a guest capacity of 148 and one five-mast vessel with a guest capacity of 308. While these vessels occasionally call in Florida or St. Thomas, the product caters to a market of guests wishing to sail to more exclusive ports of call, ones that often can only be reached by vessels of this smaller size. The channels traveled to reach the remote locations desired in this type of market dictates certain structure limitations, such as draft, length, and beam of the vessel. Some of these ports of call can only be reached by the two smaller vessels in the fleet.
As with all vessels, one of the most significant issues is embarkation and disembarkation of guests. What is unique for these vessels, however, is that they travel in smaller channels and harbors, and there is a high demand from guests for the ship to offer activities like sailing, kayaking, and swimming directly from the ship utilizing the ships’ sports platforms. The vessels thus frequently anchor, rather than dock pier side, while in a port of call, requiring guests to travel by tender boat into port. Due to the smaller overall size of the vessels, the tender boats carried are much smaller than those used on large cruise ships. Additionally, due to the waterways in many remote ports of call, even these smaller tender boats may be too large to transport guests to shore. In these cases alternate means of tendering, such as Zodiac watercrafts, are used. The overall size and structure of the Zodiacs and tender boats utilized while the vessels are at anchor do not allow for safe transfer between the vessel and transport watercrafts, as they cannot accommodate apparatus such as scissor lifts while maintaining a stable and safe environment for the guests and crew.
In ports of call where the ships dock pier side, access to the pier is via a stairway ladder (also used for tender operations) accessible only from the exterior deck of the existing ships. This stairway ladder, designed to accommodate the smaller size of the vessel, is narrow and does not provide the space needed for crew members to assist guests with partial mobility disabilities by walking side by side up or down the gangway.
New ships probably can be designed to incorporate elements such as elevators, accessible staterooms, and break doors on the sides of the ships on lower decks (to reduce the slope of a gangway or allow tender operations without the main stairway/ladder utilized currently). Retrofitting the vessels to make them fully accessible, as discussed below, is structurally infeasible.
Either way, the loss of staterooms to accommodate these features would result in significant financial losses relative to larger vessels. As discussed in the comments provided by the ICCL, the space necessary to accommodate an accessible stateroom is 150% of the space necessary for a standard stateroom. Thus, an addition of two accessible staterooms on one deck would result in the loss of revenue for one stateroom over the life of the ship on a vessel with fewer than 200 staterooms already (fewer than 100 for the two smallest ships). Adding an elevator that travels through all passenger decks will, at minimum, result in the loss of one stateroom per passenger stateroom deck and equal space utilized for public areas on the remaining public decks. This takes into account the space needed to accommodate the elevator car, elevator shaft, and the lift pulley room. The space required for a side break door would result in the further loss of at least one stateroom for each break door.
By adding just one elevator, one break door on each side of the ship and two accessible staterooms per ship, based on the design of a ship with two guest stateroom decks, Windstar Cruises would lose the revenue of five staterooms over the life of the ship. Based on the current size of a ship with a guest capacity of 148, or 74 staterooms, this would result in a loss of nearly 7% of the staterooms per ship.
Moreover, retrofitting the existing vessels to meet proposed requirements for accessible paths of travel within public spaces and wider passageways on guest stateroom decks, even if feasible, would require extensive, costly construction. As an initial matter, the limited size of the vessel by definition reduces the space available to incorporate accessible paths of travel to and within public spaces, as well as the size and configuration of guest staterooms. Cutting the ship in half from the bow to stern to widen the ship is not feasible because of factors such as the impact on the structural integrity of the vessel and the size of waterways traveled to ports of call. Therefore, a retrofit of this nature would require the reconfiguration of the interior structure of the ship, that is, widening the central corridor on passenger stateroom decks by moving corridor walls (which may or may not be structurally possible) and decreasing the size of the staterooms. These changes would then give rise to further alterations, such as the resulting need to re-pipe the water supplies to staterooms and reconfigure the restroom in each stateroom due to the stateroom layouts, relocate air ducts, and reduce space in restaurants, lounges and theaters.
The current vessels within the Windstar Cruises fleet are nearly twenty years old. As most sailing vessels are utilized by the line operating the ship for approximately 25-30 years at most, the cost of retrofitting these vessels would surpass the financial justification to retain the vessel for the remaining amount of time it would typically continue sailing in the market.
Based on the unique challenges faced by vessels of this small size, Windstar Cruises vessels should not be categorized within the same classification as large cruise vessels in the context of proposed accessibility guidelines. Additionally, for the reasons set forth above, existing vessels in this category should be exempt from the extensive alterations and/or retrofits that would be required to make the vessels fully accessible.
Holland America Line and Windstar Cruises are proud to be a part of the rulemaking process for accessibility guidelines. We look forward to continued open dialog with the US Access Board and our industry partners to reach guidelines that will ensure all of our guests are able to enjoy the best possible vacation experience.