Saturday, May 1, 2010

My Disabled Cruise Story - Chapter 2 - First Port of Call

IMG_1489I’ve been asked several times what my favorite part of the cruise was. I can’t decide. Here are some candidates:
  • breathtaking scenery
  • clear, blue water under puffy white clouds and equally blue skies
  • people-watching (the beautiful ones, of course, but also the interesting ones)
  • bar hopping without driving or going out in the weather
  • great food, in abundance
  • being pampered
  • free ice cream
  • blackjack
  • great theater-style entertainment
  • a guy playing the guitar and singing any song you know
  • a different guy playing the piano and singing any song you know
  • the architecture, decorations, and furnishings onboard
  • meeting new people (both crew and passengers)
  • a different, exotic port of call each day, but need to unpack only once
  • knowing that my wife is having as good or maybe even a better time than I am
IMG_1410 I had all this at my fingertips on the ship, without needing to bother with my handicapped van or a jacket, hat, or mittens even once. It was just so easy, available, and accessible. This was one of those rare vacations that I didn’t feel like I needed another vacation to recover from the first one.

I remember that when I was at the rehab hospital being qualified as an iBOT owner, I told the therapist that I doubted I would spend much time in balance mode. I was afraid it would freak people out when they saw a 220 pound man elevated to normal height zipping toward them on two wheels. I suspect I was right about the freaking out part, but I was definitely wrong when I assumed that I wouldn't use balance mode often. I choose balance mode every chance I can when I’m out in public. I love it. I've become an iBOT exhibitionist.

I spoke to Independence Technology, the manufacturer of the iBOT, about a minor maintenance issue a few weeks ago. While making small talk, I mentioned that I would be going on a cruise soon. About 10 minutes after I hung up the phone, the representative from Independence Technology called me back.

IMG_1685She said, "Since you indicated that you are going on a cruise I am obligated to inform you that you absolutely CANNOT use the balance mode on the cruise ship. The ship's swaying will cause a malfunction in the gyroscopes that control the iBOT in this mode."

I responded, "Duly noted. However, I must tell you that I've done a lot of things in the iBOT that you've told me not to do, and I’m going to try out balance mode on the ship as well."

She was pleasant- just doing her job.

I attract a lot of attention at the shopping mall, downtown, or at the grocery store when I'm up in balance mode. But, for whatever reason, the level of attention was two or even threefold during the cruise. People stared shamelessly at me. They came up to me and posed questions. They asked my permission to take photographs of me. They asked where they could buy an iBOT for grandma (they can’t). They spoke in hushed tones to one another about me and my wheelchair as if I couldn't hear them. I loved it.

For Kim, in addition to the wonderful items I listed in the opening, there were all sorts of athletic activities that she could take part in both on the ship and at the ports of call. On Tuesday morning, as the ship was docking at Labadee, Haiti, Kim decided to try out the surf simulator on the cruise ship. She chose to use a boogie board. Below is the video.

At about 10 a.m. on Tuesday we walked down the dock from the ship to the Royal Caribbean resort in Labadee, Haiti. Labadee is a manufactured little town- a la Disney. You don't get to see the real Haiti at all, but that’s probably a good thing.  Below is a video we took from the ship.

The front half of Labadee was perfectly accessible, with concrete sidewalks. However, toward the back of the resort I had to follow a sometimes hilly dirt road. For many wheelchairs, both manual and power, this would have been problematic. Of course, it was no problem for the iBOT in four wheel drive mode.

Kim tried parasailing in Labadee, and loved it. While she was flying around over the cool, blue waters, I explored the resort. Just a month earlier I had undergone experimental MS surgery for a condition called CCSVI. Many people who have had this procedure reported an almost immediate improvement in one very common MS symptom – heat intolerance. Haiti was about 90° and very humid that day. I was able to confirm, with certainty, that my heat intolerance has not improved one bit.

The left side of my body has always preceded the right side in terms of progression. What happens (or more appropriately, what no longer happens) on my left side today will be echoed by my right side six months or a year later. But what about my left side? Does it have a preview of what is to come? It does, in the form of heat sensitivity. The way that my body feels when my core temperature is elevated is actually a window as to how I’ll feel at normal body temperatures about a year later. Does this make sense? If not I’ll be happy to provide a table, chart, or spreadsheet with more detail.

Because my right hand is less disabled than my left hand, I have the iBOT set up so that I control the joystick with my left hand, leaving my right hand free for, well, everything else. However, due to the uncomfortably hot weather, and the fact that I had already used my left hand on the joystick a lot that day, as we were heading back to the ship my left hand became too fatigued to operate the joystick. I had to reach over with my right hand for a while to give my left hand a rest.

When we got back to our cabin it was clear that I had overdone it that day in terms of exposure to the heat. Kim got me a cold washcloth to put on my face and I lay down on the bed for a couple of hours. By the time we went to dinner, however, I was fully recovered (I still had MS though).

IMG_1493 Dinner was, of course, wonderful. After dinner we went to the top deck and enjoyed views of the northern coastline of Haiti as we cruised west towards Jamaica. Later that evening I won $112 on blackjack. Any guesses on whether I held on to those winnings all week?

Oh, and the iBOT balance mode worked flawlessly the entire week. Apparently, iBOTs don’t get seasick after all.

To be continued…click here

IMG_1414 Piano bar guy

IMG_1416 parade on the royal promenade

IMG_1422 main dining room

IMG_1846 favorite pub onboard


  1. Sounds like a terrific trip!

    The paragraph on left/right relation made sense.

    Sucks that your heat sensitivity was unchanged.

    I've got wheelchair envy! Those are some nice wheels.

  2. You were so very wise to take this vacation now knowing that later it likely wouldn't happen. It sounds like both of you had a magnificent time, and I, for one, am jealous as hell.

    That first picture of you looked like you were pinking up pretty good! Amazing what some Caribbean sun will do to a pale northern boy. Recommend some SPF50!

    I'm glad to hear you bounced back so quickly from a hot and humid afternoon.

  3. Hi Mitch,
    Great story look forward to the next instalment.

  4. Ahhhh.... Your words and pics bring back such fond memories. I agree with you "one of those rare vacations I didn't feel like I needed another vacation to recover from the first one". An whole week with nothing in your pockets except a sign & sail card. Can you say "waiter".
    Maybe I'll give it another try once I get my iBOT, but more about that later.
    To be continued...


  5. Did you end up taking your computer? How did that work out?

  6. Darren,

    I did take my computer. I bought 60 minutes of shipboard internet for $ I got some free internet, but that's a story I'm probably going to write about next post.


    I did get slightly burned that day, but not too badly. I was more careful the rest of the week.


    Working on next installment right now.


    Once you get your iBOT? Now who's creating cliffhangers? Talk to me before you do that! There are risks in the used iBOT market, but you probably already know that.

  7. OK, questions. Having been able-bodied on cruises years ago there are things I never paid notice to.

    1) Main Dining Room - was there room for your wheelchair to get between tables once people are seated? This always seems to be a problem.

    2) Theatre Seating - did you transfer from your chair? Was there ample w/c parking? Did regular seats pull out or are there permanent empty spots for w/cs? Where were you sitting - very front, back or middle?

    3) Did the ship's pool have a chair lift?

  8. Weeble,

    1. Yes, I think they have tables in mind for wheelchair users. I had clear access to my table each night.

    2. I did not transfer from my chair. There was ample w/c seating. The w/c spots were in the back row of the lower section and the back row of the upper section. Not ideal, but the view was decent.

    3. I planned to find out about the pools, but I just never got the urge to go swimming, so I can't answer that question.