Friday, May 14, 2010

My Disabled Cruise Story - Chapter 6 – Home is Where You Hang Your Swim Trunks

IMG_1820 After four consecutive days of visiting magnificent ports of call, we were looking forward to a full day at sea, just us and our faithful ship (and the other 3,800 passengers and 1,400 crew). Kim had been eyeing that rock climbing wall all week, and conquered it on Saturday.

By the end of any vacation week, I’m always ready to go home. I come to miss my simple life with all its little routines, all the familiar people, and all my own “stuff.” But this vacation was different.  I didn’t want it to end. 

Saturday was difficult because we were saying goodbye to all the friends we met, all the wonderful staff who had taken such great care of us, and the incredible ship itself. We were also saying goodbye to cruise Kim and Mitch. We liked cruise Kim and Mitch. They were such a cool, happy couple.

There was a party atmosphere on the Freedom of the Seas that Saturday night, and we joined in. We were determined to squeeze every ounce out of our dream vacation.

IMG_1832 that’s Cuba just over the horizon, honest

IMG_1878 farewell stage show

IMG_1880 last dinner – world’s best waitress Marianna

For the first time that week, we arranged for a wake-up call the next morning. We needed to be ready to leave the ship by 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, according to the cruise schedule. We contemplated hiding somewhere on the ship, so we could be stowaways on the next cruise, but we feared that my iBOT might give us away.

We enjoyed one last buffet breakfast on Sunday, and then departed the ship on time. At the baggage claim area in the terminal we loaded up the manual wheelchair with our bags and headed out for the buses that were waiting to transport us to the Orlando airport. We had plenty of time. Our flight wasn't leaving until 3:30 in the afternoon. Weeks earlier I had prepaid for our transportation from the ship dock to the airport, and I had let them know that my bus would need to be wheelchair accessible. I was told that it would not be a problem.

IMG_1883last buffet breakfast

This is when things started to break down. Nothing much went right on our journey home, but I was unbothered by all of it. For months I had worried that something would go wrong on the trip to the ship. A bad trip from the ship back home was of little concern to me. But that's exactly what we got -- a bad trip home.

The first problem was that the person in charge of the buses didn't have my name on their list. I convinced him that this was an error. Second, since they didn’t expect me in the first place they definitely had not taken my wheelchair into consideration. Eventually they found an accessible bus, and sat us on it for a couple of hours before filling it with other passengers.

About an hour into that two hour wait, I had to empty my bladder. The wheelchair space was mid-bus, and the bathroom was in the rear. I stood up and held on the seat tops and the overhead bins. Kim moved one of my legs at a time until I reached the bathroom. When I came out of the bathroom I plopped down in the nearest seat, and just stayed there until we arrived in Orlando. We then did the dance down the aisle again to get me back to my wheelchair (after everyone else had already departed the bus).

We arrived at the Orlando airport in plenty of time for lunch, and checked in three hours ahead of our flight, or so we thought. There were thunderstorms in Chicago, so our departure was delayed from 3:30 to 5:30. Kim worried that we would miss our connection in Chicago, but I’ve travelled enough to know that if incoming flights are delayed due to weather, then outgoing flights are almost certainly delayed at least that same amount.

When we landed in Chicago we found out that our connecting flight had indeed been delayed by two hours. Therefore, we would still have the planned layover, but we’d leave O’Hare at 9:30 p.m. instead of 7:30. 9:30 came and went- so did 10:30 and 11:30. Finally, wheels were up at about 12:30 a.m. local time. No problem. The 7 hours we spent in O’Hare helped us shed that nagging feeling that we didn’t really want to go home. After all those travel delays, we couldn’t wait to go home.

The flight from Chicago to Maine was uneventful. As usual, my iBOT made the round trip without a scratch or dent. We pulled out of the Portland Jetport (not a mere airport, mind you) in our own mini-van and headed for home at 3:30 in the morning- long day.

For Kim and I, this vacation was everything that we hoped it would be. In fact, I'm cutting up my previous Visa rewards credit card (there are not that many items at Cabela’s that I can take advantage of anymore), and we now buy everything with our Royal Caribbean credit card. We'll get free stuff on our next cruise. Yes, we're hoping there will be a next cruise.

This was an ideal vacation for a wheelchair user. The accessibility on these large, modern cruise ships is as good as it gets. The ports of call leave something to be desired regarding accessibility, but if you have modest expectations then you are not disappointed. It is my understanding that the Eastern Caribbean islands have better wheelchair accessibility than the Western Caribbean islands, where we went. But that itinerary just wasn't available to us on the ship we wanted, on the week we wanted. Maybe our next cruise will be to the Eastern Caribbean.

I'd like to recommend two resources that worked well for me. First, Candy Harrington's books on travel for wheelchair users and slow walkers are fantastic. She also maintains a blog for more current information.

I used a travel agency out of Kansas City which specializes in cruises for disabled passengers. Jeanie was very helpful and a joy to work with. She responded promptly to all of my questions, and guided me through the entire process. Working with someone who understands your unique needs is invaluable. They can be reached at: Snail’s Pace Special Travel Services

If anyone has any questions for me about cruising in general or more specifically about cruising in a wheelchair, I’ll be glad to tell you what I know. Just click on the email button on the top right-hand corner of this blog page.

I hope you've enjoyed reading about and seeing the pictures of our dream vacation. I encourage everyone to do what they can to stop and smell the roses once in a while, no matter how difficult your journey. I know that a Caribbean cruise is not practical or even possible for everyone, but almost anyone can find some way to relax and enjoy themselves. No doubt you deserve it.

IMG_1799 cutting loose in Cozumel


  1. Thanks for sharing your travels in both words and pictures. Royal Caribbean took great care of my bride and I for our honeymoon ~15 years ago. Glad to hear that they are continuing their awesome level of service, especially for disabled travelers.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Darren. I am a fan of good customer service, and that's all I got from Royal Caribbean.

  3. So, like I said before you abused me, let me know when you want to go. The more the merrier.


  4. Charlie,

    Good question!

    I'd like to go again same time next year, but college bills for the kids may interfere.

    I'm regularly purchasing lottery tickets, so I expect that money will soon be a non-issue for me.


  5. Oh, I loved this trip. Make sure you make a repeat a priority. So often things get put on the back burner and they stay there far too long.

    Thanks for the links on travel too. For some of us, the more information the better. I love feeling well prepared.

  6. Hi Mitch,
    Great holiday story thanks for sharing.