Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Summer Cruise 2017 – Part 4 of 4 – Independence Days

This was billed as the Independence Day cruise. We would dock overnight in Halifax, Nova Scotia for Canada Day, July 1, and we would dock overnight in Boston for America’s Independence Day, July 4. Each city would feature celebrations and fireworks. I love fireworks. Not everyone feels the same way. Can someone please explain that to me?

Halifax

When we pulled into Halifax on the morning of July 1, it was foggy and drizzly, and none too warm. We put on our long pants and light jackets and headed out into the city. What a wonderful surprise Halifax turned out to be. The waterfront had been redeveloped. There were restaurants, stores, brewpubs, condominiums, and boats. Lots of boats.

Not far from the ship, we stumbled upon a rib cookoff, part of the Canada Day celebration. We had never seen such an event on that scale before. These vendors were serious. They displayed their trophies prominently and had huge advertising. As we wandered about, we began to appreciate the love these Canadians felt for their country. What a festive mood they set.

After partaking of butter-dipped corn on the cob and splitting a rack of ribs, Kim and I left the cookoff and found ourselves in a beer garden. We harvested a couple of IPAs, ripe on the vine. Our plan was to continue through the city for the remainder of the day and stay out late for the fireworks. The weather discouraged us, and we returned to the cruise ship by late afternoon.

Around fireworks time, we gathered with others on the ship to view the show from a distance. We were too far away, and the fog was too thick, so, although we enjoyed Halifax during the day, I didn’t scratch my fireworks itch.

Boston

Boston was a whole ‘nother story. We strolled off the ship shortly after lunch and were greeted by sunshine and blue skies. We walked a couple hundred yards to the Silver Line bus stop. As we waited for the bus, we realized we had no cash for fare. Kim spotted an ATM machine and charmed five $20 bills out of it. When the bus pulled up to the stop, we asked the driver if he could break a twenty for us, and he said, “Never mind. You can ride for free today.” And thus began a great day in Boston.

The Silver Line dropped us at South Station, where we met up with Randi and Al, who live in the city. They are the sort of friends who drop everything and entertain us whenever we get to Boston.

The four of us made a quick plan for the day and set out by foot on something called the Greenway, a lovely walking path along on what used to be an inner-city highway. We ended up in one of Kim and my favorite areas of Boston — Quincy Market. There, we enjoyed a cold drink, several talented street performers, and the general positive vibe of Boston on a sunny July 4.

From Quincy Market, we walked a few city blocks to the nearest Red Line station, purchased subway passes with our credit card, and headed across the Charles River to the MIT campus in Cambridge. We wandered around that fine city until our 7:30 reservations at Legal Seafood. We enjoyed a wonderful meal with Randi and Al then mosied toward the Charles River to stake out our spot for the fireworks.

When the first fireworks began, I found myself behind a tree, and could barely see the explosions. There were people all around us, and of course, the good spots were already occupied. Randi, Al, and Kim squirmed their way into decent viewing positions. I dove into the crowd of standing people in my wheelchair — a move that would typically result in the wheelchair occupant being face-to-face with butts not fireworks. Instead, I elevated as high I could in my iBOT and found myself in perfect viewing position.

The fireworks shot off directly in front of us so that the sounds rattled our eardrums and vibrated our breastbones. My itch was thoroughly scratched. At the end of the show, we said our goodbyes to Randi and Al. We headed, along with thousands of other people, to the Kendall station on the Red Line. The city had prepared well for the onslaught of riders, and soon we were on the subway and headed back toward the ship. At 12:13 AM, now on July 5, Kim looked up and noticed the time on the clock inside the subway car. She turned to me and said, “Happy Anniversary,” loud enough for others to hear.

“Oh, look at that,” I replied. “Happy Anniversary to you as well.” We kissed. Everyone in the subway car wished us a happy anniversary. Before we knew it, the Silver Line had dropped us off in front of our ship, exhausted, but in a good way.

Note: the kitchen made us this anniversary cake at the evening meal later that day.

Being part of celebrations in two great cities made this cruise memorable. But doing it as a wheelchair user, someone whose independence has eroded over the years, was extra special. This cruise was my own, or rather our own, Independence Day celebration.

Thanks for reading about our most recent cruise. If you have specific questions about this cruise or disabled travel in general, don’t hesitate to contact me through the comments section of this blog post or by clicking here.

click here for part 1

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Summer Cruise 2017 – Part 3 –The Ship's Crew

The Celebrity Summit holds about 2450 passengers and 1000 crew. We often take the crew for granted. They work seven days a week for weeks on end and become a part of the ship to us. Almost invisible. On this cruise, I made an effort to connect with these individuals.

We sat at the same table for dinner most nights, so we had the same waiter, Adi from Indonesia, a most capable and engaging fellow. At each meal, he would take the four–compartment tray from my OBI dining assistant, cut my food up into the appropriately sized bites, and serve my dinner in the special tray. The first night I dined in my iBOT wheelchair, I showed him how I could rise up on 2 wheels. He was beside himself and asked me to do it again so everyone could see. I was happy to oblige.

Our assistant waiter, or waitress in this case, was known to us only as B, from Thailand. Her twin sister, A, worked a few sections over. To me, their proper names, as indicated on their name tags, were an unpronounceable collection of too many consonants and not enough vowels, so we appreciated the nicknames. B was so friendly and talkative that I got the feeling we sometimes caused her to fall behind, and she would shuffle off in a big hurry, but with smile intact.

There was a talented duo that played different venues each day — her on vocals and him on guitar. During one of their breaks at the Sunset Bar, our favorite outdoor watering hole, I struck up a conversation with the singer.

“I love your voice,” I began.

“Thank you so much,” she replied, flashing the smile she must’ve flashed the last thousand times she had received this compliment.

“Are you here just this week?” I asked.

“No, we have an 8-week contract on this ship.”

I then asked where else in the world the ship would be taking her over the next two months. She said, “A lot of Bermuda.”

She was friendly and receptive to my questions, so I went in for the kill. “Everyone wants to know — are you two a couple?”

“No,” she laughed. “We’ve been friends a long time, and most people assume we are a couple. In fact, the cruise ship provided us with only a single room at first.”

I asked about how difficult it was to score a gig like this, and she explained that cruise ship experience is prime resume material, and that these contracts are highly competitive. This confirmed my impression that the entertainment on cruise ships is top-notch.

One day, I set up my computer at a table in the cafĂ© so I could work on my book and look out at the ocean. I heard someone asking me in a strong Eastern European accent, “Are you making some sort of announcement?”

I turned to see a smiling lady in her 20s, removing dirty dishes from the next table. I said, “Excuse me?”

“You have a microphone. Are you making an announcement?” She giggled.

“No,” I laughed back at her. “I’m unable to type, so I speak to my computer through this microphone.”

Her eyes lit up, and she moved closer. “Are you a writer?”

I’m reluctant to self-identify that way, but she seemed so excited at the prospect that I responded, “Yes, I am.”

She couldn’t contain herself. “I am writer too. I have been published in Ukraine.”

We discussed our various writing projects, and she became intrigued by the premise of my book. She asked if she could send me some sample writing that she had attempted in English, and I let her know I would be more than happy to work with her. I haven’t seen anything yet, but I hope to.

Although the crew is mostly international, the captain of the Celebrity Summit is Kate McCue — the first female American captain of a mega cruise ship. She introduced herself to the passengers at the main theater on the second night of the cruise. At only 37 years old, and looking stunning in her high heels and evening gown, she didn’t fit the stereotype for a ship’s captain.

Midway through the week Kim and I had some problems with the patient lift we had brought along to transfer me from wheelchair to bed, etc. Kim would pump on the lift arm and raise me up in the air. But as soon as she stopped pumping, I would slowly lose altitude. As the week progressed, this problem became more pronounced, to the point where she couldn’t stop pumping at all.

As we approached the port of call in Portland, Maine, where we live, I called my friend Darcy. I asked if I could borrow her patient lift for the remainder of the cruise. She agreed, and we arranged the handoff.

When Kim and I attempted to exit the ship in Portland, with the broken lift in tow, the crew stopped us, even though we had informed them a couple days ahead of time. Kim suggested that I go ahead and exit the ship and wait for her at the bottom of the ramp. I was causing a bit of a traffic jam.

After I had waited for about 20 minutes on the dock, a uniformed employee approached me. She was thin and wore aviator sunglasses. “Can I help you with anything,” she asked. The entire crew was so helpful on this cruise, and I had been asked this question so many times that I almost declined out of habit.

Then I looked down at her name tag and it read, Captain Kate.

“Perhaps there is something you can do. We are trying to get our broken lift off the ship so we can bring a replacement on board, but my wife has been trying to get clearance for almost half an hour now.”

“I’m aware of that request, and I thought it had been taken care of. I'm sorry. Let me see what I can do.”

She turned and looked up the ramp and said, “Is that your wife coming down the ramp with a lift right now?”

“You’re good,” I joked.

As Kim approached us with the broken lift, I introduced her to Captain Kate, and we complemented the Captain on a well-run ship (this incident being the exception).

I texted Darcy’s husband, Tim, and he met us at the ship with the replacement lift. I don’t know what we would’ve done if not for Darcy and Tim’s help.

I’m intrigued by the life that cruise ship workers lead, and I took every opportunity to engage them in conversation. I was not disappointed.

Click here for a sampling of what life is like for workers on a cruise ship.

click here for part 4
click here for part 1




Monday, July 10, 2017

Summer Cruise 2017 – Part 2 – Accessibility Challenges Don't Phase Us

If I had known the wheelchair accessibility shortcomings of the Celebrity Summit, I would not have booked it for a cruise. That would have been unfortunate, however, because we had a great time.

This was our third cruise. We found cruises #1 and #2 to be the most wheelchair accessible vacations we had ever been on. But those were larger and newer ships. So, although we were disappointed with the accessibility of the Summit, we weren’t surprised.

Before I delve into the deficiencies, it’s important to note that one of the primary reasons we chose this cruise itinerary was because it ran out of Bayonne, New Jersey. This meant we didn’t have to fly, which was, itself, an accessibility benefit.

Here are some of the challenges we faced:

No automatic door openers. Unlike the other ships, this one had no open buttons for cabin, cabin bathroom, public restrooms, or toilet stalls within public restrooms. I couldn’t get into or out of our cabin without Kim’s assistance. I couldn’t use the public restrooms without Kim’s assistance.

Tall and uneven thresholds all over the ship. I have a stud installed in the bottom of my wheelchair which couples with a receiver on the floor of my wheelchair van, safely locking me in place. I’ve had this for several months now, and it never bothered me until this trip. As I moved about the ship on that first day, this protrusion became caught up on many of the thresholds.

We called the maintenance department on the ship to help us come up with a solution. After surveying the situation, the maintenance man decided that the stud could be unscrewed, but he asked us to sign a waiver in case he broke something. We signed it. After removing the stud, I still found the thresholds jarring but no longer inaccessible.

Tender boats were not wheelchair accessible. We visited seven different ports. Five of them had docks, but at two ports, Bar Harbor and Newport, the ship had to anchor offshore. Small tender boats were employed to shuttle passengers back and forth between the ship and shore. On my previous cruises, the transition from ship to tender was wheelchair accessible. On the Summit, this was not the case. There were about five steps down into the tender boat.

On the second day of the cruise, Kim and I packed a bag to spend the day on Bar Harbor. We headed down to the deck where people were boarding tender boats. When we arrived at the debarkation point, Kim scoped out the situation and saw the steps. The crew expressed their regrets that the tender was not wheelchair accessible, and I wouldn’t be able to go into Bar Harbor. I explained to them that the iBOT, which I was sitting in at the time, could indeed climb stairs, and so I intended to go to shore.

“We will first have to check with our safety officer,” they explained.

“Fair enough,” I replied. “Let your safety officer know that I’m willing to sign a waiver.”

We decided to eat breakfast and check back later to hear the safety officer’s decision. We went to the breakfast buffet on the 10th floor, filled our plates with tasty morsels, and sat on an outside deck, where we were afforded an amazing view of Bar Harbor.

We had visited this tourist mecca so many times in our lives, but we had never seen the view from this perspective. There were two other large cruise liners in town, and we knew things would be crazy. We soon lost our interest in fighting the crowds in Bar Harbor and decided we would spend the day on the relatively empty ship. By the time we returned to the debarkation station to let them know that we were no longer interested, the crew had changed over, and nobody knew what we are talking about.

A few days later, in Newport, Rhode Island, we gladly stayed on the ship and enjoyed its amenities.

These accessibility disappointments detracted from our enjoyment but didn’t ruin the vacation for us. I’ll consider this a lesson learned and avoid older and smaller cruise ships in the future. In my next blog post, I’ll focus on some of the positives about this vacation, of which there were many.

click here for part 3
click here for Part 1