Hello Fellow Travellers
Originally I had no intention of sharing the reviews of past trips we took because they were not overly detailed. However, after reading the notes I took, I think they may in fact be useful. Unfortunately, I did not take many photos that deal with accessibility but I will include the ones that are relevant.
First off, we stayed at a Fort Lauderdale Airport hotel and it may be handy for you to know that they do have a wheelchair accessible shuttle. The shuttle is complimentary from the airport and they told us that it was $5 a person to take it to the port but the driver only ended up not charging us. So it only costs us a tip that we gave the driver. Totally worth it. The hotel had free breakfast but there was a strip mall across the street.
Embarkation had to be the smoothest we have ever encountered. Everything was just so easy. It was amazing. Shawn and I got on first and the rest of the group joined us like 15 minutes later.
Stateroom – Deck 14 was a nice spot. I didn’t find the noise from the pool deck bothersome at all. It is a quieter set of elevators at our end so not as much traffic. We just had to go to Deck 15 and the Solarium Bistro was right there for breakfast. I am not a big fan of the Windjammer (which is at the opposite end) so the Bistro was smaller, less people and a healthier selection for breakfast.
We always stop at the Dining Room on embarkation day to ensure our table is close to the front. I would recommend that to anyone because getting a table at the back can be troublesome. Trying to navigate dining room staff and other tables is hard for Shawn.
We also ate at the Seafood Shack and Johnny Rockets. Both were good and not expensive at all. Johnny Rockets was a great deal because it was only $4.95 per person for whatever you wanted on the menu (excluding drinks). We ate there when there was kid’s movies playing on the outdoor movie theatre during the day. We actually found we spend most of our time on Boardwalk because it wasn’t busy (unless there was a show at the Aqua Theatre). There is a kid’s play area, merry go round and a bar for us so we were all happy.
Shawn did not come to Atlantis with us and a good thing he decided to stay. The beach were they put us was not accessible at all. Not only was there steps down to it but there was a hedge running along the paved path and the beach so he wouldn’t have even been able to watch the kids play in the water. I actually found this excursion a waste of money. The total time you are at Atlantis is very minimal and you get there so early that there is nothing open to eat at. The overall resort was very commercial and we ended up going back to the ship early.
It is beautiful and our second time there so we just walked around the port area. At St Thomas, the Oasis docks at a completely separate port that is not close to the other port so the shops are a lot less than at the other port.
Best part of St Maarten was the bucket of Coronas for $10 🙂 I managed to get 2 chairs and an umbrella for $10 on the beach at St Maarten as well. Everyone else around me got taken for $20 🙂 . There is a paved boardwalk along the beach so you just need to look for the best spot for the the wheelchair that is close to the beach chairs. There is a non-accessible water taxi that can take you to the nearby beach area or you can walk to it in about 20 minutes. The sidewalks are a bit bumpy but definitely manageable with a power wheelchair.
We stayed away from the pool deck on sail days because I am pretty sure that is where 75% of the ship was. I didn’t even bother trying to navigate up there with a wheelchair. We were happy being outside at Boardwalk so it was all good. Shawn doesn’t swim so it worked out fine. However, most if not all of their ships have pool lifts for the pools and hot tubs so if that was something someone wanted to do it is very easy to do so.
At one point, one of Shawn’s back wheels seemed to be wobbling and I was concerned it wasn’t safe for him to be driving. The chair was fine when we left Toronto so it probably happened during the flight. The staff picked it up and told us they would look at it. In the meantime, Shawn was stuck in bed. They offered a transport chair but he was unable to use it because there wasn’t enough support. The chair ended up needing a new part and they were so amazing that they located a part and fixed it for us and never charged us anything for that. The only downside was him being confined to the stateroom for several hours.
Disembarkation was so smooth as well considering the amount of people. We chose a very early time to get off because there was many warnings on the Cruise Compass about the delays at customs because of the budget cutbacks in staffing. Shawn, the kids and I were escorted to a special courtesy desk, that the custom guy repeatedly told us was a courtesy of the US government for the disabled. Overall a fantastic time and we would do this again and again.
Now for the only negatives (there isn’t many)
The one thing that bugs the crap out of me on any cruise is the wait for elevators during peak times (like at the end of shows and meal times). We either had to be late for dinner to get an elevator or take an empty one going the opposite way of everyone else and ride it to the top and then come back down. Since the dining room was at the other end of the ship we usually made our way along deck 14 to the other side and I am pretty sure Shawn put marks and dents on the walls trying to get around maid carts. I actually send a comment to RCCL that they should consider having staff man a “wheelchair only” elevator during peak times because it was a common problem with all the other disabled guests we spoke with. One woman even told us her husband skipped meals in the dining room since it was too hard to get an elevator. The other problem was when shows ended. We had to always leave a bit early before it was over just to make sure we could beat the crowds and get an elevator back to our room.
My other negative was some of the bars. Bars that would have been really nice for us to enjoy was the one in Central Park, Rising Tide and Schooner Bar. Central Park bar only had high tops so there was nowhere for Shawn and I to enjoy a drink. There was no reason why they couldn’t have tables. Rising Tide Bar is the one that goes from Deck 5 to 8 and rises and lowers and looks pretty cool. Once again not accessible at all because they tables are all high tops and so close together a chair won’t fit. Lastly was the location of the Schooner Bar. Our favourite thing on other cruises was to have a drink before dinner and play some bar trivia. It just wasn’t in an easy spot to get to at dinner time considering the jam packed elevator issue. I know these are small things but that is really all we could say was a negative.
As for Air Canada. Going down everything was great and as planned. Coming back I did online checkin from the ship the night before. I went to do Shawn and I and they had us in the 2nd row seats. I went to change seats and the seats we were suppose to be were still available so I switched us back into them. Luckily they were still available. I don’t understand how this happens. I even asked the checkin lady at the airport why it happened. What if those 1st row seats had gotten taken? Shawn physically can not get into any other seat on a plane. How can we get this flagged on his profile? Getting him on and off a plane is very hard. He is unable to use an aisle chair. I actually had to physically carry/pick him up to get him to his seat. They would bring the airport chair as far as they could but the narrow passage to the seats he needs to picked up. We tried the aisle seat and he slid right out of it and ended up laying on the floor. His tone kicks in from anxiety. The flight attendants told me they don’t ever see passengers who can’t use an aisle chair so we are not the norm. That is why we always have to have the 1st row. Next time we fly we need to make sure they get it without any issues.
** Update** Since I wrote this review last year I have been told that we can go through the medical desk at Air Canada and create a file for Shawn. Once they have his medical information on file these seating issues should stop.