Pearson Toronto Airport.
After multiple flights out of the Toronto Airport we have decided that paying for valet parking for $25 extra on top of parking garage charges was well worth it. Traveling with a lot of luggage and children, this is the best option since you leave your vehicle right at the departure area doors. We have always used the valet service but for some reason I decided to park in the parking garage and that was a mistake. All of the wheelchair spots were taken and we had to park far from the elevators,which is very cold for Shawn especially this past winter. It seems the days of having a special needs counter for airport check-in does no longer exist. If they still do I have one I have not seen anything nor been directed to a special desk. There is more involved with travelling with a power wheelchair so it holds up the regular line a bit. There is a form you can print off on the Air Canada website that you will want to attach to your power chair. It includes details about the type of battery, chair dimensions, what parts are not actually attached to the chair, safe handling, brake location etc. We always bring this form with us and have it already filled out for the check-in agent. You have the choice of checking your chair at the counter or bringing it to the gate and we always opt for taking it to the gate. Shawn is just that much more comfortable when he can stay in his chair right up til boarding.. It always seems to be a hit or miss whether we get a check in person that is familiar with the wheelchair check in procedures. We have done is so many times that I feel like I talk them through it. Customs and security both have special needs lines and you will be directed to those. When you go through customs you don’t use the new electronic forms for the wheelchair line, you have to fill in the paperwork by hand so make sure to have a pen because nobody will lend you one and there is never any extras lying around. Once we get to the gate I always make us known to the person at the gate so that they know exactly who Shawn is for pre-boarding. In Shawn’s case, we transfer at the gate to a standard wheelchair just before they are ready to board him, so I have ample time to prep his chair for transport. I have tried multiple different techniques but what I find works best for us is the following. I remove his cushion because you never should send it to cargo and I support his joystick with some PVC piping. I found a perfect size piece at Lowes. I then wrap it in place with tensor bandage and I remove the armrest and lie in on the seat. To secure the armrest I use bungee cords. Wheelchairs are quite often handled roughly by baggage handlers so always take the extra steps to do whatever you can to protect the chair and the electronics. This was our first time flying with the new Air Canada Rouge. The flight attendant was the first time on any flight we have taken that we were asked how the flight personal staff could best assist us in case of evacuation. I also found the seats in business class a lot smaller than on the regular Air Canada plane.
Toronto Airport Hotel
This hotel is very close to the airport and I would definitely recommend it. There is long term parking plans to leave your vehicle while you are away but the shuttle service offered by the hotel is not wheelchair accessible. I think it would still be cheaper to pay a wheelchair taxi to take you to the airport than parking at the terminal. The hotel offers complimentary hot breakfast in the morning every day of the week and complimentary dinner Monday-Wednesday. We booked a 2-bedroom suite since there is Shawn and I and our 3 children. The hotel website would not let us book the wheelchair accessible suite, so I would recommend calling the hotel directly. The suite consisted of 2 bedrooms with one queen bed in each room. One of the bedrooms had a roll-in shower and bathroom sink that a wheelchair could easily roll under. The accessible bathroom also had a shower chair available. The other bedroom had a standard bathtub/ shower set up. The room also had a living room with a single pull out sofa and a kitchen. There was a small table that Shawn was able to use to eat at and it was slightly too low for a wheelchair but we managed with removing his footrest. The hotel only had one wheelchair spot that I could see and it was directly beside the front door. I would definitely recommend this hotel and I know we plan on staying there again.
Tampa Airport Hotel
Typical hotel accessible bathroom with roll in shower. The hotel is close to the airport and they do have an airport shuttle but it is not accessible. I have since found a link on the cruise critic forum that it is US ADA law that they must provide the same service to a disabled person that they would offer to the general public. This means if they offer complimentary shuttle than they must provide the same service or pay for a 3rd party provider to provide this service and they must pay for that service. The port is about 20 minutes away and they do not offer any type of shuttle. The hotel is not really near anything like stores or restaurants so when you require accessible transportation to get anywhere not an ideal choice if something like that is important to you. We arrived late when we stayed there so we were okay not to have any restaurants nearby since we ate on the plane. The hotel across the street has a restaurant but very limited in their menu choices. The hotel does offer complimentary hot breakfast buffet so you don’t need to worry about finding that.
Medical Equipment Rental
We rented a shower commode chair as well as a standard folding manual chair. This was our first time renting a manual chair but we were having issues with the power chair joystick prior to our trip so we decided to rent it as a back up. You cannot get folding wheelchairs (other than for assistance with getting on and off the ship) to use on the cruise so if there is anyway you may need to use one then you need to rent one ahead of time. The company also offers a service to have the equipment at your pre-cruise hotel and will pick it up and bring to your cruise stateroom. Both of the equipment were already in our room when we got there at 1pm.
We used an accessible shuttle service for our accessible transportation from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the port. We have used this company once before and that time they were over an hour late to pick us up. This time I was a little skeptical but we decided to try them again. The accessible shuttle driver we had at the airport had never used the wheelchair lift before. He had to be shown by us to secure the chair and even work the lift. Not very impressed with that. The shuttle from the hotel to the port was much better and the driver knew what he was doing. Shuttle to the airport after the cruise was booked through Royal Caribbean was a large tour bus with a lift. They did not tether or lock down the chair at all which was strange for a commercial vehicle in the US.
Very easy and smooth check in. We have only ever sailed Royal Caribbean and not only do I find their ships extremely accessible but the staff is always so friendly and eager to assist. There was a special line for special needs so we were taken to that line and were checked in quickly. Once aboard there was just a short wait for the staterooms to be ready at 1pm. We headed to the Windjammer and as always it was crowded. We just grabbed our food and ate on the pool deck. It was pretty brisk in Tampa that day so we were chilly eating on the pool deck. Once we had our rooms, it was just a short amount time till we had our luggage. We had it all by dinnertime, which was nice. We unpacked and then it was time for the muster drill. Muster drill was at 3:30 and since this was a smaller ship the muster drill was on deck 5 outside. The last few cruises we were able to do the drill inside. Seeing as it was chilly outside and there is always an issue getting an elevator afterwards, we were able to stay in the casino and they had anyone with special needs do the muster inside.
Very easy and smooth. Our time was 9am and by the time we got to the Masquerade Ballroom at 8:50am, they had already called our number and we just immediately got off the ship. The lines getting off the ship and at customs went very quickly and it was an easy smooth process. My only complaint would be that once you get outside there is people constantly yelling at you to keep moving but there is no signs where to go to catch the cruise line shuttle and there is no RC representatives telling you where to go. It seemed a bit chaotic and when you are trying to walk around with 3 children, 4 pieces of luggage and a power chair you don’t want to be wandering all over the place amongst crowds of people trying to figure out where you should be.
Schooner bar tables are not easy for wheelchair users to use when having a drink. The tables were quite low and we had to pass Shawn his drink each time he wanted a sip. Since we spent a lot of time there doing daily trivia I though it appropriate to mention.
The main dining room as always was wonderful and we had very friendly wait and bar staff. We always request extra napkins for Shawn and by day 2 those napkins were always there and the seat removed for Shawn to easily pull up to. We have always received a table near the front door , which we prefer and much easier for Shawn with the power chair.
Izumi sushi bar is on deck 12. There is no elevator access so this restaurant is not accessible for a wheelchair user. We ate one night at Giovanni’s and I can’t say enough about the food and the service. It is nice to splurge once in a while on speciality dining and to get a bit of a change from the main dining room.
There is a lift to get into the hot tub and the pool. We unfortunately were not able to take advantage of these facilities since the max weight limit was 200 pounds. As Shawn would say they are intended for stick people.
We stayed in stateroom 7032, which is a wheelchair accessible balcony room. There is a bit of a lip getting into the room, which is odd because the standard rooms seemed more flush to the ground. Not a huge deal for a power chair but a manual chair may struggle a bit. The overall room was quite large and very spacious so it was easy for Shawn to maneuver around. The bathroom was large but the roll in shower part was a bit smaller than we are used to on other ships. While sitting in the commode chair Shawn’s feet touched the wall. The only disappointment I found with this room is that when the pullout sofa was out, which they do at turndown in the evening, there was not enough space for Shawn to get through to sit out on the balcony and enjoy the evening. We could probably ask for it to be put down later but the problem still occurs in the morning. Shawn always orders breakfast room service because he likes to eat while on the balcony so with the sofa pulled out (where our son sleeps) he is not able to eat on the balcony. Overall the stateroom was perfect and I love the consistency of this cruise line and that you always know what to expect with an accessible room.
**This cruise line offers one Level 2 excursion at this port** I decided to book an excursion through the cruise line and access it for the accessibility. The accessible excursion offered by RCCL was not something Shawn was interested in doing. This excursion, Maya Key Private Island Retreat, Shawn did not come on because we were not sure what it would be like. First off, a power chair user would not be able to participate because you take a small boat right from the pier to the island. It would be fine for someone that is able to at least take a few steps to get into the boat with a folding chair. The island itself I found very accessible so it is a shame that there couldn’t be some way that they could make the boat ride accessible. Even the use of a small ramp from dock to the boat is all they would need.
Access around Maya Key was fairly decent. The ramps were prevalent in most areas, including the beach, which was hard packed sand. However, in some areas the ramps were a bit steep so they may be challenge for some.
Belize City, Belize
This is a tender port and we were advised that Shawn might not be able to get off the ship. Only if the tender boat had roll on capabilities. There are no Level 2 wheelchair accessible excursions available at this port. We decided not to book any excursions and I went on the tender myself to check it out and see what the port was like. I took the tender boat in the early morning, which are considered peak hours. The boat they used at this time was easily accessible for a wheelchair and had roll on capabilities. The problem would be that we would only be going to check out the port because there is no private wheelchair taxis or excursions in Belize. The port itself was fairly accessible but a wheelchair would have problems getting into most stores because even though there were ramps they were at such ridiculous steep angles you would almost get wedged between ramp and sidewalk. There is not a ton to do other than a few shops and bars. The tenders that run during non peak hours is small and has several steps to get in and out. So the only accessible tender boat going back would be at peak hours so you would have to kill at least 4 hours in the port. Keep in mind it is very hot and no AC in any places we went into. Not really ideal. I would say that if we ever went there in the future that Shawn would still not get off.
This port the ship does offer a level 2 excursion. We decided to book our own private excursion through a private company. There is something called a Cozumel Bar Hop and that tour is not accessible so we asked to go to the same bars with our private driver. In booking on own, we would not get the free T-shirts or the free shots but we didn’t care cause we wanted the experience. Two out of the four stops on the official Cozumel Bar Hop are not accessible so our driver improvised. Upon meeting our driver, we were offered a wheelchair accessible van that was so low that we could no get Shawn in. This would work for someone that is able to lower his or her head so low as to avoid the low ceiling but definitely did not work for us. We had our driver call another wheelchair taxi with a higher roof. This was not a vehicle that was part of the private shuttle company, but our driver just wanted to help us. It was another accessible taxi service. If we were to go back we would just book this one. I can’t see how any adult could ever get in to the other company’s taxi. Another thing to keep in mind is that they do not use any Q straints or fasteners of any kind so you need to be comfortable with that if using accessible transportation in Cozumel. So we were a bit late getting going and therefore only had time for 3 bars instead of the 4 we hoped to do. The first bar we stopped at was The Money Bar. It had a nice atmosphere and was completely accessible to sit waterside and have a few drinks. The next stop was Mr. Sanchos Beach Club. This was a great spot and the restaurant was accessible and we had some drinks and appetizers here. This is a great spot for families as well because it had a beach and pool and it would be easy for Shawn to sit and watch the kids swim. We would return to Mr. Santos again as a family excursion in the future. The last stop was Punta Morena. Once again an accessible spot. This is the only one that I can comment on the bathroom situation. There is a ramp to the washrooms but there is not a stall big enough to accommodate a wheelchair. The area were we sat and had drinks was another great spot to go with the kids since the pool and beach were close enough for Shawn to sit and watch them.
Costa Maya, Mexico
There are no Level 2 wheelchair accessible excursions at this port. This port has has a lot to offer without ever leaving the port area. There is 2 bar/restaurants Carlos and Charlie’s and Señor Frogs. For a fun time with lots of loud music and people dancing go to Senior Frogs but for more a typical bar which is quieter go the other. We ate at Carlos and Charlie’s but went to Señor Frogs for drinks. There is a large pool area, not accessible and a man made sand area. There is accessibility down onto the beach to see the dolphin encounter and over look the water. Just test the sand though because some areas are not as hard packed as others. It can get really tight getting to the sand beach area going around by Carlos and Charlie’s so I would recommend going through Señor Frogs and taking the ramps around the pool area. A lot more room and not as many people crowded into one area. Shops were all accessible and many different types of Mexican souvenirs and crafts.
Helpful Travel Tips
This is some ideas we have used to help make travelling that much smoother. We make use of the hotel hangers to use for the catheter nighttime bags.