I am not going to write about the cruise ship because I have a previous post about it. Great ship! However, we did stay in the Haven on the Escape so will share photos of that. What I do want to write about is the accessibility of the hotels we stayed at and the impression of the Manhattan port. This was the first time that we have driven to a port and not flown there. I personally would not do it again because I found the water unstable and we had some scary swaying. Remember that ship that almost tipped over, well that was our ship and we experienced that. I have to say that I was very disappointed that NCL never checked on us. We tipped enough that I rolled out of bed and had I hit my head or injured myself, Shawn would have no way to call for help. At first I just that that they didn’t do that but I heard from many able bodied passengers that they received calls by staff to make sure everyone was alright. I sent a message to NCL and haven’t heard any back.
Enough about that and let me share some photos from our 2 hotels stays on the way to NYC. First stop was the Poconos. We only stayed here to break the drive up and it was close to the Outlet Mall. I reserved the Comfort Inn (3189 Route 940, Mount Pocono, PA) and it was probably one of the worst hotels I have ever stayed at. I booked a room with a roll-in shower and we were given a room with a bathtub. The breakfast buffet was pathetic and everything was either almost empty or empty. Multiple people asked the front desk about replenishing the buffet but no one ever did. This is the best one, the accessible parking was the farthest spot from the front door and it was winter and no one cleared the path from the spot to front door. It was so bizarre because I have never seen the accessible parkingspot being after all the other spots. So stay clear of this hotel, I know we will.
In New York City, I booked us a hotel that I knew would be very close to terminal and that had valet parking. I had read enough reviews to know that I did not want to be looking for parking and hauling luggage with Shawn, 2 elderly ladies (my mom and my aunt) and my youngest son. We had wheelchairs, scooters, walkers and commodes so walking far was a definite NO. I found a hotel called INK 48 and it was very nice and suited our needs. They have a nightly wine hour with free wine and appetizers which was very nice. The staff was great and we would stay here again. It was about a 15 minute walk to Time Square, so close enough we did not need to rely on me driving there.
As for the ship, the weather was only warm for the 2 days we were in the Bahamas. Since the weather is cool everyone on the ship is inside and it was a nightmare. It was crowded because nobody was outside on the pool deck or sports area etc.
Lastly, is my impression of the Manhattan terminal. Since the hotel was so close we did not have to drive far to get there. There was alot of traffic going into the terminal but it moved fairly quickly. The parking at the terminal was awful and we ended up at the far end of the parking garage and as far as you can get from the elevator. It was winter and the parking was outdoors so that was a ton of fun to drag all of our stuff through slush and snow. There is one huge elevator that takes you from the parking garage to the terminal. The problem with this is when we got back because now you have everyone leaving at once and so we waited outside in the freezing rain to take the elevator because the one we took on our arrival was for arrivals only. I always wanted to try taking a cruise out of NYC and now I know never again.
Seeing as I have been to these port of calls multiple times and reviewed similar NCL ships, I am not going to spend too much time on repeated information. Focus is on Haven, Belize and Cozumel (bar stops).
In case you are not familiar, Haven is NCL’s private suite guest area. So essentially a ship within a ship. This was our first time staying in the Haven and we plan to cruise this way many more times.
Depending on the ship, you may have only 1 or at most 2 accessible staterooms in the Haven. Both of these rooms are Penthouse Balconies and hold up to 3 people. Haven guests have priority embarkation and are escorted first on the ship and into a designated Haven guest only elevator.
We boarded before any other passengers and it was within an hour that our stateroom was ready so that was a HUGE bonus right off the bat. While we were waiting we sat in the Haven lounge and listened to a presentation by the Concierge and were offered sliders and onion rings. It was very crowded the first day but never crowded the rest of the week. The Haven pool and hot tub area was only ever busy on sea days and that still was nothing compared to the craziness on the regular pool deck. There are2 floors with the upper floor being a sundeck. There was plenty of seating up there but we never had a need to go up to the second floor. If you do need to go then you will have to ask the concierge or butler to take you in the back service elevator. We used that same elevator multiple times to get to the adults only VIBE beach club. We had purchased VIBE passes on our last cruise but with being in the Haven we should not have purchased them because we rarely went. The one thing I did not like about the VIBE on the Getaway was that passengers in wheelchairs need to use a stair lift to get there. Every time we wanted to go or leave we had to call for someone to operate the lift and stop all stair traffic between deck 16 and 17. It was definitely tedious. Luckily we were Haven guests so after a couple times of that nonsense we were escorted in back elevators by our butler. We had a fantastic butler and not only does he make sure you have everything you need he also helped with the whole busy elevator system on port days. We had private escorts on and off for any port. One time we waiting a long time for an elevator upon return so we called our butler and he came right away. He put an elevator on priority service and it came right away and took us directly to deck 16. AMAZING! All Haven guests are given phones so they can contact their butler at anytime. We never took advantage of that service unless absolutely necessary.
Our Penthouse Balcony was insanely spacious. There was so much room and we loved that we had an actual table so Shawn could properly eat breakfast. We loved having room service for breakfast on cruises but this was even better. Our butler came and set the table up with a white tablecloth and set up the dishes. We like room service because we don’t like the crowds during breakfast. However, after a couple mornings we gave the Haven Restaurant a try for breakfast and it was incredible. The food is delicious and it was quiet with a large window overlooking the water. Our stateroom bathroom was very spacious and came with a tub even. The only disappointment was the size of the balcony. It was the smallest balcony we have ever had and we paid twice as much to be in the Haven. I am not sure why they would have built the ship that way. There was no way a power wheelchair user could use the balcony unless they were the only one out there.
Haven restaurant and bar were never busy and the food and service was exceptional. Had we not had friends travelling with us that were not in Haven, we probably would have stayed in our secluded area for the whole week and never leave. It was never crowded, always quiet and just very relaxing.
Overall I would recommended staying in the Haven if the chance ever presents itself.
Harvest Caye, Belize
Harvest Caye is NCL’s new private island port. It is private in that only NCL passengers can use the area but drink packages do not work on it. Just something to keep in mind. The entire place is completely accessible with multiple pool lifts and sand/beach wheelchairs available. We rented our own private pool cabana so that we were guaranteed shade for Shawn. There was several shady areas available but be prepared to be off the ship early to grab one of them.
As we have done in the past we booked private transportation and visited more of the rustic beach bars on the opposite side of the island. It was great day and all the stops were accessible at the entry but washroom accessible was scarce.
I was little reluctant to book another NCL cruise after the epic fail on the Epic a few months earlier (no pun intended lol). However, it was Shawn’s 50th birthday cruise with a bunch of friends and you can’t beat the drink package. So off we went once again but this time sailing out of Miami.
We flew Air Canada out of Toronto for this trip because the direct flights out of Ottawa are non-existent. Flight was great and we had arranged for Super Shuttle to pick us up at the Miami airport and take us to our hotel.
The hotel was suitable for a one night pre-cruise stay and it included breakfast. We ended up staying at the Quality Suites at the airport. The next morning Super Shuttle picked us up at the hotel and took us to port. Since this was an adult only trip we really wanted to get Vibe passes so we arrived at the port by 9am. Vibe is an exclusive adult only area of the ship. They only sell a limited number of passes and it is just a nice place to get away from the chaos of the pool deck. Our whole group was able to get onboard in one of the first groups and get the Vibe passes. If you want to get them you go directly to Headlines on Deck 6. The only tricky part is you need to take the elevator to get there and that is a whole other issue on embarkation day. Anyways, it all worked out.
The quality of the staff on this ship was polar opposite of the staff on the Epic. Everyone was so great and bent over backwards to help out. They even held an elevator for us after the muster drill so we weren’t left waiting for a long time to get one.
Our stateroom was spacious and so was the balcony. We didn’t end up spending too much time on our balcony because we were usually in the Vibe club.
All the restaurants we tried were delicious and the service was fantastic. We never waited too long to get served at any bar, which was always the case on the Epic.
This was another Easter Caribbean itinerary and since we knew there was nothing to do in Tortola we decided to just stay on board. St Thomas we rented a wheelchair accessible taxi and took it to Magens Bay beach for the day. Magens Bay is absolutely beautiful and it is very accessible with paved pathways and even a ramp to the beach. There is a beach wheelchair also that is available if you ask a lifeguard for it. Last stop was Nassau and we walked down to Señor Frogs. The sidewalks were horrible and sometimes we had to go on the road they were so bad. Señor Frogs was as expected and normally we have fun there but I find they gauge you alot more on the shots. They make you believe they are free but then hit everyone up for $5. Live and learn.
Overall a fantastic cruise and a great birthday celebration for Shawn!
Since I am little behind adding trips to the blog, I am going to make them short and sweet. Basically I want to focus on the key positives and negatives of the cruise.
We flew out of Ottawa on Westjet and it was a pretty stress-free experience. I don’t mind flying Westjet for short flights and the Ottawa airport is such a breeze. We landed in Orlando a couple days early so that we could spend a day at Downtown Disney and do some shopping.
We once again used Wheelchair Vans of America and had an good experience using them. They met us at the airport and then picked up the rental van at the Port Canaveral cruise port.
Prior to the cruise we stayed again at the Best Western Lake Buena Vista hotel. Last year we had a great experience but this time not so much. Upon check-in we were told that the wheelchair accessible room that we booked months ago was given away to an able bodied guest and due to the hour it was not possible to have them change rooms. This seems to happen way to often and obviously we were very upset. I always put in the comments of any reservation that the reservation is for a wheelchair user but it never seems to matter much. So we checked into a regular room and were promised we could switch to another room in the morning. Well the next morning we were told that they were not sure when and if we could switch but they would let us know. I explained we had plans to be out all day so that was unacceptable. The supervisor I spoke to was pretty indifferent to our situation and to check back at the front desk when we returned to see what they had for us. After spending the day shopping and visiting Downtown Disney we returned to the hotel to find that they could offer us a roll-in shower but in a completely different room type than we booked. Still unacceptable. I did speak with the Guest Services Manager who was very apologetic and comped our entire stay. We ended up having our attendant stay in the small accessible room they offered and Shawn went there in the morning to shower. I am always baffled why this happens. Anyways, on to the not so great cruise portion of the trip.
We received a text from NCL stating due to fog the ship was late getting into port so not to arrive too much before 1pm. As we had made arrangements to meet up with the driver for the van rental we didn’t have much choice but to be leave Orlando around 11am. As we were driving to the port we could see the ships but the traffic came to a dead stop. We literally were 15 minutes from the port parking but due to the incredible amount of traffic we sat in a complete highway parking lot for over an hour and a half. Someone I spoke to says it is always like that at the NCL port.
Once we actually got to the port the embarkation process was fairly easy and then we were on and getting ready to enjoy the cruise.
The ports we chose were not the most accessible, if accessible at all. We stopped at St Thomas, Tortola and Great Stirrup Cay (NCL’s private island). We had been to St Thomas many times and just chose to stay in the port area and had lunch at Señor Frogs. Tortola had no accessible excursions and there was very little to do at the port. Great Stirrip Cay was a tender port but also very rocky. The passengers were called back to shore almost an hour after we got there because the water was so rough. Apparently this happens a lot at this port so I have no interest in going back.
As for the ship, we did not enjoy the layout and found it very rocky. Our stateroom vibrated constantly to the point I thought the engine was underneath us but we were up on deck 12. It was probably the smallest stateroom and balcony we have ever had. We ate in the main dining room and a few of the specialty restaurants. Overall the ship was our least favourite and probably won’t go on it again.
This past March we decided to escape a not so bad Canadian winter and head down south for a couple days in Florida and then a week long Caribbean cruise.
For the first time since Shawn’s accident we not only flew out of a different airport but a different airline! I am all for trying new things but I had to admit I was a little nervous not knowing if it would be a good change or a bad change. I have to say flying out of Ottawa airport was much nicer than the craziness of the Toronto airport. We have always been back and forth with travelling out of Ottawa but up to this point have only travelled with Air Canada and the choice of flights didn’t match up with our travel plans. Also, Air Canada generally flies smaller aircraft out of the Ottawa airport and those planes to do accommodate wheelchairs the size of Shawn’s. So we chose to fly West Jet to Orlando. We have a medical file with Air Canada but not West Jet so I did make some extra calls to their medical desk office to emphasize the importance of the first row seat and that we could not be switched from the seat assignment. I am happy to say that we did receive the correct paid for seats for our whole group on both flights. This is sometimes a big issue with Air Canada so I was happy that did not happen.
Ottawa airport is easily accessible and a much better drive than dealing with Toronto traffic. I had called the parking facilities at the airport ahead of time because we wanted to leave our accessible van in an accessible spot but we were bringing our permit with us to Florida. It was no problem at all. I was just instructed to make a couple copies of the permit. One was to stay in the van and the other I just had to drop off at the parking office, located beside the car rental desks. We normally use valet parking at Pearson but Ottawa does not have this service. It ended up being fine because we were able to find accessible parking close to the terminal entrance.
When we arrived at the terminal I couldn’t believe how quiet and few people there were. It was a nice surprise. Check-in with West Jet was very smooth; security checkpoint and customs were all very easy and with very short lines. The West Jet departure lounge was quite small from what we were used to and there is only one small restaurant. Luckily we got there early because the place filled up pretty quick. The service from West Jet really was outstanding and they were very accommodating with us. I would have to say the only negatives we encountered were that the seats in Plus class are very narrow, which reminded me of an Air Canada Rouge class seat but at least the bulkhead offered more legroom. The other negative would be that going out the only inflight entertainment was a tiny screen with movies that play on a continuous loop. The movies are not on-demand so you basically have to start watching the minute the plane takes off or you miss out on the beginning of the movie. On the way back there was no in-flight entertainment at all, no Ipads, no tiny screens…nothing. I have never been on a plane that offers nothing. Thankfully we all had fully charged devices and pre-loaded movies on your Ipads. There are no charging ports on either flight so making sure our devices were at 100% was pretty key. I feel sorry for all the parents on the last day of March Break coming back from Orlando that had no way of entertaining their kids for 3 hours. Yikes!
Plus class is nothing like Business Class on Air Canada but the fares are a lot less so you can’t expect that. You do get a complimentary meal from the inflight menu and alcoholic beverages. I am not sure Plus would be the best option for us on a long flight but certainly for a 3-hour flight to Florida it was fine.
We arrived in Orlando and collected the wheelchair and baggage and I called the company that I had pre-arranged for a wheelchair accessible van. Not sure if you read my blog on Hawaii but we had a very bad experience with a wheelchair van rental company so I was very nervous that it wouldn’t show up. Originally I had booked with the same company as Hawaii but once that all happened I changed my reservation to a different company. I have to say I was very pleased with the service we received. The driver with the van showed up about 10 minutes after we called and he met us right outside the ground transportation doors. After a quick exchange we got into the van and headed to the hotel we had booked for the next 2 nights in Lake Buena Vista. We booked a hotel right near downtown Disney that had an easy access to Hollywood Studios. We wanted to be near Hollywood Studios because we were spending the next day there since my youngest wanted to do the Jedi Training and see the new Star Wars Force Awakens attractions. We have done Disney many times so we knew there would be no accessibility issues so I won’t spend much time on that portion of the trip. If you are interested in knowing more about Disney then check out my previous blog as we spent our whole vacation there. The hotel we chose was very nice and the accessible rooms had 2 Queen Beds and a Balcony and were quite spacious.
So we arrived in Orlando on a Wednesday, went to Hollywood Studios on the Thursday and then Friday we checked out and headed to Dunedin, on the Gulf Coast. We had tickets to see the Blue Jays in Spring Training. It is a very affordable way to see a game if you are in Florida. The tickets were about $30 USD each and the wheelchair accessible section is right behind home plate. This was one of the reasons we decided to go with the wheelchair van rental rather than rely on shuttles. So the 1.5-hour drive to Dunedin ended up being about 2.5 hours because of an accident on the Interstate. Since we got there right at game time all the accessible spots were gone and only street parking was available. It was very busy and very hard to find parking so that was kind of a annoying but we were still excited to be there. The accessible seating is right behind home plate and the only access is a ramp on the far side of the stadium. Since we got there after the game started it was very crowded and hard to get the wheelchair through the crowds standing around but we did it. We enjoyed the game and then were on our way to the opposite coast because our ship was leaving from Port Canaveral on Sunday. Google maps showed the drive to be a couple hours from Dunedin to Cocoa Beach. By the time the game ended and we got to the van we were right in the middle of rush hour. It was crazy! It took us 5 hours to get to our hotel in Cocoa Beach. Probably not one of my best planning ideas. It was a long day for Shawn and a lot of sitting in his chair so he was very happy once we got to the hotel in Cocoa Beach. The hotel we booked was very centrally located, offered free breakfast and the accessible room was spacious with 2 Queen Beds.
One thing I forgot to mention was the medical equipment rentals. Since we moved hotels a couple times we had to pay a delivery fee each time. The shower commode rental was so expensive for this trip that I am researching owning our own portable shower commode. We do enough travelling that it will pay for itself in about 3 trips.
Sunday we boarded Freedom of the Sea, and since we had the rental van we drove it there and parked in the cruise parkade. The parking attendant told us that accessible vehicles do not pay for parking so that was a good piece of information to know but since it was a rental getting picked up anyways we would not have paid regardless. I have to say that we have sailed out of every port in Florida and Port Canaveral was by far my favourite. It seemed very well organized and not rushed and crazy like a lot of the ports. We dropped our luggage off and headed to the special needs check-in. We are platinum members with Royal Caribbean but it always seems faster to use the special needs line. Check-in was quick and easy and we were boarding the ship very soon after we got there. As always the staterooms are not ready until around 1-1:30 so instead of battling the Windjammer crowds we camped out in the Champagne Lounge on Deck 4. The beverage package sign-ups can be done at either the Champagne Lounge or the Schooner Bar, both on deck 4. So we ordered a couple drinks, grabbed a couple pizzas from Sorrento’s on deck 5 and waited for our room to be ready.
We had booked this stateroom almost a year and a half in advance because an accessible balcony Junior Suite that sleeps 6 is very hard to get. I have to say this was probably not only the largest room we have ever stayed in but the largest balcony as well. The room had a king size bed, pullout sofa and small cubby with twin bunk beds, which is where the kids chose to sleep. The bunk bed room was very small and did not have any windows but the kids loved it. There was a tall wardrobe, night table and a curtain that pulled across for privacy.
Freedom of the Seas is a beautiful ship and the sister ship of the Liberty of the Seas, which was our first ever cruise. They have done some remodeling and everything looked great.
We were on a Western Caribbean itinerary on this cruise. We had 2 sea days, Labadee, Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico.
Labadee was our first stop and our second time visiting Royal Caribbean’s private island. Months prior to our cruise I noticed that there was an accessible cabana that came up on my excursions list in my RC account. I emailed the special needs excursion desk to get more information. So basically there is a ramp to the cabana and that was pretty much it. From where the paved walkway ends and the ramp begins there is about 150 feet of sand. Not just that but once inside the cabana there are 2 loungers and then a step up to a couch, which is not accessible. Knowing that Labadee has sand wheelchairs that can be used to take you into the cabana we decided to book it and give it a try. These cabanas are quite expensive but they do offer comfort for the whole day, coolers of bottled water, water floaties and your own personal cabana boy for the entire duration of the day. Now the beach chairs are not left with you so you have to still have your personal wheelchair in case you need to use the bathroom or just move around at all. We had rented a folding wheelchair because I wasn’t sure the power chair would work on the sand. Once there I did find the sand quite packed so a power chair may have driven over it but I can’t say for sure. The beach wheelchair did come back once our cabana attendant called for it. Locals are the ones pushing the chair to and from the ship so gratuities are expected of course. Overall this was my favourite day because we were all able to enjoy the day together. Shawn was able to sit in a nice shaded cabana but had a great view of his kids playing on the beach and in the water. I also should mention that there are trams that can take you to and from the cabana but they are not wheelchair accessible. We used it to take us to the restaurant to grab some food and bring it back for Shawn though.
Originally we had booked an accessible excursion with a private company in Jamaica that has accessible shuttle buses. We decided not to do an excursion when we looked at how much travel time was required to get anywhere from Falmouth. It is not near anything and anything that was a close driving distance wasn’t of any real interest to us. The port area was nice enough to stroll around the shops and have a bite to eat at Margarittaville. Margarittaville gets very busy so you may have to wait a bit for a table that is accessible or near the entrance because it is quite crowded and the tables are close together, making it difficult for a wheelchair to maneuver. There is a pool but once again crazy busy and crowded. Expect ridiculously expensive meals and drinks and pretty poor service. It was a fun atmosphere regardless.
This stop was a tendered port so Shawn decided not to attempt to get off. The boats that we were on did have ramps but they were very steep and narrow. It could be possible for maybe a manual chair but I was too nervous to try it with a power chair. I ended up doing an excursion with the kids and Shawn stayed back and enjoyed a quiet ship. Since most people were off the ship it was like having the run of the place. No crowds and no waiting for elevators.
Our final stop was in Cozumel. We ended up going through the same private company we went through last year. Since I had used them before I knew to book the raised roof accessible van (see Vision of the Seas review). It was a bit chaotic when we got to the taxi stand and we were just told to tell the dispatcher that we had pre-booked a van. They had no idea what we were talking about it and it probably was close to 30 minutes of waiting and talking to several people at the taxi stand before someone knew which van to call for us. It was all so unorganized and while we were waiting we saw several accessible taxis that were just there and pick up other wheelchair users. So I think that in the future we would not pre-book a private shuttle because it is expensive so we would just take our chances that we could just catch a taxi at the taxi stand. We booked the private shuttle for 5 hours but we decided to spend the entire time at Paradise Beach. It was very accessible and lots for the kids to do and a fun environment. We got there early enough that we were able to get a nice spot in the shade for Shawn to watch the kids play in the pool.
Overall we had a great time and even though we have considered trying a different type of vacation (i.e. all inclusive), I think we will probably just continue taking cruises as they are hassle free and we always have such a great time!
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.
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.