CARIBBEAN VACATION 2004
Advantages to using a shuttle
It's a very good idea to hire an accessible van service for drop-off and pick up from the airport. We have been using Road Runner Shuttle, 537 Constitution Ave., Ste G, Camarillo, CA 93012, (800) 247-7919, www.rrshuttle.com. Especially with busy airports, like LAX, it is very convenient to be let off curbside and not have to deal with driving to the distant, long term parking lot and taking a shuttle back. My husband used to drop us off at the curb, with all the luggage, and we'd wait for him to return, sometime for a very long time, to proceed to ticketing. Alternately, to save time, especially around the holidays, we'd drag all the bags into one of the long lines while he delivered our car to long term parking. On more than one occasion, we'd get to the head of the line, he wouldn't be back, and we'd have to awkwardly, and repeatedly, move aside to let those in line behind us proceed to the next available ticketing agent. On another occasion, we were running so late getting to the airport, due to heavy traffic, that my husband was forced to park in the nearby short-term parking, which cost an enormous amount of money. Hiring a shuttle service starts the vacation off on a much more relaxed foot and saves one's nervous system in order to deal with the "How to check a power wheelchair" dilemma usually encountered with airline travel.
Checking a power wheelchair at the airport
Airport personnel are very nice about checking a power chair and want to do the right thing, but it's somewhat time consuming while they figure out what that is. I can tell you that there is a great deal of cooperation between airport personnel because there arise a number of discussions, between numerous individuals, regarding the finer points of safety and paperwork involved in checking a gel/sealed battery-powered wheelchair. I have found it helpful to attach pertinent paperwork to the chair which includes the bill of sale (listing the type of batteries we have), a picture of the batteries from www.allegromedical.com, a printout from www.phc-online.com entitled "Benefits of an Advanced "Gel/Sealed" Battery" with the phrase "approved for airline and public transportation" highlighted in yellow, my own typed wheelchair operating instructions, and a photo copy of pictures of the chair's electronics (joystick, speed dial, and toggle switch), color coded, with arrows, detailing how to transfer the chair between power and manual modes. I've enclosed these pages in top-folded plastic sleeves and attached them to the chair with stretchy elastic. After Greg is transferred to an aisle chair, I stay behind and show them how easy the picture instructions are. If they're going to have to move it, they might as well do it right. If they don't want to pay attention, it is briefly funny to watch the chair chase them while they try to move it at the same speed my 16 year-old favors.
This was the first time we had traveled with the wheelchair on Southwest Airlines and we were very impressed with their efficiency. From curbside drop-off, at LAX, to the gate, we went through in 30-40 minutes. No glitches, no surprises. they were well-organized and coordinated. The chair was returned to us at Houston Hobby, we re-connected the battery, picked up our luggage, and Galveston Limousine Service, Inc. (P.O. Box 3190, Galveston, TX 77551, (800) 640-4826, www.galvestonlimousine.com was waiting for us to take us to the Tremont House (2300 Ships Mechanic Row, Galveston, TX 77550, (409) 763-0300).
Royal Caribbean International Cruise Line made the arrangements at Tremont and with the shuttle to take us from the hotel to the pier the following day. For whatever reason, the Tremont was expecting five guests in our party, not six, and had no record of us needing an accessible vehicle for transport to the pier. To their credit, they corrected the room error much to our satisfaction, called over to the Hotel Galvez, which handled the hotel transfers, along with Greyhound Shore Services, to see what could be done. Greyhound took care of it.
In all of this, I should mention that we had arranged for my 84 year-old mother-in-law to fly down from Philadelphia to go with us on her first cruise. A-1 Limousine Inc. (2 Emmons Dr., Princeton, NJ 08540, (609) 951-0070, www.a1limo.com) took care of her transportation from her home to the airport and back home on our return. Galveston Limousine Service, Inc. transferred her from Houston International to the Tremont House. After she arrived at the Tremont House and got settled in, we had a delicious dinner at their Merchant Prince restaurant. The Strand, Galveston's main street, is just around the corner and deserves a look-see.
Onboard the Rhapsody of the Seas
The manual chair we rented for Mom (Galveston Medical Supplies, Inc., 711 25th St., P.O. Box 869, Galveston, TX 77550, (409) 763-0544) was waiting for her in her cabin, as arranged. There were no ramps for the balcony in the kids' accessible room, but they were brought up. Looking around the ship, all appeared accessible and the pool and spa each have a lift. The kids won $213.00 at Bingo and were planning to win every day, including the end-of-the-cruise jackpot. Dinner and a welcome back show finished out our first day.
On the second day, the kids won a free t-shirt and sunglasses from Del Sol. Now they're hooked. Took it easy today, introduced Mom to cruising. Wonderful meals, current movies on TV, show at night, relaxed around the ship, did some shopping.
Old Town Trolley Tour is more comfortable in December than in hot and steamy August. In town, please note that the Conch Key Trading Co. and Key West Lime Shoppe are not accessible due to steps. At night, the movie on TV was Jersey Girl, we passed on the early evening's entertainment, but stopped by the midnight BBQ and party.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman
After another restful day at sea, with wonderful meals, entertainment, and a slew of choices of activities, we arrived at our only tendered port. Tendering is usually the most difficult part of cruising. My husband and I go down to the gangway, after the morning rush, to check out the situation and speak to the crew members about our situation. This time, we discovered that a lift was installed! It can't handle power chairs, but we were fortunate to be able to borrow a manual from the purser's desk.
So, we tendered not one, but two wheelchair users, and it was a breeze! The report on accessible shops is as follows:
Colombian Emeralds - flat entrance off Cardinal Ave; Grand Switzerland (in the Anchorage Center) - flat entrance on Cardinal Ave with ramps to most stores; two British Outpost stores and a De Sunglass Man store each has a step in front, but all three stores are interconnected; Hot Tropics - flat entrance; Toucan Tango - upstairs; Duty Free, LTD - steps to enter and upstairs not accessible; The Pirate's Grotto - downstairs; The Landmark Jewelers - ramp to left of steps up to restaurant "breezes by the Bay" and ramped entrance on the right, facing Harbour Dr.; breezes is upstairs but accessible via an elevator at the top of Landmark's left side ramp; Kirk Jewelers - steps at Cardinal Ave. entrance, but flat entrance on Albert Panton St., albeit with heavy doors.
The cruise directors and their staff work hard to entertain. Besides all the other activities, the shows are full of razzle-dazzle and fun! Not to be outdone, the executive chef and his staff put on a midnight buffet that is spectacular! It is amazing what the dining staff can do with food! It's a RCCL tradition to create a midnight buffet with sculptures of food and ice.
They make practicing my Spanish so welcome. All are willing to help and most display a wonderful sense of humor. (I guess that goes hand-in-hand with listening to me speak my rudimentary Spanish.) It was still so hot and humid that we felt as though we were sapped of our energy. Our last visit was in December and it was very pleasant then. This time, however, we noticed that many more stores had put in wooden ramps over a section of their steps. They are ingeniously made and steep, but there is always someone available to lend a helping hand. We got into, or could get into if we chose, more shops this time around. Most streets along the Avenida Rafael Melgar have curb cuts. The sidewalk is a little narrow in spots, which is only a problem if you have an extra wide chair, as we did this time. Taxis will transport manual chairs. They fit one passenger next to the driver and three, squeezed, in back. We were dropped off at the Forum Shops, whose entrance has a steep ramp, but the upstairs shops are only accessible by escalator. Rachat and Romero has two steps at the entrance; Jewels of the Caribbean - ramp; Goodmark Gallery - ramped entrance; Del Sol - ramp over right side of steps; Viva Mexico - flat entrance, but steps to second floor; Los Cinco Sole - steps on Avenida Rafael Melgar, but ramp is on corner at Calle 8 Norte; Senor Frogs - two flights of steps plus escalator. There are two wooden ramps leading into Mi Casa, where we received a free shot glass and a free shot of tequila. That was worth its weight in gold to see the look on my 20-year-old's face as her first sip of tequila went down. I'll admit it was potent, but the husband downed the rest of the shot with nary a grimace!
Waiting to leave port had its funny moments. We were docked alongside the mega ship, Mariner of the Seas, with the pier between us.
were supposed to have already left the pier, so many of us stood out on
our balconies, facing each other, with the pier between us, waiting for
our departure. Apparently, we had been waiting for stragglers to return
to the ships before we both departed. As those unfortunate people turned
the corner to walk the long, long pier to the gangways of both ships, they
were mightily cheered, applauded, and good-naturedly addressed along the
way. "Glad you made it!" "We almost left without you!" Many a red-face
erupted and a couple of individuals broke out in a jog, one leaving his
wife behind! That was met with, "Don't leave the wife behind!" None of
this was done in an insulting way. Most of the stragglers laughed and waved
and then we were headed home.
My mother-in-law had a great many fears about cruising. We had been after her for three years to join us, since she has trouble sitting on a plane for the six hours from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. Cruising seemed ideal because many cruises leave from ports near airports much closer to her. Even after we got her to agree, she periodically had moments of anxiety, but we kept telling her how we've managed to travel with our son and his wheelchair and reassured her that cruise ships today are not the same as they were many years ago. The best anecdote that I have to tell is about the difference in her response at the beginning of the cruise compared to that at the end. As we crossed the gangway, entering the hull of the ship, I said to her, "Well, you're now officially inside the ship", to which she replied, "No, I'm not! No, I'm not!" After a week of cruising, as we were exiting the ship onto the gangway, I said, "Well, you're now officially OFF the ship." She said, "I want to go BA-ACK!" We could have visited her in Philadelphia, but, by coming with us, she got to see new and different places and re-discover the joy of traveling she used to have in her youth.
It IS worth it....