There’s no better way to see a lot of the world with the least amount of effort. Unpack once at the start of a multi-country trip and pack once at the end. Travel on the ship between countries, rather than hassling with planes or trains. Best of all, if you love to eat as much as I do, there’s some great food to be had on board. If you don’t want to eat on shore, you never have to.
Most cruise ships are accessible, though I’ve discovered that most of the smaller, river cruise ships appear not to be. If you book your cruise early you may be able to obtain an accessible cabin which is generally significantly larger than than a regular cabin and includes a roll-in shower. But, the number of these cabins on each ship is usually very limited so you really do have to book early, preferably as soon as the trip you want to take is first announced.
My experience has been that the ship’s crew goes out of its way to be helpful. When the gangplank is too steep for me to ride my scooter crew members have carried it up and down and then helped me to walk “the plank.” I’ve even been able to take my lightweight scooter on one of the ship’s tenders when our ship had to anchor away from the dock. When taking shore excursions the scooter, with its seat removed, can easily fit into the luggage compartment of the large tour buses that are used. The bus drivers are always a help getting it in and out.
The web site www.cruisecritic.com has excellent information about handicapped cruising. It includes forums that are specific to cruise lines and cruising interests and a comprehensive forum dedicated to cruising with a disability.
Use a scooter
Forget about your vanity. When traveling a scooter is your best friend. Even if you don’t normally use one it’s something to consider because travel is tiring. That’s especially true when you’re dealing with the cobblestones that pave the streets in many European cities or the ancient roads that need to be navigated in ancient sites. Even where roads are smooth, you’re going to be hauling yourself through lots of museums and other tourist sites and that takes energy. The less energy you need to use, and the less you need to stop and rest, the more you’ll be able to enjoy yourself. That goes for your traveling companions, too. And, when you’re traveling with a group you want to be able to move at its pace, right?
An extra benefit of scootering is that you and your companions will frequently be moved to the head of the line at attractions or at security screening. At the Vatican my wife and I, along with the couple traveling with us, bypassed a line that must have been an hour’s wait. (Our driver/guide may have also helped with this. More about guides is coming up).
I used to travel with my larger, Pride Sonic scooter (the model is now called the Go-Go). Though it separates into four pieces, the heaviest of which is about 40 pounds, I discovered that, when flying, airline baggage handlers would rarely deliver it to the aircraft door, as I’d requested. We were never sure where it would appear. Sometimes it would be brought to the gate…sometimes it wound up in baggage claim. This uncertainty was particularly unnerving when we were transferring between flights and didn’t know whether the scooter was being brought to me, so that I could ride it between gates, or if it was being transferred directly to our connecting flight along with our luggage.
So, I bought a TravelScoot. It weighs only about 35 pounds, total, and has a lithium-ion battery that’s supposed to be good for 10 miles on a flat, hard surface.
I’ve never ridden the scooter that far, but I have ridden it all day on tours without its yellow, low-power light coming on. The TravelScoot folds up like a baby stroller and I’ve never had a problem (knock wood) riding it right to the aircraft door, having it stowed in the baggage compartment and then having it returned to me at the door. (FAA regulations require that the lithium-ion battery be removed and stored in the overhead compartment, but that’s very easy to do). Some flight attendants have even allowed me to fold the scooter and store it in the coat closet.
As I mentioned earlier, my TravelScoot is light enough so that ship crews can lift it in and out of a tender if that’s required at a cruise port. It’s also an easy lift over the curb in cities where there are no curb cuts, and there are many of those in cities outside of the U.S. The scooter is also designed so that you can rest a small bag on its struts to carry it between your legs, or you put a small package in its canvas sling.
There are similar lightweight, portable scooters available so it’s worth your while to do a web search to see what best suits your needs. Also, full-sized scooters can often be rented from vendors who will deliver them to your hotel, or to your ship’s departure port, and pick them up when you end your trip. Again, search the web.
Hire a driver / tour guide to take you around
My wife and I have been to some places that are very difficult to access and
would have been impossible to see without the help of a tour guide and/or a driver. For example, in the ruins in Ephesus, Turkey where, due to the ancient paths, we had to travel slowly and carefully; a gondola ride in Venice, where we were driven very close to the dock and had help getting in and out of the boat; in St. Petersburg, Russia where we were required to hire someone to push me through the Winter Palace in a standard wheelchair because it had no elevators. I had help walking up and down the stairs while the wheelchair was carried.
A guide may also take you to some “hidden” gems. In in Rome our driver/guode took us to a large, locked entry to the enclave of San Marino, which is a tiny country that sits inside the city of Rome. Looking through a big, keyhole in the very old entrance door we had a perfectly framed view of the Vatican.
We hired our guides through our travel agent. A car and guide can be expensive but, for us, it’s been worth every penny.
Check ahead on accessibility
Even in a cosmopolitan city like London, at a five-star hotel like the Marriott County Hall, there can be unexpected problems. We arrived there to discover that there were steps at both the front and rear entrances and no ramps. The hotel had a portable ramp, but it needed to be set up by the staff whenever it was required. Fortunately, we had hired a driver to take us, with my scooter, from our ship’s dock to the hotel. He was a big, burly guy who had no trouble carrying the scooter up the steps. But, we should have checked the accessibility ahead of time.