09 November 2018
Blog by Jim Ryan – A Quadriplegic
This month my wife, my son Daniel and myself had the opportunity of a lifetime and enjoyed the 22-day Panama Canal cruise from Vancouver, BC, Canada to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This is the culmination of one of my life long dreams. I read about the stories of the Panama Canal as a teenager in high school and have wanted to visit the canal ever since. We had planned to do this voyage before I was injured but everything changed in March 2016 when I became a quadriplegic. After my injury we felt this would never happen but, after months of fretting, we decided to take the plunge and made our booking in January 2018 to depart on September 29, 2018.
We were very lucky to have an excellent cruise agent, Tamara from Cruise Ship Centre in Chilliwack. She worked extremely hard to ensure our cruise would be a success. Obviously, we have lots of special needs and she worked hard to make sure they would be met. We are pretty sure she phoned the ship to make sure they could accommodate everything we needed. She assured us that everything was in place in our cruise would be a success.
We booked our cruise on Holland America. We did this for a few reasons. First, it caters to a more mature client. This provides us with a more relaxed cruise without having lots of young people running around with lots of activities that I could not take part in. It also ensured that the ship would be more accessible to persons with limited physical abilities. There were lots of people with motorised scooters, walkers etc. I was the least capable person of moving about the ship.
Furthermore, the information we received on their accessible cabin was excellent. I need a lot of space to move my wheelchair about the cabin and up to and beside the bed, so I can be transferred from wheelchair to bed and vice versa. As well, we had to make sure that I would be able to access the washroom for showers etc.
Finally, the cruise fitted our schedule and price! That mattered quite a bit as well.
We were very worried that the ship or even worse, our cabin, would not be wheelchair accessible. We were worried the crew would not be able to handle our special needs. We were worried that my health would not be conducive to travel on a cruise ship.
It turned out that all the worrying was unnecessary. The cruise went better than all our highest expectations. Let me start at the beginning.
From the moment we arrived at the port to board the ship everything went incredibly smooth. The port and the boarding of the ship were set up to be entirely accessible for handicapped persons. When we arrived on the ship, we were thrilled with the assistance in getting on board and getting to our cabin. Even more, the ship itself was entirely accessible. I rolled around virtually stress-free. There were some small bumps in hallways, but all were easily crossed. The elevators were large and accessible. All the doors were automatically opened and closed so I did not have any issues at all moving about the ship. Only when we went outside on the promenade deck for a walk and roll someone had to hold the door for me. Because they were exterior doors there was a larger bump, but I could easily cross it. We had a wonderful time throughout the ship. The only areas I could not access were the highest small viewing decks which were only accessible through stairs. I don’t feel I missed anything by not going up there.
Our cabin was excellent. Lots of space for me to move around and a wonderful, accessible washroom. We managed to get all our equipment in easily and it made my care and transfer to and from the bed simple.
Most of all, the passengers and crew were fantastic. The crew members we interacted with were phenomenal. Our cabin attendant, Amin, took care of all our needs 100% of the time. Our waiter in the dining room, Ngakan, took care of us each and every evening. Our wine steward, Ron was extremely attentive and always had a smile. All the crew we met throughout the ship took care of us with a smile and total assistance. We could not ask for anything more.
We even got to meet the captain of the ship and had the honour of sitting with him at his table for one of his luncheons with the passengers. It was an incredible experience.
We tried to leave the ship at every port we visited. Except for the one accessible tour we did in Aruba we would simply visit the area around the port. While Mexico and the Latin American countries had things such as wheelchair curb cuts they were not up to North American standards. They were fun, a little bit scary and occasionally somewhat dangerous. But we went through as many as we could and visited as much as we could. As a person in a wheelchair I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Doing anything as a handicapped person is daunting at best. The fear of the unknown can be overwhelming. It is hard to even conceive of doing a trip like this.
But with good planning beforehand and with great support from family and friends this type of travelling is possible. We were overwhelmed with fear before we left. Our fears turned out to be unfounded and our cruise is now a tremendously memorable event in our lives.As I said at the beginning, this was a lifelong dream. We are so glad we did it. We have talked about doing another cruise sometime in the future, but it will depend on our health, our age (we are getting older…) and our finances. Time will tell if we ever do another one.
Our next lifelong dream is taking the train through the Rocky Mountains of Western Canada. Stay tuned. We may have another report to make!
Jim, thank you for another