accessible travel

Accessible Escaping

Escape Room SWAG

Escape Room SWAG

 

What? Accessible Escaping? What does that mean?

This is a bit like my reviews of accessible travel, but here I will review the accessibly of escape rooms.

“What? Now I’m even more confused?” you say. “What the heck is an escape room and what does it have to do with living with a disability?” you ask.

Ok, first let me try to explain what an escape game is for those of you who have been living under a rock for the last few years. Escape room games have been prevalent on the internet for several years. They are mostly point and click games where you have to decipher clues and riddles to gain your freedom. Virtually, of course.

Real life escape games appeared on the scene 2007 (or so rumor, meaning the internet, has it) and since then have taken the world by storm. They are opening up all over the world and are evolving quickly as the market becomes more and more competitive. It’s a real life adventure where you find yourself locked in a room with friends, family, strangers, or coworkers. Most escape room locations will offer several game scenarios to choose from. Most very well themed and differ in levels of difficulty. You must work together while racing against the clock to solve several puzzles and escape the room. Sometimes there are other objectives, like finding a cure for a pandemic, or finding a kill code for a nuclear attack and you’re never really locked in. At least here in America you’re never really locked in, I think fire codes might have something to do with that. Some rooms have “panic buttons” that will override the lock and allow you to exit should you need to. Other doors aren’t really locked and finding that final code or key to unlock the door really only serves to stop the clock.

It is an activity that, for the most part a disabled person should be able to fully enjoy – with a little help from your co-escapees. Which, is part of the fun as you really need to work together able-bodied or not. According to my friend Leanna’s spreadsheet (yes, she did that) we have participated in more than a dozen escape rooms in the Orlando area.

What I have discovered is that escape room websites almost always fail to properly communicate whether or not their experiences are accessible or not. I have always had to call or email for clarification. Most of the time the employees are very helpful and respond within a reasonable amount of time. I just don’t understand why they can’t include this information on their website – in the FAQ section for example.  As anyone who is mobility challenged can tell you, the definition of accessibility can vary from place to place and person to person, but is it too much to ask for a little information to be placed on these websites?

I’ve found some places to be 100% accessible, the building, the lobby, the restrooms, the entire escape room. There may be some elements of the game that are difficult if not impossible for someone in a wheelchair to complete, but that is where your able bodied co-escapees come into play. I would say if an escape room game is 90% wheelchair accessible, I would go for it.

Playing escape games from a wheelchair does offer a unique advantage to you and your teammates. My sightline is at a lower level. I have spotted clues much faster than my standing pals would have. So any disadvantage my chair might have is counterbalanced with this unique and often time saving perspective.

One place said all their rooms were accessible, but to get to their location you had to be able to climb a flight of stairs because there was no elevator. So, um no, The Great Escape Room that does not make your location accessible if a wheelchair user cannot access your business – levitation having yet to be mastered.

America’s Escape Game also offers mostly accessible rooms and when I called to inquire they were extremely helpful. They spoke with their game designers and recommended what they felt was their most accessible game (The Lost Tomb of Monthu) and it was roomy enough. The problem however, with this company is that their gameplay is not necessarily a private experience. Meaning that unless you have a enough players to fill all the spots or are willing to buy up all the spots you run the risk of being placed in the room with strangers and they really try to pack those rooms. While making new friends and bonding over puzzles can be fun, being locked in a room with up to 12 people who are not used to moving out of your way can be frustrating. When my friends and I played we had a team of 6 in a room that will hold up to 10 players and it was not bad, nor was it as roomy as some of the other rooms we’ve played. I can’t imagine being in there with 9 other people.

The Escape Game Orlando has some games that are accessible and some that are not. This company also offers what is called “shared experiences” which means you may end up playing with strangers, but unlike America’s Escape Game, their room capacity is smaller (7 – 8 players) so you won’t have to maneuver around (run over, whatever) as many people. We’ve played the two games at this location and had no issues with my mobility scooter. That being said, there were only four of us in the room each time. Had we been playing with a larger group I don’t think it would have been as enjoyable. The two rooms we played, Classified and The Heist, were amazing and offered enough space for our team of 4 play comfortably. We chose a time slots that we hoped would increase our chances of playing alone and it paid off. We booked times in the morning and in between two other start times of the same the game.

MindQuest Live’s location is also accessible as are their escape rooms – mostly. One room requires you to go up an over a 1 inch threshold. That required my teammates to lift me and my chair over the obstacle – but MindQuest Live was very upfront about it and even offered to switch us to a different game if we didn’t think we could do it. MindQuest offers both shared and private experiences. So you can choose to play with just people you know or join up with others. The only game I have not played is Cyber Crash, so I cannot give a first hand account on the accessibility of that room, but all the others were just fine.

Escapology is one of our favorite locations, it was the first location we tried and therefore it is where the addiction began. They can’t add new games fast enough for us. Pretty much everything about this location and their games are accessible. There are some tight corners in some of their rooms that might be challenging for larger chairs, but they are still very accessible as a whole. Their newest room, The Lost City, is pretty snug due to the immersive theming. It is recommended for 2 – 6 players, but with a wheelchair or scooter I wouldn’t recommend trying to play with the maximum amount of players.

Escape Goat offers three different rooms, all of which are fully accessible. There is one room that may pose a challenge to those in wider chairs. If you are in a wheelchair and are planning on trying the Area 51 room, just call for clarification/measurements. Depending on the size of your chair Area 51 will either be 100% accessible or 95% accessible with an easy work around so you don’t miss any of the action. This a lovely family run business and when I visited they told me their goal is to make their experience enjoyable and doable for everyone. They even stayed open later one evening so my friends and I could play a second room.

Escape rooms are a great attraction for wheelchair users, when the business is truly accessible. Unless their website is very, very specific (Escape Goat’s comes the closest), always call or email for specifics before booking a spot as pretty much every escape room requires you to pay in advance.

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Extreme Makeover: Stateroom Edition

 

Leanna and I in the Bahamas with a classic (Magic) and new (Dream) ship. May 2012.

Leanna and I in the Bahamas with a classic (Magic) and new (Dream) ship. May 2012.

Sailing on the Disney cruise ships in non-accessible rooms used to be a cause of concern for me. Used to. Being the clever person you have come to know and love, I of course figured out a way to make (most) non-accessible staterooms on both the classic and new ships work for me. Of course, a true accessible room is always best, but they are not always available. Disney used to do a really good job of  holding accessible rooms back for passengers who really need them, but now it seems anyone can easily book one. Whether they need one or not. I’ve seen people who claimed to need a walk/roll in shower because they can’t climb in and out of a bathtub, but seem to have no trouble climbing in and out of the hot tubs on the pool deck. I know people request the rooms simply because they are larger, so I had to get creative with non-accessible rooms when none are available.

 

Roll in shower in an accessible cabin. There is a fold down bench, grab bars, a hand held shower head, and best of all nothing to climb over.

Roll in shower in an accessible cabin. There is a fold down bench, grab bars, a hand held shower head, and best of all nothing to climb over.

The Classic Ships: The Magic and The Wonder

I spent two weeks on the Disney Wonder in a non-accessible room, so I figure I can make just about anything work – one way or another. There is always the option of using the facilities in the Fitness Center should I not be able to create an environment suitable to my needs. The Fitness Centers on all the ships have  very nice walk/roll in showers.

 

On the Magic and Wonder, the main bed splits into two twin beds upon request. Brilliant.  This offers more flexibility for anyone, special needs or not. We had our stateroom host remove one of the twin beds and slide the remaining bed against the wall – lengthwise. This gave me plenty of room to bring my mobility scooter in, turn it around, and of course charge it at night. I brought along my own portable grab bar. These can be found in just about any mobility shop. I’ve also seen them in Target. I used the grab bar in the shower, and not only did I use it, but everyone in my travel party used it. We felt it offered more stability than the permanent grab bars. Crossing the Pacific Ocean was a bit bouncy and the grab bar worked great for all of us. Disney Cruise Line provided a raised toilet seat to complete our transformation into an accessible stateroom.

 

The New Ships: The Dream and The Fantasy

The first time I sailed on one of the newer ships was last year on the Fantasy. We  managed to obtain an accessible verandah room. On the classic ships, the accessible verandah rooms are all located at the back of the boat and have a white wall verandah. This doesn’t bother me, but some people prefer the plexi-glass verandah walls so they can see the water without having to stand up and peer over the verandah wall. On the newer ships, accessible verandah rooms are located all over the ship, the front, middle, and back. Our room was located midship and had a plexi-glass verandah. I’ll admit the plexi-glass is nice, but not having is certainly not a deal breaker for me. In my opinion, the biggest advantage the accessible cabins on the new ships are the automatic doors. To enter your cabin you simply tap your card against the RFID reader and your door opens, stays open long enough for a wheelchair user to enter and get out of the way, and then closes. There is a button on the inside of the cabin that you press when you are ready to leave. Non-wheelchair users have complained about the “nuisance” of having to wait for the slow moving to door to completely close before they can leave.

 

This is what I used to create "steps" to use in the non-accessible cabin.

This is what I used to create “steps” to use in the non-accessible cabin.

Recently, I stayed in a non-accessible verandah room on the Dream. There were only two of us in the room, so again, we made it work. Since the beds on the new ships do not split apart it was a bit more challenging than when I was on the Wonder. Our room was a “Family” stateroom, meaning it had a round bathtub instead of a rectangle one. This geometric difference made it possible for me to bring my mobility scooter into the cabin. The round shape of the tub, which was reflected in the wall next to the bed offered just enough room for me to squeeze in. This would not be possible in the rooms without a round tub. Speaking of the round tub, while it offered an advantage regarding bringing my scooter into the room, it simultaneously presented a new challenge. The round tub was higher and much more difficult to climb in and out of than the rectangle tubs. We solved this problem by utilizing my portable grab bar again, and bringing my own “adjustable steps.” Not knowing exactly how high I would need my “steps” to be, I needed something that could be adjusted and wouldn’t become a slipping hazard. I scanned the aisles of the hardware store for something and what I ended up with was floor mats designed for children. They are ABC/123 interlocking floor mats and they worked really well. I ended up stacking 7 of them together and secured them with a luggage strap. They are light and easy to transport, but they can take up a bit of luggage space. Disney provided a raised toilet seat again and the transformation into a semi-accessible cabin was complete. The biggest obstacle in this room was getting out. Since the beds on new ships don’t split apart, I didn’t have enough room to turn my scooter around. I had to CAREFULLY back up – there was little room for error in the narrow hallway leading from the bed to the door (the regular stateroom doorways are 25.5 inches wide). My friend had to open the door and then help me navigate backing out, with practice we got better and faster at exiting the room. I could not leave the room unless my friend was with me, thankfully she was always there to help me. I’m sure in a pinch I could call Guest Services and they would deploy someone, probably my room steward, to open the door and help guide me out.

 

Location, location, location.

Some people believe the best location is mid-ship, the cruise lines fuel these fairy tales by charging more for what they deem more desirable locations. The “theory” they peddle is the midship rooms will experience less movement. I’ve been on different decks and different locations and have not noticed any difference in the rocking. I believe it is merely a ploy to extort more money. For wheelchair users, the best location is going to be near an elevator. The hallways are narrow, filled with housekeeping carts, and other guests going to and from their rooms. Additionally, if your scooter is too large to fit through your stateroom door, you’ll probably need to park it in the elevator lobby. There are electrical outlets in the lobbies, so you can charge your scooter.

 

Accessible rooms are indeed best for me, but if none are available I’m not going to let that keep me from cruising with Mickey and Captain Jack.

 

My friend Lonnie and I on Pirate Night. December 2012 on the Disney Dream. Oh, and that's our friend Donald Duck in the center.

My friend Lonnie and I on Pirate Night. December 2012 on the Disney Dream. Oh, and that’s our friend Donald Duck in the center.

Accessible Travel: DCL The Fantasy

After spending hours and hours planning a trip to London and Paris, I ended up taking two Disney cruises instead. Why? It was much easier and cheaper. The more planning I did the more the price tag increased, that coupled with the fact that London is hosting the Olympics this year made the decision to change plans very easy. I have been in cities before and during the Olympics and they are a mess! Everything is ridiculously crowded and over priced, I’m not sure what I was thinking. And now, as I sit here watching the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the mobs of people, I’m even more convinced it was a great decision to avoid the chaos of London during a major event. Now, visiting a city after the Olympics is a whole other story….a story I hope to be able to tell you about in the next year or so.

Back to accessible cruising….I wrote about how accessible Disney cruises are HERE. However, after cruising on their newest ship, the Fantasy, I felt the need to share some updates.

One of the issues I had on both the Wonder and Magic were some of the public thresholds. A couple of them were too steep and my scooter would get stuck. I didn’t encounter any problem thresholds on the Fantasy. However, there was a small lip in the threshold leading into my accessible stateroom. I didn’t get stuck, but had to take the door with a little bit more speed and at just the right angle. My stateroom had enough room to maneuver my scooter, a roll in shower, plenty of grab rails, and even an accessible verandah. A fantastic improvement on the accessible staterooms is their self-opening doors. You just swipe your room key card and the door opens…..like magic!

The lifts are also bigger, as the ship is bigger and holds more people it doesn’t really make catching one during busy times any easier. However some are big enough so if I was in one alone I could actually turn my scooter around.

The two main theaters have additional wheelchair viewing areas, opening up the option of sitting somewhere other than the back row – or the front row of the Walt Disney Theatre if you are willing to transfer into a theater seat. In the Fantasy’s Buena Vista Theatre (where they show Disney films) there are wheelchair spaces in the back row and in the middle of the theater. In the Fantasy’s Walt Disney Theatre (where they show live stage productions), you can sit in the back of the balcony or in the back row of the main floor or in the front or middle rows. I do not recommend sitting in the back row of the main floor for a couple of reasons: your view is obstructed by the overhanging balcony, you are right by the main entrance so you are constantly disturbed by people coming and going, and people think this is a good area to bring their crying babies to watch the show – at least they did on this cruise. If you want to sit closer to the stage, which I do recommend, you have to be escorted there by a Cast Member because it involves going into the crew areas of the ship and riding on a small backstage lift.

Cabanas, the buffet, is much more accessible than Topsiders (Magic) and Beach Blanket (Wonder). The restaurant is much more open, instead of one long, narrow serving line, there are several smaller serving stations.

The public restrooms on the Fantasy are kind of a fail in the accessible improvements category. On the Magic and Wonder the accessible public restrooms are basically family/companion stalls located next to the men’s and women’s restrooms. On the Fantasy, there are no such facilities. Instead, there is a wheelchair accessible stall inside the pubic restrooms. This means a guest in a wheelchair has to maneuver through tight turns while dodging other guests using the facilities. Fail.

Both the classic ships and the newer ships offer great accessible cruising. However, the classic ships have a better “traffic flow” design, making them much easier to navigate for guests in wheelchairs and on foot. The new ships also have a cool interactive game called The Midship Detective Agency which sends would-be detectives all over the ship. This game, coupled with the “traffic flow” problems has younger cruisers literally running around the ship making it a less tranquil experience than onboard the classic ships where the children are more “contained.”

Whether you choose to cruise on the newer Disney ships or the classic ones, you’ll find your adventure pretty much barrier free. Happy cruising!

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Accessible Travel: Amsterdam

 
“I amsterdam” near the Van Gogh Musuem.

Last month I traveled to Europe with some friends, we started out in London and the next city on our itinerary was Amsterdam.

We flew from London to Amsterdam on Easy Jet – which is normally the cheapest way to go, unless you are overweight on your luggage. Be careful, the overweight fees are not cheap. When we landed in Amsterdam we encountered our first access adventure. The plane required passengers to climb down a set of stairs, well we all know that was not going to happen in my case. They told us they had a special climbing chair that could take me down them. It was quite an interesting contraption and a step up from the chair they used in Macau – basically in Macau they just carried me down by hand. Scary! The chair in Amsterdam was literally a climbing chair that required two employees to guide it down the stairs. Fairly easy, quick, and I felt safe. After the stair climbing chair ride, the staff loaded my friends and I into an accessible van and drove us to the baggage claim area.

From the airport we needed to take a train to central Amsterdam. We bought our tickets and went to the information counter to request assistance with boarding because we needed a ramp. The worker at the counter scolded us for not making reservations in advance and told us we would have to wait 2 hours to board the train. However, one of his much nicer co-workers showed up and got us on the next train. Train travel in The Netherlands was hit and miss, we learned to arrive early and arrange for a ramp. The train workers we encountered were either super nice or super rude – there was no in between. And not all of the train stations in The Netherlands are accessible. For example, Delft had a set of stairs from the platform to the street and huge step to get on and off the train. With Lonnie and Traci’s help I was able to manage, but it was work – for all of us.

The city of Amsterdam, in general, is very accessible – mostly because all the curbs have cut-outs for the many, many, many bikes. Because I knew places in Europe tend to be smaller and less accessible I took a bike lock with me for my scooter. Having been to Amsterdam a couple of times before I knew it would be easy to find bike stands – they are everywhere! Having the bike lock gave us more options for restaurants and shops. If you can walk a little, even with a cane I highly suggest you take a lock with you to secure your wheels should you want to explore some of the smaller shops and restaurants.

Most of the museums and attractions are very accessible – but you still may want to call ahead. We came across two tour companies that offer accessible canal tours – one even offered a nighttime cruise. Again, call ahead and make a reservation because there is limited wheelchair space.

In conclusion, I feel the city of Amsterdam is small enough and accessible enough for wheelchair users to enjoy – that is if you don‘t mind the smell of pot. If you plan on visiting other parts of The Netherlands, I suggest you rent a car and avoid the trains. Good advice from my local friends that I wish we had followed – but I was out voted.

My friend Tessa showed us around, it was great to have a local tour guide and translator.

Accessible Travel: London

 

 

I love London! Have wheels and passport will travel!

As London prepares to host the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics their accessibility for travelers increases with each renovation. Still, traveling through a city with cobble stones and buildings that date back hundreds of years present many challenges and obstacles to those of us with mobility issues. I will give them major credit for improving conditions and everyone we encountered in the tourism and hospitality industry was friendly, compassionate, and very helpful.

 

 

Lonnie, me, and Traci after enjoying Dim Sum in Chinatown.

London is probably my favorite city, and I could easily live there again. I was a little concerned that it would be very difficult to navigate around this historic city and that it would never be the same for me because of my mobility challenges. But I was able to do and see some of my favorite things – with a little help from my friends, Lonnie and Traci. Thanks girls!

Transportation: If you use a wheelchair or have trouble with climbing stairs, then take the bus. The London underground is very old, and while some of their stations claim to have step-free access from the platform to the street we discovered that was not entirely true. If you look at the London underground map and use any of the stations marked as accessible you will find lifts to take you to and from the platform, however there will almost always be a step (and often a gap to mind) from the platform to the subway car. What they need is a system like I found in Copenhagen where they simply put down a lightweight ramp for a wheelchair to roll on and off. Luckily I was traveling with Lonnie and Traci who would carry my chair on, and usually I would drive it off – to the shock of our fellow passengers. Again, take the bus as all London public busses are accessible. If you choose to take one of the hop on/off tours (which I highly recommend to anyone visiting a place for the first time) note that only a portion of those buses are accessible so you may end up waiting for the next bus, which isn’t bad – except if it is cold, raining, and windy.

The busses make the journey a little longer than taking the tube, but you do get to see more of the city that way.

Lonnie and I with the Tower Bridge.

A word to the wise about using the buses – make SURE your bus driver knows where you want to get off. London busses don’t have a special call button that requests the ramp like most US buses have. You have to make sure the driver knows where you want to end your journey. If you are traveling with friends it wouldn’t hurt to send one of them up to the driver to remind them about lowering the ramp. My friends and I were on the bus and told the driver we were getting off at Regent Street. When the we got to that stop, Lonnie jumped off with the other passengers while Traci waited with me for the ramp – that was never deployed! Off we were down Regent Street with Lonnie running after the bus. Traci went up to the bus driver and told him we meant to get off and needed the ramp, he seemed to forget and could care less. She stayed there until the next stop so he wouldn’t forget again. Luckily it was only a few blocks from where Lonnie got off and we headed back to her. Funny story, when this all went down the other passengers on the bus started yelling at the bus driver too because they thought Lonnie was our mom! “You lost your mum? What are you going to do?,” was what this one lady kept saying to us over and over again. No worries, we met up with our panicked “mum” shortly and were on our way.

Accommodation: Again in preparation for the Olympics many hotels are making their properties more and more accessible. For wheelchair users you will want to ensure your hotel has “an accessible path of travel” at the very least. Expedia is great for researching the accessibility of hotels. Finding an actual accessible room in London will be a challenge as each hotel only has a few. The real problem we ran into was that we were a party of three and the limit on most accessible rooms is 2 people.

 

Traci and I at Buckingham Palace.

Shops and Restaurants:

Like most European cities these are going to be hit or miss with steps and ramps. And even if you can roll into a shop or restaurant, the space inside can be very cramped. I took an 8 foot long bike lock with me just for this reason. I could lock my scooter up outside and then walk into the restaurant or shop.

Museums and Attractions: Most London museums are accessible as are most of their attractions to a certain level. The Tower of London has limited access because of the amount of old, spiral, and uneven staircases. However there is still plenty to see and do at the Tower including seeing the Crown Jewels and if you can manage 5 steps with a handrail you can go into the chapel.

Concessions: This is a word you want to learn. Tons of London attractions and even theatres offer “concession” tickets which are discounted tickets for disabled and elderly visitors. Additionally, they also often offer a free caregiver ticket. This saved us a lot of money. If you don’t “look” disabled you will want to bring some sort of documented proof with you. Call the location and ask what they will accept for proof.

Best play ever!

Theaters: No trip to London is complete without an evening in the West End. Some of these theaters are small and very old, yet they will make every effort to accommodate you. The larger venues that usually host the big budget musicals often have the latest and greatest gadgets to get you and your wheels into the seating area.

We saw two shows this past trip, one large and one small. We saw In a Forest Dark and Deep (the best written play I have ever seen, and I have seen A LOT!) at the Vaudeville Theatre which is one of the smaller ones. We had do some creative planning in order to see this show. Because the theatre is so small, I had to transfer to a standard wheelchair but fire laws prevented us from being able to store my scooter anywhere. I had the bike lock, but didn’t fancy locking it up for 2 hours when I couldn’t peek out the window and watch it like I could in a shop or restaurant. We ended up storing at the left luggage site at Charing Cross station. This only works if you have a scooter that breaks apart like mine into pieces that are small enough to fit through a standard luggage x-ray machine. My friends dropped me off at the theater where the staff rigged up a wheelchair into this tank-like stair climbing contraption. Because I had to wait for the entire theatre to clear and for my friends to collect and bring back my scooter I got to meet and chat with the writer and director Neil LaBute! Being last out of the theater can have its advantages.

On my way to see "Wicked" - I travel in style!

We also saw Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. This theater was much larger and had stair lifts installed to get me from the street into the lobby and from the lobby to our seating. I did have to transfer to a standard wheelchair, but they did have room to store my scooter.

Always call ahead to verify the availability of wheelchair space and the extent of their “accessibility” because as we learned there are many levels of accessibility and only you will know what works for you.

With my real life friend Lee who just happens to be part of the amazing staff at Madame Tussaud’s.

With some attractions, like Madame Tussaud’s you really should book in advance because they can only have a certain amount of wheelchairs in the building at one time – fire laws again. That being said, the staff at Madame Tussaud’s couldn’t have been nicer and more accommodating. We did book a time in advance and that helped, but everyone we came into contact with was extraordinary. Please note that it is their policy that anyone arriving with any sort of mobility device will not be allowed to ride the Sprit of London attraction (slow moving amusement park type of ride)- evacuation stuff again. There is a café attached to Madame Tussaud’s gift shop with access to the street via stairs, but they do have a stair lift. You just need to ask one of the workers for assistance and they will be more than happy to help you out.

All in all, London is surprisingly accessible for disabled travelers, you just have to do your research and you can’t do it all online. You have to make phone calls.

I still love London and can’t wait to go back!

On my way to an important meeting with the Prime Minister. 😉



 

 

 

 

Accessible Travel: Disney Cruise Line

 

Disney is an industry leader when it comes to accessible tourism, and their cruise ships are no exception.

All aboard!

In November, my father and I took a 5 day Bahamian cruise on the Disney Wonder. We didn’t want to commit to a longer cruise in case there were accessibility issues. You never know – yes, this is Disney we’re talking about, but it also a ship. The restaurants, shops, showrooms, spa, pools, even their private island are all accessible. And of course the Cast Members are more than happy to assist you in any way, including accommodating any dietary needs.

A massage on the beach at Castaway Cay = Heaven! They can fill up quickly so book ahead of time, before you leave or at the Open House.

Some areas are more accessible than others. For example, if you’d like to book a pedicure be aware that the chairs are not really accessible because they require the guest to climb up a couple of pretty big steps – without any sort of handrail. If you’d like a pedicure discuss your needs with the salon staff and they will be happy to accommodate you. If you’re looking to book spa and salon experiences, be sure to stop by the “Open House” on the first day of the cruise and check out the facilities to see what will work for you.

Just relaxing on our private balcony - can I just live here?

We were lucky enough to book an accessible stateroom – these are limited. I have friends who have cruised with Disney a few times and one of them uses the same scooter as I do, they don’t book an accessible room because they don’t need the modified facilities. They simply ask the crew to remove the coffee table so there is more room for the mobility scooter.

The ship is equipped with elevators, ramps, and wide doorways – making the ship pretty much entirely accessible. The one problem I encountered was the thresholds. Some of them came to a pretty steep peak and my scooter would get stuck, but there was always someone there to help me. After about a day or so, and a lot of bottoming out of my scooter, I learned which doorways to avoid and everything was fine.

Check out my ride! Taking in the ocean air on Castaway Cay’s adults only beach after my massage. Life it rough!

Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay is very accessible. From the disembarking process to providing free sand wheelchairs – they’ve done everything possible to ensure mobility challenged passengers can really enjoy this island. The tram that takes you from various locations on the island is accessible and everything is pretty flat making exploration easy. You may run into some trouble if you want to take on the beautiful sandy beaches, but that’s when you grab a sand wheelchair – but

I couldn’t make this stuff up!

heed the warning on the back of the chair: “Not a floatation device. Do not attempt to propel in water.” Which only means that at some point someone had a few two many Mai Tai’s and attempted that.

Please note that depending on your cruise itinerary, the ports of call may require you to tender (take a smaller boat) to shore and the accessibility of this type of transfer can vary from port to port and be dependant on weather conditions. The port in Nassau, Bahamas didn’t require a tender transfer so going ashore was pretty easy there. We even managed to flag down an accessible taxi to take us to and from the Atlantis Resort – which was very accessible too. The main shopping area of Nassau offered various levels of accessibility. There were curb cut outs on just about every corner, but the shops and restaurants were hit and miss with accessible entrances – however, most of them were wheelchair friendly.

Me and Gilligan, just kidding, that’s my dad

An added bonus…. The children are “contained” in their own little world on the ship. They are not running around the decks causing chaos and knocking over us gimpy, balance-challenged folk. Disney has designed amazing interactive areas for kids of all ages to enjoy. That coupled with the many adults only areas of the ship makes avoiding potential tripping hazards, disguised as cute little princes and princesses, easier. The easy assumption is that a Disney Cruise is taken over by kids, it is not. Other cruise lines have fewer offerings for the younger sailors and therefore they get bored and end up running all over the ship. It may sound counterintuitive, but if you want to enjoy some grown up cruising – then hop on board with Mickey! No, seriously. The fitness center, spa and salon are all adults only. There is an adults only area on the pool deck which includes a pool, hot tubs, bar, and coffee bar. There is even an adults only restaurant for a small additional fee and an adults only area on Castaway Cay. It is worth noting that the adults only restaurant was the only “up sell” I encountered, unlike other cruise lines where there are numerous ones making the phrase “all inclusive” a bit of a stretch, in my opinion.

I would highly recommend the Disney Cruise Line to anyone looking to sail the high seas.

Media Update and More

  

 

Just chilling at Epcot with my pal Barry - Dr. Barry Bryne that is! We had to wear shades so he wouldn’t get mobbed by his fans!

A few months ago producers from Ivanhoe Broadcasting paid me a visit at Celebration Hospital‘s Fitness Centre and Day Spa (one of my main stomping grounds for battling Pompe). They also interviewed Dr. Byrne about his role in our rare disease world. In case you didn’t know, Dr. Bryne is one of the leading Pompe researchers in the world and I consider myself one of the luckiest rare disease patients in the world to be under his care. The segment is scheduled to air on over 200 television stations across the country in January. I don’t know when or where it will air, but if you see or hear an announcement for “Cracking the Code: Pompe Disease” then that’s the one.

You can view the segment online by CLICKING HERE. You’ll have to sit through the segment on Tai Chi first, so don‘t think you‘ve landed on the wrong page. And be sure to pass the link on so we can continue to raise awareness!

I’ve also updated the page “M.E.G. & the Media” with this link as well as a new article from UF.

I’m off to Boston next week to meet with the wonderful folks at Genzyme. I’m going to give a speech at their annual marketing meeting. I’m excited to see the facility and meet with all the dedicated people who are making our lives better. I’ll have photos and updates soon. Wish me luck and warm(er) weather!

Thank you everyone for your continued support and interest!

The WWoHP Revisited

 

In a previous post, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (June 15, 2010), I wrote about the accessibility at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure‘s newest area: The WWoHP. While the area itself is very accessible my biggest complaint was the lack of transfer wheelchairs available at the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction. Actually this is one of my main complaints about Universal in general – their attractions never seem to have enough (or any) transfer wheelchairs available.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey - now with transfer wheelchairs available!

This past week, my friend and fellow theme park enthusiast Lonnie was visiting Orlando. During our excursions to Universal we found they had stocked up on wheelchairs and had no issues with riding any of the attractions. Bravo to Universal for fixing the situation! I wrote several letters of complaint to them about this issue (I’m sure I’m not the only one), and I’m glad to see they have made improvements.

Accessible Travel: St. Augustine, Florida

 

America's Oldest School House

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest city in America. Given that, it makes travel for those of us in wheelchairs a smidge challenging. After all, back in the 1500’s putting in ramps and wider doorways wasn’t really at the top of the list with things like, surviving hurricanes or small pox. But flash forward to modern day St. Augustine and you’ll find a beautiful seaside town rich with history that is “somewhat” accessible. In order to preserve the integrity of this historical area, there are many places your wheelchair won’t be able to take you. That being said, it is still worth spending a day or even half a day exploring the area.

I suggest going when the weather is nice as you’ll have more restaurant choices because many of them have accessible patio dining. Several of the shops have steps – old, steep, uneven steps. Many others have an accessible entrance, often unmarked and around the back – just look around or ask the shop workers. The sightseeing trams are not accessible either, but you can easily explore the old town area in your wheelchair.

Because of the lack of accessible attractions, shops, and restaurants I wouldn’t recommend devoting more than a day to St. Augustine. It is worth a stop if you find yourself traveling on I-95 – if nothing else for the amazing seafood they have to offer.

Accessible Travel: Copenhagen Part 2

 

As promised in Copenhagen Part 1, here is more information about accessible travel in Denmark’s capital.

Nationalmuseet

This exquisite building was formerly a palace, but now houses extensive collections devoted to Denmark’s history. For a building that is several hundred years old, it is surprisingly very accessible. The museum has small lifts that will carry you from floor to floor, as well as stair lifts at each set of stairs that separate the rooms. Both types of lifts are very small and are designed for manual wheelchairs or very small mobility scooters. If you have a larger scooter you won’t be able to explore the entire museum and should borrow a manual wheelchair from the museum. Just ask the staff at the entrance near the coat check area.

Rosenborg Slot & Kongens Have

This 16th century Renaissance castle houses the crown jewels. The castle and grounds are beautiful, but the castle is not accessible at all. To tour this site you need to be very independently mobile, enough to negotiate very old and uneven staircases and cobblestone paths. The surrounding grounds are completely accessible, so roll around and enjoy the picturesque setting.

Tivoli Gardens

This amusement park was built in 1843 and takes some of the credit for inspiring Walt Disney’s launch into theme park world domination. Like most theme parks the accessibility of Tivoli will vary from person to person depending on how well you can transfer in and out of the ride vehicles. They do have ramps and lifts installed to get you to the loading platforms, and the grounds themselves, shops, and restaurants are almost completely accessible. Occasionally you may have to ask an employee about alternative entrances for restaurants and shops, and they will do their very best to accommodate you. We dined at Groften (one of the many, many, many restaurants inside the park) and the manager took us around to the side entrance to dine on the patio so I could avoid the stairs. We couldn’t have asked for better service or a better meal! If you find yourself at Tivoli I highly recommend trying Groften for some delicious Danish food.

Amalienborg

This complex of palace buildings has been home to the royal family since 1794. You can tour parts of the palace that host gatherings, but only if you can climb up and down a long set of stairs. While the palace itself may not be accessible, the center of the buildings offers a brilliant view for the changing of the guards ceremony.

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

Even though this building claims to be recently renovated, the renovations didn’t seem to include adding stair lifts like the ones found at Nationalmuseet. There are stairs to enter through the main entrance and a lift can be found around the corner to the left of the entrance. However, the lift only works about half of the time. Have someone you are traveling with ask the museum staff for assistance and they will have you enter through the staff entrance which is located around the corner to the right. This is actually pretty neat, as you get to enter through huge wooden doors and travel through some of the staging area, and maybe you’ll even catch a glimpse of pieces not on display. Once inside, you’ll find that some areas of the museum are accessible and given the size of the museum’s collection of fine art it is worth exploring these areas. There is a lift which will take you to some of the floors, but once there you’ll only be able to view some of the galleries before running into stairs. Because so much of this museum is not accessible, visit on a Sunday when admission is free.

Stroget

Copenhagen’s pedestrian shopping area is filled with one of kind as well as chain shops and restaurants. All 5 linked pedestrian streets that make up this area are accessible, but the shops and restaurants vary in their accessibility. Some have installed ramps to allow guests on wheels to enter and some have level entrances, but several have 2-3 steps you will have to climb in order to enter. The steps vary in size and height and often no handrail is available. There are enough accessible shops and restaurants to make this area worth your time.

Carlsberg Museum and Visitor Centre

Brewery tours are always interesting, they almost always include high tech multi-media type experiences which lead to a beer tasting which is included in your admission. The tour is fairly accessible, but the museum is housed in the original brewery which was built in 1847. Two of the rooms on the tour require you to climb up and down stairs, but you can just skip these two areas as there is still plenty of accessible areas to explore. When starting your brewery experience you might want to ask the staff if you can enter the first part through the exit near the stables, otherwise you’ll have to climb down two very, very large steps at the entrance. You’ll also need to have a member of the staff open up the elevator that takes you to the café and bar at the end of the tour.

The people of Copenhagen have made great strides in making their city accessible. You will run into a few obstacles, but if you do your research and contact the sites you plan to visit ahead of time you’ll be fine. There is so much you CAN see and do in Copenhagen without ever having to leave your wheelchair you’ll never miss the things that are not yet accessible.