Accessible Travel

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: 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.

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.

Quick Update

Wow – time has just flown by and I haven’t posted anything for weeks! So, here is yet another quick update until I have a chance to really sit down and walk you through the adventures of the past few weeks. Whenever I post something about quick updates, you know I’ve been busy.

 

Regina and I at the Italian Pavilion at Epcot. I met Regina while studying in England and we traveled to the real Venice, Italy together.

After I returned from Copenhagen, I had back to back visitors. I love visitors, don’t get me wrong, but spending all day running around with my fabulous friends doesn’t leave much time blogging. My dad and his best friend Allen spent a few days taking on Walt Disney World together and then my friend Regina and her fiancé spent a week here too. Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival was in full swing and the weather was great so we had a wonderful time. Sadly, today is the last day of the Festival.

The pulmonary function test box - something most Pompe patients are very familiar with.

I had a check-up appointment at the Mayo Clinic with my neurologist at the beginning of November. He hadn’t seen me since I started my Lumizyme treatments and couldn’t believe how much I had improved with treatment along with diet and physical therapy. He ran another pulmonary function test (PFT) and an overnight pulse ox. The nurse who conducted my PFT was able to immediately compare my results from the last PFT I took in the beginning of the year. She said I had improved across the board, which is great! I’m still weaker than most people, those who don’t have Pompe or some other sort of pulmonary disease, but at least now I’m not getting worse. I have should have the official test results mailed to me in a few weeks and then I’ll know more. I’ll also be able to send copies of the test results to the University of Florida to add to the Pompe Registry. If you haven’t enrolled in the Pompe Registry, I highly suggest you do as all the data they can collect from us “lab rats” helps their research which helps us. Ask your doctor or Genzyme Case Manager about the Pompe Registry if you‘d like to know more.

Since I had an overnight test at Mayo I decided to spend a few days exploring St. Augustine. It is the oldest city in America which means it packed with history and of course tourist traps. I’ll post an “Accessible Travel” entry about my visit to St. Augustine soon.

My dad is visiting so we’re doing what we love to do – travel. We took a 4 night Disney Cruise to the Bahamas. Spectacular! More information about that trip will also follow in an “Accessible Travel” entry.

Yesterday, we spent the day with Dr. Bryne and his wife at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. Doesn’t everyone hang out at a theme park with their world renowned doctor? Just another Saturday right?

Today Dad and I are taking a road trip to Washington DC – one of our favorite places! For a couple of museum geeks like us – it doesn’t get much better than DC. This trip will also allow me to write another “Accessible Travel” entry.

So that’s about it – for now. I’m doing well and living life to fullest. I still have my bad days and I try not to push myself too hard. Each day continues to be a battle against Pompe, but I’m really learning to balance things and managing my disease is becoming more and more routine.

A beautiful day in the Bahamas at Disney’s Castaway Cay. Life with Pompe doesn’t always have to suck!

 

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.

Accessible Travel: Copenhagen, Denmark Part 1

 

Dad and I enjoying lunch at the Carlsberg Brewery - we're not big beer drinkers, so we opted for free soda instead of beer at the end of the tour.

I’ve just returned from my annual father-daughter trip. This year we went to Copenhagen, Denmark. Each year instead of exchanging gifts and cards for birthdays and holidays, my father and I embark on a vacation together. Because of the difficulty I experienced with Pompe Disease, from the long diagnosis process, the pain and mobility issues, and putting together a treatment plan this was the first overseas trip I’ve been able to take since my condition really starting going downhill back in early 2009. I love to travel, and having that passion potentially sidelined by Pompe was not something I was happy about – so this trip meant a lot to me!

Since starting my treatment plan earlier this year, which includes Lumizyme infusions every other week, daily physical therapy, and a special diet I feel so much better than I did when 2010 began. With my new found strength (I still have a very long ways to go and still need a mobility scooter) we decided it was time to try an overseas trip. We chose Copenhagen for a couple of reasons. Neither one of us had ever been there (which is shocking because my father has been to almost 60 countries and I lived in Britain for over 2 years). Copenhagen claims to be “one of the most accessible European cities,” but there is only so much you can discover through the internet and we knew we could be taking a big chance traveling overseas which my mobility challenges. But, one of my new mottos is: I’ll never know what I CAN and can’t do unless I try. So we booked our trip, packed our bags and set out to discover Scandinavia.

Copenhagen is a picturesque city with an interesting history, filled with amazing sites, people, and delicious food. The people of Copenhagen couldn’t have been nicer and everyone seemed to go out of their way to offer to help. Locals stopped us on the streets to see if we needed directions, shop and restaurant staff members did everything they could to accommodate or try to accommodate me, and one patron in a coffee shop even asked if he could get my order for me when he noticed there were steps leading into the shop!

And as far as its claim to be accessible, I have to say for a European city that has streets and buildings that are older than America, Copenhagen is very accessible. There are of course places your wheels will not be able to take you, but like me – just focus on what you CAN DO! And in Copenhagen there is a lot you CAN DO if you have mobility issues.

Transportation

Me using the hand-placed ramp to exit the train. The regional trains and city buses are really your best bet for accessible tourist travel around Copenhagen.

The Metro, regional trains, and buses are all accessible. The s-train and the canal boats are not. The Metro however, does not really go to many tourist areas – it seems to be targeted more at getting the locals to and from work. In all honesty, you can get around the major sites of the city on foot (or on wheels) pretty easy as everything is fairly close together, and what is not can be easily reached by bus or regional train. The red Hop On Hop Off busses are also accessible and are a great way to see the city and get the lay of the land.

When boarding the trains, you need to get the attention of one of the staff members because they have to lay out a ramp by hand in order for wheelchairs to board. A good spot to wait is at the front of the train and as it approaches simply wave at the driver indicating you’d like to board and he/she will assist you.

Because Copenhagen is such an old city you will encounter a lot of cobble stone lined streets and sidewalks. This can be a little jarring for those of us traveling in wheelchairs – just take it slow. The city has made a real effort to make the sidewalks accessible as far as putting in “ramps” at crossings so curbs won’t be an obstacle. The ramps can be hard to spot as they blend in with the street – you sometimes have to be right on top of them before they become visible. I think I ran into all of two curbs that were a problem for my scooter. There was a lot of construction going on in the city so I think that partially contributed to my two little curb problems. But in both cases I was simply able to go around the intersection the “long way” to avoid those curbs.

Shopping and Dining

The shops and restaurants have varying accessibility. Some entrances allow you to just roll right in, others have steps which vary from one or two that are pretty manageable if you can walk a little, to huge stone stairs with no handrail. Many of the cafes offer sidewalk seating, and several have outdoor heaters which makes dinning outside very pleasant even in cooler weather.

If you come across a shop or restaurant that doesn’t look accessible – always ask about accessibility before moving on. We came across a few “hidden” entrances, from back doors to staff entrances – if the people of Copenhagen can find a way to get you inside, they will.

Museums and Galleries

Like shops and restaurants, these are also hit and miss with their levels of accessibility. While most major museums boast they are accessible, there are limits to how accessible they can make a building built in the 1600’s. Again, ask first before deciding if you can or can’t enjoy one of these treasure troves. Some have installed stair lifts and/or ramps, others have yet to acquire the funding for this. Even the museums with limited accessibility are worth going and exploring the parts that are accessible.

I’ll go into more detail about the specifics of my wonderful trip to Copenhagen and the levels of accessibility major sites offer disabled travelers in an upcoming post. I’ll even include how I was able to stick to my diet and exercise routine while traveling along with some other tips and tricks.

Both contain helpful information and pull-out maps, but to really get the most of your research you'll need both.

If you’re considering a trip to Copenhagen – do it! I recommend the books below for all travelers, but especially Copenhagen Encounter for disabled travelers as this book offers information on the accessibility of locations. The entries have a wheelchair symbol next to the locations which are considered accessible, but that doesn’t always mean they are completely accessible. Use it in combination with Top 10 Copenhagen as this book offers more details and lays out, as the title suggests, the best of the best.

Lonely Planet, Copenhagen Encounter, by Michael Booth

Eyewitness Travel, Top 10 Copenhagen, by Antonia Cunningham

Still Busy, so Enjoy Some Quick Links

 

Wow – I knew it was going to be a busy September, but I‘m loving it! I’ve just returned from DC – more on that later including accessible travel and meeting up with another Pompe patient. I had a hassle free infusion yesterday, so I’m all powered up for my next overseas adventure – again, more on that later.

For now, here is a LINK to the latest Pompe awareness article that has been published by the Dana Foundation.

Also, just for fun, here is a LINK to a foreign article about Pompe. Can anyone translate?

Will blog with you soon!

Accessible Travel: Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Part 1

 

Being the newest park to join the Walt Disney World family, Animal Kingdom is incredibly accessible. This is NOT just a “wild animal park” – a common misconception. It is a beautiful park that mixes attractions, shows, unique dining, conservation, and of course real animals. This park is also the biggest of all of the Disney parks and it has ‘hidden’ hills. Which means a lot of walking, so if you don’t normally use a wheelchair, but do have trouble walking, you might want to consider renting one when you’re ready to tackle this park. 

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

Animal Kingdom offers several “walk through” areas that showcase exotic plant and animal life and are completely accessible. These include the Oasis Exhibits, Discovery Island Trails, Camp Minnie-Mickey Greeting Trails (I guess those count even though the “animals” are Mickey and pals), Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, Maharajah Jungle Trek, and Cretaceous Trail. You can explore these areas at your own pace, and there are even benches to rest on along the way.

The first attraction you come across in Animal Kingdom is It’s Tough to be a Bug!, located inside the Tree of Life – AK’s icon in the center of Discovery Island. It’s Tough to be a Bug! is a cute and clever (but can be scary for little ones) 3-D show. Like most Disney theater shows it is completely accessible to wheelchairs. If you can transfer to one of the attraction seats, which are like benches, I would highly suggest you do so. A lot of the attraction sensory experience is built into the seating. If you cannot transfer, you will still be able to enjoy most of the presentation from your chair.

Camp Minnie-Mickey, as mentioned earlier, offers you the opportunity to meet and take photos with Mickey and his friends. You’ll also find the “Festival of the Lion King “ here. Another completely accessible show. But like all shows, there is limited wheelchair seating within the theater so get there early especially on crowded days. If you arrive and they have run out of wheelchair seating you can try to use their seating which is made up of benches and risers. Ask to be seated in one of the front rows to avoid having to climb stairs.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Kilimanjaro Safaris is a must-see for any visitor! On this attraction you board a safari jeep and tour an African reserve. You’ll observe animals like lions, elephants, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, and others wandering the reserve. It is not uncommon for the jeeps to have to stop while the animals cross the road – you can get up close and personal with these creatures. There is a special loading area for disabled guests. If you can transfer, you’ll leave your wheelchair and board the jeep. You have to be able to step up into the jeep and then rise out of a somewhat low and narrow seat at the end of the tour. If transferring is not an option for you – no problem! The jeeps in this loading area have a specially designed area for wheelchairs to roll right on. You have to transfer to a manual wheelchair, which Cast Members will have on hand for you to borrow. You then just roll right up the ramp, let the CMs secure your wheels, and you’re ready for your safari! Be sure to have your camera ready!

Not far from Kilimanjaro Safaris is the Wildlife Express Train which takes you to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, an area dedicated to the preservation and conservation of animals. Your wheelchair rolls right on the train, no muss, no fuss, no ramps! All areas of Rafikis’ Plant Watch are completely accessible. However, only manual wheelchairs are allowed in the Affection Section (think petting zoo). Probably so no one runs down any of the animals – hey, I’ve seen those of you who are new to scooters drive! Animals and people beware!

 

We’ll explore more Accessible Disney soon!