Disney Cruise Line

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: 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.

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!