Wednesday, November 10, 2010
WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE CARIBBEAN CRUISING -- part 4
WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE CARIBBEAN CRUISING
By Steve Wright
The most difficult aspect of cruising for wheelchair users is the hit-and-miss access of the shore excursions.
These little adventures are huge moneymakers for the cruise industry, but the majority of shore and sea side excursions are provided by companies that contract independently with the cruise lines.
Very few of these tour providers invest in making their vehicles or activities barrier-free.
If you want to book an excursion begin inquiring about wheelchair access the minute you book your cruise. Don't wait till you've set sail, or even worse, until you depart your ship only to learn that an accessible adventure does not await you.
Ask detailed questions to find out if the transportation from port to the site of the excursion is inaccessible. Email the cruise line's accessibility/special needs department to find out if it is possible for a wheelchair users to safely board and enjoy the ride on a helicopter, catamaran, etc.
The best approach is to be flexible.
If you can climb several steps onto a bus or if you don’t mind being carried on and off a catamaran – then you might try one of the organized excursions.
Or once in port, you can hire a taxi -- with a trunk large enough to accommodate your wheelchair -- to take you to a destination.
Another option is renting a car for the day to explore colorful restaurants, shops, beaches, museums and natural wonders.
We've tried that option and it is both harrowing (balding tires, doubtful insurance coverage, traffic jams almost preventing a return to the ship in time before it sailed from our port!) and rewarding (traveling between Dutch and French sides of an island in little time at all, observing the real daily life for islanders beyond the cleaned up tourist areas, sampling genuine local cuisine).
The bottom line: cruising is a very enjoyable – and convenient -- way to vacation.