When: April 24th- May 4th, 2011
Total length: 10 days
Departure: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Ports of call: Antigua, St.Lucia, Barbados, St.Kitts, St.Thomas and Bahamas
Weather: Hot! Must have been in the 30’s everyday.
The booking process is very simple. We used Cruise-Connections to get a great deal. We had a room that was supposed to have a queen bed and was easily changed to two singles. It is always a safe bet to purchase insurance in case of plane delays or cancelations (see below). You can then catch the boat at the first port if anything happens.
We took our flight the same day of departure for the boat. Big mistake!! We were planned to get to Ft.Lauderdale by 11:30 AM, leaving plenty of time to get to the docks. There was no snow so we thought it would be fine if we did all the traveling on the same day. And then, of course the plane had problems and we were delayed for 3 hours! So my advice is to get there the day before, giving you less stress in case anything happens. Also, getting up at 4:30 AM to catch a flight basically ruins your first day due to no sleep.
After getting to Florida, we got all our luggage (someone working at the airport helped) and took an accessible taxi (no reservations needed) to the docks. Only one chair can fit, as it is a rear entering van. A fold up manual chair can fit in as well if lifted to the seats. It is only a 10 minute drive and pretty inexpensive. Research how much it costs to get there so that you don’t get ripped off. I did and it bugged me the entire trip!
We arrived at the boat around 3:30 and it was actually pretty good timing. There were absolutely no line ups and it took only 10 minutes to check in. There were no stairs to get to the boat, as there were a series of ramps.
We had plenty of space for two people, a manual chair and an electric. We had to ask for an extension cord and power bar since the plug was not next to the bed, and there was only one.
Our room was specifically wheelchair accessible and had larger than normal doorways. A chair would NOT be able to fit through a regular room’s doorway. Ours was an interior room.
The bathroom had an enlarged doorway and many bars for stabilizing when standing. At times the boat could get rocky.
The shower was roll in and had a seat that pulled down to sit on. The shower head was hand held and there was no problem with water pressure and heat.
There was a clothes line that could be used.
The toilet unfortunately was pretty close to the wall, so it made it difficult for attendants to help. However, since the boat could lurch suddenly, I felt safe that I could hold onto the bars.
The sink was at a lower height with the faucet close enough for me to use.
Around the Deck
The hallways could get pretty narrow at times, so try to avoid having to walk all the way down them more times than needed. House cleaning carts were constantly in the way, and couldn’t be moved by myself.
Helpfulness of Staff: Everyone was always willing to help me out when needed. At meals staff would offer to get your food at the buffet (or hold your plate), or even cut the food up into pieces. The same staff were there each night, so they would learn your routine. They help getting on and off the ship and I’m sure would have offered more if I had asked for something.
For the most part I found that the ship was accessible. This can be chalked up to the fact that many people are elderly and require additional assistance. One problem that I found difficult though were the doors leading from the inside to the upper decks. The way they were built is terrible, and something really needs to be done about it. The doorways are too small, and therefore both doors are needed to be kept open to walk through. There is a steep ramp to get over the step that must have been there originally. However, as a result of the added ramps for both sides of the step, there is a almost tipping point for the chair as it tries to get over the first ramp, and then suddenly needs to change directions to go back down. You have to take a running start to get over it, and can be very painful and dangerous. To avoid these ramps, I would take the elevators from the middle of the ship and exit to the deck there. It unfortunately involves then having to walk through the cleaning carts (depending on where you are on the ship).
Private bathrooms were located just inside the doorway to the public washrooms (separated male and female).
There are no automatic buttons on doors. However, some doors that went from dining halls to the outside were automatic sliding doors.
The top deck is great for getting a tan, but offers literally no shade. I am naturally olive skinned, and this was the first time in my life I got a sun burn. Ouch! It is also very hot and crowded.
Tip: At the back of the ship there is a pool (not accessible) that is kid free. It looks out the back and is shaded. There is a dining room and bar right there. It is lesser known, so a great place to relax!
There were many activities to do on the days that we were at Sea. We did a box making class and missed a scrapbooking class (The ladies running the class were kind enough to put the scrapbooking materials in our room, free of charge!). Everyday there was a “Princess Patter” newsletter slipped under our door that would give the itinerary for the following day.
Every night there would be a movie playing on the big screen. The deck chairs would be outfitted with blankets and popcorn was given out. Our favourite part of the day!
The spa was also really luxurious. I got a head and shoulder massage and there was even a private pool you could pay to relax in.
Tip: Internet is very expensive onboard! Wait until you get to an island. Most of the time there is free wifi. Just look for a group of people (most likely cruiseship staff), sitting on the ground with their laptops!
Getting on and off the boat
This is an experience! We were nervous at first, given the fact that I have an electric wheelchair. Not to worry though. Keep in mind, this was my experience, and hopefully all boats have this friendly and helpful of staff. First, each island has a different type of gangplank, from a short ramp, to steps. To get around this, the steps can actually be turned into a ramp, albeit REALLY steep. To avoid me going down it, there is a chair that has a head rest provided by the ship. It will actually climb down stairs, whilst your chair is brought down for you. There are plenty of people on staff to get your chair on and off the ship. However, it is a 10-15 minute process, so try and only go on and off the boat once. Unfortunately, accessible washrooms looked sparse onshore, so try and go before you get off and you should be fine. NOTE: The Bahamas is an island that requires tethering (a small boat) to get to the shore. Since I am not able to walk myself, I was not allowed to go ashore. I would have had to take a manual chair as well.
This island was okay. Very hilly and had poor sidewalks. Try and stay on the road to wheel around, obviously avoiding cars. Many of the shops were inaccessible. It is also a poor area and not very appealing. A quick walk around is all you really need.
My favourite place, by far! The water was crystal clear and the mountains gorgeous. Our ship stopped right alongside a mini shopping mall. There was an amazing antique store that sold costume jewellery (expensive) and prints (maps, portraits etc).
There was also a great place to sit next to the water and soak up the sun. An ice cream store was there as well.
The day that we went to this island happened to be a holiday, so unfortunately everything was closed. I am told that it was probably close enough to walk to the local town, however we never did. Fortunately though, there were actually wheelchair accessible taxis. The bad part: they were extremely expensive. As in a normal $2 cab ride was $25 for me. We went to a beach that was pretty accessible. There was a food stand, but was closed for the day (and a washroom, not sure if had a private stall). I’m sure you could have walked there, as long as you are comfortable with walking along a busy road. All in all, Barbados was okay. I’m sure if it wasn’t a holiday, it would have been better. And not such a rip off with the taxis. You could have the cruise ship set up a tour with the van for a set fee. We had to wait a while for ours since we didn’t book it in advance.
This place was pretty to walk around. There is a square with a nice fountain and plenty of shops. However, the farther you walk into town, the less nice it gets. You can explore the area, but be warned about people there with pet monkeys. One was put on my head! I was scared that he was then going to demand money for it (FYI I did NOT ask for a monkey to be put on my head). This is also cruel for the animals, so avoid if possible. I felt a bit less safe as I got farther from the boat, just because we were asked for money from people with causes, and talked to one guy who followed us around (we think he was drunk). Other than that, it was still a nice town.
This was my second favourite island that we visited. Since it is an American Island, it must comply with American Standards for accessibility. As soon as you get off the boat, there is a little shop area and a great place to sit next to the water (ramp to dock).
We then took an accessible taxi first to The Best Western. It had a bar and grill that overlooked the beach.
The food was pretty good, and the beach was amazing (stairs to get to). You could also sit by a pool that had a waterfall going into it. I’m not sure if you had to be an actual visitor to the hotel, but I’m sure no one would ask.
The music was loud by the pool/bar. There was a bathroom that was private, but the door into the separated washroom was too small for a chair to fit through. You could transfer through the doorway. Ask for the washroom that is beside the front desk.
We then had the taxi pick us up and hour or so later and take us to a market that sold really good faux designer bags and souvenirs.
Overall the best island we went to in terms of accessibility. Try and get up early and spend the entire day here.