The Trip of a Lifetime
Traveling is one of the benefits of a modern society. No longer does it take months on the perilous seas to cross continents and experience the ancient wonders of the world. However, for persons with disabilities, we can face numerous unknown barriers while enjoying this modern pastime of continent hopping.
For some time, Erika (the wife) and I had envisioned a Mediterranean cruise to see all of the monuments of the great civilizations of the past. After careful planning, we chose to fly into Rome, spend a day and a half with the Renaissance, board a cruise ship at the local port (Civitavecchia, Italy), island hop for the next 7 days on a Mediterranean cruise, and then finish our journey with 2 days in Athens.
As a quadriplegic, my challenges during the trip were numerous and my opportunities for site seeing of the historical monuments were somewhat limited. It’s not that the Italians, the Greeks, or the cruise industries lack accessible elements, but it’s just not realistic to have unfettered access within the ancient cities, islands, cruise ship, or airplanes!
On the Plane
I thought I had solved the airplane challenge by utilizing thousands of points to acquire first class tickets that would enable horizontal sleeping and a place to handle mid-flight catheterization comfortably. While thinking I was clever, I learned that the Airbus had very limited transfer space and at 6 foot 5 inches, my seat was unable to recline completely. Consequently, I had to recruit the assistance of a male flight attendant to help lift me out of my seat and carry me to the galley way to attend to my needs. There was no guarantee there would be a male flight attendant, let alone one strong enough to lift me, and the flight attendants do not have to help since it is not a requirement of their job.
Having called the hotel ahead of time, and emphasizing my accommodation needs, the hotel in Rome was ready to accept me. Despite measurements taken to ensure I would have access to a roll in shower, we failed to consider the elevator and hotel room door. As a result, my first unanticipated barrier was fitting into a tiny historic elevator. We had to remove my leg rests and wheelie bars from my manual wheelchair. In turn, my PCA had to run up the staircase and meet me at the elevator since I was now unable to self-propel.
We then navigated through the narrow hallways like a cat with its whiskers. We arrived at my room, only to learn that my wheelchair would not fit through the door. One of the bellmen used his pocket knife to remove the door’s hinges. This revealed not a spacious ADA American size hotel room, but rather a tiny cubicle that was barely larger than my walk-in closet at home. By the grace of god, the roll in shower did accommodate my chair, but half of my body stuck out – creating Lake Michigan in the morning.
While the city of Rome itself has basic curb cuts and accessible public transportation, I would encourage any traveler with mobility issues to hire personal transportation. We enjoyed an incredible nighttime tour of all Rome’s magnificent landmarks with the night lights illuminating their architectural splendor. With the benefit of a very capable local driver, we were able to do this in less than three hours with minimal barriers. I would highly recommend Outreach Accessible Travel for adaptive transportation need while in Rome. They were outstanding, affordable, and professional; they also work out of London.
The highlight came with the weeklong cruise, including five ports of call (Salerno, Kotor, Corfu, Chania, and Mykonos) which culminated with two nights in Athens. I would highly recommend this cruise to anyone with a disability. Cruise ships that carry the American flag include almost every accessible feature/element we have come to expect and enjoy in America. My room was located right next to the elevator, had a roll in shower, access to both sides of the bed, and a wheelchair accessible balcony. The staff are there to serve and you can count on them to go the extra mile. I would caution any future traveler to explore accessible excursions through third party vendors rather than paying the premium cruise package. We used both options during this journey and found the former to be of better value and contain more accessibility. Just remember to book them ahead of time.
When traveling on any cruise, please remember to check the itinerary before you book. There are some times when a ship will approach a port with tenders, meaning there will be no way for anyone with disabilities to exit the vessel. This information is available before you put down your deposit.
The Athens leg of the trip did not start out as planned. Traveling to the hotel, we arranged what we thought was an accessible taxi service, but that turned out to be far too small to hold myself and my family. The hotel, on the other hand, was very accessible with an amazing view of the monuments. The downtown museum in Athens rivals any of our great city museums, and as a new property its architectural design is completely accessible. I would not want to spoil the details for you.
Athens is home to the Acropolis and the Temple of Apollo, the two most popular sites in Greece located a two-hour drive from each other. Luckily, we learned from our last cab driving catastrophe and called SAGE, a cab service for the disabled that was large enough to comfortably fit everyone. Their help was absolutely necessary – we would not have been able to see these wonderful sites without them.
Overall, it was a wonderful trip I would recommend to anyone.