A woman with silver blonde hair sits in her manual wheelchair in front of two Eqyptian Pyramids.

Bon Voyage in a Wheelchair

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A woman with silver blonde hair sits in her manual wheelchair in front of two Eqyptian Pyramids.
Arline Muller sits in her wheelchair in front of the Egyptian Pyramids

A cruise is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a luxurious, highly accessible vacation. As I’ve progressed (regressed?) from being a wall hugger to using a cane to using a manual then a power wheelchair, my objective was always to not give up on my passion for travel.

I’ve learned through trial and error a few tips which might make your journey easier.

Cruising

First of all, book early! Accessible rooms are limited and very desirable. They’re desirable because they’re much larger and with wider doorways than other staterooms and are equipped with grab bars, raised toilets and roll in showers. If you opt for a balcony, it’s much larger than the others and it enables you to enjoy the mesmerizing sight and salty smell of the ocean without having to move to the common areas.

Although air travel is very accessible, my husband, Hank, and I have found that driving our accessible van to the nearest point of departure is the easiest for us. This eliminates the time and effort involved in airplane travel. We have sailed to the Caribbean from Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, NJ and found it incredibly quick and easy.

As Hank pulled into the port to drop me off, two staff members from the ship appeared to unload our considerable baggage from our van and load it onto the ship. While he parked, another staff member accompanied me to Security where he whisked me past the long line of waiting passengers. Of course most ports aren’t reachable by car so we flew to the port in Barcelona when we took a Mediterranean cruise and to Fort Lauderdale when we cruised the Panama Canal.

Cruising is very accommodating from the time they wheel you up the gangplank till they wheel you into the dining room after they’ve whisked you past any lines. Having meals and snacks (and room service) readily available is the ultimate convenience! Theaters have wheelchair sections and pools are equipped with chair lifts.

Italy

Our Mediterranean cruise included 3 countries on my bucket list; Italy, Greece and Egypt. Friends discouraged us from taking such an ambitious trip for “someone in a wheelchair” but after extensive research into the accessibility of Rome, Athens and Alexandria, we plunged into our dream adventure. I learned a valuable lesson: Never let anyone sabotage your dreams.

Research and plan ahead so as to eliminate as many detriments to your enjoyment of the trip as possible and then just go have fun!

For the hour and a half drive to Rome we hired a mini-van (at half the cost and twice the unscheduled stops as a tour bus). After seeing the ruins of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, we were in awe by the time we reached the Vatican. Note: Cobblestones make for a very bumpy ride in a wheelchair!

Fortunately, two seminarians gave us a private tour of the Vatican when they saw me in the wheelchair! Oh, the history and beauty and magnificent statues-the Pieta and the Saints and the statue of the Pope with a wide skirt hiding Jewish children from the Nazis. I felt so blessed for the opportunity to experience this day!

Greece

Docking at the port city of Piraeus, Greece, we drank in the panoramic view of blue, blue water and magnificent yachts, Greece being the number one producer of yachts. We boarded the tour bus which was accessible. (Our travel agent had checked.) Along the way, the orange trees impressed me and the immaculateness impressed Hank. Your first sighting of the Parthenon atop the Acropolis will take your breath away!

Acropolis stands to honor Athena, daughter of Zeus, in 447 BC. The city of Athens is a vibrant mixture of ancient and modern buildings. The incredibility of being in Egypt! The rain soaked us as we disembarked in Alexandria but the tour guide told us, “Not to worry. It always rains in Alexandria but never in Cairo”.

Egypt

As the bus rumbled across the desert for 3 hours, the anticipation of seeing the pyramids grew. Nearing Cairo, the sight of the over one hundred pyramids of Giza appearing on the desert sand was surreal. Several of them are among the largest structures ever built. Indelible impressions of Egypt; the colossal Sphinx (66 feet tall and 240 feet long, carved from a single
piece of sandstone), Hank wearing a turban, riding a camel (totally non-accessible!), women wearing burkas with only their eyes exposed.

Definitely, Egypt is the most culturally foreign country I have visited. A man has four wives but only if he is rich and willing to treat them all equally. Ninety percent of the population is Muslim and the language is Arabic. Eighty percent of the population live impoverished so being overweight is a sign of wealth.

Despite our differences, the people were friendly and very willing to assist
with the wheelchair. As the tour bus didn’t have a hydraulic lift, the driver folded my manual wheelchair and helped my husband carry me up the steps.

We easily wheeled onto a boat for a ride down the Nile. While eating lunch, we were entertained by a belly dancer and a whirling dervish. (I’ve heard Type A people called that but didn’t realize there are people who really performed this religious dance.)

One criticism I have of cruising is that it has sometimes been difficult to book a tour from the ship on a bus which accommodates wheelchairs. I once missed a tour to Paris because none of the buses had a hydraulic lift. However, we have had luck procuring an accessible van for a sometimes better, cheaper tour. If a tender is required to enter a port, chances are it won’t be feasible for a wheelchair to be transported. Plan to enjoy your day on board.

Recap


*A cruise is an excellent choice for a luxurious, highly accessible vacation.
*An accessible van provides transportation and independence.
*Most people worldwide are eager to assist in making your trip easier.
*Don’t forget your bathing suit. There are chair lifts on cruise ships.
*Do your homework. Research the accessibility of the places you want to visit
and the tours you want to take.
*Never let anyone sabotage your dreams.

Collecting Tips

I’m always looking for tips on travel. Please share your best piece of advice with me in the comment section.

Thank you.

Arline Muller.

Another great article on traveling is from the late Scott Rains. He left the world much too soon but his savvy advice to continues to help others navigate the world on wheels! http://www.audacitymagazine.com/ciao-italia/

If there’s one great piece of advice that you can give others about traveling is to share great information. Share this article and the others with your friends. In fact, have your friends sign up for our audacious newsletter too!