Thursday, November 19, 2009

Get the Inside Scoop on Oasis of the Seas


I’ll be spending two nights on Royal Caribbean’s new Oasis of the Seas over Thanksgiving weekend. The purpose of the trip is to experience and learn all I can about this fantastic ship. The challenge is to do it in only 42 hour!. I will be particularly interested in the ship’s accessibility for guests who have disabilities and also how this ship can best suit groups.

Oasis of the Seas is opening her doors to thousands of travel agents and news media over a two week period. If you watch television, it would be hard to not have heard about “the world’s largest cruise ship.” Heck, this thing is sailing with a blimp, carousel, multiple “neighborhood” areas, a zip-line and other unique features as well as RCCL’s standard feature, a rock-climbing wall, and a FlowRider which has been popular on all of Royal Caribbean’s larger ships.

Most agents will be checking cabin categories, public areas, trying the food and seeing what the shows and entertainment are like so they can best guide their clients to the kind of vacation that many people dream about. But an “access travel specialist” has extra duties. We’re recording access (or lack thereof) details. We are measuring lengths, heights and widths, and takingWe love the door handles and the automatic door opener for this restroom on Mariner of the Sea. photos of things that make some people scratch their heads. “Regular” agents aren’t typically taking photos of toilets, lips in doorways and unisex bathroom signs. They also don’t lay on the floor to take a photo of a glass of water on a ramp to show the angle of the ramp in a cabin. Then again, typical travel agents don’t get as excited as our Access Travel Team specialists when we see a door handle instead of a doorknob on a public room door! Yep, we are a bit of an anomaly in the travel industry world.

My tape measure, camera, new Flip Video, battery charger and detailed deck plan are all ready to be packed. My list of questions and specifics to check on is growing. As well as the questions and details from our office, some clients have asked that I check specific items and members of Cruise Critic responded to my offer by listing some of their questions and concerns which have been added to my list.

Do you have an access detail you’d like for me to check on? No promises that I’ll get to it, but I’ll certainly try. Just respond back as a “comment” to this blog with your question before Thanksgiving and I’ll add it to my list.




-Connie


Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Twist in the Road

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I felt like I knew Sharon and Bob Hanlon from Bob’s book, “The Twist in the Road”, before actually meeting them at our St. James UCC book club earlier this week. This book became our summer reading book after our leader, Joanne Morris, met the local author.

Bob’s quite the character… which I mean in a very positive way. He’s a storyteller, he’s funny and he does dress like a cowboy. Which is cool because I happen to think Pennsylvania needs more cowboys. Cowboys have a certain presence that lets you know they’re around and they are brave and hardworking.

The other half of the duo is Bob’s wife, Sharon. Sharon is soft-spoken and her name’s not on the book cover so you mSharon Hanlon, Joanne Morris, Bob Hanlonight think she’s shy and living in Bob’s shadow. Ohhhh, not so! Sharon is a soft-spoken cowgirl with an equally great sense of humor, just minus the apparel. She brings meaning to “speak softly and carry a big stick” except that her “stick” is a cane.

Actually, Bob and Sharon both use canes. In our office, we would refer to them as “slow walkers”- travelers who don’t use wheelchairs, but need some extra consideration of the details for the most comfortable and successful vacation. The details for slow walkers can range from some extra advice to a bit of minor tweaking to some more involved arrangements.

Bob and Sharon have had major “twists” in their road. Bob woke up one day to a day like any other. He went out for a spin in a private plane he piloted and went to bed that night with a newly acquired spinal cord injury. After an issue with the plane making it a “lawn dart” (his words), he ended up with a T12 incomplete break. Years of surgeries, rods, tenacity, hard work and faith have passed. He walks using braces and a cane, but he’s walking.

Bob meets Sharon, they marry and life is good. His experience with the health care system enables them to disagree with a doctor which saves Sharon’s life over a blocked artery. A couple of years later, Sharon goes from feeling good one day to being in the hospital with only the ability to blink a day or two later. Again, experience helped push for the right people, a gut feeling and the right tests. Sharon was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). Her new road included pit stops at ventilators and plasma exchanges. Sharon still has residual effects that are part of her new road, but she's doing great.

This is a story, but not one of victimization or depression. I usually shy away from the adjectives of “brave” and “inspirational” because I feel they get overused. But this is a brave couple with an inspirational story filled with lessons in spinal cord injury, GBS, navigating and advocating in the health care system, goal-setting, humor and faith, but without feeling inundated, bored or depressed while reading it. It’s how to get through those twists in the road and thrive in spite of them. Their being brave and inspirational isn't due to what life threw at them. Instead, it’s because of how they used their resources to meet their goals. They’ve learned things the hard way and their ambition is to share what they’ve learned to benefit others.

The Twist in the Road is a quick read and I think you’ll enjoy it. After you read it, reply to this blog with your thoughts on it.

~ Connie


P.S. The MDA telethon is this weekend. If you are interested in learning about how MDA has been involved in treatment of GBS, click here.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Aloha & Happy Anniversary, Hawaii!

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Happy 50th anniversary, Hawaii!

A lot has changed since President Dwight Eisenhower signed the “Hawaii Admission Act” in 1959. Man has walked on the moon and we have inventions such as microwave ovens, wireless TV remote controls, smoke detectors, MRIs and let’s not forget personal computers since that’s the technology helping this article to reach you!

And lots of other neat things have come about such as adaptive sports. I recently came across a website for AccesSurf Hawaii. I’ve never surfed and my idea of even snorkeling is to keep the tube doohickey’s opening above water so that I don’t have to figure out how to blow the water out of it. But hey, I don’t need to ice skate or be a gymnast to appreciate the talent and work that I watch on the Olympics.

This site intrigued me as we’ve had a few clients and their families who have been profoundly affected by adaptive sports during vacations. AccesSurf’s goal seems to be enabling people, locals and tourists, to be able to access the ocean to enjoy surfing, swimming, snorkeling and shoreline flotation despite any mental or physical disability. They currently do this on a limited budget and with the help of volunteers on Oahu on the first Saturday of every month. I know there are other places around the U.S. that do a “Day at the Beach”, but I’m not familiar with any that do it monthly.

As with any nonprofit organization, funds are always needed for current operations and for growth. The Omidyar Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation has presented a challenge. If AccesSurf can raise $25,000 by August 31, 2009, the Omidyars will match dollar-for-dollar all monies raised up to $25,000. It’s a lofty goal, but doable.

Aloha” is an amazing and beautiful Hawaiian word that means love, affection, peace and compassion. It’s also used in place of “hello” and “goodbye.” In the aloha spirit and to celebrate Hawaii’s anniversary, Connie George Travel Associates will make a $25 donation to AcceSurf Hawaii for every Hawaii cruise and escorted tour booked through our agency this month.

Visit their website at http://www.accessurfhawaii.org/ if you would like to learn more about their program or to make a direct donation. While there, be sure to click on their "Participants" page to see some fantastic photos.

Aloha!

~ Connie & the Access Travel Team

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why Not Talk Cruise .... About Accessible Seas!

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I’m very excited and am planning my Friday afternoon around a radio show!

Royal Caribbean International has been hosting a show, “Why Not Talk Cruise” on the online radio station, The VoiceAmerica™ Talk Radio Network for a few months on Friday afternoons at 2:00 EST. I’m excited because this Friday’s (7/24/09) episode is devoted to “Accessible Seas!” The show’s guest will be Jean Driscoll, a Para-Olympian and godmother to Mariner of the Seas.

I didn't get the chance to meet Ms. Driscoll, but I did get the opportunity to check Mariner of the Seas the week she was onboard for the christening. I was checking and photographing "access." I'm the odd travel agent who does things like laying on the floor to get a photo showing a very slightly sloped floor and no lip to access the accessible cabins' bathrooms. (I'm a curiosity to most other travel agents when I'm on an agent ship tour as my photo choices are a bit unique.... and I sure take a lot of bathroom shots!)

I'm anxious to hear anything new that will be announced. I bet one topic of discussion will be the world's largest cruise ship (46 of her cabins will be accessible!), Oasis of the Seas which starts sailing this fall.

You can catch the show live at http://www.modavox.com/voiceamerica/vepisode.aspx?aid=39962 . The show will be archived on that site in case you miss the live episode. If attending live, click on "Channels" at the top and then on "Why Not Talk Cruise."

Let me know what you think of the episode.

~ Connie

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Delivering an Accessible World

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By guest blogger, Andrew J. Garnett




A few months ago, I was filling up one of our Special Needs at Sea delivery vans at a gas station. A woman approached me about the logo on the side of the van and wanted to know what it meant. I told her that we deliver oxygen and mobility equipment to cruises, hotels and airports around the world. The woman was amazed; she did not know that a service like this even existed. As it turned out, her mother had poor health. She said to me, “do you mean you can help mom get back out in the world?

Since our company’s inception, we have provided services like oxygen, wheelchairs, scooters, power chairs, walkers and other specialty equipment to thousands of individuals so that (1) travel can be a reality and (2) travel experiences would be more enjoyable and comfortable.

Without knowing about companies like Special Needs at Sea, individuals who are disabled and slow walkers (people who require assistance walking with speed or distance but do not consider themselves disabled) are often daunted by travel. We have eliminated the hassle caused by lugging devices on planes or cars. We have eased the minds of people worried that their scooters or other mobility equipment will come off airplanes broken or damaged. Our specialty equipment is waiting in cruisers staterooms, at the hotels or wherever the individual needs it.

We also make travel a reality. Disabled travelers and slow walkers often believe that their only option is staying at home and that traveling is no longer an option. We have made travel possible for cancer survivors, individuals with hip replacements and individuals who have been prescribed oxygen. Plus, with families now living all around the world, we have made it possible for everyone to enjoy weddings, reunions, meetings and religious gatherings.

Similar to that woman I met at the gas station, our goal is to make sure family and friends with special needs are safe, healthy and able to enjoy life. Special Needs at Sea delivers an accessible world.



Andrew J. Garnett, President/CEO
Special Needs Group





P.S. For examples of equipment available for rent, visit our WheelchairCruising's Equipment Rental page. Connie George Travel Associates is happy to assist you with renting equipment which can make your cruise more enjoyable and comfortable.



For further information regarding Special Needs Group / Special Needs at Sea, visit http://www.specialneedsgroup.com/ .

Monday, June 22, 2009

Get Your Free Copy!

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The much awaited third edition of Candy Harrington's "Barrier Free Travel: A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers" is hitting the streets and I predict it to be even popular than her past books! Candy is known for her honesty, digging out the details, pulling no punches and citing resources. She also includes various people's experiences which breaks up the book into a more "fun" read than a dry resource.

To celebrate the book, Candy is giving away some free autographed copies of her new book. Read about how you can get your free copy at http://budurl.com/mz7b.

~ Connie and the Access Travel Team

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Flying Fish & Rolling Wheels

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The Alaska cruise season is in full swing with many of the ships sailing from the Seattle. With so many exciting places to visit in this friendly city, it’s a great place to stay for a few nights before your cruise.

One unique attraction, Pike Place Fish Market, has quite the fan club and there’s a recipe to their success. They are one part Cirque du Soleil with the way they entertain their customers. Add in a piece of your favorite wacky teacher because they know their seafood and are happy to teach you about your dinner. Throw in a pinch of that “goofy big brother” because of their way of having fun, but also being a part of the community. Mix all of these ingredients and you find why Pike Place Fish Market has become an “experience” which has also made it into one of Seattle’s biggest tourist attractions as well as everyone’s favorite place to buy seafood.

I’ve visited their store twice when I’ve been in Seattle, dragging my teenage sons with me the second time a few years ago. I say “dragging” because, well, sightseeing in a marketplace wasn’t rating as high as the Underground that they had just toured. However, flying fish and the largest crab legs they’ve ever seen in their life gave my sons an experience that they still talk about!

The guys at Pike Place Fish know the essence of “community.” They interact with their guests (customers) and are active with local events. And in this time when businesses are learning about “social network marketing”; they’ve learned it, embraced it and have marked their presence.

Their website is fun and which matches the personality of the business, complete with a webcam, photos, online store and blog. They tweet on Twitter and they have the most fun Facebook group I’ve come across.

My enthusiasm gained a lot of momentum over that Facebook group. Every picture exudes fun whether it’s them interacting with the famous Globetrotters or the non-celebrities who stop by. That is how it came about that I called Anders at Pike Place Fish Market. I explained that my agency’s specialty of accessible cruise vacations for slow walkers and wheelchair users represents about 60% of our business, and that our http://www.wheelchaircruising.com/ website houses photos showing accessibility of cruise ships and ports. Talk about accommodating! Anders sent some wonderful photos showing that same fun and enthusiasm with a couple of customers that were happy to assist with the project. While we have some attractions and cruise lines which have been pretty good at supplying photos, there are even more which aren’t so accommodating. But in the same exciting spirit that they do everything else, Pike Place sent photos.

If you get to visit Seattle, visit the marketplace. But if you aren’t lucky enough to see them in person, you can get to know them further and order from them online at their website.



-Connie & the Access Travel Team

P.S. Get free smoked salmon from Pike Place Fish Market- Book an Alaska cruise for 2009 or 2010 through our office between 6/17/09 - 7/31/09. Send an email to Connie with the header "Flying fish blog" and, in the email include the names of the travelers and the name of our agent who is working with you. Your salmon will be sent ot you upon return of your trip.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cruising Alaska (part 2) – Don’t Get Left Out in the Cold!

Last week’s blog explained that we will have a drastic reduction in cruise beds sailing in Alaska in 2010 which is mostly due to the excessive taxes and port-related fees that Alaska’s state and local governments charge on cruisers. At least five cruises lines have adjusted ships and itineraries which will bring down the number of passengers able to cruise in Alaska by at least 25%.

With such a large impact one of the cruise industry’s most popular destinations, wise consumers will need to know how this will affect you.

Cruise prices, like most prices, are based on the laws of supply and demand. Cruise lines want to earn as much money as they can on their cabins. When the demand is low and cabins are not selling, we see lower rates and promotions. When the cabins are filling, prices increase.

The lower “supply” in Alaska next year will cause a higher demand for those beds and, therefore, higher prices. My advice is to book early! As cabins fill and prices increase, your cruise rate will be protected from increase. In the less likely event that your ship doesn’t fill and the cruise line offers a promotion, there’s a good chance that you will qualify for a reduction. No guarantees, but the majority of cruise rate promotions are applicable to previously booked reservations.

The cruise lines’ reductions also means less choices of ships, itineraries, cabin location and cabin type so don’t risk waiting too long. If your heart is set on something specific, the key to getting what best fits your interests is to book early.

I’m estimating that the reduction in “beds” due to ship deployment and itinerary juggling is going to reduce the number of wheelchair accessible cabins by about 20%. That’s one fifth less accessible cabins in a market that offers the most accessible ports. My fear is that this change for next year is going to most affect the travelers who have disabilities requiring the necessity to have one of these coveted cabins. Booking early is particularly important for travelers needing accessible accommodations.

Most of the cruise lines already have their schedules set for their 2010 Alaska sailings. While the brochures won’t be out for a while, our travel consultants do have access to all of the information available. We’re ready to book you and your friends, your family or your group. We have the keys to making a great vacation and you now have the key to what it takes to get your cabin choice at the best rate.
Don't procrastinate. Book early!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Cruising Alaska (part 1) - Are We Tourists or Cash Cows?

Many Alaskans understandably experience mixed emotions regarding cruise passengers which is understandable. The scales weigh between needing income from tourism versus not wanting tourism to destroy the environment.

But Alaska’s politicians use cruise passengers as a cash cow for the state. Taxes and port-related fees are tremendously higher in Alaska than in most other areas. For instance, I compared two ships, each sailing to four ports in mid-August. Each had minimum balcony rates with just about the same cruise base rate. The taxes and port related fees for Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Spirit in Alaska came to $318.45 whereas the same line’s Carnival Valor in the Caribbean had fees and taxes of $228.87. I found that the added costs on the Alaska cruise represented about 25% of a traveler’s price while those added costs on the Caribbean cruise were 17% of the total price. Obviously on a lower priced cabin such as an inside, the percentages going toward taxes and port related costs would be much higher.

Included in these inflated costs of cruising in Alaska is a $50 “head tax” known as the “Cruise Ship Initiative” that was barely voted in during 2006 to start with the 2007 sailing season. Also included in this “initiative” is a requirement that cruise lines must pay one third of all onboard gambling proceeds to the state of Alaska. As alcohol and gambling represent the two largest shipboard incomes, this is a huge blow to the cruise lines’ pockets which either needs to be made up in revenue elsewhere or as lower earnings when sailing in Alaska.

In a bad economy, the law of supply and demand has translated into too many cabins still available in this year’s Alaska season for the cruise lines to be comfortable. Therefore promotions roll out that lower prices on whatever sailings aren’t filling adequately. The providers of the accommodations, food and entertainment--- the cruise lines--- bite the bullet and have to lower their prices although the state of Alaska still gets their same income per passenger.

A combination of the economy and the cost of doing business in Alaska were the biggest motivators in Royal Caribbean announcing that they are going to deploy one less ship in Alaska in 2010. Immediately following this announcement, ABC Alaska News reported, “Analysts predict $55 million in lost revenue, 42,000 less visitors to Alaska, and the loss of 600 full time jobs.”

Royal Caribbean’s statement was soon followed by similar announcements by Holland America, Princess Cruises, Carnival Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Line.

The state of Alaska will experience drastically lower revenue from cruise passengers next year. But perhaps their environment will be better off.

Stay tuned for a future blog on how this affects everyone wanting to cruise to Alaska whether you are a travelers who has a disability or not.

By the way, I meant no disrespect to cows in the writing of this blog. I lived on a dairy farm as a young child. We had Holsteins. They’re cute in a big, dumb kinda way. They don’t understand taxes. But I’m not crazy about bulls. Maybe some day I’ll tell you about Big Jack.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Social Network Butterflies

I can remember when my socks were knocked off the first time I sent a piece of paper through a fax machine and the person on the other end of my phone call told me they received it. Immediately! Wow!! Little did I know what technology was going to bring to my door over the next couple of decades.

Now computer technology brings our office to you. Right now you’re in your home or office (or perhaps even in a Starbucks!) reading what I’m typing from Pennsylvania. Amazing! Because of the internet we have clients in the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Jordan which would not have been feasible 20 years ago.

Now our agency is moving ahead in ways to continue to build a travel community for those of you who want to participate. We are working on ways to bring news to you quickly and to be in touch as often as you like... at your convenience and on your terms.

For starters, we’re Twittering now! Well, actually we’re technically “tweeting” on Twitter. Which I think makes us Twitterers. Sandy tweets on behalf of our newer division, Chicks at Sea, which is devoted to women’s cruise and tour groups. Sandy is posting travel tips, news and items of interest regarding women travelers of all ages and with all kinds of interests. You can sign up to follow Sandy at @ChicksAtSea or go to http://twitter.com/ChicksAtSea.

I will be tweeting about accessible travel and loosely connected information. Our last few tweets included writing about an accessible hotel chain, an announcement that the North Pole reached by a wheeler and that one of the major airlines moved their India call center back to the U.S. You can sign up to see my tweets @WCCruising or by visiting http://twitter.com/WCCruising.

If you are not familiar with Twitter, it’s free and takes only a few minutes to sign up. There’s no spamming or loading up your email. “Tweets” that people write are maxed at 140 characters so these are short little notices, not volumes of reading. You visit your Twitter account to read the tweets of anyone whom you have signed up to “follow.” I am amazed at the amount of information I can quickly see in a few short minutes on my Twitter account.

Stay tuned because our next blog will be to tell you more about the online community on which you can find us.


Connie & the Access Travel Team

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Oops", My Mistake is Your Gain



I realized this morning that I forgot to cancel a group that didn’t materialize. It's an October '09 group aboard Liberty of the Seas. My first inclination was to call the cruise line and cancel the cabins as I don’t like to keep "space" blocked that we’re not using.

However, in comparing rates, I see that the few cabins we’re holding for balconies and oceanview are much lower priced on our contract than what is currently offered to the general public.

Normally I wouldn’t use our blog to advertise a sale price, but rather than cancel these immediately, I decided to offer to our clients an "Oops!" sale. Since it’s such a great, but very short-term sale on a very accessible ship and because I found out that there are a lot of accessible cabins still available, I decided I would make an exception to what we normally do with our blog. So as the kids say these days, "My bad!" and maybe this will benefit you.

Liberty of the Seas is a "Freedom-class" Royal Caribbean ship. She’s amazing. Vicki and I escorted Candy Harrington’s Emerging Horizons’ 10th Birthday cruise group on her in 2007. Members of our group had lots of fun on her. We had people using the lift for the pool, climbing the rock wall with assistance, taking part in our miniature golf tournament, seeing the amazing Ice Capades-like show along with the other shows and we had a great time being pampered and fed. You can see us having fun and some of the ship’s accessibility from the photos on
at this link

The itinerary will be Western Caribbean. Labadee is a tender port with which our clients have had remarkable success on the tendering. I don’t think we’ve had more than two clients who couldn’t tender there because of sea conditions. Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Cozumel, Mexico both offer options for "wheelers" which one of our Access Travel Team specialists would be happy to discuss with you. Grand Cayman can be a bit tougher. It’s a tender port and the sea tends to have a bit of "attitude" a bit more often, but we have had clients tender and sight see or wander there.

If you are interested in sailing on this Liberty of the Seas on 10/17-24/09, we will need a $500 per cabin deposit by Thursday, April 23. After that, our group will automatically cancel.

The following rates are per person based on double occupancy, do not include $76.59 tax and are subject to availability. "Current rates" above were current as of the morning of 4/15.

Royal Caribbean International’s Liberty of the Seas
October 17 – 24, 2009
Sails from Miami to: Labadee, Jamaica, Grand Cayman & Cozumel

Balcony - current rate $1240 – OUR RATE $920 (only 3 cabins at this rate)
Oceanview - current rate $1099 – OUR RATE $799 (only 1 cabin at this rate)
Promenade view - current rate - $759
Inside, higher category - current rate - $689

If any family or group can pull together reservations for at least five cabins that sail, we can reimburse you (the group leader) $530 toward the cost of your cruise.
For more information, call 610-532-0989 or email.


-Connie & the Access Travel Team

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Packing: If it's not on the list, don't put it in the bag!

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Lists--- the backbone of many a busy person! In my case, I need them to stay organized and focused. Packing for a trip is just one of many areas in which I live by a list.

Creating a list ahead of time gives you a plan to follow rather than haphazardly throwing items in a pile to be packed. It helps to ensure that you remember everything necessary. Otherwise, part of your vacation will be spent wasting time buying overpriced replacements for what you forgot. Not fun!

An issue I fight myself on is not filling any empty space I have in my luggage once everything on the list is packed. I hear it’s a common problem with many travelers. I’m going to promise myself here and now to try harder to fight the urge to fill that space. If it’s not on the list, it does not go in the bags! Besides, leaving a bit empty gives you a lighter load to your destination and some space for souvenirs on the way home!

Break the list down by what bag into which your items will be placed. This will keep you more organized so that you won’t later be ransacking through your bags to look for wayward objects.

Once you’re finished packing, put your list in your carry-on bag. If your luggage gets lost during the trip, filing a claim for what is missing will take less time and the claim will be more precise.

After your trip, evaluate your list. Add anything you wish had been on it and remove what wasn’t necessary. Now you have a list from which to work for future trips rather than your having to reinvent the proverbial wheel each time!

One of our wonderful clients shared her packing list form with us in case it could be of help to others. You are welcome to download a free copy of the form which can be found in the "Travel Tools" section of http://www.wheelchaircruising.com./

Packing may never be the most fun activity, but you can keep it from being an overwhelming chore when you’re already busy trying to tie up lose ends at work and home so you can get going on your trip!

~ Connie & your Access Travel Team


P.S. If your sense of humor is a bit on the Abbott and Costello side, you might enjoy getting a video lesson on packing by watching "Mr. Bean Packing" at http://www.metacafe.com/watch/149068/mr_bean_packing/ .
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Squeaky Wheel

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As the saying goes, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”  A client entered her cabin and liked what she saw - until she wanted to go onto the balcony. As you can see, both sides of the balcony door frame were ramped, but with one ramp clearly being too high.


“Florence” didn’t want to lose out on the balcony she paid for and looked forward to. She knew she needed to speak up. She first took digital photos which she could show to the ship’s Purser Desk. If the cruise line didn’t cooperate, we would have proof of the issue of an unusable balcony to bring to their customer service and access departments. If they did cooperate, she would still be able to show us the problem that had been in her cabin so we could follow up to be sure this was not a problem with the balconies in the rest of the ship’s accessible cabins. 


Then she spoke up. Knowing her for years, I’m sure she was kind, gentle--- and appropriately adamant. As you can see below, the balcony access was quickly fixed.


Florence came home happy with her vacation and, as always, thinking about the next cruise.  She also came home with these very helpful photos! Being very familiar with the cruise line and particular ship, I suspect that the problem with this accessible balcony was unique.  I imagine a ramp broke or was “borrowed” for another spot on the ship and a replacement ramp was made and brought in, but without attention to what most of us would claim to either be common sense or much thought.  We’ll follow up with the line to be sure it’s not a problem in other cabins.

So how do you deal with a problem you find on a ship? 

· Be clear about your complaint and what you expect.  Is there a problem you feel the ship has the capability of quickly resolving?  Or do you need to have a larger problem documented for a later complaint?

· Decide who you need to speak with.  If it’s a small cabin issue, your cabin steward may be able to assist you.  If your cabin steward can’t help or the problem does not involve your cabin, go to the Purser or Guest Relations Desk.  With few exceptions such as medical or shore excursions, Guest Relations is your next stop.  Ask to speak with the manager if necessary.  A few of the “department heads” are the Chief Housekeeper for cabins, Hotel Manager for most ship public areas and the Maitre ‘d for the restaurant if the Guest Relations staff cannot assist you sufficiently.

· Be kind and respectful. Explain the problem and what needs to be done for a resolution. Be sure to get the name and position of the person you speak with.

· If a follow-up letter is required after the cruise, explain the complaint, who whom you spoke to on the ship and what resolution you hope for. If you booked directly with the cruise line, send the letter to the appropriate department for the complaint. If you booked through a travel agency, forward the letter to the agency and ask that they follow up with the line. An accompanying letter from an agency and their relationship with the line may help obtain a better resolution.

It’s better to be a “squeaky wheel” than to unnecessarily compromise on your vacation or to ignore something that needs to be fixed for the next vacationer. Happy cruising!


- Connie & your Access Travel Team

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cruising Against Cancer

Sometimes it seems there’s a ribbon color for every conceivable cause. One of the most well known is the pink ribbon representing breast cancer. Did you know that a lavender ribbon stands for all cancers?

Like many families, ours has been touched by cancer. I’m probably one of the last people that a lot of folks would picture having a tattoo. Yet, last year I had a lavender ribbon tattooed above my ankle as a tribute to family and friends who have been touched by this horrible disease.

Healing happens in parts. My tattoo was a part of my healing. Now I’ve moved on to the next part which is an urge to be proactive and to use my skills to help others in some way. I’m using my training and experience as a travel consultant to create a group cruise for all participants to enjoy while it serves as a fundraiser to help fight cancer.

Everyone is welcome to join us! Our cruise is set for October 25- a Mexican Riviera cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas. "Mariner" is a beautiful ship, a whimsical and fun place to spend a week's vacation. She’s a perfect choice for our first Cruising Against Cancer fundraiser. A donation of $100 per cabin will be sent to the American Cancer Society (ACS). ACS raises money for research, provides cancer education and helps individuals diagnosed with cancer and their families.

We purposely picked an accessible ship. It’s one I’ve sailed on myself. We have a limited number of accessible cabins for wheelchair users and those needing adapted bathrooms. Reservations will be available to be made on Friday, February 20. However, we are beginning to take waitlists today. Those who are waitlisted will have priority reservations on Friday before new inquiries.

More information is available at Cruising Against Cancer. I hope you’ll join me. Let’s make a difference... an eventual future without cancer. And let’s have fun doing it. I’m looking forward to cruising with you!

-Connie

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Plan and Just Do It!

Written by guest blogger, Eunice Spooner


I remember my first "almost cruise" oh so well. It was spring in Maine, 2003 when I was notified that my college was sponsoring a cruise to Norway. I was delighted until I discovered it was not wheelchair accessible. Not to be discouraged, I caught the travel bug anyway and was convinced there must be a way to travel again. After all, for the past 20 years as a quadriplegic I had been helping my three sons finish high school, graduate from top-rated colleges, marry and reward me with five grandchildren. Wasn’t it time for me to do something for myself?

I searched for wheelchair travel and after some planning I was off on a cross-country flight to Vancouver for a 7-day Alaskan cruise with a caregiver. The cruise was fantastic with beautiful glaciers, a train ride to Whitehorse, and a catamaran ride to see humpbacks! I did, however, learn to check the airline cargo area ahead of time and to arrive at the departure city a day in advance.

I was "hooked" and six months later in 2004 I was again headed cross-country to San Diego for a 15-day cruise through the Panama Canal to Miami with stops along the way. While planning ahead of time, which is so important, I found there was an accessible van in Costa Rica that provided options on what highlights to see.

Hawaii was the destination for 2005 with a 15-day cruise from Los Angeles. On this cruise I learned to reconfirm one’s excursion reservations. The first port had coaches but the cruise line overlooked the fact that I needed one with a lift. It only happened once on that cruise as the cruise line had learned a lesson, too.

Winter in Maine may be beautiful, but a Caribbean break is certainly nice. In 2006 I took two cruises with my family to the western Caribbean. I had a hard time finding wheelchair accessible tours on the internet but I did find something even better – Vicki at Connie George Travel. I could hardly believe I had found such a goldmine of experience! I make a suggestion of a place to go and ended up with a number of options from which to choose. Planning a cruise had never been so easy and so much fun!

In 2007 I cruised from San Juan to Manaus, Brazil and back in 24 days, stopping at 10 ports. This was a back-to-back cruise (booking two cruises to make for one longer vacation) resulting in eight of the ports being visited twice. There was so much to do that repeat ports were no problem!
In 2008 I was another decade older and passed the 26 year mark of wheeling. Four cruises with family included the Caribbean and a cruisetour of Alaska. We also fit in a ten day trip to Disney World which made one of my sons and granddaughters very happy!

Advanced booking, I discovered, has added benefits as I plan for 2009 and 2010. I have learned over the years that keeping up-to-date packing lists are valuable, but the most valuable asset is an excellent travel agent - Vicki!


Eunice Spooner caught the “travel bug” as a student of Colby College and became a world traveler. Despite a life-changing auto accident at the age of 44, Eunice finished earning two Master’s Degrees, raised her sons and was busy as a teacher. Retired and with less responsibilities now, she keeps busy with again exploring the world.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

More Power to Ya

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The panic call came Friday night. “We’re 70 miles from home and we forgot my husband’s power cord for his power chair.”

Our clients (we’ll call them Mary and Al) were overnighting in Baltimore and then flying to Houston Hobby Airport the next morning where they were going to overnight again before transferring to the port of Galveston to board Voyager of the Seas on Sunday. The added overnight stay in Texas before the cruise buys time (thankfully).

What are the options? Should they have someone break into their house to get the power cord and have it overnighted to the Houston hotel? Should they go out at night in an unknown city to a medical supply company if there’s even one open on a Friday night? Or do they risk waiting until they get settled in Houston and try to get to a medical supply company that’s open on a Saturday? Perhaps we should see if a medical equipment rental company can deliver one to the ship?

How long will Al’s power chair operate without a charge?

Granted, some of the options are better than others. Having someone break into my home wouldn’t be top on my list. But at that time, we’re considering options. I call the hotel which gives me the name and phone number of a local medical supply company. They don’t answer their phone. I use the hotel’s zip code along with “medical equipment rental” to search on the internet for additional companies.

Mike answers at the fifth company I call, Northshore Medical Supply. I explain to him that Al needs a two-prong power cord for his Invacare power chair and that these are clients who will be traveling through Houston on their way to a cruise.

Mike explains that the power cord needed for this and many (but not all) newer scooters and power chairs are the same power cords sold in office supply stores for tower “desktop” computers.

He sounds very familiar with power cords, but 30 years of often misquoted information tends to make me a bit skittish so I ask about their Saturday hours and location “just in case,” but Mike assures me that it will be much closer and therefore a lower taxi cost if Mary runs out to the closest office supply store once they get settled at their hotel.

I call the client back and relay the good news about how the cord is a much more available item than many of us realize. And I give her the “back-up plan” which is to arm her with Northshore’s telephone number, address and Saturday hours. I think they are happy that our Access Travel Team has a specialist monitor messages during “off times” when we have clients traveling.

I was happy to call Mike yesterday to thank him. Word got back to us that the clients obtained a power cord and were ready to have an incredible week of pampering.

If you are ever in need of buying or renting equipment in Houston or you need equipment repaired, I’d suggest contacting
Northshore Medical Supply at northshoremedicalsupply@gmail.com or 713-451-4462. They seem like a service-oriented family business. Oh yeah- they are open until 4pm on Saturdays and they’re about 15 miles from Hobby Airport.

~ Connie
and the Access Travel Team

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Accessible Eastern Canada Cruise Review

By Marty Boroff


This was our first cruise with Royal Caribbean and the Explorer of the Seas. Our 10 day cruise left from Cape Liberty in northern New Jersey. At the Cape Liberty terminal we were quickly taken care of and then shuttled by bus to the ship. The reverse disembarking process was just as swift.

We boarded in time to enjoy lunch at the Windjammer CafĂ©. The Explorer of the Seas would sail with 3,068 passengers. Navigating the ship wasn’t much different than our previous experience on the Golden Princess. When using the elevators, grab the first available elevator no matter which direction it is going. At meal times, they are most often filled going in the direction of the dining rooms.

Our room was compact but a little larger than most to accommodate the wheelchair. I was very surprised that there were no dressers. Our stateroom attendant did a bang up job the whole trip. We were located by the aft elevators where I could detect the vibration from the engines when lying in bed.

The decks of the ship were very spacious and well maintained. I had no difficulty pushing my wife in her wheelchair. There were no curbs or lips to negotiate. Activities were varied and well planned. I most enjoyed the bingo games after I had won $132. The cruise director did a great job at all of the variety shows. The singers and dancers were delightful as well as the Ice Skaters. We also attended the adult Quest game which came highly recommended.

Our first port was Sydney, Nova Scotia. An accessible ride to the Alexander Bell Museum in Baddeck was arranged as a private tour. In hindsight, I would recommend the “Spirit Of The Fiddle” held at the terminal dock. The area is completely accessible as is the small shopping area. If you are into scenery, the Bell museum is a 45 mile scenic drive. The Bell complex houses the most extensive collection of Bell artifacts in the world. There is a family bathroom located on the second floor. All floors are accessed by gradual ascending or descending ramps.

Our second port was Charlottetown, PEI. We used a private tour company called Pat and the Elephant. We covered most of the island in the four hour tour. The town is small and scenic. The countryside was flat with well manicured farms.

Our third location was cruising on the Saguenay River about 5:00 P.M. If you attend the early seating for dinner, you will be limited on your viewing of the picturesque country.


Quebec City, our third docked port was viewed for an accessible motor coach. This guided 3 ½ hour tour covers just about everything there is to see. However, wheelchair visitors may not leave the bus in the old city as there are not level places where they can safely operate the lift. Ambulatory people may walk around the Old City area for about 45 minutes.

Our last port was Halifax, Nova Scotia. Our tour was arranged through RCCL. It was conducted by a Greyline guide. The vehicle was a local handicapped ramped taxi. We visited the Maritime Museum, drove around the city view the Citadel and Victorian Gardens.


Our guest blogger is Marty Boroff. Marty enjoys cruising with his bride of 42 years, Ina. They live in a suburb of Chicago with their daughter and four Siamese cats. Thanks, Marty!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Gone to the Dogs

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By Vicki Thorp


In 2000, I fell in love and began an incredible experience. I co-raised a service dog, Elway II, for a nonprofit organization to assist someone in a wheelchair. It was the beginning of a series of love affairs with these adorable, talented and mischievous pups (often Golden or Labrador Retrievers).

While volunteering at Canine Partners of the Rockies (http://www.caninepartnersoftherockies.org/), I met many people with disabilities who didn’t know much about traveling in a wheelchair. This inspired me to choose a new full-time niche within the travel agency industry. Nowadays, I’m a pup sitter rather than a raiser, and I volunteer at various nonprofit events and fundraisers. Elway - In loving memory (2000 - 2008)

These pups have taught me a great deal. Many have gone on to partner with their special person and some have retired or passed away. Dogs can often be found in my office on top of a wheelchair-accessible cruise ship’s deck plan, tethered under my desk, or crated when they are very young. Occasionally the youngsters will whine or bark while I’m on the phone (embarrassing!!!) until they learn their “quiet” skills. The older dogs may be keeping my feet warm on cold winter days in Denver. Often, there’s more hair in my office than on my head.

Balancing work, home and volunteering can be a challenge. People ask how you can train and then give them up. It’s a 24-hour job but full of rewards. Watching a pup graduate with his partner is a terrific high. There are tears of farewell but thrills of success when we see what these dogs mean to their partners – love; companionship; more social interaction with people; physical jobs of retrieving, pulling, opening, carrying a grocery bag, or alerting; independence to pursue college and jobs; and so much more. So….we give them up gladly and hopefully see them make a tremendous difference in a special life. As a fellow raiser once said, we then cry, drink a bottle of wine, and start over with a new pup. A few dogs don’t complete the program for medical, training, or temperament reasons. Many of those get a new career as a therapy, drug enforcement, or search and rescue dog.

Some of these service dogs go on cruises with their partners – involving early planning and arrangements. Stay tuned for an article in the works about traveling with a service dog.


Vicki Thorp is an Access Travel Team Specialist with Connie George Travel Associates / www.WheelchairCruising.com.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Take Time to be an Armchair Traveler

I’ve never been to Albuquerque, but it’s a on my "list" of places I’d like to visit.

I love to read, but those dozen or more travel trade magazines that arrive at my door each month limit my time to read for fun. That explains the boxes of unread books that I cling to because I’m going to "get to them someday" (rather similar to the clothes we keep because we’re going to fit in them again someday.) Thankfully I belong to a monthly book club with people who are very understanding that, with my schedule, I don’t always get to read all of the book. At the moment I’m struggling with time and attention issues to get through "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" for the club. With all due respect to Mr. Twain, this isn’t doing it for me.

I’m digressing. Going through some of my mail last night, I saw the newest edition of "Emerging Horizons – Accessible Travel News" (www.emerginghorizons.com) which recently arrived. I noticed there was an article about Albuquerque. Since we mostly work with accessible cruise vacations, I could read this article about landlocked Albuquerque selfishly. No note-taking whether by pen or mentally. No thoughts of which client to keep in mind as I read. Just a chance to read about a place for fun. I loved it!

It was only a two-page article but the author, Candy Harrington, covered Old Town, museums which sound like fun, shopping, local culture, ballooning and more. Hot air ballooning is huge in Albuquerque. Unfortunately, this gal likes her feet planted firmly on the ground. I "don’t do heights." I’m okay in planes so apparently my comfort zone also includes my backside being firmly planted into the seat of large vehicles. I love the idea of ballooning; I just don’t think I’d relax enough to enjoy it if you could get me in the basket to begin with. (Do you think the term "basket case" came from someone who was acrophobic being forced into the gondola/basket of a hot air balloon?)

The article mentions that the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum has a balloon simulator. How neat is that!? It has a giant flight screen and you can change your altitude as you control the gas. Candy says you feel like you’re soaring along. The simulator has roll-on access so it’s wheelchair accessible! If the idea of hot air ballooning excites you, but you’re unable to climb into the gondola or are afraid of being lifted off the ground, here’s a chance to get a feel of what the real experience would be like.

For me, it was nice to do something I’d not done in a very long time- relax and read about a place for fun. Of course, I think everyone should go on vacations. I wouldn’t have chosen a career as a travel consultant if I didn’t, right? But whether it’s to read about a place you don’t think you’ll get to or to read about a place you want to get to "someday" or it’s to read to learn more about a spot you’re set to visit--- treat yourself to some down time to relax and dream about a part of the world outside your door.