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

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 (, 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 /

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" ( 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.