Carrieanna recently returned from her very first cruise. It will not be her last!
She and her Aunt Vicki (a cruise veteran) took a seven-day trip to Alaska (the Alaska Tracy Arm Fjord Cruise) on the Celebrity Solstice. Along the way they stopped at Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, as well as spending one evening at the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC.
The cruise included MS educational programs, accessible shore excursions and, of course, some amazing experiences — not to mention many photo opportunities!
I asked Carrieanna a few questions about her experience.
How did you find out about the trip?
“Either through the MS Focus magazine, or an MS Foundation flyer that I received in the mail.”
What concerns or expectations did you have prior to the cruise?
“I had no idea what to expect other than being on a boat for a week with a lot of people that I don’t know, and being wary of claustrophobia and too many people. I expected good food and good service like at a really nice hotel. All I could do was hope that the accessibility accommodations would be enough to make the trip enjoyable.”
And were they?
“Yes, and beyond. The scooter was there in the room when I got there, charged and ready to go. When it wouldn’t hold a charge after a couple of days, I went to the guest relations desk and they provided me with a scooter that worked.”
[Although she took her foldable travel wheelchair for use on land, Carrieanna rented a scooter from Special Needs At Sea so she had motorized wheels while on the ship.]
How were your [accessible] accommodations?
“The room was big enough for the scooter, the bathroom was big enough for the scooter. Getting in and out of the room was even easier than I had anticipated. ”
She also mentioned the ease in entering the room: The door opened automatically when she inserted the key, and closed itself after she was inside the room.
The shower was walk-in with curtain and a drop-down bench seat, and had both a stationary and a hand-held shower head. The bathroom was well-equipped with grab bars around the toilet and shower.
The vanity, table and drawers were all at wheelchair-reachable height. The armoire was too high for Carrieanna to use, so Vicki assisted her in hanging items.
As a first-time cruiser, Carrieanna gave herself many clothing options when packing, because she didn’t know what to expect regarding temperature. (As it turned out, Ketchikan was experiencing a heat wave when she was there, and she was glad to have packed layers so she wouldn’t get overheated.)
And Vicki had advised her to pack options because “you never know” what you’ll want to have!
Carrieanna’s luggage was tagged and dropped off with Celebrity representatives after baggage claim (in Seattle), and it was in her room before she went to dinner the first night.
I asked Vicki to share some of her thoughts about the cruise. Here’s what she had to say, in no particular order:
- Renting or taking your own power chair/scooter is a must on a ship. The ship is HUGE and would wear out the strongest of arms in a manual chair.
- Almost without exception the crew in the restaurants were great about helping Carrieanna transfer to a dining room chair and taking her power scooter out of the way. They would then bring it back to her when our meal was over. They didn’t make a big deal about it. Just took care of it.
- There was ALWAYS crew available to help Carrieanna on and off the ship. The ramps were most often very steep and they would very carefully get her on and off. We always used her manual chair when we got off the ship.
- It is important to do your homework about the many shore excursions that are available. The cruise line has an office specifically for passengers with special needs and they were helpful with information about accessible excursions.
- I would say to not be put off with their information that made it sound like there would not be help available to load the wheelchair on the buses that take you to your excursion destination. Without exception, the bus drivers took care of loading Carrieanna’s chair. No fuss about it, they just took care of it.
- I was VERY impressed with how very considerate and helpful all of the excursion people were. When we went whale watching, a … good-looking, young man helped Carrieanna manage the ramp onto the boat and made sure she knew to wait for him at the end of the trip and he would help her off. He was great.
- When Carrieanna experienced difficulty with her legs when trying to board the bus to the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, they found us a bus with a lift and then sent a special bus to pick us up after our tour. Our excursion experiences were grand. I would absolutely urge people to take advantage of the excursions.
- The MS Foundation did a marvelous job with their on-board programs during the cruise. … I learned so much. The MDs were personable and seemed very knowledgeable.
- Our suite was wonderful. The bathroom was very well equipped for Carrrieanna’s needs but also was great for me. Our suite was plenty large enough for her to get around without running into things. I think it would be important to be sure and get an accessible suite. A normal suite would probably not work.
“One other thing. Having room service bring our breakfast to our suite was a big help for Carrieanna. It doesn’t cost anything and helped her start her day a little easier.”
“Also, it was really fun to get dressed up for the two formal evenings. She really seemed to love that. I would encourage anyone going on a cruise to start hitting their favorite thrift stores and looking for formal evening wear for the trip. It’s the type of clothing that many of us would not use other than on a cruise, so no sense spending a fortune on the clothes.”
“Those are the highlights I can think of. … I had a really awesome time and I think Carrieanna did too!”
I had one final question for Carrieanna:
Would you go on another cruise?
(In fact, Carrieanna recently gave a post-trip presentation at MSQLP – a Monterey MS support group – and her enthusiasm about the cruise has inspired two other ladies with MS to book a cruise in 2014!)
Here are a few photos of the trip highlights.
(Photos by Carrieanna Hess.)