A few months ago I wrote about Carrieanna’s first cruise experience – a seven-day trip to Alaska aboard the Celebrity Solstice. (You can read about it here.)
As I mentioned in that post, it was such a great experience that she was eager to cruise again. So when the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation offered a January 2014 Eastern Caribbean Cruise on Celebrity Reflection, she enthusiastically asked me to accompany her and, of course, I said “Yes!”
Cruising was a very different travel experience for me. I generally like to get out and walk, exploring and taking many photos. Naturally, being at sea meant my walking and exploring options were somewhat limited – although walking around the top deck of the ship was good exercise and offered a great view of the Atlantic Ocean!
I had done my homework and did some walking and exploring during shore excursions in St. Thomas and St. Martin. I’ll write more about the ports of call in a future post.
First, though, I want to talk about accessibility, the great educational features presented by the MS Foundation, and the professionals who helped make this trip such a success for Carrieanna and me.
Here is a short list of some of the features we utilized:
We had an accessible cabin onboard the ship. The door opened automatically, the entire suite (including bathroom area) was large enough to accommodate the scooter, and there was a ramp so that Carrieanna could enjoy the view from the balcony.
As before, Carrieanna rented a power scooter from Special Needs at Sea. The scooter gave her easy mobility everywhere on the ship. Since the hallways and many of the common areas are carpeted, pushing (or self-propelling) a manual wheelchair would have been work.
Because it’s sometimes difficult for Carrieanna to get up stairs, we found that hiring Super Shuttle, with its wheelchair lift, was very helpful in getting from the ship to our post-cruise hotel and, a few days later, back to the airport.
In addition, we chose wheelchair-accessible shore excursions at all three ports of call: San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; and St. Martin. Because all of these excursions required using a bus, we worked closely with the Shore Excursion personnel prior to and during the cruise to make sure the steps into the bus were accessible for Carrieanna.
It’s All About MEE – Motivating, Educating and Empowering
There were over a hundred people cruising as a part of the MS Foundation group. Approximately half of these people have Multiple Sclerosis, and the other half were their traveling companions.
Starting with the first-night welcome, and continuing throughout our days at sea, there were fun and informative educational features presented by knowledgeable professionals throughout the cruise.
Here are just a few of the educational features presented:
- Nick Marchesani got us moving with Zumba in Chairs – Party with Nick.
- Mindy Eisenberg taught us how to do Yoga in Chairs, as well as presenting a session on Meditation and another on Relaxation.
- Dr. Jack Burks presented three educational programs, including one on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and another on Health & Wellness.
- RN Laura McCatty spoke about Facts and Fallacies of Diets and MS, and also presented a workshop on “The Balancing Act of the Care Partner.”
- Mark McCatty involved the group in his presentation “Communicating Effectively for Positive Relationships.”
- Jeffrey Segal, Personal Trainer with Balanced Personal Training, presented two workshops on the importance of exercise for people with MS.
- Gail G. Gibson, Ph.D. and Adjunct Professor of Geology and Environmental Sciences at Florida State College in Jacksonville presented “Third Rock from the Sun … A World of Islands.”
- And while not an “official” part of the program, Massage Therapist Martha C. Rojas of Epidauria donated her time and talents by providing 15-minute massages to MSF program attendees. (She was very much in demand, and greatly appreciated by all!)
Of course, one highlight of the cruise was the opportunity to meet new people and build relationships that will last a lifetime. Carrieanna made many new friends, encouraging and inspiring them with her “can do” attitude, and laughing until her sides ached and her dimples were permanently indented!
The end-of-the-cruise Beach Party and Loudest Shirt contest gave everyone an opportunity to get together and share laughter, contact information and photo ops!
We worked with some wonderful people!
We were very fortunate to work with Gabriela Aragon of Aragon Travel. Aragon Travel is Certified Accessible Travel Advocates by Special Needs Group, Gabriela has been in the travel business for over 30 years, and she and her team worked closely with us to make sure our accessible needs were met.
Gabriela, Ruben and everyone at Aragon Travel went above and beyond their professional duties to make sure all our questions were answered, all our paperwork was in order, and all our accessible needs were attended to. You can be sure we’ll be working with Aragon Travel again!
(Quite frankly, I don’t know how – or why – people travel without using a travel agent. This excursion would have been SO difficult to plan without the help of people who are experts in the travel industry.)
The MSF Staff on the cruise were friendly, caring, knowledgeable and lots of fun! Big thanks to Alan Segaloff, Co-Executive Director of MSF; Natalie Blake, Director of Program Services; Gay Falkowski, Editorial Coordinator; Ivette Eason, Homecare/Patience Assistance Grant Program Coordinator; and Kasey Minnis, Director of Operations (which is code for “Director of Fun and Photographer of All!”)
And a very special thanks to Nina at the Shore Excursion desk onboard, who went out of her way to assist with and follow-up on our special needs.
“Would you go on another cruise?”
Since my return, I’ve been asked that question by friends and others who enjoy traveling vicariously (via Facebook) with me.
And my answer is “You bet!”