Cruising As a Quadriplegic

As many of you know I am a complete quadriplegic with no movement or feeling below my armpits. To travel at all I need at least 2 people to help me through the day. This is mostly required for getting up in the morning, shower and/or going to the bathroom and then in the evening putting me back to bed. Throughout the day I need help eating, getting drinks of all kinds and making sure my urine bag is emptied in a timely manner. In other words, I am a full-court press when it comes to travel.

One of my goals in life was to cruise through the Panama Canal. We had planned it for the fall of 2017, but then I was injured, and everything changed. We finally got up the nerve to try this fall - October 2018. It all came together when our son Daniel volunteered to be the 2nd set of hands. We have 2 cabins: a handicap cabin at the front of deck 6 (I will describe it in detail in a little bit) and Daniel is in an interior cabin. It is much like a closet with a bed! Once he gets in and turns off the lights it is very dark and quiet, but he does have quite a good bathroom so that helps. He does however, spend a lot of time with us in our room and we have 2 windows!

Both Isabelle and I were very worried and quite stressed about going on a 22-day cruise. We are always worried about my health and the health of Isabelle and Daniel as they have to keep moving me back and forth from my wheelchair and the bed. We were worried about our room and if it would be accessible. We were worried about the ship and if I could move around easily and safely. I was very worried I would be stuck mostly in my room and would not have access to any of the decks.

When we arrived at the harbour in Vancouver it wasn’t just an arrival – it was an invasion! We had 3 pieces of luggage, a carry-on, a backpack, Daniel’s backpack, my portable lift and my commode. Not to mention me in my wheelchair. Despite this, the boarding went smooth as silk. They parked us next to an empty stall so I could get out of the van from my ramp and a gentleman was there right away to help take all our luggage. We had everything tagged and ready to go and off we went.

Check-in was very smooth as we get to use the handicap line ;-). Even the customs officer was laughing and joking with us. Getting on the ship was a breeze as the gangway was a series of ramps with a bit of a bump, okay,  a large bump at the very end. But it went very smoothly the staff was very welcoming and helped us get on the elevator to our room.

We are extremely happy with our handicap room. First, the door is much larger than all the cabins in this area. We would have had to pay a premium for a larger cabin to get a door this size! This seems like a silly perk, but in my wheelchair I am a very wide load and need a larger doorway to get in. Daniel’s room on the other hand, has a normal sized door that I couldn’t possibly fit through. Our doorway is virtually a flat entry into the room and it works extremely well. We are at the front of the boat, so our room has a window looking forward and a balcony on the side. It is much wider than other rooms as it is a trapezoid with the front wall following the bow of the ship. This odd shape gives me plenty of space to maneuver in my wheelchair, as well as gives us space to transition to the bed.

The bathroom in particular works extremely well for us. It is a flat entry to a flat shower and we can sit my commode chair in their and shower me in the mornings. My lift moves quite well over the carpet and Daniel and Isabel can move me back-and-forth. The hard part is getting the sling under me, but we are slowly improving our system. Or rather, Isabelle and Daniel are slowly improving the system ;-). I am just the guinea pig :-(.

Our room is even set up for me to get out on our little balcony. We had to remove all but one chair to make space for my wheelchair, and I can only roll straight out the door onto the balcony, and then straight back again to get back inside. I end up blocking most of the doorway, but if I tried to maneuver sideways on the balcony I would likely get stuck and not be able to line myself to get back in again.

Our balcony, complete with wheelchair ramp!

Finally, this cruise wouldn’t be work without the help of our cabin attendant, Amin. We discussed my issues the first day and he has been extremely helpful making sure our room is clean so I can move around and that we have extra towels and pillows for me and Isabelle. Tomorrow, Isabelle and Daniel are doing a shore excursion in Puerto Vallarta. We have already talked to Amin and he is willing to check on me every hour to make sure I am okay, have water to drink, and can get out to the deck to empty my urine bag. I simply find the drain at the edge of the deck and empty out there. Please don’t tell anyone ;-).

To be totally honest the ship is a dream for me. I am not the only person in an electric mobility aid. There are many people in the 3 wheeled scooters moving around the ship. I am really the only one that I have seen in an electric wheelchair with a condition like mine. In any event the floors are relatively smooth. There are bumps for the joints in the ship every 30 m or so, and I have to slow down for them. Otherwise it works really well. The Lido deck – the deck with the dining room and outdoor decks and swimming pool - works extremely well. If doors are closed, they are automatic opening with the motion sensor, so I don’t have to touch anything. I can move around easily through all the hallways and aisles on the ship so that is a joy. When I go out on my own there is always someone around to help me. I left this morning and Amin saw me and helped me with the elevator. Other times I simply wait by the elevator until someone walks by and they are always willing to help. To be honest it is much simpler than I ever imagined.

Because of my condition I sort of stick out ;-). Because of this, a lot of people are getting to know me, crew and passengers. They all have stepped forward to help either with doors, drinks or carrying my food. I have even found a dining room attendant who will help me with my tray and even feed me when I am alone :-). The world is truly good.

Thus far the cruise has been a joy. I hope I’m not too much of a burden on Isabelle and Daniel. They have been my lifeline to this dream.

 I also really want to thank Holland America, the crew of the MS Nieuw Amsterdam, all the passengers on board, and the woman who made all this happen – Tamara Kincek from the Chilliwack branch of Cruise Ship Centres. She was a wonder woman, making sure we had a proper state room (I think she actually called the ship to confirm the room photos were accurate!) She did and incredible job and has helped make this voyage better than we thought it ever would be.

Now its time to start planning our next cruise ;-). It is always fun to dream…

-Jim