With Christmas finally out of way, many people’s thoughts turn to where to take their next holiday. Jackie Whitehead, who works for SCIL, recounts her experience cruising round the ‘Med’ with her parents who both use wheelchairs.
We arrived at the designated dock gate to find our ship had been “moved down a bit”. Not a big deal until you realise we were at Gate 30 and had to go to Gate 8 at the other end of Southampton, and that there were five adults, (we had a driver) two wheelchairs and three enormous suitcases all in one car!
When we finally found the right ship we were told people in wheelchairs and buggies, along with their helpers, were to be boarded first. Looking at the huge queues of waiting passengers it sounded too good to be true, it was! We and a couple of dozen others found ourselves directed to an area on our own where we left to fight it out for a place in a queue for a boarding pass.
Having done battle with a particularly determined lady in a motorised buggy we won and were directed to a ‘special’ boarding gate. Later on we discovered that most of the passengers were welcomed on board with fanfares, photos and friendliness, my mum was met with “hang on love, we’ll get you on board in a minute”. After ten minutes of sitting on a draughty Southampton dock my mum and dad were hauled up a lonely gang plank by a couple of workers wearing fluorescent yellow coats. By this time I was cross and my mother was giggling, not with hysteria but with genuine amusement.
The real fun began the minute we boarded the ship but I don’t mean deck quoits and salsa lessons. Eagerly I forged ahead of my husband and father pushing my mother confidently along a corridor to our ‘stateroom’ (cabin to you and me). My confidence was a tad previous because I had not counted on, nor noticed, a raised divider looming out of the carpeting. It is worth mentioning here that these occurred at regular intervals through out the ship and were a continuous hazard for wheelchairs.For us at that moment it was a bit like hitting an iceberg and my mother, destined to sink, shot up and almost out of her chair. She was, however, saved when I grabbed her with one hand and shoved the wheelchair under her with the other, effectively scooping her up before a titanic disaster struck.
All of this, along with a miniscule ‘stateroom’ which meant we had to leave both of them outside in the corridor, the wheelchairs not my parents, overly narrow doors and some other minor hiccups, actually did very little to spoil what turned out to be a wonderful holiday.
However, please Mr. Cruise Ship Director when you build your next floating hotel spare a thought for my mum and dad and make sure they can cruise with all the dignity and freedom they deserve.