Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A snowbird at 43

I just came in from being outside. It's Sunday afternoon, about 6 degrees above zero and there was actually some blue sky. It feels like spring. We have been home since Thursday night (late) and that is the first blue sky I have seen since we left Florida - and I gather that January has been grey the whole time we have been away. Those that I have spoken to since returning have asked what was the best part of our trip - my answer - the sun. It was just so glorious. It warmed my body and healed my soul. If you have been south in winter then you know what I mean.

I have been trying to organize my thoughts for this post - there is a lot to share (and remind myself about) so I  apologize in advance for it's length. Accessibility on board, no plans for Mexico, Canada vs. US taxis, holidays in general, everyone has a story and of course, the food. Here we go.

I am feeling a thousand times better than I did in December. It must have been a virus - I can't figure it out otherwise. The turn came at the right time, that is for sure. I am not sure what I would have done if I had continued to feel like that while on holiday. Where in December I was feeling 4/5 like crap, I have flipped it and have four good days out of every five. Still have the occasional bit of nerve pain in my feet and the ever present "line pain", but I no longer want to die. I still napped a lot, hoping I would get to a late night show - but did you know that late means starting at 10:45pm?? Napping helped me get through dinner - not enough for a show. One night Theo put the three of us to bed and went off to a show on his own :)

We sailed on Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas. It's a huge ship with more than 4000 people on board and 1500 staff. We had a fabulous stateroom. Our travel agent did a fabulous job finding it - a Junior Suite with bunk beds, a king bed, accessible bathroom (with roll in shower), two closets, couch, roll-under vanity and roll out balcony with two chaise lounges and a table and chairs. A lot of thought went into the accessibility features of the room including the location of light switches (beside the bed), a mini ramp that covered the track for the sliding door and the lower safe in the closet. Some things were odd though, like the grab bar on the wall behind the fold down shower bench and the pull down bar in the closet that folds back up in order to close the door (and causes all your hangers to fall). The thing that they have to change though is the carpet. And this goes for all hotel rooms too - accessible rooms SHOULD NOT HAVE CARPET. Sorry for yelling.

That would actually be my biggest complaint about the ship - the carpet. It is everywhere. In the elevators, down the hallways, in the rooms, theaters, casino, arcade, dining rooms, everywhere! It's a big ship (14 decks) with a lot of travelling necessary - and the carpet just makes it all quite exhausting. I was happy to have someone to push me over that dastardly carpet when I was tired.
I did NOT swim here - this is the surfing pool, and that is Oliver learning to surf on his 11th birthday!

I did get out of my chair and into the pool - although it took some work to make it happen. It was not obvious to me where the lift was so I went to the Guest Services to ask. They didn't even know that they had a lift (so they made a call) and then directed me to the pool attendants at the towel exchange desk. As I left I heard one staff say to another that in 11 years she had not known they had one. I went to the towel desk and asked about using the lift to get into the pool...and they had to make a call. Finally, someone came to show me where it was - we went together (weaving through all the loungers full of people). I had not seen this lift earlier because it looked nothing like a lift. Anyway, they set it up, I transferred to the seat and they throw the switch to "up" (me and the seat had to go up and over a lip and then down into the pool).

What is slower than molasses in January? How about dial up? Oliver getting ready for bed? Add this pool lift to that list. Holy cow. Nothing like having 1000 sets of eyes on you when all you want to do is sink under the water and pretend to be like everyone else. Out of my chair. It appeared to us that the lift had not been used for a long time, as was obvious from all the phone calls, and the hydraulic fluid was not topped up. So as I sat and waited for it to move (was it even moving?) I wondered if I would do this again. Of course I needed to in order to get out - but after that? And what about the hot tub lift? That was even higher and I would have to kick out all the kids!

Well, I did attempt to use the lift again. I was hot, there were not as many people around the pool and I wanted to swim. I got back on that lift only to discover that it was actually broken - the part that held the seat on had sheared off - not a quick fix. I wish we had noticed before I almost fell off and bruised my back. So the pool attendant went and got his rubber boots on. He and Theo lifted me over the lip and then once seated on the edge of the water Theo more or less dropped me into the pool. Still a spectacle.

Which brings me to a feeling. Being on this trip was one of the rare times that I have been away from my Huron County/Parkwood habitat. I felt exposed and invisible at the same time. No one on that ship knew my story - almost everywhere I have been in the past 18 months, someone (if not many) knew why I was using a wheelchair. It was a weird feeling. I noticed that I behaved differently and I am not really sure why. I didn't make eye contact like I usually do. In the dining room we had a wonderful table for four right beside the window. It meant we had to weave through some tables and had to have other guests pull in their chairs in order for me to get by. Initially, I felt badly about it - that I was causing people to be inconvenienced. But then I thought - no, I am going to keep my beautiful table - so sorry that you will have to squish into your table for a moment while I wheel past in my chair that I will use for the rest of my life.
Mango Margarita. Yum. 

We did get off the ship for a day - in Cozumel. We had no plan, had decided just to wing it. In the planning stages we had been offered an accessible taxi and a beach wheelchair for the day for $95pp. That was going to be $400 for a day and that didn't include snorkeling, lunch or drinks. On the advice of friends we decided to turn that down and just see what we could find. Well, we did it, jumped (with a messy transfer (sans slider board)) into a regular taxi who took us to a resort where, for $15 each we could snorkel (with a drink, tequila tasting and a 15 min massage). It was accessible only in that there were ramps for getting to the coral beach but not into the water. We called on the assistance of strangers in order to get me in and out of the water - people like to help. Snorkeling made this trip for me and might be my new thing. It brings my ability (swimming) and my love of nature together. Guess we'll be moving to the Bahamas after all.
Theo and Ella are way out there with their snorkels on. Water was warm and lots of fish to see. 

Getting on and off the ship was way easier than I ever thought it would be. I got to jump all sorts of line ups - at customs, boarding the plane, in the ship terminal and the best one was getting off the ship the last day. We went down at our assigned time to the place where people with accessibility needs were to go. They asked me if I needed help and I said that it depended on what the ramps were like. One of the staff (actually a restaurant staffer) took my chair (and me) and said "let's see what we can do" and off we went with him shouting ahead "excuse us, wheelchair coming through". We got by everyone in line waiting to get off the ship and all the way into the terminal. Normally I am not happy when someone starts pushing me and my chair...he was awesome.

Ship to airport service had to be a taxi for us. The bus shuttle service is not one that I can easily get on and off. Taxi service in Florida and Toronto can not be compared. We were able to get an accessible taxi without waiting any longer than any other guest. It only cost $15 for about a 15 minute metered ride - and that is with me being able to stay in my chair. Pearson is another story altogether. We needed a ride from Terminal 1 to the Fairfield Marriot where we had left our car...a distance of 1.1km. Again, the hotel shuttle was not an option so we needed a taxi. We got in line, and I let the attendant know that we needed an accessible taxi and he said "Yeah, get in line". So we did. When we got to the head of the line I repeated my request to the other attendant who then radioed for one. He then informed me that there were no wheelchair taxis in the compound. In all of Pearson International Airport - the largest airport in Canada - there were no wheelchair accessible taxis available? Come on. Did I mention that we didn't even have to wait in Florida? Yeah, I did. So we had to take a van that I had to transfer into the front seat...and the cost? Guess...

$30. Seriously? Pearson Airport taxi service - get your shit together.

Air Canada was ready for me, which was great, but next time I'll request seats not at the back of the plane. I mean really? Why so far back? It already is a longer time sitting on the plane (first on, last off) and then I have to wait for them to bring the aisle chair all the way to the back. When we landed in Toronto the cleaners were on the plane before the aisle chair came back. It was a full hour after the plane was at the gate before we were off. I am not sure that that is an acceptable time frame. It sure made going home all in one day quite tiring.

You see, we took three days to get to the ship. I wanted to build in some contingency time - to account for the likelihood of bad weather. So leaving the ship on Thursday morning, getting to the airport, sitting and waiting, flying (sitting and waiting), piling into a taxi to get to our car (sitting and waiting for CAA to boost our dead battery) and then driving home meant that my legs had not moved from a seated position for almost 15 hours. This was not a good thing. I have learned my lesson. My lower legs, ankles and feet  were so swollen full of fluid they were turgid. If you were to sit for 15 hours you could at least wiggle your toes and flex your ankles - these small muscle contractions would help with circulation. I did nothing other than sit with my feet up for an hour at the airport. Next time I will figure out ways to move my legs - I didn't realize how bad it was going to be. I slept that night with my legs elevated and even so it was a full 24 hours before my feet looked normal.

So how does this novel end? I am glad we went. I am grateful we were able to afford it. I need to go back. I want to be a snowbird.

I forgot to talk about the food. It was amazing. This was a no-egg dessert that the kitchen made just for my guys. 


  1. Most entertaining! Outfits should hire you to write travelogue reviews of excursions from an accessibility point of view.
    Thankful you had 4 good days out of 5, rather than vice versa.
    "People like to help" -- nice you could be bold enough to ask, and thus give them the opportunity to practise kindness. We need more of that.

  2. So-o-o glad you had a great time! For some reason, i just KNEW the warm weather and sunshine would help you along! I, too, was pleased to see that you had other people help you. For an independent, strong-willed person like you, it's damn hard to have to ask strangers for help, but, as you said (and I truly believe), people DO like to help. You want to get to the water, you can't for whatever reason, so you ask for help, it's provided, and you get in the water. Problem solved! No need to analyze anything or feel like you're being a burden, cuz you're not! And just to make you a TINY bit envious, I will be a snow bird for the month of March in Florida! Dan will be with me the entire month, and he hopes to really work on completing his recovery. Nothin' like sunshine and warmth to do that!