My name is Marianne BItner. I am a 71 year old retired firefighter/paramedic with handicaps but loves to travel and been fortunate enough to do that my whole life.
As some of us have one handicap while other may have several handicaps to manage. We still all dream, research, plan and prepare for that vacation/trip or tour from our bucket list.
Sometimes it takes years to make our plans for that trip of a lifetime and we might of checked and rechecked that our handicap(s) aren’t going to be an issue. We probably even checked with the tour companies, transportation services, hotels, cruise companies etc. We personally want to be sure we can complete what might be necessary to enjoy our trip. During this preparation we have tried to talk with everyone and they all have been advised of our needs and expectations multiple times. We finally make those last minute rechecks to assure ourselves that everything is ready so the plans will be smooth. Let me tell you about an experience I had a few years back and I hope it just shows what can and did happen.
My best friend, Suzanne, is also my travel assistant because of my mobility issues and my Type 2 diabetes. We planned a 2 month marathon trip starting in Fairbanks, Alaska for a ground tour and inside glacier cruise for 12 days. We finished the cruise in Vancouver, Canada where we took a bus to Whistler, Canada for 3 days. Back to Vancouver by bus to board another cruise going to Hawaii and onto the South Pacific islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora, Fiji and ending in Sydney, Australia. This part of the trip worked perfectly with my walker with the seat and wheels. We only had one minor problem/ glitch. When getting onto a Gold Rush paddle boat in Fairbanks. I hadn’t thought of the rocking movement of the floating dock. I went to sit down on my walker seat to rest while they were loading us onto the paddle boat. I lost my balance and fell over off my walker and nearly ended up going for a swim in the cold river water in Fairbanks. This part of the trip was in early September and we had snow the night before. Brrr, I come from Florida so I can’t take much cold weather or cold water.
The bus transportation and cruises were perfect because they are prepared for handicap patrons with different handicap requirements. I always find the cruise operators and staff to be helpful and kind. If only everyone treated us with the same respect.
After arriving in Sydney the hotels rooms were handicapped assessable and I found Sydney and most of Australia and New Zealand very handicap friendly. Curb cut outs every street, handicap ramps at the store and hotel entrances, many taxis had scooter loading ramps and included not getting off the scooter for the taxis ride and most of the venues and restaurants were handicap assessable as the normal and not the exception.
Because it was more convenient to rent a scooter on my arrival in Sydney for the tours we had planned over the next three weeks then bring to mine for the beginning trip. Be sure to notify the airlines that your will be flying with an electric scooter. Additionally you need to know what type of battery the scooter uses to be able to fly with it in the cargo compartment of the airlines. Didn’t know that before my first flight from Sydney to Melbourne. Thanks to a nice airline check in agent who helped me find that information on the battery pack.
Once we arrived in Melbourne to meet our tour group for our 3 week land tour of Australia and New Zealand. This is where it went all wrong. I must say up front that I had verified several times with the tour company about my handicaps and if it was an issue for the tour we selected. I was told “no problem as long as I had help”. We arrived in the meeting place the first morning of the tour and the tour guide approached me and Suzanne. She asked us to come outside in the atrium of the hotel that we all were staying at in Melbourne. The tour guide looked at me and said you will hold up the tour group of 21 people with my mobility issues and I couldn’t go on the tour. I said why when she hadn’t even given me a chance to try to keep up with the tour group. I continued to tell her the tour company knew of my limitations and approved my participation. The tour guide said “I don’t care what they told you and I make the final decision who can go” and you aren’t going. She walked away and joined the others going on the tour with her. Suzanne and I stood there feeling like we had been sucker punched in the stomach but that soon then turned to anger.
Imagine you are halfway around the world with no hotel, or plane reservations or tours. The tour company we were booked with was in Boston, Massachusetts and closed because of the 12 hour time difference. So no help from them. Tour guide gone out the hotel door onto a bus with her tour participants. It just happened the hotel manager overheard the conversation in the atrium. The kind hotel manager said this tour company does a lot tours starting from his hotel. This kind gentleman said he had a Regional Manager’s name, address and phone number. Additionally, he took us to his office to use his phone to make the first of many calls to the Tour Company Regional Manager. This Regional Manager informed us that his tour guide does have the final say if someone is rejected from her tour. He did admit that this was highly unusual and it had only happened a couple of times in the past. Usually because someone was fighting or doing inappropriate thing’s while on tour. He said he would order a refund of our money immediately but would take a couple of days to process the almost $4,700 for each of us. He said tour company would put us up in the hotel for 3 nights and purchase us a one way ticket from Melbourne to Sydney over the next three days.
Suzanne and I got checked into the hotel and went to our room to figure out how to salvage this trip. Long and short we rebooked our own handicap assessable hotel rooms, set up tours we had planned on doing with the tour company and purchased air and land transportation to do all the legs of this trip. We actually ended up adding a couple other places to see that had not been on our original tour. The funny part of this is we ran into the tour guide at Bay of Islands in New Zealand, Alice Springs and Great Barrier Reef in Australia . We waved and smiled to her each time but she pretended not to see us. At the Great Barrier Reef while she was quickly turning as not to see us she almost fell overboard off the dock. I said it was karma catching up with her.
So what to learn and remember from my experience is that asking all the questions, being reassured multiple times by everyone and you think that everything is in place for a handicap trip/ vacation/ tour you must be able to roll with the punches and be prepared to adapt and overcome. Since we do that every day with our handicap(s) we are the experts. Happy travels to all.