I have struggled to walk now for about 10 years. Over the last 2 years I have had to use an electric wheelchair to get around. This is the reality of living in a body that has been ravaged by severe active Rheumatoid Arthritis for over 17 years. Due to my physical limitations and lack of money (as a consequence of giving up full time employment due to my RA), I haven’t been away for more than 4 days at a time for many years, and haven’t been abroad for even longer. When I was asked to go on a cruise, starting from Florida, USA, and my benefits were accepted and back paid, my crazy heart went “let’s do it”.
My head then had to process and organise all the practical elements of taking this holiday. First challenge – getting around onboard a cruise ship that measures about half a mile in length and has 15 decks. Second challenge – travel, including transfers and flights. Not much of a challenge as an able bodied person but a lot has to slot together for someone like me, travelling on my own, with 2 weeks worth of luggage which I can’t carry, and being unable to walk more than 5 steps with 2 sticks on a good day. Panic! “What have I done?! I’ll never be able to make it!” was pretty much what my brain was saying. “Book it and worry about the details closer to the time” is what my heart was saying.
I am SO glad I listened to my heart! I booked my place on the cruise 16 months in advance. I then got in touch with the cruise organiser, who also turned out to be disabled, and arranged the hire of a mobility scooter onboard the ship, and I forgot about it for a while. Christmas came and went and suddenly it was February. The cruise was at the end of April and all I had was a cabin on the ship. The next step was finding and booking flights to Orlando that I could afford. Thank goodness for price comparison sites! Unfortunately I couldn’t get a direct flight to Orlando, on budget. But I found flights from Manchester to JFK and JFK to Orlando. “Aaaargh,” went my brain, “how on Earth are you going to get through immigration, customs, security etc and then find your connecting flight, with all your luggage?!” My flight home was a direct one, from Orlando to Manchester, so that made the logistics slightly simpler.
I needn’t have worried. Calling the airlines set my mind at rest, to an extent. Once I got to the check-in there would be someone there to meet me, with a wheelchair, and they would take me, and my luggage, through to the plane. For my transfer someone would be waiting for me, again with a wheelchair, to take me through all the checks and onto my connecting flight. Easy. Now I just needed to get from home to the airport, drop off to check-in, airport to the ship and visa versa.
My lovely, retired father offered to drive me up to Manchester and help me to check-in if I gave him petrol money. I accepted, for the time being, and set about finding another solution, which didn’t cost as much as getting a taxi. Well the universe must have heard me because what should land in my email inbox but a discount voucher for airport parking. I looked at all the options, and terms and conditions, and discovered that, for £50, I could have “meet and greet” parking at the correct terminal at Manchester airport. Not only was this cheaper than giving my father petrol money, for the round trips to drop me off and collect me, but it also meant I could pull up to the front of terminal 2 and someone would unload my luggage and park my car for me.
I was so close and yet, in my brain, so far from being able to take this trip of a lifetime and I was now down to 4 weeks before I flew out. There were small gaps in my assistance but without those gaps being filled I couldn’t see a way I could go. Some wonderful friends, from Florida, who were also going on the cruise, offered to pick me up from Orlando airport, put me up for a couple of days, drive me to port and help me through the boarding process. Only one tiny gap left; from “meet and greet” to check-in. A couple of phone calls later, first to the car park and then the airport, I found that wheelchair assistance was available from “meet and greet”! It all worked in principle. I was all set.
To be continued……
By Liz Cormell, Visit My Shop
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