Freedom in a life at sea

A large cabin, a roll-in shower and very helpful staff make cruising a joy for wheelchair users. QASA CEO ARI SEIRLIS explains the freedom of cruising he experiences on his trip on board the Freedom of the Seas.

Rolling Inspiration published an interesting article about cruising, which planted a seed, as I had been looking at location and activities for an overseas trip with my sister, her husband and a few friends to celebrate my 55th birthday.

After talking to the travel companions, looking at my wallet and reading up about the convenience of cruising, we settled on a seven-night cruise on board the Freedom of the Seas, leaving from Barcelona in the first week of May.

Definitely the right time of the year to be in Europe, just before the summer rush with warm weather and no crowds. Or rather, less crowded. I’ve never been on a cruise liner before in my 33 years as a wheelchair user. What a great choice it was. I flew from my hometown Durban to Dubai with a three-hour layover, after which I flew to Barcelona.

Each leg was eight hours and, so, not too unbearable on the bottom. What was impressive was the smooth handling by the assisted passenger service in Dubai to a very comfortable “assisted passenger” lounge area by a single service provider. Everybody knew what they were doing in a very accessible environment. Dubai airport works for everyone.

Taxi Amic is a superb service dedicated to transporting wheelchair users around Barcelona with just 30 minutes wait after a call. Their vehicles all have a fold-down ramp at the back with experienced drivers and secure tiedown systems and also offer a discounted rate. It was a breeze travelling from the airport in Barcelona to the hotel and from the hotel to the ports with a lot of luggage.

From the moment we checked in with Royal Caribbean International (RCI) to board the Freedom of the Seas, we were in good hands. Front of the queue to check in, luggage delivered to our cabin door, easy access onto the ship and an escort by very willing staff all the way to the most amazing cabin.

I chose a “junior stateroom” level of accommodation on deck 11 of 14, which included a huge bedroom, with ample space for the couch to fold out, a bathroom with the roll-in shower and a huge balcony, which gave us the most magnificent views of the Mediterranean for the seven days. This cabin was as big as any hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.

It was useful to have my sister and her hubby next door. We had ample space and seven days to enjoy it. The ship offers everything from a dozen restaurants, bars, a shopping centre, health centre, swimming pools, a running track, a casino, an art gallery, ice rink, theatre and plenty of entertainment.

Our purpose, however, was not to spend all of our time on the vessel, but rather to disembark at every port and explore parts of Spain, France and Italy. Disembarking at the various ports was accessible, safe, smooth and included the use of a tendering service on a smaller boat at one of the ports. I never had to be lifted or carried over anything. Only some assisted rolling was necessary.

It seems that the cruising industry has got it right with their well-equipped ships, excellent service and accessible cabins. Using the right travel agent and choosing a relatively new ship or refurbished ship will ensure a very accessible holiday with ample freedom on board and a lot of exploration ahead, if you take the trouble to disembark in every port.

Oh, just beware that if you take advantage of everything on offer, you will put on weight, but happily so.

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