My Fantastic Holiday
by Zora Tackoor
It all started very innocently and even naively last year in April. Thank God it was not on 1st of April because I would have never pursued it or even considered it that day.
I was browsing the Internet and went into one of chat rooms I visit time to time. They were talking about a cruise.
This was in the middle of school and holidays were furthest from my mind! Somehow my interest was captured, and I went to the message board to find out more.
The trip was a year away. It was intended to be an MS fundraiser. The plan was to travel from Miami to San Juan, then to St. Thomas and St. Croix and back to Miami in 7 nights.
Every time I went to the chatroom they were discussing the cruise.
One day, out of blue, I asked my husband if this trip would be possible for us. There were only two answers I could get anyway, either yes or no. To my surprise my husband agreed. I did not need anything more... my mind had already started to race overtime about the planning of everything.
I contacted the person who was organising the cruise. I needed to know how and where to purchase the tickets and so on. I took the person's email address; I knew I would need it.
I booked three tickets. It is one thing to book tickets and another thing to travel with a wheelchair. None of us had any experience of traveling with the wheelchair. There was a lot to find out.
At home I use a monkey bar, better known as trapeze bar. I try to hold some of my body weight with that and other person can transfer me into bed or onto a chair. My contraption was screwed onto the wall. I desperately needed to find out if I could get portable one.
We located one via the Internet, and my daughter in Canada bought it and shipped it to us. We had enough time to practice with it. We needed two people, to hold the trapeze bar and move me as well. Actually it was perfect.
In the meantime, I had one more year until I finished my Guidance and Counselling course. Strangely enough the year passed like a flash. My final exams were in second part of July and after that I concentrated on getting stuff ready for my journey. My big concern was the trapeze bar. One of the parts was longer than 4 feet. The airlines assured me that I could travel with it. The cruise tickets arrived and we found out that we would have just four hours in Miami to catch the boat. My husband assured me that we would have enough time.
At the Airport
We had to get up around 3 o'clock in the morning. The airline said we have to be there 2 hours before the flight and if I wanted my wheelchair in the cabin I should make sure I was there first one there as it is a 'first come, first served' policy.
We left home in good time and reached the airport early enough. As we got to the check-in we found out that we would be departing a few minutes late.
My family had to go into departure lounge while I had to stay downstairs. The new Trinidadian airport is still being built; the old one doesn't have easy access into the plane for the passengers who can't use stairs.
I knew that wheelchair passengers board the plane first and come out last. But how would they get me upstairs? The airline employees wheeled me as near to the plane as possible, to in a very narrow chair with handles at the bottom and at the top. The chair had three pair of safety belts. I was maneuvered onto the chair, strapped and lifted upstairs. The chair has to be very narrow to fit into the aisle of the plane. They maneuvered me into my number seat excellently.
There were about half dozen people in the wheelchairs who needed to be escorted almost the same way as I, but some of the passengers managed to walk the steps with help. Then the rest of the passengers started boarding the plane. Our plane was delayed about half an hour.
On the way
We flew with American Airlines, in a small plane holding less than 200 passengers. The flight was comfortable. The journey was about 4 hours. As we started to approach Miami we were informed by the captain that Miami was experiencing overcast skies and we were not allowed to land . The delay was another half an hour. I started to wonder if there would be enough time to reach to the port.
The weather did look rather overcast. We finally landed. I had to wait to come out of the plane. My family waited for me as they had all the necessary documents. One thing did strike me. As soon as we met somebody from Miami, they only spoke Spanish.
Miami airport has a lot of escalators. By the time we cleared immigration and customs our luggage was on the belt going around. We could have seen it from a far away as we had marked all pieces of our luggage with thin, yellow pieces of sponge.
So finally we were in Miami and now had to go to the port to board the ship. My husband found a suitable taxi to take my wheelchair, the trapeze bar and the luggage as well, but the taxis in Miami do not have handles on the passenger side. This is usually what I hold to lift myself up, and then somebody takes my legs to whoosh me inside the car. With little strain we managed to fight my way into the car. We were at the port in about 20 minutes.
You should see the size of this ship! A mammoth of 20th century, it is 893 feet long and have about 11 stories reachable by elevators. From the 12th floor there are steps. And imagine, there is already a larger ship cruising the seas and another in the planning. We-off loaded the taxi in front of a big building, which belonged to the Caribbean Cruise Company. The name of our ship was Triumph.
Our luggage had been properly labeled with our room numbers. Porters took it and stored it in a pile.
When we approach the building entrance a person came out and took over my wheelchair. He seated us at his desk and took down all our credentials. Our pictures were taken picture for our key passes.
I'm sure my lower lip almost dropped off when we entered the lobby of the ship... the glitter, the shine, the lights, the glamour, the decor, the shapes, the colours just picture of a fantasy. I felt like Alice in Wonderland.
Each of us had a key to our room, which was also used for identification purposes and for buying stuff on the ship. The cruise employee took us to our room and then departed.
The room could have been larger, as the wheelchair only just fitted. The bathroom was designed for a semi-disabled person. We maneuvered the wheelchair in there the few days, then we used only a basin, as it was easier. The cabin was without windows. The ship was well air-conditioned (too well, if you ask me!).
There were people everywhere! We were given an orientation map of the ship; this was another fun experience, as we had to find our own way around the ship. The ship had 18 elevators. We landed on the open deck where they were serving some drinks and food.
After a little while the ship started moving away from the port. This was exiting. I didn't know where I could go with the wheelchair, so I urged my husband and daughter to go and look around. I was near another wheelchair person and soon found out it was one we suppose to meet on the ship! Her name is Sue. She is from Australia and her husband Alf accompanied her. This was their second cruise. They had just finished an almost unbelievable Alaskan Cruise. Travelling so far is a lot for anybody but to do all this in a wheelchair is remarkable.
As soon as we left the port we were welcomed via intercom speakers and told that there would be a fire drill. We had life jackets in the cabin and we would have to go to a certain post to be directed to the decks where there were life-saving boats. Children under 15 were given coloured ID tags on their hands or ankles, which they were supposed to have on during the whole journey for security purposes.
It was nearing dinnertime. We tried to see if our luggage was in our rooms, but nothing yet. This time it was about 12 hours since we left home and we were still in the same clothes. Our key cards showed the appropriate time and location of the dinning room and even the number of our table.
When we got there there were lots of people at our table. We finally found ourselves together with the people we were expecting. There was Sue and Alf from Australia, Dawn with her mother Jean from England, and Suzanne with her parents Marge and John, from New Jersey. Although there were such a small number of us, we were very international and there wasn't a dull moment!
Photographers were everywhere, snapping everybody. The menu offered starters, salad, main course, dessert and coffee. When the plates came to our table they looked rather small, but by the dessert course I was full and so was the rest of my family. It was so well served and prepared, just like what we see on TV from these special chefs. We were told that the photographs would be ready the next day and posted to view and purchase.
The service on the ship was just excellent. Just like in a first class hotel. The menu was changed every day. Tamara and I decided on lunches at our dinning room table, while Neal preferred the buffet for his lunches on the upper, open deck.
The first fantastic day finished and I was ready for the bed.
We were told that every day we would receive the News Bulletin: what's going on and where. So every day we received the new timetable of events under our door. Our room steward was available to us in the morning and in the evening. If we needed we could call him to our room.
It was exciting to wake up the next day. I just couldn't wait to get out of the cabin. We were ready about in an hour, all three of us bathed and dressed for new day. There were few using the buffet, so the choice was vast.
We learned from our captain that there were 3000 passengers and about 1000 personnel looking after us. To feed so many people it has to be very well organized and it was, there were waiters everywhere, cleaning, helping in any way they could.
The exercise people did not miss out on the beautiful mornings either. Two rounds of the upper deck was exactly a mile, and every day there were plenty people there. The gym under the walking deck was furnished with the newest equipment, and Jacuzzi and massages were part of the set up.
The first set of people woke up around 6 am and there was already fresh coffee and Danish pastries waiting for them on the upper deck. The dining rooms also served breakfast. The breakfast started around 8.30 am and lasted until 12 noon. The buffet on the open deck was so long, everything for anybody and everybody: cereals, yogurts, fruits, cheeses, breads, pastries, bacon, hams, sausages, potatoes. The chefs were there to cook anything one desired, like omlettes, with onion, mushrooms and green peppers. They told us 'if you don't see what you want, ask and we will try to get it for you'. And we could take how ever much we wanted and even go back for more. There were two other two buffets to ease the crowds. Beside this there was also room service if one desired, a Chinese Restaurant and Pizza 24 hours. The coffee (Nescafe or decaf), tea, apple and orange juice and water, either hot or cold, were available 24 hours a day.
We used our map to get around; we wanted to see it all. The lifts were rather fun, there were two types, ones with glass walls and ordinary ones that we were used to. The ship seemed to be divided, so it was not possible to get to where we wanted at times. The joined floor seemed to be the 5th floor, but even there we had to go from the front side of the ship to back to reach other parts of the ship. It didn't really matter, it was fun.
Every part of the ship seemed to have exotic name, like 'London Dining Room', 'Paris Dining Room', 'Rome Lounge' (the theatre), 'Club Monaco' (the casino), 'Hollywood Dance' (the dancing room with a bar), 'Club Rio' (another place with small stage for performance purposes), 'South Beach Club' (one of the buffet sites), 'Oxford Bar' ( a bar with plenty of places to relax and listen to trio music), 'Vienna Café' (with fantastic pastries and coffee drinks like in Vienna), 'Washington Library' (a real library), and many others. These are just few of the names we got used to during the week. Everything was well marked and the signs flashed on the boards, so nobody could miss them.
Th next morning, before we went for breakfast, we looked at the News Bulletin and saw there a Bingo game for US$1000. We decided to go and join in the fun after we ate. It took little persuasion to get Tamara to join us, but finally we got here there. The theatre was full, fitted with beautiful designs, lights, and any imaginable stuff.
The game started with the selling of the Bingo tickets. Tamara had never played bingo in her life. Numbers were coming and after just few, our daughter nudged her father with words: I think I have straight line. By this time another number had been called. In spite the additional number Tamara won US$1000. Well, she was elated, and obviously glad that she came with us on the cruise.
She decided that she would invest the money in purchasing a laptop computer (which she did in Miami).
Every day we had a lot of fun of a lot of fun on the ship, a lot of nice evening shows, parties, and food.
Every time there was a game of bingo we went. We met up with some of our evening table friends there. Some of them won but, none such a great sum as Tamara.
The seven nights went so fast, that afterwards it felt like a dream, as if it never happened.
We were all sorry to say goodbye to each other. All of us had an exceptionally good time.
Miami was also an experience to remember. We shopped, went to see friends, family, and sightseeing. I was glad that I decided to try and travel. It was quite easy, once I put my mind to it.
I hope my story will give other people in my situation enough courage to try it themselves.