From the early booking stage, the forms now sent by P&O, for all disability and wheelchair users are easy to fill in and now are in a format that can be completed on the computer and returned via email.
We booked a flight from Birmingham Airport and we had to talk to Thomson airways to confirm they could take the power chair, as there is a limited amount of space on the aircraft, and I was able to discuss if there was any further information they needed before we departed. I had to purchase an air safe key, to disable the power chair for the flight, and this cost £12.00 off eBay. I was also advised to get to the airport a bit earlier due to the amount of time needed to check in.
Check in at the airport take a little while as the power chair has to be checked but having the manual and all the relevant data helps to speed you through check in. Then off to check in with the ground staff who would help with getting on the airplane and storing the wheelchair on the airplane. Then off to the waiting area were you have to report to the disability area half an hour before gate opening and then wait to be called. Once at the gate all the disabled are take down the skyway and helped aboard first. Pre booked seat are a must one less hassle.
Arrival at Barbados, which was late in the evening and dark, proved to be the first problem with a standard taxi being supplied and the staff on the ground saying they could put the wheelchair in the boot of the car. No chance, as the chair does not fold up, and it weighs some 80+kgs. Although there was a mix up the guys decided to put the chair in the baggage compartment of the bus after folding the seat back down and two of the guys lifted aboard. Then off to the ship and check in with the wheelchair to follow although this could have been a major problem if I could not have been able to transfer to a taxi. We make sure a request for an adapted vehicle is made on the disability form we send to P&O. We resolved this problem for the return by going to the reception, on board the ship, and they contacted the ground staff to book the relevant vehicle for the return journey. We missed the embarkation photo and garland as we had to go a different way through the security check all those done it on board the ship.
We had been on the ship before, although not with the electric wheelchair, and we knew that access was best from the forward gangplank and perhaps I should have been told which gangplank to head for. One thing I have to say is every time we embarked and disembarked there was staff to help me up and down the gangplank with a bit of banter and a smile.
Because of the wheelchair I did not want to drive through the food area of the self service of the restaurants so I parked the chair and walked in with two sticks. Help was offered to carry a tray and put food onto a plate and then carried to my table, but my wife always fetched and carried for me.
There is some problems when the restaurant are full as it was difficult to sit at a table of four and often the larger, which are round, people would not always sit on the fixed seating. For anyone who could not get out of the chair the staff will remove a chair and make space for the wheelchair. Busy times are the worst but we found most people would make space and shuffle around to make room.
We had booked freedom dining which suits us best as the early sitting is too early and the late too late. We found that a table for eight is about as big as one can communicate with all the people but an optimum size we found was six. We met some nice people and had a variety of different conversation and not all are about what, how many and who one has cruised with. I wanted to walk to the table and was able to park the wheelchair outside buy the reception desk and we were always allocated a table within a short walking distance. If one had to stop in a chair they would make sure you had easy access to the table.
Lift were not a problem as when empty I could drive in and turn around so I could drive out. Most passengers were helpful making way for me to get in and out of the lifts and we had some good banter when the lift was full. There are always one or two people who try and get into the lift as I tried to reverse out and both I and the wife told them off and although we had some dirty looks no one complained. I have seen several reports of people complaining about the number of scooter on the ship and I only saw three and only one about the ship but several manual wheelchairs pushed about by partners. We saw some people who used a wheelchair only to transfer to and from the airport yet were able to walk long distances into town when visiting ports.
Cabins are ok with enough room to drive a wheelchair and to turn around and with access to the balcony but the drop down section that fills the gap for in between the sliding door could do with a method of lifting the infill section without sticking your fingers underneath to lift up. Cabins on B deck have a narrow balcony which would be difficult to get a wheelchair out onto. Those of C deck have a lot larger balcony and would easily allow the wheelchair access and be able to turn around.
The shower is large with a good size seat to sit on and can easily accommodate a wheelchair and lots of handrails around the toilet and shower area but the wash hand basin is set at a standard height as are the mirrors and sat in a wheelchair it’s difficult to use.
Access from the cabin to other areas of the ship was easy as the lifts were right outside the door and the communal decks were easily got to with good walkways even when busy. Getting to deck 15 is along a short corridor and through manual operated double glass doors and then electric wooden doors. I only came across a cleaning trolley once and was able to squeeze by. Everyone I met in this corridor gave way by stepping into the doorways and allowed me to pass.
Once on deck to get a bed to sit in the sun was always a problem on sea day, as is on any ship, but is more difficult when you are in a wheelchair and have to park it close to the bed so I could get out of the chair. I don’t want the cruise ship to allocate an area for wheelchair users yet it would be helpful if the end beds on a row could be allocated for wheelchair users how you police it I have no idea.
Access to the theatre is good up a double dogleg ramp and an area for 3 wheelchair users per side and there partner/carer but the chairs are too low for the partner/carers to see over the wooden balustrade. Either the chairs need to be higher or the balustrade removed. The staff on duty each evening at the theatre will instruct non wheelchair persons who sit in these chairs to move so don’t be afraid to seek help to gain a seat.
The return transfer was faultless with the correct vehicle waiting. There was a minor hitch on boarding the airplane as the ground crew were not aware of what a flight key was or how it worked.