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Cruisin’ Love!

1 Aug

Carrieanna recently returned from her very first cruise. It will not be her last!

The adventure begins!  Carrieanna and Vicki on deck.

The adventure begins!
Carrieanna and Vicki on deck.

She and her Aunt Vicki (a cruise veteran) took a seven-day trip to Alaska (the Alaska Tracy Arm Fjord Cruise) on the Celebrity Solstice. Along the way they stopped at Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, as well as spending one evening at the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC.

The cruise included MS educational programs, accessible shore excursions and, of course, some amazing experiences — not to mention many photo opportunities!

I asked Carrieanna a few questions about her experience. Continue reading

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Trail of the Cedars, Glacier National Park

11 Jul

Images by RJM

My friend and fellow travel-junkie, Jen Snyder, recently went to Glacier National Park in Montana. I was there in 2005, and it is Gorgeous with a capital “G”! And she totally agrees. In fact, she and her husband, Mark, have declared this park to be their Favorite!

As Jen and Mark hiked toward Avalanche Lake, they found a wheelchair accessible trail, called “Trail of the Cedars.” And being the good friend that she is, she made sure I knew about it. Continue reading

Sometimes You Just Need a Little Get-Away

4 Jul

For the past week the heat in Sacramento has been unusually high: Triple digits for days. So when my friend said she was going to spend a few days in Incline Village, Nevada, I asked if I could come visit, and – fortunately – she said “Yes!”

Images by RJM

Hyatt Regency, Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino
Incline Village, Nevada

She was at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino and I drove up Tuesday morning for an overnight stay. (I’ve reviewed it on TripAdvisor if you’re interested in my thoughts about the hotel itself.)

We were eager to enjoy the cooler mountain air, and having a private beach just added to the ambiance!

Of course the hotel was accessible; I counted ten handicap parking spots, and was told at the front desk that there are 12 handicap accessible rooms (although the website indicates there are ten). Continue reading

Get Ready, Get Packed, Go!

30 Nov Carry-on luggage: Nylon bag, soft-sided suitcase
Carry-on luggage: Nylon bag, soft-sided suitcase

Carry-on luggage

It’s the end of November: One week after Thanksgiving; three and a half weeks before Christmas.

The “Holiday Season.” A time when people frequently choose to visit family and friends. Or they decide to do just the opposite: Take a vacation and “get away from it / them all!”

Either way, travel – most often by car or airplane — is involved. And that, of course, means packing.

I have traveled often enough to have a fairly good packing list in my head (which, of course, I commit to paper so I am less likely to forget something!) And I prefer not to check luggage, so my list is fairly basic: Passport, toiletries, one extra pair of shoes, clothes that coordinate and can be layered, et cetera, et cetera. A carefully-packed carry-on suitcase and laptop bag, and I’m ready to go!

It’s quite different when I travel with Carrieanna. Whether we are driving to Oregon, flying to Arizona, or “crossing the pond” to get to Europe, she needs to take more “stuff” in order to be comfortable while traveling.

I have asked her (and a few other friends who are “disabled” travelers) to share their travel tips and special needs. Here are some suggestions:

Before you go:

  • First, make a list of what you need to take, and make sure you have packed and can cross everything off that list. While this may seem like an obvious suggestion, it’s especially important for people who have memory problems (very common in people with M.S.).
  • Some items that might be included in checked luggage are: Incontinence supplies, bed protector, noise-reduction aids, bath chair and screwdriver. (While you can usually request a bath chair in American hotels, we found that we had to take our own when we traveled to Holland.)
  • Have a printed list of all prescription medications, and keep the list with the meds. (If you are going to include prescriptions in both your checked luggage and your carry-on, have two copies.) It’s probably also a good idea to include the name and phone number of your primary care physician and any specialists (i.e., neurologist) on the list.
  • Unless you plan to rely on taxis throughout your trip, be sure to take your handicap parking placard.

At the airport:

  • Do not check in online. If you need to change your seat to one closer to the lavatory, on an aisle, in bulkhead, etc., making your request in person increases the likelihood that you can get what you need.
  • Carrieanna has learned that wheelchair users don’t wait in the regular line to check in. She goes through the First Class line (and so does her traveling companion).
  • Although I just take carry-on luggage, and Carrieanna can wheel herself, we still have too much stuff for the two of us to manage alone. So we ask for skycap assistance, and we take cash in order to properly thank our assistant. (Some accept the tip; others do not. Either way, we are prepared.)
  • It’s also important to let the skycap know how many people are in our party, so no one gets left behind.
  • Specifically ask someone (your traveling companion or the skycap) to keep tabs on personal items (shoes, backpack) and assistive devices (cane, walker, etc.) that must go through the TSA X-ray process. Because wheelchair users are individually screened, knowing that someone is keeping track of and collecting personal items helps reduce Carrieanna’s pre-flight stress.
  • Carrieanna has found that being one of the last people to board the plane means less time sitting. (And she lets the airline personnel at the gate know this, so they don’t insist that she pre-board.)
  • Once she is on the plane, her foldable wheelchair is stowed with the checked luggage. We have learned that folding and securing the wheelchair with a luggage strap somewhat decreases the likelihood that it will be damaged in the cargo area.

One last suggestion: If you are traveling out of the country, do a little research to see how that country handles accessibility issues like wheelchair rental and repair, availability of bath chairs in hotels, etc.  For instance, a recent post on Accessible New Zealand Tours‘ Facebook page provided a list of suggestions.  (See Monday, 11-26-12.)

These are just a few tips we have learned.

If you require special assistance, or travel with someone who does, what tips can YOU share? We’d love to read your comments!

Ready to fly

Carrieanna and traveling companions; Schipol Airport (Amsterdam)

Almost Heaven

8 Oct

Almost Heaven

West Virginia

Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River….

During my recent trip to West Virginia, I frequently heard John Denver’s voice in my head, singing the opening lines to “Take Me Home, Country Road.”

West Virginia "Wild and Wonderful" sign

Early October was a beautiful time to visit the Mountain State. The rolling hills near Wheeling were covered with trees dressed in a variety of autumn colors.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

The wooded areas hummed with insects; occasionally birds called out – when they weren’t busily eating!

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

Although we encountered a few sprinkles during the week, for the most part the temperature was in the mid 70s — t-shirt weather. (When I left Sacramento, the temperatures were in the upper 90s, so this coolness was heavenly!)

United Airlines

A few travel details:

Carrieanna and I traveled separately to Pittsburgh, PA, where we connected at the airport and drove the 55 miles to Wheeling.

I left early Saturday morning and after a brief layover in Washington DC (Dulles), I continued to Pittsburgh. I had made arrangements to rent a car from Hertz, and received excellent service and helpful directions from Penny at the rental counter.

I did a little shopping – foodstuffs and sundries – while waiting for Carrieanna’s flight to arrive from San Jose, CA by way of Minneapolis/St. Paul.

She flew via Delta Airlines; they charged her $20 per checked bag, and apparently manhandled her foldable wheelchair; a wheel fell off during our stay in Wheeling. (Thank goodness for Andy at Wheelcraft Bicycle, who quickly and carefully repaired it.)

However, she arrived safely and told me that the people at the airports had been very helpful to her. She also noted that being among the last to board was very helpful to her, as it meant less actual sitting on the plane.

Leaving Pittsburgh International Airport a little after 11:00 p.m., we drove to Oglebay Resort and Conference Center in Wheeling, where we had a room at the Wilson Lodge. Although we arrived well after midnight, the staff was very pleasant and helpful in getting all our bags to our “handicap accessible” room.

(Because we didn’t get to bed until nearly 1:00 a.m., and because travel greatly fatigues Carrieanna due to her MS, we were eager to sleep late on Sunday. However, the room was not sound proof, two wedding receptions had been held at Wilson Lodge the night before, and the guests seemed inclined to let their doors slam shut. Our first night was not restful. Fortunately that was the only really noisy night.)

While Carrieanna slept on Sunday, I explored Wheeling a little …

… and did some walking around the grounds of Oglebay.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

I could probably write a separate post about Oglebay and the grounds, the shops, the walking trail, the Environmental Center, and all of the amenities we enjoyed during our stay.

Instead, I’ll be fairly succinct:

The lodge was beautiful, the staff was always very helpful, and the food was good.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

The walking path was wide and well-paved, periodically sloped (offering a reasonable workout if walking briskly) but nearly always accessible.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

(We saw many, many deer on the Oglebay property.)

We loved the Schrader Environmental Education Center, with its observation deck …

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

… and butterfly garden.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

We loved browsing at the Carriage House Glass Shop — although we neglected to go downstairs to the Glass Museum; next time! — and the Gourmet Shop.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

We had traveled to Wheeling for three reasons:

First, to spend some time with Carrieanna’s Aunt Becky and Uncle Ted;

Figaretti's Restaurant, Wheeling, West Virginia

(We had a delicious lunch at Figaretti’s Restaurant; family owned since 1948)

Second, to see the undeveloped property Ted and his late brother, Richard, (Carrieanna’s father) owned in Taylor County (near Valley Falls State Park);

Taylor County, West Virginia

(Ted at the Taylor County Property)

(View from the neighbors’ deck, overlooking Valley Falls State Park)

And, finally, to visit the home and neighborhood where Richard (and Ted, and their sister, Mimi) had grown up.

(Cobblestones made it difficult for Carrieanna to roll down Birch Avenue)

(The Hess family home on Birch Avenue, Wheeling, West Virginia.)

Our visit included dinner at Ye Olde Alpha

“ … a landmark restaurant and watering hole of Wheeling, West Virginia. We pride ourselves on our dead animals, cold beer, and classic American food served in a casual family setting.”

(We found handicap parking and the access ramp on the side)

We also thoroughly enjoyed our two-hour tour  (including shopping) of Cabela’s in the Highland.

(Although the sign says the ramp is not accessible, Carrieanna had no problem rolling down it.)

We could not have asked for more beautiful weather on the day we visited the Taylor County Property, although the recent rain had muddied the dirt road, making it inaccessible for a wheelchair.

We also enjoyed visiting Valley Falls State Park in nearby Fairmont, West Virginia. There was an accessible path, which allowed Carrieanna to get close enough for a good view of the falls.

And then we were off to Fairmont to connect with some family members and enjoy dinner at Muriale’s Restaurant on our last night in West Virginia.

As we packed and prepared for our flights back to California, Carrieanna and I discussed some of the accessibility challenges we had noticed during our trip. For instance:

  • In some public restrooms (i.e., at the airport), the hand towel dispenser was placed so far from the sink that Carrieanna had to wheel herself (with wet and no-longer-clean hands) to get a paper towel.
  • On two different occasions we encountered vehicles parked directly in front of curb cuts, making them inaccessible for a wheelchair.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

On a positive note, Carrieanna had much more leg room on her flights with United Airlines, and there was no extra cost for her two pieces of checked luggage.

She was also extremely impressed with the assistance she received and the kindness extended by the United flight attendants and ground crew – especially as they delivered and made ready her foldable wheelchair when she deplaned in San Jose.

United Airlines will be our first choice in airlines for future flights.

In spite of the few challenges, our trip to West Virginia was truly “Almost Heaven” and we look forward to future visits to the Mountain State!

Currently Reading: “22 Accessible Road Trips”

18 Jun

On the subject of accessible travel, Candy Harrington is an expert.

The author of many books, including “Barrier-Free Travel; A Nuts & Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers,” and the founding editor of “Emerging Horizons,” a quarterly online magazine, Candy says, “My goal is to describe access so travelers can make appropriate choices ….”

I recently had an opportunity to acquire Candy’s newest book, “22 Accessible Road Trips,” and she clearly meets her goal. I have already highlighted many of her great suggestions!

I particularly love the format of the book. Divided into four geographic regions — Pacific States, Mountain States, Central States and Eastern States – Candy has described several accessible – and scenic – trips in each.

Each route is a separate chapter with sections filled with valuable suggestions and important details.

For example, in the “Along the Way” section, she encourages travelers with disabilities to get an America the Beautiful Access Pass, which is good for free admission to national parks and monuments. (page 5)

Another example: In writing about the Columbia River Gorge [part of the Washington Wine Country section in the Pacific States region], she says,

“For a look at one of the most spectacular scenic wonders on this loop, take exit 35 off Interstate 84, and continue west on Highway 30 to Multnomah Falls. This 620-foot waterfall is the second tallest year-round waterfall in the nation, and the showpiece of the Columbia River Gorge.”

She goes on to say, “A word of warning though – the signs to Multnomah Falls direct visitors to exit 31, which leads to a remote parking lot. For best access take exit 35, so you can park directly in front of the falls. … Additionally, try and hit this top attraction as early in the day as possible, to avoid the crowds.” (page 40)

Immensely helpful advice.

In the “Timing” section she notes when the weather is amenable for driving:

[Speaking of the Pacific Northwest] “This is definitely a summer trip. Depending on the severity of the winter, the road through … Crater Lake National Park may not open ‘til June.” (page 30)

and

[Speaking of the Mid-Atlantic area] “Spring and fall are the best seasons to drive this route, as the scenery is magnificent. The fragrant dogwoods put on a good show in the spring, and the fall colors are simply stunning.” (pages 298-299)

… as well as when you might encounter large crowds:

“Try to avoid spring break though, as it’s especially crowded in Williamsburg at that time. This is not a winter trip, as some of the attractions are closed, and you’ll definitely run into snow.” (page 299)

and

“… if you don’t like crowds, avoid Albuquerque during the first week of October, as visitors flock to the very popular Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.” (page 71)

From my own experience, this is a very important consideration; fewer people generally means greater access for someone in a wheelchair.

In the “Don’t Miss It” section of each route, Candy not only shares her suggestions about special events or attractions …

“Although it’s hard to pick out highlights along this [The Rockies and Beyond] route, Garden of the Gods … consistently tops my must-see list ….” (page 97)

… but also some of the nuts-and-bolts details like where to park for a great view, whether loaner wheelchairs are available, etc., and other good-to-know information:

‘It should be noted that the [Breitenbush, Oregon] hot springs are clothing optional; … if you’re shy this probably isn’t the place for you.” (page 30)

As you can see from these quotes, Candy has thoroughly done her research, saving disabled travelers hours (or days) of work in planning a road trip.

In addition, at the conclusion of each chapter she has included a list of websites, phone numbers and other helpful resources pertaining to that route.

Candy’s husband, Charles Pannell, is her traveling companion as well as the book’s photographer, providing many black-and-white photos for each section.

The book is informative rather than anecdotal, yet it was descriptive enough to arouse my curiosity and inspire me to consider future road trips that Carrieanna might enjoy.

I highly recommend “22 Accessible Road Trips” as part of any traveler’s library!

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