I was very nervous before taking the 14-day land tour / cruise to Alaska because I was confined to a wheelchair. Although I can stand, but do not walk. When traveling in a wheelchair there is always a glitch with something that should comply with the ADA and not.
Our trip started in Anchorage and then led us to the Copper Center, Fairbanks, Denali National Park on the mountain. McKinley and Talkitna. After the land tour we boarded a cruise ship in Viter and headed south through the Inner Pass to Vancouver with the port berth in Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan.
Overall, the trip was excellent in terms of accessibility, although a few cases of hiccups we encountered along the way. I drew their attention to the cruise line and will share them with you.
The following is a list of tips and tricks that I make from my own personal experience when planning a trip:
- Never assume that when someone tells you that room, transportation, transfer, etc. meet ADA standards. There is a big difference in interpretation and assumptions when someone says it “meets ADA requirements”. You need to make a list of specific questions that require specific answers from a travel agent who really knows about your specific, needed accommodations.
- When I started planning my trip, I was working directly with the cruise line. I spoke to agents who were actually cruising on the ship we were riding on, who could give me information about the convenience of wheelchairs on the ship and help choose a room. I also talked to their access department about living quarters concerning ground floor rooms in hotels as well as things like shuttle / bus / rail elevators. These people were very helpful. I did not want to work in an independent travel agency, because in my experience I learned that specific things are not always answered correctly, or they are “lost in translation” when communicating with strangers.
- I booked a trip almost a year in advance to get exactly what I wanted. For example, I wanted the deck to have a sideboard, grill and outdoor pools / seats / movies to exclude the use of an elevator. In addition, we saved $ 1,400 by getting a room in the room – the open-air deck was near the door, so we didn’t need a balcony.
- We booked in September because there was less crowd in the cities and there were no children. I believe that when I sit on my scooter, I should always keep an eye on others; so many people – especially children – don’t look at me. In addition, at that time of year we did not have to deal with mosquitoes, we saw the northern lights, a beautiful autumn color, and the days were cool – 50-60 degrees. The colder temperature was good for me because my MS is very sensitive to warm humid days, which is often the case in the summer months in Alaska.
- I sent a written letter to their access department stating that I was “confined to a wheelchair,” so I needed elevators for all transportation and showers without an entrance for all hotel rooms, if any. I recommend sending such a letter if you are completely limited, as it will cover you later if you have problems, which in my case happened.
For example, three buses arrived that did not have elevators. Luckily, I’m small (£ 125) and my husband is strong, so I was able to be transferred to coach. Otherwise I would have to stay, which would disrupt my trip and cancel one of my tours. In the future, I would do this and recommend to others: contact the tour desk at each hotel where you stay to confirm that the elevator will be available to you in the next few days. You can also confirm any other special needs that you have requested ahead of time, such as a sleeveless shower. Twice I was given a room without a shower without introduction, and then learned that this room was given to someone who did not need it. If I had traveled with my sister and not with my husband, I would not have been able to take a shower because she could not lift me into the bathroom where the chair was placed.
If you’re part-time in a wheelchair, note that the buses go 5-7 steps and they’re pretty cool.
The railroads had lifts, as did individual tourist buses in Denali National Park.
Surprisingly, the accessibility in the towns of Alaska – even in the smallest outback – was very good. When I use the toilet, I need my husband’s help. We were able to find a restroom large enough for both of us, even near the roadside houses where we stopped to eat while traveling. Note: Rail toilets cannot accommodate two people, so if you need an assistant, you will need to prepare in another way for a 5-6 hour trip.
If you are thinking of a cruise or excursion, I suggest you start planning your arrangements for the year ahead as the rooms for the disabled are limited and fill up quickly.
Finally, due to the unpredictability of my MS I decided to purchase insurance in case I had health issues that prevented me from traveling.