TravelinWheels gets out of the cold and heads to the Caribbean aboard the Accessible Navigator of the Seas!
A couple weeks ago, we left the cold Chicago winter to meet with other travel professions interested in disability travel at the SATH World Congress. Even better than meeting others who value special needs travel, was doing so on Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas! We were headed down to sunny Florida for a four-day cruise that would stop in Cozumel!
The trip down to Midway from Schaumburg was surprisingly uneventful. We decided to use one of our affiliate partners, Airport Parking, who referred us to a great lot that was very close to Midway and relatively inexpensive. They valet parked the car, and we hopped on a waiting wheelchair accessible shuttle that took us to the terminal. We were there within ten minutes of dropping off the car!
The flight down to Ft. Lauderdale was delayed, but once we landed, it was great to feel the warmth! Ft. Lauderdale's airport was relative easy to navigate and we found our shuttle bus to the Days Inn Ft. Lauderdale on Broward Avenue. All I can say about the hotel is, "Never again." It didn't appear that we were in a very good part of town, even though it was convenient to both the airport and Port Everglades. The hotel was not very well maintained. The office staff was ok, but it didn't make up for the discomfort I felt being there and the general lack of cleanliness. I would not recommend staying here if at all possible.
Fast forward to the next day! The bright Florida sun shone on us as we arrived at the dock to board our ship. The Navigator of the Seas was the largest class of ship in the fleet until the last couple years ago. It is an immense ship! The boarding process was very organized, and the staff did a great job of assisting special needs travelers, which there were many.
The ship took some time to learn to navigate. There is a lot going on; many restaurants, bars, theaters, and things to do! I learned that if you really wanted to get from stem to stern on the ship, you needed to be on one of the two main levels (Floors 4 and 5) or else you were going to take lots of elevators. The good news is that there were many elevators, and they were fairly roomy. The ship was very wheelchair accessible; heavy doors had automatic buttons, and there were no real thresholds. The bathrooms were spacious, and bar placements were great. Our friends who stayed in handicap accessible staterooms were impressed by their size, and the setup of the roll-in showers. The doors to the staterooms were a bit difficult to open; however, the staff was able to adjust the pressure to make it easier. There are staff members everywhere you turn, willing to assist in the buffet line, get you a place to sit, etc. During peak times, the Windjammer can get a bit crowded, and it can be difficult to navigate in a wheelchair or powerchair as the seats that can be close together. If you need assistance, just ask one of the staff to help, and they will gladly do so.
There were many food choices, and the food was pretty good. The main dining room was beautiful, and the service was good. However, we sat at large tables, so dinner did tended to run a couple hours. If you do not want to sit that long, try one of the other dining options.
The ship has two pool lifts and many, many places to have fun. The hot tubs may be difficult to get into on the main deck, as there are stairs. It may be easier to go to the hot tub in the adult's only area. The daily activity sheets were full of a variety of things to do. If drinking fancy drinks with little umbrellas is your thing; you will find plenty of that! There were waiters everywhere, offering drinks of all kinds. Be forewarned; they are not cheap! If you would like to see some pictures of the ship, go to our Facebook page. I'll have them on the site when we go live, too.
I was there to work, so off I went to meet my colleagues at SATH. What a group! I was able to make connections with professionals from Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Canada, Ecuador, Cancun, Germany, and several travel operators that specialize in vacations for people with disabilities on cruises and destinations in the U.S. They were very receptive to hearing about TravelinWheels and working with us to bring information and great experiences to our visitors about special needs travel. I can't wait for the site to be live so that we can start loading it up with all the information we will be able to collect!
We talked about such topics as medical tourism, travelling with service animals, U.S. air carrier laws, Baby Boomer's needs, the needs of those with hidden disabilities, and changes in the ADA that will take effect next year. It was fascinating, and I came home armed with not only the new friendships I made, but also the new knowledge that can be shared with others to make disabled travel better for all.
We did take a day trip to Chankanaab National Park in Cozumel and had the opportunity to swim with the dolphins. Chankanaab did a wonderful job to ensure our friends who were slow walkers on crutches or in wheelchairs were able to participate in all of the activities safely and with confidence. It was wonderful! There are pictures of Chankanaab on the TravelinWheels Facebook page, and we will have them on the site, as well.
After such a great trip, it was hard to return to the harsh winter. We made our way back a couple days later, with sadness that we had to leave the warm sun. The good news was that when we returned, our luggage made it home with us, the car park was prompt in picking us up, and our car was warmed up and waiting for us. Sometimes you have to look at the bright side!
If you'd like to hear more about the ship, or Chankanaab, please drop me a note. I'm glad to share more! Stay tuned next week for another blog. I have so many topics to share! I'm going to cover my trip to the Travel and Adventure show, adaptive skiing, more Chicago info, and other destinations worldwide!
Thanks for joining me again this week! Please pass this info on to your friends, and please take a look at our advertisers. I've personally picked all of these partners because they offer quality products and services. They support the site and the profits keep it up and running. Have a great week!