Dear Bill and Carol,
Thank you for this wonderful resource web site. I am so happy to have found a place to tell my story for other wheelchair users so that they may avoid the personal endangerment we endured.
My husband and I sailed on the ms Veendam for the 2001 New Year's Holiday Caribbean Cruise with 16 members of our family, occupying 7 cabins. We both have Multiple Sclerosis, and both decided to use our electric wheelchairs to make our way around the ship.
To be fair on one issue, the cruise line sent us a letter stating that moving about the ship might be more difficult with the chairs, especially mine, since it was a scooter and has a larger turning radius and is more difficult to maneuver into and out of the small elevators.
We are seasoned travelers, however, and are prepared to take a little longer to get to the dining room or theater. We were prepared to give up our scooter and chair, if need be, to leave the ship for excursions. In other words, we have the patience that all wheelchair users develop if they travel and want to avoid ulcers!
We have read the other article from the couple with problems regarding Holland America. If only the gangway, and carrying someone down it were the only issue! Holland America put us in danger at every turn!
Their Excursion Officer had no knowledge of which excursions would
be accessible or not, and had no knowledge either regarding whether or
not we could even leave the ship safely in their standard wheelchairs.
a suggestion from her, we found ourselves stranded in St. Thomas - in a gravel parking lot - gravel 8 inches deep (try pushing a wheelchair through that) - our taxi driver abandoned us immediately because he was so angry that he had to drive so far from town to this particular attraction, there was no telephone access and a 50 stair climb to reach the nearest human being.
We were forced to beg for a ride, cram ourselves and my husband's chair (I had decided to stumble along on a cane so that I could be a bit more mobile - very fortuitous decision!) into a "native's" car - and be driven to the nearest eating establishment where we could phone a taxi so that we could return to the ship. We were humiliated, and I must admit a bit terrified.
Our family had not accompanied us, as they and WE were assured this
was an accessible attraction with easy-to-use transportation to and from
the ship. The previous day, my sister had already been forced to forfeit
excursion to accompany us off the ship. I was not about the make others do the same again. They should not have had to do so.
We had booked our New Year's cruise in March, with the entire family
reserved in a row of cabins right next to our accessible one. This
way, our family members would be available to help us with elevator doors,
we arrived, Holland America bumped every member of our family to different cabins, ON DIFFERENT DECKS. The entire cruise, we were forced to fight crowds and packed elevators to get to public rooms where my family,
scattered about the ship, would attempt to find meeting places.
Part of our contract with Holland America included safe and legal
transport for our electric scooter and wheelchair from airport and hotels
to the ship. We did not have one single experience where this vendor appeared
Worse, the Holland America Representatives never waited to see if we would be transported safely or if, indeed, the vendor would even show up. This led to several endangering moments.
At one point, the Ft. Lauderdale police chased our Handi-Van away from the tour bus parking area where he was told to pick us up. The driver was so frightened, he fled leaving all our bags on the sidewalk, including my purse, all our cash, our passports, etc. (We were not allowed to carry those when we drove up the ramp into the Handi-Van.) I was forced to jump out of the moving van, nearly two blocks later, to retrieve our articles. Holland America staff had already left, choosing the comfort of the tour bus over the tardy, smelly, and smoky environment of the Handi-Van. They did not even remain to see us safely loaded on the van.
Several incidents like this occurred, but the absolute worse came
at the end of the cruise when we were leaving the ship. We were told
to report to a lounge where "special needs" passengers would meet crew
for a safe escort
off the ship. Again, we were separated from our family and once at the location, told we would not receive the escort due to the mechanical nature of our chairs. My husband's wheels became stuck in the gangway as he descended. He was unable to free himself. The ship's staff released all other passengers and a hoard of bodies - a virtual wall of people - came down the gangway, bumping into my husband and his chair. No staff came to our rescue until I screamed so loudly that people outside the luggage hangar could hear me....even though the ship's officers were standing there watching the entire thing unfold. They, however, were much too busy saying "bye bye" to able bodied people.
It gets worse. Once we found our luggage, and made our way to the exit doors, we were told our Handi-Van had not arrived but would be there any moment. Even though we had confirmed it, and had that confirmation from the ship in writing. The Handi-Van was already 30 minutes late. Holland America Staff placed us in front of the doors, but behind the actual staff people, so that we were facing their backsides, and were in a location where every passenger could see us as they left the building. Again, a humiliating position. They ignored every question or plea for information. A storm had moved into the Ft. Lauderdale area and it was less than 45 degrees that morning. We had been in the Caribbean and were returning to Southern California. We certainly were not dressed for 45 degree weather with wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour.
We sat there for over three hours, then when EVERY SINGLE PASSENGER was gone, the staff began to lock us in the warehouse! By now we were about to miss our plane. I was furious, and made my way toward the sidewalk, quite vocal, and made sure that anyone I saw knew about my dissatisfaction with Holland America. Well, it didn't take long for them to flag down some kind of transportation for us. Turns out our Handi-Van had backed out on us early that morning, but they obviously believe people in wheelchairs can't process that kind of information and are not mentally capable of problem solving. Even though they had known this for three hours, we were led to believe that our transportation's arrival was imminent. Since none of them would talk to us, they were not aware that we had a huge family waiting for us at the airport who could have provided aid. They just assumed we were "disposable garbage" to be handled when they had the time to do so.
The van they flagged was NOT legally equipped for two electric wheelchairs. Holland America staff people ripped out it's back seat and refused to give it back to the driver until he drove us to the airport. There was no way for us to tie our chairs down safely, which we did not know until we had moved up the ramp of the van and the Holland America Staff had slammed the doors. We were told about the seat by the driver on the way to the airport. He told us that he was handed cash and told to shut up and get those people out of there. A new group of passengers was about to arrive and they wanted us out of there before we could start bad-mouthing Holland America to these new passengers.
On the way to the airport, our chairs were rolling all around the back of that van. Our luggage had been piled in the lap of the driver and in the seat next to him. We were an accident waiting to happen. The first time we turned a corner, my scooter fell over on top of me, and all our luggage toppled into the driver's arms and lap. I don't know why I didn't make him stop that van and call the police, but I think we were so shocked and so "cowed" after 8 days of this type of treatment, we just didn't know what we were doing. My scooter fell over on me three times during the trip to the airport.
My husband was so stressed by this time, his MS was in full exacerbation
and his legs were spasming and sticking straight out in front of him.
When we finally got to the airport and I saw my mother, I broke down and
a baby. I am a 45 year old woman who has handled incredible crises in my life. Until recently, I was an executive of a Fortune 100 corporation and I charged $300 a head for other executives to come hear me speak. And yet, after just one week with Holland America, there I was, sobbing uncontrollably the moment I heard my mother's voice.
All of you out there should know, Holland America is owned by Carnival Cruise Lines, and as of this writing, Carnival is attempting a hostile takeover of Princess. So know with whom you are sailing. DO NOT believe Holland America when they say they cater to Special Needs Passengers.
I am including the letter we are sent the CEO's of Carnival and Holland America. We sent copies of this letter to local chapters of the MS Society and our local Congressman. We are threatening lawsuit if Carnival Cruise Lines and Holland America do not make adequate apologies and reparations. In the meantime, we are telling everyone we know:
DON'T RISK YOUR DIGNITY
DON'T RISK YOUR SAFETY
DON'T THROW AWAY YOUR MONEY
DON'T SAIL CARNIVAL OR HOLLAND AMERICA
Here's hoping we can save you the horror that we went through and that our next entry here will be to tell you about one of the many wonderful experiences we have had during our travels with other companies who make us feel honored to do business with them!
Julie and Peter Drea
The Drea's also included two letters of their displeasure. These are worth reading, a summery of events and a complaint to the CEO.
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