Our Cruise of the Mediterranean
by Dick Mailman

We went on a Mediterranean cruise in August,1997. My daughter, Roberta, and my 2 granddaughters, Mae,14 and Katy,11.And I, in my electric wheelchair that I use because I have ALS. We worked with our local travel agent to pick out a cruise with a time that would dovetail with everyone's schedule. Orient Cruises Lines had one in the Western Mediterranean that fitted the time and place we wanted to go, and they assured us that the accommodations would be accessible, so we went. We tried to verify the details with the hotels and with your help we contacted the national agencies for travel of the 3 countries to get information about accessibility, We received much useful information, but it did not always work out.

We flew to Rome on Allitalia. We had no choice of airlines, as the package came as a tour, and any variation would have been very expensive. We checked with Allitalia, and were assured that we would have the front seat in the cabin with ample leg room. Instead, we were placed in the last row of the cabin, and stuffed in like sardines. There was a smoking section just behind us, which helped my asthma no end. The plane was sold out.

Allitalia was not all bad, though. The people were friendly, all our bags arrived, and my chair arrived in excellent shape. Also they took me out of the plane on a chair that climbed down a long stairway! The flight home from Barcelona was on British airways with a change of planes in Heathrow, London. We asked again for front seats, but were given seats 8 rows back. We noted that no one was sitting in the front middle rows, and were told those were reserved for people with infants. Since there were none, we finally got seated there and had a comfortable flight home; Roberta's assertiveness paid off. We were not so lucky with the chair. When we arrived in LA, we found our chair in baggage, the back had been removed and lay on the seat, and the battery case and battery were at an angle .We were able to get the back on, but the battery case didn't fit right until we took it to our repair facility at home and they straightened it out. We were able to get the cables all connected, so it worked all right.

Rome is not very wheelchair-friendly. I stayed on the sight-seeing bus when others got off to explore the Coliseum, but this I expected. The Hotel Cicerone, which Orient Lines had assured us was accessible, had a room entrance wide enough for my chair but it took a great deal of maneuvering to get into the bathroom, and there were no grab bars and it was very precarious to use the toilet. There was a bathtub and no way to use the shower(for me). We asked the woman at the hospitality desk for Orient Lines what we should do, and she said "that's the way hotels are in Rome". We asked the hotel clerk and in 10 minutes he found us a room in a hotel 2 blocks away which had a very accessible room, with a towel rack alongside the toilet, which served as a grab bar and a nice wide sink which I could grab and stand at. We paid for the 2 rooms for 2 nights, which came to almost $700. and we are negotiating with Orient Lines to be reimbursed.

We were fortunate enough to get reservations at the museum at Villa Borghese park. The exhibits were beautiful, but I did not expect to be able to visit the 2nd floor which required climbing a circular stairway of 87 steps. But they transferred me to a wheelchair, similar to the one at the airport, and we climbed to the second floor! Then the wheels lowered and I could be pushed around. The contact at Orient Lines decided it was too much trouble to get me back on the bus for the ride to the port, so they hired an ambulance(we split the cost) so I am also negotiating for the return of that $75. At Livorno we hired a car from Hertz and Roberta drove to Florence. I took my manual chair to be able to use the car and it was pretty tough on both of us on those cobbled streets and sidewalks. But we saw the Duomo and several museums and on the way back saw the tower at Pisa.

The cruise ship was the Marco Polo. The room was terrific. The bed was narrow, but that's the way it is on cruise ships . There was a step up to the bathroom but when we pointed this out the steward found a ramp which worked well. There was a shower and a shower seat and Roberta had to take my chair out and bring it back in, as the whole bathroom converted to a shower, but it worked out well. The food service was formal, the food average. We found out from a waiter that they had carried people in wheelchairs down to the tenders which served the smaller stops, so even though the purser claimed ignorance, we got in line for disembarkation at Cannes, France. and they carried me down the ladder to the tender, and we enjoyed the day in Cannes. We thought they couldn't do it before, and I had stayed on board ship at Portofino. But I took some nice photos of the bay. Palma, Majorca was fun.

The hotel in Barcelona was beautiful, the bathroom had grab bars, but the design was strange, in that the toilet was difficult to approach in a wheelchair, and the left grab bar was on the wall, too far to reach from the toilet! But I managed. The tour of Barcelona seemed to be mostly the architecture of Gaudi, and it was very beautiful. The second day we took taxicabs,( which arrive 10 minutes after you call, and on request, have manual ramps that admit a wheelchair.) The headroom on getting in was a little tight, but we managed. We visited the Guell park designed by Gaudi, and the Picasso museum. Barcelona was great. Well, that was the trip and I look forward to the next one.

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