For many years, I had heard that traveling in Mexico was, at best, ill-advised for the disabled. It was said that, unlike the United States, Mexico was not subject to the Americans With Disabilities Act and was not prepared to comfortably accommodate visitors with disabilities. Despite its active travel industry, Mexico hadn’t yet addressed the needs of this population of travelers.
With this in mind, and with a previous good cruising experience, my husband and I, our two teenage daughters (15 and 18), our teenage son (14), and his power chair decided to look into a cruise to Mexico. Royal Caribbean International (RCI) has an excellent reputation with disabled travelers so we decided to look into a seven day voyage, leaving from the very accessible San Diego, aboard the Grandeur of the Seas to the Mexico Riviera ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallerta.
We booked an accessible stateroom for the kids and a regular stateroom for us. Because we booked early, we were able to obtain them right next to each other. Mr. Charles Newton, Special Needs Coordinator, provided us with RCI’s Accessible Seas brochure, answered all of our questions, and made sure that everything went smoothly. Although we were driving to San Diego, had we needed a wheelchair accessible hotel room and transportation, he would have arranged it. We knew we would be tendering at Cabo San Lucas, but Mr. Newton assured us that assistance would be available to us. Royal Caribbean has a project in the works to transfer guests in wheelchairs to tender boats, but it was not completed by the time of our cruise in August, 2002.
We drove from our home near Los Angeles to San Diego and stayed, the night before the cruise, at the Holiday Inn Bayside, 4875 N. Harbor Dr., 1-800-662-8899. We had a handicap accessible suite, which was a real treat for us because my husband and I had a separate bedroom from the kids. Their room had a queen sofa bed and bath with lowered clothes bar, wheel-under sink, and roll-in shower with fold down seat. All light switches, in both rooms of the suite, were lowered. The second room contained a king-size bed with bath. The bath could be wheeled into, but did not have enough turn around room, although the sink was raised. There was a television in each room and lots of maneuverability.
We ate dinner, and breakfast the next morning, at the Point Loma Cafe, located on the other side of the main lobby. The prices were reasonable and the food excellent. Being San Diego, everything was accessible and the staff at the restaurant knew what we needed in a table and sat us without fuss. We drove to the pier, unloaded, and my husband parked the car in the long-term parking lot across the street.
Check-in was a breeze. RCI’s staff at this port keep everything moving and, before we knew it, we were onboard. The Grandeur is a lovely ship. We especially liked the little inside sitting areas all around the ship where we could sit, sipping a cool drink, and watch the ocean and talk. There were a host of activities going on, perhaps not as many as on the mega ships, but all of us enjoyed a well-deserved rest after the hectic lives we separately lead throughout the year. I did manage to get the husband on the treadmill most days, those days I wasn’t running him ragged in port.
He had two days of peace and quiet before we hit Cabo San Lucas. This was the only port in which we had to tender, so we asked one of the pursers what he would suggest. We borrowed a manual chair and spoke to the Docking crew about our situation and they said they would lift our son onto the tender and then it was a flat exit at the Cabo dock. When we saw the flight of steps, leading down to the tender, we thought we’d have to scrap our plans, but the crew members CARRIED Greg down the steps in the chair and we did a backward “wheelie” to get him into the tender. On the way back, we were experiencing 3-5 foot swells, but they got Greg out of the tender with good timing and up those stairs. Not one of the crew members would accept a tip for this service above and beyond.
In Cabo San Lucas, besides being hotter than a frying pan, few stores are accessible, although we did find a couple of mini malls that had more than a few. We managed to get around, enjoyed the sights, bought a few things, and went back to the ship for an afternoon snack and drink. One of the nice things about this ship, after a day in port, is that you can go back to your room and see a first run movie, in your comfy clothes, on your stateroom television. A bonus for my son was that the T.V.’s had A/V ports for his Gamecube, so he played a little of his video games until his sisters had enough and commandeered the T.V. back.
No rest for the weary. (That would be my husband.) The purser let us know that, although we could take the power chair off the ship in Mazatlan and the tram was accessible to take us to the terminal, the taxis to take us into town were not accessible, so our best bet would be to take a manual chair, which is what we did. The terminal contains accessible shops inside and a flea market outside, all with a good representation of what you’ll find in town. We lucked out in that we were approached by a local tour company (Marco’s Private Custom Tours, (6) 984-04-45, www.mazatlantourguides.com) and, for a reasonable fee, we contracted for a tour of Mazatlan, shopping included. We transferred Greg to the front seat of the station wagon, stowed the chair, and we had a wonderful time with our guide, Marco, exploring the city! Right then and there, we knew that that’s the way to go for us. The only problem is that the vehicle has to be low enough to the ground, like a station wagon or minivan, so that we can transfer Greg. Bought a few things, then back to the ship for our afternoon snack. Since this was our twentieth wedding anniversary, my husband, with the kids in on it, arranged for our stateroom to be decorated and a cake to be brought to the dinner table to celebrate.
In Puerto Vallerta, my husband and I got up early to go horseback riding. I picked up a beautiful sombrero and two hand-painted ceramic tiles, which I watched the artist draw, then we returned to the ship for the kids. We docked and there is a swap meet at the pier, fully ramped, that had a wonderful selection of souvenirs. Every store, however, had a 3-4” step. We obtained a taxi into the city, which is where our troubles started. It was unbelievably hot and humid and, keep in mind, this is from people who lived most of their lives in Pennsylvania, where the summers and hot and humid. While California is hot, the humidity is usually very low. In the city of Puerto Vallerta, the sidewalks are often 9-12” above the street level and the few curb cuts we found were steep or broken, as was the sidewalk, in many places. Since the streets were cobble-stoned, as well as too narrow, we were forced to lift Greg and the wheelchair up and down each curb, at almost every street. Many stores have steps, so we tended to linger in those air-conditioned stores without steps where Greg could get in out of the oppressive heat. The people of Puerto Vallerta are exceedingly kind and good-hearted and moved to help lift, or to give way for, the chair. We had to take two taxis back to the terminal, but our driver’s were lively and fun. If we visit Puerto Vallerta again, I think we’d see if we could rent a station wagon or minivan to tour the city, but confine our shopping at the swap meet and use a manual chair to pop over the 3-4” steps.
We had one day of rest before the cruise was over. After we disembarked, we visited Old Town and the Bazaar Del Mundo before our return trip home.
Accessible stateroom bathroom
Ramp to stateroom balcony
Ramped deck entrances