Wheelchair Accessible Bermuda Cruise
by Vladimir & Elfriede Drobashevsky 2002  

Vladimir and Elfrieda Drobashevsky, who have frequently contributed cruise reports to Global Access News,  just returned from a 7-day cruise to Bermuda on Royal Caribbean's Nordic Empress.

Hi All:

Glad to be able to report on our cruise to Bermuda, on the RCI Nordic Empress last week. Thanks to the RTC Newsgroup, I was well aware of the unfavorable itinerary. Elfrieda and I had a little choice - Nordic was the only ship with vacant HP cabins. In fact, we were a little bit reluctant to book on RCI, since our previous cruises were always on Princess and Costa. Once on the way, we realized that  the Nordic Empress is one excellent vessel and we had a great time.

There were no problems arriving at Newark, NJ Airport, but we did have to wait close to two hours for a bus transportation to the ship's terminal. It took, perhaps, five minutes to do the security thing, and we were on board and in our stateroom 4548 in no time at all. In truth, this had to do with my wife's wheelchair and the nice attendant who took us past a mile-long line with cruisers-to-be with not very happy faces. I knew from the Internet, that the Nordic is a relatively old vessel and therefore lacking in HP accommodations. Our room steward, Paul from Jamaica, turned out to be very helpful, but we did end up using the shower handle that did a backwards: right turn for hot water and left for cold! Oh, well. The bed was only about 15" off the floor and it took some doing to get my wife into the WC. Shower chair, also- really a stool, not higher than the bed! Otherwise, it was a large room of about 280sq ft., with enough storage closets and drawers.

The Royal Wharf

We arrived at the Royal Wharf - Western tip of Bermuda on Tuesday, 1 PM, stayed there on Wed. and were off to Hamilton on Thursday noon. One would think, judging from the literature, that this is the place to be. In fact, the dock is in the middle of nowhere, but within walking distance to the Twin Towers Shopping Mall, (majority of T-shirt places), glass blowing demonstration, rum cake bakery, and a nifty museum of the Royal Dockyard. There are no rental cars in Bermuda, mopeds are available and to Bermuda's credit, an efficient public transportation. It did take me, however, 37 minutes and $11.00 RT ticket to ride on the bus to Horseshoe Bay Beach, indeed a magnificent spot on earth with a flour-like pink sand. Unfortunately, Bermuda, along with other Caribbean Islands, is also far behind in accessibility.

Food

Other than for bland salads, my wife and I were happy with the culinary production at Princess Cruises. So, with the RCI Nordic, we acted a little bit spoiled on the first day. Soon, we found out that the food quality, preparation and presentation were just about as good as Princess, with one big plus -- much nicer service. Our waiter, Imed from Tunisia, and his assistant from India were tending to our table of eight as if we were the only people on board. They were fast, efficient and entertaining. Honestly, it was hard to say goodbye to both of them; they've simply grown on us. Also in contrast to Princess, the headwaiter made himself available, not only to shake our hands and inquire about our state of happiness, but he also helped his crew pour coffee, clean tables, and at the end of each dinner, assemble his crew for an international sing-a-long. One thing we did not like: the dining room official always lumped all of the HP together on one table nearest to the entrance for breakfast and lunch. Not only was this a major traffic problem, but it also made for  fairly slow service. Elfrieda and I wanted to meet "other" passengers, and at this table all one heard - the usual aches and pains that HP talk about among themselves. We did not attend the buffet-style Windjammer Cafe on the top deck, as it is next to impossible to navigate the wheelchair with a tray of food in your lap.

It seems, that the passengers did not take seriously the "Formal" nights. There were two formals and one "Smart Casual" nights and men with suits and ties, not tuxedos, and sport jackets showed up in large numbers.

Entertainment

Fair to say, four shows out of seven, on a scale of ten, were a fat ten. In particular, a singer and comedian by the name of Al Frazier deserves a special credit. For a person, at least over 65 years of age, his rendition of songs mixed with humor held the audience in awe and stitches. The dancers were simply awesome. Imagine the extreme modern dances, super energized for close to 50 minutes on stage, only for a 30 sec. backstage change of outfits.

We did not play Bingo this time. Many did at a $20.- a game, ending up at the last
day with a $7K jackpot! Speaking of jackpots and on-board purchases - try to remember that all your money transactions made on the ship over the US Limit are entered into the ship's computer accessible to Custom Agents - waiting for you at 6AM on the last day of your cruise! There were plenty of things to do onboard during the day and of course the "cursed" casino (not passenger- friendly at all!) later in the evening.

The Vessel

I am not sure, but I think she is about 12 years old and hardly showing her age. Obviously, RCI did not spare the money for all the glitz in marble, polished brass and water falls. It seems that the hallways are a bit wider on newer ships, but when there was a stewards' service cart in the hallway, I had a max of 1/2 " extra to make through the opening while pushing Elfrieda's wheelchair.

Hamilton and Return

This is THE city to my specifications! It simply looks as if the paint is totally free in Bermuda--everywhere the buildings, residential or commercial, look as good as new or as clean as new. Main Street parallel to our dock is typically busy with traffic, has a mixture of good stores, some perhaps, a little bit upscale. Most impressive are the natives. Very friendly and always going out of their way to help the tourists. And the businessmen! Neat pastel color jackets, shirt ant tie, Bermuda shorts and the black knee socks. Wow! A cool way to sightsee Hamilton - a ride on a horse drawn buggy (with a sunroof with fringes), although a bit pricey -$30.- for a half hour ride. Too bad we were docked in Hamilton only one afternoon and the next morning up to one o'clock, the time for our departure home.

Our trip back to NYC was rather uneventful, except for the wind and the monstrous waves on Saturday afternoon. The spray and foam were literally up to the height of our deck 4. Elfrieda did very well and I did not. Quickly, I had to find a comfortable
spot on the ship to prevent "losing my cookies." I guess a couple of crackers and a hard roll (no pun intended) helped a lot, so that we could attend to our last dinner, medium rare prime rib and two deserts.

Debarkation

This is where Nordic earned poor marks. Firstly, they wanted the passengers needing
assistance to assemble on Deck 5 at 9 a.m.. Regardless of our tag color we were supposed to depart first. Well, nothing happened 'till about 10.30 a.m.. In the meantime, all other passengers were herded at the main theatre, and so neither group left the ship until about 11 a.m. Then we sat on the bus for another hour. Another problem , our bus driver didn't speak a word of English, and so, consequently, we ended up at the Newark Airport alright, but at the wrong Terminal with signage "Continental to Rome, Milan" etc! Total debarkation - 4 hrs, a record for us counting 10 cruises to date. To make my long story end, we made it home safely,  in spite of some minor glitches,  very happy.

Indeed, we would choose RCI again in a heartbeat, although our next cruise will be on
Celebrity, Summit for 11 days, to Panama and Costa Rico, October 28, 2002.

If there are any questions, please, e-mail us directly: vladrob@usaor.net

Click on the title to check out the Drobashevsky's other cruise adventures to:

Alaska Cruise
Southern Caribbean
Western Caribbean

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