South Caribbean Cruise
Vladimir Drobashevsky © 2001

Vladimir and Elfrieda Drobashevsky, of Wexford, PA, explored the ups and downs of a South Caribbean cruise on the Dawn Princess.

My Wife, Elfrieda, and I have just returned from a seven-day cruise, which included the islands of Trinidad, Barbados, Antigua, Tortola and St Thomas. Because of an unbelievably beautiful and accessible ship (the Dawn Princess) and its five-star service, both of us are fairly happy with our trip.

However, here are some limitations that Global Access News subscribers should know about. My dear wife is a BLK amputee, and pretty much depends on a wheelchair. Every one of the islands  mentioned above is not handicapped friendly, and certainly not wheelchair accessible.

To begin with, we had to use the gangplank to go ashore by using a super complicated gadget. In spite of only a 10 to 20 degree slope, the crew would not let me handle the wheelchair. So, they would slip this machine under the wheelchair  (it looks like a car jack with rubber tracks), hoist her into a prone position, raise the jack and drive over the ramp steps (only 3" to 4" high risers) down to the pier. This took at least 10 minutes and held up the passengers who were in a hurry to exit.

We were fortunate to know someone in Trinidad, who picked us up at the pier. This meant a great city tour and a lunch at their golf club. At the entrance--surprise, surprise! Seven huge seven steps and no railings! After another 10-minute deliberation with the club manager, they came up with a ping pong table top, placed it over the steps, and three burly men pushed and pulled my wife over the ping pong table and inside. All this, mind you, in a 90 degree heat! Needless to say, we elected to skip Barbados and the next port, the next day.

In Antigua, we did go ashore, only to find out, that none of the sidewalks were accessible to a wheelchair. Either the shops had a tall step at the entrance, or the display racks were right in the middle of the sidewalk, not to mention deep potholes and cracks in the cement. After buying one postcard, we were ready to go back "home" to the ship.

Now for the gangplank "up" problem! Back to the machine. It took another 10 minutes to strap her up in a prone position in her own wheelchair, only to find out that the rubber tracks would not align with the plank steps (I remind you, that a lot of water is under the plank...) After some slipping and sliding left and right, someone suggested putting some weight on the lower end of the jack – one crew member graciously used his weight, and we ascended to our temporary home.

Again we chose to stay on board in Tortola, but did visit St Thomas. One small suggestion: Do not bother to go downtown in St Thomas. Right next to the dock, there is a shopping mall with, perhaps, some 100 stores, and since it is brand new  - it is very accessible and handicapped friendly. In contrast, the Main St. in St Thomas is the same as the other four islands--narrow sidewalks and a huge step into every store. Visualize also that on some days, there are up to 12 cruise ships visiting the island, meaning at least 16000 passengers downtown at one time.

As I wrote at the beginning, both of us are reasonably happy with this trip. One cannot complain about having blue skies and temperatures of 85 to 90 degrees every day. Onboard activity is also a factor. There was so much to do, and the ships’ crew of 900 pampered us! Our accessible stateroom was large and well designed for every need. Now, if we could only find more accessible islands! With a little patience, it will be summer here in Pittsburgh soon. And then we'll be back to blue skies and warm weather again.

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