Travel Abilities
Published Jul/Aug 2005

Travel and hospitality industry
aids travelers with physical challenges.
By Pam Fischer

If a disability has you thinking you can no longer travel, think again. The travel industry–from cruise and airlines to tour operators and hotel chains–are prepared to help you see the world.

With advance planning, a positive attitude and a good sense of humor, travelers with physical challenges can enjoy their dream vacation. So where do you start?

Working with a travel agent is always your best bet. This individual can help you select an itinerary that best fits your needs, as well as your budget and taste.

Also, talk to people who have taken similar trips. Be direct in your questioning to assess whether the challenges you might face are more than you desire.

Consider cruising

A cruise may be a great choice, not only because it's a stress-free vacation but also the crew is trained to assist travelers on and off the ship. Plus, cruise ships are equipped with elevators and offer wheelchair accessible cabins, many of which are equipped with wheel-in showers.

If shore-excursion buses aren't available, the crew can arrange for a taxi or other means of transportation. But there is one caveat–if the ship drops anchor away from the dock and passengers must board a boat or tender to reach land, getting off the ship will depend on how rough the seas are and what type of boat is used.

Whether you opt to cruise or participate in some other group travel opportunity, keep in mind that you may not always be able to participate in every activity. For instance, some historic or ancient sites simply can't be equipped for wheelchairs or other devices. Don't despair–be willing to compromise by finding an alternate activity.

If you're on a cruise ship, attend a class (you'd be amazed at what's offered on today's cruise ships), bask in the sun or do some people watching. If you're on land, ask your guide for suggestions about nearby, easily accessible sites or get to know the locals by visiting a small restaurant or café.

Take your time and be prepared

Whatever destination you choose, avoid tight travel schedules, especially those involving quick plane changes. If you require a wheelchair, cane or walker to get around, recognize that it will take longer to get on or off the plane between connecting flights. It’s a good idea to call the airline to provide advance notice for wheelchair assistance. While those needing assistance are invited to board first, they're usually the last off the plane once it has landed.

Also be prepared for potential problems. If you're expecting a porter to meet you at your destination, keep in mind that if you have to go through customs, it's the one place porters aren't allowed. It's also a good idea to avoid exotic or off-the-beaten path destinations unless you like dealing with the unexpected and crave the challenge.

Wherever your travel plans take you, keep in mind that there are organizations standing by to offer assistance. The Department of Transportation has a Disability Hotline that provides real-time assistance with disability-related air travel problems, questions about facilities accommodations, and information on how to obtain printed consumer information on your rights. The hotline can be reached by calling (800) 778-4838 or (800) 455-9880 (TYY).

The Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality also provides contact information for all types of situations and limitations. Call (800) 513-1126 or log on to www.sath.org.

And AAA TourBook guides provide detailed information about lodging, dining and attractions including whether they're handicapped accessible.

Pam Fischer is editor of “AAA Traveler” the publication for New Jersey Automobile Club.

Above: Wheelchair passengers embark on a Princess ship./ Princess Cruises photo

Cruises are a good choice for travelers with disabilities, as public areas and cabins are all accessible. There’s a variety of onboard activities, plus tours that may be suitable to meet your needs./ Princess Cruises photo

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