Sun Pony Ranch

Diary of novice (clueless) ranch owners

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Perseverance - or - you never know until you ask... and ask and ask

I've wanted to try a river cruise in Europe.  This kind of trip seems to me a melding of much that is great about travelling - You get to check in to your room and stow your luggage for a full week.  For us the packing, and moving of luggage is quite difficult, so this factor alone is very inviting.  Plus, your room gets to move down some of the most scenic routes in Europe!  You can sight see from your room, or from one of the several lounges on the ship.
Your meals are provided.   Now, granted, I know there is a whole lot of culture to be experienced by eating locally.  But, that does take quite a bit of effort, and expense.  So for the duration of the cruise, I'm happy to have the 'where will we eat' question settled.  I also presume that we will have opportunities to eat where we like on shore if we choose to.  (and.. for this trip we will tour another week after the cruise)
For those with mobility issues, these factors become critical.  If there are days when the thought of going on the shore excursion is too daunting, then remaining aboard ship is an option.  A more attractive option, I think, than staying in your hotel room or lobby for the day.  This is totally an assumption on my part - one we'll evaluate closely when we get there.
Regardless, the cruise lines offering river cruises have become quite resistant to the idea of hosting passengers with mobility challenges in the past few years.  And for some good reasons -- it's important passengers understand the challenges that remain despite the advantages I listed above.
On board the ship, wheel chairs and scooters for the most part can't navigate.  Doorways into the staterooms are too narrow unless you get a suite or possibly a specially equipped 'accessible' cabin - of which I've not encountered very many.  Older ships don't have elevators, and even the newer ships that do have them - the elevators don't necessarily go to every deck.  The ones I've asked about only have elevator support for the middle two decks - the bottom deck and the top sun deck do not have elevator access.
Boarding and disembarking from the ships is via narrow gangplanks with railings that will have a step down at the far end - onto the dock where it rests.  So it is not possible to ride a scooter or wheelchair there either.  And here is the doozy -- river cruising has become so popular that is quite possible that multiple ships will be docked up side by side - so that you may have to transfer from ship to ship to ship in order to disembark. This process itself may require climbing stairs up and down decks as well - depending on whether the other ships will allow passengers to cross through, or over, their ship to get to shore. 
Also, of course, the electrical service in Europe is different than America so scooter users will need to make sure they have plug and power converters as necessary.
Finally, there is the reality of the old European cities which were built long before the concept of providing access to all people became a thing.  Cobblestone roads, curbs, and stairs into and out of every building will be rampant.
All that aside - when we consider what a boon the scooter is for us where we can use it -- in airports, for example -- there is absolutely no question that we won't be bringing it with us.  And if we find a bike path - great!  Our scooters are quite versatile with the footing they can maneuver in and they can be a complete game changer in terms of giving us the freedom to comfortably explore a few more blocks, or miles even.
So that's why when I had started hearing that cruise lines were forbidding mobility scooters, I was wary about us booking one.  When I found the cruise we wanted to go on -- I called and very carefully explained the size and nature of our scooter, and my intent to use it only on excursions where it could be used.  That I would carry it on and off board and David would walk everywhere on board including up and down stairs (tho we hope to minimize that).  The booking agent said that wouldn't be a problem - so we booked!
And then... 4 days later I got an email stating that universally all mobility scooters were forbidden on board.
Uffdah!  This was a real emotional set back for me - so I chose to ignore it.  I kind of thought we'll just have the conversation when we arrive to board.  But then I heard through social media of others who had cancelled their trip for the exact same reason...  I decided it was better to sort it out.
I rolled up my sleeves and asked exactly what were the concerns from the cruise line. I tell you, I had several phone conversations with several agents offering some rather weak party lines. I started with the Customer Service agent, who said she'd try to escallate the issue -- which only resulted in a second copy of the email stating that universally all mobility scooters were forbidden on board.  
I called again, and this time got transferred to the Special Needs department.  Who reiterated: 
* They can't be used onboard. (I said I knew that)
* They can't be used to get on/off the ship due to stairs and gangplanks (I said I knew that)
* No staff is available to assist either my husband or in carrying my scooter. (I said I knew that)
* Past customers being unhappy about being unable to charge their batteries properly. (I said I would have proper charging capabilities)
* Past customer being unhappy that Europe's cobblestone roads are not suitable for scooters. 
I said - I KNOW all of this. But this should be my decision to make. You have done your due diligence and informed me of the challenges.... I will decide whether an excursion is suitable for the scooter or not.
Lastly, and MOST importantly - we are travelling on our own for a week after the cruise - which is not a round trip itinerary - so I HAVE to be able to bring the scooter on board with me!
I was giving up - and literally forming the words "I guess we'll have to cancel our reservation" when the Special Needs agent said "the only other thing we could do is allow you to fill out the form asking for an exception to bring your scooter, and send that to the European Operations Office". Well - YES please. Lets do that.
I filled it out using the explanations above, and included photos of me carrying the scooters.  (we're in the process now of buying a second scooter so that we'll have both a Smart Scoot and a Travel Scoot.  I figure - as long as we have one scooter to manage, two is just as easy and it may well come in handy for my parents!)

I just heard that we got our exception approved ... and in writing! :-) We're going to Amsterdam this May to see the tulips!

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