Fun Friday: My Adventures in London
by: Debbie Waltz
First off, let me begin this series by apologizing. I should have started this series way earlier so that the details of my trip were fresh in my mind. But as you know, life never works out exactly as we planned. First, I got sick and then tried energizing my writing life by attending a writers’ conference. Based on my previous posts, you can guess how that turned out.
Anyway, I figured while we wait for my interview with Nina Day about parenting someone with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), we would start the series on my 14-day cruise around the British Isles, keeping in mind that we may have to take a break from the series when Nina reschedules. On a personal note, since it has been a little over 2 months, I had to reenergize my memory. That’s why I’m grateful to have my mom who took applicable photos and documented the trip. I will do my best to share the highlights of where we went during the trip and disability tips for traveling abroad. Each week, I will highlight a cruise port: This week, I will highlight my adventures in and around London.
Packing– If you have traveled on your own, you realize traveling is not easy. But traveling with a disabled companion makes things twice as difficult. Not only do you have to worry about packing for yourself, but you are packing for someone else as well. For that reason, I would suggest coming up with your own system for traveling- whether it be making lists (my dad loves these) or starting packing things ahead of time (my mom). If you’re lucky, you might enlist your child to help. Not only will this help lessen the load of things you need to do, but it will help them get more excited about the trip.
Planning – It is also important to take the time and energy to plan your trip; keeping your child’s special needs in mind. Not everyone has the same accessibility measures. That being said, I would do my research. If you’re planning on taking a flight, research the airline. Some may require you to fill out certain paperwork and attach it to your wheelchair for those assembling and disassembling it for departure. (Yes, this can be a scary idea for those of us using power wheelchairs. Hence, the reason why I took off my head controls for the trip). It’s a risk you take, but also part of the adventure.
Wheelchair Risks – If you’ve followed me long enough, you’ve seen instances where my experiences have been great and my wheelchair has remained in one piece (for the most part) and other instances where I was so grateful to have my father and brother with me to put back the pieces. Don’t believe me, check out my Alaska cruise experience from 5 years back. But there is a bright side to taking a power wheelchair instead of just using the manual one. You don’t have to expend as much energy pushing the chair- plus there’s the bonus of extra carrying space.
Wheelchair at the Plane -Special side note for returning home from an international flight. Make sure they know to have the wheelchair ready upon your return. Even though we informed them, they didn’t prepare for it. We did not know that the wheelchair needed to go through customs before being allowed to meet me at the airplane. Therefore, we had to wait an extra hour or more while they put together the wheelchair and checked through customs before they cleared it to meet me at the plane. As a result, I had to wait on the plane for an extra 30 minutes. Thankfully, the crew waited with us. Since they weren’t allowed to leave until everybody was off the plane.
Long Flights – International flights are long, so be prepared according to your needs. In my case, that meant bringing a neck pillow for more support and an extra gel insert for my tush to sit on. I am unable to move on my own, therefore, I must rely on other people to change my position every so often. Just imagine not being able to stand up for 7 hours and that’s how I felt after the flight. They did have in-flight movies and snacks or meals provided. At any rate, it was worth it to fulfill my dream of an international cruise and seeing Paris.
What made the trip extra special was that my entire family was along for the ride. Not to mention that this was going to be one of my niece’s final vacations with us before heading off to college. It made some of the most memorable moments even more special!
Another important note on international flights before we move on to the fun stuff. Make sure there is enough time between flights and embarking and debarking cruises. While that wasn’t a problem for us, not all our fellow travelers were as lucky. Just as a precaution, our flight to London was a day before we were set to go aboard Regal Princess. The same goes for our return flight.
One thing I should give London props for is its accessibility. When my dad first began researching transportation in and around London. It said something like about half of London’s Black taxi cabs are accessible. Let me preface this by saying the accessible cabs are not all black taxi cabs, but all are equipped with a ramp. Rather, it is a specific shape people should look for in London. Also, be prepared for your hotel to call their taxi cab services instead of a black cab; they earn more of a commission that way. Unfortunately, we learned this lesson a little too late and didn’t fully trust our transportation services until our trip home.
I would advise that you ask your front desk for the number for Black Accessible Taxicab directly; so that you can contact them yourself. Many of them will know the name of an app (like Uber) where you can request a ride pretty much anywhere in London. For the most part, that’s what my brother and his family used.
Paying is pretty simple to do as they equip all cars with mobile payment machines right in the back where passengers can access them easily at the end of the ride. A word of warning, though. As I’m sure international travelers know, American dollars are not quite seem the same equivalent-close, but not quite. That being said, don’t be surprised when your credit card bill is a bit higher than expected.
Since we had a couple of days before embarking on our cruise, we thought we’d try to see the sights of London. What better way to see them than on one of those big double-decker buses? Although the drivers do not point out the sights themselves, passengers are more than welcome to take a pair of earphones upon entering the bus. The prerecorded audio track gives you a play-by-play of stops along the route and passengers can come and go as they please. There are two specific packages depending on your trip itinerary- a day pass and a 2-day pass. One only lasts for 24 hours while the other permits passengers to use the double-decker transportation anytime in the next 48 hours and they can catch a ride at any of the bus stops along the route.
As excited as I was for this tour (I really wanted to see Big Ben), the views from the wheelchair-accessible level left much to be desired. My chair could not make it up the stairs, nor would I have wanted to be carried. But the small windows did not do it justice. Thankfully, my mom texted me photos from the upper level.
No comparison? Am I right?
(The Second picture is of the Tower Bridge from the upper level. Beautiful right?)
We were all famished by the time the bus completed its first (maybe 2nd) round trip and we asked the bus to stop and let us off. Originally, we wanted to go to eat at The Hard Rock Café. But after learning there were no reservations available, we looked around to see what we could find. Since it was cold and windy after ten minutes of walking, we just wanted to get inside where it was warm.
Finally, we came across this quaint little restaurant called Prezzio’s; only one problem. There were steps. While someone inquired about accessibility, we waited outside, trying to block out the wind. They soon returned, saying the manager would bring out a portable ramp… it was wonderful! But there was another problem. Our party was so large we couldn’t sit together. Still, we thought it was best to eat and get warm. After the manager set up the ramp, we proceeded inside. While the 3 of us sat at a small little table, eating our pizza. (Mind you, this was not your typical pizza, but very tasty thin slices with real pepperoni). Our extended family was seated just above us. There was a step up between our tables, but our nieces occasionally came down to sit with us.
Our last stop in London before embarking on the cruise is probably going to surprise you…
It was a toy store.
Hamley’s is not your typical toy store. It has 7 distinct floors- each dedicated to a unique product or hobby. There is even a floor dedicated to the Harry Potter brand and one for Lego fans.
I will say it’s impressive, but extremely hard to navigate being a disabled person. So don’t say I didn’t warn you. My dad and I tried to make it to all the floors, but after waiting at the elevator for over 10 minutes. We gave up. I will give the store props for posting a sign by the door requesting that all non-disabled use the stairs. But there’s only so much you can do!
Next week we will be discussing our first day at sea and our first stop- Cork, Ireland..