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For the first time, I traveled with my wife and my two children (8 and 12 years) over the Christmas holidays to a warmer area, while the winter in Austria is very cold. We wanted to enjoy the warmth and took a Caribbean cruise on MSC Seascape, followed by a lovely few days in the City of Miami, Florida.
We already knew this ship and it is ideal for people in wheelchairs. The new ship of the MSC Shipping Company is very barrier-free and well designed for my needs. Only a few electric door openers are missing, but there is always a helping hand nearby. We can recommend the yacht club, a ship-in-ship concept. The price is higher, but the service is much better, and the rooms are amazing and big enough for wheelchairs. Our destinations of the trip were the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. In our opinion not many wheelchair users had explored the islands of the northern Caribbean before. We didn’t see any wheelchair users during our trip. MSC also did not offer any special excursions for the disabled people in the Caribbean. However, the first stop on the trip, the private island of MSC, Ocean Cay, is very wheelchair accessible. All roads on the island are paved. I could have gone swimming in the sea if the weather had been better that day.
In Puerto Plata we took a taxi and explored the city and the hinterland on our own. In Puerto Rico we wanted to explore the capital San Juan by foot, but due to the bad sidewalks and the steep inclines, we stopped our plan and visited the barrier-free fortress Castillo de San Felipe del Morro—a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Getting money was a bit difficult. We did not find an ATM on both islands that could have been reached without steps. In Nassau, Bahamas we took a taxi again and visited a beach and enjoyed the Caribbean flair.
After a week at sea, we stayed in Miami for a few more days. We stayed in a great Airbnb downtown. This was fairly well accessible, but the rooms either had a bathtub or a higher step into the shower.
We had a rental car and visited different districts like Midtown, Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, Little Havana and Key Biscayne. Although there are disabled parking spaces throughout the city, we did not find any vacant disabled parking space in five days. Wynwood is highly recommended for art and design lovers. The world-famous graffiti are designed by international artists.
The beach of Miami is not wheelchair accessible. Miami Beach is over 10 miles long, you have to pay between $3 and $10 an hour to park your car, but there is no wheelchair access to the ocean. There are only two places where you can rent beach chairs for wheelchair users, but no guide will help you into the water. Manual chairs require the assistance of another person, but my wife wasn’t strong enough to help me on the sand. You can rent an electric beach chair to go by yourself on the beach without assistance, but there is only one and it was broken. So, I couldn’t go into the ocean, and I didn’t see my children playing in the water, because all barrier-free paths end at the beginning of the beach. John Morris, founder of Wheelchair Travel, also talks about this in his blog.
The Everglades are very easy to get to by car. Of course, the national park and the alligators could not be missing in our trip. We also spent a day in Fort Lauderdale and looked for the luxury villas and yachts. The city is best explored by the water. The well-known water taxi was unfortunately not possible for me, but www.junglequeen.com was barrier-free. Then we drove to Hollywood Beach, but there was the same problem for me on the beach as in Miami.
I travel a lot and have been dependent on a wheelchair for a long time and actually thought that Miami would be optimally handicapped-friendly, but I was taught otherwise. That spoiled the holiday mood a bit. However, the warmth did me good and it was an unforgettable journey for us. ~ Werner Rosenberger, Austria