A Spoonie Norwegian Adventure

At the end of May came the time that my parents and I have been looking forward to – our annual cruise.  And this year, I have been particularly excited as this year we booked a cruise around the beautiful scenery of the Norwegian Fjords.  As the symptoms associated with my neurological condition had worsened somewhat over the past few months it did incite some anxiety.  However, after the successful trip to Hay-On-Wye the week before our departure did lessen this somewhat; in fact, I almost felt like Stella after getting her groove back!  The excitement for the trip returned, and the Queen hit ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ became my new anthem as I had a deep determination that nothing was going to stop me from enjoying this much-anticipated cruise, not even pesky symptoms such as trembling legs.

Time to be monkeying around! (one of our amazing towel animals during our stay created by our lovely state room attendant
Time to be monkeying around! (one of our amazing towel animals during our stay created by our lovely state-room attendant

Of course, as much as a holiday is a brief escape from the realities of our everyday life, and our enduring physical surroundings, there is no break however when living with a long-term health condition however and all of its accompanying symptoms.  There were many times during the cruise that I was overwhelmed by the painful sensations flowing throughout my legs, as well as fatigue dragging me under into its grasps.  As a result, I ended up crashing in our cabin after dinner; curled up in bed in comfortable pyjamas and binge-watching a comforting television programme via Netflix.  And one of the many reasons why I love to cruise is that sleep is so much easier to come by then when I’m at home, consumed by chronic pain, with the gentle (sometimes not so gentle) rocking of the ship.

At first there was the inevitable FOMO (fear of missing out) on all the evening entertainment on offer (as well as the embarrassment of knowing that there were young children out longer than myself!) but then I realised that I could push through the fatigue, pain and other symptoms to stay on and party through the night then inevitably I will end up missing out on more by being too unwell enough to venture off the ship and explore the beauty of Norway for myself (although granted I was able to enjoy some of the amazing scenery from our cabin with its panoramic ocean view).  Also bearing in mind, however that one of the great benefits of cruising, especially with Royal Caribbean is that some of its entertainment can be enjoyed from the comfort of your cabin through its own broadcasting channel on the TV.  So, I wasn’t always even missing out on the fun, and could do it in the comfort of my PJ’s!  A spoonie’s dream!  I did manage to take in one show during our week long-stay on Navigator of the Seas; the ice-show with amazing ice dancers, which I thoroughly enjoyed, the flashing of the strobe lights did trigger some episodes of vertigo however but with the recent mindfulness and meditation exercises I have been practising I was able to keep the anxiety under control and not react, i.e. panic when these symptoms arose.

I have written about the benefits of cruising when living with a chronic illness or disability previously so I won’t repeat the points that I have already made.  What I will say however is that Norway is hands down the best cruise destination that I have experienced.  Not only does it offer the most amazingly beautiful scenery but found the style of living of this spectacular country to be incredibly relaxing.  We are so used to observe people rushing around here in the UK, constantly busy and in a hurry to get to somewhere so it was refreshing to be in a country which appears to be much more laid-back and life runs at a slower pace.  As someone who is confined to a body that is continually weakened and tired by constant and incessant symptoms; always trying to keep up with the fast pace of the world around me, I welcomed and embraced this different lifestyle to our own.

In my opinion, I also believe that the Norwegian Fjord itinerary is the ideal choice for those considering their first cruise, or those travelling with a disability.  As many of the ports are located within the centre of the city or town, therefore, when disembarking the ship, you are to explore the area at your leisure as all the local amenities are within easy walking distance.  For me, I found this much less stressful than some of the other places we have visited on other cruises, especially those which require a shuttle bus to transport you from the port as it usually required some waiting around in large and claustrophobic crowds.  Bergen, the first port of call we visited, did require shuttle bus transport from the port, however, the minibus for those with wheelchairs was ready waiting for us as we departed the ship which took the stress out, and as fatigue descended upon all of us and we were ready to wave goodbye to Bergen, the minibus was again ready and waiting for us right where it dropped us off.

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Bergen on a grey and damp day

The second port of call, Olden which greeted us straight away with its majestic and beautiful views is often a favourite for those who love to hike, but as someone with mobility problems I obviously unable to pursue such adventurous pursuits.  I was not to miss out however, as a little land-train greeted us from the parking area where the ship was moored, which took us around one side of its lake before travelling down the other and back to the ship.  A must for anyone who wishes to take in the beauty of Olden but has mobility difficulties or are in a wheelchair.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at the third port of call, I was too unwell to be able to venture off the ship to explore the cosmopolitan town of Alesund.  But instead of dwelling on that what I could not do, I instead focused on everything that I had achieved during the holiday despite the wobbly legs and other symptoms that I was continuously fighting against.  Thankfully, the day of rest was exactly what the doctor ordered and I found myself fit enough to go off ship and enjoy the wonderous city of Stavanger.  Mum and I enjoyed the time to walk around this fantastic city and take in some of the more familiar shops such as H and M, Zara as well as observing the all-too familiar sights of McDonald’s and Starbucks! Although my favourite part of the day was taking a wander up to the old town of Stavanger to observe and appreciate the quaintness of its old cobblestones and the cities old homes.  It was on this day that my stubborn streak regarding the use of the wheelchair, insisting that I didn’t need it and pushing through the pain.  Of course, by the end of the day the pain was excruciating and in need of a long soak in one of the whirlpools aboard the ship, which only seemed to ease the pain for a short time.  That would be a piece of advice for fellow cruisers – a mobility aid is there for a reason – to be used, so don’t become a martyr to the pain or other symptoms that may require you to use the chair.  By doing so, you will be able to do and enjoy much more than if you didn’t use it!

 

To conclude the adventure of exploring the gorgeousness of the Norwegian Fjords, I would have to affirm that this has to be one of my all-time favourite holiday destinations, and that I am now a tiny little bit in love with Norway!

Sailing Away to Acceptance…

How does the old saying adage go?  What a difference a year makes. And, my recent experiences can really only substantiate this.

Regular readers to the blog will remember that last year, I experienced my very first cruise and that unfortunately it did not go that me and my parents had hoped.  The symptoms associated with my neurological condition were constantly present and remarkably severe that it affected my enjoyment of the holiday and also left me unable to disembark the ship and see the beautiful places that I was so looking forward to visiting.

Fast forward a year (okay more like a year and a half) and I am back from yet another cruise! Why go on a cruise when the first cruise did not go well, I hear you ask.  Well, the large part of the reason why I decided to go another cruise, is that I refuse to let the neurological condition that I live with have any more control over my life than it already has.  I came across, a perfect quote that really sums this up brilliantly; this quote says “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”  And it is true, if we only stayed within the confines of our comfort zones then we would never what we can be capable of, or what we can achieve when given the chance.

comfortzone-quote

The symptoms that are as a result of the brain stem lesion that I was diagnosed with already makes life difficult, for example, visiting certain types of places such as those with high ceilings and fluorescent lighting is very difficult for me as they increase the severity of symptoms such as dizziness and vertigo.  As a result, I do not wish for my condition to stop me from doing anything else that I want to do, including taking trips abroad.  Flying and therefore requiring to spend hours waiting in an airport would not be compatible with my symptoms so therefore a cruise offers an alternative for me to still be able to travel.  Furthermore, the rational side of me, also realises that although I found the first cruise particularly difficult it does not necessarily mean that I would have the same experience on future cruises.

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Back last year, just a few months after arriving back from the Mediterranean, my parents and I booked a second cruise with Royal Caribbean on their brand new ship Anthem of the Seas travelling this time around the Canary Islands (as well as stops in Spain and Portugal).  And I am so glad that I did!

This cruise went much better than the last one, and even managed to get off the ship twice, managing to spend a few hours perusing the streets of Tenerife and Madeira. The process of disembarking the ship and then having to find our way to wherever we wanted to visit was not easy especially giving the severity of the symptoms but I still managed to push through and achieve something I did not think I could do.  To some, getting off at only two stops may not seem like much, but fellow spoonies would appreciate the enormity of this feat, especially when battling constant and unrelenting symptoms.

Anthem of the Seas is an amazing and beautiful ship, and Royal Caribbean has seriously gone hi-tech.  Before embarking on the cruise we bought an internet package, and was impressed with the speed of the bandwidth, enabling me to stream movies and television programmes on my iPad occupying my time when fatigue set in (which was a lot!.

The WOW factor did not stop there, however; all over the ship there was amazing artwork to marvel at, often feeling like Alice landing in Wonderland.  What I love about Royal Caribbean, is the thought that has gone into the design of their ships; all public areas are fully accessible and have automatic doors making it easy for those in wheelchairs to be able to navigate their way around the ship unaided.

The food was also amazing, and particularly loved having a wide variety of choice of where to have dinner.  We sampled the delights of the majority of the complimentary restaurants onboard, but spent most nights dining in the American Icon Grill.  One night however, we chose to spend extra and dined at Jamie’s Italian where the food was amazing and the staff attentive and friendly.  The highlight of the cruise for me, being a fan of Queen was seeing We Will Rock You, which absolutely fantastic and rivalled any West End show.  My Mum and I also paid extra to use the facilities in the spa, which included an aromatherapy steam room and sauna, as well as the use of hot beds which not only did I find incredibly relaxing but also really helped ease the often excruciating pain in my legs.

Beautiful sunset
Beautiful sunset

Strange though isn’t it?  Last year, I was unable to get off the ship and generally found the whole cruise experience extremely difficult.  A year on however, and despite my symptoms not improving in that time I found this holiday much easier, even managing to push the boundaries of my own  comfort zone.

Why is this? Perhaps the reason is due to the fact that during the past since the first cruise I have managed to push myself further, expanding the perimeter of the small world that my neurological condition has forced me into.  Examples include conquering going to the cinema, a pastime that I used to love but is  now extremely difficult for me as a result of my severe and unrelenting symptoms and as a result started to avoid.  By pushing myself to go to places and placing myself into situations that increase the severity of my symptoms, and achieving staying in them, reinforces the belief that I am stronger than my condition and am able to get through difficult situations.

Or perhaps I have reached a new, deeper stage of acceptance.  Accepted the reality of the neurological condition that I have been diagnosed with – that is not to say that I have given up and surrendered to the condition but rather let myself go of the suffering that came from continuously fighting against the symptoms and the hold that they had over my life.  I have accepted that I will always have difficulty with certain situations and the majority of things will not be easy for me, but what I can control is my reaction to them and by doing so I can learn to be in control of my symptoms instead of them controlling me.

Believe. Love, Live, Dream, Inspire - some positive words advice from Royal Caribbean
Believe. Love, Live, Dream, Inspire – some positive words advice from Royal Caribbean

In the end I had to accept the reality of the symptoms; accept the long-term presence of them in my life.  And by doing so, I no longer fought the presence of the symptoms but acknowledged their present existence in that moment.  I have freed myself from the prison that fighting the symptoms, and avoiding certain places and situations has placed me in.

By accepting the reality of life with a long-term condition surprisingly made it easier to cope with the symptoms and all of the ups and downs as a result of life with chronic illness.  I was able to find little coping strategies that helped minimised the effect of the symptoms and help me stay in control of the symptoms rather than the symptoms controlling my life.  Of course, there are days when it feels that the symptoms still has control over my life but by accepting the reality of life with chronic illness, getting through the bad days is actually easier than before.

Above all, going on holiday on the cruise of a lifetime has made me realise that being diagnosed with a chronic illness, or disability does not spell the end of our lives or even our dreams.   Yes, perhaps the route to which we can reach our goals and dreams may have to change but we can still reach that final destination.  Chronic illness should not mean the end our dreams, and we can still follow them if we took a leap of faith.

Print that I bought whilst in Tenerife - I reminder to not let my condition stop me from living life and following my dreams
Print that I bought whilst in Tenerife – I reminder to not let my condition stop me from living life and following my dreams

This is the realisation that I came to whilst on holiday – if I took the easy option and decided not to go on the cruise then I would never realise the strength and control that I can have over my neurological condition.  And if it wasn’t for that, then I would never have the opportunity to visit a country that I have wanted to for so long – Norway!

Yes, we have booked yet another cruise for next year to the beautiful and amazing country that is Norway.  And this trip I can look forward to with excitement and positivity instead of anxiety and trepidation.

So all of you reading this – don’t give up on your dreams, believe me you can still achieve them despite the challenges in your way.

HAWMC Day 20: Going back on the waves…

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Welcome to the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge brought together by WEGO Health – a social network for all health activists.  Again, I am participating in the annual Writer’s Month Challenge in which I will be writing about my health activism and health condition based upon given prompts.

Monday 20th April: Travel Time 

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?  Maybe you’ve already traveled to an exciting place and want to go back.  We know travelling with a chronic illness can be challenging, so any tips for others that you can share would be great!

“Don’t float through life, make waves…”
– unknown

Travelling has never been an activity that I have particularly enjoyed.

I am very much a home-bird; never happier when I am at home surrounded by the comfort of the familiar.  Packing for holidays, has also been something that I have found stressful, with my parents constantly barking at me to get everything I am taking with me ready, and then asking if there is anything that I have forgotten!

As my condition has steadily worsened over the years, holidays as a result has not been a priority and therefore have stayed with family whilst my parents have gone on holidays including a trip to Canada, and their first cruise to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary.

The debilitating symptoms and love of the familiar are not the only reasons why travelling is just not my bag.  Living with a long-term condition in which the symptoms fluctuate, and as a result makes life very unpredictable.  Life with a chronic illness is often extremely unpredictable, never knowing how we are going to feel from one day to the next, and never knowing when symptoms are suddenly going to appear.  And it’s this unpredictability therefore that makes travelling particularly difficult and daunting also.  As my condition, and particularly the dizziness and vertigo worsens in buildings with high ceilings, such as airports for example, flying abroad is also very problematic and therefore has prevented me from being able to travel.  Because of this it just seemed easier not to travel and instead enjoy the sights on one’s doorstep as an alternative to travelling long distances.

However, two years ago and after experiencing difficult times as a result of the neurological condition I live with, my parents decided that we were all in need of a relaxing holiday and away from the stresses of illness, hospital appointments as well as those experiences in everyday life.  And somehow, they talked me around to going on a Mediterranean cruise visiting France, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

This beautiful picture taken during our last cruise is one I will forever treasure.  Even when experiencing debilitating symptoms, I appreciated the extroadinary beauty of my surroundings
This beautiful picture taken during our last cruise is one I will forever treasure. Even when experiencing debilitating symptoms, I appreciated the extraordinary beauty of my surroundings

All my research assured me that this type of holiday was ideal for those with disabilities or chronic illnesses; not only is cruising extremely relaxing but also has the benefit of having your cabin close by for when symptoms appear out of the blue and suddenly being taken ill.  Cruise ships are also fully accessible if a wheelchair is needed, and unlike air travel there are no long waits or delays at airports, so much less stressful than flying to holiday destinations!

Regular readers of the blog, will know about the trip which I wrote about in a past post.  The cruise was difficult for me due to a sudden deterioration of my symptoms which occurred a couple of months before the start of the holiday. As a result, I was unable to get of the ship at the different ports and go on the excursions.  Most of the holiday was either spent in the cabin reading or sleeping, or in the solarium relaxing, in the attempts to ease the excruciating pain in my legs.

Despite this however, this year I am once again going on another cruise, even going on the brand new Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Anthem of the Seas!

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A lot of you, are probably wondering why I would choose another holiday after my first experience last year.  Well, yes, the holiday did not go as plan and was left unable to do many things that I was looking forward to before leaving due to severe and debilitating symptoms, but that did not mean the experience itself was awful.  We needed a holiday to relax, unwind and switch off from the stresses from everyday life, which despite the pain and other debilitating symptoms affecting the holiday, I still managed.  The cruise was not an awful experience, and there were plenty of moments that I thoroughly enjoyed (such as dressing up) during the trip.

Furthermore, I thoroughly believe that we cannot let one bad experience put us off from trying again.  Just because I experienced a relapse in the debilitating symptoms last year before and during the cruise, does not mean that the same thing will happen this time.  This cruise will be my second, and therefore will be easier, as I am more aware of what the experience will entail and am able to put actions plans into place for when symptoms arise or when I am suddenly taken unwell.

In addition, the last holiday also helped me realise the need for a break from seeing the same four walls everyday and the same routines we live out; the cruise was a welcome break from constantly being stuck in the house, or held up in my bedroom due to severe symptoms.  It was an opportunity to see new sights, and experience things that I could never encounter at home.

Photos from Royal Caribbean Blog

This time around, however, we will be cruising around the Canary Islands and visiting ports in Spain and Portugal also.  It again will be a welcome respite from the stresses of living with a neurological condition, and endless medical appointments, as well as the opportunity to absorb plenty of vitamin D with its many health benefits.

With the first cruise on the new ship being imminent, and therefore being inundated with photographs of the beautiful decor and the many new activities to experience onboard via social media, I am beginning to get very excited about our cruise in September.   I am determined to forget about the disappointments caused by the previous cruise, and even more determined to enjoy and soak up as many new experiences as possible this year.

What about any tips that I could offer for travelling with a chronic illness?  There are plenty that I could offer after my experiences last year but here are some of my top tips:

  • Let the travel company know of your medical condition and any help that you may need.  When booking a cruise, or booking a hotel room, book a wheelchair accessible cabin/room, if a wheelchair is required for the holiday (it may be best to hire one if you do not own your own especially if symptoms such as fatigue is a problem).
  •  Carry all your medications and other necessary items with you in your carry-on luggage.  When cruising, your luggage is taken from you after arriving at the port and you do not see them again until you are in your cabin.  However, with a lot of passengers onboard delays can occur so any important items is best to pack in your carry-on luggage.  Also, include items such as swimsuits too so you can make full use of the amenities as soon as you are onboard.
  • Expect the best but prepare for the worse.  Chances are, you may not be able to participate in all the activities and trips during the holiday.  So, as a result prepare for some quality time by yourself in the cabin or hotel room.  Bring books, audio books, MP3 player or anything else you can do to keep yourself entertained whilst resting.  Wi-fi may not be available so perhaps try downloading some movies before you leave in preparation
  • Don’t overdo things.  It can be so easy to get carried away on holiday, and push your limits to keep up with everyone else, but don’t forget to listen to your body and take a break if you need to, because if you don’t you may pay for it later
  • Prepare yourself mentally before leaving and accept your limitations. Experience has taught me that you need to know your limitations and accept them before you leave, as chances are, you will not be able to do everything that you want during the trip and it’s best to accept this before you go and instead of worrying or getting upset by it, instead make the most of everything that you can do and enjoy them
  • Have a great time!

A Personal Experience of Cruising with a Neurological Condition

As mentioned in my previous post, I concluded that in my opinion cruises are a perfect option for  those with disabilities due to the excellent accessibility of cruise ships by large companies such as Royal Caribbean and the fantastic care that the staff provide for those passengers with disability.  It is also preferable to using air travel because of the lack of waiting around for hours in a large airport.  However, as the first post was a general overview of cruising with a disability, I wanted to write another post, writing about my own experiences of going on a cruise with a neurological condition.

As regular readers will know, one of the main symptoms that I experience as a result of the brain stem lesion is dizziness and problems with my balance.  As a result, I was hesitant about going on a cruise because of the severity of these issues that have been increasingly become worse recently.  In fact, a few days prior to leaving for the holiday, I was in floods of tears stating that I couldn’t face going on the cruise because of how bad I have been feeling.  Furthermore, the attacks of losing my vision also came back the days before the start of the holiday, and as a result I just felt that I wanted, or even needed to stay at home to be among the familiar surroundings and those items that give me comfort.  I was frightened of these episodes occurring when in unfamiliar surroundings and somewhere where I do not know the layout.  I was eventually talked round into going obviously, and had to go anyway as it was too late to cancel without losing a substantial amount of money.

I so wish that I could write telling you, I had an amazing time.  I wanted so much to be well enough to enjoy the whole cruising experience as well as visiting new places such as Rome and Florence.  However, unfortunately I found the majority of the holiday feeling very unwell.  The dizziness and vertigo were severe for the entire trip, and has not settled since returning so I am hoping it is not yet another deterioration in my condition.  A lot of people who I know that have been on cruises assured me that these ships are so large that you cannot feel them moving at all (apart from the times when the sea is rough!), however my experience was far different.  Even when the cruise ship was docked at the ports, I still felt the ship moving; for the entire holiday by world was awash with constant motion.  Perhaps due to the neurological condition and the problems with balance as a result, I am hypersensitive to any type of motion.  Furthermore, as a result of the increased problems with my balance whilst onboard, the number of falls that I experienced increased as a result and therefore had to rely on my wheelchair for most of the cruise.  However, having  said this for me a cruise was preferable as if my severe symptoms suddenly presented themselves then I would not be too far from the cabin where I would be able to lie down and recuperate until the symptoms dissipated and I felt well enough to rejoin the fun onboard again.

I didn't manage to get off the ship during the cruise but didn't miss out on the amazing sights that were on offer from the ship itself.  This is an amazingly beautiful picture of Nice
I didn’t manage to get off the ship during the cruise but didn’t miss out on the amazing sights that were on offer from the ship itself. This is an amazingly beautiful picture of Nice

The symptoms however did not dissipate or I recovered enough to fully enjoy the experience, and therefore unfortunately was unable to leave the ship and visit the various destinations that the ship docked.  The symptoms were just too severe for me to feel well and strong enough to get off which is such a disappointment for myself as I so wanted to visit these places, and those in Italy in particular.  Instead, I had to make the most out of what I could do, which was not much because of the severity of the symptoms and due to the weakness in my legs.  Instead, I stayed in the cabin and slept due to the fatigue or spent the time reading.  It might sound as if I didn’t accomplish much, however I did manage to read a rather impressive 6 books during the 15 night cruise, some of which I have wanted to read for a long time but hadn’t found the time.  A positive therefore is that the holiday gave me time to rediscover a love of reading and losing myself in stories that for a short time took my mind off the dizziness, trembling, weakness, fatigue and pain.  And talking of pain, I spent a lot of time using the Solarium and enjoying the facilities including the warm jacuzzi, sauna and steam room.  I found that spending time in the jacuzzi was excellent to relax and unwind from the stresses and worries of my condition as well as helping to ease the pain that I experience in my legs.  In addition to using the jacuzzi my mother also splashed out for us to have a massage at the spa onboard Adventure of the Seas, which again was incredibly enjoyable as well as being incredibly relaxing.  The masseuse noticed the stiffness in my legs, as well as my cold toes, which apparently is a sign of poor circulation so was even recommended on some oils which we could use at home to ease the pain and increase the circulation in my legs.  It was very pricey but really was worth every penny.  My highlight of the holiday!

My sanctuary onboard Adventure of the Seas
My sanctuary onboard Adventure of the Seas

Even going down for dinner was difficult for me – the lighting, the varying ceiling heights and the loud noises  all seemed to bother me,, making me feel very dizzy and setting the vertigo and although I felt silly for wearing it, I needed the security of my hat with me, the majority of the time in order to block out the stimuli which were making my symptoms worse.  I was unable to attend the shows because of the strobe lighting and flashing lights being used, as they too are a trigger for the episodes of vertigo that I regularly experience.  However, I did attend an ice show which used such effects, and was very unwell afterwards, with the inability to even get dressed the very next day.  People did stare and felt very self-conscious but I remembered a great quote by Dr Seuss “Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  A lot of people who we met during the cruise were lovely and very understanding such as Gemma and Stan, a granddaughter and granddad who sat on our table at dinner.  Both were lovely and we enjoyed their company during the cruise.  Although even attending dinner was difficult as positive is that, during most of the holiday I still managed to go despite the severe symptoms I was experiencing and very much enjoyed dressing up for the formal nights.  Arriving back at the cabin we were on some nights greeted with the fun and cute ‘towel animals’ created by our wonderful room attendant (who nicknamed me Rihanna during the holiday!).  They also helped put a much needed smile on my face!!

 

Being so unwell and suffering with severe symptoms so much on a holiday was incredibly difficult and as a result was very difficult to remain positive.  For obvious reasons, did not have room to take my positivity board along with me on the board which is a main tool of mine to remain positive despite chronic illness.  I did however take my gorgeous Book of Strength and Book of Motivation along with me, which helped me to cope during the difficult times.  Then whilst browsing the shops onboard, I saw a gorgeous necklace, depicting the word ‘hope’.  In replace of the ‘O’ was a ribbon using silver stones.  A silver ribbon, I remember reading is used for a variety of different including brain disorders (or neurological conditions) and as a result was drawn to it, and thought it would be a perfect piece of jewellery to remind myself to remain positive despite living with a neurological condition and remain hopeful on the days where dark clouds are appearing in the same way the positivity does for me when at home.  A couple of days before the cruise, they had a jewellery sale – this time selling charm bracelets by the jeweller Bella Perlini.  There were many bracelets to choose from in a variety of different colours; so many that I had trouble to decide which to buy.  Then I found a plain silver charm bracelet, which had the words ‘Live, Love, Laugh and Dream’ engraved and again the inspiring positivity of this piece of jewellery really spoke to me and so had to buy it.  With these pieces of jewellery it is like wearing a piece of my positivity board and carrying it with me wherever I go.

To conclude, the cruise was a difficult holiday for me, with the deterioration and severity of my symptoms.  A cruise, however does offer several benefits such as the easy and fast booking and check-in day on departure day, and the short distance to your cabin when chronic illness strike.  Although, the cruise was difficult and felt very unwell for most of it, I am glad that I went; if I hadn’t there would always be that ‘What if?’ question being asked in the back of my mind.  In addition, if my parents were to go on a cruise again, I would not feel as if I were being left out or jealous that they were going away and I wasn’t because I am aware of the effects that the constant motion of the ship has on my particular symptoms.  But as unwell as I was during the cruise, there were several highlights of the holiday and positives of my time away.  Would I do it again?  Probably not; perhaps the only way, would be if the doctors were able to cure the dizziness that I experience.  How, likely that is I don’t know.

 

Cruising and Disability – a perfect match? (Part 1)

Our holiday really started the day before we got on board ‘Adventure of the Seas.’  In order to avoid the stress of travelling and rushing to get to the port on time, my parents and I drove to Southampton on Wednesday and stayed overnight in a Premier Inn close to the port.  I will admit that the anxiety levels were high, and did work myself up about going on the holiday.  However, the anxiety was not about the cruise itself, but rather about the reaction of my neurological condition and the symptoms whilst being on a ship with the constant motion that it brings.  This anxiety was particularly evident as prior to the cruise, the symptoms that I experience have deteriorated with the trembling in the legs increasing in severity, as well as the dizziness becoming much more powerful.  Furthermore, a couple of days prior to the start of the holiday I experienced a total loss of vision.  Regular readers to the blog will know that I experienced this particular a few months ago, however I have not experienced these particular attacks for some time so as you can imagine it was very disconcerting for them to occur right before going away.

Therefore, due to these circumstances I was very hesitant about going at all, but my parents and a great friend reassured me that I would be fine, and all the positives of going such as time away from the house where I spend the majority of my time.  Admittedly, the condition is very bad home and therefore it would feel the same on holiday as it would at home anyway so may as well take advantage of the change of scenery.  But as many spoonies will you relate, when you are so unwell and symptoms are severe it’s a real comfort being in familiar surroundings with items which bring comfort on the dark days.  Therefore, that was one of the worries I had – that being in unfamiliar surroundings and away from all of my items that bring me comfort, I would not be able to cope.

The magnificent 'Adventure of the Seas'
The magnificent ‘Adventure of the Seas’

But instead of taking flight away from my fear, I instead I fought against it and on the morning of Thursday 8th May, along with my parents we made our way to Southampton Port and get our holiday started.  It is this part of the holiday that I understand why many disabled travellers prefer cruises to air travel.  The boarding process was easy and relatively quick!  We dropped off our luggage with the porters and parked the car in the long-stay disabled car park, and then carried our hand luggage to the arrivals lounge.  In the arrivals lounge, there was a separate booking area for those people like myself, with disabilities including passport check and having a photograph taken for your sail pass (a credit card sized pass which acts as a form of identification throughout the cruise as well as an onboard payment method linked to a credit cards; in this case my Dad’s as no cash is used when onboard).  We then made the short distance along the gangway and then onto the ‘Adventure of the Seas’ for the start of our holiday.  We were on board for approximately 1.30 pm, several hours to explore before the ship was due to set sail for the Mediterranean.

My copy of the sail pass card; the card is used for purchases made onboard as well as used to book on and off the ship thereby acting in a similar way to a passport
My copy of the sail pass card; the card is used for purchases made onboard as well as used to book on and off the ship thereby acting in a similar way to a passport

Without the hassle of waiting around an airport for hours ready to board, a cruise holiday begins as you step onto the ship.  However, it can take a number of hours to be reunited with the luggage that you left with the porters and therefore it is advisable to take a piece of carry-on luggage with you containing essential items such as any medications, and perhaps a change of clothes for the evening and a swimsuit so you can take advantage of the facilities straight away.  I was pleased when we arrived at our stateroom.

As I was going to be using the wheelchair for the most of the holiday, we booked an accessible stateroom.  Our first choice was for a cabin with a balcony, however as they were all booked we settled for an inside cabin overlooking the Royal Promenade which has a series of shops and bars and even offers entertainment on some nights.  So, it might have been for the best as, where our stateroom was situated meant that I had a great view of the parades, and so had the choice of watching them from bed if I wasn’t well enough to attend them on the Promenade itself.  Our stateroom was on the seventh deck, and a short walk to the ship’s library – perfect for a bookworm like me!  Advice that i would give if considering a cruise, is to book early to ensure that you are able to get the type of stateroom that you desire, especially true if wanting a balcony as they are often the most sought after.  The wheelchair accessible stateroom like ours are 1.5 times bigger than regular sized staterooms, with widened doors, a wet room, and a raised toilet.   The only downside for being a disabled passenger is that in order to ensure a disabled accessible cabin (they are only a small number available)  you need to book early, and as a result often miss out on special deals and offers.

 

The ship itself is beautiful and decadent, and what makes these holidays great is that there is no inaccessible places for those in wheelchairs.  There are plenty of lifts onboard, although they are extremely busy during peak times such as before shows, or prior dinner so if you are cruising with a disability I would recommend arriving to places such as the theatres and the dining room earlier to avoid the crowds of people using the elevators.   If wanting to watch a film in the Screening Room for instance in your wheelchair, then you really need to arrive in plenty of time before the start of the film as disappointingly there is only one wheelchair seat available and so plenty of disabled passengers are often left disappointed when unable to watch a film.  The ship is spacious and is really easy to navigate around the ships as there is plenty of room for both abled passengers and those in wheelchairs; the hallways are even wide enough to allow a wheelchair and a person to walk past each other.  Although there were plenty of passengers onboard, it often didn’t feel very crowded, however, which perhaps speaks to the size of the ship.

I would like to thank all of the staff on ‘Adventure of the Seas’ as the majority of the staff were extremely helpful, and spoilt us during our stay onboard.  Our room attendant, Roseanna was extraordinarily lovely, and always stopped to say hello and made us feel special, such as always remembering our names which for the number of people she must look after cannot be easy!  As I spent a lot of time in the cabin, I often saw her as she came into our cabin to make up my bed and every time she asked me how I was feeling and if there was anything I needed, and also had a special nickname for me – Rihanna!

And the food onboard was incredible – the meals were delicious with a variety of choice and most incredibly offering gluten-free or lactose free varieties on a number of dishes so those with food intolerances are well taken care of.  It was such a pleasure to enjoy a starter, main and dessert every night; a decadence that I am most certainly not often presented with.  Starters such as Crab Cake, Spinach Dip and Chilled Pina Colada Soup were among my favourites.  My favourites among the main courses I enjoyed onboard was the Asparagus, Peas, Scallops and Crab Spaghetti Pasta and the Ravioli Mare Monte (cheese filled pasta in a crab and mushroom sauce).   The desserts most surprisingly was not my favourite dishes during my time on the cruise but did particularly enjoy the Orange and Almond Cake and the low-fat Peach Melba.

All in all, I felt that being in a wheelchair and going on a cruise was a perfect fit – no hassles in airports with the endless waiting around, and  cruise ships are fully accessible with helpful and attentive staff, I would say it is so easy for a person in a wheelchair to enjoy a holiday in style.

 

I thought that I would write a little introduction and overview of what is like to go on a cruise with a disability.  In the next post, I will speak about the trip from a personal viewpoint and how I felt on the trip as not only with someone with a disability but also as someone with a neurological condition living with symptoms such as dizziness and issues with balance, etc.  Is there any information that I might have missed out on which may be useful to know, or just would like to know more about?  If so please leave a comment in the section below…

(Soon to be) Leaving on a cruise ship…

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Welcome to the Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge brought together by WEGO Health – a social network for all health activists.  Again, I am participating in the annual Writer’s Month Challenge in which I will be writing about my health activism and health condition based upon prompts given.

Today’s prompt reads as follows:

Travel Time…If you could travel to anywhere in the world, where would you go?  Why?  We also know travelling with a chronic illness can be challenging, so any tips for others that you can share would be great!

This particular prompt is a very interesting one for me, as in just over two weeks I myself will be going on holiday!  Yes, I am due to go on the first holiday I have had for a number of years.  The prospect is both very exciting and nerve-wracking.  This is the first holiday since my diagnosis of my neurological condition, and in addition is the first time I will be travelling since my symptoms have become worse, such as the mobility problems I live with as well as the worsening of the dizziness and vertigo.

My parents and I are going on a cruise with Royal Caribbean, sailing on one of their magnificent ships ‘Adventure of the Seas’ departing on May 8th.  The cruise is to travel around the Mediterranean visiting places such as Cadiz, Barcelona, Nice, Livorno and Rome.  I am particularly looking forward to visiting the places in Italy, as it is a country that I have wanted to visit.  I love Italian food, and think the language sounds beautiful.  It is a place full of history, a subject that I am interested in, and the architecture of its building are spectacular.

The beautiful cruise ship that I am about to depart on for my adventure around the Mediterreanean
The beautiful cruise ship that I am about to depart on for my adventure around the Mediterranean

I will admit that after I was diagnosed with the neurological condition, and since the symptoms that I constantly live with worsened I thought that I would never get to visit the sights in Italy that I had wanted to visit since I was young.  For example, I am unable to fly as due to my dizziness I would not be able to handle being in airports for a considerable amount of time because of their considerable size and high ceilings.  There are several local bus companies that do offer trips to Italy, however since the pain in my legs has worsened during the past couple of years, we ruled that option because of the likelihood that being in a bus for a long time without being able to stretch my legs would worsen the pain in them considerably.  So, the only option left was to go on a cruise.  At first, I was very skeptical as I was certainly worried that the dizziness would worsen due to the movement of the ship.  However, as both my parents have been on a cruise before, and eased by concerns and anxieties about cruising as well as listing off a large number of benefits of going on a cruise versus other types of holiday.  And by agreeing then I would be able to choose a cruise that would allow me to fulfil my dreams of visiting a place I had wanted to for so long.

The beautiful city of Rome which I will soon be experiencing
The beautiful city of Rome which I will soon be experiencing

After mulling it over, I agreed and took the plunge by booking the cruise we are to depart on in a couple of weeks.  The countdown now is most certainly on and I am busily preparing for the cruise and purchasing new clothes and bits and pieces that I need to take with me such as sunglasses, hats and other holiday necessities.  Another necessity that I have to take is my wheelchair; due to the neurological condition I am unable to walk far and therefore will need it to use on excursions and around the ship so I will be able to enjoy everything I want to experience.  Granted, I never dreamt that if I ever got to visit Italy I would do so in a wheelchair but sometimes dreams do not turn out the way that we expected.  I have decided to pack some items that are my personal necessity items such as my iPad – before leaving I will download some films that I will be able to watch on the days where I may be feeling very unwell and am stuck in our cabin due to the severity of my symptoms.  This may not happen, of course, but I thought I would prepare for the possibility that it could happen.  I am planning to watch a film or two on the journey to Southampton in order to distract myself from the pain and trembling in my legs that has worsened recently and may also worsen whilst travelling in the car due to the lack of leg room.  A notebook of course is another item that I will be taking with me; an item that will be very useful in taking notes for the blog post that I will be writing when I return home.  And of course, no holiday would be complete without a camera to document the experience of travelling to new places for posterity.  For this, I am planning to take as many photographs as possible with my smartphone, and then I am planning to build a scrapbook of my cruise experience as something to look back on when I am having a bad day due to chronic illness.

This particular prompt also asks for tips for others regarding travelling with a chronic illness.  However, as I have mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have not travelled since being diagnosed with a neurological condition, or not taken a holiday since the symptoms associated with my condition has worsened.  Therefore, I would like to make this particular post interactive and ask my readers (aka YOU!) for their tips regarding travelling whilst living with a chronic illness?  What are some of the items I should be packing in my luggage?  What are some of your coping techniques when your symptoms flare whilst travelling?  Any tips that you can offer would be much appreciated and would love to hear others’ experiences of cruising with a chronic illness or even better a neurological condition.  So, please leave any tips and suggestions in the comment section below:

I look forward to writing a post about my holiday of a lifetime and sharing my experiences and tips that I may have found whilst travelling with a neurological condition.