Trips by air
|Mediterranean Cruises on the Aurora - July2010 and August 2013|
The July 2010 cruise was a 17 night return cruise from Southampton to the Western Mediteranean. On the outward journey we stopped at Palma in the Balleric Islands, Naples, Dubrovnik, and Venice and returned via Split, Corfu and Cadiz. The August 2013 cruise was very similar. However, temperatures were much higher and the ports of call much busier. The outward journey was via Cadiz, Mesina, Corfu, Dubrovnik and Venice and the return via Malta and Gibraltar.
The Aurora was launched in 2000 and is one of the most popular ships in the P&O fleet and is very wheelchair friendly. You have to book as much as a year in advance to make sure of securing an adapted cabin. More detailed information about the ship and the cabins we have used can be found here.
On both occasions, for convenience, we drove to Southampton. This enables us to carry all the disabled equipment we require and you can drive right up to the ship, unload, and hand your car over to the local services to be parked for the duration of your trip. There is a parking charge but if you off set this against the alternative cost of public transport that you would otherwise have to pay, the price is well worth it. P&O offer assistance with embarkation which you request at the time of booking and this is most useful when you have hand baggage to carry aboard as well as push a wheelchair. There is a dedicated checkin desk for the disabled.
P&O provided us with advanced information about port accessiblity and the opportunities for the disabled to undertake local tours. This enabled us to plan more effectively for the cruise and convinced us to take along our power trike for this trip. This we had never done before but we were anticipating having to do more walkingin summer temperatures. This was a wise decission as the day temperatures were at record highs and I would have hated to have pushed a wheelchair in such energy sapping heat and humidity.
As previously experienced, the food and service were good and all dietary needs can be met if they are given notice of requirements before sailing.
The weather on our July 2010 was warm and sunny the day we embarked and it remained like this for the majority of the voyage and the seas were some of the calmest we have experienced. In August 2013 it was not quite so calm but temperatures were very much higher. The first few days of the voyages were spent at sea and gave plenty of time relax, unwind and become re-acquainted with the ship
Palma - The ship docks some 3.5 miles away from the centre of the town and we were all set to walk in and get a taxi back. However, a courtesy bus service from along side the ship into town was provided and to our surprise one of the coaches was equipped with a wheelchair lift. We had no problem using this to get there and back and the service was excellent but we understood this was not always available. If this had been the case, I noticed that there was an accessible public bus service from just outside the dock gates.
We focused our site seeing on the old town and although it is not all level going, we didn't find it difficult to get about. As well as wandering the streets and stopping for refreshments at a pavement café, we visited the cathedral and the ancient Arab Baths. The cathedral had wheelchair access and, where there were changes of levels in the interior, ramps were provided and it was easy to get around. Access into the Arab Baths wasn’t easy but we did manage to heave and shove our way around.
Naples - The ship docks in the city but this was as far as we got. We had advanced booked a tour here, one of the very few available for a wheelchair user on this voyage. Unfortunately the ship could not stay on the berth all day and had to move off and anchor off shore for the most part. This meant those passengers on tour had to use the tenders to return to ship and unless you are ambulant, wheelchairs users are now not allowed to use these and our tour had to be cancelled. We spent the day aboard on an almost deserted ship so we had the facilities mostly to ourselves. Fortunately the Crystal Pool on Aurora has now been fitted with a hoist and Wendy was able to enjoy a swim.
Dubrovnik - The approach and entrance to the harbour is very scenic and a view of the suspension bridge which takes the main road into Dubrovnik brought back memories of our 2006 visit here in our motorhome. The ship docked the other side of a hill from the old town which was about 2 miles away. Courtesy buses had been laid on to take passengers there but none were wheelchair friendly. Not being total strangers to the area, we decided to at least walk there and perhaps get a taxi back. Apart from negotiating the hill it was a pleasant stroll first along the level harbour side and marina, up the hill from the top of which there were fine views overlooking the sea and finally down into the old town where we spent a couple of hours strolling around this world heritage site in very warm sunshine. Of course a highlight of a visit here is a walk around the town’s walls but this is not possible with a wheelchair. We noticed some of the local buses were wheelchair friendly but having plenty of time we still decided to walk back to the ship stopping on the way at a local market to buy flowers and a drink in a pavement café. On the subsequent cruise in 2013 we did the same but caught a bus back to the port.
Venice - For us, the jem of the trip. The entrance to the harbour through Venice's lagoon is unbelievable and offers excellent views of Venice and its landmark buildings. The ship sails in past St Marks Square, the Grand Canal and many fine buildings and provides and excellent view of the sites. A commentary by the ships tour guide was also given. From the docks to the Plaza Roma, the main transport terminus, accessible courtesy busses were provided and from there you could catch the water bus to the sites. There was a reduced fare for the disabled and we purchased return tickets to St Marks Square from where we made forays into the city. A tourist map with wheelchair routes shown is available and we mostly stuck to these. When we didn’t, we encountered impassable stepped canal bridges. This limited where we could go but we still spent a very satisfy but hot day exploring what we could. A day wasn’t really long enough and we would love to return to make more use of the water busses to explore other locations.
Split - This was the one port we knew we could not go ashore because it was listed as one of those where it was required to use the tender. We were not too disappointed as we had previously visited Split in our motorhome. We spent a quiet day aboard and Wendy had a swim in the Crystal pool again.
Corfu - The ship docked not far from the main town. A shuttle bus service was available but this was not wheelchair accessible. However, on leaving the port we found the public bus service was and for a few euros we travelled the short distance into town where we spent the morning site seeing. The town is not completely level but it was easy enough to get round the main areas. We did encounter a few steps but found a route around these. We had intended to catch the bus back but we could not find the right bus stop and it not being too far, and having plenty of time, we walked back.
Cadiz - The ship docks along side the town and Cadiz was even easier to get around than Corfu and had much more character. We spent nearly the whole day ashore wandering the narrow streets. We did some shopping, visited the local park before finally resting overlooking the towns beach where we sat in a cafe enjoying the sunshine and watching life go by over drinks and ice cream. It was an enjoyable day.
Mesina - The ship docks alongside the town and it is a short walk into the centre. We initially walked away from centre along the harbour front until we came to a road junction with a fine water fountain set in the middle topped by a statue of what I think was Neptune who was flanked by two mythical sea creatures. We thought about heading for the church high on the hill overlooking the harbour but it looked to be quite an ascent with the wheelchair and we thought better of it and headed for the town centre passing a number of not very inspiring cafes and shops. The central square was easy to locate, on one side is a magnificent church with a bell tower housing a clock which was obviously a main attraction as indicated by the number of tourists milling taking photographs and waiting for noon to arrive. At the appointed time the clock burst into life and a number of figures in various apertures in the tower came to life providing a display for a full 5 minutes before it resumed its normal static state. After a visit to the interior of the church and a drink in a side street cafe we wandered back to the ship. It had not been too difficult to get around the lower reaches of the town.
Malta - The entrance to the harbour is impressive but the views of Valletta looked as though it was far from ideal for a wheelchair user. There are some accessible shops and a cafe on the quayside and it is not too difficult to exit the port onto the nearest road from where you can catch a wheelchair friendly hop on and hop of bus. A number of routes are possible and given the terrain we decided to do one of these and hop off in the quiet fishing village of Marsaxlokk. Here we had a coffee, a wander through the small market and around the harbour before catching a hop on hop off bus again intending to visit the Blue Grotto. On arrival it did not look at all wheelchair friendly and we decided to stay on the bus. This was just as well because the roads are not that good and progress was very slow and when we got to Sliema, one of the main shopping areas we were asked to change buses. To our dismay the second bus back to the port was not wheelchair friendly. A supervisor seeing our predicament spoke to the driver of the bus we had just got off and we were requested to get back on again to find out he had been instructed to take us back to Valletta dockside and we had our own private bus tour for the last part of the trip. Malta is steeped in history and there are many historic places and buildings to visit unfortunately this is not easy for the non ambulant. Malta is also a rather a barren island and I cannot recall seeing a single patch of greenery during the whole trip.
Gibraltar - One of our favourite ports of call and the second visit for us, the first being in our motorhome in 2001. It is about a mile walk from the port to the town centre but it is level with dropped curbs. Stray too far away from the town centre and the coastal areas and the terrain can become rapidly steep. We again walked the mile into town, made our duty free purchases, had a drink in a cafe, explored some of the back streets and then wandered back to ship. There was a shuttle service available into town for a small charge and taxis are readily available at the dockside should you wish to visit other areas of the Rock.
Disembarkation at Southampton went without a hitch on both occasions.
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