The problems and successes I have encountered with accessible holidays.
Posted on 5th July 2021 at 21:32
Not sure about anyone else but whenever I hear or want to say the word holiday, I have a Madonna moment and break out into song. Hopefully not just me! Holidays are fabulous, everyone needs one, wants one, makes great memories from them and the list is endless! Everyone’s ideal holiday is different of course, but come on, the natural response is sun, sea and sand. My natural response is accessible, wheelchair friendly and able to accommodate us all! Commence headache, endless looking and feeling more disheartened by the minute. Having a large family with different age ranges is challenging enough but add to the mix a quadriplegic cerebral palsy teenager you’re talking a whole different challenge! The amount of websites I trawl through is endless! My biggest bugbear though has to be the wheelchair/accessibility issue. Whilst many holiday companies claim to be wheelchair friendly, the people who say this clearly don’t research all types of wheelchairs that are used. I’ve been to numerous holiday parks that have claimed they have wheelchair accessible accommodation, however, on the whole they’re referring to a little fold up wheelchair where a person can transfer independently, which I do appreciate may be a higher volume of wheelchair users, but there are so many other types of wheelchairs that disabled people use. I think my worst experience was my last visit to Centre Parcs. I’ve visited three times and two of the experiences were absolutely amazing and I should think so for the price tag that came with it. The third experience was awful, we stayed in the lowest priced accommodation for accessible accommodation and the difference showed. My son’s wheelchair couldn’t even fit through the accessible shower and the room was so small the mobile hoist couldn’t go in either. I did send a complaint to Centre Parcs and they responded apologetically and provided us with a £250.00 voucher, which I felt was quite poor. This was under 10% of what we paid for the holiday so I felt a little insulted by such a low amount. Needless to say, I have not redeemed the voucher and it has probably expired by now. I’ve never considered holidays outside the UK as George cannot fly, however, my husband and I really wanted to take our children to Disneyland. We were talking one evening and thought why can’t we just drive to Disneyland Paris. We googled it and saw it was six hours, definitely doable considering we had driven to Cornwall previously, which can take just as long. In hindsight, I wish I had travelled by Eurostar, however, I have to say it was the most memorable family holiday and I would say the best I have ever had. Disneyland have it all right when it comes to wheelchair users and I don’t think I’ve been anywhere else even close to what they have to offer for us as a family. It wasn't completely perfect and I could be picky if I wanted to be but what is the point, the plus points massively outweighed the negative for me. The staff at the hotel and park were incredible, nothing was too much trouble. As standard disabled guests and their families are given fast pass access to the rides, at no additional cost may I add. I also had a 9 month old with me and the staff even allowed us to switch over and go on the rides. You can even book in a time to have your photo taken with the characters so you don't have to stand around in line. It was an absolute wonderful family experience, one I hope to be able to repeat again. www.disneyholidays.co.uk/disneyland-paris/help/frequently-asked-questions/guests-with-disabilities/ Disneyland was actually one of our first family holidays away from Centre Parcs and I’m glad my husband and I thought of it! It’s a shame about Centre Parcs because they tick so many boxes for large disabled families and it does cater for all, but it comes at an expensive cost and since COVID has increased even more. My favourite saying is “You add the word wedding or disabled, you double the price tag” and this is very true with Centre Parcs. This year, I took a change in approach to my holiday needs. Since I have been networking I have been introduced to some travel consultants. In all honesty, I didn't know these people existed but it is brilliant. Do you remember the good old days of going into a travel and talking through all the possibilities of different holidays? They would go through ideas and places that you never even thought of. This is exactly what a Personal Travel Consultant does. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Lisa McCallum. Not only is Lisa an experienced Travel Consultant, she is a mother to two children with SEN and therefore completely understood what I needed. I spoke to Lisa at length over the phone and really took the time to listen to what I needed. Lisa's expert knowledge of the places to stay which are suitable for people with SEN meant she was able to provide me with a list of options available. Yes options! My family holiday was booked within the space of a few days. How utterly wonderful and refreshing, how did I not know this before. If you want to talk to Lisa or have a look at what she has to offer you can visit her website at https://lisamccallum.notjusttravel.com/. This year I’m off to a good old traditional British holiday venue which is Butlins! Sunny Bognor, well I hope there is some sun or just no rain would be fantastic. I’m really excited for what Butlins have to offer and I'm hoping to be able to make positive comments about it. I have an accessible half board hotel room with interlinking doors. No cooking for me, whoop whoop! I have also discovered that they have just spent forty million on the refurbishment of their pool. This includes the ability to use a mobile hoist which is just going to be a phenomenal experience for George. Normally George would have to sit and watch from the side but now gets to come in with the rest of his family. This just shows how important it is to work with people who are experienced with SEN. Having someone who has insight, experience and knowledge makes situations such as booking a holiday or having a photograph taken so much easier and enjoyable. It is the main reason I started my photography business. I wanted those to have an experience like no other and share my expertise and give families like mine what they want. Does anyone know of a directory specialising in centralising information, businesses, activities and accommodation? It would be brilliant to be put in contact with them. Or do you know anyone with a specialist service offering or business for those with disabilities or special needs? Perhaps I need to start a directory from scratch but it would be good to see if people were interested in creating one. Please put them in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via my website www.thisspecialmoment.co.uk.
I'd welcome your feedback and comments below.
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