Traveler in wheelchair needs an experienced agent to arrange for Alaska cruise

TRAVEL Q&A

October 04, 1992|By New York Times News Service

Q: I am interested in a trip to Alaska by land and cruise ship. I use a wheelchair and am interested in finding a travel agent who could help me make appropriate arrangements.

A: When seeking a cruise to Alaska, the main thing you will have to consider is the accessibility of the ship you will sail on. Reservation agents will tell callers if a ship has cabins that may be used by wheelchair users. However, those familiar with the travel requirements of the disabled say that there are many important details that cruise line employees may not know about, such as width of bathroom entrances or whether lifeboats can be reached on wheelchair. Agencies that specialize in travel for those in wheelchairs can ask clients knowledgeable questions and then find ships that meet the requirements. Some ships may have only one or two cabins for the disabled. The crews of ships with more than a handful of cabins are likely to be more experienced in helping those in wheelchairs. Some agents suggest that those who use electric wheelchairs also take a manual chair, which is much lighter and easier to handle on ramps.

Ships generally offer excursions in port, usually on buses that are not accessible for the disabled. You may be able to make arrangements for wheelchair-equipped vehicles with a travel agent. Also, according to travel agents, wheelchair users can usually find station wagon taxis in port that can carry wheelchairs and can negotiate a fee for a tour.

The nature of the port and the size of the ship will affect whether the ship docks directly at the pier or uses a tender to shuttle passengers between the ship and shore. Negotiating a tender ** can be difficult in a wheelchair, especially in rough seas, and in some cases wheelchair users choose to stay on board. Sitka is cited as a particularly difficult port. There is also the transfer from the airport in Vancouver, British Columbia, where cruises usually begin, to consider.

Here are some travel agents with experience in arranging Alaska cruises for people in wheelchairs. Some organize groups to Alaska and other destinations.

*Directions Unlimited, Accessible Tours, 720 N. Bedford Road, Bedford Hills, N.Y. 10507; (800) 533-5343 or (914) 241-1700. Lois Bonanni is the specialist in travel for the disabled.

*Nautilus Tours, 5435 Donna Ave., Tarzana, Calif. 91356; (818) 343-6339.

*Evergreen Travel Service, Disabled Department, 4114 198th Southwest, Suite 13, Lynnwood, Wash. 98036; (800) 435-2288 or (206) 776-1184.

*Flying Wheels Travel, 143 West Bridge, Box 382, Owatonna, Minn.; (800) 533-0363.

*Travel Information Service, Moss Rehabilitation Hospital, 1200 W. Tabor Road, Philadelphia, Pa. 19141 will, for $5, mail a package of information on travel in Alaska (or other locations) for the disabled. Call (215) 329-5715.

Q: Our family wants to rent a car in Albuquerque and drive in the Southwest. Is there a way a car rental company would allow my 17-year-old daughter to drive?

A: It looks as though your daughter will have to be a passenger. Car rental companies have varying policies on the minimum age of drivers. The minimum ages may also depend on location and whether a rental outlet is owned by the company or is a franchise and by location. In any case it is rare that the primary renters themselves may be younger than 21.

The reason for the minimum age is that the rental companies do not carry insurance covering younger drivers, considered by the insurance companies as high-risk. A check with some companies in Albuquerque found these to be the minimum ages: Avis, age 25; Budget, 21; Dollar, 21; Hertz, 25; National, 25. Usually, there is a fee for extra drivers, perhaps $3 a day. Dollar charges an additional $5 a day for drivers under 25, making the surcharge $8 a day.

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