Trips by air
|Amazon Adventure on the Aurora - January and February 2019|
This cruise was a 55 night return cruise from Southampton out to the Amazon river and up it as far as Manaus followed by a cruise around the Caribbean and returning via Bermuda and the Azores. On the outward journey we stopped at Santa Cruz, Tenerife and Mindelo, St Vincent, Cape Verde islands and returned via a cruise around the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Azores.
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.
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 we considered the price is 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 check in desk for the disabled.
P&O provided advanced information about port accessibility and the opportunities for the disabled to undertake local tours. This enabled us to plan more effectively for the cruise and convinced us to again take along our power trike for this trip. We also made advanced requests for two tours, one at Ocho Rios, Jamaica and one in Cozumel, Mexico. We found we were on a waiting list for the latter on checking when on board the ship.
It was four days sailing to our first port of call and it remained calm all the way with only the first day being cold.
Santa Cruz, Tenerife - The port had changed considerably since our last visit in December 2014. New berths and a terminal building had been created and ships can now berth much closer to town and passengers can get ashore much easier via a walkway and lifts which take you past a number of shops and a cafe in the terminal building. The area around the port and along the seafront is flat with dropped curbs. The town slopes gently upwards away from the port. It was a public holiday on the day we spent here but many shops were still open and many had sales on. This, and the addition of another large cruise ship in the harbour, made the main thoroughfare quite busy. After a coffee we quickly left the area and strolled to the local market which we found closed. Strolling on further we found ourselves back on the seafront near a local park where we relaxed in the sunshine before visiting the cafe in the foyer of the very impressive theatre. After some refreshment we strolled back along the seafront to the terminal building to browse the shops at a quieter time before re-boarding the ship after nearly 5 hours ashore.
A further 2 days sailing took us to the Cape Verde Islands
Mindelo, St Vicent, Cape Verde Islands - A cluster of barren island colonised by the Portuguese and now largely populated by Creoles. Mindelo on St Vincent Island is the major town and deep water port of the group of islands. The ship docks alongside a jetty just outside the town. A 20 minute stroll will get you to the town centre where there are a few shops, markets and cafes. Care is need with a wheelchair, paving can be uneven or narrow in places. There are some dropped kerbs and ramps but the latter were quite steep. We walked along the sea front to the far side of town where the fish market was and then cut inland to the centre and walked back parallel to the sea front, stopping for a drink in a local cafe before ending up on the town's lovely white beach which was easy for a wheelchair to get onto. There were cafes at either end of the beach and we had a drink in one of them before ambling back to the ship.
Manaus, Brazil, Amazonia. Manaus is 968 miles up river from the ocean and 10 miles north of the "Meeting of the Waters". This is where the black waters of the Rio Negro joins the muddy Amazon forming a distinct meeting line until they finally mix further down stream. The ship docks alongside a floating dock on the Rio Negro and there is no difficulty leaving the ship but the port authorities did not allow passengers to walk through the dock area but provided a shuttle bus service to the ports terminal building where there are shops, cafes and WiFi. However, for those using wheelchairs, the accessible shuttle service was very poor and most would find it a struggle to use. The vehicle was unmodified and boarding and alighting was via steep ramps and there were no anchor points in the vehicle. We found the free WiFi in the terminal building unusable possibly through overloading. There is not a lot to see in Manaus and the tours provided by P&O were not suitable for wheelchair users. We decided to make a visit to the Opera House, this was the main object of going ashore and we headed straight for this which was about a 3/4 mile walk up a not too steep a busy street past the cathedral. There are dropped curbs, some steep but it was not too difficult to get to the quieter and more scenic area of the Opera House which has ramped access into the foyer. A guided tour cost US$5 per person. There is steep ramped access into the main auditorium which is the limit of the tour for a wheelchair user as there are no lifts to the upper levels of this magnificent iconic building. Afterwards we had a drink in a nearby cafe and wandered back to the port via the shops and the Cathedral. Very few shops have wheel chair access and we found the cathedral closed.
Manaus was the limit of the journey up river and an over night sailing back down river took the ship to Parintins where it anchored off shore.
Parintins, Brazil, Amazonia. Going ashore at Parintins is via tender only and unless you can demonstrate you can get into and out of the tender unaided you will not be permitted to go ashore. As a none ambulant wheelchair user we had an enforced stay aboard for the day.
Another overnight sailing found us anchored of the port of Santarem. Aurora was supposed to tie up alongside but a change of plans meant otherwise and it was another enforced stay aboard for the non ambulant. Not that it mattered too much because there were no tours available for the non ambulant. I went ashore on my own for a couple of hours.
Santarem, Brazil, Amazonia. There were no terminal buildings here but there were a number of stalls in the port area selling souvenirs. The town centre is a good walk away and I followed a route by mistake which took me away from it and found nothing of interest but I did observe the rough walkways and the lack of dropped kerbs which would present a problem for wheelchair users. It was also very, very hot and humid and I was soon soaked in sweat so decided to return to the ship stopping briefly at the stalls in the port area to buy a souvenir. Others had a more successful trip ashore and at the fish market had been able to watch the river dolphins being fed.
Santarem was the last port of call on the Amazon, the next being Barbados 3 days sailing away.
Bridgetown, Barbados. This was not our first visit to Barbados, we have had a 10 day holiday on the island which you can read about here. The ship docks alongside about a 15 minute walk from the centre of Bridgetown. However, on this occasion the berth was some distance from the terminal buildings and a shuttle bus service was provided to the terminal buildings one of which was wheelchair friendly. While P&O provided a wheelchair friendly tour here, on this visit we decided to do our own thing and check out the Hilton Hotel which we believed had accommodation for wheelchair uses. We took a taxi for a cost of US $15 to the hotel but found that all the rooms were occupied and we were not allowed to visit any of them. We were assured they all had wheel in showers and toilets with handrails. Toilet raiser and shower chairs were available but not hoists or monkey poles. We spent most of the day there, the grounds and the pool areas were all accessible as was the beach but there wasn't a pool hoist. If we ever decided to stay here, the risks of not meeting our needs looked small. After this relaxing visit and a light lunch at the hotel we took a taxi into Bridgetown to do some shopping before walking back to the port and the ship. Bridgetown had changed little since our last visit. It is not too difficult to get about. There are dropped kerbs and ramps but you can still encounter rough paving.
Overnight we sailed to Tobago.
Scarborough, Tobago The ship docks alongside at Scarborough and a short walk takes you to the town centre through the terminal building, where there are a few craft stalls and an information centre. P&O didn't offer any tours here and we decide to take a look around first heading for the botanical gardens in the town's centre. We found them quite easily but don't expect any dropped kerbs. Some kerbs are quite high and often there were also rain gullies to negotiate. The Gardens were not very accessible either, being very hilly and even a power chair was not much help. There wasn't much to see but it was a peaceful spot. From the ship we had noticed a long sea front leading out of town, we next headed for this because any other direction was rather hilly. We walked its full length without much difficulty enjoying the cools sea breeze and stopping for a drink at a local bar on the way back. We returned to the ship in the early afternoon.
Overnight we sailed to St Lucia
Castries, St Lucia The ship docks alongside at Castries but on this visit not as normal alongside the cruise terminal but on the opposite side of the bay. This made the gangplank very steep and we needed assistance to get the wheelchair ashore. Again we have holidayed here in the past and knew the island fairly well and while P&O offered a tour for wheelchair users we did not take the opportunity to use this. You can read about our previous trips here. We just decided to just walk around the harbour. Sadly it was raining quite hard by the time we got ashore and we spent the first 1-1/2 hours in the cruise terminal where there are a variety of tourist shops, WiFi and a couple of cafes. The cafes were located up stairs and neither of the two lifts in the building were working but take away coffees were fortunately available. The rain did ease and we walked around the harbour without too much difficulty avoiding the worst of the rain and stopping for a drink in a bar in the opposite cruise terminal. It didn't look as though the day would improve so we called it a day and returned to the ship for a light lunch.
The day only improved as we sailed for Antigua.
St Johns, Antigua. The following morning we docked alongside at St Johns only a short walk from the town centre. We were greeted by the sound of a steel band and the P&O ship Britannia was also berthed alongside. It will be busy ashore. It is 10 years since we last visited Antigua and this was our fourth visit so we had decided to just go to the beach at Dickensons Bay for the morning and later have a wander around town before returning to the ship. I first tried to obtain some local currency from three cash machines but could not get any of them to recognise my Mastercard. I did have a few US dollars, enough for the taxi fare and to buy a drink each but that was all. The fixed taxi fare was supposed to be US$12 for up to four passengers. I managed to negotiate a price of US$6 for the two of us to get there but had to pay US$12 to get back. We had a pleasant morning on the beach which included a swim in the sea and we returned to St Johns for a very brief look around. The port area had been redeveloped since our last visit and further development is planned. There is now a large pedestrianised tourist area of shops and bars which for a wheelchair user is much easier to get around. Outside this area it is very different and not at all easy for a wheelchair user to get around. Having spent what little US$ I had and not requiring anything further we returned to the ship for a drink and to relax for the rest of the day.
Tomorrow after an overnight sailing we will be in Tortola.
After a days sailing we arrived at Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic.
Amber Cover, Dominican Republic Entering a small bay via a narrow channel we docked alongside an "L" shaped quay. The bay is surrounded by green clad hills and the harbour and a purpose build cruise complex nestles in a bowl beneath these hills. A walk along the level quayside or a ride on one of the many local tricyles for a small tip will bring you to the entrance of the complex beyond which there is nothing to see unless you take a taxi or a tour. P&O offered no wheelchair accessible tours at this port but we did notice the taxis were big enough to take a wheelchair. A short 15 minute journey into the nearby town of Puerto Plata allegedly cost US$60 return. We elected to stay on the complex. The complex has the usual array of tourist shops and bars. In addition there is a large swimming pool with swim up bar, sun beds, umbrellas, childrens spash area and a large water slide. The pool had a hoist for use by the disabled and a lift was available to gain access to the upper level of the large pool bar. The sky bar which is perched on top of a small hill overlooking the complex had ramped access and offered great views of the surrounding area. A zip wire, stretching over the complex started from near this Sky bar. At its termination, water sports were available. We spent some time by the pool, visited the bars for a drink and to use the free WiFi and lastly strolled around in the sunshine before returning to the ship in the mid afternoon.
Another days sailing took us to the Cayman Islands.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman. The ship anchors off shore and passengers must go ashore by tender. This means there is an enforced stay on board for the non ambulant and those not steady on their feet. I went ashore alone and walked out of town to 7 mile beach. After a quick look around I walked back to catch the tender back to the ship stopping at a bar for some refreshment and to use their free WiFi. Grand Cayman is a flat island, its highest point is 60 metres above sea level. Walkways are level and mostly provided with dropped kerbs and if wheelchair user could get ashore they should have no trouble getting around.
An overnight sailing took us to Jamaica.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica We had visited Jamaica before, see here, but not Ocho Rios. P&O offered a tour for wheelchair users to Dunn River Falls and we booked a place on this. A mini bus with a rear lift capable of accommodating six wheelchairs was provided. We were first taken to the Koyaba Gardens on the outskirts of Ocho Rios and taken on an interesting guided tour of these. The gardens not only comprised of tropical plants but also had a small museum and zoo, the latter mainly comprised of indigenous animals. Good pathways wound their way around the crystal clear streams and ponds although some of the pathway ramps were rather awkward to navigate. After a refreshing glass of fruit punch we were taken the few miles to the falls. This large complex was not quite so wheelchair friendly as the gardens, access to the viewing platforms being quite steep and not all of these on the 600 foot drop of the falls could be reached. Nevertheless it was possible to visit two of the viewing platforms. The more energetic and able can use the steps alongside the falls to visit other areas or even climb through the water up the falls. On our return to the harbour we visited the wheelchair friendly Island Village beach complex for a drink and a wander around the many harbourside shops and stalls.
Our next port of call was Cartagena, a days sailing across the Caribbean Sea from Jamaica.
Cartagena, Colombia. P&O did not offer any wheelchair friendly tours at this port so we decided to suck it and see what was available knowing from the port talks that at least there were terminal facilities. The ship docks alongside and it was a short level walk to these where, not only were there the usual tourist facilities, we found a small but interesting Eco Park with some animals and a walk through aviary housing some of the birds of the area. Feeding stations, around the area, also attracted a number of free flying birds to the site. We had no problem getting about in this area and we spent nearly 3 hours here eventually deciding to return to the ship persuaded by the increasing humidity and heat (32C) and the arrival of a large cruise ship making the area very busy.
An overnight sailing took us to Colon, a city at the entrance of the Panama canal.
Colon, Panama The ship docks alongside what is currently a rather scruffy looking terminal. New terminal facilities were under construction and possibly in a years time the area will look much better. No tours for wheelchair users were offered at this port which lies at the entrance to the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. According to the port talk there wasn't much to see in the immediate vicinity, we therefore sought the advice of the ships tour guides as to where we could visit. They suggested we use a taxi to take a 20 minute drive out of the city to a place called Agua Clara where a new visitors centre had recently been built which overlooked a flight of three new locks on the the Panama Canal. This we decided to do and on getting ashore we got a taxi for the cost of US$50 return for the two of us for what turned out to be a half hour journey through the city, along rough roads, past patches of jungle to this centre where there was a gift shop, accessible toilets, a cafe restaurant and viewing platforms. The driver waited for us while we spent an hour at this wheelchair friendly facility watching the huge ships negotiate a lock up into Lake Miraflores and listening to the commentary on how this was done. There was an entrance fee of US$15 per person to the complex. However, this was reduced to half price for the wheelchair user. As first time visitors to the Panama Canal we enjoyed the experience but the drive through the city convinced us it was not worth exploring further especially because it did not look at all wheelchair friendly and we returned to the ship for the rest of the stay.
Another overnight sailing took us to our next port of call, Puerto Limon.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica The ship docks alongside only a short walk from the terminal building and the centre of town. Again P&O did not offer any wheelchair friendly tours. We had decided to just have a wander around town. On reaching the terminal buildings we were surprised to find a wheelchair friendly taxi and mini bus. Both were equipped with lifts! Unfortunately we did not have enough US dollars to hire either. Had we known these were available we would have made sure we had. We first went to the little park near the docks then walked around the sea front before heading into town. We bought a few things in a supermarket paying with my credit card before visiting the cathedral after which we stopped for a coffees before a final visit to the little park where we photographed some birds and had a sloth pointed out to us high up in the trees. The enterprising young lad who did this had brought the sloth in from outside of town and released it in the park and expected a tip for doing this. We didn't find it too difficult to get around town. Its a bit rough in places and although there are plenty of dropped kerbs these could be quite steep.
A days sailing later we arrived at the island of Roatan, Honduras.
Mahogany Bay, Roatan Island, Honduras The ship docks alongside a purpose built terminal owned by Carnival Cruises. Here there are the usual tourist shops, cafe and bars. However, unlike many other terminals this one has its own beach, landscaped gardens, a nature walk and a cable car ride. P&O again did not offer any tours for wheelchair users so we decide to spend our time ashore in the complex. The complex is a short walk along the pier and an short uphill walk to the centre. Pathways are smooth and, in spite of the inclines, with a bit of effort it is not too difficult to get to the centre or the beach but the nature walk is via a gravelled uphill path and is not accessible and it is also not possible to use the cable car which runs from the centre to the beach complex. We spent most of our time on the beach.
An overnight sailing took us to Belize.
Belize The ship anchors a long way off shore, it was therefore not possible for the non ambulant to go ashore. We spent the day on board except for a quick trip ashore by myself to obtain free WiFi in the terminal buildings.
An overnight sailing took us to Costa Maya, Mexico.
Costa Maya, Mexico. The ship docks alongside a purpose built terminal with all the usual tourist shops and bars. In addition there were Mexicans dressed in costume, a little beach, a swimming pool and an area set aside for swimming with dolphins. No tours for wheelchair users were available, we therefore spent some time looking around before deciding to leave the port area in the direction of Mahahual, the local town which was about 4 Km away. A shuttle service operated to this town but it was not wheelchair friendly. We walked about halfway without any difficulty either along the central shady reservation of the dual carriageway which was a little rough or along the side of the not very busy road. Rain showers forced us to take shelter in a hotel where we also used their ATM machine to obtain some local currency. There was little to see on this walk and rather than walk further, we decided to return to the port, stopping to have a coffee on the way. After another look around and some shopping we returned to ship. We found plenty of dropped kerbs and just about everywhere was accessible.
An overnight sailing took us to Cozumel.
Cozumel Island, Mexico There are two cruise terminals on Cozumel about 4 miles apart. WE docked alongside the one a short walk from the town of San Miguel. We were not confirmed on the tour we had booked prior to the voyage so we decided to make our own way to "Discover Mexico", a park and museum with 1/25 scale models of the major sites in Mexico. We had just arrived at the terminal buildings and shops and the heavens opened. When it eased a bit we had a wander around and had a coffee in Starbucks. It eventually stopped raining and we found an information desk and enquired about getting to the park. It was a US$13 taxi ride away and the entrance fee was US$26 each which we accepted after being advised the entrance fee could be paid with a credit card. We were directed to the taxi rank and for reasons initially unknown to us issued with a "receipt" for entry yet no money had exchanged hands. We were offered a 4x4 taxi which I managed to lift Wendy into and after a 15 minute drive we arrived at the entrance to the park. I paid the taxi in cash and the entrance fee with a credit card to help preserve our US dollar holding. A guide took us around explaining about Mexico, the museum artefacts and all the impressive minature buildings of Mayan ruins as well as famous buildings to be found in major cities in Mexico. There were numerous opportunities to extract more money from us, these included a photo opportunity, a tequila tasting, a demonstration of the Mayan language from a Mayan descendent who also wanted to sell us wrist bands, gift shops and a cafe bar. We only bought the photo which we thought was a good souvenir of our visit. After the tour we wander a little by ourselves before the guide organised a taxi back to San Miguel for us, this time a mini bus which we had to ourselves and was free. Apparently this was what the "receipt" was for? We had no sooner got in the taxi and the heavens again opened and while there were periods of light rain it continued to rain for the rest of the day. We eventually decided to return to the ship. Throughout the time ashore the only difficulties we encountered were entering and leaving the taxis which required a manual transfer of the wheelchair user to quite high seating.
Our next port of call was in the Bahamas, a days sailing away.
Freeport, Bahamas The ship only docked alongside here for the morning and no tours were offered to wheelchair users here. We decided just to visit the small flat port area which had the usual collection of tourist shopping facilities and was only a very short walk from the ship. We had a wander around without encountering any difficulties only stopping for a cup of the local punch each and to use the ports WiFi before returning to the ship.
Our penultimate port of call was, Bermuda, 2-1/2 days sailing away.
Heritage Wharf, Bermuda There are three cruise ship terminals in Bermuda, larger ships dock at the old naval dockyard, a ferry ride away from Hamilton. We arrived at about 4p.m on a miserable grey afternoon and this is where we docked alongside for two nights. On the first evening I only went ashore to find out about local transport links and to buy two ferry tickets to Hamilton. The cost was US$4.50 each way per person. The ferry was wheelchair friendly but the local buses were not but I did note that along with the price of taxis, which were expensive, there was a list of phone numbers on the information boards to call if you wanted a vehicle suitable for the disabled. We only used the ferry to go into Hamilton the next day which turned out to be fine and sunny but it was a Sunday and not much was open. We had a good wander around visiting a small park which had some interesting bird life in it and found a small cafe open opposite the bus station where we had a coffee and used their WiFi. Away from the sea front, Hamilton is slightly hilly but there are plenty of dropped kerbs and we had no trouble getting around. Being a Sunday, there was a restricted ferry service so we did not push our luck and wait for the last one which could possibly be full but caught an early afternoon one for the 20 minute trip back to the "Dockyard". On our return we had a wander around the "Dockyard" which, in addition to shops and bars, had a number of attractions, most closed on a Sunday. The "Dockyard" was flat and level and was easy to get around. Among the attractions was the National Museum of Bermuda which we learnt was fully wheelchair accessible so we decided to visit it on the following day. We found the museum, which was laid out in the grounds and buildings of a fort, excellent. The entrance fee of US$12 each was well worth it and it included viewing of some pools within the fort which housed some dolphins being kept mainly for research although visitors could swim with them for a fee.
Our final port of call was in the Azores, 4 days sailing away
Praia da Vitoria, Terceira, Azores The ship arrived late in the evening and docked alongside in quite high winds. By morning these had increased considerably and the port authorities closed the harbour and dockside to all movements because of the risk posed by flying debris. All tours were cancelled and passengers were not allowed ashore until the weather improved at about 1230 p.m. A shuttle bus service which included transport suitable for the disabled was then available to take passenger the 4Km into Praia da Vitoria. The rain had also eased but it still looked pretty miserable and we decided not to bother going ashore even though by 3 p.m. the sun came out.
At 6 p.m. the ship set sail on the 3 day journey to Southampton.
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