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The Arcadia

Norwegian Cruises, Arcadia-May/June 2000, Oceana May 2009
The Arcadia cruise in 2000 was a 13 night cruise to the Norweigan Fjords and Northcape on the P & O ship Arcadia, which in 2003 was renamed the Ocean Village. It is now no longer part of the P&O fleet. and a new and bigger Arcadia joined the fleet in 2005. We liked the old Arcadia, it was great and, for our first cruise in many, many years, we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Arcadia at Andalsnes The original booking was made through Cruisability and there after direct with P & O. The 13 night cruise was to take us from Southampton to the Hardanger Fjord, Olden via the Nord Fjord, the Svartisen Glacier, Nord Kapp, Tromso, Lofoten Isle, Trondheim, Andalsnes, Bergen and finally back to Southampton.

The cabin C136 was excellent particularly after we had the twin beds pushed together to give a king sized double. This left more useful space to manoeuvre. The bed height was right for me at 19/20 inches and there was loads of cupboard/drawer space.  The wardrobe rail was at suitable wheelchair height too.

The bathroom was fine, 20 inch height toilet, grab rails (right transverse transfer) sink with knee space underneath and a roomy shower with drop down seat - this was the only failing as it was too small and too low for most wheelchair users.  We overcame this problem by bringing in a plastic chair from the poolside and with the help of my husband this was much safer.

The ship itself is beautiful, easy to get about and hosted excellent variety shows and entertainment .

Snow SceneThe views were magnificent and the weather - well you are heading north beyond the Artic Circle! Two rough days at sea but on such a large ship (63,000 tons) you hardly notice the movement. In the fjords it was mainly calm though sometimes windy, but we also had some beautiful sunny days, blue skies and 4 days of midnight sun - very memorable. The thick fog at the North Cape was memorable too, we couldn’t see a thing at first, but when we sailed round the Cape, the fog lifted, skies turned blue and we had some fantastic views that night !

The food and service were good and all dietary needs can be met if they are given notice.

There seemed to be about a dozen wheelchairs on board and I chatted to at least one other SIA member, but there may have been more !

We did go on most shore tours in wheel chair accessible transport, sometimes transferring sometimes not. Wheelchair accessible taxiWe shared this with some friends whose wife had MS and was definitely confined to a wheelchair. This kept the cost down. However these tours were only arranged by P &O after a fuss was made about those advertised. P & O realised they had boobed by advertising some tours with a wheelchair symbol when in actual fact the buses used weren’t accessible unless you were ambulant and could climb steps. An exchange of emails by our friends resulted in local accessible transport being found in every port we required it, but only because a fuss was made in the first place !

Due credit to P & O, they were extremely helpful in making sure we could go ashore and tour and wanted to improve the services they could offer to occupants of disabled cabins. Their on board tour representative requested a meeting with us towards the end of the cruise where we had an exchange of views which resulted in some suggestions being reflected to P & O’s Head Office. We hope these ideas will be adopted so that tomorrows disabled passengers can be offered a better service, but note if you don’t ask you won’t get !

We had a great holiday, so did our friends. They have booked a trip next year already,we will wait a while longer but will no doubt go again as it is a enjoyable way for disabled people to holiday in comfort and style. However, it will not be on the old Arcadia because as pointed out it is no longer part of the P&O fleet.

Our second cruise to Norway was for 7 days in May 2009 on the Oceana. The Oceana is the sister ship to the Sea Princess on which we cruised the Caribbean in 2008. The layout is the same and the comments we made about access on the Sea Princess decks and facilities equally apply to the Oceana with the exception that the Oceana does not have any pool or spa hoists. We had cabin D315 which was suitable for a full time wheelchair user and found the twin bed layout excellent. Storage was ample with all draws and cabin fridge accessible. The dresser had easy access and the mirror was the right height. The wardrobe had a low rail but the cabin safe was not really accessible from the seated position of a wheelchair. The en-suite bathroom provided plenty of hand rails, a wheel in hand shower or a fold down seat if you required it and good access to the wash basin. However, the toilet seat was low. Public wheelchair accessible toilets were available in several convenient areas but, like the Sea Princess, we found a number of areas not accessible to a wheelchair. These were the adults only pool and spas at the stern of the Riviera deck (deck 12) and all of the sun deck (deck 15) with its splash pool and Pennant bar. There are pictures of the cabin in our Oceana Photo Gallery

As we were sailing from Southampton, it was easy to take our own “Monkey Pole” and also a 2 inch toilet seat riser with us in the car. The latter solved the problem of the low toilet and both these aids complemented the well laid out cabin and wheelchair accessible toilet facilities. On arrival at the new P&O terminal at Southampton dock 4 our luggage was taken away by a porter and I handed over the car to a car parking attendant working for the company with which parking had been pre booked for us by Tracy our Travel Counselors Travel Agent. Tracy has booked several holidays for us now and this makes booking so much easier because she is well acquainted with our requirements. All it takes is a quick email or text to her and she gets on with it.

The new P&O terminal is very wheelchair friendly and there are special check in facilities for the handicapped and assistance to board is available if required. However, a minor criticism is, it does not have a dedicated drop off point for the disabled.

This was to be our third trip to Norway, one of which, in 2004, was in our motorhome. The report of this, with many more photopgraphs, may provide additional information and can be read here. This cruise was to take us first to Stavanger, followed by Flam, Olden, Bergen and finally back to Southampton. In advance of departure, P&O supplied a guide to wheelchair accessibility for the cruise and information on suitable tours. I was surprised to see only one tour and that was at Stavanger and expensive at £80 each. We had previously visited all but Stavanger before so knew what to expect at the others and decided against any advance booking.

The weather for the whole week with the exception of the return crossing of the North Sea, could not have been better. We had gone expecting colder weather than in the UK and some rain but it was warm and sunny on most days and there was even a chance to sun bath on deck! Visibility in the clean Norwegian air, which felt so good to breath in, was also excellent. Check out the photographs in the gallery accessed on the left.

Old Stavanger

StavangerThe waterfront area is flat and even and Oceana docked alongside the Gamle (Old Stavanger) which is not very accessible for a wheelchair user it being hilly and the streets cobbled. However we did pay the old town a short visit and then headed for the new town which is also hilly and demanding for the pusher and it wasn't long before we found ourselves back on the more level terrain of the waterfront where we came across the Petroleum Museum. A chat with the receptionist identified what there was to see and revealed the museum as being only one of only two in the world. That clinched it and we paid our entry fee of NOK40 each and I thoroughly enjoyed the visit and highly recommend it. I don't think the ladies found it that uninteresting either!

Flam If the weather is poor, there is not a great deal to see here but, if it is fine, it is a wonderful place to visit and there are several ways to take in the magnificent scenery of the area, a fjord trip by boat, a ride on the famous railway for which there is ramp access to the train and wheelchair spaces, or my favourite, a combination of walking and riding the train. We deliberately did not book any trips, preferring to wait and see what the weather was like on arrival and we knew you could buy train tickets on the dock side. Fortunately the Oceana was the only cruise ship there and docked alongside. If a tender had been used we would not have been able to go ashore and we would have been extremely disappointed. The weather was at its best and we decided to take a return trip on the train to Myrdal with a short stay at Myrdal for a look around and a coffee. Unfortunately the next return train was heavily booked and we were advised to remain on our outward train for the return trip. In spite of this hiccup, it was still a worthwhile journey through fantastic scenery.

Olden The glorious weather continued as we drew alongside the quay at Olden. We knew from previous visits, Olden was a very small place and we had therefore advanced ordered a taxi through the onboard tour desk for a trip up to the valley to the Briksdal Glacier. However at the last minute it was confirmed one could not be obtained. The cost quoted was also very, very high. However on disembarking we were surprised to see there was a taxi on the quayside which on enquiring was for hire at a very much less cost than quoted by P&O, Even so at NOK900 for a 40Km return trip to the Glazier for five people, this was still expensive but it was a beautiful morning and we decided to accept the cost. The scenery and reflections in the lakes as we drove up the valley were superb. We stopped for photos and had a half hour wander around at roads end before returning. It was disappointing to find the horse and cart rides which used to take tourists higher up the valley to near the foot of the glacier no longer ran. There had been several accidents, one fatal, and because of safety issues, they had been replaced by motorised vehicles. We did walk up the track a little way but the vegetation had grown since our last visit 5 years ago and obscured the views unless you walked quite a way. From afar, the glacier looked less impressive than earlier years and on later comparison of my photos taken then and 5 years previously, it had clearly shrunk in size! On our return we wandered along the fjord side and visited Oldens' two wooden built churches before finally cooling down with an ice cream in the glorious sunshine of the day and wandering back to the ship via the tourist shops.

Bergen Harbour

Bergen once again did not live up to its reputation as one of the wettest cities in the world. We docked at 8am in fine weather with hardly a cloud in the sky and very good visibility. An excellent day for a trip on the funicular railway to the view point on Mount Floien overlooking Bergen and that is where we headed first. Facilities for the disabled on the funicular are excellent and although it is a bit of an uphill push to the lower station it was well worth it. Intermediate stations do not look wheelchair friendly but there are no problems at the the top or bottom and the views on a fine day are stunning. We spent a good 2 hours at the top and by the time we returned the queues to go up were very long. We had a wander around Bergen, sat by the lake a while and finished up at the dockside market where we brought a large bag of prawns which we sat down in the sunshine and scoffed for lunch. We then wandered around the wooden dockside buildings of the Bryggen and its shops before returning to the ship via the grounds of the dockside fort which overlooks the harbour.

As if to welcome us back to the UK, the weather turned on the final day and we crossed the north sea in wet and windy, force eight, conditions to arrive at Southamton an hour and a half later than scheduled.