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Greg Killeen, Information Officer
Spinal Cord Injuries Australia
When I told people I was booked on a cruise I was either reminded of what happened to the Titanic or warned that I would probably be seasick. Well, the ship didn’t sink and I didn’t get seasick!
I am always keen to seek out a new destination or adventure for a holiday. In May/June 2004 I fulfilled a dream and took a seven-night, two port, return cruise on the P & 0 Pacific Sky. The cruise went from Sydney to Noumea and the island of Poum then back to Sydney. Getting away from Sydney’s winter mornings for a few days was a bonus.
There were more than 1,500 passengers and 600 crew aboard. The passengers came from all age groups including families with young children and teenagers, honeymooners, singles, retirees and people with various disabilities. For the vast majority it was a trip into the unknown.
My initial research into the cruise was prompted by an advertisement in a weekend paper. Not knowing anything about cruising and what facilities are available for people with disabilities meant I had a bit of research and planning to do, particularly as I have a high-level disability and require a specific level of access, service and facilities.
I found plenty of information on the P & 0 website about the wheelchair accessible cabins, including photographs and dimensions of the cabin and shower/toilet facilities. The website also has a list of the services and facilities throughout the ship that are wheelchair accessible with only a few that aren’t. However when I initially contacted P & 0 to clarify some of the finer details, the only issue that could not be confirmed was if there was space under the bed to allow for a mobile lifting hoist. But I can confirm that of the six accessible cabins, three have space under one of the beds.
After a couple of contacts with P & 0’s information service I was then contacted by its Disability Liaison Officer who sent an information pack and was able to answer the questions about access to the cruise services and facilities. She confirmed that although there are a variety of tours in Noumea none of the vehicles can provide wheelchair access and there are no accessible taxis either. Also, I was aware that I would not be able to access the tender boats that carry passengers and crew between the ship and Poum. However, this didn’t deter me from taking the cruise as there were plenty of other activities to get involved in.
As mentioned, the Pacific Sky has six wheelchair accessible cabins, five two-berth and one four-berth. They are one metre wider than standard cabins and all are outside cabins with portholes. I had a two-berth cabin equipped with plenty of storage space and a television. None of the cabins has tea/coffee making facilities. As I use an electric wheelchair, commode chair and took a portable lifting hoist, manoeuvring between the bathroom and bed was a bit tricky but manageable.
Designated cabin stewards who clean and organise the room each day will arrange anything you need such as more pillows or an extra mattress if you need increased bed height etc. The cabin steward even arranged for one of the ship’s maintenance staff to help with an adjustment to my mobile lifting hoist.
I found no problems with wheelchair access throughout the ship as the aisles are wide and there are six lifts. The only access issue I had was the small threshold ramps at doorways leading out to the decks. These doors were also fairly heavy and assistance may be required to access the threshold ramps and the doors at the same time.
When boarding at Wharf 8 Darling Harbour in Sydney there is ramp access to the ship. Although similar access is available at Noumea's passenger port, our cruise was diverted at short notice to the container wharf where the ramp ended at a couple of steps—passengers using wheelchairs were lifted over by very helpful staff. Shuttle buses were required to take passengers between the ship and city but they were not accessible so we had a 20 minute stroll into the city. However, this enabled us to see different parts of Noumea.
At Noumea the weather was fine and about 23 degrees Celsius so we did some shopping and looked around the city. On arrival at Poum it was a beautiful sunny day and about 28 degrees Celsius with a nice breeze blowing. In hindsight a trip to the island looked inviting but I was aware the tender boats and island tours were inaccessible prior to departure. In reality, at that stage of the cruise I was happy just to sit in the sunshine and relax around the pool anyway.
The price of the cruise included all entertainment, activities, use of facilities, and meals such as the continental breakfast, which can be brought to the cabin at no extra charge, buffet lunch, afternoon tea and the six-course dinner with a different theme/style each night. A pizza/pasta restaurant operates 24/7 where food can be purchased.
In between ports there are plenty of on-board activities but the cruise can be as relaxing or as hectic as you want. There are daily updates of events in the newsletter that is delivered to the cabin every evening and via the morning television broadcast featuring Demo Simis, the witty and friendly Deputy Cruise Director, and Shona Ballantyne, the Cruise Director. They make a comical and dynamic duo.
Facilities include a library that has an internet cafe, two swimming pools (no hoists), gymnasium, sauna and spa (no hoist), a shopping arcade in ‘Rodeo Drive’ where you can buy clothes, electronics, audiovisual equipment, souvenirs, perfumes and jewellery as well as duty-free cigarettes and alcohol. The cinema shows a different movie each day, four times a day. There is also a medical team onboard and available 24/7 that includes two doctors and three nurses. Unfortunately I needed to take a visit to see the doctor halfway through the cruise as I developed a severe sore throat and virtually lost my voice. Very frustrating when trying to chat and have a conversation.
Other activities include bingo, trivia contests, karaoke, a Perfect Match contest for the singles as well as a Perfect Partner contest for married couples. Demo and Shona host, or are involved in, many of the shows which are absolutely hilarious! The ‘theme nights’ on my cruise were country and western, islander, pyjama party, fright night and a night of formalwear. Usually information on a couple of the themes is given prior to departure so that you can pack your outfits. For those that are announced during the cruise you can buy outfits on board or at the ports.
After sunset, the focus moves to the ship’s International Show Lounge, where nightly performances coincide with the two dinner sittings. There is also live entertainment at the Piano Bar, Legends Sports Bar and the Verandah Lounge, and a disco fires-up at 11 pm. Live sport is also shown in the Legends Sports Bar depending on satellite coverage.
The ship operates with cashless transactions and all purchases are made using a ‘Cruise Card’ except at the Casino gaming tables and poker machines. Credit is added to the Cruise Card with cash or credit card at the Purser’s Office, also open 24/7.
Overall, I can thoroughly recommend a cruise on the high seas for an accessible, fun-filled holiday.
Due to the popularity of cruising, the P & 0 Pacific Sky relocated to be based in Brisbane from October 2004 and Wharf 8 Darling Harbour will be the base for the new, larger, P & 0 Pacific Sun which will carry 1,900 passengers .
At the time of writing there was no specific information on the P & 0 website about wheelchair accessible facilities and services for the P & 0 Pacific Sun but it is planned to be available soon. However, there are deck plans with the location of the 12 accessible cabins. I would recommend that you contact P & 0 to clarify that the services and facilities of all cruises meet your needs (tel: 13 2469, email: email@example.com, website: www.pocruises.com.au).
Greg Killeen, Information Officer
Web: Spinal Cord Injuries Australia
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