Caballito del Mar
Recently we embarked on a transatlantic cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Southampton, England, on Celebrity Eclipse. This, in itself, is not a new undertaking, as I have become quite a cruise fanatic in the last few years. What made this trip a little more challenging was the fact that we brought my eighteen year old daughter, Marie, along. My daughter is a full time wheelchair user and does not weight bear at all which can become challenging when transferring into different modes of transportation while travelling.

Celebrity Eclipse in San Juan

Personally, I don't view her disability as an obstacle but it does make for some pretty interesting problem solving skills on many occasions. In my opinion, disabled individuals should not have to 'sit' on the sidelines and let life pass them by. Keeping this in mind, I encourage my daughter to participate in regular life activities and do my best to promote a free spirit in her. Marie, now in grade 12, also holds down a part time job, enjoys ballroom dancing lessons and now – travelling – and, I fear, I have created another travel addict especially when it comes to cruising and all it has to offer.

Every trip is worth every challenge but along the way we find people that make our experiences not only possible but also entertaining. For anyone who has ever cruised and got off a ship in any port, you know that there are individuals just itching to take you away from your sea hotel and show off their home town. While passengers are encouraged to book their tours on board the vessel, we often use the locals tour guides who, we have found from previous experiences, will give their passengers not only the history of the area toured but will pack the time with many more points of interest.

On the most recent cruise, Marie and I explored San Juan, Puerto Rico via a local tour company, Multilingual Tours, operated by Frank Serrano. While I transferred my daughter into the van, Frank assisted with putting her manual wheelchair into the back and made sure that she was comfortable before heading into town. His friendly demeanour quickly endeared him to us and we felt very comfortable asking questions about his favourite city which he was eager to answer. Not only did Frank provide a colour commentary on everything we passed but he would often stop for photo opportunities at different parts of San Juan or even pull over so he could jump out for a quick moment to pick a fruit off a tree to show my daughter.

Fruit for the picking

Obviously it did not make much sense for her to be getting out of the van at every photo stop but while I was taking photos, Frank would point out interesting historical, geographical, and societal facts of not only the city but Puerto Rico in general. He even drove us to one of the cockfighting arenas, proudly explaining that Puerto Rico is the only country in the world where this sport is still legal and is viewed by the locals the same way many of us view hockey or soccer.

El Capitolio de San Juan
San Juan is a beautiful city and very rich in its history, as most ports of call are. Frank went out of his way to bring us to "White House" of Puerto Rico, and made sure that we could use the private entrance reserved for government officials to enter the building via accessible ramps and elevators.

Once inside, we were dazzled by the architecture of this 'palace' which is interesting not only for the fact that it was built in a time when there were no blueprints, but also that all pieces of marble were shipped from Italy and then assembled on site… think of it as a huge 3-D puzzle.
There we were given a history lesson of Puerto Rico, everything from days of slavery to the present day as represented by mosaic artwork on its walls. He was also quite proud to point out that many movies have been filmed here.

Domed ceiling of The Capitol

Imported Italian Marble

Along our travels through both old and new San Juan, it was stressed to us that San Juan is an accessible city and the people who abuse the accessible areas (i.e. parking illegally) are heavily fined and fined again if their vehicle is not moved within minutes.

All sidewalks are clearly marked for those who are visually impaired and wheelchair users have easy accessibility to sidewalks with sloped ramps. Public transportation is also modified to be used by those with limited mobility or other needs.

Heavy fines for ignoring signs
Frank made sure that we got our money's worth. Although we originally settled on an amount for a three hour tour, he was not in a rush to end our San Juan visit and extended the tour an extra hour at no cost. When we finally did get back to port and were almost through the high security gate (Puerto Rico has an extremely high illegal immigrant population and borders – including the sea border – are monitored by armed police), Frank motioned for us to wait until he came back. To our delight, he presented us with small mementos of our visit to his beautiful city – a coqui frog pin and a couple of souvenir keychains.

Fort San Felipe del Morro

If you have a physical challenge and are considering San Juan as a destination, it is a beautiful city to visit, whether it is only a sightseeing roundabout trip or one in which you choose to be an active explorer. The locals will go out of their way to make your visit enjoyable and as informative as you want it to be. Please be reminded that, as with anywhere, if you need assistance for transferring, you are responsible for that part of the tour – that goes without saying whether the tour is booked by the cruise line or whether you find someone awaiting you on the pier.

Above all, enjoy all the amazing sights San Juan has to offer.

Barb Salivar

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