Welcome to the 4th and final part of the blog Have Wheelchair Will Travel, written by Donna Goodacre. It’s a chronicle of her families trip around the world. No big deal you might say, plenty of families travel. Well, when one member of the family uses a wheelchair, it actually is a pretty big deal. However, their motto is Have Wheelchair Will Travel – and so they did.
We pick up their story again with them in Flagstaff USA…..
After waiting for our luggage to be released to us we phoned a taxi and stuffed all of our bags and wheelchair into his too small car and drove the short distance to our motel – the Radisson Woodlands on West Route 66. The room was nice and the hotel completely accessible. It was nice to sleep in a proper bed again and it cost only $75 for the four of us.
The next morning we picked up our rental car, which originally was going to be a sedan, but we were talked into on Explorer RV with GPS. It was a good move as it turned out, as we had lots of room for the wheelchair, and the GPS was a godsend.
The nice Hertz man also persuaded us to take the Grand Canyon detour to our next destination, Las Vegas, and this was another good decision.
The Grand Canyon
Only an hour from Flagstaff, the Canyon is well worth a look, even a short one. To enter the park costs $25, which gives you a 7-day re-entry. I had thought that being winter we would not be able to access everywhere, but all we really needed was the view, and we certainly got that. Even Richie could appreciate the enormity of it all from the path outside the perimeter fence. You can get on a tour which caters for wheelchairs if you book ahead, but we didn’t really need it. What an amazing hole in the ground.
The drive to Las Vegas from the Grand Canyon was easy, being on the highway. As darkness set in we drove over the Hoover Dam – really spooky and quite awesome in size. You can do a Hoover Dam/Grand Canyon tour, which sounds like a worthwhile daytime trip.
Coming into Las Vegas from the east at night is also awe-inspiring because of its size. I did not realize just how big a city it is. Apparently it is the fastest growing city outside of LA.
We checked in at Circus Circus (completely accessible, like all of the major hotels in the US), and decided to stay an extra night since we did the unplanned trip to the Canyon, and at $50 a night it didn’t break the bank. All of the hotels there of course depend on you spending at the casinos, so the accommodation can be quite reasonable. Circus Circus is family oriented so it has an indoor theme park, which both kids enjoyed. We walked along the Strip of course, which is always interesting, except Chelsea got some grit in her eye from a building site, and she ended up at the doctor’s with a scratched cornea. Fortunately it was treatable, and at $200 for a doctor’s visit and $50 for a prescription we were glad it was only minor! We were able to claim most of that back on our travel insurance (which we did on-line through Webjet at a very reasonable price) when we got home.
Indio (near Palm Springs)
The next morning at around 10am we said goodbye to the gambling mecca and headed south-west again towards Palm Springs. We had another Timeshare unit booked for a week at Indio, in the Coachella Valley, which incorporates a number of towns, including Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Sky Valley, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Bermuda Dunes, La Quinta, Indio and Coachella.
It took about four hours with stopping at a factory outlet on the way to reach Indian Palms Vacation Club. It sounds exotic and rather exclusive, but in fact it was quite basic, being situated in a largely Hispanic neighbourhood. That was interesting in itself, however, and for our needs it was adequate, as we were there to explore the area, not stay in the room. Our unit was two storeys like the one in England, but Richie once again slid down the stairs on his behind. (He took a bit longer to get up, however, so we kept it to once a day).
Our first day trip was to Knotts Berry Farm, having already seen Disneyland in Paris. This was the first day back at school for the American kids (January 8th), so there were no queues, and most of the tourists were Aussies and Kiwis. Getting in, however, was pricey, as we had to buy four adult tickets – no discount for wheelchairs or carers. The US is up to date with disabled accommodation and transport, but not with entertainment discounts, as compared to Britain, Europe and Australasia it seems. Altogether it cost nearly $200. We just missed out on tickets to Six Flags, north of LA, as it closed the day before, but it was probably a good thing because it took us a good couple of hours to get to Knotts from Indio. Six Flags franchise is the roller coaster capital, but Knotts was still a good day out.
The next day we explored the local area, including Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage. The average age of the residents I would say was 65, although it’s hard to tell with all that botox! We probably stood our like sore thumbs there, amongst the pristine shrubberies and cascading fountains – it’s the desert, but there’s no shortage of underground water.
A perfect example of the Palm Springs “look” was Gayle from “Tours by Gayle”, based in Palm Springs. She recruits tourists from the resorts and hotels and takes them on a bus tour down to Rosarito Beach, just over the Mexican border. We did a similar tour to Tijuana ten years or so ago, but that is off the list now due to the daily drug-related shootings. Pity. Rosarito is a good substitute though.
After not having to wake early in over a month, it was a shock to the system to be on the road by 5am! We arrived in Palm Springs just in time to see the sun rise over Frank Sinatra’s house. After a mini tour of houses of the rich and famous, mostly from yesteryear, we headed south through San Diego to the Mexican border.
The coach was not wheelchair friendly, but there were plenty of people to help out. This would not have been possible with an electric wheelchair. There are probably tours that do accommodate them, however.
Crossing the border was no problem, and we made it to Rosarito Beach by 10am, just in time for another breakfast – a full cooked English-style fry-up at the Rosarito Beach Hotel. This was followed by shopping at the nearby markets, where the store owners had been alerted as to our arrival. This visit was good in that it showed the kids a different culture and an experience of poverty. It was hard for them to comprehend that people live so close to affluence but are still shot trying to reach it.
Before meeting back at the bus we took a walk along the pier – a really long boardwalk, and surprisingly wheelchair accessible. The hotel, while not new or flash, did have an elevator, and posed no problems for us as regards the chair.
On the way back to the US we went past the sites where Titanic, Pearl Harbour and Master and Commander were filmed, and shortly after the turn-off to Tijuana arrived back at the border where we all had to get off the bus so it could be inspected for whatever they inspect it for. This was a hassle for us because of Richie, but we made it, walking across the border and joining the bus on the other side.
Our final stop was in San Diego for an early tea and a brief look around the waterfront before driving back to the Marriott at Palm Desert where we had boarded the bus that morning.
After a lazy day visiting the factory outlets at Cabazon, the next morning we checked out of Indian Palms and drove to LA in preparation for the fourteen hour flight home at midnight. We got to Hollywood after lunch, took a photo of the sign then ended up in Universal Studios around 2pm. We didn’t have to leave till late to get to the airport, so we almost got our money’s worth, but once again we got no discount to speak of, paying over $200 plus parking.
We did the Backlot Tour on the little train, which wasn’t difficult for Richie to get into, then went down to the rides by bus. Able-bodied people use a couple of elevators with a fair bit of walking between them.
We eventually made it to LAX, which turned out to be the only airport where we had a problem. We did not realise that after queuing up in the usual fashion you then take your bags down to the other end and get them scanned again while you watch. They are then taken by a porter back to the first check-in. I was unaware of what was happening and chased the perplexed Hispanic employee, thinking he was pinching our bags!
Anyway, it was amazing that this was the only really frustrating incident we encountered at all of the airports on our trip.
At 7.45am after five weeks away and fourteen hours of not much sleep we landed in Brisbane, glad to be home, but loaded with many happy memories of our adventure. If our experience is anything to go by, I would encourage anybody who is thinking of doing an overseas trip with someone with a disability to go for it. Don’t let travel agents or red tape or fear of the unknown get in your way. It can be done, and you won’t regret it.