Cruise crew couldn’t do enough

Crown Princess Lido deck

A couple of days ago, I posted a blog that was the first part of a story about a cruise aboard Crown Princess to the Norwegian Fjords thanks to a grant received from the UK’s MS Society back in 2013. It was a much-needed holiday courtesy of the society’s short breaks fund. I promised more details, so here goes.

Owing to my limited mobility, for any trip outside our state room, the fancy name for a cabin, it was necessary to use my wheelchair. Not that Lisa had to push the chair inside the main dining room where we dined every evening.

As soon as we arrived, a restaurant staff member took over and wheeled me to our table. Then once I had transferred to a restaurant seat, at my choice, the wheelchair was safely stored on one side.

Lisa and I with table mates Glen and Lyn plus waiter Allen and assistant waiter Zoran

Lisa and I with table mates Glen and Lyn plus waiter Allen and assistant waiter Zoran.

Eating presents a challenge all the time because MS affects my left side, meaning I need to use a fork in my right hand. I am unable to use a knife and fork in the usual way. Lisa is used to cutting up my meat for me, so thought nothing of beginning to do so when our main courses arrived. Instantly, our assistant waiter Zoran appeared and asked if anything was wrong. We laughed and said no, explaining what was going on. Whereupon, the young man said he would do that for me.

Thanking him, we thought no more about it until the next night. Once again, Lisa started to cut my meat when our server said “No, that is my job” and took over. After that, any solid meat was served to me pre-cut. Absolutely perfect. And, after each delicious meal, my wheelchair reappeared and I was wheeled out of the restaurant before my beloved was allowed to take over.

Our first shore excursion caused a problem in that one of my chair’s front wheels was severely damaged as we got off the ship. Still, we managed to enjoy the excursion around Lysefjord on board a boat. On returning to the ship, thanks to the help of a crew member, we sought assistance through the customer service desk. After a bit of a wait, a couple of engineers arrived and took the chair away – only to return about 20 minutes later having replaced both front wheels and apologised that the replacements were blue not black. They worked, that was all that mattered. They could have been pink for all I cared.

It was a murky day for our dog sled ride.

It was a murky day for our dog sled ride.

Another shore excursion was a dog sleigh ride, not that there was snow on the ground as it was July. Instead, these ‘sleds’ were on wheels but we got the idea. We got our first views of reindeer and also passed a warning sign about polar bears.

On board Crown Princess there was plenty to do with a variety of activities and venues to enjoy with the help of various members of the entertainment team. One of the most notable was ‘CJ the DJ’, really Chris Walker a likeable Aussie larger than life guy. Entertainment was in his blood and still is, although he left Princess last year when he married. (And Chris, if you are reading this, have a great birthday tomorrow.)

CJ interviews me after I sang in the karaoke final.

CJ interviews me after I sang in the karaoke final.

It was CJ’s never-say-die attitude that came to our rescue at North Cape, the most northern point on the European mainland. Somehow, one of my wheelchair’s solid tyres came off. I was helped indoors while Lisa and another passenger tried to force the tyre back on. Then CJ appeared, realised that he needed some sort of lever. Not being able to find one, he borrowed a knife from the café, fixed the tyre back onto the wheel and returned the knife to the tray from which he borrowed it.

Overall, a fantastic cruise and a superb holiday that whetted my appetite for further cruises.

A ‘short break’ cruise to Norway thanks to MS Society

Lisa and I, pictured during our cruise on Crown Princess.

Lisa and I, pictured during our cruise on Crown Princess.

It seems a long time ago now but in spring of 2013 I had not had a holiday for a number of years and, living on disability benefits, we could not afford much – so our regional MS Society staff member recommended that I apply to the society for a grant from its short breaks scheme. Our application was supported by my MS Nurse and within 10 days the grant was agreed.

Lisa wanted to introduce me to cruising and so we booked a two-week holiday aboard Crown Princess. The cruise included the Norwegian Fjords, the Arctic Circle and North Cape – the most northern point on mainland Europe.

It provided the break I desperately needed, a break also for Lisa, my wife and carer, who still pushed my wheelchair but was happy not to cook, clean etc for the two weeks.

On return to the UK, where we then lived, Lisa wrote the following about some of what we had enjoyed:

Visiting the Norwegian Fjords

There are few things more majestic than a scenic ride into the Norwegian Fjords by boat. First, you pass through little villages, then as the fjords begin to tower above you on either side you see the splendour of what you are there for. This spectacle rises so dramatically out of the water and walls you in with their beauty.

As you pass further into these giant natural formations, you come upon water falls flowing into the water and creating pools of foam. Still further into the fjord as the walls at your sides become closer you will not feel that they are closing in on you. You will be in awe with nature. In these waters, you may encounter seals along with goats on the shore. No matter how bad the weather, you feel like you are a part of nature for this portion of your life.

First-of-many-fallsPictured, left, is Lysefjord! On a cliff six hundred metres above you there are hundreds of people looking down on you. Some will climb up this rock named Preikestolen or Pulpit Rock as it is called. As you go further along, there is another formation which appears to be a boulder in between two cliffs. This boulder, named Kjeragbolten – Kjerag for short, rises one thousand metres above the water. There are many adventurers who jump onto this boulder between cliffs. An adventure not to be missed.

Another not to be missed sight is Geirangerfjord (pictured below). There are two very important ways to see this fjord. First is by boat or ship, second is a tour up the eagle road with its eleven hairpin turns. Try to do both if you have time. Coming along the fjord, as the water narrows, you will pass quaint villages and little hamlets with many brick red homes. You will wonder why you don’t live in one of these homes with so much inside-geirangerfjordbeauty surrounding you.

You will pass by several waterfalls, one being known as ‘the bridal veil’ and one of the other important ones of note is ‘seven sisters’. Both of these falls are quite picture worthy. As a matter of fact, this fjord is so picturesque that it is now a Unesco world heritage site. If you are more into the adventurous feeling this fjord can give you, then make sure you kayak on Geirangerfjord.

After you come back out of Geiranger and its beauty, make sure you hop on a bus going up the eagle road. There are many photo spots of the fjord below as you climb by coach.

  • There is much more to tell about this trip, such as an on-board repair to a damaged wheelchair, a dog sleigh journey, reindeer, a week without the sun setting and marvellous attention from staff in restaurants and bars as well as the entertainment team. Watch for another instalment.

Dream the impossible dream…..but sometimes our dreams do come true

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Left: The beautiful Na Pali coast, Hawaii in December. Right, reindeer in Norway, in July.

Dream the impossible dream? Ok, ok, what’s he rambling on about now?

To tell you the truth, my dreams only really started to come true after I met Lisa. Let me explain.

I first married in 1977. It was on 26th February to be exact, I was 24 years old. Over time, the relationship deteriorated until we were finally divorced on 5th September 2011. Somehow it had managed to last nearly 34½ years. It should have ended years earlier but inertia kept it going.

It was not a life in which I was happy. Of course, there were good times but overall neither of us were enjoying the marriage.

My earliest dreams that I never, ever thought would come true were as a youngster. My mum (who would eventually become a top breeder, exhibitor and international judge of Pembroke Welsh Corgis) sold a couple of dogs to someone in Honolulu. It sounded so exotic but was so far away, so out of my reach.

Australia was another country on my dream list, also sparked by mum exporting dogs there.

Similarly, at high school there was a trip to the USA but it was expensive and I thought it was too much money to ask my parents to find. So I said that I didn’t want to go but, in reality, I would have loved it.

During my first marriage, I wanted to go on a cruise but that was not to be. In fact, I had dreamed of crossing the Atlantic on a liner since that form of travel caught my attention as a child watching television.

Then it all changed. I won’t bore you with exactly what happened and when; it is enough to say that Lisa and I met virtually at first, playing a computer game. That was in October 2009 and after two years, and two divorces, we married.

married2  Lisa and I on our wedding day at sunset.

Not any old marriage ceremony for us though. We married on a beach in south western Florida, where Lisa then lived. It was at sunset on 31st October 2011, it was attended by Lisa’s mom, sister, brother in law and two of our friends whom we had also met online. That was my very first trip to the USA. A dream wedding in a dream location, with dolphins playing just off the beach.

A cruise holiday was next on my list and that came true in 2013 after I received a £1,200 grant from the short break fund of the UK’s Multiple Sclerosis Society. It was great, two weeks on board with various shore visits in and around the Norwegian fjords. That was on Lisa’s dream list too as her dad’s family were from Norway, so she is half-Norwegian.

A second, week long cruise, followed a few months later. This time we few to Milan for a circular cruise around the Mediterranean. A day on Sicily ticked off a second dream on Lisa’s list as her mom’s family came from there, making her half Sicilian.

Last year, we enjoyed an absolutely magnificent holiday. In December, we flew to Honolulu (childhood dream) and enjoyed three full days there visiting a luau and Pearl Harbour– among other things. After that we boarded a ship for a seven day cruise around the Hawaiian islands, with shore excursions every day. The whole trip was warm and sunny, even in December.

We then flew to New York (high school dream) and spent three full days there. My ex had never wanted to go to NYC but Lisa was born and brought up there and so I was given my own personalised tour with a very special tour guide. Highlights were riding to the top of the Empire State Building, going to the famous Radio City Music Hall to see its Christmas Spectacular, Times Square, Central Park, the 9-11 Memorial which I found very moving, the Rockefeller Center and store windows all decorated for Christmas.

Added to that, we travelled a little outside the city to meet up with Lisa’s other sister and her husband, plus their children and grandchildren.

Needless to say that the weather in New York was more wintry than in Hawaii but we went prepared for both.

This year, we are in for quite a busy time this autumn. In October we are sailing on an eight-day Atlantic crossing (childhood dream) from Southampton to New Jersey, then spending nine days touring several north-eastern states. We fly back – and then we are moving to Spain. There we will be able to escape the rainy British climate and be able to soak up sunshine for much of the year. And that is fulfilling a dream that I only had early this year.

Do I have dreams left on my list? Oh yes, a cruise taking in Australia, an African safari (photos only, no shooting), a Caribbean cruise and a second trip to Hawaii are all high up there.

But my biggest dream has already come true and I live it everyday. I am talking about meeting and marrying Lisa. She is the one true love of my life, my soulmate, my lover, my best friend – my everything. We make each other so happy and so full of life that my illness, my multiple sclerosis, pales into insignificance. That’s what dreams are made of.