Archive for the ‘Travel consumer issues’ Category

She can’t believe it’s accessible

June 30, 2009

I share my blog today with Candy B. Harrington, a fellow member in the Society of American Travel Writers, who is an expert on accessible travel, from people using wheelchairs to slow walkers. Her slogan: Have Disability, Will Travel, and she’s giving us a Top-10 list of little-known accessible places. I haven’t met Candy, who writes from California, but for years I’ve been impressed with her work and uncompromising dedication to her topic. In the world of travel, staying uncompromised is a major feat. She recently released the third edition of her classic book “Barrier Free Travel: A Nuts And Bolts Guide For Wheelers And Slow Walkers.” From the book site, you can check out Candy’s own blog. Photos (except Lake Powell)  are by Mr. Candy, aka Charles Pannell.

Heeeeeere’s, Candy:

Candy Harrington with her favorite chicken Agnes

Candy Harrington with her favorite chicken, Agnes

During the past 16 years I’ve traveled the world in search of appropriate vacation choices for my readers. Although they have a wide range of tastes, preferences and budgets, my readers all have one thing in common; for the most part they are physically disabled — slow walkers to wheelchair-users.

Over the course of my travels I’ve seen a good number of accessible hotels, attractions, resorts, spas and even bus tours, but I’ve also discovered some unconventional accessible finds along the way. These are the things, that really made me step back and say “Wow, I can’t believe they made that accessible.” And although I keep adding to my wow list, here’s my current Top 10.

View of Yaquina Head Tidepools

Walkways lead to Yaquina Head tide pools

Yaquina Head tide pools

Located just three miles north of Newport, Ore., this Bureau of Reclamation project features barrier-free access on paved walkways down into the Quarry Cove tidepool area.


Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

These gardens in Richmond, Va.,  feature a cool treehouse with ramped access to all areas. Think Swiss Family Robinson on steroids.

White Water Rafting

In Northern California, everyone can enjoy white water rafting on the American River, thanks to the folks at Environmental Traveling Companions. This San Francisco based company can accommodate wheelchair-users (even folks who use a power wheelchair) and slow walkers on their exciting white water rating trips.

Aerial view from Lake Powell (photo Wikipedia)

Lake Powell (photo Wikipedia)

Houseboating on Lake Powell

Forever Resorts  offers a wheelchair-accessible houseboat on Lake Powell, in Utah. You can rent the houseboat for a few days or a week. The accessible model features level boarding, a bathroom with a roll-in shower, an oversized master suite complete with a portable hoyer lift, elevator access to the top deck and a beach wheelchair.

C&O Canal Boat

Docked at the Great Falls Tavern, near Potomac, Md., the replica Charles F. Mercer canal boat features incline lift access to both decks and an accessible restroom on the lower deck. The canal boat is pulled along by mules and offers passengers a colorful look at 1870s canal life.

Baja Sport Fishing

Larry Cooper designed his En Caliente  sport fishing boat with access in mind. Docked in Los Barriles, Mexico, it features removable lockdowns, hoist access to the flying bridge and custom tackle designed for anglers of all abilities.

Wheelchair-accessible back country lean-tos at John Dillon Park

Accessible lean-tos at John Dillon Park

Adirondack Camping

John Dillon Park , near Tupper Lake in upstate New York, features wheelchair-accessible back country lean-tos.

African Safari

Endeavour Safaris  offers wheelchair-accessible safaris in a ramped Toyota Landcruiser, through Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa.

In a Cavern

Billed as America’s only ride through caverns, Fantastic Caverns  features ramped access to their tour vehicles. Just roll-on and enjoy this cool site near Springfield, Mo.

Bungy Jumping

If you want a little adventure, the folks at Taupo Bungy  in New Zealand can accommodate you. It takes very little adaptive equipment, but a whole lot of guts!

Thanks, Candy. The world of travel (and beyond) needs you and your advocacy work!


How to beat rental-car ripoff during spring break

February 1, 2008

If you know me, you know I have a big thing against most rental-car company practices. Jacking up, up, up the prices during peak season is one of my beefs. For you folks Enterprise Car Rentalflying to Florida (and I’m sure this works elsewhere) in the spring and renting a car, here’s a little trick of mine you might be able to use.  (I’d love to hear others’ strategies.)

In January I booked flights to Tampa from Manchester, NH, (where my friend Kristin is flying from), and Durham, NC, (where I’m flying from) on Southwest, and both were about $200 round-trip. Not bad for Easter weekend! But get this. Car rentals from the airport for five days were around $500!! Unbelievable.

Here’s what I did. As you probably know, Enterprise has little neighborhood offices all over the place, and they’re often (usually? always?) cheaper than airport rentals. I reserved a Indian Rocks Beach, FLcar at a location on my way to where I’ll be staying (Indian Rocks Beach). I’m paying a mere $30 extra to then drop it off at the airport when I leave. The grand total? $156!! Now that is a deal. If I picked the car up at the airport, still using Enterprise, the price would be $438. Other companies were charging even more!!

To do this fancy-schmancy different drop-off reserving, you have to call, not go online. But then Enterprise *offered* to give me the online price, saving me another whopping $5.

Enterprise is tops in car-rental customer service, and I’ve been saying this for years, not just since my $275 savings.

I’ll probably be able to get a ride from the airport to Enterprise, but if I couldn’t, a Super Shuttle ride for about $20 (including tip) would take me straight to Enterprise.

My scenario may not exactly suit your needs. For example, you could use a neighborhood Enterprise office in Tampa and be even closer. If you’re traveling in a group or family, it would be cheaper to take a taxi than pay for individual shuttles.

My main message here is that when prices are jacked up, try to rent away from the airport. Get creative!

What? You say my flight left two hours ago?!

January 24, 2008

On a Saturday, while visiting DC, I argued with friends Vicki Ritterband and Lauren Markoe that using third-party booking services added built-in problems. They didn’t believe me. I also said companies treat you better when you book directly through them. My pals weren’t buying it. So when Vicki had a big problem the next day with her United Airlines flight, booked through Travelocity, I thought I’d be doing the “told-you-so” dance. Well, it turned out it was mostly just one of those things, so I had to remove my dance shoes. Still, there are ways the mix-up could have been avoided.

The background: Lauren lives in DC. For a gal-pal weekend, Vicki, who lives in Newton, Mass., flew down from Boston on a Friday night, landing in Dulles Airport without a hitch. (I drove up from North Carolina.)

The drama: Just before Lauren pulled out of the driveway to take Vicki to the airport on Sunday, Vicki called United to check on the What do you mean my flight left two hours ago?flight status, something everyone should do. Much to her surprise, the customer service rep told her it had left two hours earlier. “What do you mean my flight left two hours ago??” Vicki kept saying. Flights might leave five, even 10 minutes early, but not two hours. To their credit, United scrambled and got Vicki on a US Airways flight (they have a partnership) leaving from Reagan Airport. The new location was actually more convenient, though Vicki’s stress level was sky high.

What happened: By calling Travelocity and United the next day, this is what I learned. More than a month before Vicki traveled, United changed the DC-to-Boston schedule by several hours. Travelocity said it emailed Vicki about the change. Vicki said she never got the email. So the flight that left “two hours early” was actually a different flight number with a new, earlier schedule, and Vicki was booked on it — unbeknownst to her.

The lessons: Always check your flight, in both directions, online or the phone before you leave on a trip, especially if you booked more than a few weeks out. In this case, Vicki also could have signed up with United’s automatic alert system, called EasyUpdate. As for Travelocity, I think the company should not only email but also telephone customers about major changes like this. It’s all automated and easy to do, and they had all Vicki’s contact information. In the end, Travelocity could have gone the extra mile, United in fact did, and Vicki lucked out!