Though I would like to be, I’m not a frequent traveller. Living with a physical disability – in my case, Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy – can make overseas travel difficult and stressful. However, after several years without a holiday (neither at home in the UK or abroad) I decided it was about time I set off in search of sun, sea and sand – a sight unseen here in the Midlands!
Most importantly, the holiday must meet all my accessibility requirements, (I am a non-ambulant, powered wheelchair-user). Another major consideration was my parents, with whom I would be travelling. This presented me with the task of organising a holiday that would satisfy their wants and needs as well as my own.
Of course, it’s far from ideal to travel with your parents at my age (27), but it was my only option at the time. I resisted their considerate invitations to accompany them abroad for years, but I had reached the point of desperation – one way or another, I really needed to get away. There’s only so much British weather a girl can take!
Planning & Booking:
7 years earlier, I visited Tarragona, situated in the Costa Dorada region of Spain. I found it to be a great place to roam around in a powered wheelchair. Back then I booked with Enable Holidays.
For personal reassurance regarding reliable accessibility (and frankly to make life a little easier), we decided to return to Costa Dorada. When comparing prices online, I found it significantly cheaper to book with Disabled Access Holidays (DAH) – a small business based in Glasgow, UK.
Throughout the whole booking process, I interacted with the same agent who sorted everything. Airport assistance and wheelchair accessible taxi transfers were organised. An electric wheelchair was also hired for the week, as I prefer to travel with just my manual chair for fear of damage to my Quantum 600 (I’ve heard horror stories from fellow wheelchair-users).
The only thing I had to arrange was travel insurance for myself. DAH recommended AllClear, even offering a discount code. I enquired with a few providers though they all quoted a similar price. Just one week in Spain would have cost me over £500 and so, admittedly, I chose to take the risk and travel without insurance.
Off we go…
We flew from Birmingham airport on 7th July (2016), arriving in sunny Reus after a thoroughly chaotic checking-in and boarding process. Conveyer belt malfunctions, lack of staff, delays and the absence of assistance at Birmingham established an initial sense of unease.
What really frustrated me was the fact that we boarded via the centre of the plane – my parents and I being made to wait until last. Since our seats were at the front of the plane, I had to struggle some distance in an old aisle chair, bumping elbows with strangers all the way (bear in mind, I’m pretty damn petite). I can’t stand these cronky aisle seats, mainly because they offer no postural support whatsoever and are incredibly uncomfortable. My balance is poor and consequently I always feel I’m about to fall when forced to resort to one.
Upon reaching our front row seats, my poor Dad was left to manually transfer me by himself, as no one offered to help. There was a complete lack of care and consideration from all staff at Birmingham.
A short and uneventful flight ensued. This was one of my major concerns when organising the holiday. A long haul flight was a no-go as there’s just no way I would be able to access the bathroom. With the best will in the world, in my case it really can’t be done.
Disembarking at Reus:
After the disappointment at Birmingham airport I was relieved to receive a much more conscientious service when disembarking at Reus. The assistance for passengers with disabilities was swift and effective. Without question, the staff safely lifted me from my seat straight into my manual wheelchair which was brought to the front of the plane where we exited, this time without an audience. I was so thankful as I hate to have to burden my parents with the physically exhaustive task of manually transferring me.
Our pre-booked taxi transfer was at first nowhere to be found but soon arrived after being prompted by a phone call. The English speaking driver was extremely helpful and repeatedly assured us that she or another driver would collect us from our hotel at the time and date arranged.
And so we found ourselves at the Medplaya Piramide 4 star hotel in Salou, Costa Dorada. The three of us shared one, accessible room situated on the second floor resulting in a daily battle for the lift which everyone felt the need to use, regardless of age or ability.
Aside from the presence of a grimy shower chair with one, dismembered footplate, it’s difficult to see how our room could be considered ‘accessible’. The bathroom comprised a regular bath along with a roll in shower which flooded our entire room and out into the hallway within seconds. The bathroom door veneer was all peeled away suggesting this is a long term issue which the hotel has failed to address. We had to call reception for extra towels to mop up the excess water flooding our room after every brief shower.
Furthermore, the sink was far too high and unreachable for me to use whilst sat in my chair. The toilet was lower than normal and lacked any surrounding support aside from a fairly redundant and misplaced grab rail affixed to the wall. A small lip in the patio door may cause an obstacle for some in accessing the sizeable exterior balcony but with a bit of a run up I didn’t have a problem in my hired power chair.
The hotel itself, both interior and exterior, I found to be suitable for anyone with a disability. With smooth, flat surfaces, ramp access where needed, wide open spaces to manoeuvre, and a large ground-floor disabled loo, I was able to roam around completely independently. There’s also a pool hoist – a clean, fully functioning pool hoist!
With plenty to keep you occupied including a bar, restaurant, pool room, terrace area, as well as day and night-time entertainment, this modern hotel caters for all ages and abilities. The staff too were welcoming, sociable and most accommodating.
There are some steep pavements surrounding the hotel to be aware of, but plenty of slopes and access points more than make up for this. The hotel is ideally situated, just a short stroll to the impressively accessible Levante beach, 250m from Salou town centre and 1.5km from Port Aventura theme park. The area for the most part is flat and even, making it ideal for wheelchair users.
I have to say the major selling point for me was the beach. Though not an experienced traveller, of all the beaches I have ever visited this one is by far the best. It’s vast, it’s flat, and there are numerous platforms which allow wheelchairs and prams to enjoy a smooth ride right down to the waters edge. I was pleased to see many others with various disabilities accessing the sands without the all too familiar struggle.
Furthermore, the individuals who hire out sun loungers could always be counted on to offer a helping hand if and when needed. Without question they would often come running to the assistance of someone. This is not part of their job, nor is it commonplace (sadly), and so I feel it worthy of mention.
On the whole my week in Salou provided much needed respite and relaxation. However, the biggest dilemma was saved for our last day. Our pre-booked taxi never arrived so we were forced to ask reception staff to telephone for a local cab asap. This took over an hour to arrive since there is only one wheelchair accessible taxi in the local area. Fortunately our return flight was delayed otherwise we would certainly have missed our flight. Despite this rather stressful conclusion to an otherwise enjoyable holiday, I would definitely recommend Disabled Access Holidays. However, it’s also important to do your own research and investigation prior to committing to any accommodation and travel arrangements.