3 Reasons Why I’m Not In A Hurry To Go Back To The Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is arguably a more affordable slice of paradise which can be snapped up if you’re dying to get to the Caribbean but don’t necessarily have the funds for The Bahamas or Antigua.

The Dominican Republic offers long, sandy beaches, the warm Caribbean sea and plenty of luxurious all-inclusive hotels which will cater to your every whim. With a lot of travel companies offering it as a destination, it’s easier than ever to get a decent deal. It sounds too good to be true, right?

I think that it might be.

The promise of The Dominican Republic is great. This was my first long-haul destination and I was so excited to be able to travel to the Caribbean and experience lazy days of lying on the beach beneath the shade of a palm tree and sipping cocktails from a coconut shell, followed by evenings sat at a table covered with a white table cloth, eating lobster and sipping wine before taking a moonlit stroll along the beach (well, the edge of the beach because wheelchairs and sand do not mix!). I really thought that I would finally be able to experience the Caribbean dream…

It didn’t quite live up to expectations. It wasn’t a horrific holiday by any means but it just wasn’t the best. So here are three reasons why I’m not in a hurry to get back to the Dominican Republic:

Guilt

Of all the places I have been to, the Dominican Republic seemed to be the poorest country. The semi-coastal road which leads to Punta Cana is lined with tiny, shabby dwellings, some with roofs made of tin, some with holes in the walls for windows. Opposite these little homes stand great, sweeping resorts filled with marble columns, plush gardens and infinity pools.

The juxtaposition is truly thought-provoking and I couldn’t help but feel like some sort of selfish empress, stuffing her face and over-indulging whilst those outside toiled for pittance and struggled to feed themselves.

I know that a lot of countries aren’t as rich (and lucky) as the UK or USA but there was something that felt different here. In St Lucia, for example, there were little houses with broken windows and what-not but the underlying feeling just wasn’t the same. Here, the people seemed as if they were struggling and I couldn’t put it out of my mind for the whole trip.

it may be different for others. Tourism is an important thing for their economy so by travelling there and recommending it to those we know, we might be helping in some small way but I can’t help but think that we tell ourselves this to make us feel better and ease our guilt.

Not So Picturesque

The Caribbean. It evokes thoughts of white sandy beaches and clear, turquoise blue seas. Read anything about The Dominican Republic on any travel sight and that’s what they describe.

The reality isn’t quite like that.

The beach was beautiful (as most beaches are) but not breathtaking. The sand isn’t particularly fine or white so if you’re thinking of going for that, you will be disappointed.

Beaches and the sea are important to my husband and I as he loves to snorkel and I like to feel weightless in the sea water, however, the sea is not clear and calm. There isn’t a lot to see because of this and there were enormous amounts of seaweed. It’s also quite rough, meaning that the waves are quite frequent and harsh and sometimes, huge.

This proved to be a problem as I can’t be thrown about and I always had to be prepared to be hit by a wave. In the end, the whole experience became a bit exhausting and quite painful and so I had to stop going in all together.

Don’t get me wrong, the beaches in The Dominican Republic are still lovely but they aren’t quite as advertised.

Cabin Fever

As keen travellers, my husband and I like to explore the countries we visit, both on guided tours and by ourselves. In The Dominican Republic, it’s advised that tourists don’t leave their resort or go into town on their own and this was an issue for us. You might ask: ‘Why did you go?’ and the answer is, we wanted a taste of the Caribbean and found ourselves a brilliant deal.

Every resort we passed was entered through a gate which was guarded and manned with security guards with guns. This was enough to tell us to heed the advice and not leave the resort unless on a guided tour. We did go on a few tours, which were great, but after a few days of exploring the resort itself, we got the itch. Tours can be expensive so going out every day was not an option for us, so we spent a lot of time at the resort.

I felt a little trapped on this holiday, mainly because I knew that it was unsafe to leave the resort and head into town. For me, lazing in the sun by the pool or on the beach is great for a few days but I also like to mix in experiences and I feel like I didn’t gain as many experiences in The Dominican Republic as I have in others places I have visited.

So, Should You Go?

As I’ve said, I didn’t not have a good time in The Dominican Republic; our resort was nice, the food excellent, the drinks delicious – everything you need for a good all-inclusive holiday. However, it’s just not a destination I am gagging to go back to. There was enough to do to fill two weeks but I don’t feel as if I missed out on anything, which is usually the reason we go back to certain places.

It’s a great place to head to if you just want to sit and relax for two weeks but if you’re looking for something more, I wouldn’t put it at the top of your travel bucket list.

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Costa Rica and I – Arenal – The Hotel

 

I’ve spoken about how beautiful Arenal is (and I promise that I will write about how accessible it is without getting swept up with how gorgeous the it is!) but in order to go exploring, you first need a base.

Hotels, apartments, villas, hostels… everybody has a preference. Everybody wants a different experience and we all have different budgets but I have to say, splashing out for the four star Arenal Springs Resort and Spa (http://hotelarenalspring.com/)  was definitely worth it. When I travel, I like the reassurance of comfort and quality, so most places I choose to stay are at least four or five stars (I know, sometimes you can find great places to stay which aren’t four or five stars but I can’t help it!) and so, we chose to stay in this resort.

It’s also flat. That was a bonus, because when we were hunting around Trip Advisor for the best hotel, a lot of them are built into the hills of the volcano and this would prove to be difficult for us. Anyway, we found Arenal Springs, trolled through hundreds of traveller photo’s and booked.

We didn’t regret it.

The resort is located at the very end of a narrow, rather bereft lane. As the barrier lifts and you turn left into the resort, you feel as if you’ve entered a little tranquil village. The rooms are single-story, little semi-detached red-roofed dwellings which are scattered across lush lawns and nestled amongst all kinds of weird and wonderful florals. Everything is level, paths evenly paved – it was a wheelchair users dream. It’s quiet, secluded and spacious… I really cannot rave about this resort enough.

The Rooms

The resort offers two types of rooms – junior suites and master suites. We stayed in a junior suite, at the very front of the resort, across the lawn from the swimming pool and one of the restaurants.

Due to an unfortunate delay (Costa Rican roads can be treacherous, as we learned when we found ourselves stuck in the narrowest of roads for three hours because of a horrific, fatal car accident), we arrived quite late in the day, just as the sun was going down. We were jet-lagged, a little shaken from our road-travel experience and hungry. To be honest, we were dreading the check-in process (sometimes this can take such a long time) and just wanted to get to our room. Luckily, check in was smooth and efficient and as we began to ready ourselves to navigate the resort and find our room, to our delight, we found our cases being loaded onto a golf-cart and a ramp being attached to the side, ready for my wheelchair. I know, a wheelchair users dream! The little golf-cart sped along the smooth pathways and got us to our room as quickly as it could.

Our room was at the very front of the resort, about halfway down the first turning on the right. It was close to the pool, the bar and the breakfast restaurant so we, of course were happy (I love the bar, my husband lives for breakfast!). The door to the room didn’t face the communal ‘road’, rather, it was at the back, lead to by a little stone path. Each room has a covered veranda, with two chairs and a little table – you know, the normal set up.

Before I go into the room itself, I have to say – this hotel is ALL about the view.

Every room has a view of the volcano. Every veranda in angled so that you can stretch out on your little chair, lift your head and spend hours staring at Arenal volcano. This was a part of the hotel’s appeal – while we were looking for somewhere to stay in Arenal, we noticed that in a lot of hotels, the rooms didn’t have a view, which put us off so Arenal Springs won because it promised us a view, from any room we might have been put it.

And it didn’t disappoint. As I’ve said, everything about this hotel is geared towards the volcano. Not only do all the rooms face it, not only does every room have a veranda to enjoy it on, the wall which faces the volcano is made up of mainly glass. The door to the room is huge and yes, glass; the windows are high, creating the perfect frame. And of course, all of this glass makes for a light and airy space. Sunlight floods in, breezes blow through and it almost feels as if there are no walls around you at all and you’re a part of the great outdoors.

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View from our room

But this hotel isn’t all about glass and views. The rooms themselves are more than deserving of the four stars awarded this resort. They are big, fresh, clean (oh, so clean which I loved!) and beautifully decorated. I have to admit that I was anxious before I arrived – I had read a lot about Costa Rica embracing the eco-friendly drive and becoming environmentally focused (completely understandable, the country is beautiful!) and was worried that the hotels on our trip may be a little… basic. Again, this is the snobbery in me rearing it’s ugly head but I’m only being honest – it was a concern.

I needn’t have been concerned. The decor of the room was an odd mix of modern colours and dark, old fashioned furniture but it just seemed to work. Surrounded by striking dark wood you feel as if you are sleeping in a secluded lodge, buried amongst the trees but the bright walls and funky furnishings bring you back to the present, giving you that comfort of modernity.

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The coolest (and slightly weirdest) thing? The shower!

The bathroom was pretty standard – white porcelain, terracotta tiles – but the shower was amazing. A glass roof over the shower makes it feel as if you are outside, add to that the dozens of plants planted in the shelf of the stone wall next to you, and you feel as if you are Mitzi Gaynor singing in the South Pacific!

The beds were comfortable, for me at least. I struggle to sleep on a soft mattress as I sink into them, causing me great difficulties when trying to get up in the morning, so I was glad of a firm mattress. The bed itself was quite high though which may be an issue for some people to get in and out of.

The room featured the usual amenities – mini-fridge, TV, wardrobe, safe – but one of the best things about it was the size. It was big enough to be able to wheel the wheelchair around freely (what this basically means is that we didn’t knock great chunks out of the furniture!)  and the gap between the beds was wide enough to be able to transfer easily from chair to bed.

The Pool/Springs 

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It’s in the name – Arenal Springs.

There are a number of springs dotted around Arenal, thanks to the volcanic rock, and this hotel had several. All of the pools are accessed via a ramp so stairs aren’t an issue here.

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It has your usual pool with a swim up bar but the highlight is most definitely the hot springs which are dotted about the pool area, each offering a different depth and temperature of the water. Waterfalls flow into this springs, drowning out any ‘modern life’ noises such as cars, ringing phones and televisions. The main spring is huge, boasting two swim up bars, several waterfalls and bridges. There’s a warm, shallow spring pool for children and tucked up at the back, surrounded by shrubs and flowers, is the hottest spring, which was perfect to soothe the aching bones and joints after an eleven hour flight. The springs are open until late, meaning that after a day of exciting (but tiring) adventures, you can dip in and literally hear your screaming joints quiet down!

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One thing to note – lizards love the hot springs! You might spot a little friend chilling in the shallow end of the pool, well, not so little really, they are bright green and have the longest tails! We didn’t find them a problem, they didn’t bother us in anyway and quickly scurry away if you get too close (making it very hard to capture them sunbathing!)

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One of the aforementioned lizards – they love the warm water!

Restaurants and Bars

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The thing to know about me (and my husband, come to think of it) is that we love nice food. Some of our favourite resorts and hotels are just that because of the copious amounts of food we eat whilst on holiday and we were relieved to discover that the food at Arenal Springs is wonderful!

We stayed here for two nights and both nights ate in the Italian, mainly because there was so much on the menu that we wanted to try that it took us both nights to plough our way through!

We were worried that because the resort was quite secluded (which meant that dining out in Arenal itself was a bit of a trek) the food might not be very good. It’s the classic case of captured audience – after a long day exploring the area, a lot of guests just want to head back to the hotel and have dinner – so, really, they could serve anything at any price.

This wasn’t the case here. The first night I opted for a salmon dish served with spaghetti with an olive-oil dressing/sauce. The salmon was fresh, cooked how I like it with a crispy skin underneath and the sauce! Wow, I still think about the sauce. It had a hint of sweetness and a little fire which sat at the back of my throat. My husband opted for a classic pizza and was not disappointed. The base was just the right thickness, crispy and the tomato sauce base was freshly made, well seasoned with a hint of oregano flowing through. We washed both dishes down with a Costa Rican beer (the bottle’s had pictures of howling monkeys on them so we couldn’t resist!) which was light, tangy and refreshing.

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The breakfast buffet (my husband’s favourite thing about a holiday) was brilliant. First off, it was civilised, meaning that there weren’t hundreds of people running around with plates and drinks, dodging between tables. Just like Costa Rica itself, the atmosphere was relaxed and easy going which is perfect for a six am start. The restaurant isn’t huge and at first, we were a bit worried that there wouldn’t be a lot on offer (I am a fussy breakfast eater) but we were wrong on that score. The hot food dishes (which really were hot, I promise!) seemed never ending; bacon, eggs, potatoes, sausages, beans and you could also wait by the hot plates and watch as a chef created an omelette of your choice (filling options were numerous – onions, tomatoes, bacon, cheese, ham, spring onions). Freshly made pancakes and waffles were also on offer which we duly drowned in syrup and chocolate sauce.

Although it was a buffet, servers deftly hurried about the room, swiftly moving from table to table, serving tea and coffee. Used plates were taken away quickly, drinks refilled on instinct, making our whole breakfast experience smooth and relaxed, the perfect way to start a day of adventure!

Whilst the restaurants serve beers, wine and a handful of cocktails, it’s the bar by the pool which offered the best selection. We mainly guzzled cocktails at the bar, making our way through the extensive list. There wasn’t one cocktail we didn’t like but our favourites were the whiskey sour and the passionfruit martini. The liquor quality was good (they offered branded and non-branded), the fruit juices fresh and crisp – everything needed for the perfect cocktail!

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Our favourite – a whiskey sour!

None of the restaurants or bars had stairs so they were easily accessible. Nor were they too cramped or crowded to make navigating a wheelchair difficult.

The Staff

From check in to check out, the staff as Arenal Springs were amazing.

They were knowledgeable, always happy to help and very friendly and approachable. The staff at reception made the check-in process so easy, they gave us maps, highlighted key areas and explained the reservation process for dinner. The hosts, servers and barmen were all charming, friendly and eager to put a smile on your face. You could not pass a member of staff without them smiling or waving at you or asking about your day, they really put us at ease. They were all always willing to go the extra mile to make sure that our stay was as comfortable and memorable as Arenal Volcano itself!

 

Costa Rica and I: Part One – Arenal

 

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Just Google ‘Arenal, Costa Rica.’ Look at the images.

Nope. These aren’t photoshopped. It really looks like that. You don’t know what green, real, leafy, exotic green looks like until you see Arenal. Honestly, paradise is real and it could very well be Arenal.

You’re looking, hastily scrolling through image after image. You’re firing up a new tab, ready to search ‘Holidays to Costa Rica’ and then-

Yep. There it is. The realisation. The bleak, gutting realisation.

It’s a great big volcano. Basically, a giant, fire breathing, lava spewing hill. Most people would be alarmed by the ‘fire’ and ‘lava’ part but that’s not the problem is it? It’s the ‘giant’ and ‘hill’ part. What’s the greatest nemesis of a wheelchair user, apart from a sweeping flight of stairs, of course? It’s a hill.

So now, you’re at the ‘what is the point in going when I won’t be able to do anything?’ stage. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, it’s a world wonder filled with fauna and flora you’d only ever see on TV. But what’s the point, when you’ll just be stuck in the wheelchair at the bottom of the beautiful volcano, looking up at it as it looms over you, a great rock covered with vegetation, taunting you and bringing to light everything you simply aren’t able to do?

That’s how I felt anyway. The initial wave of excitement (and fear – spiders!) was replacing with an overwhelming sense of dread and self loathing. I knew that it would be a once in a lifetime trip, a chance to get my David Attenborough on, a mega holiday which would cost thousands of pounds. What a waste. I would just end up holding my husband back, denying him the holiday of his dreams. Really, whose heard of an adventuring wheelchair user?

We booked it anyway. After a few days of listening to my husband as he assured me that it would be fine, we’d have a great time, we are so used to adapting – we took the plunge and booked. To be honest, this great adventure was the first holiday we booked where we did minimal research into how accessible it is etc. I think this was done on purpose on both sides – we had enough trepidation over how brave we really were (again, spiders, namely the Brazilian Walking Spider) that we had an unspoken agreement not to add anymore worry.

Looking back, the decision to ignore the great big wheelchair in the room wasn’t particularly clever but thankfully, it worked out.

The thing is, you CAN go to Arenal. You can get lost in the mist that covers the peak from late afternoon, you can sit on a sunlounger, drink in hand, and gaze up at the mountain which sits like a great protector of the little town and not feel as if you are missing out, or you’re getting a second-best experience.

The beauty of Arenal sweeps you up before you can even think about anything like complications or compromises. There seem to be no compromises left in the world as you turn a corner in the road and it emerges through forest, thrusting upwards into a brilliant blue sky. Everything is so calm, so still as your eyes are roaming the scene, hungry to take in everything. It isn’t just the volcano. It’s the high trees leading up to it, the dazzling array of shining blue, red, yellow and orange flowers which sit in great colourful masses so bright, it’s almost blinding.

When you step off of the bus, coach or out of the car, there’s a soft breeze that envelopes you, cradles you and holds you in a world you cannot believe is real. It’s overwhelming. I remember the shiver I felt as my body tuned into the surroundings. It’s so easy to get lost in that hazy, magical world which is more exotic, more freeing and more dreamlike than any wonderland conjured by any writer.

In that place where everything seems still, untouched by time, you can and WILL forget the wheelchair which you’ve thrown into the boot. Any restrictions or tours or activities that you might not be able do just don’t matter when you find yourself relaxing at the foot of Arenal Volcano.

There are so many things you can still do in you’re a wheelchair user (and I will go into more depth about this and the hotel we stayed at in separate posts) but even if they are limited, it is not a waste of time or money to just GO to Arenal. The experience, the world you found yourself getting further and further lost in is worth everything.

I honestly didn’t think about what I have wrong with me when I arrived. I didn’t care that I was being wheeled to my room. I didn’t care that I wouldn’t be able to climb it even if I wanted to. Arenal Volcano is a beauty, it’s a real delight, and there is no reason why wheelchair users shouldn’t experience it. There just isn’t.

We deserve to experience the beauty of it. We deserve to feel the awe-inspiring wonder of nature. It doesn’t matter that we have to sit whilst we take it in. Arenal is definitely worth it. It’s more than worth it.

 

What Chair?

Whilst I just want to dive in and write about all of the amazing adventure’s that I’ve been lucky enough to have, I’m reigning myself in and starting with a basic question which is always at the top of my travel list:

What Wheelchair Shall I Take? 

I’m not an expert on chairs so I’m not going to run through all the different types of chairs that there are or the specs etc. (I’ll leave that to the real experts!). Instead, I’m going to list the pro’s and cons of the wheelchairs I’ve used in the past.

  1. What I call – The Chair with the BIG Wheels

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My first ever wheelchair was bright green. I say it as if it were a fond memory but when my mum and dad reluctantly presented me with the chair, I got all whelmed up. I was upset because it was like looking into the future – this odd, alien contraption was going to become another limb for me (quite literally) – but on the other hand, I knew how hard it was for my parents to come to terms with the turn-around of my life (and their visions of my life) and it really did feel like a gift. A gift of acceptance, of a chance to be able to move around the world.

Anyway, I used this chair for two years, whilst finishing off sixth form and travelling to Europe several times.

Pro’s

  • What I like about this style of chair is it offers a level of independence. You don’t have to rely on anyone moving you from place to place, you can use the huge wheels at the back to move yourself about.
  • They offer more stability. They tend to have sturdier frames, meaning that you don’t feel anxious when you’re being wheeled over a curb or a bump. The amount of times I grip the arm rests of a chair because I’m terrified that I’m about to be thrown out of the chair! I tend to find that this style offers a little more piece of mind when being wheeled about.
  • They are usually more comfortable that a simple style chair (my version of a simple style chair is shown below). Not only are the seats a little wider and more padded, but the large wheels seem to offer more suspension (again, I’m not an expert). I find that when using this style chair, I don’t feel as many lumps and bumps and I’m not shaken about, which is really good when you’re feeling a lot of pain!

Cons: 

  • They are BIG and BULKY. And I mean the emphasis. Trying to lug one of these in and out of a boot of your average sized car is an art. The wheels get caught, the back doesn’t go down properly – urgh, nightmare! And that’s just if you travel in a car. Try getting on a plane or a boat with one of these – it has caused more stress for me than any other aspect of travelling with a chair.

2. What I Call – A Simple Style Chair 

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My current chair is in this style. Eventually my bright green chair became worn and wobbly and we opted to buy one in this style. Not only are they cheaper (wheelchairs are so very,very expensive!) but at time, they are more convenient, especially when travelling.

Pro’s

  • Lightweight. Compared to the other style wheelchair, these baby’s are so lightweight. They can be lifted from boot to floor, from boat deck to boat deck, from plane to gate with ease.
  • With small wheels at the back, these are easier to pack away. You don’t have to deal with the huge wheels that keep spinning. This chair just folds neatly and bam! It’s tucked away and out of the way.
  • This is a personal POV one but I’m going throw it in there anyway – for the person that’s wheeling you, these can be easier to handle. My husband has always said that he likes this style because he can dart in and out of crowded places without hitting any ankles. I know that the style of chair should come down to the users preference, but I like to take into account my ‘pusher’s’ preference as well. It’s stressful enough having to navigate me around the world, I’m happy to make it easier for him.

Cons: 

  • You cannot move yourself about. Without the big wheels to hold onto and direct yourself around, you have to rely on your ‘pusher’ to get you from A to B, even if it’s just a few yards away. The lack of independence, when you are already confined to a chair, is a massive con.
  • They aren’t as sturdy and because of this, it can make for an uncomfortable ride sometimes. You can feel every bump, every hole and every surface type and sometimes feel yourself being shaken about, especially if you pick up speed.
  • They aren’t as comfortable in general – the seat tend to be thinner, the arm rests higher as you sink down into the thin seat.

Conclusion?

I know that the second style has more cons but I have to admit, I’ve travelled more in this style than the first. I think the pro’s for the smaller wheeled style outweigh the pros of the other style, especially when out in the world. Having said this, we are currently looking into going back to big wheels. I need a new chair but can’t decide what I want and for the money they cost and how long I will have it, it’s a big decision.

Again, it all comes down personal preference. I will never assume to advise you one way or the other because we all have different needs. When it comes to travelling, you need the best thing for you – what is most comfortable, what is the easiest and less stressful. Over time, I’ve found that it’s all trial and error, after all, being in a chair does make things that little more complicated when making your travel plans.

From my point of view, the easiest style to travel with has always been the second style. It may be less comfortable but taking this style abroad has proved to be less stressful for my travel party and I.

But what do you think? Do you think I’m completely wrong and am missing out on something better or easier?

 

Adventure is out there, for all of us!

So, I’ve finally decided to sit down and start this blog after thinking about it for months. Back in June, we returned from an amazing trip to Costa Rica which was not without it’s headaches due to my mobility issues. Of course, we did as much research as we could before we went but found information relating to access, wheelchair restrictions, ability levels, etc. very difficult to find.

It wasn’t the first time this has been an issue. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of resorts and travel agents do provide some decent information if you ask for it but trying to find out about first-hand experiences was quite tough. I’m hoping that I might be able to help in this department by sharing some of the advice I have, some of the tips I’ve picked up and some antics as well, because, I am talking about holidays of course! Holidays should be fun and relaxing experiences, no matter where you are able bodied or suffer from restrictions in some way. If I can at least provide some decent, helpful advice to someone I will be happy.

I suppose I should start by explaining what my condition is and what my needs are, that way, any readers will be able to gage how personable this information is to them. I suffer from Ankylosing Spondylitis. I was diagnosed back in 2010 and the restrictions this has had on my life have grown very quickly. I have a very aggressive, dominant form of it and my mobility deteriorates at a very fast pace. On good days I used on a walking stick, on medium to bad days I use a wheel chair and on terrible days, I cannot move at all.

For the most part, I haven’t let my condition stop me from travelling and experiencing new things. With carefully laid out plans, a truck load of medication, my wheel chair and my husband, I’ve been able to see so much of the world. I’m lucky, I know. There are a lot of people worse of than me in this world but I hope that by sharing my experiences, I might to be able to help them and everyone else take the plunge and go on amazing adventures!

Here is a list of places I have been since 2010:

  • Menorca, Spain
  • Disneyland, Paris
  • Dominican Republic
  • St Lucia
  • Mauritius
  • Poland
  • Czech Republic
  • Ireland
  • Florida
  • Spain
  • Italy
  • Corsica
  • Greece
  • Costa Rica

My plan is to write about these places individually, from an average POV and a restricted mobility POV, as well as comparing them all in various forms in terms of ease of access, restrictions, planning tips and anything else I can think of!

As I’ve said, I hope that I will be able to provide good advice and maybe give a little confidence and encouragement for people who are hovering over the ‘Book Now’ button!