Jamie Larsen is 18 years old and lives with Bridget (mum), Carsten (dad) and Colonel (an affectionate Golden Retriever). When not occupied with work, school, power chair soccer, basketball and running an accessible AirBNB, the Larsens enjoy flying drones, eating spicy food, tinkering with technology and travelling. Their travels have taken them through Scandinavia, Europe, Japan and South East Asia and most recently, a 10 day intergenerational family Christmas cruise to Vanuatu. Jamie has DMD, the rest of the family have genetically indicated stubbornness. The Larsens enjoy living in Canberra surrounded by bush and roos.
After 3 years of El Nina and Covid, we desperately needed a change of scene, somewhere warm, and somewhere where we could spend Christmas together without anyone having to cook and clean. We needed a holiday to celebrate Christmas, Jamie’s 18th and his recent Year 12 graduation.
The 10-day Christmas cruise on the P&O Pacific Adventure to New Caledonia and Vanuatu seemed to tick all the boxes. Three of the four stops were ports, rather than by tender, so in theory, accessible. Inevitably, the planning started well ahead of time. We took care to book an accessible room for Jamie, with balcony access, measuring up doorways, checking the room pictures, filling out innumerable forms. The lovely Angie at Active Mobility helped with hiring a hoist – which was delivered to P&O’s nominated warehouse several days ahead of departure, pre-loaded and waiting for us in the room.
We were escorted through check in, found the hoist waiting for us in our room and our cabin (10303) was workable. I breathed a sigh of relief. There was room under the beds to get the hoist in (so the raisers I packed were redundant), the bathroom was open plan (although the toilet was too high for our trusty Shower Buddy travel commode) and there were ramps to enable access out onto the balcony.
The departure out under Sydney Harbour Bridge was spectacular. We then explored the ship, with up to 3000 people on board, one of the largest we’ve been on – but in good condition and plenty of spaces to suit everyone. Generally, getting around to restaurants, decks, entertainment venues etc was easy, but with a larger power chair (Permobil), some patience and tact was needed at the lifts.
Unfortunately, three of us tested positive to Covid late on the second day. Fully vaxxed and three years of being Novids – while we always knew that this was a risk, the timing was atrocious and very disappointing. So, we bunked in with Jamie and really tested their Covid protocols. It was very good so far as these things go. While we don’t know how many cases were on board, we know that we weren’t the only ones, but also that it was a small percentage, perhaps around 50 passengers. Perhaps less than your average day at the supermarket.
Everyone pre-tested and had to evidence vaccination status and appropriate insurances. There was mandatory testing on board. Everyone had to wear masks in public areas – most were compliant. There was ample sanitiser and spare masks about. The medical team took Jamie’s ‘interesting’ details, worked with us, issued us with antivirals and checked in regularly. Thankfully, he was largely asymptomatic. Nothing but a touch of cabin fever. We were given the other essentials – free wi fi access, room service and even a yoga mat. While it was tight for 3, plus wheelchair and hoist, we were able to enjoy the ports (and an unscheduled dramatic sea rescue) from the balcony, binge on Christmas movies, immerse ourselves in books, catch up on sleep on their comfy beds and with little else to do, used what we had to get creative. For busy people, it was enforced relaxation, and while I wouldn’t recommend this method to anyone, perhaps it was what we needed to slow down.
Fortunately, we were retested and released just in time for Christmas Day, so were able to share Christmas gifts under our felt Christmas tree on the balcony on a perfect Pacific evening followed by dinner and a show with family.
So, we did get all that we had hoped for – it was relaxing family time somewhere warm, although definitely not as envisaged. Would we do it again ? Yes, but without the Covid.