By Terry Willey
Almost two years ago my wife and I celebrated our Golden Wedding and as part of the celebrations I had booked a special trip to Barbados. A destination which we both know very well, having visited the Island several times over the years. However, I could hardly have anticipated the difficulties that would beset me in undertaking the trip this time.
To be assured of mainly dry weather, it is best to visit the Caribbean in the early part of the year during their dry season. So all was suitably booked for a two-week visit in January. However, the holiday had to be cancelled due to Covid regulations. International travel and restrictions affected many hotels throughout the Caribbean. Whilst the vaccinations were well organised in the UK, the virus was still virulent and I did not escape it. It was decided to delay our special holiday until things had generally improved.
In the early part of 2021 I was to suffer a serious stroke which involved hospitalisation and several months of physiotherapy. Had it not been for the excellent care and support from everyone without exception in the NHS on the Island, I most certainly would not have been able to live a near normal life or survive it at all. In addition, I was fortunate to have the support and care from my wife and the whole family. I believe this was a major factor in remaining positive.
Determination to travel
To be frank I was beginning to resign myself to the thought that overseas or any other travel would not be possible again for my wife and I. We had regularly enjoyed the travels we have done throughout our married life. The initial advice from my consultant was not to contemplate or undertake any foreign travel involving flying until I was satisfactorily reviewed in 12 months. It would have been very easy to ‘throw the towel in’ on our love of exploring foreign lands. I was determined to remain focused on achieving it and particularly returning to Barbados as planned to celebrate our special wedding anniversary – albeit two years late!
Finally with the consent of my consultant I booked the trip for late January. I had to contemplate many factors such as traveling with disabled assistance for travel and accommodation, additional medication, travel insurance and simply physically undertaking it. All of which I knew would make the trip more demanding for my wife too, in assisting me. The advice from many was to avoid the stress and anxiety of such an undertaking but somehow, I remained determined to see it through.
One of the most important messages that I would offer to anyone in this predicament is to ensure that you share your difficulties with as many people involved with in such a trip. You will be amazed at the care, consideration and support that individuals and companies provide.
I therefore began by writing to the Special Needs Department at Virgin Atlantic, with whom we’ve travelled for many years. I set out my concerns and to inform that I was unable to undertake the travel without a disabled walker, along with a number of medical supplies in addition to our usual luggage.
Assistance from all
The response was quite extraordinary, and I was assured that there was no need to worry. Everything would be undertaken to assist us. Under no circumstances were we to worry at all about any of the usual issues that involve check in, Customs, luggage, and departure arrangements.
A Special Needs Assistant met us at Heathrow and guided us through the process of check-in on our behalf. All our luggage was taken care of and without having to concern ourselves with queuing, customs clearance was individually escorted. We were then taken to a special assistance area with other passengers needing support travelling to various destinations around the world and awaiting special transportation to the various departure gates. My collapsible walker was taken into the plane and special seats were provided with additional leg room and toilet accessibility.
We’d explained to Virgin that this was a late celebration which we never thought would happen for our Golden Wedding. We were overwhelmed and somewhat embarrassed by the special care and consideration which followed from the flight attendants throughout. As well as announcing our special anniversary to everyone and presenting my wife with a bottle of bubbly. The crew had clearly been excellently trained in dealing with passengers requiring special support and assistance. They were all a credit to their company. To our surprise the care continued upon landing at Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados. Again staff were provided to assist me off the plane and a young Barbadian man was waiting on the tarmac with a wheelchair to welcome us. This was in addition to the customary Reggae Band playing in the entrance lobby to the airport.
Our destination was to be at Sandals whom we have been using throughout the Caribbean for some 15 years. I had previously written to them with my concerns about the trip generally and my wish for my wife to especially enjoy her special anniversary. Transfer coaches were arranged to collect those attending Sandals. As the names were ticked off by the representative, we noted our names were omitted.
I enquired as to the position as naturally I assumed that perhaps the company had thought we would not be embarking on this trip in view of my medical issues. Quite to the contrary – we were advised to stand to one side. A short while after the coach had departed, to our absolute astonishment, a beautiful new white Rolls Royce pulled up. A chauffeur greeted us to take us to the hotel. We later learnt that this was a present to us to celebrate our Golden Anniversary and would be repeated on return.
Arriving at Sandals
Upon arrival a specialist executive member of staff was assigned to us to ensure that we enjoyed every minute. She personally checked in on us and arranged all reservations as required for our wining and dining. As well as all other necessary personal requirements during our entire stay. Due to my inability to easily move around without assistance we decided that our holiday would be one of relaxation. Our aspirations for travelling around the Island, which we had done many times, would be very much curtailed. It would be more of a holiday to relax in the warm weather. Reading and meeting people from around the world over a drink.
I was determined to arrange one trip in the two weeks duration which unfortunately proved to be difficult. Just before we had resigned ourselves that this would not be possible, an opportunity arose. With the special assistance from the ‘in house’ excursion desk we attended with 14 other people a private yacht trip for a day around the Island of Barbados. This involved a Captain and crew of four, and the wonderful on-board facilities. This included four double bedrooms with en-suite facilities and access possible to accommodate my disability. Also a dining room with its own chef to cook and provide locally sourced meals with drinks throughout the day. It proved to be a great day meeting lovely people from around the world who all kindly assisted me.
A stress-free holiday
On the day before our departure, I was determined to thank the Managing Director and Resort Manager of Sandals. We had previously met them in various destinations in the Caribbean as part of the Sandals Group. We treated them to a lunch ‘off property’ and they took us to a very special restaurant location where we were able to express our sincere thanks.
The return trip to the UK commenced with a special trip again in the Rolls Royce to the airport. The chauffeur took over the responsibilities for check-in and guidance to the special assistance areas within the airport. The extreme care and support from Virgin Atlantic remained totally consistent on return. They finally said goodbye to us in London and presented us with an anniversary card signed by all the staff. It was indeed a most wonderful stress-free holiday which we never thought would have been possible.
Whatever medical problems that you may face now or in the future, this experience proved to me that with a strong personal conviction and being prepared to seek out the necessary assistance there prevails an overwhelming degree of care and support open to everyone. But then again, I have always gone along with the familiar saying that: ‘Old age is not for sissies’!