Mari Ness (mariness) wrote,
Mari Ness
mariness

Disabled, with reservations

In a little less than a month I head off to the United Kingdom and Ireland for WorldCon and Shamrockon. Since people have asked, I will also be in sorta the general area for Nine Worlds as well - in fact, I realized that I might even run into people at Heathrow arriving for Nine Worlds - and if people want to meet me for dinner that weekend that's awesome, but I wasn't planning on attending. Not because I have anything against Nine Worlds, which actually seems like more my sorta thing than the other two cons, but because at a certain point you hit Con Overload, and three cons in three weeks is absolutely that point for me. And although I initially thought about doing Nine Worlds and WorldCon, well...Shamrockon is in Ireland, where I've never been.

And like others, I will be in London between Nine Worlds and Worldcon. Let the hijinks ensue.

But this isn't about my con schedule, but rather about making reservations.

This isn't my first trip to the UK, or my first time making reservations there (although on one trip I just showed up at the train station and was lucky enough to find a cheap space in a Westminster boarding house sorta thing, which was fun).

But this is my first trip traveling via wheelchair, not to mention my first attempt to navigate Grade I and Grade II buildings - which historically can't be altered - some of which are transportation points, and others of which are hotels.

And, that, as it turns out, makes things interesting well before boarding a plane.

For instance:

1. While in London pre-Worldcon, I won't be using the London Underground much - even post the Olympics, many of the Tube stations are not wheelchair accessible. Fortunately for my budget, the London buses ARE fully accessible, and the bus system has a very helpful website where you can type in where you are starting from and where you want to end up and it will list all the buses for you. As it turned out, the buses pretty much cover everywhere I want to go, which solved that problem. (There's also special tourist buses, even better.) That's great, and meant that one of my main criteria for choosing a hotel was "Near Bus Station."

2. London hotel websites, however, assume that tourists are all going to want to use the Tube - so although they usually announce proudly how close to they are to a Tube station, few of them mention the bus stations. And if you go to the bus system website, it doesn't always tell you how far the hotel is from the bus.

3. Enter Google Street Maps, which have been, bluntly, a livesaver - not just for this reason, either, but you can type in the hotel address and see where the bus station is, on street view, and note any potential problems.

4. Google Street Maps are a godsend in another way: you can click on the little person on street view, look around, and see if the entrance to the hotel is, in fact, wheelchair accessible, since by "wheelchair accessible" the hotel sometimes means "you can use a wheelchair on the ground floor in the public rooms," not necessarily "you can get in."

5. And speaking of hotels in Bath, not London - I was initially cheered to see just how many hotels in Bath popped up when I searched for disabled accommodations in Bath.

Not surprisingly - most Bath hotels are in historic buildings that can only be accessed by two to four stairs - that turned out to be an overly optimistic search. As it turned out, Bath actually only has four hotels I could stay at. One is an absolutely gorgeous luxury hotel that is seriously beyond my budget, but where I am immediately heading to the instant I win the lottery. A second had only one disabled room which was already booked.

Which means that I am staying in a hotel that has been pretty universally described as "overpriced" in all of its internet reviews, who urge visitors to head to other, better value hotels. Having looked at the hotel's website I am already inclined to agree with the internet reviews, but the reviews also say that the hotel has a good sandwich place nearby, which is a plus, so there's that.

The other option, of course, was to stay in cheaper, more modern Bristol - an option I used for most of my clients back when I worked in the travel industry. The issue with Bristol, however, was that its hotels with disabled accommodation were for the most part not near the train station I would be using to take to Bath. By the time I worked out the transportation costs, I realized that I was going to be spending almost as much in transportation as I would be saving in hotel costs, so although Bristol is really not that far away, it seemed easier to stick with Bath after all.

6. Buckingham Palace, which is open during July/August, and is wheelchair accessible.

Wheelchair accessible tickets, however, have to be booked separately - and can't, unlike regular tickets, be booked online. (Apparently there's only one elevator accessible for tourists, so this has to be scheduled. Also you go in via wheelchair accessible golf cart.) Instead, you have to make an international phone call - or alternatively, email, and have them call you, which was working great until Buckingham Palace's computer systems went down. You fail me, Windsors, you fail me.

(Technically I think this is a sorta independent group that "operates" tours of Buckingham Palace while the Windsors are out windsoring, but it's more fun to assume this, like so many other things, is all Prince Charles' fault.)

I may end up at Kensington Palace instead, also wheelchair accessible, which has tickets available at the door.

7. But at least it is wheelchair accessible: it's been mildly crushing to realize even things that sounded like they would be fully wheelchair accessible aren't. The Tower of London is one thing; the Cartoon Museum, though, was a bit of a surprise.

I find myself comparing previous trips, with the "what shall I do today?" the spontaneous wandering, the surety that I could find someplace in London where I could sleep - and reach - without worrying too much. Some of that remains: my London schedule, for instance, is fairly flexible up until Worldcon, though that's partly because some plans are still getting finalized. It's not all disabled issues, either - some of this is just meeting up with various people here and there in London (hilariously, mostly Americans from Florida so far - it says something that it seems easier to meet up with them in London than Winter Garden, but moving on.) But there's still a fundamental change from previous trips, and it has me a bit twitchy.

On the other hand, London! Also, Dublin! Castles! High tea! And getting to see many of you again! Awesomeness.
Tags: disability, worldcon
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