A Flying Bumblebee chat with…. An Ambitious Turtle!

Welcome to another Flying Bumblebee chat, this time with an Ambitious Turtle – otherwise known as Fi Anderson! Fi is a mum of 2 little girls living in the UK, who also manages to squeeze in being an active disability campaigner and an award-winning disability blogger. Fi has the progressive muscle-wasting condition Muscular Dystrophy and works in a variety of roles including as a Transport Ambassador for Muscular Dystrophy UK, and being involved in many campaigns around accessible travel, toileting and housing. Fi is also co-founder of The Minicore Project, and works as a motivational speaker, panellist and guest blogger.

Fi often blogs about her accessible transport experiences as a power wheelchair user and she kindly agreed to answer a few questions on her family adventures and accessible travel. One of my aims is to share our personal family adventures with other families or disabled travellers, and I thought it would be fascinating to include Fi’s experiences as a young parent with a disability.

Where was your very first holiday or day out with Abbie and Ava? How did you feel before you went and was it how you expected?

Our very first family holiday was in August 2016 to Roquetas de Mar, Costa Almeria Spain when Abbie was just 4 and Ava 10 months old. I was insanely anxious despite going through every step of the way with a fine toothed comb, ringing around, double – triple checking that the airline, transfers, hotel etc all knew our needs exactly and that everything was set for our journey. The holiday itself was amazing, we made some wonderful memories. The only thing I’d say is the trip cemented the notion that everybodys version of what “accessible” actually means is different!

For example I was excited to get in the pool at the hotel, only I needed a pool-side hoist. On the hotels website and via the gentleman I spoke to on the phone both stated the pool had ramped access. Which I took to mean it had a ramp to use a water proof wheelchair to literally roll down into the pool. When we got there and saw it for ourselves there was noway what so ever a completely non-ambulant guest could access that pool. It was ramped to the raised pools edge, then you have to be able to get up out your chair and sit on the pool edge, and launch yourself in like an able individual.

Do you ever find it difficult to get the balance right between finding a holiday or day out which is both suitable for you as a family but can also meet your needs?

Yes, this was a huge obstacle! As a Mum I was on the hunt for a package holiday with lots of fun things for the kids to do at the hotel and surrounding around, but I also needed an accessible hotel room with a wet-room. For without I wouldn’t of been able to shower at all for the whole 2 weeks we were there. Just like in the UK, there was a severe lack of wheelchair accessible hotel rooms that also would allow for an additional bed for our eldest.

I came up against a crazy “health and safety” rule on why hotels with accessible rooms wouldn’t allow for an additional bed to be placed within for a child, this was because their hotel insurance states its a high risk factor if wheelchair users don’t have x amount of room to manoeuvre around. I get that but it’s almost as if they don’t expect disabled people to go on holiday with their immediate family. In the end I did find a hotel willing to put an extra bed and cot in their accessible room, but I had to upgrade it to a superior room to bypass the health and safety issue and that cost us a lot more than we budgeted for.

What are your top requirements when searching for holidays and how much luck do you have finding these?!

Accessible room which would allow for an extra pull out bed and travel cot. The same accessible room’s bathroom to have a wheel-in-shower vs a bath. Lots of things for the kids to do but good for wheelchair access. Ability to get in the pool with my girls.

Finding an accessible family room was the most stressful and time consuming. I used Enable Holidays to judge what may work access wise and tried to find the same hotel on budget holiday websites to avoid the disability holiday price tag that comes with doing through a disabled persons travel agent. It saved me over £1,500 doing all the leg work myself when I compared the same holiday with a company like Enable Holidays.

What reassurances would you offer parents with a disability who are considering their first family holiday?

As long as you do your research and know your own needs, it’s totally do-able! There’s an awful lot of leg work if you do it yourself to save some pennies but once you’re on that beach with your family it’ll all have been worth it!

And finally……For you all as a family, “Holiday Happiness is……?”

Holiday Happiness is the ultimate pay off to everyday struggles and a chance to focus on your loved ones making unforgettable memories.

Thanks to Fi for giving such an inspiring account of her family holiday experience, I would most definitely second the notion that people’s version of ‘accessible’ can vary quite dramatically! A perfect example of exactly why access information really needs to be so much more detailed, allowing individuals to make their own decisions on whether it really is accessible for them.

Buzz on over to Fi’s website and social media links to find out more.


Sandcastle Santa!

A trip to a magical Christmas Woodland this time, courtesy of the wonderful charity The Sandcastle Trust. Their annual ‘Sandcastle Santa’ event means that dozens of families living with a rare genetic condition can choose a Santa experience near to them, and The Sandcastle Trust will make that Christmassy dream come true!

(Apologies for date stamp on photos!!!)

We chose to visit ‘Christmas Woodland’ at Blakemere Village in Cheshire. Christmas Woodland includes woodland theatre, magical characters, snowy scenes, songs, paths through fairy lit trees, a white unicorn and ends with meeting the big man himself in the North Pole.

There are good parking facilities at Blakemere and it was only a short walk down to the Cheshire Outdoors Centre where the journey begins. The entertainment starts as you are guided by your comical elf down to meet Furbal the Elf to introduce you to the story and journey ahead through the magical rainbow entrance. (Very impressed to see Makaton being used here!)

Although the hunt for Santa and the magic of Christmas takes place in the woods, it was very accessible and mostly a fairly level walk, other than some slight inclines, obligatory tree roots and rabbit holes. It was quite muddy and boggy, so even though it’s accessible for buggies, it probably wasn’t always an easy push. Emily needed her hand held all the way round as she doesn’t tend to see or adapt to slight inclines or changes in terrain, and would lose her balance very easily.

On your way around you meet lots of magical characters including a Scottish owl, Jack Frost, and even a white unicorn (won’t say too much incase it’s a spoiler!); and lots of quirky Alice in Wonderland style touches…

The trip ends with your arrival at the North Pole where you meet Santa and the children have the opportunity for a chat and to receive their gift.

We were then taken to the warm home of Mrs Christmas, a welcome chance to escape the freezing rain! In here you are entertained by Mrs Christmas and her elves, and the children decorate some yummy gingerbread men. On the way out parents even receive a gift of a bottle of local ale or a large Christmas candle!

At the end of Christmas Woodland is the opportunity to try some ice-skating and toast marshmallows on the firepit. We chose to miss out on this as we were so cold, and escaped to the Blakemere restaurant for a delicious Sunday Carvery! Again, good disabled access.

On your way around the Christmas Woodland there are lots of nice Christmassy touches to enjoy while you make your trip through the woods to meet Father Chrismas.

The Santa Experience at Christmas Woodland is £19.95 per person, or £27.50 for the Ultimate Santa Experience (which includes ice skating, gingerbread decorating and gifts for all).

It was fantastic to see Makaton around the Christmas Woodland, Blakemere worked with the Makaton Charity in order to promote this at their venue, a brilliant example of inclusion.

Thank you to the Sandcastle Trust, Christmas Woodland at Blakemere, and of course the big man himself – Father Christmas. Merry Christmas to you all!