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Access Press - Minnesota's Disability Community Newspaper

‘Nonstop party cruise’ – A floating—and accessible—music festival

by // May 10th, 2008

Want to know what I did in January? Imagine a Caribbean cruise sailing from Miami to Jamaica. Now add twenty to thirty rock bands, countless hours of live music, and a boat full of people having the time of their lives. This cruise actually exists. It is called The Rock Boat (TRB), and is billed as “The World’s Greatest Floating Music Festival.”

I learned of TRB five years ago and it sounded like my dream vacation. At the time, however, traveling was impossible for me due to breathing difficulties associated with muscular dystrophy. That changed three years ago when I had a tracheotomy and began using a ventilator full time. For the first time in over a decade, traveling was possible. So, last year I decided to try and make my dream vacation a reality.

There were some initial hesitations. Would it be logistically possible to travel with all my medical equipment? Would we be able to find accessible transportation in Miami? Would I get seasick? Most importantly, could my body handle the lack of sleep on this nonstop party cruise?

First I had to find an accessible cabin. I was shocked at how few accessible rooms cruise ships have. Our ship had only twenty-four modified cabins out of roughly 1060 rooms. By the time I asked, there was only one left. Luckily, I got it.

After securing a cabin, I went into full research mode. The key for anyone planning a trip, especially those with a disability, is to be as organized as possible. I became a list-making machine: things to do, people to contact, things that needed to confirmed (and reconfirmed). This process proved to be necessary when dealing with Northwest Airlines (NWA). Flying with a ventilator requires additional planning. Oftentimes, medical equipment needs “approval” from the airline in order to be used in-flight. Three days before we were set to leave, we contacted NWA to make sure the vent was on my passenger record. It was not. This led to a tedious hour-and-a-half phone call, during which the vent was finally approved.

As things started to fall into place, most of my fears were eased. We were going to ship some of my heavier supplies to the hotel beforehand. Getting around Miami was going to be fairly simple, since many cab companies offered accessible taxis. My list of things to do was dwindling. With the logistics worked out, I was now focusing on The Rock Boat itself. My biggest goal was to stay healthy, so I was preparing myself to miss a lot of great shows so that I could get at least a little sleep. With bands playing from the afternoon until the wee hours of the morning, this was going to be my biggest challenge. I took the concert schedule, noted what I definitely didn’t want to miss, and decided to play the rest by ear.

Finally, after eleven months of preparation, this January I left on my dream vacation. The worst part of any vacation is getting there. I’ll spare you the details, and only say that I did, in fact, make it to the Miami dock on time.

Although I was a little nervous, getting on the boat turned out to be quite easy. The TRB staff brought us through the VIP area, avoiding the maze of lines. Once onboard the ship, our stateroom was small but I could maneuver around pretty easily; the bathroom was tiny but workable. There were a few areas of the ship that were inaccessible, but all in all, it was easy to get around.

With the hardest part of the trip over, I was ready to experience The Rock Boat. Happily, the artists onboard do not hide away in their cabins; they roam the ship like regular passengers. It is not uncommon to run into your favorite singer while getting ice cream (as I did), or to play blackjack in the casino with the band you saw onstage the night before. This level of artist/fan interaction is what really makes TRB unique and is what lead to my most memorable moment of the trip – my favorite musician (singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson) coming to our cabin to sing a song just for me. Matt’s presence on the boat was a big reason why I finally took the leap to go on this crazy adventure in the first place. I could not have imagined a more perfect moment.

People warned me ahead of time that cruises, especially The Rock Boat, were addictive; after experiencing my first one, I know what they meant. I am hoping that my first Rock Boat will not be my last.

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