Wheelchair Worries - Thursday 22nd June 2023


The flights were departing at six thirty am on Thursday morning from Gatwick so we left home at midnight. It would take us about three hours and twenty minutes to get there and we were required to check in three hours before the flight departed. We anticipated some problems as the original flight we were booked on had been cancelled and we transferred to another plane, our extra leg room seats that we booked had been erased from our booking as well as the fact we were sat either side of the aisle now. There were no problems at Gatwick and check in was very fast as there were no customers yet.

There was quite a small queue at security but as I'm in a wheelchair I was able to skip the queue, I was ushered through a gate and was frisked and my chair was dusted down. My leather man bag that had my laptop in and another item that they were suspicious of so it had to go through the scanner.

The suspicious item was a deflated haemorrhoid ring... I like to blow it up and stick my face through the ring... That sounded dodgy, let me explain.

Being constantly in my wheelchair, or sitting or doing activities that involve my back, mean that my back aches. For an hour or so each day I lie on my stomach to give my back a rest. Sticking my head in a haemorrhoid ring means my air ways are clear and I can breathe.

As we'd booked special assistance we were directed to a desk where they gave us a small electronic device that would bleep when we needed to come back to the desk ready to board. We were free to do as we wished until then. 

Even though it was the early hours of the morning there were thousands of people milling about. We went to Wetherspoon's and were told it was about an hour wait for a table but I'm getting special assistance we can go and sit in the special assistance lounge, download the app, order from there and they will bring our food to us, although there is a twenty minute wait for food. As it was four in the morning we thought we'd be sensible and just order one beer each. Within about ten minutes our breakfast arrived.

Special assistance cab. Does anybody 
remember the Jonny Cab from Total Recall?

The electronic device went off and a few other people who had difficulty walking long distances would get a special assistance cab to the gate, we would walk behind it. Well Dad would walk behind it, whilst pushing the wheelchair, wheeling a big heavy suitcase, carrying a rucksack on his back and carrying a laptop case. I was pulling my weight though, I was carrying my leather man bag with the deflated haemorrhoid ring, until we hung the man bag off the handlebars.

We followed the Jonny Cab to a lift and then took the lift to the floor of the gate, this had to be done in two journeys because somebodies wheelchair took up lots of space in the lift.

Getting through boarding was incredibly quick and easy. I don't fly much but as I understand it's never this simple. I presume this was because of the special assistance. The whole experience was stress free, we got to have a nice breakfast, sit away from the crowds and were left with plenty of time to board.

I was then taken onto the tarmac and wheeled over to what looked like a mobile storage unit. I was wheeled onto a scissor lift which lifted me up and I and the other special assistance customers had a small ride to the plane. The mobile storage unit got as close to the plane as possible so I could just wheel onto the plane. I was then transferred into a small wheelchair that is narrow enough to fit in the aisles. 

I transferred into the plane seat and as the wheelchair was being rolled away I realised I needed the loo. Trying to cause as little burden as possible I said I can walk with the help of my Dad. With my hands on his shoulders he walked back slowly while I took tiny steps forwards trying not to lose my balance and fall into the lap of bemused holiday goers. The cabin crew organised some seats at the back of the plane so I didn't have to walk so far back to my seat. I was sure this flight was fully booked but there was a whole aisle free on my return.

It was about two hours and forty five minutes to Naples, long enough to watch several episodes of New Girl on my phone.

Naples International Airport

We landed and waited for about fifteen minutes while everyone departed and special assistance arrived with a small wheelchair. We got off the plane into the mobile storage unit and I was immediately drenched in sweat. The small amount of hair I've got formed a widows peak that would remain until I got home and my hair was no longer wet all the time.

I transferred back into my wheelchair and was wheeled onto the lift so the scissor lift could return us to the tarmac. I knew Naples was going to be hot, but I didn't expect this. Fortunately I was wearing a cap, long trousers and a long sleeve top as I hadn't thought about putting on sun cream in the dark, moderately warm early hours of the morning.

Everybody departing the plane had formed a huge line, waiting to produce their passports to gain access to Italy. At least half of the line were exposed to the baking sun, there was no shade and they were all dressed in shorts/skirts and short sleeved t-shirts. Many didn't have hats and probably hadn't put on sun screen. I noticed an extremely pregnant lady that looked eight to nine months pregnant. I don't know how pregnant you have to be before you're not allowed to fly, but whatever the limit is, this lady was the day before the restriction was in place. She didn't have a hat on, I just hope pity was taken upon her and she was moved to the front of the queue.

We followed the Italian member of staff assisting me and a lady in a wheelchair. He repeatedly barked "Mi scusi" and the crowd started to part like the Red Sea. We moved to about fifth in the queue and we were still waiting for about ten minutes. There were about two dozen desks here but only two were in use. There were two people at each desk checking the passports of about two hundred passengers, and they were incredibly slow. Suspiciously slow I would say, almost like they were trying to make a point. The other desk was checking in three passengers for every one of ours. We finally got through, went through security and were taken to baggage claim.

Next on the agenda was picking up our rental car... via the toilets as ol' Tommy here had to tinkle. We saw a sign for male, female and disabled toilets. We followed the signs and found the door hiding the disabled toilet, it didn't have any grab rails or any apparatus that would constitute an accessible toilet. I do have strength in my legs and can support my own weight, so I can transfer onto a toilet... but the toilet I'm transferring to needs to have a seat. Something this was lacking. Fortunately there was another disabled toilet next door which I was sure would have something that qualifies it as a disabled toilet. It didn't... Nor a toilet seat. We'd sort out the rental car and attend to my needs along the way.

In a noisy airport Dad phoned the number from his EasyJet flight info and was given some directions.


This is Dad's review on TripAdvisor, for which he gave an extremely generous one out of five. Presumably you can't give zero, which is why they have a slightly higher rating of one and a half from seventeen reviews.

The directions provided to find the shuttle bus were indecipherable. I wandered around, coping with a huge wheeled case, two rucksacks and my son in a wheelchair until a helpful local rescued us and took us to the bus stop. Here the driver refused to take the wheelchair. I had to leave my (adult) disabled son in the blistering sun to be allowed aboard. The driver dropped me at a huge car park, full of car hire companies, none of which was Ecovia. I was told by another company that I was 10-15 minutes' walk away.
On finding the right place (a portakabin with the name Autovia above it), I stood for some time in front of a woman taking and making numerous phone calls while other staff stood around chatting. Eventually, she extended a hand and said "voucher". My explanation that my disabled son had been left at the airport was greeted with a shrug and a muttered, "sorry".
I'd paid an extra £56 through the Easyjet site for cover against the 2000 euro insurance excess. The woman said this wasn't valid, and that I'd have to pay an additional 230 euro for cover. I refused and argued for some time before we were able to move on. All of this was interspersed with her breaking off for more phone calls, most of which seemed to be arguments with disgruntled customers.
The car was actually fine; clean and almost new...

This review doesn't end there, I'll put the rest of the review when we return the car. If you can't wait, you can read the whole review here.

So yes my experience of Sorrento wasn't great so far. I think their idea of disabled is vastly different from the reality. Not only were there no disabled facilities in the disabled toilet, all the paths outside of the airport were cobbled as well. Then the car rental place refused to take me to pick up the car. 

I like Sorrento so far <--- sarcasm.

Dad now had to navigate to where I was in the airport. I sent him my location in WhatsApp and after about fifteen minutes he rang me to say he was here, he'd put the car in a drop off space (some airport staff had said it was ok) and he was coming over to collect me. He was quite stressed at this point and Italy is like driving in a Dodge-Ems ride at the fairground. In the baking sun he wheeled the suitcase, two rucksacks and a wheelchair. "I should have rented an electric wheelchair" I thought, although on current evidence it wouldn't surprise me if the wheelchair rental place was up some steps. We put the luggage in the car, reversed out of the space and noticed there was an army Land Rover blocking the only exit. Two army men were by the Land Rover, Dad pointed at the Land Rover and one of the men took a cigarette out of his cigarette case, tapped it twice on the lid, put it in his mouth and casually walked inside. After about a minute three of them returned, so Dad with frustration, pointed at the Land Rover again, the army man just starred back. We couldn't see how arguing our point would be a good idea, we proceeded to reverse towards the entrance of the car park and then out into the oncoming Italian free for all traffic.

As I'm writing this I'm realising we reversed past the parking space we were in, so we could have reversed into that and driven forwards into the traffic. Yes we'd be going the wrong way on a one way, but we were anyway, but at least we'd be going forwards. Hindsight when you're not stressed is a wonderful thing...

As we were reversing we were too close to the side and were going to bump it so some men started shouting and signalling to us to straighten up. These men were sitting on a bench by the army men. They then started saying something to the Army and were gesticulating. The army men said something and they seemed to be intimidated into silence and sat back down.

We managed to reverse out without any further problems and set the satnav to where we were staying which would take an hour and ten minutes.

Even with the satnav we got lost and were going in constant loops. We worked out that when it said a right turn it sometimes meant a right fork. The roads were very short so by the time the satnav had told us to make a turn we were already past it.

We finally got onto the Autostrada and kept an eye out for toilet stops. We missed the turn off for a toilet stop almost as soon as we got onto the Autostrada, the instruction to turn came with almost no warning again. We picked up another sign and with our limited Italian managed to work out the sign for the toilets and numbers are the same. I'm basically fluent!

About two and a half hours after I first attempted to go to the loo the mission was completed. There was even a toilet seat! Something I'd never considered a luxury until now.

The view heading into Sorrento
We stayed on the Autostrada for about twenty minutes and then the last half an hour was spent on single lane roads twisting along the coast with sheer rock faces on your left. The traffic is moving at about twenty miles hour allowing you to catch glimpses of the most amazing view to your right between the bushes and tree branches. The Mediterranean sea as far as the eye could see, Mount Vesuvius some distance away but clear as day. The peak appeared to be covered in cloud, but there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I can only assume as it's still an active volcano, these clouds are something to do with the gasses it's releasing. Far below floating on the sea are dozens of boats, yachts and super yachts, either parked in the harbour or sat away from shore having dropped anchor. Fruit stands, ice cream stands and people just parked up to look at the view litter the side of the road. This reminds of some of the places Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan visited in The Trip to Italy.

The traffic is evenly distributed between cars and motorcycles. The majority of the bikes are mopeds and a small amount are classic white or sky blue Vespa's. Everybody wears helmets which makes me wonder is there any point wearing a helmet if you don't accompany it with protective clothing? Although I understand why people take the risk, this really is the ideal way to travel in Sorrento and it's already far too hot without wearing heavy bike leathers.

Driving a car requires you to constantly check your wing mirrors to see if there's a motorcycle coming up on you. They overtake you on blind corners hugging the white line separating them from oncoming traffic, but somebody coming in the opposite direction might be doing the same. It all seems to work though. In the time I was there I never saw an accident or anything close to an accident.

We got to where we were staying and the owner greeted us within five minutes of our arrival. She opened the electronic gates revealing a courtyard for us to park off-road, something that appears to be a luxury in Sorrento.


I wasn't very impressed with the accommodation. The images that are provided on the website don't reflect it's current state accurately. My main issue is that when you list a property in Sorrento on booking.com (that's how we found this accommodation) there are around 152 items you can check so the property appears in your search results if it meets the search criteria. 'Facilities for disabled guests' appears in this properties search criteria which I think is quite naughty. Let me explain.

facilities for disabled
guests isn't even
viewable by default.
'Facilities for disabled guests' isn't even visible in the search criteria unless you click 'show all'. I'm not quite sure what the intention of this checkbox is? The last two sections of the search criteria are about the property and the room accessibility, which cover every search term I can think of.

All this criteria is doing is allowing accommodations like this one to get business from disabled customers. I realise it clearly says 'facilities for' and not 'disabled access', but I was just looking for the disability icon and didn't read what it said. You might say I got what I deserved, but I think a lot of people will make this same mistake.

accessibility criteria

There is a whole section on the booking.com search criteria that is dedicated to disabled access. The property I stayed in could not answer yes to any of these questions.

The bathroom had a floor that was like stepping on ice when it got wet. There were no grab rails around the toilet, the shower was barely big enough to fit a person in. I require a shower chair as I can not stand and I need the arms of the chair to stop me falling to the side and out of the chair. We asked the owner if she could provide a chair. She did and there was barely enough room to fit the chair in and even less room for my elbows and knees.

The gap to get into the shower was so small you had to slide in sideways. When transferring to the shower chair I usually put my wheelchair next to the shower chair and transfer from one chair to the other, but there was barely enough room between the toilet and the shower cubicle and I couldn't fit through the gap to get into the shower on my own, so I had to get my Dad's help. I backed the wheelchair into the gap between the shower and the toilet and on the wet icy floor, trusted my Dad could hold my weight as I flung myself to the shower chair, contorting myself sideways.

There were no grab rails around the toilet, but there was a screw sticking out of the wall, I presume a picture used to hang here. So I would position my chair in front and to the side of the toilet, retract the left arm of my chair, hold the right arm of the chair with my right hand and hold onto the screw with the fingertips of my left hand. If Dad had used the shower beforehand, the floor would be so slippy I couldn't get enough grip to elevate myself to get my trousers down. I asked to get the empty slip matt from the shower but it wouldn't stick to the ice. I had to put trainers on with rubbery soles and dry the floor as well as possible with a towel. From then on we always made sure I showered first so at least I was transferring on a dry floor.

One of the many facilities
for disabled guests?
The main bedroom was up four steps. I was limited to the kitchen, living room and bathroom. There was a bed in the living room I could have used but the bed was tiny and the main bedroom had a double bed... Or so I thought, it actually turned out to be two single beds pushed together. 

There was an outside terrace with a table and chairs and some sun loungers, but again these were up four steps.

There was an overgrown garden, to be fair I think it had been left to over grow on purpose, it would have been a small haven for wildlife. There were lemon and orange trees. It was lovely, it looked like a set from The Godfather. I went to investigate but couldn't go very far, so I had to get Dad to video it and show it to me.

Bar Ercolano

On our first evening Adam and Ruth had already scouted out a wheelchair accessible restaurant we could eat at and had been told they should book in advance if they wanted to eat anywhere in Sorrento as just turning up hoping to get a seat usually ends in disappointment. I don't know if it's like this all year round, but the place is just as busy in the evening as in the day.

Our accommodation was about a five minute walk from Piazza Tiasso and about another five minutes from Adam & Ruth's hotel (Grand Hotel Royal). We met on the ground floor terrace overlooking the coast with Mount Vesuvius in the distance, we would finish the evening with a few drinks here. An option only available to guests of the hotel. The hotel was also five minutes walk from Piazza Tiasso and I got my first taste of the cobbled streets. We walked in the cooling evening heat sharing the streets with dozens of other people, some who seemed to be non-Italian but the majority were. I believe Sorrento is a popular holiday destination for Italians as well.

We stopped at Bar Ercolano which was at the opposite end of the square to where we would be eating. I sat with a big grin on my face, "this is exactly how I pictured Italy" I thought. We were sat outside, it was very warm but it was about 17:30 so it was cooling, but still in the mid twenties, sipping on Aperol Spritz (my drink of choice while in Sorrento) and munching on the snacks they had brought over with our drinks.

Fauno Bar

We then went across the square to Fauno Bar the restaurant we would be eating in. There was a long line of people hoping to get a seat, I doubt they were particularly successful because it seemed pretty full. We went to the front of the queue and were shown to our table. We were sat on the outside corner. The tables are nicely spaced so you've got some privacy, you're not in the middle of the square so people aren't walking by your table, but you're close enough to still say you're in Piazza Tiasso. Then I found out that 'wheelchair accessible' in Italy means "we'll say it is so we get your business".

I needed to go to the toilet, so Adam took me to go and find it. First problem, the toilet is inside and the inside is up a step. Adam asked if one of the waiters could help us. A waiter lifted the front of the wheelchair while Adam lifted the back. "This isn't what I would call accessible, but I've seen worse" I thought.

We asked where the toilets were and were pointed to an arch way in the corner. Adam went to investigate and asked a nearby waitress if there was a disabled toilet, he walked back shaking his head. This wasn't a situation I could delay so I asked if there was at least a bannister. There was and so holding onto the bannister with my left hand and Adam with my right hand I slowly made my way down the steps. Very slowly, because there were about nineteen steps down to the toilet in this 'wheelchair accessible restaurant'. I was knackered when I got to the bottom and then I spotted the toilet seat, or I should say, I spotted the lack of a toilet seat. There weren't even grab rails in this 'wheelchair accessible restaurant'. Adam said the words I was both grateful and embarrassed to hear. "I'll hold you up and look away." I eagerly accepted, but as I was readying for my first stand up wee in years, my shaking hands reminded me I have Ataxia and not being able to stand wasn't the only obstacle. "I'm not going to be able to". So I somehow (and I can't remember how) managed to squat over the toilet and not topple to the side. I think the cubicle was so narrow, I couldn't topple to the side and was able to prop myself up on the wall.

With very tired legs I then made my way up the steps and about ten minutes after I last sat in it, collapsed into my chair. I washed my hands with the hand sanitizer I always carried around and handed it to Adam to do the same. The waiter helped Adam lift the wheelchair down the step so we could return to our table. 

Fortunately it was dessert next and I have a major sweet tooth. I'm not normally one for taking photos of what I eat but holy shirtballs this was amazing! The adventure I'd had moments ago was forgotten.

The food, the setting, the staff everything but the disabled access I would give ten out of ten. If you are disabled I STRONGLY advise you steer clear of it.

Grand Hotel Royal

We strolled back to the 
Grand Hotel Royal and closed out the night on the ground floor terrace overlooking the sea, the boats and the coastline in relative quiet as there were very few people here as this was a private area.

I had to go to the loo again. If you're tired of hearing about the disabled toilets of Sorrento I suggest you don't read on. This blog is basically a tour of the toilets. Grand Hotel Royal's accessibility was excellent. Everything was flat smooth floors, they had ramp access as an alternative to anywhere that had steps to get up to, they had lifts as an alternative to stairs, they had nice wide corridors and most importantly they had a disabled toilet, and we had to ask for the key off reception, it was locked and unavailable to other customers.

I opened the door and I could hear a choir singing a single note as I opened the door 🎵aaaaaaarrrrr🎵 the light came on automatically. There was a retractable grab rail on one side that was fixed to the wall. I was able to shut the door behind as there was so much space.

This is the last thing I remember, my next memory is from waking up the next morning in bed at the accommodation. The bedroom that was up steps... I can't imagine it was easy getting me up their.


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