‘Coachable Moment’: Blind Canadian Paralympian Taken Off Cruise Ship

A blind BC man and Paralympian who was taken off a cruise ship on Sunday says the incident is a “coachable moment” for the travel industry.

Swimmer Donovan Tildesley was Canada’s flag bearer at the 2009 Paralympic Games and told Global News that he has traveled extensively solo.

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So he was surprised when he checked in aboard the Virgin Voyages after checking in Scarlet Ladyon Sunday he was told the ship could not accommodate him.

“So I’m sitting at the patio bar… and I’m barely done with my second drink when two people from the ship come up to me and basically say we have some bad news.”

“As a person who is blind and traveling alone, we have determined that there are a number of safety issues that we cannot account for, so you should end the cruise and disembark now.”

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Tildesley said the crew arranged for him to return to a Miami hotel, while he was still struggling to understand what had happened.

He was particularly baffled because his travel agent had written that he was visually impaired and was traveling alone.

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“I thought it was a joke at first. Really? Something similar will happen in 2022, with a company as forward-thinking as Virgin claims to be?” he said.

“I have traveled the world solo. I have been to South Africa myself. I’m skiing double-black diamond runs, including backcountry skiing this season. And you’re telling me it’s not safe to have me on a cruise ship?

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On Sunday evening, Tildesley received a call from Virgin’s senior vice president of fleets, who apologized and told him there had been a “miscommunication,” he told Global News.

The company has since offered to fly him to Honduras on Tuesday to join the ship and will cover the cost of his cruise.

In a statement, Virgin Voyages said it “fell short” in its commitment to the highest standard of customer service.

“We know what needs to be done to prevent this from happening again and are equally committed to making things right,” it said.

“The safety and well-being of our passengers will always be our top priority, and while this has been done out of great caution, we take full responsibility for the situation and are grateful for the opportunity to put things right.”

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Tildesley said that while he’s disappointed he lost a few days off his week-long cruise, he hopes the incident can produce a positive outcome.

“This is also a real coaching moment for people in the travel industry and for cruise ships in general. Just because someone can’t see doesn’t mean they aren’t a skilled traveler,” he said.

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“You have to walk the walk. It’s not good enough to say on your website that you have fully accessible ships and Braille on your elevator. You need to have a strategy for when that passenger will board your ship.”

Global News has reached out to Virgin Voyages for comment.

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