QE2 – New York Adventures

QE2 – New York Adventures

In August 2000, I was sent on an exciting assignment by my employers – North Wales Newspapers. Cunard wanted someone to write an article about the disabled facilities aboard the QE2, on a journey from Southampton to New York. As luck would have it, the local rag had just hired a new employee – a talented writer who just so happens to use a wheelchair for mobility purposes. 

I have split the double page spread that I put together into two parts, for the purposes of this blog. This blog focuses on the time I spent in New York City, and the first part, published last week,  focused on my adventures aboard the QE2. Some of the photographs below are my own, while others have been taken off the internet. You should be able to click on these ‘”borrowed” images to transport you to the site from where I discovered them.  

I hope this article is of interest to my readers. 2021 has been a year of sharing my greatest hits, after all the Groundtastic articles I have published. Fear not though, there are plenty of new and original articles to come. I have been hard at work trying to finish my Memory Match book on Wrexham AFC, which is to be published very soon. 

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this virtual rewind to the year 2000… 


AFTER DISEMBARKING from the great ship with the assistance of designated members of staff we were instructed to wait for a chauffeur who would transport us to our hotel.

The taxi rank was packed with gleaming limousines and smartly dressed men wandering around with obscure sounding surnames scrawled on tatty bits of cardboard.

As the sands of time slowly drifted away there was no sign of our escort and I was eager to explore the core of the Big Apple.

Cunard officials were still on hand to make sure we reached our desired destination, which I found extremely comforting.

It is possible to attain new levels of relaxation when you know that such arrangements will be ironed out for you by friendly, bilingual staff who try to ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.

After a quick word with the representative, she waved her magic wand and assured us that our luxury vehicle would be with us in a matter of minutes.

As we waited, I refreshed myself with the sweet, syrupy taste of America’s national drink, Coca-Cola, and listened to the sounds of the city.

In the distance I could hear the screams of an ambulance weaving though the busy streets of this urban jungle, which provided me with a timely reminder that I would have to be careful over the next couple of days.

Anyone who has ever tuned into NYPD Blue will be familiar with the cities fearsome reputation as a hotbed of crime although it is worth remembering that in 1997 the city boasted its lowest crime rates since 1968 – and the figures are still falling.

Over eight million people live in this sprawling metropolis and it is perhaps surprising to note that as far as per capita crime rates go cities such as Boston, Washington and New Orleans are technically more dangerous.

The siren was getting louder and louder as Nigel and I pondered whether we would climb the Empire State Building or the World Trade Centre.

Our discussions were halted as an ambulance skidded around the corner and came to an abrupt halt in front of us.

Two burly New Yorkers jumped out, opened the rear doors and took out a stretcher for their unfortunate patient but to my surprise they wheeled the clinical contraption in my direction and invited me to hop on.

The considerate Cunard Company was worried that I would not be able to transfer from my wheelchair into a limousine and decided to provide me with a guaranteed comfortable carriage. 

I have always liked to do things differently – it is so cliché to cruise Broadway in a luxurious stretched vehicle, but how many people can claim to have whizzed through the crowded streets of New York in an ambulance?

Our unconventional chauffeurs were extremely friendly and advised us what hot spots to visit during our short stay, before slamming on the brakes in front of the New York Helmsley.


LOCATED between the United Nations building and Grand Central Station, on the notorious 42nd Street, the New York Helmsley is a luxurious 41 story hotel that allows easy access to the galaxy of high class stores on Fifth Avenue.

It would be unfair to compare this business-orientated venue with the splendour found aboard the QE2 but it was nice to be in a less formal and more casual environment.

Cunard had made all the reservations for us in advance and our room was ready upon our arrival.

As we scoured the corridors in search of our room, it was obvious that the building, constructed in 1981, lacked any real character.

The wallpaper was a dull colour, which did not contrast well with the deep red carpet, causing a lack of light and feeling of vibrancy.

All corridors resembled each other, which made it extremely difficult to find your bearings, but this is a common problem that I find in many hotels.

When we did find our room, I was pleased to find that it was wheelchair accessible and included cable television, a clock radio and hairdryer as well as being fully air-conditioned – a welcome relief from the oppressive heat that scorches New York during the summer months.

It was well furnished and attractively decorated while the bathroom was big enough to swing a cat and included all the necessary grab rails for disabled patrons, although yet again there was a bath tub when a roll-in shower would have been more handy.

Families may also be interested to learn that children under the age of 12 are admitted free of charge.

Due to our limited amount of time in New York, we did not investigate the hotel thoroughly but it is important to note that it also includes a gourmet restaurant, piano bar/lounge, room and laundry service and valet parking..

In addition, high-powered businessmen can rent cellular telephones, PCs and office equipment from the Business Centre or book conference rooms for groups of over 300.

Unlike the premier modern day hotels this particular branch of the Helmsley chain lacked a gym and swimming pool but, all in all, this was a very comfortable base from which to explore the beautifully brash city that lay in wait. 

New York Helmsley

212 E. 42nd Street

New York, NY 10017

41 Floors

778 Rooms

Parking is available for $35 per day.

Further information can be found online at www.helmsleyhotels.com


TIME WAS at a premium as the ambulance team were due to take us to the airport for our return journey in 36 hours, so after dumping our luggage we stepped out into the New York sunshine.

There is so much to see and do in this cosmopolitan city that it is difficult to know where to start.

We decided not to rush about like headless chickens in a vein attempt to complete a tour of the main attractions – how many people have had their picture taken, complete with cheesy grin, in front of the Statue of Liberty?

Instead, we wanted to be more original and try to capture the essence of life in Midtown Manhattan, as well as purchasing plenty of souvenirs at bargain prices, when compared to rip-off Britain.

As we traipsed along 42nd Street and Broadway my little town blues melted away due to the awesome architecture that surrounded us.

Grand Central station is a sight to behold while few could fail to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of the Chrysler Building.

Wandering down Fifth Avenue I was swamped by sights of opulence and my poor old credit card took another severe bruising.

Trump Tower, which I preferred to the vast empty spaces of the Rockefeller Centre, is home to a galaxy of designer boutiques and is surrounded by classy stores such as Cartier, Gucci and Harry Winston Jewellers – a favourite of Princess Diana’s.

After the hustle and bustle of this shoppers paradise we hauled our bulging carrier bags through the pleasantly tranquil Central Park.

It is a tribute to Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux – who planned the 840-acre space in the mid-nineteenth century – that people are able to relax, eat picnics and leisurely walk their dogs in the heart of this city.

When you step into this green public space it is as if you have been transported to a parallel universe – only the towering skyscrapers that surround the park reminded me that I was not actually lost in the English countryside.

It is possible to spend several days exploring this glorious heart of Manhattan but Nigel and I marched onwards towards hamburger heaven.

Tom’s Restaurant is situated on Broadway at West 112th Street and is a traditional, greasy spoon diner.

We were attracted to this eatery due to its appearance in episodes of Seinfeld, the vastly under-rated American sit-com.

It serves the usual array of artery clogging meals, which are served without any pretentious frills – a welcome change after eating at the Queens Grill for six days.

There was no need to remember our table manners as an overweight, sweaty chef dumped our greasy cheeseburgers on the table.

By the end of this five-minute meal, which was washed down with a gallon of Coca-Cola, my face was covered with tomato ketchup but my stomach was satisfied.

Sometimes you can get too much of a good thing and our return to cheap fast food was a welcome one.

By now though we were getting tired and poor old Nigel had a blister building on his foot so we decided to call it a day and enjoy a taxi ride back to the hotel.


WITH only a few hours left before our flight home we decided to make a trip to the Southern tip of Manhattan where the Financial District is situated.

This meant a walk through Washington Square Park and Greenwich Village – a vibrant, fashionable part of town, which is home to quaint side streets and more restaurants per head than anywhere else in New York City.


We didn’t get lost thanks to our trusty map but holidaymakers should be aware that Greenwich Village, which seems to have a bar on every corner, does not conform to the city’s established numbered street pattern.

Indeed, this area is unrecognisable from Midtown Manhattan and attracts the bohemian individual – Dylan Thomas enjoyed his final drink here at the White Horse Tavern (567 Hudson at West 11th Street).

As we walked we used the World Trade Centre Towers as our guide and were determined to scale their impressive height.

When we arrived at the Financial District I began to feel like an extra in a 21st Century re-make of Land of the Giants as imposing skyscrapers dwarfed me.

The twin towers of the Trade Centre are not exactly beautiful but their sheer size cannot fail to take your breath away – the plaza is closed in winter as icicles dropping from the towers can kill.

We decided to climb to the 107th Floor of 2 World Trade Centre but faced heartbreak when confronted with a massive queue for tickets.

Time was against us and we were about to start the long trek back to our hotel when two love-sick New Yorkers approached us and offered us their tickets free of charge before running off arm in arm – we didn’t even have chance to thank them properly.

This generous gift was warmly appreciated as the view from the top was amazing: absolutely everything is below you.

The only slight disappointment was the fact that I couldn’t gain access to the roof via the escalator – I could hardly complain though as I had got free admission after all.


NEW YORK CITY is so vast that Nigel and I could not hope to cover the entire area in only a few days – ideally, you need a fortnight at least to enjoy all of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Although, I had a fantastic time touring the Big Apple, I did find that facilities for the disabled were poor and I doubt whether I could cope without a helping hand.

However, on my return home I did a little research and discovered that this city is considered wheelchair friendly – as long as you know where to look.

Using the subway system is next to impossible even with assistance and although improvements are being made progress is slow.

The bus system is preferable as all Mass Transit Authority (MTA) buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts and locks and also has a ‘kneel’ system for those with other mobility difficulties – a Braille subway map is also available from the MTA.

Taxis may be viable for those with visual, hearing or slight mobility difficulties but for those of you who use a wheelchair – forget it.

Cab drivers will merely drive past your outstretched arm if they think they might have to grapple with your wheelchair.

Whilst in Boston a few years ago I was refused a lift on three occasions because the drivers all-protested they had bad backs.

If they do stop they are required to provide you with assistance by law – a standard collapsible wheelchair should fit into the boots of most yellow cabs.

However, when I have made it into the back seat of one of these vehicles I find that a lack of leg room makes the journey most uncomfortable.

My main gripe is with the lack of accessible public toilets – I thought my bladder was about to burst as we frantically searched for somewhere that I could ‘powder my nose’.

We rushed in and out of posh hotel lobbies where all we encountered were signs that proclaimed ‘Restrooms for patrons only’.

I almost reserved a room just so that I could use the toilet – finally a kind diner owner allowed me access to his female toilets while Nigel stood guard outside to prevent unsuspecting women from getting a nasty surprise.

Next time though I’ll make sure I’ve done my homework and know where to look for the public euphemisms.

Indeed, there is plenty of information at the disabled travellers’ disposal as New York is home to many of America’s largest disabled services and advocacy groups.

The key for a happy holiday here, or any where else in the world, seems to depend on advance preparation and the gathering of the relevant information from the World Wide Web or travel guides.

Nigel and I aboard the QE2

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