A slightly different Morocco Trip Report

Apr 21st, 2019, 10:37 AM
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A slightly different Morocco Trip Report

We recently spent 10 nights in Morocco on a private tour. I got a lot of great information here and thought I’d do a slightly different kind of trip report based on travel planning thoughts I have in retrospect. It might help others in their Morocco trip planning.

A few notes about our traveling style/itinerary:

- We’re independent travelers who have some new challenges with my husband’s mobility so this trip was definitely a learning experience for us. Some of my travel planning comments are more relevant to those with mobility issues.
- We only had 10 nights, and know we will return to Morocco, so we didn’t explore the south or west coast; we prefer to minimize one-night stays – the ones in our itinerary below were essentially transit days (although we enjoyed them very much and they became part of the highlights of our trip)

Our final itinerary and accommodation:

- Marrakech 3 nights – Riad Adore in the Medina
- Agdz 1 night – Kasbah Azul (driving the High Atlas Mountains enroute to our desert camp in the South)
- Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp 2 nights (two hours off road from M’Hamid)
- Zagora 1 night – Riad Lemane
- Flight from Zagora to Casablanca – private driver to Fez (via Meknes/Volubilis)
- Fez 3 nights – Riad Laaroussa in the Medina
- Private driver back to Casablanca in the morning for mid day flight to Malaga

Here's a map of our itinerary - it's not perfect because the return portion between Zagora and Casablanca was a short flight.




We had a great trip – if you’re planning a trip, I’d recommend considering the following questions:

- In Fez or Marrakech stay in the Medinas, or not?
- Go to the desert or not? (and which one?)
- Driver or drive yourself? (and should you fly for some legs?)
- Marrakech or Fez? Discuss.
- Go to the coast?

My comments below:·

In Fez or Marrakech stay in the Medinas, or not?

In both places you can stay in the Medinas, or adjacent to them. (My cursory examination of hotels adjacent to the Medinas is they were more traditional or resort style hotels versus the traditional Riad Style in the Medinas). The main thing for us staying in the Medinas was the streets are all pedestrianized so we had to consider the added walking for Richard (in/out - this was more an issue in Fez than Marrakech as Fez’s Medina is much bigger and the walk was longer). It also pretty much means you’re staying in a Riad style hotel (forgive me if that’s wrong – it was my observation).

Riads are basically an open hollow square anchored by an open interior courtyard, fountains and trees in the courtyard and a small number of rooms looking into the courtyard. For the most part your Riad room windows look to the interior rather than having an exterior view. This is charming but can mean less privacy and noise (from guests, etc). Another consideration with Riads is they typically are multi storey, with steep, often winding staircases. We were aware of this and managed with Richard’s mobility but it’s a heads up for anyone with issues (including lousy knees!). FYI many Riads have main floor rooms so the stairs can be avoided (unless meals are served on the roof – be sure to ask – we found them very accommodating moving meals to the courtyard)

If you choose to stay in the Medina I highly recommend arriving there via transport arranged by the Riad. They easily and seamlessly coordinate your pickup with your driver at the nearest gate and bring a porter to transport your luggage. In our case we found the cost of Riad-arranged transport very modest and the best way to go for us (in and out). In the case of the Marrakech Riad we arrived after dark and there is no bloody way we would have found it on our own!

I’m very glad we stayed in the Medinas – it would have been a very different experience staying outside (less preferable in our case). But it has some unique qualities that are good to know in advance.
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Apr 21st, 2019, 12:29 PM
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Go to the desert or not? (and which one?)

I looked at a lot of trip reports and small group tours to get a sense of a typical Morocco itinerary. Many include a night in a tented desert camp (almost all in Merzouga – see map below - Merzouga on the right/M'Hamid below it to the left). We have spent quite a bit of time in the desert in various places and know we really enjoy it so a desert visit was sure to be on our itinerary.




As I read about the various camps near Merzouga I was a bit disappointed. For the most part it was a one night stay in a tented camp (a short drive from town/arrive late afternoon/ride a camel/have dinner/leave the next morning); often accompanied by the prior night in a hotel near the desert. While the tented camps were small (10-15 tents) many of them seemed to be in the same area and were one on top of the other (full disclosure – there are likely more isolated camps but I didn’t pursue this area in detail).Early on in my research I found a camp near M’Hamid (west of Merzouga – see map). It appealed to me right away – relatively few numbers of tents (16), very isolated (a 2 hour off road drive across the desert) and various activities offered over a 2 or 3 night stay (Camel rides – of course! And an oasis/farm visit and Berber visit plus the overall off-road drive into and out of the camp which we knew we would enjoy all on its own).I contacted the owner of the camp (Nick, a delightful ex-pat Brit) who subsequently worked with me to plan/book our trip … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

https://www.desertcampmorocco.com/

We had a great time at the camp – we spent two nights (and three days) there …. a perfect amount of time for us.

Our tent was very comfortable (and very similar to the offerings in Merzouga) --- a large bedroom with a very comfortable king size bed and an adjacent bathroom tent which had a chemical toilet (think boat but bigger), a hand basin with an urn of water with a spigot and two large copper pots filled with hot (on demand) and cold water for “showering”. (you use a bowl to mix and to “shower”). Our motto is we can do anything for two nights!

There were many comfortable communal seating areas, a bar/entertainment tent and the dining tent. The camp was about half full while we were there – with an utterly delightful group of travelers. We were the oldest (hah!) …. There were two great kids ages 6 and 8 who had been traveling with their parents for 3 months; and another couple with two teenagers. We had great conversations about traveling, politics, food – everything and anything.

The whole desert experience was greatly enhanced by our fantastic driver who picked us up in Marrakech and was with us for the next 4 nights – Schtookie. (that’s my phonetic spelling – it’s a nickname). From the minute we met in Marrakech we knew we would have a great time with him.

Off we went from Marrakech and drove across the Atlas Mountains (staying at Agdz for one night) and then into the desert to the camp.Schtookie was great about Richard’s mobility issues. He has a new vehicle with great suspension and he was very solicitous about helping Richard and avoiding rough terrain (as much as that is possible in the desert!). But mainly he was great fun and we spent hours talking about all manner of things – nothing was out of bounds.

The food in the camp was very good – breakfast was a buffet of fruit/meat/cheeses/pancakes/yogurt/juice/etc. We had lunch one day at a farm/oasis about an hour’s drive away – they packed everything up from camp and grilled delicious kebobs with salads and pastas. Our lunch on our last day was a picnic which we enjoyed at an oasis on our drive out. The two dinners we had were tagines (one night lamb, one night chicken) with lots of veggies/cous cous as accompaniments. There was a bar tent which was part of the all-inclusive price – premium alcohol and wine/beer. Wine was served with all meals. (and for our picnic! Bonus!)

The first morning the group was going for a camel ride about 10am. This was a tough call for Richard. With his mobility issues - should he or shouldn’t he? We have ridden camels before so were aware of the mechanics of it – getting on/off and the camel’s gait. The staff were terrific – they wanted to do anything to help him do the ride…. Even if it was just to get on for a photo opp. In the end he decided not to (the right decision we believe). I didn’t go that day – we were happy to lounge in the camp and await our drive to the oasis for lunch.

That night at dinner they offered a sunrise camel ride the next morning – I couldn’t turn that down. (we’re learning how to travel with different mobility skills – it’s a learning experience). So at 6am I joined many of the group for a wonderful camel ride on the dunes with a stop where we got off the camels to walk up a big dune to watch the sunrise. (note to self – do NOT compare your sand dune climbing skills to a 6 and an 8 year old). It was glorious – I will insert pics

So – wrapping up this section of “Go to the desert or not? (and which one?)” – we chose the right desert experience for us. I’ve highlighted our experience mainly because most itineraries will lead you to Merzouga as M’Hamid/Chigaga is lesser known (and less developed). This was the right choice for us for many reasons and if you’re researching options I urge you to consider the alternative to Merzouga. (it’s not cheap though – but for us was good value).

Last edited by Elizabeth_S; Apr 21st, 2019 at 12:37 PM.
Elizabeth_S is online now  
Apr 21st, 2019, 01:06 PM
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Wonderful start to your trip! It brings back memories for me - I can't believe it's been a year since we were in Morocco!

I'm enjoying your description of the desert camp. I'd love to go back and stay again - there was such a sandstorm the night we were there, we weren't able to walk out much. And I bypassed the camel ride at the time (though with all the sand, that probably was a good call), but missed the photo op!

Looking forward to the rest!
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Apr 21st, 2019, 03:23 PM
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Enjoying this. It's been twenty-five years since my trip to Morocco. Your descriptions bring it all back! As someone who now has impaired mobility, I am very interested in how Richard was able to be accommodated. We are still figuring out how we will travel.
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Apr 21st, 2019, 08:52 PM
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Signing on. Your desert experience sounds great, but I have retired from camel riding!
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Apr 22nd, 2019, 07:59 AM
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I thought I could add pics anytime. I guess the edit feature times out. Here are a few desert pics



Sunrise on the dune


Desert camp

Our tent. Bedroom on right/bathroom on left

Rock art on way

Me in middle trying not to fall off while taking pic

Desert camp

On the drive

On the drive

Approaching the summit
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Apr 22nd, 2019, 08:15 AM
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Following with interest Elizabeth as we haven't been to Morocco yet. New daughter in law's father is Moroccan so we hope to go with them one day. Not sure I''m brave enough to ride a camel but I love the photos!
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Apr 22nd, 2019, 08:20 AM
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I'll be interested to follow this. We spent 6+ weeks in Morocco this past winter, my 7th trip, DH's 2nd. One of our favorite countries on earth!
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Apr 22nd, 2019, 10:00 AM
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Driver or drive yourself?

I considered renting a car based on trip reports and conversations with other posters but in the end chose to hire a driver. This was already an ambitious trip for our “travel training wheels” exploration of traveling with mobility issues so I thought it better to be cautious.Having said that we easily could have driven ourselves – the roads were good (well, quite a bit of construction but that’s just like home!); the drivers were good and we would have saved quite a bit. My travel quote broke out transportation separately and it was a big expense. But I don’t have any regrets as we had a great time with Schtookie (and Omar who was our driver both ways from Casablanca to Fez). As mentioned earlier I was happy to have Omar coordinating with the Fez Riad to pick us up at the gate. In Marrakech the Riad arranged our airport pick up and also coordinated the porter upon arrival. But if you’re considering a private trip definitely give thought to driving some or all of it yourself (if you like driving of course!)

Marrakech or Fez? Discuss.

This “rumination” relates more to shorter trips (like ours) where you might have to/want to choose one or the other city to visit. When I was researching the trip, I was struck by how often there were polar opinions about Marrakech and Fez – if you liked one you didn’t like the other as much (kind of like Florence and Venice).

So in the great Marrakech or Fez debate we come down on the side of ….. Marrakech (staying in the Medina)

There are several reasons for that. First Marrakech was more easily accessible for Richard so that was obviously a major influencer. Marrakech is flat as a pancake. OTOH Fez Medina is built on the side of a hill. While it’s not really steep there is a definite steady decline from top to bottom (we didn’t see any stairs but there might be a few where the decline is steeper). We learned that walking down a prolonged slope is difficult for Richard (and something for his physiotherapist to work on!). So that limited his enjoyment of Fez – he did not go on the walking tour for example.

We had one day in Marrakech on our own wandering around the Medina/souk and one day with a private guide. The first day wandering around by ourselves was a delight – the people were incredibly friendly and we truly enjoyed the souk. (our experience in Cairo was not enjoyable due to the shopkeepers’ sales tactics – we found Morocco overall to be very different and Marrakech a particular highlight). The day with the private guide was also terrific – I booked at the last minute on toursbylocals.com (as I try not to load up too many non-cancellable commitments now). The guide was lovely – here is his contact info

https://www.toursbylocals.com/Marrak...ersonalShopper

With Mehdi we sampled a lot of food in the market – that was great fun. The other thing about Marrakech (for us) was it fit our “image” of what Morocco would look like (which we learned was one dimensional as soon as we got up north!). The Medina is umbre coloured and felt somehow more exotic to us.

Another reason for our favouring Marrakech was an unfortunate incident with some kids in Fez. They decided we should tip them (for services not rendered) and proceeded to crowd Richard (and his cane) and toss some small rocks our way for good measure. It was near where we were staying and the Riad management has attempted to deal with the kids’ parents (they live near the Riad). Of course, this could have happened anywhere and we have not let this colour our overall lovely trip and true enjoyment of Morocco. I mention it here as a partial explanation of our preference for Marrakech and as, I suppose, a reminder to be vigilant no matter where you are.

I would definitely say visit both – but if time is short Marrakech checks a lot of boxes!

Last edited by Elizabeth_S; Apr 22nd, 2019 at 10:03 AM.
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Apr 22nd, 2019, 10:10 AM
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A few Marrakech pics



The main square in the Médina. Complete with snake charmers

On the way to the Riad

On the way to the Riad

I love this picture of Richard as he’s doing what he loves to do after major health issues and significant back surgery. Wearing his cane as a bracelet!

The leather hides were everywhere with auctions underway

Our Riad Adore courtyard

On the way to the Riad. I took pics of key markers to be sure to find our way back st night when it seems you’re in a tunnel
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Apr 22nd, 2019, 10:36 AM
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Love your report!
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Apr 22nd, 2019, 10:42 AM
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This report brings back memories of our tour in Morocco 30-40 years ago. We were hosted at standard hotels, rode in a tour bus, and had set meals, which were good, no desert segment, and the camel was a photo op (Mrs. P on the camel, me holding its leash). As for kids wanting a tip, one latched onto us at the square in Fez, pointing things out, advising ("You know you are trying to bargain down a price by 13 cents?") so he earned his tip. Also I remember the world's best oranges.
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Apr 22nd, 2019, 11:06 AM
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Should you fly for some legs?

Oops – forgot this subset to my “Driver or Drive Yourself” comments.As mentioned the owner of our desert camp helped organize the trip/itinerary. It was his suggestion to fly from Zagora to Casablanca as a way of avoiding a long haul north via car (most of the other guests in the desert camp had driven from Fez - they thought it was a great idea to fly! In fact one couple ended up flying back to Casablanca instead of driving once they learned from us they could fly out of Zagora).

Nick's suggestion really made this itinerary possible. We left the desert camp about noon and visited a Berber family and had our oasis picnic and then drove a couple of hours to Zagora and spent the evening at a beautiful hotel (Riad Lemane). The next morning Schtookie picked us up early to take us to the airport (he lives in Zagora). The airport is brand new – and tiny. We breezed in and onto the plane easily and landed in Casablanca about 90 minutes later. Omar picked us up and we drove to Fez via Meknes and Volubilis (more later about those sights). We arrived at the Riad by late afternoon, having had a very satisfying travel/touring day. The drive from Casablanca to Fez was terrific – the geography was completely different from the south – so lush and fertile and bursting with fresh colours of green as everything was coming into bloom. If you told me I was in Tuscany I would have believed it.We flew Royal Air Maroc – I booked it online and it was about 30 euros each – great value. As I understand it they are increasing their intra-Morocco schedule so flying between locations is more viable (although service isn’t necessarily daily so you have to plan around the flight schedules – the Zagora to Casablanca flight worked out for our itinerary).I would not have considered flying for a portion had Nick not suggested it – passing along the tip for others to consider.
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Apr 22nd, 2019, 11:17 AM
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A few pics of the drive to Fez



Enroute to Fez

Lousy pic out car window showing lushness

Meknčs - royal stables

Meknčs -royal stables

Volubilus

Town near Volubiilus

Reservoir between volubilis and fez

Squash vendor


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Apr 22nd, 2019, 12:33 PM
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Thank you for taking the time to share and post your photos. Love the incredible variety in the Moroccan landscapes.
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Apr 22nd, 2019, 03:07 PM
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Enjoying your report and your photos. I was surprised to hear that you can now fly from Zagore to Casablanca. A flight or two could make an itinerary that was once impossible work well.
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Apr 23rd, 2019, 05:40 AM
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Great photos and report!

I had to do a double take as I thought that the photo of Richard looked like my husband, Michael, as we were in the same location and (except for the beard) have similar looks.

I hope you don't mind my sharing this, but it did make me smile!
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Apr 23rd, 2019, 06:24 AM
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progol - LOL - they must go to the same stylist! (BTW Michael is the spitting image of my brother! - same 'stache!)
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Apr 23rd, 2019, 06:44 AM
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Go to the coast?

Again, this subject is influenced by our having only 10 days – for a longer itinerary I’d say it’s a must do if only for the great food I’ve read about.

In our case I could have swapped out the Fez days for Essaouira (and probably Taroudant/area). That itinerary could have worked well with the M’Hamid desert camp location too. I didn’t give it a great deal of thought as I assumed this was only our first trip to Morocco and I didn’t sweat over trying to see everything. And I suppose in the back of my mind was the possibility of a longer term stay in Essaouira/area (a la St Cirq) for our escape from Toronto winters.

But if you very much wanted to see the coast and had a shorter itinerary, I think it makes a lot of sense to do Marrakech/Coast and save Fez/north for another visit.
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Apr 23rd, 2019, 07:36 AM
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Comments on mobility issues

As mentioned, this was our most challenging destination since Richard’s surgery and subsequent mobility issues. He now walks with a cane and can have some sudden right leg weakness and fatigue. He “graduated” to the cane from a rollator walker about 8 months ago but we took his walker to have it as back up for crowded areas (it gives him protection from being bumped and people are quick to give him space when they see it). As it came around the baggage carousel off our first flight of the trip (in Spain) we could see it had been broken beyond repair. So much for Plan B.It would have been nice to have – probably would have made the walking in Fez easier. But we survived with just the cane (and next time we might try walking poles too).


Here are some things we learned/worked for us:
  • We ordered a wheelchair assist in every airport. I didn’t do it when I made the initial bookings months earlier but was able to add it online. We learned this is essential for us – he might be fine in some smaller airports but it is completely unpredictable. And the wheelchair assist means you go through security and customs/immigration in a (usually) shorter line. And it guarantees preboarding --- most airlines were careful to check his boarding pass allowed him to preboard. (I’m not used to that in Canada as our airlines let passengers self select at the gate.) Bear in mind it can add a lot of time in the airport and you can spend a lot of time waiting (as they tend to do the transfers in “relays” – one attendant takes you to a central place where the next picks you up sometimes in a golf cart/sometimes in a wheelchair)
  • Other than the flights across the Atlantic all our flights departed from the tarmac via a bus and stairs up to the plane. Be sure to consider that when booking flights (although you might have little choice). In Richard’s case he can navigate to the bus and up the stairs (slowly). On one leg the wheelchair assist included separate bus transportation to the plane and a truck that rose to the level of the plane door (like a catering truck). There was a different level of wheelchair assist I could have ordered if he could not climb the stairs – I’m not sure what that would look like as we didn’t see it.

    I’ll bravely venture into the subject of tipping the wheelchair assistants. For longer transfers/complicated transfers/added services we did tip (if the attendant didn’t run away so fast I didn’t have a chance!). For the short little relays we didn’t. When I approach an airport I ensure I have small bills/coins in the local currency – failing that I carry U.S. one dollar bills which no one has refused.

    Obviously, this is very personal. We are not big tippers ordinarily. We are so incredibly grateful for this service as it means we can continue to travel independently and some of the assistants really went above and beyond and/or pushed Richard a great distance. (ducks head now awaiting incoming tipping opinions
  • I communicated with all the hotels advising them of Richard’s mobility issues. Our first preference was for a ground floor room but that wasn’t always possible. The response was terrific – as I mentioned one riad (Fez) counted and measured the height of all the stairs to our room and offered to serve our meals on our level. In Marrakech they brought breakfast to the room. When we arrived at our ground floor room in Agdz there was a surprise steep step up to the bathroom (damn I didn’t ask about stray stairs – note to self) and no other room available. So they fashioned a lower step and anchored it in place for him which was great (as we left the owner said he was going to make that a permanent addition and thanked US!). I also checked with all the hotels to ensure the showers were walk in (not in a bathtub). While they were, we would have loved a grab rail or two but that’s a “nice to have” at this point not a “need to have”.
  • In the desert camp Nick kindly assigned us the closest tent to the bar and dining tent (bonus!) and the staff could not have been more helpful – they also fashioned some additional aides for Richard in the bathroom tentAs mentioned I find it better not to make too many upfront tour arrangements (walking tours/etc) as Richard’s stamina can be unpredictable. I’m really liking toursbylocals.com – I found I could book a day or two in advance and the guides were terrific. It’s also a really easy web interface and payment mechanism. (and includes a low cost cancellation fee if you choose it)
  • In galleries and museums we found guards were always gracious if Richard asked to sit on their chair for a few minutes (absent an alternative obviously).
  • I try to ALWAYS have an “exit strategy” if Richard suddenly feels fatigued. That might be just a few minutes in a café or having preloaded a local taxi app (or know Uber is available and tested it) if we need to move quickly. Obviously pedestrianized areas pose a different challenge (which we experienced in Malaga and Valencia in addition to Morocco). I figure out the walking distance in metres if we’re going to a specific site as that helps us judge how his stamina will play out. It’s not always perfect but it works most of the time.

Mainly it’s still a learning experience. We’re still learning how to travel with different abilities. I’m learning how to do some things on my own after 40 years of traveling together. And I am constantly learning new things to add to my list (oh that restaurant we’ve reserved at has no ground floor tables – could you set one up? Yes!) But it's all worth it - we have a new normal and between us making accommodations and some fabulous help we receive along the way, it's possible for us to travel independently for now.

Please don't hesitate to ask ANY question.
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