Ella and the Family Enjoy a Vacation to Tennessee

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by Michael Casten |

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The back of our accessible van was loaded with luggage. We set the trip odometer to zero and zoomed off to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

It was a nine-hour drive and the kids did a great job of being patient. One of our church friends gifted us a timeshare condo at Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort and Spa 10 minutes outside of Gatlinburg. It was early evening when we arrived, and after getting our condo, which was accessible, we swam in the outdoor pool. Ella loved the condo as it had ample space for her wheelchair, a roll-in shower, and an automatic front door.

We stayed at the resort for eight days. There was something different to do each day. We traveled to Gatlinburg and went to many of the tourist spots. The kids enjoyed the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” museum, the Gatlinburg aquarium, a 5D movie, and several restaurants and ice cream shops. We bought souvenirs from local stores and enjoyed seeing all the people walking around downtown Gatlinburg.

When we spent time at the condo, we played video games and enjoyed the view of the Great Smoky Mountains. We swam in the outdoor pool and took advantage of the water park that was part of the complex. We stopped at a grocery store before arriving in Gatlinburg and purchased food and drinks to keep at the condo. It was like a home away from home. 

Both Ella and her mom, Lindsay, were tooling around in their wheelchairs the entire time. Sometimes Ella pulled her mother around, other times I pushed Lindsay, and still other times, Lindsay drove herself. We did what we could to make this an enjoyable family vacation.

It’s amazing to see Ella and Lindsay navigate their wheelchairs in crowds of people. Ella knew exactly how to maneuver around the crowded sidewalks and crosswalks. She did an exceptional job navigating the shops we visited, making sure to not bump into displays or people. She navigated crowded restaurants, tourist attractions, and the complex as well.

If not for the Americans with Disabilities Act, our vacation would have looked much different. Handicap parking spaces, accessible bathrooms and venues, and ramps at crosswalks provided Ella and Lindsay with ample opportunity to enjoy the sites as anyone else would have. 

Being together on our vacation adventure provided us with the opportunity to grow closer as a family. We relied on one another for fun, games, and relaxation. We had to work as a team to navigate the complex and the downtown area. We took a lot of pictures and videos so we could remember the time we had together. We are so grateful to our church friend for gifting us the timeshare and feel we made the most of the gift.

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The Castens in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, July 2019. (Courtesy of Michael Casten)


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