Home News Local news Blind Tour Group Receives Robust V.I. Welcome

Blind Tour Group Receives Robust V.I. Welcome

Blind Tour Group Receives Robust V.I. Welcome

Blind tourists enjoying the feeling of the sand at Bolongo Beach. (Photo Karen Elowitt)A group of almost 50 blind and partially-sighted travelers took St. Thomas by storm Tuesday, completing a joyful whirlwind tour of the island amid a hearty welcome from government, tourism, and transit officials.

The group, whose motto was "Sea-ing Our Dream," arrived on the Carnival Dream as part of a seven-day cruise that also included stops in Nassau and St. Martin.

The trip was arranged by Michigan-based Best Cruises and Tours, and included 49 blind people and their companions from all over the United States. Owner Terry Horvath, who is himself partially-sighted, spent the better part of 20 months organizing the trip, and the effort paid off.

"We’re just so thrilled with how well everything has gone," Horvath said during lunch at Iggie’s, which was provided by the V.I. Department of Tourism. "The outpouring of support from the community has been overwhelming."

That outpouring was initiated by Bruce Flamon of Flamon’s Taxi & Island Tours, who Horvath contacted when he was planning the trip. Flamon not only agreed to take the group on tour for a reduced rate, but offered to reach out to the community to find sources for additional help and assistance.

Flamon’s efforts created a snowball effect which led to various organizations—such as the VI Taxi Commission, the Tourism Department, the Governor’s office, and the Association for Independent Living—all lining up to smooth the way for the visitors.

"I’m just so excited that all these agencies came out to support these blind travelers," Flamon said.

The special accommodations began at the start of the day, when the West Indian Company arranged for the ship to berth at the first spot in the cruise ship dock, which made it easier for the group of 49 to board the tour buses and vans.

Flamon’s Taxi & Island Tours provided five vehicles for the more mobile travelers, and the Association for Independent Living provided two vans for the five wheelchair-bound passengers. Five staff members and 12 volunteers from the association drove in four additional cars.

To assist the 11-vehicle caravan during the morning island tour, the V.I. Taxi Commission provided two police escorts to keep traffic moving and and to keep the group safe when stopped at viewpoints such as Drake’s Seat, Pilgrim’s Terrace and Beacon Point.

Lunch at Iggie's was provided courtesy of the Tourism Department. (Photo Karen Elowitt)"Those spots are not very conducive to large groups, so we wanted to give them whatever help we could," said Taxi Commissioner Judith Wheatley. "We’re very satisfied with how it went."

Flamon said that he and the other tour guides modified their narrative to take into account the fact that most of the group could not see the sights they were driving past. He said he described the colors and shape of the ocean, trees and animals, while the travelers soaked in the sounds, feel and smell of the island.

The group arrived at Iggie’s around 2 p.m. for its complimentary buffet lunch. Bolongo Beach resort manager Paul Doumeng said that initially the resort had planned a low-key lunch of burgers and salads, but then it morphed into something much bigger and more festive.

"It was like a steamroller," Doumeng said. "Everyone started getting excited about the event, then Tourism got involved, and they said they’d pay for it."

The luncheon, which consisted of jerk chicken, fried plantains, other West Indian dishes, also included musical entertainment by blind accordionist Oleik Debee, and the presentation of a
ceremonial plaque by Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone.

Malone, who was accompanied on the stage by Wheatley, Doumeng, and Alani Henneman-Todman of the Tourism Department, presented the plaque to Horvath and his wife, Patty, as a welcoming gesture to the group. Each member of the tour group also got a gift bag containing a T-shirt or hat, local candies, and a piece of sugar cake.

Henneman-Todman said that the Virgin Islands prides itself on being accommodating to blind and disabled visitors and is trying to make it even more so.

"Even though they don’t see what we see, they can still experience what makes the Virgin Islands unique," she said.

"We’re working on making our product and infrastructure friendly and accessible."

Henneman-Todman added that the Tourism Department’s website lists services that can help disabled visitors navigate the island, and staffers can also provide lists of accessible hotels, restaurants and attractions upon request.

After lunch the group split up, with some going to Havensight to shop, and some staying behind at Bolongo to sit on the beach, swim, or go jet skiing.

Most of the people in the group had never been to the Virgin Islands, and many had not been on vacation for a very long time. Horvath said that 70 percent of blind people never find employment, which means very few can afford any type of holiday, let alone a cruise.

Judging from the response of the travelers, their day on St. Thomas was a treat, and the red carpet treatment was much appreciated.

"The welcome we had here was over the top," said James Van Horn from Pennsylvania. "It was really nice. Everyone had a blast, and the level of comfort was superb. Being blind is hard, and most of the time we’re stressed and tense, but not today!"

Colleen Kitagawa from Minnesota didn’t seem to have a care in the world as she gingerly navigated the rough water and hot sand of Bolongo Beach.

"St. Thomas is very impressive," she said. "It’s been amazing to learn about the history and culture and cuisine of the island. And all the volunteers have been great. We couldn’t have asked for better help."

Due to the success of the trip, Horvath said that he hopes to repeat it again next year with even more people.


  1. This is another “Together we can” success story of the heart”! Hurrah to all who showed they cared by not only facilitating but putting all of that positive energy into this most worthy event. THIS kind of caring for others is what will make our Islands great to the world…How very very wonderful!
    Bonny Corbeil, St. John.


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