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A great way to know if something is truly wheelchair accessible is to learn—firsthand—from a wheelchair user who has been there. This is what I offer in this travel guide.
I am C5-6 quadriplegic, and over the years, I have been to many wonderful vacation spots and sights throughout the world, starting with my home in Washington State. I have documented and collected information describing the beauty, the ambience—and most importantly—I have verified the wheelchair accessibility—of over 100 sites around the Evergreen State. In this guide, I include lovely towns, worthy wheelchair accessible trails and walks, and recommended parks, cultural centers, landmarks and museums. I also make sure to include locations of ADA restrooms along the way. My perspective is from my power wheelchair for these excursions.
In planning my trips, I typically choose a charming small town or scenic national park or other intriguing destination, then I fill in nearby wheelchair-friendly activities, hikes and things to do. I have found so many delightful, nicely accessible adventures in Washington State that I decided to write this guide to share the bounty with other wheelchair users who don’t necessarily want to do all the required research.
I hope this guide encourages wheelchair users to get out and about and enjoy more of what life has to offer without having to be concerned if the destinations will really be wheelchair accessible once you get there. Happy trails to you!
My friend has sung praises of Nuevo Vallarta for years. I decided it was time for me to check it out for myself. I was thrilled to find that Puerto Vallarta and nearby Nuevo Vallarta are situated in tropical rainforest along the Pacific coast with the Sierra Madre mountains as a backdrop. It is spectacular!
We stayed at the Vidanta Resort in the Grand Luxxe. We used a free certificate for our stay, but it can also be rented through VRBO. I was absolutely impressed with the wheelchair accessibility of this 300-acre resort complex. Most everything that I experienced was up to American ADA standards – the trails and boardwalks that meander beneath the rainforest canopy, the ramps leading to the restaurants, of which there are 28, and the walkways along the beach— it was well-designed and absolutely fabulous! Our apartment (unit #7141) had a roll in shower, short-length grab bars by the toilet and sinks that I could pull under to use.
It was hard to miss the floral fragrance of fresh-cut lilies as we entered the lobby and our room. And we were eased into sleep each night by live music that drifted up from the floor below us. It was a beautiful experience for all of the senses.
Accessibility was further enhanced by the resort providing golf cart-type shuttles, including wheelchair accessible ones, that could be requested from the bellboy and would arrive within five or 10 minutes. The ramp for the shuttle was steeper than ADA standard, but many helping hands were always willing and available. Hospitality staff took us wherever we wanted to go within the expansive resort. We could also opt to wheel along the vast network of boardwalks and paths. Whichever method we chose, there was plenty of staff that was very warm, hospitable and willing to help in any way we needed. This was a real plus since my husband is aging and I seem to have a larger appetite for distance than I can push on my own—especially in beachfront tropical rainforest. The grounds were replete with wildlife. We saw snowy egrets, a crocodile, iguanas and I could hear calls of tropical parrots—a paradise!
I used only one of the eight swimming pools on the property, the enormous pool nearest the Grand Luxxe. It did not have a water chair/lift. I am able to cling to a sturdy railing and walk down a few steps so this worked for me. I enjoyed refreshing daily swims and basked in the warm sun, poolside, to dry.
Future plans at this Vidanta Resort include construction of a gondola that will take guests across the complex, providing yet another mode of transportation. It is supposed to open December 2020.
On one of our five days in Nuevo Vallarta, we ventured out on a tour called “Amazing Vallarta” with TB tours. Our guide, Gabino, provided wonderful service and it was a fun time with two other couples. We visited the Malecon, or seawall, and our Lady of Guadalupe church. We had a delicious lunch at the edge of a rainforest reserve where I could see zip-liners whizzing by above the forest canopy, whooping in delight. Around the corner, we stopped at a family owned tequila factory where we had a blast doing little mini shots of eight kinds of tequila, reminiscent of crazy college days.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed the Amazing Vallarta tour, I found it to be exhausting to transfer in and out of the van. I even considered staying put on the last stop. For those who have difficulty transferring and cannot take a few steps while holding onto something sturdy, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible. The stops were sometimes challenging too, with cobblestone and very steep ramps, but worthwhile. I did see an option to book a wheelchair accessible van through Viator.com, but for 3.5 times the cost.
When I think back on my visit, I have no doubt that I will come back to this Vidanta Resort. It had excellent wheelchair accessibility and was one of the easiest and most enjoyable places I have vacationed!
A beautiful drive about an hour and a half east of Portland Oregon brings me to the 30+ farmstands, lavender farms, wineries, orchards and the like that compose the Fruit Loop of Hood River. This is a place for families, couples and whoever enjoys beautiful scenery and seeing and learning about places where good things grow and are produced in this wonderful nation of ours. Kids can take a ride on a trolley pulled by a tractor through an orchard at the Fruit Company, pet llamas, pick berries or apples and so much more. It’s a favorite place for me to visit on a sunny afternoon and many of the stops on the loop, like Mountain View Orchards and grateful winery, Kiyokawa Family orchards, are wheelchair friendly.
We are so far north here in Stockholm that it stays light until midnight and then starts getting light again by 3:30 AM. I think it’s pretty cool. I was surprised that Sweden is hillier and harder to wheel than the Netherlands and Belgium. I was also surprised that it is harder to find accessible restrooms around town, mostly old town, unless you are at a museum or airport where accessible restrooms are great.. Stockholm’s Old town has a lumpy-style of cobblestones and hills so it’s not easy.
On day 1 in Stockholm, we did a 3day Hop on Hop off with Stromma City Sightseeing. They advertised as wheelchair accessible but truly was not. No ramp on bus and I had to back my manual chair out and drop several inches to get out. The driver wouldn’t let me out at my requested stop either since he didn’t want to reposition the bus to be closer to the curb to help rampless wheelchair exit. He told us to circle around and get the requested stop the second time around but before we could do that, he stopped at stop number one and told us we had to leave because he was on break. It was terrible service and a wasted vacation day, unfortunately.
Day 2 was better with Stromma HOHO. This bus had a ramp and we went to the Vasa museum which was fascinating. Vasa is an enormous Swedish ship that sank in the 1600’s and then was recovered in 2000’s. It was amazingly preserved in the brackish water. It was an amazing effort to build and very ornate with carved figures that had been painted. I didn’t realize they built such massive ships back then. It was about seven stories high. We also visited the Nordic museum, really about life in Sweden from the 1600s to now, It was less than impressive but wheelchair accessible. That was all the time we had for museums since we lost the first day.
Day 3 was a boat ride to Birka island. It is an old Viking site and is now a UNESCO heritage site. I could not go on the walking tour or see the archeological dig. I was informed of that prior to buying my ticket from Stromma, though, and figured I would like the 2-hr boat ride and spend time in the museum, shop, cafe and re-constructed village. I did this and it was good and my able-bodied husband really enjoyed the walking tour.
Hotel: We stayed at the Hilton Stockholm Slussen hotel which was nicely wheelchair accessible and provided a wonderful breakfast. There was a lot of construction around Stockholm when we were there and this complicated things for us. I wish I could’ve had that extra day to see some other museums in the very nicely accessible area near the Vasa museum.
General observations: Europeans seem to understand the term “disabled toilet” Instead of “wheelchair accessible restroom”. No matter what country I was in, people always offered to help if we were in an obviously difficult situation with steep ramps, etc. In my opinion, the Netherlands and then Belgium were more wheelchair accessible just because of the flat terrain (“nether” means “low”) compared to Stockholm, Sweden. Some areas of Stockholm were pretty good, too, though. Everywhere we went, many people spoke English.
It was a great trip and now it is great to be home!
We rolled into Antwerp Central Station which is an absolutely gorgeous 1800s train station. We walked across the street to our hotel, the Hampton Inn Central station. Excellent choice, excellent accessibility and excellent location. We spent the next couple of days walking down the main street, just around the corner, in the midst of all of the diamond shops and chocolate shops and cafés full of great Belgium beer. This area is also very flat and easy to wheel. We found a park a few blocks away as well with packed dirt trails where I could wheel easily. Our Lady of Antwerp cathedral was very beautiful inside and out and the buildings in general had intricate architecture. Great place for a few days stay.
We set off for Brugge (in French and Bruges in Dutch) by train which is just an hour and a half north west. Bruges is much smaller. We stayed at Martin’s Bruges hotel which is very nice and accessible and right at the edge of the main town square, behind the UNESCO belfry. There is something very unique about the architecture in Bruges. I was told that it was influenced by Romania. I’ve never seen anything quite like the edging on the rooftops. It made me feel like we were in a different century. I signed up for a private walking tour through Viator.com. Our guide took us throughout the city along cobblestone streets to historic places like the cathedral, a palace, and a Beguinage and explained a lot of the history which I found quite interesting. There are loads of cafés and chocolate shops all throughout Bruges and the chocolate is excellent!
It was not that easy to find a wheelchair accessible toilet so I had to come back to the hotel which had great access. Also, I used a freewheel because in some places the cobblestone was pretty bad.
I signed up with a company called Accessible Travel Netherlands (thanks for the recommendation, Cory Lee Woodard) to take a private tour of Amsterdam. I told the guide, Roel, I was interested in history, culture, the Red Light District (I had to at least look!), canals…It was fascinating and our guide did a great job. I learned that the narrow, tall houses that are so prominent and unique in Amsterdam are due to the tax structure way back when where canal frontage area was taxed per square foot. This is why the houses are narrow in front and very deep.
Trams and trains are convenient and wheelchair accessible in Amsterdam. I did have to pop a few minor wheelies to get in and out on occasion. The whole country seems pretty flat and easy to roll except for coming on or off a dike. Many, many bicycles are around so I stayed out of the bicycle lanes. I used a freewheel and was very comfortable rolling everywhere. We only spent two days in Amsterdam and moved on to Rotterdam.
Where Amsterdam has incredible historic buildings and beautiful architecture, Rotterdam has some amazing futuristic-looking modern architecture and fewer historic buildings. The port of Rotterdam is supposed to be the biggest in Europe, and we took a worthwhile Spido cruise and checked that out.
But my big interest in Rotterdam was seeing the Kinderdijk UNESCO site and the windmills. As a water engineer myself, I am very interested in dutch water management. And the dutch sure know how to do it! Kinderdijk is incredible. Over 400 years ago, farmers got together and decided they needed more land and set out to dig a canal with wooden shovels. That canal drained water off the land, and they built windmills to pump the water up from a lower basin to a high basin and then let it flow out to a river. 19 of those windmills from over 400 years ago are still there. The whole concept is hard to believe and incredible to see! I am so impressed with Dutch engineering!
We took a 15 minute Uber ride from Rotterdam to Delft. We visited the royal Delft pottery factory which was established in the 1600s and is still going today. They still do the pottery by hand, crafting and painting it. It was really interesting and very easy in a wheelchair.
To get to Kinderdijk from Rotterdam, I caught the number 202 waterbus at the foot of the Erasmus bridge. It was very easy, very easily accessible and in a half hour I was right at the Kinderdijk windmill area.
Hotels: In Amsterdam, I stayed at the Apollo Ramada City Center, Hotel which was excellent. It was right next to a beautiful Rembrandt park that was easy wheeling and had ponds and canals full of coots and other birds. I would definitely recommend it and stay there again.
In Rotterdam, I stayed at EasyHotel City Center. Although the location was very good being right downtown and next to all sorts of cafés and restaurants, the hotel was not very clean and the bed was not very comfortable. The bathroom Had a 4 inch lip that I had to wheelie over every time I went in and out but had grab bars by the toilet and in the shower, plus a shower bench. I would not stay there again though.
Kinderdijk UNESCO site.
Royal Delft pottery factory, Delft, Rotterdam.