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Wheelchair accessible travel, destinations & more!

Traveling is a joy that everyone should be able to experience, regardless of mobility. Fortunately, many destinations around the world are becoming increasingly accessible to wheelchair users. From the neon lights of Las Vegas to the historic streets of Washington D.C., plus cruises too! Accessibility is opening doors to some of the world's most exciting cities for everyone. In this guide, I will share some key destinations renowned for their wheelchair-friendly attractions, accessible accommodations, and tips to make your travels smoother and stress-free.


Wheelchair Accessible Travel: Popular Destinations

My mom on her mobility scooter in Cozumel
My mom on her mobility scooter in Cozumel

Cruise Lines: The cruising industry has made significant strides in accessibility. Many cruise ships offer staterooms designed for wheelchair users, complete with roll-in showers and wider doorways, along with access to most public areas. Accessible cabins are great on a cruise ship, but there are times they do sell out. So be aware that cruise lines do prohibit scooters to be left in hallways near the stateroom, but cruise lines will be accommodating. In fact, NCL offered to take my moms from the hallway every night when she was done using it to charge it during the night, and to prevent it from being in the hallway. It is considered a fire hazard in the hallway because they do block a portion of the hallway. Recently Carnival Cruise line has made it clear that if you are taking scooters onto the ship, you must keep the scooter in your room due to safety reasons. 


From the lush panorama of the Caribbean to the timeless allure of the Mediterranean, modern cruise lines are upping their game when it comes to accessibility. Royal Caribbean boasts of their revolutionary "Autism Friendly" certification, while the Norwegian Joy ship features a virtual reality wonderland that's completely accessible. At sea, you usually have a choice of onshore excursions adapted to wheelchair users. The days of "it's just not possible" are a thing of the past, as the sky's—quite literally—the limit.


rented mobility scooter from Scootaround for my moms cruise.
rented mobility scooter from Scootaround for my moms cruise.

If the ship is using a tender boat to get to shore, it will be difficult for someone with disabilities or limited mobility to travel to that port. Manual Wheelchairs can be taken aboard, but usually the wheelchair cannot be loaded onto a tender boat if the person is more than 50 pounds. So that limits a lot, unless you can walk onboard yourself, and use a manual wheelchair while in port.



If the port has a pier, then you can use mobility scooters, drive them off and on the ship without any problem. The crew on the gangway are always there to help you too. 


One of the best shore excursions via a cruise ship is a hop-on-hop-off bus to tour the city. They tend to be less than $40 when booking from a third-party vendor.


In my personal experience a cruise ship is a great place for disabled people or people with special needs to take a vacation.


Las Vegas: This bustling city is surprisingly wheelchair friendly. The casinos, restaurants, shows, and attractions typically offer good accessibility, and the city's flat terrain makes getting around on wheels smoother. 


Las Vegas Sign
Las Vegas sign

Las Vegas isn't just about slot machines and live entertainment; it's also about top-tier accessibility. Prepare to be wowed by the ARIA Resort & Casino, which is lauded for its comprehensive accessibility features. The flexibility of table game modifications and the first-of-its-kind mobile lift system at the pool are just the tip of the iceberg. Venture beyond the bright lights to find accessible public transport and an array of sensory-friendly experiences that provide a glamorous and inclusive getaway. 


The Palazzo at the Venetian Resort: This Las Vegas resort is one of the most luxurious accessible hotels in the world. It has 50 accessible suites with features such as lowered closet rods, sinks, vanities, safes, peepholes, climate controls, and more. It also has roll-in showers, tubs with grab bars and seats, raised toilet seats, and emergency call buttons in the bathrooms. It also has wheelchair-accessible pools, spas, casinos, restaurants, theaters, and more.


From my recent time spent in Las Vegas I have seen many scooter users. Either their own scooters or rentals. You will see them in casinos and riding up the strip. So, if you have physical disabilities with walking, or walking a lot will cause you pain. Please rent a scooter, it will help you have a wonderful pain free vacation.


special needs motorized wheelchair
special needs motorized wheelchair

Chicago: Known for its stunning architecture and cultural attractions, Chicago offers accessible public transportation and wheelchair-friendly pavements.


In Chicago, the home of blues and skyscrapers, you'll find a city that's as charming as it is accessible. The Skydeck experience at Willis Tower is breathtaking, with its newly renovated access points. Meanwhile, the Magnificent Mile's upscale shopping district has made navigation for all shoppers, regardless of mobility, a priority. But don't stop at the city—head to the awe-inspiring Indiana Dunes National Park and experience the wild beauty of the Great Lakes in style.


Los Angeles: With its sweeping views and iconic landmarks, Los Angeles provides a range of accessible attractions, including Universal Studios and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 


Home to the silver screen, Los Angeles is rolling out the star treatment in accessibility. The famous TCL Chinese Theatre now features a ramp for its grand entry archway, ensuring that everyone can channel their inner celeb. Beyond Hollywood, LA offers sprawling beaches with air-powered wheelchairs, and the Getty Center’s verdant grounds and art collection are equally accessible. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a great accessible place to visit while in Southern California.


New York City: The Big Apple may seem daunting, but many of its top sights, like Central Park, the MET, and Broadway theaters, have made accessibility a priority.


Woman in wheelchair
woman in wheelchair

In New York, the pulse of the city roars with accessibility initiatives. Cultural institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim provide inclusive experiences, while Broadway theaters like the August Wilson have been redesigned to accommodate visitors with mobility challenges. Complete your New York experience with a trip to the Statue of Liberty, where both the island and museum are fully accessible.


As for travel on the subways of the NYC area, they have improved over the years, 31% are considered to be accessible to some extent. That is 145 of the area's 472 subway stations. Of course, there clearly is a lot left to go, but improvements are made every year. There are maps available to help provide more information as to which stations are accessible for your travel experience in the Big Apple.


Washington DC: The nation's capital excels in accessibility, with ramps and lifts at museums and monuments, making it an educational and hassle-free experience for wheelchair users. 


The heart of the nation isn't just historic; it's also a pioneer in accessibility. The Smithsonian's commitment to inclusivity means that its museums, inspiring monuments, and even the White House tours are now wheelchair accessible. The cherry blossoms in spring and the patriotic pomp of Independence Day celebrations offer a vivid, accessible palette for any traveler to enjoy.


Wheelchair on beach
Wheelchair on beach

National Parks: When it comes to the great outdoors, the United States' national parks are opening their doors wide. Efforts like the Accessible National Park Experience series provide detailed guides to experiences like the trails of Yosemite and the majestic views from the Grand Canyon's South Rim. With the vastness of Yellowstone and the tranquility of the Everglades within reach, there's no stopping where your adventures can take you. Also, many State Parks are wheelchair accessible. In fact, some coastal State Parks offer beach wheelchairs to be used, so it will be easy to go onto the sand.


Orlando: Home to Walt Disney World and other theme parks that lead in accessibility, Orlando ensures magical experiences for travelers of all abilities. 


Omni Orlando Resort at Champions Gate: This Florida resort is close to many popular attractions such as Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and Walt Disney World Resort. It also has 36 holes of championship golf and 15 acres of recreation. It has 14 ADA-compliant rooms with features such as lowered peepholes, climate controls, closet poles, sinks, vanities, and more.


San Francisco: The city’s transit system, including the famous cable cars, is largely accessible, and many of the top tourist sites offer wheelchair-friendly options.


Other options include:

Beach view
Beach view
  • Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort: This Caribbean resort has direct access to the beach, wheelchair-accessible restaurants, and several ADA-approved rooms with roll-in showers, grab bars, remote-control-operated lights and blinds, and more. It also offers concierge service for special requests and reservations.


  • Halekulani Hotel: This Honolulu hotel is committed to providing equal access and opportunity for guests with disabilities. It has 32-inch doorways, ADA compliant toilet heights, assistive grab bars, balcony door ramps, and more in its accessible rooms.  It also has wheelchair-accessible pools, restaurants, fitness center, business center and other areas. 

  • Grand Velas Riviera Maya: This Mexican resort has two accessible room categories with roll-in showers, spacious layouts, smooth balconies, and more. It also offers high-end amenities such as private plunge pools, lavish spa services and fine dining options. 

  • Arenal Manoa Resort & Hot Springs: This Costa Rican resort is surrounded by nature and offers stunning views of the Arenal Volcano. It has 12 accessible rooms with features such as ramps, wide doors, roll-in showers, grab bars, and more. It also has wheelchair-accessible hot springs pools, gardens, trails, restaurants, bars, and spa.


  • European Cities are also known to be more accessible for the wheelchair traveler than in the past. Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz: This Berlin hotel is one of the most accessible hotels in Europe. It has 60 accessible rooms with features such as adjustable beds, emergency cords, roll-in showers, grab bars, and more. It also has wheelchair-accessible elevators, parking spaces, restaurants, bars, conference rooms, and fitness center.




Travel Tips for Wheelchair Users


Wheelchair
  • Rentals: Investigate rental options for any destination. It's often possible to rent wheelchairs, mobility scooters, and other mobility devices at or near many tourist destinations.


Good news for you, I have personal experience with rentals from Scootaround at the Port Canaveral NCL cruise terminal. For those of you who need any mobility devices for travel I highly recommend them for a rental.


Travel agents also have contacts if you need oxygen equipment or other mobility needs for a wonderful stress-free accessible trip.


  • Plan Ahead: Research and plan your trip thoroughly. Look for hotels with accessible rooms, attractions that accommodate wheelchair users, and try to book direct routes to minimize transit hassles. Travel Agents and Travel advisors can help out so much with this. Making sure bookings have accessible hotel accommodation, accessible transportation or mobility equipment rental. This is the key to a wonderful vacation.

Shower chair requested for the NCL cruise
Shower chair requested for the NCL cruise
  • Communicate Your Needs Clearly: Effective communication is vital. Whether it's a hotel, a tour operator, or a restaurant, be clear about your accessibility needs and any special requests. Many are more than willing to accommodate if they have sufficient notice. For example, cruise ships will offer shower chairs and a higher toilet set for those who have difficulties. You just have to communicate in advance so your specific needs will be met.

  • Airport Assistance: Most airports offer wheelchair assistance. Contact your airline in advance to arrange for help through security and to gate-check your personal wheelchair if needed. Even the budget airlines like Spirit and Frontier off wheelchair assistance. Also, a good note here. Airport TSA lines will have separate and faster moving lines for those of you who have mobility issues.

  • Mobility Device Maintenance: Ensure that your wheelchair or mobility device is in top condition before traveling to avoid any technical issues that can cause inconvenience. Giving your devices once over is a great idea to avoid a breakdown. 

wheelchair travel
  • Accessibility Services: Many cities offer services for travelers with disabilities, like accessible tours and travel guides who specialize in accessible travel.  Travel agents are also very helpful with information. I have noticed in the past especially if you are taking a cruise that the shore excursions for disabled cruise travelers are extremely limited and extremely pricey. This is one reason you should pick a third-party vendor like Viator to book tours. Just remember that on a cruise you have to be back to the cruise ship before departure time. From tour guides to accessibility vans, it is all possible with a company like Viator is the best option.

  • Learn From Others: Connect with communities and forums where other wheelchair users share their travel experiences and advice. Also travel agents can be a wealth of information and know things that could happen due to their past experiences with guests. For Example, a client of mine traveled from the United States to Rome for a cruise, when arriving at the airport in Rome her electric scooter would not work. Unfortunately, a cord was ripped out of the scooter, happening somehow while the scooter was placed in the storage area under plane. Luckily, she was able to get a ride to an electric scooter sales place who looked and took care of a quick repair for the scooter. From this experience she has learned to carry spare parts for her own personal scooter.


  • Invest in Travel Insurance: Having comprehensive travel insurance can provide peace of mind in case of any unforeseen incidents. Be sure to check the policy for specific coverage for wheelchairs or other mobility devices, as well as any relevant medical coverage.


  • Understand Your Legal Rights: Familiarize yourself with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if traveling within the United States, or equivalent laws if traveling abroad. Knowing your rights can help you advocate for yourself if faced with inaccessible conditions during your trip.


  • Enjoy the Journey: Lastly, remember to savor every moment. Travel is as much about the experiences along the way as it is about the destination. Be open to new adventures, connect with locals, and take in the unique perspective that only travel can provide.

Personal Experiences

Traveling by air can pose its own set of challenges, but many wheelchair users have shared positive experiences with airport assistance services. They highlight the importance of communicating your needs early and being clear about the assistance required. Personal accounts often praise the convenience and availability of support when navigating through large, crowded airports.


From my personal experience, at the time of booking, request wheelchair assistance. The airport itself can help someone getting from the ticket counter to the gate. If you did not bring your own wheelchair, they will be with you as you go through TSA and push you to the gate.


If you ride an electric scooter then you will not need assistance, but you must make sure your scooter can fold up and you will be helped on the airplane by wheelchair or by walking yourself, and the scooter will be placed in the storage area during the flight, but at the gate when you arrive at destination.  This is why you should always let the airline know at the time of booking, you need wheelchair assistance, they will help you out.



Final Thoughts

Accessibility in travel is improving every day, with more destinations recognizing the importance of accommodating all travelers. By doing your homework, racing out to travel agents, and leveraging available resources, you can have a rewarding, accessible experience. Whether you're venturing to the urban landscapes of Chicago or cruising the Caribbean, the world is yours to explore.


Everyone deserves a vacation, so don't let worries or fear keep you away from having a wonderful travel experience. Whatever disability you have, everyone deserves the sense of adventure that will keep your spirits high, looking forward to what the future holds.




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Guest
Apr 16
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Great information!!

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