Polo Towers – Las Vegas, Nevada

We stayed in a wheelchair accessible room at the Polo Towers for the first time many years ago and recently stayed again for one week in August of 2016. 

THE GOOD

The Polo Towers is conveniently located right on the strip between the MGM Grand and Planet Hollywood. There were lots of places to eat in front of the Polo Towers in a Hawaiian market of sorts, including a popular Chili’s restaurant. 

Our room was a two bedroom, two bathroom unit with a living room, sofa bed, full kitchen,  kitchenette and two balconies. One bedroom and one bathroom were fully wheelchair accessible. 

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Accessible Bedroom

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Accessible Bathroom

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Wheel-In Shower with Built-In Shower Bench

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Wheel-Under Sink in Accessible Bathroom

There was a handle on the bathroom door to make it easier for people with limited upper body mobility to shut the door. 

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For Closing the Pocket Door on the Accessible Bathroom

There was a door in between the second bedroom and the main living area that could be closed or locked for additional privacy. The bed in the second bedroom was a murphy bed, so it could be folded up to create additional living space. There was a small kitchenette on this side and a second bathroom (the door was wide enough to get in, but the bathroom itself was not accessible).

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Second Bedroom, Murphy Bed

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Second Bathroom – Not Accessible

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Second Bathroom Shower – Not Accessible

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Kitchenette in Second Bedroom

The kitchen in the main living area was modified with lower counter tops and a wheel-under sink.

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Kitchen with Wheel-Under Sink and Lower Countertops

There was a Room Valet panel on the wall in the accessible bedroom, living room and accessible bathroom with several cool features. You could turn it on to receive visual alerts when the phone rang, when the doorbell was pushed, for a wake-up call or when the fire alarm went off. You could also set the bed to vibrate for these same alerts (I know what you’re thinking but this would be really handy if you were sleeping and couldn’t see the visual alerts!).

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Each room had a closet, a dresser, TV, in-room safe and coffee maker. 

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Main Closet

The entire hotel was accessible, including the entrances, exits, main lobby, washrooms on the main floor, fitness area, splash park and the roof-top pool area. There was a large cold pool and a smaller hot tub. Both pools were equipped with a lift. 

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Cold Pool Lift

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Hot Tub Lift

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View of Pool Area – Hot Tub is in the Back Behind the Blue Cabanas

There was an observation deck at the end of the pool area that was up a few stairs, however, there was an ADA lift so that people who could not climb the stairs could still get up to look around. This space provided a beautiful view of the strip at night!

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ADA Lift to Access the Observation Deck

There was an amazing splash park in the back of the hotel, which was great for kids of all ages. Because of the shape of the hotel, the splash park stayed shaded all day long, which was perfect for everyone. Even though it was 40 degrees Celsius outside, the temperature in the splash park was quite comfortable. There was a shallow kiddie pool, sprayers, a play structure with slides and lots of room to run around. For the parents, there were several comfortable loungers along the sides, tables and chairs and a vending machine.

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Play Structure

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Kiddie Pool

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Sprayers

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There was no casino at this hotel. For some, this might be considered a drawback, but for us it meant a much quieter place to retire to and a smoke-free environment to walk through and sleep in each night. 

I cannot forget to mention that his hotel had free laundry machines on every other floor! I walked up one floor and had full access to the machines for as long as I needed them. There was enough laundry soap provided in our room for one load and there was a vending machine in the laundry room from which additional soap could be purchased. 

THE BAD

The view from our room was facing the front of the building, which was not a great view. We could see people coming and going and see the MGM Grand in the distance but otherwise there wasn’t much to look at. 

Our room did not have a bathtub. The accessible bathroom had a huge wheel-in shower and the other bathroom had a shower as well (note that the glass door on the other shower didn’t open or close properly, which was a bit dangerous for the kids). We managed fine but I really prefer hotel rooms that have a bathtub for the kids.

The kitchen was not set up for guests with kids. The knives and all of the sharp implements were located in a cupboard that was very easily accessible for small people. As soon as we discovered this, we had to empty out the cupboards and move all of the sharp things to the top of the counter!

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Yikes! Not a Great Location for Knives When Kids are Around!

The Wi-Fi in this hotel was atrocious! They provided us with a password and log-in information for the free Wi-Fi when we checked in but the signal strength was terrible and every time we lost the connection, we would have to go through the log-in process all over again. It was so unbelievably bad it was practically unusable. 

My husband got stuck in the lift between the pool area and the observation deck one night. He got part-way up and then it stopped working. He was able to access the emergency phone to call the hotel staff and I pulled the emergency release button to get him back down to the ground. The hotel sent a maintenance crew up and they worked on it for about 30 minutes to get the lift up and running again. 

THE UGLY

The furnishings in our unit could have used an update. The couch in the living room, in particular, had a panel on the front that kept falling off exposing a bunch of sharp staples that little people could easily scratch themselves on. I kept trying to re-attach it to the couch but had little success.

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Living Room Furniture was Old and Outdated

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This Panel Kept Falling Off the Couch Exposing a Bunch of Sharp Nails and Staples

One of the toilets in our room was not working properly. It stopped flushing several times and we would have to call the front desk to request that someone in maintenance come and fix it. The first time this happened, we had just gotten back to our room and had a message on our machine saying that housekeeping noticed that one of the toilets wasn’t flushing properly and to call if we wanted maintenance to come and fix it. So what did we do? Naturally, we tried flushing the toilets. The one in the accessible bathroom overflowed everywhere and covered the bathroom floor in water. We called down to request that someone come and fix it and despite the fact that it was leaking everywhere, they said it would take about 30 minutes to get someone to our room (this was about 10pm). They did send someone up with a bunch of towels though!

OVERALL

I would definitely stay at the Polo Towers again. I think most of the bad elements were specific to our room and we probably would not have that same experience again. The proximity to the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood was a bonus and the splash park was unbeatable for the kids. They started every day running around in there and had so much fun.  

The hotel was clean and quiet and our room was huge considering what you would get at a normal hotel in Vegas. The two bedrooms worked out great and having two bathrooms and a kitchen was ideal. I think Polo Towers is a great option, particularly if travelling to Vegas as a family.

 

 

Embassy Suites by Hilton Mandalay Beach Hotel & Resort – Oxnard, California

We stayed in room 9301 at the Embassy Suites in March of 2016 for one week. We booked this hotel knowing nothing about Oxnard, California other than that the hotel was right on the beach with some accessible pathways alongside the beach. When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised by the overall accessibility of the hotel and surroundings.

THE GOOD

There were several different buildings at this hotel and our room was on the third floor of building number 9, which was just to the right side of the main lobby building.

View of Main Lobby

View of Main Lobby Area

All of the rooms at this hotel are suites. In our room, we had two queen beds in a separate bedroom, two bathrooms (one with a wheel-in shower and built-in shower bench, wheel-under sink and toilet with grab bars), living room with a pull-out sofa and small kitchenette (microwave, mini-fridge, coffee maker and sink).

Two Queen Beds

Two Queen Beds, Access to Deck Across From Far Bed

Main Area Bathroom - Not Accessible

Main Area Bathroom Located by the Front Door – Not Accessible

Accessible Bathroom

Accessible Bathroom Attached to the Bedroom

Wheel-In-Shower With Shower Bench

Wheel-In-Shower With Shower Bench

Accessible Toilet Area

Accessible Toilet Area

Pull-Out Sofa and Living Room Area

Pull-Out Sofa, Living Room Area and Access to Deck

Kitchenette

Kitchenette

Front Door And Desk

Front Door And Desk

Our room was a “resort view” room. We had a nice view of the pool and courtyard and could actually see the beach and ocean in the distance.

View From Our Room

View From Our Room

View of the Main Pool from Our Room

View of the Main Pool from Our Room

View of Waterfall Near One of the Two Hot Tubs

View of Waterfall Near One of the Two Hot Tubs

Our room was cleaned every day by the time we got back from our morning activity except for once. The staff seemed very efficient and happy to help.

This hotel served free breakfast every morning until 10 am and free drinks and snacks every night between 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm. Breakfast was buffet-style with eggs, potatoes, pancakes, waffles, sausages, bacon, cereal, fruit, toast, yogurt and a selection of beverages. There was also a made-to-order section where you could order eggs or omelettes. The happy hour snacks consisted of nachos, veggies and party mix and the drinks consisted of alcoholic selections from the bar, punch and pop. Although the food wasn’t the best quality, it was plentiful and it made for an easy alternative to going out.

There was one large swimming pool and two large hot tubs at the hotel. The pool and one of the hot tubs were equipped with battery-powered pool lifts. We had no issue with the lifts and they seemed to work smoothly using a handheld remote.

Main Pool Lift

Main Pool Lift

Hot Tub Lift

Hot Tub Lift

Turn On the Key and Use Remote to Operate Lift

Turn On the Key and Use Remote to Operate Lift

There was direct beach access at the hotel. There was a gate in the back that led right to the sand and a long accessible pathway along the edge of the beach. If you turned right, it led you to a beautiful park with a large playground.

Beach Access at Back of Hotel

Beach Access at Back of Hotel

Paved Pathway Along the Beach

Paved Pathway Along the Beach

Amazing Playground for the Kids

Amazing Playground for the Kids

There was an accessible pathway through the sand so that wheelchair users could get closer to the ocean. The beaches were extremely large and there were lots of sand dunes, so one would not be able to get to the water in a wheelchair but you would be able to get close enough to see over all of the dunes and to watch the waves roll in. There were picnic tables up near the end of the accessible pathway where you could sit and have a nice lunch or dinner on the beach if you wanted.

Accessible Pathway Towards the Ocean

Accessible Pathway Towards the Ocean

Accessible Pathway Heading Towards Ocean

Accessible Pathway Heading Towards Ocean

View From the Top of the Accessible Path

View From the Top of the Accessible Path Facing Away From the Ocean

Looking Towards The Ocean - The Picnic Tables Mark the End of the Accessible Path

Looking Towards The Ocean – The Picnic Tables Mark the End of the Accessible Path

Pacific Ocean

Pacific Ocean – The Sand Was Extremely Soft Everywhere Except Right Along the Water’s Edge

In terms of its general location, this hotel was within walking distance of a number of beautiful harbours where you could look at fancy boats and beautiful homes. We also drove around and explored a number of shops, grocery stores and restaurants.  There was a family-friendly restaurant close to the resort called Toppers that served some of the best pizza we have ever had.

One of Many Beautiful Harbours

One of Many Beautiful Harbours

We learned when we were there that Oxnard is surrounded by fruit farms. It’s quite something when you are driving there to see the miles and miles of strawberries and other produce growing right there.

For entertainment purposes, you can drive from Oxnard to Ventura in 5 minutes, Camarillo (where there is a HUGE premium outlet mall) in 23 minutes, Santa Monica (where there is a really fun pier with rides and food, etc.) in one hour and Solvang (which is a very cool Danish tourist town) in one and a half hours. We thought Oxnard was ideally located for fun day trips with the kids.

Santa Monica Pier - View From the Top of the Ferris Wheel

Santa Monica Pier – View From the Top of the Ferris Wheel

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

For those flying in to California, this hotel was about one and a half hours away from LAX. Do not be afraid to rent a car as the shuttle buses for the major rental companies are accessible and they will pick you up at the terminal and take you to the rental company. Most all major car rental companies will install hand controls in a rental car for you for free. (Little tip we learned – don’t pay for anything fancy as chances are good that no matter what you rent, you will end up with a Chevy Impala (or similar) and they will not refund you the difference. Apparently most companies can only install the hand controls in mid-sized cars.)

THE BAD

I really had to think about something bad to say about this hotel. All I could come up with was that the food was not amazing and it would not be somewhere I would recommend to someone travelling without kids. We were there during spring break, mind you, but this is not a peaceful adults-only type hotel. It is definitely geared towards hosting families.

THE UGLY

The only thing that was ugly in my view was the bird poop on our deck. We were on the top floor and there were wooden slats above our deck that the birds sat on. Every morning, the deck, the deck chairs and the deck table were covered in fresh bird droppings, which made the deck unusable.

Our Deck

Our Deck

Bird Droppings on Our Deck

Bird Droppings on Our Deck

OVERALL

Overall, we thought this hotel was great and that Oxnard in general was a total hidden gem for those in wheelchairs and for families. We tend not to go to the same place more than once but we both agreed that we would definitely return here in the future. We left feeling like there was still a lot more to see.

Home2 Suites by Hilton – Edmonton, Alberta

We stayed in room 218 at the Home2 Suites by Hilton in January of 2016. We booked this hotel after reading good reviews about it online. It is advertised as an extended-stay hotel, but we were only there for two nights. It is just off 170th Street, so access to West Edmonton Mall from here would be very convenient.

Hallways

Hallways

THE GOOD

This hotel was very clean and appeared new. Our room was fully-wheelchair accessible and was very spacious. There was a queen-sized bed and pull-out couch and ample room for two playpens. There was a curtain that could be pulled across the room to separate the bed from the couch, which would be really nice if you were sharing the room with a friend or an attendant.

Queen-Sized Bed

Queen-Sized Bed

Pull-Out Couch (Not Overly Comfortable But Okay for One or Two Nights)

Pull-Out Couch (Not Overly Comfortable But Okay for One or Two Nights)

Curtain Separating Queen-Sized Bed and Couch

Curtain Separating Queen-Sized Bed and Couch

The bathroom was complete with a wheel-under sink, a wheel-in shower with fold-down shower bench, and one grab bar by the toilet. There was even a phone by the toilet for emergencies. The wheel-in shower had two shower heads, one handheld and one mounted on the wall like a normal shower.

Accessible Bathroom

Accessible Bathroom

Vanit

Vanity

Wheel-Under Sink

Wheel-Under Sink

Fold-Down Shower Bench

Fold-Down Shower Bench and Hand-Held Shower Head

Wheel-In Shower

Wheel-In Shower

Toilet With Grab Bar and Phone

Toilet With Grab Bar and Phone

There was a kitchenette in the room which was stocked with dishes, cooking utensils and eating utensils. There was a full-sized fridge, microwave, dishwasher, toaster and a Keurig coffee machine. The sink in the kitchenette was also wheel-under.

Kitchenette

Kitchenette

There was a desk with a table underneath that could be wheeled out if you were hosting company or if you preferred to eat dinner at a table. There was also a TV, in-room safe, iron, ironing board, and a small closet.

Desk Area

Desk Area

Closet Area

Closet Area

The hotel had a pool, which I understand will be accessible. They advised that they have a pool lift coming but that it had not yet arrived. There was a large sign in the pool area that said “Pool Lift” so I suspect this will be installed shortly. There was a large, accessible bathroom in the pool area.

Pool Area

Pool Area

There was a fitness facility on the main floor of the hotel, which could be accessed by someone in a wheelchair.

The hotel had a free breakfast every morning and free parking. There was also a coffee and hot chocolate station beside the front desk that was stocked 24 hours a day.

The staff here was pleasant and helpful. They were very nice upon check-in and the people helping during breakfast were very friendly.

Area of Refuge Assistance Sign at Every Exit Stairwell

Area of Refuge Assistance Sign at Every Exit Stairwell

THE BAD

Upon check-in we were told that cleaning on the weekends was only done upon request. They kindly asked if we would like to have our room cleaned on the Saturday morning and we said yes. After we returned to our hotel room on Saturday night, it had not been cleaned, which was a minor inconvenience.

The shampoo and body wash dispensers in the wheel-in shower are mounted on the wall. Unfortunately, they are mounted on the wall opposite the shower bench and no one sitting on the shower bench would be capable of reaching them.

Wheel-In Shower

Wheel-In Shower – Note the Location of the Shampoo (the Bench is Behind the Curtain)

The breakfast, while okay, was nothing special. They had cereal, toast, waffle makers, milk and yogurt. They also had some cold hard-boiled eggs and some other egg products that could be microwaved. It wasn’t terrible for a free breakfast, but don’t expect a breakfast buffet.

Breakfast Sitting Area (Not Overly Large)

Breakfast Sitting Area (Not Overly Large)

This is Where the Breakfast Food is Served

This is Where the Breakfast Food Was Served

The pool area was quite nice with lots of chairs for sitting, a bathroom, showers and a nice, big pool. The unfortunate part was that there was no hot tub! I can never understand hotels that have pools but no hot tubs. On the plus side, the temperature wasn’t too bad and no one was ever in there! Both times that we went swimming, we had the entire pool to ourselves.

THE UGLY

There was nothing ugly about this hotel.

OVERALL

This was a clean, reasonably-priced option (about $130 a night) on the west side of Edmonton. Given its affiliation with the Hilton brand, you can see that they have complied with the requirements of the ADA when designing the accessibility features of this hotel.

Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel – Calgary, Alberta

This hotel is located in the downtown core at 110 9th Avenue SE. I stayed at this hotel many times as a child when it was operated under a different chain and I had fond memories of it, so we decided to stay here with our kids in September of 2015. The hotel recently completed a multi-million dollar renovation in the spring of 2015 so I thought now would be a good time to check it out.

THE GOOD

The location of this hotel was great – right across the street from the Calgary Tower and accessible to the Calgary Convention Centre and the Glenbow Museum. There were shops and restaurants nearby and you could easily walk to the LRT from this hotel.

The staff at the hotel, for the most part, was very pleasant and friendly.

The nightly rate at this hotel was very reasonable. We paid $130 for one night while many of the surrounding hotels go for about $200 a night.

There were blackout blinds in the room that were operated by pushing a button on the wall. Needless to say, the kids had fun pushing those buttons and watching the blinds go up and down.

View of the Room and the Blinds

View of the Room and the Blinds

When you swiped your card to get into the room, the door opened on its own. This is really nice for wheelchair users as you don’t have to try to manoeuver on the carpet to open the door. There was also a button on the inside that you could push to open the door when you leave the room – very convenient.

Button on Inside of Door

Button on Inside of Door

Visually, the decor of the hotel and the look of the rooms was appealing. The layout of the bathroom inside the room was good and there was a true wheel-under sink, a wheel-in shower with built-in bench and a toilet with one grab bar.

Wheel-Under Sink With Good Clearance

Wheel-Under Sink With Good Clearance

Toilet With Grab Bar

Toilet With Grab Bar

Wheel-In Shower With Built-In Shower Bench

Wheel-In Shower With Built-In Shower Bench

Room Had a TV, Mini-Fridge, Iron, Ironing Board and In-Room Safe

Room Had a TV, Mini-Fridge, Iron, Ironing Board and In-Room Safe

View From Our Room - 3rd Floor

View From Our Room – 3rd Floor

The hotel had a fitness room on the third floor that could be accessed by someone in a wheelchair (this was at the bottom of the steps that led up to the pool). There was an accessible bathroom outside of the fitness area.

Fitness Room - 3rd Floor

Fitness Room – 3rd Floor

Free Weights - No other Accessible Equipment

Free Weights – No other Accessible Equipment

Bathroom Located Outside of Fitness Area

Bathroom Located Outside of Fitness Area

THE BAD

Ok… get ready…

The accessible hotel room we stayed in on the third floor smelled like sewage. As soon as we walked in, the smell hit us like a ton of bricks. It seemed to emanate from the drain in the bathroom but, regardless of where it came from, it smelled disgusting and it was really difficult to ignore.

We requested two cribs when we booked this room and they told us it would be no problem. When we checked in, they told us they had no record of the request on the reservation and that they likely didn’t have any cribs available, let alone two of them. I told them that they would need to let me know because if they didn’t have cribs, we would have to stay elsewhere. The person checking us in assured me that they would find some cribs for us and bring them up to the room. By the time we got back to our room after dinner, there were still no cribs. We called down to the front desk and they again told us that they had no cribs. We told them they would need to find some or re-locate us to a different hotel and they again assured us that they would find some. At about 10:30 pm, waaaaaay past the kids’ bedtime, they brought two playpens from a hotel across the street (Hotel Le Germaine) and it took me and the staff member who brought them about 30 minutes to assemble them (the rails weren’t locking properly).

We checked out on a Sunday morning and the standard hotel check-out time was at noon. Starting at about 9 o’clock, housekeeping began knocking on our door asking what time we would be leaving. They knocked a total of 3 times between 9 and 10:30 asking when we would be gone before I finally told them that we would be there until we left and asked them to stop knocking on our door. Luckily we were already awake but I would have been really angry if that had been my one chance to sleep in. 

There is no self-parking at this hotel. You can drive around and find a public parking lot or pay for the valet parking that is available at the hotel.

THE UGLY

And… it gets worse…

When I went to shower in our room, I noticed something all over the walls of the shower. I got in to take a closer look and – yep – it was hair! Long pieces of black hair left behind by the last hotel guest. If the housekeeping staff didn’t even see this it definitely makes you wonder what else in the room was not cleaned…

Not My Hair! Yuck!

Not My Hair! Yuck!

The pool and fitness centre were located on the third floor. The pool was up a flight of stairs but there was a lift for wheelchair users for access to the pool area. We called the front desk from our room and they sent someone up to operate the lift.

Lift to Access Pool Area

Lift to Access Pool Area

When we got up to the pool area, I have to say, I was shocked by the condition of the pool. The entire swimming pool was covered with a slimy pool liner and there was about a 2-inch strip of grime along the waterline all the way around the pool.

View of the Pool

View of the Pool

Here's a Closer Look - Note the Grime Along the Waterline

Here’s a Closer Look – Note the Grime Along the Waterline

The steps into the pool had obvious signs of mould on them.

These Are the Steps Leading into the Pool. Gross.

These Are the Steps Leading into the Pool. Gross.

The kids wanted to go in, so I took them for a quick dip and I kept getting big chunks of hair stuck on my hands – disgusting!! I honestly felt like I was jeopardizing my health by being in that pool. The hot tub was better than the pool but it was difficult to enjoy the entire area given its state of repair.

Hot Tub

Hot Tub

The front desk staff told us to call the emergency phone when we were ready to go back to our room and they would send someone up to operate the lift for us but – SURPRISE – the emergency phone at the pool area did not work. I had to walk down to the fitness centre to find a working telephone. If I hadn’t been there, my husband would have been pretty much screwed.

Trip Down the Stairs

Trip Down the Stairs

As soon as we got to the hotel I started coughing, my nose was running and I was sneezing like crazy. I figured all of the travelling had finally caught up to me and that I was getting sick. Interestingly though, as soon as we left the hotel, I was completely fine – no sneezing, no runny nose, no coughing… Something at this hotel had a major effect on my allergies, which rarely flare up anymore. You could smell a lot of things in the air here between the sewer smell and some type of chemical smell which seemed to be coming out of the carpets. I have never stayed anywhere before where this was an issue but it is clearly an issue here. Anyone with allergies should beware!

OVERALL

I can sum up this hotel in one word – RUN!!! Multi-million dollar renovation or not, this still needs a ton of work and, in my opinion, it is not worth risking your health to stay here. 

Days Inn & Suites – Strathmore, Alberta

We have stayed at this hotel multiple times over the years and have found it to be a clean, comfortable and convenient choice. It is located at 400 Ranch Market on the southern side of Strathmore, just off of the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1). The hotel is right next to Walmart and a host of other shops and restaurants. Our latest stay at this hotel was in August of 2015.

THE GOOD

The wheelchair accessible rooms we have stayed in have always been located on the ground floor. They come with a king-sized bed, wheel-in shower with a portable shower bench, wheel-under sink (kind of) and a toilet with grab bars. The rooms also have a mini-fridge, microwave, iron and ironing board, tv, desk and a chair for lounging in.

King-Sized Bed

King-Sized Bed

Toilet With Grab Bars

Toilet With Grab Bars

Wheel-In Shower with Portable Shower Bench

Wheel-In Shower with Portable Shower Bench

Wheel-Under Sink

Wheel-Under Sink

Desk

Desk and Corner of Hotel-Supplied Crib

The room rate comes with an extensive free breakfast which includes hot breakfast options (eggs, bacon, etc.) as well as cereal, toast, muffins, fruit, yogurt, etc.

The hotel has a great pool and hot tub. There is also a waterslide in the pool area that is perfect for kids (young and old). The slide isn’t too fast, so even the little kids enjoy it. There is a large, shallow platform in one end of the pool for the really little ones to sit and splash around in.

There is ample parking at this hotel, with accessible parking spots located right beside the door.

THE BAD

The wheel-under sink in the accessible room is almost wheel-under. They had the right idea, but the bottom part of the sink is just a touch too low for my husband’s legs to get under. It might be okay for you if your chair is lower than his.

Clearance Under the Wheel-Under Sink

Low Clearance Under the Wheel-Under Sink

We have never had an issue requesting two cribs and getting them at this hotel, but the cribs they have are very small and they are hard metal. This is good for sanitary reasons (assuming they are wiped clean after each use) but they are not very comfortable for sleeping.

THE UGLY

I haven’t noticed anything ugly about this hotel.

OVERALL

Every time we have stayed here, we have found the staff to be pleasant and accommodating. The rooms are clean and relatively comfortable and the location is easy to access off of the highway. The price for one night is reasonable in the $130-$140 range. Considering that the room rate includes a great free breakfast and the hotel has a nice pool with hot tub and waterslide, this remains one of the best places to stay in Strathmore.

Banff Aspen Lodge – Banff, Alberta

We stayed at this hotel in the summer of 2015 for one night. After researching a number of Banff hotels and asking questions about accessibility, this one seemed to be the most cost-effective option with the basic accessibility features that we needed for a one-night stay.

THE GOOD

The location of this hotel is excellent. It is right on Banff Avenue, which is the main street that most of the shops and restaurants are located on. It is about one block away from the beginning of the main shopping district. It is also one block away from a Safeway store, which is really convenient if you need to grab some food or, in our case, some children’s Tylenol.

Our room was located on the main floor, just off of the hot tub area.

Main Floor Wheelchair Accessible Room, Room 111

Main Floor Wheelchair Accessible Room, Room 111

Our room was simple but clean. One of the nice things about the room was that there were two queen beds on different sides of the room, with the bathroom in the middle. It made the room seem very large and almost created two separate bedrooms. On the side with the patio door to the outside, there was ample room for two pack-and-play-style cribs, which the hotel supplied. Without the cribs in the room, there would be lots of space on this side for a wheelchair to move around.

Queen-Sized Bed on One Half of Room, Ample Room for Two Cribs

Queen-Sized Bed on One Half of Room, Ample Room for Two Cribs

TV, Mini-Fridge, Dresser, Coffee Maker on One Half of Room

TV, Mini-Fridge, Dresser, Coffee Maker on One Half of Room

Queen Bed on Other Side of Room, Faces Another TV and Another Dresser

Queen Bed on Other Side of Room, Faces Another TV and Another Dresser

There was a grab bar by the toilet in the bathroom and the sink was wheel-under. Our room did not have a wheel-in shower. We were okay with the bathtub for the one night so I did not inquire as to whether they had a shower bench or whether other rooms had wheel-in showers.

Bathroom in Between Two Bedroom Areas

Bathroom in Between Two Bedroom Areas

Bathtub with Grab Bar

Bathtub with Grab Bar

Toilet With Grab Bar

Toilet With Grab Bar

Wheel-Under Sink Located Outside of the Bathroom, Mirror and Hair Dryer

Wheel-Under Sink Located Outside of the Bathroom, Mirror and Hair Dryer

The hotel did not have a pool but it did have two hot tubs, which were located in the central courtyard area of the hotel. The hot tub area was open to the sky, so there was quite a nice atmosphere in there. The hot tubs were very warm, but not so uncomfortable that the kids wouldn’t go in. One of the hot tubs faced a nice, outdoor fireplace. There was also a steam room and sauna located right beside the doors leading in to the hot tub area.

First Hot Tub Located in Outdoor Courtyard

First Hot Tub Located in Outdoor Courtyard

Second Hot Tub Facing Outdoor Fireplace

Second Hot Tub Facing Outdoor Fireplace

One of the big advantages of this hotel was that the room rate came with a free breakfast. It wasn’t just a continental breakfast either! They had eggs, toast, bacon, cereal, muffins, yogurt, home-made granola, etc. The breakfast was served downstairs but there was an elevator on the main floor for access to the breakfast room.

Hallway Facing Lobby, Elevator on the Right to Go Downstairs to the Breakfast Room

Hallway Facing Lobby, Elevator on the Right to Go Downstairs to the Breakfast Room

Parking was included with our room rate as well and there was a small underground parking area and ample parking in the back (covered). We had no trouble finding an accessible stall and we had a very short walk to get inside from the outdoor parking area.

This hotel is not at all the same calibre as the Banff Springs or the Rimrock, but it was also much cheaper than those alternatives. On the weekend we stayed, the Rimrock quoted us $358 a night (with AMA) plus $18 for parking and no free breakfast. The Banff Aspen Lodge cost us $269 a night with free parking and a free breakfast.

THE BAD

The bathroom in our room was a little bit small. My husband did okay transferring on and off the toilet but he could definitely have used more room. We didn’t need a shower for the one night but I am always surprised when an “accessible” room has no wheel-in shower.

The steam room and sauna would not be accessible by wheelchair as the doors to those rooms were too narrow.

Doors to Sauna and Steam Room are too Narrow for a Wheelchair

Doors to Sauna and Steam Room are too Narrow for a Wheelchair

The outdoor patio would not have been accessible by wheelchair as there was a large lip that a wheelchair would not have been able to manoeuver over.

The Patio Doors Open to the Street, There are Some Plants and Landscaping Separating the Patio Area and the Public Sidewalk

The Patio Doors Open to the Street, There are Some Plants and Landscaping Separating the Patio Area and the Public Sidewalk

The breakfast room downstairs was accessible by using the elevator but the food was located down a couple of stairs. They had four tables on the main level where someone in a wheelchair could sit to eat. We sat on this level but I had to run up and down the stairs to get food for our table.

By far the worst thing for us was that we stayed at this hotel during a heat wave (30 plus degrees outside) and upon entering our room, we came to realize that the hotel did not have air conditioning! We wanted to sleep with the patio door open so badly but because we were on the ground floor facing the street, we thought this might not be a great idea.

Extra Fans Were Provided in the Closet, Along with In-Room Safe, Iron, Ironing Board and Hangars

Extra Fans Were Provided in the Closet, Along with In-Room Safe, Iron, Ironing Board and Hangars

THE UGLY

The only ugly thing about this hotel experience was that our room was so unbelievably hot. They supplied us with three fans, 1 of which worked and 2 of which were broken. We went to the front desk to ask if they could find us something else and they did locate a big fan for us (although it was dirty and looked to be about 20 years old).

OVERALL

Overall we were happy with this choice. The location couldn’t be beat and with the free parking and free breakfast, we felt it provided a good bang for our buck. If I had known in advance about the lack of air-conditioning, I might have requested an upper-level room with a patio door that I could leave open all night.

Airline Travel Tips

Sometimes my husband and I get asked “What is it like to travel when you are in a wheelchair?” or “What is it like to travel with someone in a wheelchair?” While in some ways, it can be a challenge, it probably isn’t as bad as you might think once you get your routine down. We have learned a lot from experience and these are my top tips for making your journey a smooth one!

My husband often comments that the biggest thing he misses about not being in the chair is the ability to be spontaneous – to throw some clothes in a suitcase and head off on a road trip or on a last-minute vacation. When you have a disability, spontaneity kind of has to go out the window; hence my Travel Tip #1: Plan Ahead. You really need to have a packing list that includes all of your important personal items, medical supplies and medications. Make sure that you have more than enough supplies for the entire trip as you never know what might happen while you are away (maybe your flight home will get delayed, maybe you’ll develop an infection and need more supplies, etc.). Refer to your packing list every single time you go away to make sure you haven’t missed anything important.

My Travel Tip #2 is: Bring Tools. Most people don’t have to worry about their ability to walk becoming compromised, but when you travel on wheels it is a real possibility that something could happen to your chair that would render you immobile. This isn’t as much of a big deal if you are travelling near a city that has a bike shop you can access for repairs. However, being stuck on a cruise ship or at a resort in the middle of nowhere without a functioning wheelchair would be disastrous. Consider bringing an allen key for tightening loose screws, a patch kit for your wheels in case you pop a tire, an emergency CO2 canister (make sure you pack this in your checked luggage) and the pump for your seat cushion if you use an air-inflated seat cushion. It is always a good idea to take your chair in for a tune-up before your trip to make sure your tires are fully inflated and everything is greased up and working properly.

My Travel Tip #3 is: Let the Airline Know in Advance If You Require Assistance. If you book your airline ticket on-line, you do need to call the airline ahead of time and let them know what type of assistance you require. If you cannot walk, you will need to let the airline know that a “washington” or aisle chair needs to be waiting for you at the gate so that they can help you make your way to your seat.

Travel Tip #4: Consider the Location of Your Seat. If you have the ability to select your seat, consider the location of your seat and try to choose something that will best suit your needs. There is one “accessible” bathroom on the plane and it is at the very back of the plane. If you have the ability to walk or take a few steps and you think it will make your life easier if you are closer to the bathroom, you should look at getting a seat towards the back of the plane. (As a side note, I am not sure what makes this bathroom accessible. It is still tiny, has no grab bars and I have no idea how you would be able to use it if you didn’t have the ability to walk. The airline staff will, apparently, help you to the door of the bathroom even if it requires the use of an aisle chair, but they will not help you get into the bathroom. If you can’t do that on your own, you need to travel with an attendant who can help you.) Even though sitting at the back might be easier for bathroom access, consider that being at the back of the plane will mean a long journey from the gate to your seat. If you have to be moved using an aisle chair, the farther back you go, the greater the likelihood that you will bang your legs on the other chairs as you go by and the longer it will take you to get on and off (making your way down the aisle in an aisle chair is a slow process). Preferably, ask for a seat in a row where the first arm rest goes up so that you can transfer straight on to a seat instead of having to be lifted over the arm rest. Also consider whether you want to be in the seat by the window or on the aisle. My husband prefers being by the window even though it is harder to get over to that seat initially. He feels like he has more privacy there and when people in the other seats need to get up, he doesn’t feel like he is in their way. Getting into and out of an aisle seat is definitely easier but if you can’t walk or stand up, consider that the people sitting on the other side of you are going to have to step over you every time they get up to go to the washroom. If they are relatively petite and limber, this isn’t an issue. However, there have been some really awkward moments where people were straddling my husband in an attempt to get out and go to the washroom (I’m sure you can picture it).

My Travel Tip #5 is: Arrive to the Airport Early. Okay – so we are not always very good at this one… but people in wheelchairs are expected to pre-board the plane along with parents with small children and other people requiring assistance. Make sure you ask when you check in what time pre-board is and get to your gate with lots of time to spare. Pre-board is usually 15 to 30 minutes prior to the scheduled boarding time for your flight. If you miss pre-board, you will be forced to board the plane dead last and – trust me when I say this – boarding the plane first is much, much better than boarding last. When you board last, there is very little room to manoeuvre, you bump into everyone as you make your way down the aisle, people who are already seated near you are asked to move so that the staff can help you and you become a public spectacle as you get carried into your seat. It’s not cool.

My Travel Tip #6 is: Prepare Yourself For the Pat-Down! If you cannot walk or get up from your wheelchair, the metal detectors in the security screening area will do you no good. When they see you entering the security area, they will identify that they need to do a pat-down search with you and they will usually ask someone of the same gender to conduct a pat-down of you and your chair. They will ask you whether you want to be searched in a private room. If you say no, you will be asked to wheel off to the side of the security area for the pat down which involves going through a routine that has varying degrees of thoroughness (depending on the security personnel conducting the search). They will often ask you to lean forward and lift your legs up so that they can pat down the surfaces of your body and your chair. They have asked my husband to remove his belt and the bags he has attached to his chair so that they can run those things through the scanner. They usually swab the chair itself to test it for substances. If you are unable to take off your shoes because they will be too difficult to get back on, they will swab your shoes as well. The pat down can take a while, so don’t be surprised if everyone else you are travelling with is waiting for you for a few minutes after they have cleared security.

Travel Tip #7 is: Protect Your Chair. If you are travelling with your own wheelchair, make sure that it gets handled properly and make sure it comes with you on your flight! When you check in, you will need to ask for a gate tag for your wheelchair so that you can check it right at the gate and it will get stowed under the plane along with the strollers. When the plane lands, the idea is that they will bring it right back up to the gate and it will be waiting for you when you get off the plane. The ground crew often does not know how important your wheelchair is to you and the success of your trip and we have seen many wheelchairs get tossed around. Do not be afraid to tell them if it does or does not fold and if the wheels do or do not come off. Our usual instructions are: “It does NOT fold and the wheels do NOT come off!” The wheels actually do come off but every time in the past that they were taken off for the flight, it resulted in bent rims and a very expensive trip to the repair shop. Also don’t be afraid to tell them to take good care of your “legs.” My husband sometimes says this in a joking way but he is seriously trying to get them to realize that without his chair he has no way of getting around.

Travel Tip #8 is: No Short Layovers. We have booked flights with short layovers many times thinking that we could sprint from one gate to the next. Unfortunately we have been burned by this thought process more times than I care to admit. For starters, you need to consider that wheelchair users are the first to board the plane and the last to get off. You have to wait to get off your first flight until everyone else is off, and then you have to wait until the aisle chair shows up (if you need one), and then you have to wait until they have enough staff around to help you transfer on and off the aisle chair, and then you have to wait until your wheelchair is brought up to the gate, and then you have to find your way to the next gate using only the elevator routes and not the stairs, etc. It can easily take 30 minutes just to get off of the plane when you are in a wheelchair. Considering you need to be first on to your next flight, you don’t stand a chance of making any connection leaving within an hour and 30 minutes after your first flight lands. If your first flight is delayed at all, you will need even more time! Having learned this mistake the hard way, I will no longer book any connecting flights that have less than a 2 hour layover. If we need to clear customs during the layover, I will never book a flight with less than a 3 hour layover as you have to go and get your bags before you go through customs and this requires extra time.

Travel Tip #9 is: Avoid Really Long Flights. Long flights are a drag for everyone but when you are stuck in your seat for the entire duration of the flight and can’t get up to use the washroom, long flights are a whole different ball game. After trying a few flights, you will learn what your tolerance is and what the perfect flight duration is for you. We find that we can pretty easily cope with a 3-4 hour flight but anything more than that is really starting to push comfort levels. My husband, like a lot of people in wheelchairs, avoids drinking liquids prior to flying and during the flight to avoid having to use the washroom and this can lead to headaches and dehydration by the time you land. If we have to make a longer flight, we always try to break it up into 2 flights or 2 days, if possible. This gives the bum a break and reduces the likelihood of pressure sores.

My Travel Tip #10 is: Put Your Medications and Critical Supplies in Your Carry-On. We have been relatively fortunate in that our luggage usually always arrives where we do, but it has been lost twice before. The first time we were smart and had packed all of the essentials in our carry-on. The second time, we were not so smart and my husband ended up having to stop off at a local hospital to pick up a bunch of supplies to get him through the first few days of the trip. If you have liquids and gels that exceed the airline size restrictions but you use them for medical purposes, you can still take them with you in your carry-on. You do have to let them know that you have these items when you are going through security and they will need to test the substances before they clear you to take them on the plane. We have never had an issue with any of these things being confiscated.

Travel Tip #11 is: Arrange Your Transportation on the Other End Ahead of Time. If you are travelling within the U.S. or Canada, you will pretty much always be able to find an accessible cab at the airport without calling ahead first. If you are travelling outside of these two countries, however, you cannot assume that you will have easy access to transportation on the other end. It always pays to do some research on-line before you go and to pre-book something that you know will be accessible. It doesn’t hurt to send the transportation company an email the day before you leave to confirm the time that you get in and the time that they are expected to be at the airport. The good news is, if everything goes well from the airport to your hotel or resort, you can grab a card and re-book with the same company for your trip back to the airport.

Travel Tip #12 is: Pay For Someone to Help You With Your Luggage. We went through many years of struggling with our luggage because we were travelling on a student budget and it felt like such an extravagance to pay a porter to help with our luggage. I understand why we did that but, in all honesty, it was dumb. It only costs a few dollars to have a porter help with your bags and they are quick, efficient and they need the money. They will not only help you get from point A to point B but they can often direct you to the right meeting point and help load your luggage into your cab. Now that we have kids, we have no choice but to pay for help with our bags but even if you aren’t travelling with kids you should absolutely plan to use this service and have some cash handy for the porters when you get off the plane. 

And Lastly, my Travel Tip # 13 is Ask For What You Need. This really applies to all things in life, but flying can be a particularly frustrating experience when the staff that is there to help you doesn’t know what to do. We have found that the training for how to assist people with disabilities really varies by airline. Sometimes you get lucky and find people who listen and who generally know how to be helpful. Other times you will get people who have absolutely no idea how to help you, who think they know how to help you and just start moving you around, or who are scared to help you because they don’t want to make a mistake or make you uncomfortable. You need to be prepared to tell people exactly what you need help with and exactly what they need to do. If you need them to hold your chair steady so you can transfer onto the aisle chair, you will have to tell them this. If they don’t do it automatically, you will have to tell them to strap you and your legs in to the aisle chair so that you don’t fall off of it or bang your legs on all of the chairs in the plane as you go down the aisle to your seat. If you need help transferring onto your seat in the aircraft, make sure you know how to do a proper two person chair lift and make sure you tell the people helping you how to do it properly. Allowing someone to lift you under the arm pits (which is what they will usually try to do) can damage nerves and leave bruises and get your trip off to a terrible start.  If you’re not used to advocating for yourself, giving people this type of direction might feel uncomfortable. Just keep in mind that most people genuinely want to be helpful but they don’t know what to do unless you tell them.

For a good video of the two person chair lift, check out: http://www.proergonomics.com/en/training. (Once you get to that page, click on “Proper Moving and Lifting People Techniques” and then click on the video for “Two Person Chair Lift”.)

These are my top tips. Please let me know if you have any tips or things that have helped to make your travelling experiences easier. I would love to hear from you!      

Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites Red Deer South – Red Deer, Alberta

We stayed at this hotel for a family get-together in December of 2014. There are two Holiday Inns in Red Deer but this is the one located at 37471 Hwy 2 SouthRed Deer, AB. It is visible from Highway 2. We stayed here with a group of twelve people, so we got a good feeling for what the various rooms were like and for what different people’s experiences were.

THE GOOD

This is a newer hotel and, in my opinion, is currently the best place to stay in Red Deer. The hotel is easy to access right off of Highway 2, whether you are coming from Edmonton or Calgary. There was ample free parking and check-in was a breeze. We had no issue getting the two cribs that we needed for our kids. We also had no issue getting rooms on the same floor as the rest of our family so that we could be close by. 

Cribs Provided by Hotel

Cribs Provided by Hotel

I understand that there are two fully-accessible rooms at this hotel. The accessible room we stayed in (room 303) was absolutely massive! There was a king-sized bed, a huge chair and ottoman, a desk, a dresser, a flat-screen TV, a mini-fridge, a microwave, a Keurig coffee machine, an iron and ironing board and a large accessible bathroom. The room itself had a huge living area with lots of space for the kids to run around and play. 

Accessible Room - King-Sized Bed

Accessible Room – King-Sized Bed

Chair and Ottoman

Chair and Ottoman

Play Time!

Play Time!

In the bathroom, there were grab bars by the toilet, there was a wheel-under sink and there was a large wheel-in shower with grab bars and a portable shower bench. The floor in the bathroom was tiled and there was a drain in the middle of the floor in case you are like me and happen to soak the bathroom while showering. 

Toilet With Grab Bars

Toilet With Grab Bars

Wheel-Under Sink

Wheel-Under Sink

Wheel-In Shower

Wheel-In Shower

Portable Shower Bench

Portable Shower Bench

There is a wide variety of non-accessible rooms at this hotel as well. I have stayed here before with my niece and nephew in a room with bunk beds for the kids. One couple in our group got upgraded to a room with a jacuzzi and fireplace, which was very nice. The room with two queen beds is standard and pretty much exactly what you would expect from a traditional hotel room. 

There was a large, warm pool at this hotel with a waterslide which was great for the kids and adults alike. There was a large hot tub as well with jets that could be turned on or off. The pool area was located on the main floor just off the lobby and it was accessible by wheelchair. There were stairs in the pool and the hot tub that a wheelchair user could bounce down on in order to ease into the water. 

There is a 24-hour gym at this hotel that can be accessed in a wheelchair. It is mostly equipment but there is room to do some free weights (available in the gym) or exercise bands if you travel with those. 

The restaurant at the hotel (same floor as the lobby area) was really amazing. It was called Boulevard Restaurant & Lounge and the food at lunch and dinner was very impressive. We learned when we were there that the chef at this restaurant has won awards for the food and it is not surprising when you see the presentation and experience the food for yourself. Prices range from about $10 to $17 per entrée. They have one area full of booths and another area of tables, so they can easily accommodate larger groups and they regularly served our party of 12 with no problems. 

Kids eat free at this restaurant if you are staying in the hotel. You have to ask for coupons from the front desk that you present to the wait staff in order to get the free meals. The kids’ menu consisted of grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken fingers, pizza, burgers, mac and cheese or grilled chicken. Each meal came with a drink and a side of fruit, veggies or fries. For dinner the kids even got free ice cream. At breakfast, the kids were able to choose from yogurt and fruit, pancakes, eggs and bacon, or oatmeal and fruit. The portion sizes were quite substantial.

The hotel was very clean. There was not a single time I passed through the lobby that I did not see someone mopping. The pool maintenance staff checked and tested the hot tub every time we were in the pool and it appeared that the staff was really on top of the cleaning. 

THE BAD

In terms of accessibility, the only bad thing was that the sink in the wheelchair accessible room was too deep. There was no foam on the bottom of the sink to provide a protective barrier either, so you would have to be very careful when using hot water not to burn your legs. We did mention this to the hotel and they indicated they would look into placing foam on the bottom of the sink.

The waterslide in the pool was very fast. And by very fast, I mean probably one of the fastest hotel pool slides I have ever been on. Some people liked it and it was too fast for others.  

THE UGLY

There is nothing ugly about this hotel. 

OVERALL

This is a nice, new hotel located in a very convenient spot just off the highway. I highly recommend this for a stay in Red Deer, whether you are in a wheelchair or not and whether you are travelling alone, as a couple or as a family. 

Holiday Inn Toronto Downtown Centre – Toronto, Ontario

This hotel is located on 30 Carlton Street, Toronto, Ontario (there are a couple of Holiday Inns downtown). I stayed here for 2 nights on business in 2014 but was able to view the wheelchair accessible room while I was there. 

THE GOOD

This affordable hotel is just off Yonge Street in downtown Toronto. While it is a bit further towards the north side of downtown, it is only a 10 minute walk to the Eaton’s Centre. It is less than a block away from the entrance to the subway, next door to a Loblaws grocery store and across the street from several small, independent restaurants. There was a restaurant in the lobby of the hotel for those interested in a sit down meal and there was also a Starbucks connected to the front of the hotel. 

I particularly appreciated the fact that there was a Subway restaurant across the street from this hotel and there was a big Winners store on the corner of Carleton and Yonge Street. 

There was a large ramp at the entrance of the hotel for wheelchair access. The doors into the hotel were automatic, the lobby was accessible and there were elevators for access to each floor. 

Ramp at Front Entrance

Ramp at Front Entrance

There was a pool at this hotel, but no hot tub. The pool was located on the 6th floor and it was accessible. The bathroom immediately outside of the pool area was also relatively accessible, with large showers, wheel-under sinks and a large changing area. The water in the pool was very warm.

Pool

Pool

Access to Pool

Access to Pool

Showers in Pool Change Room

Showers in Pool Change Room

Sinks in Pool Change Room

Sinks in Pool Change Room

There was a gym at the back of the pool area. The gym was accessed by walking up a few stairs. I did not see any wheelchair access to the gym, although I didn’t use the gym so I may have missed it. 

The wheelchair accessible rooms were very small but functional. They had a wheel-in shower, a wheel-under sink and grab bars by the toilet. There was a built-in shower bench in the shower. 

Queen-Sized Bed in Wheelchair Accessible Room

Queen-Sized Bed in Wheelchair Accessible Room

Wheel-Under Sink in Wheelchair Accessible Room

Wheel-Under Sink in Wheelchair Accessible Room

Wheel-In Shower With Built-In Shower Bench

Wheel-In Shower With Built-In Shower Bench

Toilet With Grab Bars

Toilet With Grab Bars

The rooms had a mini-fridge, a TV, a desk, a chair, a safe and an iron and ironing board.

Mini-Fridge and In-Room Safe

Mini-Fridge and In-Room Safe

The trip to and from the airport in a taxi cost about $65 each way and it took about 30 minutes. 

THE BAD

There was nothing luxurious about this hotel. It was basically a cheap place to sleep. The carpets were dirty and although the bathrooms appeared to be recently renovated, the rooms appeared run down. The decor was a hideous orange colour and could definitely use some major updating. There was no view to speak of. The window overlooked an alleyway. 

King-Sized Bed in Regular Room

King-Sized Bed in Regular Room

Desk and TV in Regular Room

Desk and TV in Regular Room

TV and Closet in Regular Room

TV and Closet in Regular Room

The bathroom in the regular (non-accessible) room I stayed in was extremely small and had no bathtub (only a shower). 

Sink and Toilet in Regular Room

Sink and Toilet in Regular Room

Shower and Toilet in Regular Room

Shower and Toilet in Regular Room

The location of this hotel isn’t great if you want to be in the heart of the action.  Although it is only 10-15 minutes away from the central part of downtown, this may be too far for some people.

Downtown Toronto - Across the Street From the Eaton's Centre

Central Downtown Toronto – Across the Street From the Eaton’s Centre (about a 10 minute walk away)

This hotel is also not in a location where you would want to be out walking around by yourself late at night. It is a bit too far from the main action and it is very dark on this street.

THE UGLY

The rooms in this hotel are really ugly. I felt like I didn’t want to touch things in the hotel room because everything looked so old and dirty. You typically get what you pay for and this hotel is no exception. 

OVERALL

While this isn’t an amazing hotel, I think it is a good alternative if you are looking for a cheap place to sleep in downtown Toronto. A nice hotel in downtown Toronto will cost you over $250 a night. This hotel cost me $150 a night. Considering it had easy access to food, good wheelchair accessibility and was close enough to the heart of downtown to walk/wheel there, I thought it was a decent choice for a short stay.  

Norwegian Epic – Norwegian Cruise Line

We sailed on this boat for two weeks in October of 2010 when it was only a few months old. It was the third largest cruise ship in the world at that time, but has since been bumped down to the fourth largest cruise ship in the world (the top three all belong to Royal Caribbean).

Norwegian Epic

Norwegian Epic

On our cruise, the ship left from the pier in Miami, Florida. The first week, we stopped in: Costa Maya, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras; and Cozumel, Mexico before heading back to Miami. The second week we stopped in: St. Maarten; St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands; and Nassau, Bahamas and then returned again to Miami. We had a balcony suite on the very back of the boat.

THE GOOD

The Norwegian Epic is a HUGE ship, which we thought was good because there were so many things to do. Once everyone got settled in, we didn’t notice that there were approximately 4000 people on board.

We stayed in a wheelchair accessible room at the very back of the boat. We wanted the back of the boat because we thought it would offer the best view. When sailing away from the ports, we got to take in all of the scenery and the views of the sunsets were out of this world. 

Beautiful Views of the Sunsets from Our Room at the Back of the Boat

Beautiful Views of the Sunsets from Our Room at the Back of the Boat

Our Room Was in the Middle Just Above the Big Rectangular Window

Our Room Was in the Middle Just Above the Big Rectangular Window

Our room was quite large compared to the non-accessible rooms on the boat. There was ample room to wheel around. The bed was a king-sized bed and it was very comfortable. The decor on this boat was very tasteful (some boats have a lot of crazy colours but this was very modern).

Wheelchair Accessible Room on Norwegian Epic

Wheelchair Accessible Balcony Suite at Back of the Boat

The balcony could easily be accessed in a wheelchair as they built a small wooden ramp on the outside to create a smooth transition.

Outside on Balcony

Outside on Balcony – Small Ramp to Ease Transition

The bathroom in our room was very compact (as all of them are on the boat) but it had everything we needed. The shower and toilet were in a separate room of their own. The toilet came equipped with grab bars on all sides of the toilet (and behind) and a plastic, raised toilet seat. The shower was small but functional and had a built-in shower bench that folded up and out of the way when not in use. The shower controls could easily be accessed by someone sitting on the shower bench. 

Toilet in Accessible Room on Norwegian Epic

Toilet in Wheelchair Accessible Room on Norwegian Epic

The sink was outside in the main area of the room, which was nice as it could be used even if someone was in the bathroom. It was small but it was wheel-under. The height of the counter was good for those in wheelchairs (although basin-type sinks can be trickier to use when you can’t stand over them).

Wheel-Under Sink

Wheel-Under Sink

Those who have been on cruises before will know that cruise ships are a great way for those with mobility issues to travel. They are generally completely accessible and the Norwegian Epic is no different. Other than some of the activities on the boat (rock climbing wall, waterslides, etc.), there was no area of the ship that was not accessible. Even at the back of the boat, where the main elevators didn’t run, we located a wheelchair lift that gave us access to every level.

Wheelchair Lift at the Back of the Norwegian Epic

Wheelchair Lift at the Back of the Norwegian Epic

Wheelchair Lift

Wheelchair Lift

Wheelchair Lift

Wheelchair Lift

There were several pools and several hot tubs on this boat and one pool and one hot tub were equipped with a pool lift. 

Pool With Lift

Pool With Lift

Hot Tub With Lift

Hot Tub With Lift at the Back of the Boat

The other pools could be accessed by someone in a wheelchair if you felt comfortable bouncing down into the water. The other hot tubs could not be accessed as they were all raised and required the ability to navigate a number of stairs.

View of Additional Pools

View of Additional Pools

View of Additional Pools

View of Additional Pools

Access Into Other Hot Tubs Was Via Stairs

Access Into Other Hot Tubs Required Ability to Navigate Stairs

The main areas of the Norwegian Epic were all accessible. Most cruise ships have very narrow hallways but, on this ship, they were not too bad. The only real problem we ran into navigating the hallways was trying to get around the housekeeping carts in the middle of the day.

Hallways

Hallways

The buffet area was huge and could easily be navigated in a wheelchair. 

Buffet Area

Buffet Area

The food on the Norwegian Epic was amazing. Norwegian Cruise Line does freestyle cruising, which means you can eat whenever you want. The food at the buffet was exceptional and there was always a good selection available. A few of the specialty restaurants required reservations, but for the rest of the eating establishments, no reservations were required.  The specialty restaurants not only had good food but they offered beautiful views. They were definitely worth experiencing. The food served on the Norwegian Epic was far better than anything we have experienced at an all-inclusive resort. 

There were a lot of activities available on this boat. The evening entertainment included a magic show, comedy show, dinner theatre, dance party, the Blue Man Group show, impersonator show (Legends), movie night, sports night, etc. During the day, there were pool activities, waterslides, a rock climbing wall, ping pong, an arcade, a bowling alley, a basketball court, a climbing cage, etc. There was a huge gym on the boat, a walking/jogging track and a spa. Really, I wish we had had more days at sea so we could have spent more time exploring and relaxing on the boat.

Rock Climbing Wall

Larger Rock Climbing Wall

Rock Climbing Wall

Shorter Rock Climbing Wall

Waterslides

Waterslides

Basketball Court (This Was Taken on a Rainy Day. Most Days it Was Really Hot up There).

Basketball Court (This Was Taken on a Rainy Day. Most Days it Was Really Hot up There).

Video Arcade

Video Arcade

Kiddie Pool Area and Waterpark

Kiddie Pool Area and Waterpark

THE BAD

Although the size of the boat was a good thing for us, as we were on it for two weeks and we never got bored, it could be a bad thing if you have a hard time getting around. Cruise ships are primarily carpeted (with the exception of the pool deck and buffet area) and it can be really tiring wheeling down long hallways when you have to wheel on carpet. Given the size of this boat, you could be faced with having to make quite a trek to the buffet area or to one of the specialty restaurants depending on where you are coming from. This is something to keep in mind. Sometimes we went up to the pool deck to make our way to the other side of the boat just because it was easier and quicker to wheel across the floor on that deck. 

There was a casino on this boat, which is a good thing for most people. We aren’t much into gambling so we don’t give it much thought either way. The only thing that did bother us was the smoke emanating from the casino at night. It was really strong on that floor and wafted up to the floor above it as well. They did make a real effort to use deodorizers and air purifiers but the smoke around the casino area was noticeable. 

Casino

Casino

We had one unusual experience on this trip that has never happened to us before. While the boat was sailing, a bird flew into our room through the balcony door and we couldn’t get it out! It resulted in some hilarious antics on our part, and eventually we were able to help it find the door again, but we spent a few crazy hours ducking and diving and running around the room trying to convince it to go back outside.

Bird That Decided to Join Us in Our Room

Bird That Decided to Join Us in Our Room

For the second week of our cruise we had an issue with the heating and cooling system in our room. The ventilation system was continually blowing hot air. Given that the temperatures outside were extremely hot and humid, this got to be very uncomfortable. They tried multiple times to fix it and ended up having to order a part, which they were able to pick up at a port on our second last day on the boat. 

By far, the worst part of this boat was the vibration and noise it made when it docked at the ports. I am not sure if this could only be heard or felt at the back of the boat, but we would be sleeping soundly early in the morning and when the ship began docking at a port (usually around 7am, but sometimes earlier) the whole room would start to shake and the boat would make a horrible noise. It was so unbelievably loud that it was impossible to sleep. We are not morning people at all and every day that we were not at sea, we could count on this rude awakening.

THE UGLY

We had a really strange room steward for the two weeks that we were on the boat. When he noticed that my husband’s tires were leaving marks on the new carpets in the room, he taped white plastic all over the carpet with duct tape to help protect it. He seemed much more concerned about the cleanliness of the carpet than about how crazy it looked or how it would make my husband feel. I am sure he was trying to avoid having to shampoo the carpets at the end of our stay, which was totally understandable, but when we came back to our room and saw the plastic everywhere it kind of made us feel like we were in a contamination zone. 

THE PORTS

If you go on this same itinerary, you might want to know a little bit about the accessibility at the ports.

Costa Maya – There was very little to see at the stop in Costa Maya and it was insanely hot there. There were some shops right at the port where we wandered around but they had the usual souvenirs. You would have to look for an accessible excursion here if you wanted to see something interesting.

Roatan – Roatan was relatively accessible, however, we felt pretty unsafe walking around there. We left the shopping area at the pier as we wanted to find some local crafts, but after walking through several dark, back-alley shops and being followed and harassed by small children needing money, we made a quick exit back to the boat. 

Cozumel – Cozumel was great for accessibility and it was a fun stop. We had a really good day there walking around and were able to see lots of different places and do a ton of shopping for family back at home. 

St. Maarten – St. Maarten was fairly inaccessible. We were able to get on a water taxi to the downtown area so that we could walk around a little bit but there was a lot of cobblestone, very narrow sidewalks and a lot of uneven pavement.

St. Thomas – We were unable to get any form of accessible transportation in St. Thomas or find anyone willing to take us on a tour so we spent the day wandering around the shops at the port. There were quite a few shops there, but nothing overly exciting.  

Nassau – We were not able to find a wheelchair accessible cab in Nassau but the cab drivers were all willing to help carry my husband into their vans. We took a cab over to Atlantis and walked around there for most of the day. Beware that it is crazy expensive there but it was fun to see. We also explored the straw market in Nassau, which was a little tough to navigate in the wheelchair due to narrow aisles, but it was a good place to shop and chat with local people.

Miami – Miami was very accessible. We took a cab to South Beach and enjoyed walking up and down Ocean Drive. We were surprised to find that there were mats laid out along the beach for wheelchair access and there were beach chairs available at the Beach Patrol Office. We wished we had had more time there so we could have spent more time on this beautiful beach. 

Wheelchair Beach Access in Southbeach, Miami

Wheelchair Beach Access in Southbeach, Miami

OVERALL
 
For wheelchair users, you can’t go wrong on a cruise. It is a great way to see more of the world with very little hassle. No matter how inaccessible the various ports might be, you always get to go back to your room at night and you know that you have what you need there.  
 
The real luxury of a cruise is that no matter what type of vacation you like to have, whether you like to be busy and see everything and try every activity or whether you like to sit on a lounge chair in the sun sipping on drinks all day long, you can do it on a cruise. There is truly something for everyone.