William Watson Lodge – Kananaskis, Alberta

We have stayed at William Watson Lodge several times over the years. This is a really special place, nestled in the heart of Kananaskis Country, which provides year-round, barrier-free lodging for persons with disabilities, seniors and their families.

William Watson Lodge is located in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, on the edge of Lower Kananaskis Lake. It is about 25 minutes south of the Kananaskis Village on Highway 40.

THE GOOD

William Watson Lodge has 22 fully accessible cabins of varying sizes. Some are one and two bedroom units ($30 per night) and some are three bedroom units ($40 per night).  Every unit has a wheel-in shower, full kitchen, kitchen supplies, living room with pull-out sofa bed and dining table with chairs.

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Dining Table

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View of the Living Area and Dining Space

Each unit also has tracks on the ceiling for moving people from the bedroom to the bathroom. Some of the cabins are pet friendly.

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Ceiling Tracks

They are slowly replacing the older cabins with beautiful new cabins. We recently stayed in one of the new cabins for the first time and it was modern, clean and really nicely decorated. They put a lot of thought into the design of these cabins in order to make the space as easy as possible for those with mobility challenges. The ambience is very homey and it makes for a perfectly relaxing stay.

Our unit had three bedrooms. Each bedroom had two beds in it, a dresser and a window.

Our unit had two bathrooms. The first bathroom had a full bathtub, a raised toilet seat and a pedestal sink. One cool thing about this bathroom was that the shower rod holding the curtain could swing completely out of the way and then swing back to be tension fit on the wall. 

The second bathroom had a huge wheel-in shower with a built-in shower bench.

The flooring throughout the unit was laminate, making it very easy to wheel around on.

The main lodge, where guests check in and check out, also has a number of amenities. There is a large fireplace, a big deck out back, books, magazines, board games, bikes, sleds, and snowshoes for borrowing and coin-operated laundry machines.

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William Watson also has RV camp sites, an accessible comfort camping trailer and an accessible comfort camping hut. It is worth investigating all of the options if you are looking for a real wilderness experience.

Around the cabins are a number of barrier-free paved pathways and over 20km of accessible trails. In the summertime, they are completely clear and easy to traverse. In the winter, due to the volume of snow in the mountains, the pathways around the cabins are kept clear but the trails accumulate snow. People enjoy snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on the network of trails that surround the lodge. There is a sit-ski available for borrowing as well as a sled for pulling those with mobility challenges through the snow. It attaches to a harness that an able-bodied person can wear in order to pull the sled behind them.

There is an accessible playground about 2 minutes down one of the main trails. In the summer, it is completely clear and easy to get to. In the winter, that particular trail is impassable in a wheelchair but relatively easy to get to on a sled or on skis.

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There are accessible picnic sites and campfire sites, so if you come with a group of people there are lots of outdoor spaces to use for gatherings. 

THE BAD

One bad thing about William Watson Lodge is that it is completely outside of cellphone range and there is no internet availability. The lodges also have no TVs, so you can feel very isolated. Once you get used to the lack of connectivity, it actually feels nice to have the time to focus on other things. We usually read lots of books when we are there and we enjoy the family time.

The cabins do not come equipped with any bedding, so you do need to bring your pillows and blankets with you. This can make for a number of trips to and from the car when you are loading and unloading. You also need to bring your own towels.

When you check in to your room, you are given a cleaning list. The cleaning tasks are less onerous than they used to be but they do expect you to help out to cut down on costs (i.e. you have to vacuum, clean all the dishes, wipe all surfaces, empty garbages, etc.). After I have finished packing, cleaning and hauling all of our stuff out to the car, I am usually pretty exhausted, but the price reflects the amount of work you have to put into your stay here.

One other thing to keep in mind is that reservations must be made pretty far in advance and there is a priority listing for bookings:

  • People with disabilities living in the province of Alberta get first priority and can make reservations up to 4 months in advance for the severely disabled (non-ambulatory, legally blind, profoundly deaf, dependently cognitively disabled). Those with less severe disabilities can make reservations 3 months in advance (semi-ambulatory, medically fragile). 
  • Alberta seniors (65 years and older) can make reservations up to 2 months in advance, space permitting.

THE UGLY

Some of the older cabins are getting a bit ugly. They are definitely cozy and rustic but the carpets, kitchens and bathrooms are showing their age. If any are available, I would recommend requesting a new cabin. 

OVERALL

Overall, William Watson Lodge is an absolute treasure. The fact that we have this amazing place right here in Alberta is really special. Everyone can enjoy the mountain parks and everything that the great outdoors has to offer and William Watson makes that possible for so many who would otherwise have difficulty finding a comfortable place to stay.   

 

Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Marriott’s BeachPlace Towers

I cannot believe it has taken me so long to write this post! This was one of our favourite hotel stays and I definitely want to go back to the BeachPlace Towers again. We stayed at this hotel for four nights in February of 2015 (2 bedroom villa, room 1116). The hotel is located right on the beach, within walking distance to restaurants, shops, playgrounds, entertainment and lots of beautiful scenery. 

THE GOOD

Our two-bedroom villa was huge and fully wheelchair accessible! We had two full bedrooms, each with a king-sized bed, two bathrooms (one was fully accessible), a huge jacuzzi tub, kitchen, dining area, living room, pull-out sofa, washer and dryer, balcony, etc. 

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Jacuzzi Tub

The view from our balcony was absolutely amazing. We got to watch boats come and go all day long and admire the gigantic houses across the water. Watching the sun go down and taking in the city lights from that vantage point was really quite breathtaking. 

This hotel was absolutely perfect for families. There was lots of room to explore, there was a splash park in the pool area and there was a huge playroom on the main floor of the hotel with a giant wooden ship for them to climb around on. The kids absolutely loved it. The hotel had a program of activities with things like craft time and movie night. They also had video games, board games, chess and other activities for older kids. 

The pool area was accessible. There was a ramp to get from the pool area to the hot tub area. The pool was equipped with a lift (the hot tub was not). There was also a pool-side bar where you could order food and drinks to enjoy by the pool or to take up to your room. 

The location of the hotel was perfect. It was set back a little bit from the road but it was in a complex with lots of restaurants and fast food options. We had a very short walk across the street to get to the beach. 

About 10 minutes away on the same street as this hotel, there was an accessible playground and mats for wheelchair users to get closer to the water. The kids had a ton of fun playing there. They had convenient foot showers and sprayers located at the entrance to the beach so you could get the sand off after playing.

THE BAD

The entrance to this hotel was through a semi-sketchy parkade and it felt a bit strange walking through there after dark. 

A portion of this hotel is a timeshare for Marriott Vacation Club. We definitely got the timeshare vibe when we were staying there. We were invited to a sales pitch, which we declined. 

We checked out the Fort Lauderdale water taxi, which stops about a 5 minute walk from this hotel, but it was not accessible. There was no way that someone in a wheelchair could get themselves up the huge step to get onto the water taxi. That was a real shame as it would have been a great, inexpensive way to see more of Fort Lauderdale.

THE UGLY

There was nothing ugly about this hotel. 

OVERALL

This place was one of my favourite vacation stops for a number of reasons. The weather and the beach in Fort Lauderdale was amazing. It was sunny and humid and the evenings were absolutely beautiful. Having the two bedrooms with a full kitchen and washer and dryer was so great. I could make food for the kids that I knew they would eat and save us from having to eat out for every meal. 

The location of this hotel was perfect. We were right in the middle of the action and a stone’s throw away from the beach. We took the kids to play in the sand and ocean every morning and then came back to shower off and have lunch. At dinnertime, we would walk to a nearby patio, listen to live music, sip piña coladas and watch the cruise ships sail away. Just thinking about it makes me want to go back there! 

Hyatt Regency Calgary – Calgary, Alberta

This hotel is located in the heart of downtown Calgary at 700 Centre Street SE. We stayed here for two nights in September of 2015 for a work function. 

THE GOOD

The Hyatt is in a great location. It is easily accessible by the LRT or “C-Train,” as it is otherwise known, and there are several restaurants and shops very close by. The hotel is right on Stephen Avenue (popular spot for restaurants, bars and shops) and the famous Calgary Tower is about a block away. 

The hotel had on-site parking, although it was full when we arrived at the hotel. If you can get in early in the day, you are more likely to find parking here. The hotel also offered valet parking, which was considerably more expensive.

There was a beautiful pool, hot tub, steam room and gym located on the 18th floor of the hotel. This entire area was wheelchair accessible, including the steam room. Although there was no pool lift, one could bounce down into the hot tub or pool. There were steps in both pools that one could sit on or use to bounce in and out of the water.

Pool and Hot Tub Area

Pool and Hot Tub Area

Door to Steam Room

Door to Steam Room

Steam Room Access

Steam Room Access – Wide Enough for a Wheelchair and No Threshold

Nice Gym Area - No Modified Equipment for Wheelchair Users

Nice Gym Area – No Modified Equipment for Wheelchair Users

Our accessible room (on the 10th floor) had a wheel-in shower, wheel-under sink, toilet with grab bars, king-sized bed, TV, mini-fridge, desk, chair, ironing board, iron and a coffee machine. Upon request, the hotel provided a portable shower bench and a raised toilet seat.

Wheel-Under Sink - Good Clearance

Wheel-Under Sink – Good Clearance

Toilet with Grab Bar and Raised Toilet Seat

Toilet with Grab Bar and Raised Toilet Seat

Wheel-In Shower with Portable Shower Bench

Wheel-In Shower with Portable Shower Bench

The bed was comfortable and we had no issue getting two play-pen style cribs upon request. 

King-Sized Bed

King-Sized Bed

Our Two Little Monkeys Enjoying Curious George

Our Two Little Monkeys Enjoying Curious George

THE BAD

There was no breakfast included with the room, which is always a negative, particularly when you travel with kids. There was no microwave in the room for re-heating leftovers or making a hot breakfast.

The bathroom in our room, although accessible, was really outdated. It could definitely use some new tile and a paint job. The portable shower bench provided by the hotel was very small. It would have been a lot easier if the shower had a built-in shower bench. The toilet was very low without the raised toilet seat attachment, so be aware that you will likely have to ask for one or bring your own. Although it is very common, I always view it as a negative when accessible rooms have no bathtub. I understand that they only have so much space, but it is always nice for the kids when there is a bathtub. 

While we were at the hotel, there was a huge convention going on. There were several parties being held by the convention attendees in their hotel rooms and it was extremely loud on our floor at night. This is not likely to be the case all the time but the Hyatt is a popular location for retreats and conferences. 

THE UGLY

The Hyatt is a nice hotel and there was nothing ugly I noticed about it. 

OVERALL

There are lots of positives about the Hyatt. It is in a convenient downtown location and the staff is helpful and accommodating. For accessibility, it meets all of the basic criteria. In my opinion, however, this hotel is overpriced for what it is. There is nothing particularly amazing about it (standard hotel room, outdated bathroom, no breakfast, no free parking) but it costs about $200 a night. The Fairmont Palliser, which is about two blocks away from the Hyatt, is a much nicer hotel experience for roughly the same price.

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.