Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort and Private Island – Montego Bay, Jamaica

We stayed in a wheelchair accessible, swim-up room at this resort in 2009. We had never stayed in Jamaica before so this was our first experience with the wonderful people there. We ended up at this resort because we really wanted to try a swim-up room. My husband really liked the idea of being able to transfer into the pool in the privacy of our own patio and this turned out to be the perfect thing for us. 

Swim-Up Rooms At Night

Swim-Up Rooms At Night

THE GOOD

The resort itself was mostly wheelchair accessible. Our room was very beautiful and you could wheel right out onto the deck through the patio doors. The patio was a really peaceful area where we had breakfast many mornings and sat and read our books. 

Interior of Wheelchair Accessible Swim-Up Room

Interior of Wheelchair Accessible Swim-Up Room

Wheelchair Accessible Threshold from Inside to Outside

Wheelchair Accessible Threshold from Inside to Outside

Because the pool was right there, we could sit with our feet in the water, sit on the stairs or go right in for a swim and then come back and lay down on the patio. The pool that ran in front of the swim-up rooms was only used by the people staying in those rooms, so it was very quiet and very peaceful. 

It Was Easy to Bump Down Into the Water in the Privacy of Our Patio

It Was Easy to Bump Down Into the Water in the Privacy of Our Patio

Steps from our Patio into Swim-Up Pool

Steps from our Patio into Swim-Up Pool. The Lounge Chairs Could Easily Be Moved Around.

Very Peaceful Pool Outside of Swim-Up Rooms

Very Peaceful Pool Outside of Swim-Up Rooms

The bathroom in our room was very spatious. One of my frequent complaints is that wheelchair accessible rooms almost never come with a wheel-in shower AND a bath tub, but this one came with both! The bath-tub was a huge, jetted tub and it was perfect for relaxation.

Beautiful Jetted Tub

Beautiful Jetted Tub

The toilet area in the bathroom was very accessible. The toilet was ready to go with a plastic toilet seat and grab bars both behind and beside the toilet. 

Accessible Toilet With Grab Bars

Accessible Toilet With Grab Bars

Our room, because it was one of the swim-up rooms, came with the butler service. We felt very weird about that at first, but we ended up having two girls as butlers who rotated their shifts. They were so adorable and took amazing care of us. They would bring us our favourite drinks when we were sitting on the patio, they would reserve chairs for us on the beach, they made all of our restaurant reservations for us and walked us to dinner every night to ensure that we wouldn’t have to wait in line. They brought us snacks to our room every day and stocked our fridge with whatever we wanted. When we didn’t feel like going out for breakfast, they would bring whatever we wanted to our room and set it up for us on the patio.

Breakfast on the Patio

Breakfast on the Patio

When my husband needed help going somewhere or getting into the ocean, they called all the big men on staff to come and carry him around. They were just so cute and they made our stay extremely relaxing and stress-free. If you are in a wheelchair or have other mobility issues, you should definitely consider paying for a butler suite as you will have access to help whenever you need it. These rooms are also larger and will give you more room to move around in. 

Interior of Wheelchair Accessible Room

Interior of Wheelchair Accessible Room

The beach at this resort was great as you could wheel straight on to it and the sand was pretty well-packed so you didn’t immediately sink into the sand. The resort did have a beach chair on site that we used to push my husband across the sand and into the water. The staff was really great about helping me get him in and out of the ocean. They were happy to carry him in and stand by for a signal indicating that he was ready to get out. 

View From Our Beach Chairs

View From Our Beach Chairs

The fitness facility/spa was not accessible but they built a ramp for us so that we would be able to use it. The gym was quite large and there was a nice variety of equipment in there. We signed up for couples massages at the spa even though the room for them was down a flight of stairs. They helped us get down and back up the stairs without any trouble and getting onto the massage table wasn’t too difficult (and the massage therapists were amazing).

The majority of the restaurants were wheelchair accessible. The French restaurant had a small step down into the restaurant, which could be quite easily navigated by someone who could navigate a small curb. There was a restaurant located on a private island as well. We had to get there in a boat which was not accessible, but the staff was more than happy to carry my husband on and off. We also found out, quite by accident, that the private island had a nude beach. 

Private Island

Private Island

There was live music and entertainment at the resort every night. There was a barbecue on the beach one night and a buffet at the resort one night with a huge chocolate fondue fountain. The entertainment crew was very energetic and really wanted everyone to have a great time. My husband mentioned to them one night how much he loved the music and the next night, they showed up with a bunch of CDs for him full of Soca and Reggae music.

I really can’t tell you how incredible the staff was at this resort. As an example, my husband popped a tire one afternoon on a piece of glass and someone was right there helping him into a replacement chair for the day. When they didn’t have the right glue to patch the tire on-site, one of the staff members told us he was driving it to the airport to get the right glue to patch it. When he brought it back, it was as good as new and when we offered to pay him for it, he absolutely refused to accept anything.

THE BAD

Initially when we arrived, they tried to put us in a totally inaccessible room which was not what we booked and which would not have worked for us whatsoever. After about 5 hours of waiting, some phone calls back and forth with our travel agent and supposedly moving 2 other couples into different rooms, they moved us into the wheelchair accessible, swim-up room that we had booked. The staff was very apologetic about it and very easy to deal with but having a mix-up with your room never gets your vacation off to a good start. It is probably a good idea to call and confirm your room before you head out. 

In terms of accessibility, be aware that the sink in the bathroom wasn’t quite wheel-under. They tried, but the vanity was too low and you couldn’t quite fit your knees underneath.

Not Quite a Wheel-Under Sink

Not Quite a Wheel-Under Sink

The shower was a wheel-in shower with one awkwardly-placed grab bar. They provided us with a shower bench, which actually broke as soon as my husband transferred onto it. There was a built-in shower bench, but it was too far from the shower controls for someone sitting on the bench to reach. It would be ok if someone was with you who could turn the water on and off and angle the shower head, but it was pretty inconvenient. 

Wheel-In Shower with Portable Shower Bench

Wheel-In Shower with Portable Shower Bench

Buit-In Shower Bench is a Long, Long Way From the Shower Controls

Buit-In Shower Bench is a Long, Long Way From the Shower Controls

Be aware that the bed was so high that anyone in a chair would have extreme difficulty getting into it. We mentioned this to the resort and they ended up building my husband a platform and bringing it to the room. They took a bunch of measurements of his chair and then showed up with this platform later in the day, all sanded and painted and ready to go.

Platform They Built so Wheelchair User Could Get Into the Bed

Platform They Built so Wheelchair User Could Get Into the Bed

In terms of food, it was just so-so. It wasn’t bad but don’t expect to have the best food of your life. The room service food left a lot to be desired, but it was available and arrived fairly quickly. The restaurants requiring reservations were definitely the best bet in terms of quality and flavour. The French restaurant had nothing vegetarian on the menu but the chef came out to talk to me about what I might like and I ended up having the best meal of the week there. 

The transportation to and from the airport was not wheelchair accessible. We had to book our own transportation (however, after we asked, the resort did agree to cover the cost). The transportation to and from the other Sandals resorts was also not accessible. We did get over to Sandals Montego Bay one night to check it out (by asking some people to carry my husband into the van) and found it to be completely inaccessible. There were stairs everywhere and we couldn’t even access one of the restaurants.

THE UGLY

The mosquitoes drove us absolutely insane! The staff went around the resort every afternoon with smoke machines trying to get rid of them but the mosquitoes were so, so bad. I had to buy a big can of OFF from the gift shop and practically bathe myself in it. We came home absolutely covered in mosquito bites. 

OVERALL

The bottom line is that this resort is not perfect, but few places ever are. The one thing you will never be able to beat about Jamaica is the hospitality of the people and the relaxed atmosphere. Nothing in Jamaica ever feels rushed. It is a wonderful place to go if you need some SERIOUS relaxation. We still talk about how this was the most relaxing week of our lives. 

 

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Excellence Riviera Cancun – Puerto Morelos, Mexico

We stayed at the Excellence Riviera Cancun for 1 week in mid-March of 2012 in a wheelchair accessible swim-up room. We stayed in Room 1002 in Building 1 and the swim up rooms there were very private.

THE GOOD

I feel torn writing this review because for those not in wheelchairs, this is a very beautiful resort with a lot going for it. The food was really excellent – probably better than at any resort we have stayed at in Mexico or elsewhere. I really enjoyed that they had a lot of healthier and vegetarian alternatives. The buffet was full of fresh fruit and salad and there were tons of salad toppings. There were also healthier alternatives available on the menus and they tasted very good. There was 24-hour room service with decent food and none of the restaurants required reservations.

The pools were very nice, the rooms were clean and there was a (very) mini bar in our room that got stocked with water, pop, beer and a few chocolates each day. All of the staff were pleasant and willing to assist. The sand on the beach was amazing. It was fine, fine white sand that a lot of people said was just like Cuba.

Beautiful White Sand on the Beach

Beautiful White Sand on the Beach

The resort felt very safe although guests did not have to wear wrist bands and the beach was open to the public. There was entertainment every night and most afternoons and the hotel provided a sheet every day of the next day’s activities, restaurant hours, etc.

Theatre for Entertainment

Theatre for Entertainment

There were lots of people at this resort who had stayed here before, so they must be doing something right.

In terms of accessibility, there was an accessible bathroom outside near one of the pools and inside near the main bar. There were tennis courts you could access in a wheelchair if you were able to travel over a little bit of cobblestone. There was a big gym that you could get around in as long as you could get over a small step at the door. You could get in to the spa area in a wheelchair (although I’m not sure about the treatment rooms). The three stores/shops were accessible and all of the restaurants, other than the Basmati restaurant, were accessible. Although they do not have a pool lift, there was a ramp into one of the pools, which might be helpful if you have a chair with which you can wheel in to the water (they do not have one on-site).  We found it was fairly easy to just bounce in to the pool near the stairs.

Ramp into Pool

Ramp into Pool

We had a great experience doing a shopping tour of Playa del Carmen. The bus driver and tour guide carried my husband on and off the bus, which was amazing. Playa del Carmen was worth seeing, especially at night. Although some of the shops are not accessible, many are and the main road (although a bit bumpy in spots) is easy to navigate in a chair.

THE BAD

Despite all of the good things about this resort, I would have a really hard time recommending it to anyone in a wheelchair. There was no wheel-under sink in the bathroom (which they did tell us before we got there) and the mirror above the counter was too high for someone in a wheelchair to see into.

No Wheel-Under Sink and High Mirror

No Wheel-Under Sink and High Mirror

The toilet was low and was in a separate room with the shower, so there wasn’t a lot of space to maneuver a wheelchair in there. The shower had a built-in bench that was made from tile and was very small (very slippery and very difficult to stay on when wet).

Toilet and Shower Were in a Separate Room - Not Much Room to Move Around in There

Toilet and Shower Were in a Separate Room – Not Much Room to Move Around in There

Very Low Toilet with Grab Bar

Very Low Toilet with Grab Bar

Very Small Shower Bench

Very Small Shower Bench

The bed was very high and difficult to get in and out of and there wasn’t much room next to the bed for a wheelchair.

Very High Bed

Very High Bed

Although the jacuzzi tubs were nice, there were no grab bars near them. My husband managed to get into the tub in the room without too much trouble but we just about killed ourselves trying to get him back out.

Jacuzzi Tub Inside Room

Jacuzzi Tub Inside Room

Outdoor Jacuzzi

Outdoor Jacuzzi

The pool area had a lot of step bridges to get from one side to the other and those in wheelchairs could not cross them. There was only one long way around the pools for those in wheelchairs, which was extremely annoying.

There are Step Bridges Like This All Around the Pool Area - No Way for a Wheelchair to Easily Get From One Side to the Other

There are Step Bridges Like This All Around the Pool Area – No Way for a Wheelchair to Easily Get From One Side to the Other

The Basmati restaurant was not wheelchair accessible and all of the tables in the other restaurants were low and difficult to wheel under.

They did not have a beach chair for going on to the sand. They did have some wooden planks that extended out on to the sand so that you could at least wheel onto the beach but it would be nice if they had a way of getting closer to the water.

This is as Close as a Wheelchair Can Get to the Ocean

This is as Close as a Wheelchair Can Get to the Ocean

There were a lot of stairs at this resort but there were also three elevators that, if operable, would make it fairly easy to get around. Unfortunately, two of the three elevators were not in service while we were there and when we inquired as to when they would be fixed, we were told that they had no idea.

This Was the Sign on Two of the Three Elevators

This Was the Sign on Two of the Three Elevators

I believe all of the wheelchair rooms are together in one building on the main floor and are all “swim-up rooms”. There is a step off of the deck onto some rocks and then onto grass and then about 20 feet of grass to get to the pool.

View of Patio in Swim-Up Room

View of Patio in Swim-Up Room

Loungers Outside of Patio in the Swim-Up Room

Loungers Outside of Patio in the Swim-Up Room

My husband had a very tough time getting off of the patio and over the rocks to reach the lounge chairs, so the maintenance staff installed a small ramp to help him get over the rocks.

They Installed This Little Ramp for Us to Make it Easier to Get Off of the Patio

They Installed This Little Ramp for Us to Make it Easier to Get Off of the Patio

In a chair, you would have a tough time getting in and out of the pool in front of your swim-up room. There are no platforms in the pool and no stairs on that side of the pool to bounce down on.

If you call the hotel in advance of your trip, they will tell you that it is fully wheelchair accessible, but this is not the case. We spoke with a few other people at the resort in wheelchairs who were also struggling with the lack of accessibility.

In terms of overall negatives, the resort felt understaffed. We often sat outside of our swim-up room or by the pool for 2 or 3 hours without anyone coming by to ask us if we wanted something to drink. This may have been because we chose the quieter pools to sit in, but still… The service in the restaurants, in general, wasn’t great. They were often slow to clear plates and it felt like there was only a couple of people serving large sections. We often had to ask for more water, more buns or had to wait quite a while for someone to come and take our order.

There was one morning where we had the do-not-disturb sign on our door and someone from the front desk called us to tell us something because they didn’t want to knock. There was another morning when a staff member knocked on our balcony door when we were sleeping to tell us about some work they were doing outside. These are things that definitely wouldn’t happen at most resorts.

The other guests hoarded these blue pool floaties even when they weren’t using them and it was frustrating trying to find one that wasn’t spoken for. Also, people left towels and other belongings on chairs and sun beds all day long and it made it difficult to find places to sit in the shade. We often struggled to find a place to sit and then watched the chairs next to us remain empty with towels on them all day.

THE UGLY

They have a great concept with the “X-box” which is a small closet in your room that can be accessed from the hall where you leave your dirty dishes after you order room service. The idea is that you don’t have to open your door to place the dishes out in the hall and the hallways don’t end up cluttered with dirty dishes and half-eaten food. The dishes in our X-Box piled up over several days, however, and we finally had to call and ask someone to come and take the dishes as they were smelling up our room!

OVERALL

Overall, if you are able-bodied, I think you will really enjoy this resort. It is an adults-only resort with a beautiful beach, great food and a quiet, relaxed atmosphere. If you are in a wheelchair, I would phone around and find something better for wheelchair access. Even with all of the good things this resort has going for it, the accessibility issues are so significant that they will seriously detract from your ability to relax and enjoy yourself.

Travel Tip: The roundtrip transfers that come with your vacation package (if you book a package) are not accessible. We complained to the resort that it was discriminatory to offer transportation that was not accessible and they offered us complimentary transportation with Cancun Accessible. They picked us up in a van at the airport and took us to the resort and picked us up at the end of our stay and took us back to the airport. They were efficient, had lots of room for the chair and all of our luggage and travelling with them made our transfers pretty easy and stress free. Their website is: www.cancunaccessible.com.  

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