When I see images of sandy beaches, all I really see is a huge obstacle. You see, sand and power wheelchairs don’t tend to go together very well. Growing up in South Florida as an able-bodied person well before my multiple sclerosis diagnosis, I spent every weekend at the beach and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. These days, Caribbean resorts aren’t really on my radar because I’ve been under the impression that I couldn’t really enjoy them. This was until I started doing research on the accessibility of all-inclusive resorts for a potential travel agency client. Now, I can tell you that all-inclusive resorts have pretty awesome accessibility for wheelchair users, and are truly one of the best accessible vacation options out there.
So what exactly is an all-inclusive resort? At its simplest, you pay in advance for your stay, and that price includes your hotel room, food, beverages, gratuities, and entertainment. Each resort company is a little bit different, but generally speaking, it’s almost like a cruise on land. If you want to eat or drink or do something, you usually don’t have to pull out your wallet to pay for it during your vacation. This is incredibly convenient for logistical reasons, and you also don’t feel like you’re being nickel-and-dimed for every little thing during a trip. There are also different kinds of all-inclusive resorts that are geared towards different interests. Some are ideal for family vacations, while others are adults-only or perfect for honeymooning couples. Most all-inclusives can be found in the Caribbean, and while some are relatively small and more intimate, others are sprawling miniature towns that are a full mile across.
It’s only fair to note that a vacation at an all-inclusive resort isn’t for everyone. The main point is that once you arrive on the property, you have no reason to leave. You have all the food and beverage that you want on-site, you have access to beautiful beaches and activities, and usually great customer service. However, this may seem limiting to people who prefer to explore. A majority of larger all-inclusive resorts have great wheelchair accessibility on the property (more on that shortly), but may be located in countries or areas that have very few options for accessible transportation or sightseeing outside of the resort. If for some reason the food or activities or service are not to your liking, you may be stuck there for the duration of your stay with few or no options for dining or entertainment elsewhere.
This being said, all-inclusive resorts tend to go out of their way to please their guests, and this includes making wheelchair users feel comfortable. Sandals and Beaches are two of the best-known all-inclusive resort groups (they’re actually part of the same company), and they have taken great pains to accommodate wheelchair users at many of their resorts across the Caribbean. This includes the availability of accessible rooms with grab bars and roll-in showers, beds that are elevated off the ground and can accommodate hoists, zero-entry ramps and/or lifts at their pools, and beach wheelchairs that are available for use at no extra cost. The Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas even has an access guide for guests with disabilities.
So how do you pick which all-inclusive resort is best for you and your family? Fortunately, as an accessible travel agent, I can give you some tips. First, you have to figure out the best way to get there, and for most visitors that includes flights. Some larger resort cities like Cancun or Nassau have several direct flights to and from multiple North American cities. Second, it’s important to find out if there is wheelchair accessible transportation available on the ground to get you from the airport to the resort. In some parts of the Caribbean, like Mexico, the same transportation companies offer accessible tours outside of the all-inclusive resorts, which can be a lot of fun for visitors with disabilities. Third, when planning an all-inclusive vacation, you should have a very good idea of what your budget is and how many people plan to travel with you. Most accessible hotel rooms in all-inclusive resorts only have one king-size bed, although some do have two double or queen beds; this is more common at family resorts like Beaches. This is not ideal for wheelchair users traveling with several family members or caregivers, so you need to budget for more than one room at the resort to accommodate everyone.
One of the biggest concerns for travelers right now is hurricane season, and how the Caribbean has been affected by Irma and Maria. Several resorts have closed down in recent months due to hurricane damage, and this is a potential danger every year. This is why it’s a good idea to have the assistance of an accessible travel agent (like me!) to help you in case bad weather becomes a problem, and also to help you obtain a great travel insurance policy in case you need to change or cancel your plans due to illness or a severe storm.
So as we move through fall and winter and you become ready to warm up on a Caribbean beach, let me know at Spin the Globe / travel where I can send you on your next all-inclusive accessible beach vacation!