There are so many great reasons for choosing an all-inclusive resort for your vacation if you are a wheelchair user. You pay one price and all of your food, alcohol, and gratuities are included. You unpack once, and will likely stay on the property for the duration of your vacation without having to worry about hiring wheelchair taxis or renting cars. Many resorts have beach wheelchair rentals available, and many of the properties are large with plenty of areas to explore. However, before you book an all-inclusive resort — ideally through an accessible travel agent — there are some things about them that wheelchair users should know first.
1. With rare exceptions, there are no all-inclusive (AI) resorts in the United States. The vast majority of all-inclusive resorts can be found in the Caribbean. There is one that just opened in Key Largo, and while there is another one in Florida that touts itself as an all-inclusive, it’s not a true AI resort. Despite its beautiful tropical location that seems perfect for an AI resort, there are none in Hawaii. There are also some all-inclusive resorts scattered around Europe.
You’re going to need some space for your bathing suits and sunblock! Here are the scooter- and power chair-friendly suitcases I use when I travel: SwissGear 2 PC Spinner Wheel Black Suitcase Set – Softshell & Lightweight (Pewter)
2. AI resorts vary in levels of accessibility. Due to the fact that almost all AI resorts are located outside of the United States, they are not subject to regulations under the Americans With Disabilities Act. While a good portion of AI resorts do have at least a few accessible rooms available, their level of accessibility varies. In May 2018, I conducted site inspections on 10 all-inclusive resorts in Cancun and Playa del Carmen in Mexico that claimed to have accessible rooms and facilities. Only half of those I found to be workable for some wheelchair users, and none of them were strictly ADA compliant. As such, even a resort that has relatively high levels of accessibility for that country will likely require some flexibility on your behalf.
3. It’s best to stay on the property. AI resorts are highly motivated to keep you on their property. Also, it’s typical that once you leave the property, the neighborhood right outside will be in poor condition, completely lack accessibility, and possibly have at least moderately high crime levels. For example, all-inclusive resorts in Cancun are located close to each other, and are in a busy area with several nearby restaurants, shops, and bars. However, there is very little sidewalk accessibility, and rolling in the street is not an option because traffic is crazy. In Playa del Carmen, the AI resorts are sometimes spaced as much as a mile apart or more with nothing nearby that you can see within rolling distance. I would only recommend that you leave the property if you are taking an organized accessible tour with a reputable accessible tour operator.
Most beds in Mexico have legs, which is great if you need help sitting up. Here is the nylon “ladder” I use at home and when I travel: Stander BedCaddie – Sit-Up In Bed Support Assist Handle with Adjustable Nylon Strap + Three Ergonomic Hand Grips
4. AI resorts in Mexico will not guarantee accessible rooms until check-in. No one really knows why this is the case in Mexico, and it is extremely frustrating for wheelchair users who want to enjoy a lovely beach vacation in Mexico. As an accessible travel agent, I can contact a Mexican resort directly and make a firm request that an accessible room, if available, be assigned to you prior to check in. However, technically this is still a request, and despite all assurances they can choose not to honor it and wait until you check in to assign you that room. I have had much better luck with getting accessible room guarantees in other Caribbean locations with larger chains like Sandals and Beaches. It’s more expensive, but often the guarantee is worth it for many wheelchair travelers.
5. Mexico has the most options for accessible transportation and rentals. Despite the inconvenience of no accessible room guarantees, Mexico has the largest number of options for each wheelchair rentals, mobility equipment rentals, and accessible tours. If you are staying at an AI resort in Cancun or Playa Del Carmen, it is pretty easy to obtain accessible van transfers between the airport and your resort. These same companies also offer accessible tours to places like Mayan ruins and even dolphin encounters.
You definitely want to keep your valuables safe in Mexico! Here is the cross-body anti-theft pouch I use when I travel: Pacsafe Slingsafe 75 GII Anti-Theft Sling Purse & Hip Pouch,
6. Calling the resort will give you better results than email. There is American time, and then there is Caribbean time. Despite the facts Americans are used do businesses in the hospitality sector responding to us quickly with great customer service, there is no sense of urgency in the Caribbean. If I send an email to an AI resort requesting the availability of accessible rooms or photos of the bathrooms or bed height measurements, I usually don’t hear back from them for at least three or four business days. Reservation agents usually don’t work on weekends, don’t work nights, and don’t work during lunch hours. Despite these limited work hours, you will get answers faster if you call the resort directly rather than sending an email. They all speak English, but there can still be a language barrier, especially if their accent is heavy. An accessible travel agent who speaks Spanish, like myself, can really help you with this.
7. You usually get what you pay for. There are AI resorts for every budget. However, in the Caribbean you usually get what you pay for. Lower-end or budget resorts tend to be the ones least likely to have accessible rooms. However, there are plenty of five-star resorts that don’t have accessible rooms, either. The Sandals and Beaches resort chains have the most information available with regards to the accessibility of their resorts, and therefore are my go-to AI resorts in the Caribbean. The Excellence chain also has good accessibility in places like the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, they also tend to be some of the most expensive.
8. Each AI resort has a different clientele and atmosphere. This is probably where you most need the assistance of an accessible travel agent. Some AI resorts cater to an older and more quiet clientele, others cater to families, and yet others cater to the party crowd. Some resorts are known for their food, others for their pools, and others for their luxurious decor. If you don’t pick the right resort for the atmosphere you’re looking for, you can be in for a rough stay.
9. Pool lifts are extremely rare, but beach wheelchairs are not. I’m not a beach person at all and I much prefer swimming pools. Unfortunately, looking for a pool lift at an AI resort in the Caribbean is like looking for a unicorn. I have only found one, and ironically, it was at a timeshare resort that has no accessible rooms. If an accessible pool is one of your top priorities for a tropical vacation, then please know that you will probably not find one at a Caribbean all-inclusive. That being said, there are several AI resorts with flat access to the sand and either beach wheelchairs on-site, or beach wheelchairs that can easily be rented from outside vendors through your concierge or travel agent.
Sometimes your biggest obstacle is only one step. Here is a great lightweight ramp you can use at home and when you travel: Drive Medical Single Fold Portable Wheelchair Scooter Ramp with Carry Handle and Travel Bag, 3 Feet Long, Gun Metal
10. AI employees will usually bend over backwards to help you. Just like at hotels, levels of service can vary from resort to resort. However, typically employees at AI resorts in the Caribbean will bend over backwards to make sure that you have a wonderful vacation as a wheelchair user. Not every person is comfortable being carried, but I have heard many stories of wheelchair users gladly being picked up by resort employees and carried down to beach loungers if there are steps to the sand, or to beach wheelchairs so they can reach the water. They are also usually happy to bring you anything you might need that is out of reach at a bar or in the restaurant buffet.
Are you ready for a fabulous accessible beach getaway at an all-inclusive resort? Contact me at Spin the Globe/Travel so we can get started!
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