Cruise Port of Call Wheelchair Accessibility Review: Key West, Florida

Watching a gorgeous sunset while dining al fresco on amazing seafood at one of the 250 or so restaurants is one of many pleasures in store for visitors to the southernmost city in the United States, at the tip of the Florida Keys and at the end of US Highway 1. Packed with sights and attractions, Key West supports a vibrant community, including a large LGBTQ population, and boasts a long seafaring and naval tradition given that it is situated at the Gateway to the Caribbean between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Key West, also known as the Conch Republic, has a distinct Caribbean flavor, with streets of the Old Quarter lined with palms, tropical flowering plants, and pastel painted wooden colonial gingerbread houses.

Key West is one of the very few cruise ship ports of call located in the United States. This is great news for wheelchair users because the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to stores, restaurants, bathrooms, and attractions in Key West. That being said, there are several historic sites and buildings there that can’t be modified due to their historic status, or because the cost to make them accessible would be cost prohibitive. That being said, Key West is compact and easy to navigate for cruise ship visitors.

Most cruise ships will dock at Mallory Square or the Truman Annex. Both are within easy walking distance of old town, and the famous Duval Street is only two blocks from the pier. However, some ships dock at the Outer Mole Pier on the Navy base. If this is the case, you must take a provided shuttle to and from the cruise ship as the base is a controlled area and taxis are not allowed inside. Fortunately, you will either be provided with a wheelchair accessible minibus or board one of the accessible trolleys. The ride from the ship to Mallory Square takes about 10 minutes.

Once you arrive in Mallory Square, you can explore all the stores, bars, and restaurants in the immediate area, or take a taxi if you can’t manage walking or rolling more than a mile and a half each way. Key West Taxi only has a handful of wheelchair accessible taxis, but you can call them at (305) 296-6666 to pre-arrange transportation for the day.

Sidewalks and curb drops in Key West are in pretty good shape, and you can take advantage of many self-guided walking/rolling tours throughout the historical parts of the island. From Mallory Square down Duval Street to the southernmost point marker on the opposite side of the island is roughly 1.2 miles. If more than one cruise ship is in port on a particular day, Duval Street can get extremely crowded with tourists, making maneuvering a slow and tedious process — especially if tourists have been drinking heavily, which is a favorite Key West pastime. Consider taking a parallel route, which generally tends to be much more scenic, quieter, and less crowded.

One option for sightseeing is the Old Town Trolley Tour, which has many of their trolleys equipped with motorized lifts for scooters or wheelchairs. Please click on the link to visit their website and review their requirements for advance notice to book tickets for wheelchair users, and to note which stops are fully accessible. Other accessible sightseeing options within rolling distance of Mallory Square include the Mel Fisher Museum, the Key West butterfly and nature Conservatory, the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea, and the Key West aquarium.

You can also visit the grounds and the first floor of the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, but you will not be able to reach the second floor. Most shops and restaurants have flat entry, but please note that some still have one step to enter due to their historic nature.

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