I can’t help but be biased towards my birthplace and current home: the sunny State of Florida! There are many reasons why the Sunshine State is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. We have the country’s most beautiful beaches, dozens of theme parks filled with roller coasters and water slides, and beautiful state parks filled with abundant wildlife. I think Florida also happens to be a great vacation destination for wheelchair users and their families. The downside is that you really need your own car or accessible van (rentals are available here) to make the most of your trip, as the distance between sights can be considerable. However, if you visit one of these top wheelchair accessible spots, I know you’ll leave Florida with incredible travel memories!
1. Orlando/Kissimmee. Welcome to the House of the Mouse! it should come as a surprise to no one that the Orlando/Kissimmee area is at the top of this list, as it is home to Walt Disney World, Epcot Center, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Disney is known around the world for its outstanding commitment to accessibility and inclusion, and while there are still several theme park rides that are not accessible to wheelchair users who cannot walk at all, the overall accessibility of the parks is outstanding, as is the transportation across the Disney properties. However, Disney is not the only place for accessible family fun in Orlando! The area is also home to Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and a whole host of water parks like Volcano Bay. Also keep in mind that Orlando isn’t just about theme parks. There are tons of other great wheelchair accessible places to visit in Central Florida, including hidden gems like Mount Dora, Winter Park, and several art museums.
Florida theme parks get REALLY hot in the summer. Here’s the portable water mister I use to stay cool. COREGEAR (Ultra Cool XLS USA Misters 1.5 Liter Mister & Sprayer Personal Water Pump with Full Neoprene Jacket and Built-in Carrying Strap (Blue)
2. Amelia Island. Amelia Island is arguably one of the most beautiful vacation spots in Florida, and the City of Fernandina Beach is filled with several family friendly and wheelchair accessible things to see and do. From beautiful beaches to historic forts, museums, and Victorian homes, a full weekend is the perfect amount of time to enjoy much of what Amelia Island has to offer wheelchair users and their families. Featuring lovely Victorian-era architecture, step back in time to the simpler days of yesteryear by exploring Amelia Island’s riverfront city, Fernandina Beach. With a historic district of 50-plus blocks on the National Register of Historic Places, there’s plenty to discover downtown. In addition to all City facilities being ADA compliant, the City of Fernandina Beach has a few items available to make navigating pools and beaches a bit easier. Main Beach is equipped with a Mobi Mat to allow for wheelchair access. The Atlantic Recreation Center (2500 Atlantic Ave., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034) has three beach wheelchairs available for rent at no charge. There is also a Mobi-Chair that can float in water. The Amelia Island Museum of History is bursting with fascinating stories that are just waiting to be shared with eager visitors and residents. And whether you’re a history buff, nature lover or a bit of both, wheelchair users can enjoy exploring the unique natural and historic resources of Fort Clinch State Park.
3. Tampa/St. Petersburg. The Tampa Bay area is one of the largest metropolitan areas in Florida, and offers so many things to do for wheelchair users. From one of the country’s most beautiful beaches in Clearwater to museums and zoos to charming historic areas, Tampa/St. Petersburg is a great vacation destination. For some of the best Cuban food in Florida, take a roll through historic Ybor city. You’ll also learn all about the first wave of Cuban migration to Florida. If there are kids in your family, you can take them to the Lowry Park Zoo or the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. For art lovers, the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg is a must see. The popular beach on Treasure Island has a beach mat located at Gulf Front Park, and there are beach wheelchairs available for rent at Clearwater Beach.
It tends to rain quite a bit in Florida, and it can be awkward to roll while holding an umbrella. Here’s a great poncho that will protect both you and your chair from the elements. Comfort Finds Wheelchair Summer Poncho
4. Miami. I hold a very special place in my heart for Miami. I grew up there; I went to college and was commissioned as an Air Force officer there; I still have family there. Miami has served as a refuge for thousands of Cubans (like my family members) and other immigrants from dozens of Latin American and Caribbean nations. As a result, it is one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in North America, filled with mouth-watering dining options, stunning Art Deco architecture, modern museums and galleries, and beautiful beaches. It is bright, loud, busy, and almost overwhelming at times. But all the wheelchair accessible options make Miami a must-visit for any lover of palm trees and warm weather. A trip to Miami wouldn’t be complete without a visit to its famous beaches! The City of Miami Beach offers both manual and motorized beach wheelchairs for free to assist those who are mobility impaired to enjoy their beautiful beaches. Wheelchair access to the beach is via Mobi-Mats, which are available at select entrances (South Pointe is one). Please contact the City of Miami Beach for more details about beach wheelchair usage and Mobi Mat locations. The famous Zoo Miami has wonderful wheelchair accessibility, to include its monorail and trams – both of which can accommodate up to two wheelchairs at a time. Located on Biscayne Bay in the heart of downtown Miami, visitors of Bayside Marketplace can experience the real Miami – home to impeccable international cuisine, fine shops and exotic music in a beautiful, waterfront setting. Though the Art Deco District (particularly Washington and Collins avenues) can be crowded with pedestrians, they’re fully sidewalked with ramp exits and entrances. Visit Miami’s flagship art museum, and learn about modern and contemporary, international art at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). Along the road at Shark Valley, you may see alligators, herons, egrets, deer, turtles, and snail kites. The Shark Valley tram tour is accessible as well; trams contain a ramp for wheelchairs.
5. St. Augustine. St. Augustine, known as The Ancient City, is located between Northeast and East Central Florida and is convenient to Jacksonville, Orlando, and Daytona airports. While the words “ancient” and “old” may lead you to think that St Augustine isn’t wheelchair friendly, nothing could be farther from the truth. Wheelchair users will find a very accessible and welcoming city in St Augustine! North Florida boasts a year-round mild climate perfect for strolling St. Augustine’s delightful historic district, with its brick-paved streets, quaint cafes, bars, unique shops, and bed and breakfast inns. Experience the beauty of an early morning that slowly comes alive with locals and tourists setting out on foot to explore significant landmarks. A monument not only of stone and mortar but of human determination and endurance, the Castillo de San Marcos symbolizes the clash between cultures which ultimately resulted in our uniquely unified nation. The parking lot and the fort’s lower level, which includes the museum rooms, the theater, the bookstore and the restrooms, are wheelchair accessible. The historic Lightner Museum is housed in the former Alcazar Hotel built in 1888 by Henry Flagler. Today it is home to one of the best collections of fine and decorative 19th century art in the country. The St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Parkbegan in the late nineteenth century as a small exhibition of Florida reptiles and soon became a quintessential Florida attraction. Today it functions as a modern zoo serving the public and the scientific community with educational shows and exhibits, important research, and worldwide conservation efforts. The accessible Fountain of Youth Archeological Park is the site of the first Spanish settlement in the new world.
Whether you’re at the beach, a water park, or simply outside, there’s a chance you’ll get wet while visiting Florida. Make sure you keep your cell phone dry (or take some cool underwater photos) with this pouch. Mpow IPX8 Waterproof Phone Pouch Dry Bag
6. Key West. 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 and vacationers alike. 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.
7. Sarasota. I think that Sarasota might be one of the more overlooked vacation destinations for visitors not entirely familiar with Florida. The downtown area is absolutely beautiful, filled with tons of amazing restaurants and charming shops. It’s right on the water, so there’s always a lovely breeze coming in from the Gulf. On for a leisurely afternoon, you can head over to St. Armand’s Circle and do some shopping, or have an absolutely amazing lunch at Columbia Restaurant, one of the historic locations located in Florida. Beach lovers can head over to Siesta Key, which is home to my favorite accessible beach in Florida. It has a MobiMat, beach wheelchairs available on a first-come, first-served basis, and accessible restrooms. Sarasota is also home to the renowned Ringling Museum, home to one of the preeminent art and cultural collections in the United States. for a little wildlife adventure, you can head over to Myakka State Park and take a ride on a fully accessible airboat. You’re practically guaranteed to see many alligators, tons of waterbirds, and maybe even a few wild pigs.
Wearing a good hat is a great way to prevent sunburn and stay cool in the Florida heat. This one has a super-charged cooling effect! Mission Cooling Bucket Hat
8. Key Largo. This is one of the larger Florida keys, and the closest to Miami. It makes for a nice weekend getaway from the city, and while the Keys are not known for their scant beaches, Key Largo is definitely known for its deep sea fishing, snorkeling, and scuba diving. What’s exciting about Key Largo is the numerous adapted water sports programs that it offers wheelchair users. Some fishing vessels, such as Key Largo’s Tranquil Adventures, are specifically equipped for wheelchairs, have accessible bathrooms, and offer a lift to lower disabled passengers into shallow water for snorkeling and swimming. You may wish to experience a swim encounter or interact with dolphins; such fully-accessible and inherent special needs programs are made possible by non-profit centers such as Key Largo’s Island Dolphin Care Center and Marathon’s Dolphin Research Center. State and marine parks throughout the Keys offer wheelchair-accessible trails for bird watching, and glass-bottom, snorkel and dive boats, and beach wheelchairs for guests, including Curry Hammock State Park, Bahia Honda State Park and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. When possible, visitors should either contact an individual park for availability or make a request online prior to your visit, simply to ensure that accommodations and/or equipment will be readily available upon arrival.
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