Traveling with a Disability in the Caribbean Reviews – Debbie’s Caribbean Resort Reviews

Traveling with a Disability in the Caribbean

February 2007

My husband and I went to the Atlantis Hotel in June 2006 just nine months after a very disabling stroke. We had a handicapped room there and was very comfortable. It was easy to shower. There were hand-held showerheads, roll-in capability, and a showerchair.

Getting around the grounds there was no problem considering the size of the property. There are lifts in some areas where there are stairs and elevators in other areas. The staff was very accomodating throughout the hotel.

I totally recommend this hotel for anyone traveling with a disability.

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Gran Caribe Club Puntarena David

June 2007

having had great trouble trying to find a hotel that was suitable for my disabled wife thankfully a friend recommended this hotel .the wife can walk a little as she has had several operations on both knees i would not send anyone that is totally disabled to this hotel there are ramps everywhere but untill they get a walkin shower i would give it a miss there are steps to get in the hotel but there is a ramp for suitcases whicjh we managed to get the wheel chair up in to the hotel but it could be alittle steep for some folk. the reception check in was so fast in and booked in side a couple of minutes very polite and efficent staff the food well you are in cuba breakfast was eggs bacon cereal toast lunch was taken at the beach hut chicken pork fish with french fries or chips there was a snack bar which is run by anita or frank toasties sandwiches soft drinks coffee the pool is very large and is cleaned all the time. the restraunt was closed so we were using one of the alacarte for breakfast and dinner when they are open there are 2 alacarte italian and a chinese both serve fine food thee are 5 bars drinks were always available 24 hours a day food was available from 730am untill 9mp then the snack bar opened around 11pm untill no one was left wanting food . we left all things in our room the maid never took anything untill she was told what was for her to take all ways the room was clean . all in all for what we paid for this all inclusive holiday we got really good value you just have to remember you are in cuba not a rich country but they are pleased to give

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Viva Wyndham Playa Dorada Canada

February 2008 My husband and I just got back from 2 weeks at the Viva Wyndham and enjoyed our stay immensely. We read a lot of reviews before we left and found that they were helpful in knowing what to expect. The one thing that no on has commented on is accessibility for people with disabilities, so I’ll devote my review to that. As far as food, tipping, helpful employees, and entertainment, they were wonderful and have been touched on more than adequately in previous reviews. My husband is a C 6/C 7 Quadriplegic, so our comments are based on this type of disability. Specifically, our comments pertain to a manual wheelchair, as we are unable to comment on the specific needs and limitations of guests requiring power chairs. There was however a lady there at the same time who used crutches and had no trouble at all getting around. To highlight, the areas that we found to be accessible are: – The parking lot and entryway – The lobby – The corridors – The pool deck – The Las Palmas Restaurant – The Bamboo Restaurant – The Cuevo Pool Bar – The walk-way to the beach

– The Ibiza Beach Restaurant The areas we feel could be improved on for better access include: – The guest rooms

– The Theatre / Disco – The spa – The gym – The beach

– The Viva Shop We found the Viva Wyndham Complex quite accessibly designed. There are virtually no stairs, and the wide winding ramps are pleasant to navigate whether by wheels or on foot. The open-air concept makes for both an aesthetically-pleasing environment as well as a wheel-chair friendly one. Tables and buffets are placed at a reasonable height, with ample distance separating them. Above all, the staff endeavor to make all guests feel welcome, and are always willing to lend a hand. Specifically, we would like to mention two groups who went above and beyond to make our stay enjoyable. The bell-boys: Francisco, Santos, Emilio and Daladie were patient, understanding and strong. On several occasions, my husband expressed the desire to swim in the beautiful outdoor pool, something he has been unable to do since his accident ten years ago. This wonderful group of men took it upon themselves to lift him in and out of the pool. We will never forget this gesture of kindness. Also, several of the animation team, Aneudy, Jairo, Chayanne, Rafael and Pablo were determined that he would not miss their shows. Despite the theatre being up two flights of stairs, these men carried him up just before the show, and brought him down afterwards. These wonderful men also lifted my husband onto the beach so he could enjoy the sand and ocean view! This type of courtesy has been unheard of elsewhere in our travels. Of all the areas we feel need improvement, the guest room presented the greatest challenge. We were advised that there are two rooms specifically designed for the physically disabled. We called ahead to ensure we had one of these rooms, but upon arrival found that despite the room being labeled as accessible, it lacks several key elements that define a room as wheelchair accessible. If you are intending to go, I would recommend getting a junior suite on the ground floor. The ‘accessible room’ has some very narrow turning radiuses around the corner to the washroom and no rooms have a roll-in shower available. Wyndham has committed itself to “doing everything within our power to meet the special needs and interests of each and every one of our visitors.” This was shown to us by no one more strongly than Rosangela de la Rosa, Wedding Coordinator at the Viva Wyndham. Rosangela went out of her way every day to ensure that we were welcome, comfortable, and enjoying ourselves. It was an honor to have our wedding officiated by this young woman and Wyndham is lucky to have such a committed, hard-working staff member. I would recommend a wedding here for anyone! Enjoy!

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Iberostar Paraiso Grand Rick

December 2007

We just returned from Iberostar Grand on Dec 2, 2007. After enjoying a week of luxury I felt I needed to write this for others seeking a vacation here, who are disabled or just using a wheelchair for transport. This resort is for People with Disabilities. The other reviews have it right in all areas, from the grand elegance of this place to the food, rooms, spa, beach, view, butlers, room service etc. This resort is most beautiful place. No matter how many tripadvisor reports you read, and no matter how many pictures you see, I really do not know that they would do justice to the Iberostar Grande. I read many, many reviews and even called the resort directly and still was blown away when we arrived. The resort has wheelchair accessible rooms that have a roll in shower, grab bars, a shower stool, no steps to living area or balcony. The room is just like the others minus the tub. The resort is fully accessible by wheelchair. If it is not an elevator it is a ramp. The staff did whatever they could to make my stay the best. Alberto was one of our butlers and deserves applause! They even asked for suggestions to make my stay more comfortable. Awesome people! Awesome resort!
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Riu Vallarta – Nuevo Vallarta Donna ~ Calgary, Alberta, Canada

July 2007

My family just returned from a 2 week trip to Nuevo Vallarta June 30-July 14, 2007, where we stayed at the newly opened Riu Vallarta. My husband has incomplete quadriplegia, and has the ability to walk a short distance with aid. Although he didn’t travel with us this time, I scouted out the hotel for a possible future trip. There were at least 6 different people in both power and manual chairs staying at the Riu during our time there, and I thought that this hotel really was accessible to all. Both the large adult and children’s pools had gently graduated steps for entry, and I saw bystanders and hotel staff quickly come to the aid of paraplegics who wanted to go in the water, which had a maximum depth of less than 5 feet at one end. Life vests could be had for flotation. There was a ramp to the start of the beach, and you could easily transfer to one of the many lounge chairs and be carried to where you wanted, or maybe they will have a beach adapted wheelchair purchased as I suggested the management do! All rooms in the hotel have hand-held showerheads, but for a regular room you would have to have the ability to get into and out of a tub, even though grab bars were standard. Bathrooms were large enough to get a wheelchair in and turn. I also viewed the 4 designated accessible rooms, and they had wheel-in showers with a bench provided. The hotel food was great, especially the lowly buffet! We thought they changed quite a lot of the menu every day and there really was no need to go to the specialty restaurants at all. Access throughout the hotel was great, and there seemed to be almost as many staff as patrons, so service was terrific. The downfall was that a disabled traveler would be restricted from taking the bus, and this hotel is at the end of the line, so taxi to town is $17US one way. We found that for tours that it is cheaper and better to rent a van and one of the tour operators that don’t work out of the hotel for a day and all our needs were met and we were in control. I got the name of the tour operator from the main desk, although they are, of course, supposed to steer you to the operators in the hotel lobby. Check on line for other operators before you go.

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Gran Porto Real Norm ~ Canada

February 2007

We stayed at the Gran Porto Real in Playa Del Carmen for two weeks in mid-January, 2007. I am a C6 quadriplegic from a spinal cord injury and confined to a wheelchair so had some special challenges as I do on pretty much any trip.

This was our sixth trip to various parts of Mexico so we have had some experience with what to expect.

We flew out of Calgary so it is about five hours or more from the time you board the plane until you disembark. If you fly with Sky Service I recommend you pre-book seats with extra legroom. That may also apply to other airlines. When we arrived in Cancun we had to wait quite a while to disembark while they searched for an aisle chair even though that was supposedly arranged in advance as well by the airlines. That’s Mexico! In my case, they had to carry me off the plane down steps because they don’t have the ramps, but that was no problem as they have plenty of people helping. Once we got into the airport we were spotted by staff and moved into a lineup to get through customs that bypass the other long lineups. That was a nice bonus.

As with all of our previous trips to Mexico, we encountered wheelchair accessibility issues with the transfer from the airport to the hotel. For this trip I was using an Esprit power chair that collapses and converts to a manual chair quite easily (although heavy for a manual chair) for traveling purposes. It has a small battery that powers motors in the hub of the wheels. My regular power chair is way too heavy to take on a trip like this and I am not aware of any adapted vehicles available there to transport that kind of chair. In order to be transported to the resort, you cannot load the traditional buses so you need to arrange special transportation in advance through your travel agent, or you can also rent a van at the airport. In my case, Signature Vacations provided the van.

Most Mexican towns and businesses do not have a lot of curb cutaways, so the light weight chair gives me the flexibility to be lifted, with assistance, into awkward places.

We were told in advance that the hotel was built to be wheelchair accessible. We pulled up in front of the hotel after a long day of travel and immediately noticed that it was four steps up into the hotel. There was a ramp but it required that we unload on the street, and since it was raining at the time, the people helping me had to stand in several inches of flowing rainwater. The ramp into the resort was quite steep (as were a number of the ramps in the resort), and not something a person in a wheelchair could negotiate without help.

We checked into our wheelchair accessible room and immediately noticed that the room was built on two levels. The bathroom, closet and main entry area were on one level and there was about a 6 in. step down to the bedroom area. Anybody who would build a wheelchair accessible room on two levels obviously doesn’t understand how wheelchairs work. There was a ramp built but it was a very short ramp and my wheelchair anti-tippers would catch on the ramp when I was trying to go up, so there was no way I was able to get back to the main level without assistance. Some wheelchairs wouldn’t have the same issue but anyone in a wheelchair would need a considerable amount of strength to go up the ramp. As well, the bathroom had no grab bars and it was difficult to access the toilet. We went back to the front desk and were told that there were only four wheelchair accessible rooms in the hotel and they were all the same. We pushed for a resolution and were able to speak to the manager. We showed him the problem in the room and he was able to take us to another room that had a raised, accessible toilet complete with grab bars. He also promised to build a new ramp for us the next day which was done. The changes were enough to allow me the freedom to come and go on my own so after some early anxiety it all worked out. The rest of the resort was fairly accessible, and because it was a smaller resort it was very easy to get everywhere I wanted to go without major exertion. We had previously stayed at a mega resort, so I found this resort much easier to get around in. I needed some assistance to get into the multi-level a la carte restaurants.

Last year we stayed at the Barcelo Maya on the Mayan Riviera. I had taken my manual chair. It is a very nice resort, reasonably accessible, but as it is a mega resort it is a long way to everything. Previous to that we stayed at the Samba Vallarta in Nuevo Vallarta. It is a very small resort, very accessible, and in a very nice location. It would be fine if you are staying for only one week, but if you are staying for two weeks the variety of food might get a little too repetitive.

The Gran Porto Real is a midsize resort compared to others we have stayed at.

The room was a Junior Suite, which was the largest room we have ever had in Mexico. It was a nice room, very clean, with softer beds and plusher towels than we have come to expect in Mexico. The bathroom was large, with a huge roll-in shower equipped with grab bars. It was easy to get under the sink.

The pool was lovely; well situated to catch maximum sun for most of the day. Some days there were not enough lounge chairs to meet demand so it was best to get out early and reserve them. Kids are allowed at this resort so they were quite noisy from time to time. The sister resort (The Royal) across the street is adults-only if you are looking for a quieter place.

The beach area in front of the hotel was beautiful. They have done a good job of repairing the beach after the damage from the hurricane. There were lots of lounge chairs available on the beach. There were a lot of Europeans at this hotel and that meant there was a greater lack of beachwear than we had previously experienced. Parents with impressionable children will want to keep that in mind. At the right edge of the hotel property the beach was pretty much washed away so there were a lot of fishing boats moored there. It was not a detriment though. It was fascinating watching the fishermen return with their catch, and the large fish were very tantalizing for people who like to fish. Playa Del Carmen has a law that does not allow vendors on the beach; a pleasant relief to not regularly be hounded to buy their wares. The beach goes for miles and miles with great footing for walking.

The main food serving area was nicely located close to the pool area. We were on the all-inclusive plan. For a resort this size there was a lot of selection at every meal. The fruit, breads, desserts, coffee and hot chocolate were the highlights, with great selection and taste. For me, the main dishes were good but not great. For the most part I felt the dishes were very North Americanized whereas I would have liked to see more authentic Mexican food. My traveling companions were happier with the food than I was. There was always a lot of selection and you could always find something to meet your needs and desires. Because the dining area was open air, the food tended to cool off quickly on the plate.

At the beach and pool you could find food from late morning until the supper hour. Drink servers regularly came around the pool to take your drink orders.

The specialty restaurants, Mexican and Italian, again I found good but not great, but again my traveling companions enjoyed them a lot more than I.

For the most part the staff were extremely friendly and helpful, especially the dining and beverage staff. The front desk staff was not always the quickest to help or as cooperative as you would expect. There was Internet access in the hotel but it was somewhat temperamental.

Our hotel did make attempts to get us to go visit and upgrade to their sister resort, the Royal, across the street, but we did not find them overly pushy. Some of our party did go check out the Royal, with mixed reviews. The upgrade was not overly expensive but the resort did not have the same Mexican charm; it was more boutique style. It had time-share and permanent residents who were not as friendly as holiday travelers, but it was kid free. Rooms were very similar except each room had a whirlpool tub in the room.

There were some language issues, as per usual, and sometimes they stretched the truth. One Guest Services representative was speaking to us, saying she had worked at the resort for three years, but when we requested something, suddenly it was her first day at the resort and she didn’t know if she would be able to meet our request.

One nice aspect of staying in Playa Del Carmen was the accessibility to the shops and restaurants on 5th Ave. It was a short walk to 5th Ave. and a great way to spend some time people watching and checking out some of the local flavor and products. You do have to be careful with what you buy because if you are looking for something authentic from Mexico, if you check closely the items may not be made in Mexico. There is lots of foreign jewelry.

Overall, we enjoyed our two week stay immensely. We would strongly consider returning to this resort in the future as the issues with accessibility and other concerns were not serious obstacles in the big picture.

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Iberostar Del Mar Paul ~ Toronto, Canada

January 2007

I’m 49 and am a C5 quadraplegic due to a spinal cord injury. My four travelling companions were guys I grew up with. We have been leaving wives, girlfriends and families at home and getting away for a week or so for the last five years.

I use an electric wheelchair to get around.

We arrived a little late because of heavy rains and a lot of flights were backed up. Still, getting through the airport was painless. We exited the plane to a gangway and took the elevator to the first floor. My chair was in one piece and working, definitely a good start. Two of the five of us got red lights at customs but that only took a few minutes extra. I’d arranged a private van for transfer to the hotel because it is difficult to carry me on and off those big buses. I booked with Anna at Playa.info. The van was a full size Ford. I was lifted into the second row of seats and my chair fit in the back.

The resort grounds are very large. Having stayed at the Iberostar Tucan/Quetzal I knew it would be big, but seeing is believing…including the Lindo and Maya you could easily walk for hours. Not a problem for me 🙂

Getting around the entire resort is possible by the pathways shown on the maps. At the T/Q only partial access was possible. At two spots in the T/Q’s jungle there are a couple of steps which means going around the outside of room buildings on the perimeter roads. The inner paths at the T/Q are made with real stones which adds to the atmosphere but makes wheeling much more difficult. The outer roads and paths were much better for smooth rolling. At Paraiso the opposite is the case. The inner paths are much smoother than the outer roads used by the shuttle train and trucks. Those are moulded to look like stone and while they are not as bumpy as real stone, it is uncomfortable to wheel on for any distance. I stayed to the inner paths whenever possible. Of course the lobbies and walkways to the restaurants and show area are tiled marble and are smooth as glass. Perfect to go fast on if you’re in a hurry or just like speed.

Room 4110
Our rooms were actually on the Beach side in building 41 because those were the only wheelchair accessible ones available at the time. No problem. It was pouring rain the night we arrived and the desk guy told me a shortcut through the employees’ areas so that I wouldn’t get soaked.

The room is large enough to wheel about in and after moving the small table and sitting chair aside, turning around is possible as is access to the patio.

The washroom was not what I was expecting. Information I’d gotten off of Signature Vacations website indicated the rooms at Del Mar were “Very limited, on request. Specially designed for people with disabilities or wheelchairs” This distinction may not seem like much but by my past experience at hotels in Cuba and the D.R., a room “specially designed” was ideal. Meaning a very open concept with roll-in shower area, raised toilet seat, wall mounted height adjustable sink, tilted mirror and smaller counter area. The bathroom did indeed have a roll-in shower but it was the same shower as a regular room with the floor step removed. I take my own shower chair with me and it fit in ok. The sink was mounted in a counter and the front valance was too low to wheel under. The door opened inwards against the sink which meant I had to back in and then back into the shower to be able to close the door and approach the sink. The rooms at the T/Q are described as “On request, however room not designed for people with disabilities and/or wheelchairs.” Theirs were the same as the Del Mar but had had the door hinges changed so that you could get in and close the door easily.

While the bathroom was not ideal and presented some difficulties I was able to manage just fine with some assistance. Everyone is different though and what is fine for me may or may not be suitable for someone else so if anyone wants more info please ask.

Beach I’d been told by Loreto Lazlo in public relations before arriving that the beach boardwalk was still in the planning stages. So, for the first day on the beach we borrowed enough wood planks from the construction guys (building a new washroom & bar) to get me to the first row of palapas where we made a small deck with the wood in the sun and shade. A couple days later we discovered there was still a beach boardwalk on the Lindo beach. It went from the bridge to the left to the bar, washroom, around the grill and past the archery location. So from then on we sat there and used a 4×8 sheet of plywood to get into shade. My friends had to walk back to the Beach/Del Mar for drinks and food but that wasn’t a hardship.

Midway through the week construction began on the Del Mar boardwalk starting at the el Faro restaurant side (right by the massage hut) and by Saturday the 11th it reached as far as the beach grill. I was very pleased with this because it gave me complete independence for the whole resort. The best beach access point is the one at the Steakhouse because it isn’t a wooden bridge. The bridges at best are bumpy and the Del Mar one by el Faro is the worst. It is very uneven. Still usable, just don’t try to carry a drink!

Since I was there the beach boardwalk was completed and connects at all the access paths.

Coba & Xel-Ha On Sunday the 5th we took a private van to see the ruins at Coba and then snorkel at Xel-Ha. It is a 2-hour drive to Coba where they have the tallest pyramid outside of Guatemala….and you can still climb it. Access for me was fair. I could get close to most of the buildings. It was interesting to see and I’m glad I went. The ruins there are only partially excavated so there are lots of trees still that provide shelter from the sun. My goal at Xel-Ha was to float down the lazy river and try snorkelling. The pathways leading to the bus to the lazy river were no problem. Then I simply rode the road to the start of the river. Here, having 4 strong friends paid off again as they had to carry me down a dozen steps in a two person floating tube to the start of the river. The park staff was very helpful also and had I not had the muscle with me I’m sure they’d have helped. They took my chair back to the lockers in a pickup truck. The river float was fun. I attempted snorkelling at the floating bridge and managed to see some fish but felt less comfortable with it than I had hoped. Oh well, it was still fun.

We didn’t have time to go to the beach there but I noticed a beach chair (a wheelchair with balloon tires that someone would push like a stroller) on the way in. You can probably rent them.

Restaurants Went to the Mexican, Steakhouse, Mediterranean, Japanese and Italian. Enjoyed them all. The cooking table in the Japanese restaurant has a short shelf around it that is hard to get close to in a wheelchair but if you sit at the corner and take up 2 spaces you can get close enough. Tables in the other restaurants were high enough for me…I need about 27" ground clearance to the lowest part of the table. (looked Loreto up on day 4 to say hi & thanks for her help via e-mail and she gave us an extra dinner!) My best meal however was after a day in Playa Del Carmen sitting outside at la Parilla on 5th Ave.. Had the Pibili Chicken. But it was the combination of food, wine, location, company, musicians on the street and warm wind that made it the best.

We took the hotel shuttle bus into town. My chair fit underneath in the luggage compartment but it had to be put on its side.

I’ve been away somewhere for a week to two weeks for the last six years and always to a different place. This year was the first time I returned to the same general location. The Mayan Riviera is the first place I’ve found that provides me the opportunity to easily experience more than just the resort. That doesn’t mean other destinations have nothing to offer, just that in my opinion the Mayan has had the most for me. I think it very possible that I’ll return again. And taking everything into consideration, I wouldn’t hesitate to return to the Del Mar or Tucan/Quetzal.

Please feel free to e-mail me with specific questions about accessibility at
paulbc5 at aol . com

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Last updated: February 18, 2007

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