WANDERING ON WHEELS
Wheelchairs and strollers make for very specific needs, and they don't disappear if the folks in them happen to be on vacation. While some cities fare better with wheelchairs and strollers than others, most are starting to realize that accessible spaces add tourist dollars as well as quality of life. We consulted with travel experts and found more than a handful of places that are just as friendly to those traveling on wheels as they are to those on foot.
Atlanta has gone through a renaissance within the past 20 years, which means many of its most popular attractions have been designed with access and the Americans with Disabilities Act in mind. The World of Coca-Cola, the Georgia Aquarium, Zoo Atlanta, Centennial Olympic Park, the SkyView Ferris Wheel, and CNN Center are all wheelchair and stroller accessible, as are buses and the MARTA subway system.
The Disabled Surfers Association of Australia can help people in wheelchairs surf the southern coast, but attractions such as the Eureka Skydeck, hot air balloon rides, safari tours, and more areall wheelchair-accessible. Even better, Melbourne's beaches have a lot of access points in place to help people in chairs or struggling stroller-pushing parents get onto the beaches and watch the waves roll in, according to travel site Spin the Globe.
The London Underground, the lower decks of its buses and even the black taxis — which have ramps, high door openings, and extra room inside for wheelchairs and strollers — make London one of the most accessible cities in the world. Buckingham Palace offers step-free access through a private front entrance, and the Royal Mews are completely level. Attractions such as the Tate galleries and British Museum are similarly accessible, along with the step-free cars on the London Eye ferris wheel.
The largest of Spain's Canary Islands off of West Africa, Tenerife has been popular with British travelers for years. U.S. travelers who visit the capital of Santa Cruz will also find a whole lot of wheel-friendly attractions, including the Auditorio de Tenerife, Museum of Fine Arts, and Museum of Nature and Man. With wide promenade-style walkways, plazas, gardens, and parks — and the first public transportation system in Spain to be certified for Universal Accessibility — Tenerife is easy to get around. Public buses, tour buses, and trams are all accessible, while Arona's barrier-free facilities and services open beaches to pretty much anyone.
Indianapolis' transit system hasn't been all-around helpful to wheelchairs and strollers, mostly because its 32 bus routes are strong east and west of downtown, but not necessarily north and south of it. That is changing quickly. Bus rapid transit is coming in, routes are being added, hours are being extended, bus frequency is picking up, and overall service is increasing by 70 percent. That puts access on par with attractions such as the Indianapolis Children's Museum, the Canal Walk, the World War Memorial, the NCAA Hall of Champions, and Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.
The city bus, tram, and light rail systems are built for easy rolling, the city's hotels are largely roll-friendly, and the sidewalks are … well … improving. That said, Downtown Dallas, the Sixth Floor Museum, the observation deck at Reunion Tower, the Farmers Market, the Deep Ellum neighborhood, and most of the city's museums are all highly accessible to wheelchairs and strollers.
Whether you're going to Alaska, Russia, Israel, the Mediterranean, or the Caribbean, wheelchair-using veteran travel writer Cory Lee notes that cruise lines have updated their ships and added more access from the rooms all the way to the pools. As for strollers, they're practically the entire reason Disney cruise lines (and its competitors) exist. You can order diapers and wipes to be delivered to your room before you arrive, borrow a changing pad and other items, get a misting area on deck, roll a wagon onto family-friendly beach stops, and check little ones into the Small World nursery with caregivers.
This is a more hilly city than people give it credit for, but the light rail, buses, and funicular up the hill are accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. The city's sports stadiums and arenas are all accessible, as are attractions including the Andy Warhol Museum, Mount Washington, Point State Park, and the.
Sure, it gets snowy, but from April through October, Vienna's wheel-friendly public transit system traverses a mostly flat city with accessible attractions, restaurants, stores, and hotels. The outdoor cafes are a welcome break, and the flat Stephansplatz pedestrian area provides access to centuries-old cathedrals, monuments, souvenir shops, and restaurants with level entry, all within a span of an hour or less. The Schönbrunn Palace is accessible, as is Belvedere Palace, the Spanish Riding School and its Lipizzaner stallions, and the Albertina art museum.
Barcelona is one of the most accessible cities in Europe, with ramps, elevators, and level walkways at all points thanks largely to a port on the Mediterranean bringing in a whole lot of cruises. Buses and the subway are 100 percent accessible, and there are wide sidewalks flanking even the most treacherous cobblestone streets. A rolling tour of medieval sites including Barcelona Cathedral, built more than 500 years ago, and the Santa Maria del Mar church, erected in the 14th century, is fairly simple, while Park Guell, La Sagrada Familia, and some of Antoni Gaudí's other creations are all either explorable or visible from accessible routes. Sant Jaume Square, Las Ramblas boulevard, the former Royal Palace, and all the outdoor cafes in between are friendly stops, especially for those looking to park and take in paella, bombas, and other Spanish cuisine.
It's a bit old and uneven, but New Orleans has a city bus system serving all parts of the city that's fully accessible, with vehicles that lower, have ramps, or lifts. The streetcar system's red cars, which operate on the Canal Street and Riverfront, have motorized wheelchair lifts and securement areas (steer clean of the green line, though). While many upper-floor attractions on Bourbon Street aren't accessible, Bourbon Street itself, Cafe du Monde, Jackson Square, Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, King of France, City Park, Harrah's New Orleans Hotel & Casino, the jazz clubs of Frenchmen Street, Armstrong Park, and the city's cemeteries are largely accessible.
SALT LAKE CITY
About 90 percent of Salt Lake City falls within the city's transit corridor, and that expanding web of bus lines, light rail, commuter trains, and streetcars within Utah Transit Authority is accessible, save for an older commuter rail car here or there that won't keep people on wheels off transit altogether. Salt Lake City wants people to know that the large majority of attractions within the city are accessible by wheelchair and stroller-friendly, and that state and national parks and public lands have adaptable options to help people explore.
Covering more than 97 percent of the city, Honolulu's bus system is exceptional. Fares for those with wheelchairs are about a third of the standard adult fare, and all buses are accessible. Even if buses themselves prove difficult, the city's paratransit service covers a lot of ground. Honolulu's beaches have all-terrain wheelchairs accessible, while attractions such as Pearl Harbor and the royal palace are wheelchair friendly (even if Diamond Head is not).
It's the vacation capital of the world: Everywhere from the Disney and Universal parks to Legoland and SeaWorld are wheelchair- and stroller-accessible, and the transit is as well. The bus system is completely wheelchair accessible, keeps late hours, and runs year-round. It charges half-price fares for riders in wheelchairs.
Attractions such as the Constitution Center, Museum of the American Revolution, Franklin Institute, Liberty Bell, and even the art museum (the Rocky steps aren't the only way in), are wheelchair- and stroller-friendly. While SEPTA's bus system is 100 percent accessible, passengers note that train stations — especially the regional rail, where only about half of stations have elevators — can use some work. The PATCO rail line fares only slightly better, with less than half of stations having wheelchair elevators, but the city is still loaded with accessible options.
When New York was sued for its lack of wheelchair access, the suit noted that all of San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit stations were accessible. Caltrain is similarly accessible, as are Muni buses and trains. The same applies to San Francisco Bay ferries. Bus drivers in San Francisco are trained to belt chairs into place before traversing the city's steeper streets, and the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, Golden Gate Park, and Alcatraz are all wheelchair-friendly — and good for strollers as well.
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
A fairly flat city to begin with, Albuquerque also has one of the most accessible transit systems in the country (including fares for people in wheelchairs that are roughly a third of the standard). Meanwhile, Nob Hill, the Balloon Fiesta, and most attractions are all accessible on wheels.
Roughly 30 percent of Richmond was within reach of public transit in 2011, but that's changing quickly: a high-frequency bus rapid transit system launched this year along more than a dozen stops. Passengers in chairs have access to a fleet that's now 100 percent wheelchair-friendly. That makes it easy to get to wheel-friendly destinations such as the Kings Dominion theme park, Maymont Victorian estate, the canal walk, and the Edgar Allan Poe museum.
Los Angeles doesn't mess around. All buses are built for access, all rail stations have ramps or elevators, and all wheelchair-using passengers pay less than half price. The Metro even issues tweets at @MetroLAElevator to let riders know if their local stop's elevator is down. Whether taking a studio tour, visiting the J. Paul Getty Museum, heading onto Santa Monica pier, or just rolling down the Walk of Fame, almost all of Los Angeles' major attractions are wheelchair and stroller accessible.
Don't let the Mile-High City moniker or the mountains fool you: Denver is easy to navigate in a wheelchair. Yes, Denver can get cold and snowy, but its public transportation system goes to great lengths to be 100 percent accessible. Trains and light rail have ramps and priority seating — take them to Larimer Square, the Botanic Gardens, Denver Zoo, various museums, the U.S. Mint, all sports facilities, and even the Coors brewery in nearby Golden and there's easy wheel access there too.
When it isn't snowing, Chicago is easy to wheel around. The buses are generally as accessible as tourist attractions including Sears Tower, the Field Museum, the Art Institute, and Wrigley Field, but WheelchairTravel.org notes it could certainly invest more into train access. While the Chicago Transit Authority's system is about 70 percent accessible, it's trying to reach a D.C.-like 100 percent by 2036.
Locals complain about the T, but it runs better than the New York City subway and above- and below-ground trains have good wheelchair access — at 90 percent of stations, according to the agency running it, with plenty of updates to platforms and elevators in recent years. The Freedom Trail is one of the most wheel-friendly attractions in the country, while the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Museum of Fine Art, the Esplanade, and the Public Garden and Boston Common are all easy to navigate with wheelchairs and strollers.
It's "perhaps the most-accessible public transportation system in the world,"WheelchairTravel.org says, with the broad sidewalks of a flat downtown making D.C. more wheelchair-friendly than most cities its size. Combine that with the Metro (which has elevators at every stop), van transport when the elevators break down, kneeling buses, and a mandate to make 100 percent of taxis wheelchair-accessible (including an incentive program for doing so) and D.C. leads by example. Also, as the nation's capital, it has to be accessible to the nation at large, which means that every attraction you can think ofmakes it easy for wheelchairs and strollers to get through.
Vegas likes money: Your money. If you can't get to shows and casinos, you can't spend it. That's why every spot on the strip is wheelchair accessible (even the zip lines). The city is flat, the sidewalks are broad, and rain is minimal. Fares for people in wheelchairs on buses are $1. Even the monorail is wheelchair accessible. As for strollers, don't worry: That family-friendly stint during the '90s means there are plenty of stroller-friendly attractions, including various malls, the Bellagio fountain, Neon Museum, Fremont Street, and Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat.
Bus, train, and streetcar stations are built with access in mind, while the city itself is relatively flat in most areas. As for the stroller crowd, the city's esplanade, International Rose Garden, Zoo, park blocks, food cart pods, and various museums are easy to stroll.
Despite Seattle's hilly nature, Wheelchairtravel.org ranked Seattle No. 1among its most wheelchair-accessible cities. The mild weather and high safety rating help, but the bus system has been fully accessible for more than 20 years and Sound Transit light rail, ferries, and taxis are wheelchair-accessible as well. For tourists, major attractions including the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Pipe Works Park, the zoo, and aquarium are all wheelchair friendly.
The Eastern Caribbean isn't particularly friendly to rollers, but the 2012 Fully Accessible Barbados initiative is changing that by offering incentives to anyone who "recognizes the importance of accessibility in order to achieve the truly inclusive society"of its vision — and accessible hotels and all-inclusive resorts in or near Bridgetown do. Some have even provided amphibious wheelchairs that let riders get in the water. It's easy to tour Harrison's Cave, Cherry Tree Hill, Bathsheba Beach, St. John's parish church, and even the Soup Bowl, and many wheelchair-friendly cruise liners already stop there.
The capital of Slovenia, part of the former Yugoslavia, restricts car traffic in is center and opens up paths by the Ljubljanica River to pedestrians, cyclists, and wheelchair users. Cafes set up terrace seating along the river, ramps are everywhere, and public buses are accessible — though wheelchair-using travelers say you won't really need them. There are electric taxicabs that transport passengers for free, and a few are wheelchair accessible. While it may be tougher rolling in the Julian Alps, Lake Bled, and Lake Bohinj — just an hour's drive away — the mountain views are just fine from the city.
Australia has many great, largely flat destinations for wheeled travel, and Downtown Sydney, the Sydney Opera House, views of the Harbour Bridge, the ferry to Manly Beach, and the boardwalk by the beaches are all accessible. Sydney also has many chair-accessible taxis that can be summoned using a dedicated phone app, public transportation is accessible, and places such as Sydney's Olympic Park, Olympic stadium, and the Royal Botanic Gardens are all worth wheeling around too.
It's a long flight to the United Arab Emirates, but much of the city was built 20 years ago or less and designed with strollers and wheelchairs in mind. Want to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), relax on a palm-shaped beach, shop for gold in the souks, go on a desert safari, or just have brunch? It's all accessible, as is the public transportation.
RIVIERA MAYA, MEXICO
We aren't saying all the white sand beaches along the Yucatán Peninsula are accessible, but the beachside hotels and all-inclusive resorts that don't want to miss out on tourist dollars are getting a lot more so. From Cancún to Playa del Carmen, at least five all-inclusive resorts are wheelchair accessible, while sites such as Tulum and Chichen Itza have wheelchair-accessible tours. Many resorts also offer beach wheelchair, scooter, and mobility equipment rentals, divided evenly between adult-only and family friendly.
The Van Gogh Museum, which has housed the largest collection of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings since opening in 1973, the Rijksmuseum, and many of the canal boats have wheelchair-using visitors in mind. While strollers about in the parks, along the canals and throughout the flower markets, wheelchairs are also common throughout a city that already makes great concessions to pedestrians and cyclists. We will warn, however, that the trams aren't always built with chairs in mind, and the Anne Frank House isn't accessible at all.