I Use a Wheelchair, and These Are the 5 Best Accessible Vacations I’ve Ever Taken
Beaches, big cities and back-to-nature escapes—these inclusive adventures prove disabled travel isn't impossible and offer unforgettable moments that transcend physical abilities
Disabled travel made easier
I grew up in a big vacation family. Every year, my parents would carefully craft an itinerary and whisk me and my sisters away to new and exciting destinations. They truly believed in the importance of seeing the world and exposing our young minds to the transformative power of travel.
Our family vacations took various forms. Sometimes, the focus was on relaxation, with beachside fun and quality family time taking precedence. Other times, our trips were filled with adventure, packed with thrilling experiences and opportunities to immerse ourselves in diverse cultures and traditions. But amid the excitement and anticipation, there was always one crucial aspect that remained at the forefront of our planning process: accessibility. Because let’s face it: Disabled travel is not easy.
As someone living with spinal muscular atrophy, I require an electric wheelchair to navigate. This highly specialized mobility aid is nearly $40,000 and is specifically designed to support the unique contours of my body, maintain the angle that allows me to breathe properly and feature the hypersensitive controls I need to drive independently. Weighing in at more than 400 pounds, this is not a chair that someone can effortlessly lift up a few steps or throw into the back of a pickup truck should a wheelchair-accessible taxi be unavailable. This means that each place I visit must be 100% accessible, as makeshift accessibility measures just won’t cut it.
While this might sound daunting to some, planning to this level of detail becomes second nature over time. I am grateful that it never hindered my parents’ determination to let me explore the world. Their love, resilience and unwavering commitment to finding ways for me to experience extraordinary places instilled in me a profound passion for travel, which I continue to embrace in adulthood. Now, at the age of 25, I consider myself a seasoned traveler and even have my own travel blog dedicated to helping fellow adventure-seekers with disabilities find wheelchair-accessible escapes that ignite their spirits, just as travel has done for me.
So without further ado, here are my top five favorite vacations ever. Disabled travel may seem tricky, but trust me: As a wheelchair user, I can confirm these trips are worth taking.
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British Columbia, Canada
As a proud Canadian, I can’t help but rave about the breathtaking beauty of my home country. One thing that sets the province of British Columbia apart is its perfect blend of natural wonders and accessibility. It made significant efforts to prioritize accessibility in preparation for the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, and as a result, there are now numerous opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities in a fully accessible manner.
During a road trip through British Columbia, we were able to rent an accessible van in Vancouver, which is one of the most popular destinations in Canada. If you choose to visit, I highly recommend staying for at least two nights so you can experience all the city’s accessible attractions, including Stanley Park and its seawall, Kitsilano Beach, VanDusen Botanical Gardens and Granville Island. (The Sandbar on Granville Island is a must-try restaurant if you’re into seafood!)
My favorite things to do in British Columbia are outside the city, though. In Squamish, for instance, there is a fully wheelchair-accessible gondola and 328-foot suspension bridge. Crossing this bridge, thousands of feet above sea level, was such a thrilling experience, and to this day, it lives up to being the most adventurous thing I’ve done from the comfort of my own wheelchair!
Whistler—you might know it for its ski resort—is another stunning area of British Columbia with great accessibility. Here, I really enjoyed surrounding myself with nature on the many accessible points of the Valley Trail, as well as indulging in food and the bustling nightlife of Whistler Village.
Lastly, Kelowna stole my heart with its exceptional wineries and the fully accessible 7.5-mile Myra Canyon trail, which winds through trestles, caves and tunnels. If you crave a vacation that lets you connect with nature while enjoying accessibility, British Columbia should definitely be next on your list.
For a wheelchair user like me, Oahu is paradise on earth. I was able to spend three weeks on this Hawaiian island last winter, and let me tell you: I wish I could have moved there forever.
What makes Oahu so special is its perfect blend of vibrant city life—amazing restaurants, thrilling nightlife and fantastic shopping—coupled with picturesque beaches and landscapes. And because it’s part of the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act applies, making the accessibility far superior to other tropical destinations.
I stayed on Waikiki Beach and loved it because it is equipped with a Mobi-mat, a long blue beach mat that allowed me to drive my electric wheelchair right to the shoreline. This beach also allows you to borrow beach wheelchairs (free of charge) for up to two hours at a time so you can get right in the water and enjoy the ocean.
Among the incredible accessible experiences I had in Oahu, a few standout moments come to mind:
- Hanauma Bay, a fully accessible wildlife preserve, has some of the clearest water in the world. The calm tide, complimentary beach wheelchairs and fully accessible tram between upper and lower levels made it an absolute joy to explore.
- The Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail, a fully paved two-mile trail, offered breathtaking panoramic views of Oahu’s southeastern coastline, including Koko Head and Koko Crater. The accessibility of the trail allowed me to soak up the natural beauty of the area without any limitations.
- Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden offers 400 acres of lush, tropical scenery connected by a stunning lake, enchanting trails and inviting picnic areas. It was such a tranquil escape and was quite accessible overall.
I rented a wheelchair-accessible van to get around the island during my stay, but all the buses in Oahu are fully accessible, and there are also a few accessible taxis on the island. (A word of caution: These taxis are few and far between, so it is best to book your ride in advance to ensure you get to where you need to be.) But hey, if you’re waiting awhile, you can always strategize for your next vacation—with the right tour group, the Galápagos Islands are great for disabled travel too.
Cruising is, by far, one of the most accessible ways to see the world. It allows you to stop in so many different places in a short period of time, all without lugging your belongings and medical equipment from place to place. I also love that I always have accessible accommodations to come back to at the end of each day.
While my personal experience has been limited to Caribbean cruises, I am hoping to take a Mediterranean cruise in the very near future. So far, I’ve sailed with Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Princess, and I’ve been delighted by the level of accessibility provided by all these cruise lines. On each voyage, my rooms have been spacious, the balconies have been accessible and the washrooms have had roll-in showers. Elevators were able to take me everywhere I wanted to go on the ship, and I appreciated having access to restaurants, casinos, shops, spas, theaters and nightlife right at my fingertips. Taking a cruise is truly like living in a mini city while you travel from place to place, and you don’t even have to worry about booking accessible transportation in between.
One valuable lesson I’ve learned while booking cruises is the importance of reserving a wheelchair-accessible room, even if you feel comfortable navigating a regular cabin. The doors in standard rooms are notoriously narrow and likely won’t accommodate mobility aids, especially electric ones. Opting for an accessible room will ensure you end up in the best cruise cabin for your needs.
Additionally, it’s crucial to examine the itinerary before booking. Look for cruises where most of the ports of call are docked and don’t require tendering. Tendering involves transferring to the shore via a small boat, which may not always be accessible if you use a wheelchair or have limited mobility.
London, United Kingdom
London was my first-ever international trip without my parents, and I’m so happy it was—the accessibility was truly commendable. Yes, the city is quite spread out and there are a lot of cobblestone streets. But with the right planning, this can be a dream city getaway for anyone worried about disabled travel.
What truly stood out to me in London was that all the taxis, known as black cabs, are wheelchair accessible. This was a game-changer and a departure from other places I’ve visited, where pre-booking accessible transportation can be a hassle. The freedom to flag down any vehicle and hop right in brought a sense of spontaneity and convenience to my London adventures.
In comparison to North America, I also found that London was very forward-thinking with accessibility, offering free caregiver tickets to most attractions and providing sensory-friendly or sign-language-interpreted showings of theater performances, museum exhibits and more. Even public washrooms displayed a higher level of accessibility, often equipped with emergency pull cords, roll-under sinks and adult-size changing tables.
My favorite attraction was the London Eye. This iconic Ferris wheel is one of the tallest in the world, and it is completely wheelchair accessible, allowing you to soak in breathtaking views of the city. (But don’t let your adventure stop there—this list has you covered for all the best things to do in London.)
Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas
No list of favorite vacations would be complete without a classic “sit on the beach and sip piña coladas” getaway, and for that, my top pick is Atlantis Paradise Island in Nassau, Bahamas. I’ve traveled to various Caribbean destinations, and my trip to Atlantis stands out for its extraordinary accessibility.
Atlantis Paradise Island is a sprawling Bahamas resort that offers a plethora of amenities and ranks as one of the world’s most luxurious hotels. From water parks and aquariums to restaurants, bars, casinos, shopping venues, art studios and kids clubs, this is a true haven of entertainment. Much like a cruise ship, it has everything you could ever imagine, eliminating the need to venture beyond the property. As a wheelchair user, I found this particularly appealing because it spared me the challenges of finding accessible transportation or worrying about accessibility issues in town. Unlike other Caribbean resorts with limited dining options or activities, Atlantis truly has it all, ensuring that staying occupied during my weeklong trip was an absolute breeze.
One minor drawback is that the shuttles provided to navigate the property are not accessible. But I found it remarkably easy to roll around on my own and explore everything I wanted to see. The rooms were spacious and catered to my accessibility needs, and it’s also worth noting that the property has several zero-entry pools, making swimming easy and barrier-free.