I wanted to go somewhere with my mom and I was lucky to win some plane tickets to anywhere in the world. Unfortunately my mom couldn’t get a passport in time so we had to find a great location that didn’t require a passport and was hopefully tropical. I did a quick google search and decided to travel to Puerto Rico. From a FANTASTIC hotel, to accessible tours and adaptive kayaking. This is by far the best trip I’ve had.
I looked all over the internet trying to find a good hotel with pool lifts and easy access to the beach. Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort was at the top of my list. When making my reservation I was happy that they let me know about some of the specials. Because I asked about a AAA discount but they had a deal that was the same price and included breakfast for two every day two massages on the beach, two free drinks and a little bit of casino money. Yes, the hotel has a casino! The pool had two lifts and even a lift into the separate hot tub. I was worried about my mom having to do so much lifting because we wanted to go in the pool and on the beach etc. but the staff was amazing. The staff helped me on the lift and got me in and out of the pool. They even had a swim up bar and I tried to sit my paralyzed self on the seat but my butt floats LOL. Nevertheless I did sit awkwardly while drinking a delicious strawberry daiquiri. And I have to add, they do NOT skimp on the alcohol!
The beach was by far the most beautiful beach I had ever seen. Hammocks and palm trees made a row in the sand and it was super easy to get to from my wheelchair. There was a ramp that goes from the restaurant down to the sand but everything else was level. They don’t currently have a beach chair so pushing on the sand is difficult. But the employees at the hotel were so welcoming and helpful when it came to my physical needs! Every day, they were the ones who tilted me back in my chair and took me all the way out to the ocean water and set up an umbrella and chairs for me and my mom. They even assisted in my transfer to get onto the beach chair. For any of you who can relate to traveling with someone that you love who isn’t like this big strong man, you don’t want to put any physical stress on their vacation. This beautiful resort lifted all of those worries and allow my mom to have the relaxation she deserved! I even got a massage on the beach, which was included in my package. They lifted me onto the table and my mom got me on my stomach. They even have employees from the resort come around and take your drink orders while you’re sitting on the beach. The umbrella and chair service is included in your resort fee when you pay for your room.
The room perfectly fit our needs and it was absolutely beautiful! We stayed in room 302 which to our delight was an oceanfront room. I did not measure the bed height but it only came a tiny bit above my wheelchair seat height. Raise your hand if you’ve been to a hotel where the bed came up to your shoulder! The room is carpeted but it is easily rolled around on. The bathroom was nearly perfect. There is a roll in shower where you can use the bench they have provided there which worked great for me. My only negative is that if you are someone who cannot stand, you aren’t going to be able to reach the hand held shower head. I don’t travel alone so it wasn’t a problem once it was handed to me but if you are alone, you may need to have a staff member bring it down for you so you can just leave it down for your vacation. Everything else was perfect. I was able to actually see in the mirror because they have it angled down with a roll under sink.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more obsessed with the food at any other resort I’ve ever been to. I’m going to keep it real. I gained 5 pounds on this trip but it was so so worth it! One of the less expensive items on their menu is their pizza. They hand make the dough. Breakfast was included with my resort package and the buffet was fantastic. Having lunch by the pool was one of my favorite things because of the view and the crazy delicious coconut shrimp! But the dinner OMG! The lobster bisque, the filet mignon… and don’t forget dessert! Some of the best carrot cake I’ve ever had.
Things to do
We spent a lot of time at the resort but we did venture off for 2 of our vacation days. There are multiple accessible transportation options and tours that you can go on. Some tours are upwards of $500 for 2 people but it takes the planning hassle out of things. For example, there is an accessible old San Juan tour for $400 or you can do what we did. We had accessible transportation take us there, drop us off and wait for us, then pick us back up for a much cheaper price. I’ll delve into what we did (including a breathtaking kayak tour!) and give you info about other options as well
Old San Juan
We decided kind of last minute we wanted to spend the day going to old San Juan and my mom wanted to hit up this beach where there was lots of sea glass. I research accessible transportation and only one company was able to arrange transportation same day. F&V Transportation was so accommodating! They showed up with basically a wheelchair accessible bus and they knew exactly what they were doing when stepping my wheelchair down. He pointed out various historical spots and dropped us off in old San Juan. We visited shops and ate at a yummy restaurant called Gringos. There are some cobblestone streets and some businesses have one step to get in. Our driver knew the best place to drop us off but if you get into certain parts of old San Juan, the sidewalks are too narrow for wheelchairs and the curb cut outs are not great. These are easily avoidable though. Our driver waited for us in the parking lot and then took us to the beach so my mom could get her Seaglass. We had him for about 3 hours and it cost us $150 total.
Penial Access Tours
I was fortunate to find an AMAZING wheelchair friendly company called Penial Access Tours. They took me to the rainforest, the beach and kayaking. we literally had the owner, Alex, as our personal driver and tour guide for a total of 10 hours that day. Having his driving service, access to the rain forest, an excursion to the beach and a kayaking experience was only $360 for two of us. Alex does not currently have a wheelchair accessible vehicle but he lifted me into the front passenger seat all day and my wheelchair fit perfectly into the back of his SUV. I cannot even tell you how impressed I was with this company! I’ll elaborate on my amazing experiences below!
El Yunque Rainforest is absolutely breathtaking and the drive is worth it alone. You wouldn’t be able to go on trails obviously but there it a beautiful waterfall you can get pretty close to for some pictures. There’s handicap accessible parking right by it as well.
Luquillo Beach is extremely accessible and it is stunning! There are sidewalks, wheelchair accessible bathrooms and outdoor showers. If you plan ahead, there’s an organization called Sea Without Barriers that has beach wheelchairs and people to assist you. We just found a nice place on the beach and soaked up the sun. Alex wheeled me everywhere including through the sand. Mom was able to relax. One of the coolest things they had near the beach was an accessible restaurant where there was literally a ramp that went to the second story so that you could sit on the balcony and overlook the ocean. I’ve never seen a two-story ramp at a restaurant! I hate myself for not writing down the name of it but it’s in the Luquillo Kiosks
This is legit one of my favorite experiences I’ve ever had. After our beach excursion, Alex picked me up and put me in his SUV (again…poor guy!) and we were off to Bio Bay for some nighttime kayaking the water here is bioluminescent so when something touches it, I creates a glittery turquoise effect. They specialize in taking people with mobility issues out to experience this beauty. There is one kayak that has a chair with arm rests mounted inside and it’s somewhat of a padded seat. They even had mats to put on the sand to roll me close to the kayak before transferring me. Many employees with Pennial Access Tours assisted and it was super smooth. I was paired with an amazing guide who did all of the paddling. It was seeing the water light up in the night was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I was in good hands the whole time!
other accessible options?
There are other accessible options that we didn’t do as well. There are a couple of historical Forts that are very accessible including Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo de San
Cristobal. where. Another popular tour is at the Bacardi Distillery. You can read more about these experiences on another blog about accessibility by Cory Lee.
You Should Go!
Honestly this was the best vacation I’ve ever had regardless of whether I was walking or in a wheelchair. I have never been to a more welcoming and understanding place where everyone was willing to help. They even seem like they knew what they were doing at the airport! I have some opportunities to travel again in the next couple of months and I almost just want to go back here! I feel like I was totally spoiled by the accommodations! so who’s ready to go!?