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My accessible travel experiences with Wheel the World
By Bert Burns

A cheerful couple posing for a photo in a cold, overcast climate. The woman, on the left, has a big smile and is wearing a dark jacket and a colorful headband, her hair styled in a braid. The man is grinning broadly, sporting a beanie and a dark coat with bright, multi-colored wristbands. Behind them, an icy landscape unfolds with multiple blue-white icebergs floating in a calm body of water. To the right, a few people can be seen walking near the shore and an inflatable boat, hinting at a tourist setting likely in a glacial lagoon.
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I’ve required accessible travel for 42 years, living as a C6 quadriplegic. Initially, I travelled the world for wheelchair racing. Now, I travel leisurely with my wife, Joy, of 26 years. As my disability changes, my need for specific accessible accommodations and transportation increases. Following a 2022 trip to Chile with Curb Free with Cory Lee, Joy and I discovered Wheel the World (WTW). As a result, our travel life is now drastically different – in the most positive way. No more endless internet research. No more disappointment upon arrival. We simply pick the destination, pack our bags, and show up. The rest is handled by WTW.

In 2022, my family and I went on several trips with WTW. In planning our adventures, WTW considered several and various aspects of accessibility – hotels, activities, tours and transportation. I completed my travel profile, which takes into account personal accessibility needs, ensuring WTW knows precisely what I require every time. They made sure I always had a room with the right bed height and a roll in-shower with a bench. Additionally, I expressed my preference for accessible transportation and accessible tours. This saved us so much time and effort preparing for the trips!

An Accessible Trip to Rome, Italy

Rome was a favorite for Joy and me. I love the food and she loves the culture! WTW was able to coordinate adapted transportation for us to attend a once in a lifetime Andrea Bocelli concert and gave us a private tour of the Colosseum. The guide knew the special entrances and was so knowledgeable of accessible restaurants and restrooms in the area. But, one of the most unique aspects WTW facilitated was a day trip to San Gimignano. This historic and hilly town posed a challenge for me as a manual wheelchair-user. This is why WTW offered a scooter rental, which enabled me to be independent and enjoy the medieval city to its fullest. Well, that is until the rain poured, but I suppose they can’t control everything! 

Heading North to Florence

During our trip, we took a short overnight stay to Florence. A partner of WTW came to our hotel in Rome, walked with us to the train station, ensured we boarded the right train, and then another guide met us at the station in Florence. This type of white glove experience is just what we needed to be confident traveling through Italy.

Accessible Group Tour to Iceland

Our adventure in Iceland was a 9-day accessible group trip with 3 other people with disabilities. I was initially hesitant to go but Joy was excited about it, so of course I said yes! We all had different abilities but developed a special connection through the shared experience. Our hotel was based in Reykjavik, the capital, and we did short day trips to surrounding towns. The green hills, waterfalls, and glacier fields were stunning. I had never been to a place with such a diverse landscape. Each day brought new and exciting accessible activities, but one major highlight was the Blue Lagoon hot springs – one of the most famous hot springs in the world. WTW ensured we had accessible entrances to the pools and also accessible changing rooms. Later in our vacation, we headed to a town south of the capital and stayed for 2 nights. In this region, we explored volcanic lava fields and glacier lakes. The boat tour, which was accessible, was a breathtaking excursion through crystal blue icebergs. Iceland is certainly a country that we will visit again! WTW did an excellent job accommodating all of the different travellers and their needs on this trip.

Accessible Vacation to Greece

Our final major trip in 2022 was a Greek vacation with our 22 year old twins. WTW planned two days of a pre-cruise itinerary in Athens. We stayed in a hotel with a rooftop pool and restaurant overlooking the city – the views from this vantage point were spectacular. Our accessible room worked well for our 2 night stay. ADA-compliant rooms in Greece don’t adhere to the same standards as they do in the U.S., but the suitable bed height met my most crucial requirement. We tasted the flavors of Athens through a food tour coordinated through WTW. Joy very much enjoyed the Greek cuisine, especially the kebabs and feta!

The private tour to the Acropolis was my favorite part of the trip. I remembered it from my competition at the Athens Paralympic games. The tour started at the accessible entrance closest to the elevator. It is still hard to believe there is an elevator to the oldest ruins in Greece!  After our two day mini trip to Athens, we headed on a Mediterranean cruise. Even though we couldn’t get off at every stop due to tendered ports, WTW planned our excursions in Mykonos and Rhodes. These ports were the twins favorite part of the cruise. WTW knew my accessible transportation needs and our family’s preferences (Pro tip – WTW doesn’t have partners in all cruise ports, but we always check when headed on a cruise! It’s much easier than planning these excursions on our own).

Booking Accessible Hotels for Every Occasion

In addition to these trips, we also relied on WTW to book hotel overnights in Washington D.C, Orlando, and Miami! This way, we are guaranteed a room that meets my needs. No more booking with uncertainty.

Using Wheel the World for All Your Accessible Travel Needs

WTW has greatly simplified our travel life. Yes, travel can still have some stressful moments – it’s almost inevitable. However, at its core, travel is an adventure, so you have to be flexible. WTW’s role of taking our preferences and using their expertise has alleviated the stress of hotel selection, ensured the reliability of transportation, and facilitated the ease of finding accessible tours. Their knowledge of the areas we visited, combined with an understanding of my level of ability, genuinely guarantees a fantastic experience for my family. Joy can now simply be my wife instead of my travel agent.

Helpful article for more information: The Expert Solution for Accessible Travel: 10 Reasons to Book with Wheel the World

My Advice for You

My advice to you is to start by filling out your WTW travel profile. Then begin with a small step, such as an overnight hotel stay, to build confidence with the booking process. Explore WTW’s website and dream! Pick a destination and let WTW plan your adventure. Whether it’s a long weekend in Vegas or an Italian getaway, make 2024 your year to start exploring, despite your disability.

Adventure is for everyone; it pushes you out of your comfort zone and shows what you can do.  Yes, there are times the airlines mess up. Yes, there are times things won’t go as planned. Yet, the memories you make outweigh the obstacles.

Good luck and enjoy the ride! 

Have you heard of Wheel the World? Find helpful resources below:

Build Your Accessibility Profile

 Learn More About Wheel the World

 Join Our Accessible Travel 

Facebook Group

 WTW Blog

 

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