Hi everyone, It’s Pinky; one of your Forum Moderators. Welcome to my long awaited New Pinky’s Accessible Adventures Diary Series (P.A.A.D.); a new feature here on the Forum. Each week I will be focusing on a single day’s worth of accessible activities, lodging and travel from one of our exploratory trips to the Caribbean. It is my hope that through what we have learned, we can help others plan their own adventures.
I am not your typical traveler when it comes to following “the rules” about what we’ve been told we can do and not do when it comes to traveling in a wheelchair. When I first became disabled and decided to return to traveling, I was never satisfied with the fact that in the few places with official accessible excursions; we were typically remanded to boring bus or ferry tours, where all I could do was sit there and just watch this exotic land zip by me in blur of tropical colors. That wasn’t enough for me and I was sure there was more out there for us in the Caribbean to participate in; I just needed to do some of my own homework before arriving to ensure a fantasy vacation for everyone, including myself. But what good is just keeping all this information to myself, when I know there are others out there who have hesitated taking that trip to a Caribbean island because of the same fear of boredom?
Although I spend an extended amount of time in St. Maarten/St. Martin, every year, I just got back from another Dutch Caribbean vacation that blew me away and I had to start with that island (we will get back to St. Maarten/St. Martin next trip review).
Overhead Curacao Beach
I wasn’t sure at first if it was going to be important to share with you the flying portion of this trip, as I usually have a very smooth trip when I fly directly from Newark to St. Maarten; however this time I had to fly through Miami on a different airline and based on what happened; I needed to share so you can prepare yourself for this possibility. In case you didn’t know already, most flights to the Caribbean go out of Miami or the New York City Area; so if you plan to fly from anywhere else in the country, be prepared for a stop along the way. It pains me to have to speak negatively about the Miami Airport because I grew up there and it was my favorite airport as a child; but if you have flown there in the last decade, then you know how overcrowded and understaffed it has become for the size crowd flying through there. This isn’t meant to scare you, but you need to be prepared, especially if your a chair user or traveling with anyone with disabilities.
Typically you set up with your airline any specialized specific needs you may have for traveling and then they arrange with a 3rd-party company in each of the airports you are traveling through to provide those requested services. Now if you have checked your wheelchair for the flights, be prepared that they may just take it to the next plane for you and provide you with inter-airport wheelchair transportation instead. This is the one airport I am going to tell you “NOT” to do it that way. Instead, tell the gate agent at your original departure check-in that you would like your chair brought to you in Miami and you re-check it in for your next flight. Otherwise you will have a nightmare experience with the 3rd party wheelchair company in the Miami Airport and could risk missing your connecting flight…trust me on this one (too long a story to explain). Plus, on your way home you will want your own chair as you will have to first go through customs, immigration and re-check in with ticketing and TSA before being able to get on your connecting flight(s) home (the whole time at the mercy of being pushed around in that horrific airport transfer chair). Once on the connecting flight to your island; just kick back and relax because they always seem to take great care of you on the islands in the airports.
JetBlue now has Lie-Flat Seating for Mint class to Caribbean if needed
As you can tell, my Miami Airport portion didn’t go well; but once we were in the Air, everything else went smoothly for the flight and in a few hours we were landing on this beautiful island that was being held completely hostage by transparent tropical blue waters around the entire outer edges. The Curacao airport was modern and clean and was so smooth for traveling through. We rented a normal car from Hertz at the Airport, but I did discover there is a rental car company on the island with Accessible vehicles to rent (Emma Rentals); who will either meet you at the airport with the vehicle or bring it to your hotel for you. Make sure to get good directions too before leaving the airport, or you will get lost trying to find your way around; unless you’re good with Dutch street signs.
Dolphin Suites and Wellness Hotel
When I first heard there was a fully-accessible hotel in Curacao, I was a big doubter; because who’s ever heard of something like that? However the same amazing team who developed the Curacao Dolphin Therapy and Research center on the island (See Day #2 of Curacao), also designed a hotel that addressed the needs of travelers with disabilities (of all types) and their families. Instead of thinking of it as an Hotel with Accessible rooms, think of more of a hotel that just happens to think-out ahead of time, how to best suit the needs of travelers with ALL levels of abilities; and offer them a hotel like no-other in the world. We pulled into the parking lot of the Dolphin Suites and Wellness Hotel late on Sunday evening and were just ready to collapse from the trip, but when you first roll into the lobby of the Dolphin hotel; you instantly feel this overwhelming sense of “I’m home” wash over you and feel the serotonin start flowing as you realize everything this hotel was designed with you mind and not some missed oversight.
The front office manager gave us a quick tour of the ground and first floor where we could find the two pools (1 with lift chair), island information and tour area, family BBQ dining (they will even pre-order your supplies), rental beach wheelchairs, the library and several lounge areas. There are ramps from the first to the second floor and the entire mid-rise hotel is serviced by an elevator. We were asked if we needed help with our luggage to our room, but my spouse likes to show off how strong he is when we travel by being our luggage wrangler; so we carried our own luggage up to our 2-bedroom suite with an ocean view on the 3rd floor.
You almost take it for granted and don’t notice when first wheeling into the giant suite that everything is set up for your wheelchair to access. (Not like some hotels in the U.S. who call their rooms accessible, but basically give us a few extra feet around the bed or wider bathroom doors for our wheelchairs). You can’t even call it a hotel room because it felt more like a private apartment, with almost a full kitchen(which they will also pre-stock prior to arriving for you with food and groceries), large living room and a huge balcony with gorgeous ocean views. Seriously, I was ready to move in. My spouse had to stop me from literally making laps through all the different connecting rooms in our suite because I’m not used to having the entire home accessible to me. The hotel also has studio suites available (to cut down on people making laps); we just only had the 2-bedroom suite available when we went to make our reservations.
The suite had a master bedroom with a queen size bed and 2nd-bedroom with 2 twin size beds that would easily accommodate a full-size adult too. In case you need a lift or any other additional equipment during your stay, the hotel has a list of medical assistive devices to help make your trip easier and keep you from having to shlep all your gear from home. **(As a reminder: U.S. airlines do not charge you for bringing any additional luggage with medical equipment; check with each airline for their rules). Our master bedroom had the same incredible ocean view as the balcony, and it was hard to want to close the curtains till the sun was set for the night. I’m not one to endorse beds most of the time, since usually after a week a hotel mattress can be like lying a bed of nails to me; but this cloud of butter they picked out for a bed was one of the most comfortable I have ever found in any level of hotel.
And that bathroom…OMGODDESS! They hit the Trifecta with the bathroom designs: A sink I can roll under; a toilet I can safely transfer to; and a roll-in shower I can easily bathe in and not freeze to death from. (Yes… I spent way too much time hanging in my bathroom this visit; just because I was so grateful I could). My only caveat and it’s just to prepare my U.S. travelers, is that to alert you the bathroom has standard European round, flat and narrow toilet seats; which is a little different then ones you may be used to. Not impossible to get used to, just didn’t want you to be in shock when discovering it. Also, I know you will think me tacky for saying this, but if you have gotten spoiled from the cotton like surface of U.S. toilet paper? Then stick a couple rolls of your favorite Charmin in your suitcase. All I want to do is keep you from ruining your vacation from a bottom destroyed by sand paper(… Just sayin).
Back down by the pool in the front of the hotel is a Wellness Spa with massages, masks, mani’s, petti’s and more for ALL the customers of the hotel (there is a menu of services on the hotel website). Surrounding the delicious pool edges are plenty of comfy pool lounges and chairs to swallow you up for the day and the pool lift chair is easy to access with the help of someone from the front desk who is just a few feet away. They have these great, big, fuzzy, blue beach towels to loan you for using on-site or anywhere you may be heading on the island (as many as you can get wet and sandy). The second pool is behind the hotel and has a much quieter and calmer feeling (I nicknamed it the grown-up pool because I never saw any of the kids in that pool; but not a rule). That’s also where the BBQ area is, so it makes a great area to spend the afternoon and just have a hotel staycation for a day. When you are ready to make some plans to finally leave the hotel (you won’t want to, but you should), come back by the front office and they will help you book some activities and help you figure out how to get there and back. That’s assuming you aren’t like me and book your activities 6+ months in advance after exhaustive searches or didn’t just book from all my travel advice?
To wrap it up, I have never experienced anything like I did staying at the Dolphin Suites. You don’t realize until you need it, what a dream it is to finally stay in a hotel that actually thought about “You” when designing the hotel and having to check out at the end of the week almost broke my heart. Thankfully the hotel general manager pointed out that the two buildings being built next door are part of the expansion plans for the hotel and my spouse promised me a return trip to the island to check them out when finished. Although when you hear about the rest of my week in Curacao, you’ll see it takes very little to convince anyone to return to the island after the fabulous week we had.
Overhead Photo of Hotel, Mambo Beach, the Curacao Dolphin Therapy and Research Center and Aquarium
Last but certainly not least, I wanted to take a moment to applaud the entire team working at the hotel for delivering us 5-star service and making us feel so welcome; as if they knew us for years from the moment we rolled into the hotel (actually for months sooner as they had to put up with all my enquiry emails). Sometimes it’s the people that make all the difference for travelers with disabilities when we stay somewhere; especially when they understand all our special needs and not make us feel awkward for having to ask for help. It literally took me 2 hours to have my emotional goodbye with the hotel team (and that NEVER happens when I stay anywhere). Dreaming of my next stay with the Dolphin Suites…hopefully when I come back for the two-week therapy program for people with disabilities at the Curacao Dolphin Therapy and Research Center someday.
Coming Next Monday: Day 2
…Speaking of Dolphin Therapy, come back next week to learn about Day 2 in Curacao, where I got to try out the 1-day Therapy Program at the Curacao Dolphin Therapy and Research Center; and spend the afternoon at the Cabana Beach Club in the Accessible VIP section. Come learn how that day has changed my life FOREVER!