Tourism Abroad - Disabled Accessibility

Epic Cities and Picturesque Parks

Chicago to Seattle Road Trip - June 2017

The Airline and the Airport

Heathrow Terminal three is all fully accessible with lifts and escalators, and security is very aware and ready to assist.  We boarded the Virgin Atlantic flight via a walkway.

We landed at New York JFK for the connecting flight to Chicago.  Immigration was a bit of a hassle as my support worker was unable to get a green light on the automatic passport machine, so we had to queue.  Terminal four is all fully accessible with lifts, escalators and disabled toilets.  We had to pick up our luggage and drop it off, then go through security which was disability aware.

It was quite a walk to get to the gate for the connecting flight, Delta Airlines to Chicago, but we had a lovely lady escorting us most of the way.  We boarded a bus to take us to the gate, which had ramps in place for wheelchair users.  We arrived with about twenty minutes to spare and enquired with staff that our seats were adjoined as Delta Airlines doesn’t pre book seats.  We boarded the small plane via a walkway, and our seats were right at the back.  The plane is very small and tight, which was a bit difficult not to hit my head on the overhead compartments!

Chicago, Illinois

On arrival at Chicago O’Hare Airport, we departed the plane by a walkway, and proceeded to collect our luggage.  The airport is fully accessible, and we headed down to the metro.  It took us over an hour to get to the heart of Chicago on the metro to LaSalle.  On arrival, we disembarked the train and there were steps to get to the surface, so the station was not wheelchair accessible.

At the Hotel

We stayed at the Travel Lodge which was in a good central location for sightseeing, located inside the Chicago Loop.  This hotel had a lower desk area for wheelchair users and two lifts taking guests to all seven floors (six for the UK).  The room was very basic but it was clean and comfy, and was equipped with air conditioning.

The bathroom was quite compact; there was a bathtub and shower in one.  The shower had no grab rails for support but the floor of the bath wasn’t slippery.

Getting Around

Chicago has an array of public transport to choose from with trams, buses and the metro.  Most of the attractions on the itinerary were located in the Loop, a neighbourhood area of downtown Chicago which is also the city’s central business district.  Taxis were abundant and reasonable, a ride for ten to fifteen minutes ranged from $8 - $12.  We didn’t need to use any public transport as it was quite easy to roam.  The city has wide flat pavements with plenty of dropped kerbs at pedestrian crossings.

Chicago has a few companies that are accessible taxis, please check out these links http://www.opentaxis.com and http://www.flashcab.com for further information.

Attractions

Millennium Park is a 24.5 acre public park located in the heart of Chicago surrounded by skyscrapers.  All is fully accessible, when there are steps, there are ramps.

The Art Institute of Chicago; this is a massive building full of, well you know….. art.  This museum opens at 10am and has a designated ramp as there are steps to the main door.  Upon arrival, we enquired about concessions (price was $25 each), within a few minutes of negotiating with a top member of staff, who then decided to let us both in for free!

Navigating the way around this art gallery can prove quite tricky as lifts are well hidden but there are plenty of staff about to assist.  A member of staff asked me if I needed a wheelchair, which I politely declined.  The time spent in this museum was around an hour, for me it’s just too big to explore fully.

Chicago has a majestic skyline and the best way to see the city’s panoramic views is on the Sky Deck of the Willis Tower, also known as Sears Tower.  Upon entering, we were directed to a lift that takes you up to the ticket area. There are disabled toilets on the ticket area level.  Unfortunately, there were no concessions in place so I had to pay $44 in total for myself and my support worker, which was definitely worth it.  There was quite a long queue to the lifts but was flowing well, only lasted for around fifteen minutes.  The lifts shoot you up 1,353 feet in less than a minute to the 103rd floor.

The Sky Deck at the Willis Tower is a ledge of glass that stretches four feet outwards.  Here visitors can sit or stand on the ledge for photos that looks like there is nothing below them!  There was a short queue and it all seemed a bit scary at first, but it was a great experience in the end.

After about an hour on the 103rd floor it was time to go down and head across town to catch the 7pm boat around a very small portion of Lake Michigan.  When we arrived, there were no concessions; the boat tours are owned by a private company.  Access to the boat appeared to be accessible, with a ramp in place, but there were no toilets on board.  The journey is around forty-five minutes, offering beautiful views of Chicago.

Eating Out

Like every major city, Chicago has a wide selection of restaurants to choose from.  For the first evening, we decided to check out the famous pizza restaurant of Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria.  It was flat to enter with good space between tables and adequate lighting.

Please note this restaurant is very popular so be prepared to wait for ten to twenty minutes for a table.  There are seats available whilst waiting.

We ate out at Grange Hall for the second evening.  This restaurant / bar had some mighty fine burgers, with one offering a strange taste, the Berries and Brie Burger.  We sat outside as it was quite a warm evening, sampling the beauty of American Craft Beer, for our last night in the Windy City.

Car Hire

We hired a car from National for nineteen days.  On arrival, we were allowed to visit the garage with a member of staff to see if we were comfortable with the car.  After a short while of consideration, I decided to upgrade the car, from a Santa Fe or similar to a Ford Expedition.

After payment was processed and we were handed the keys, we mounted up into the Ford Expedition, known as the Beast.  With the rev of the V8 engine, we were off on a most epic adventure across the good ole United States.

After a pit stop for some grub in Milwaukee, and purchasing an ice box and some refreshments, we then continued with our journey through Wisconsin to Eau Claire.  We hadn’t made a hotel reservation for this date as we wanted to get as far as we could.  I was quite surprised my support worker drove this far which was just over 330 miles!

Eau Claire was completely booked up due to a music festival taking place, so we logged into Booking.com, and luckily found a hotel in nearby Bloomer, 25 miles away.  The next morning, we departed for the city of Bloomington just over 100 miles away.

Bloomington, Minnesota

This is the fourth largest city in Minnesota that lies ten miles south of downtown Minneapolis.  There was only one reason to visit this city and that was to visit the largest shopping mall in America, the Mall of America.

The Mall of America is enormous; with 520 shops, 50 restaurants, an aquarium, a cinema, and a rollercoaster all under one roof!  This ninety acre complex is all fully accessible with lifts and escalators in place.  Disabled parking is available, and disabled toilets are on site too.

There is plenty of hand sanitiser in various sections and there are touch screen maps positioned at a reasonable level for wheelchair users.  We only checked out five or six shops, three hours of retail therapy was exhausting.

At the Hotel

We checked in at Holiday Inn Express for the night, which was located, a short drive from the mall.  This hotel is all fully accessible with disabled parking, and disabled toilets on ground floor and two lifts.  The room was spacious and comfy, and there was a bath and shower in one with a grab rail to assist with getting in and out.

Eating Out

We ate out at Red Lobster which is a short drive from the hotel.  Disabled parking was available, and the menus were well laid out, some dishes had pictures.  The lighting was quite dim, but as it was quiet with it being a Sunday evening, I was able choose a table with adequate lighting.

The next morning, we departed on a 270 mile drive southbound to Sioux Falls via Spirit Lake, Iowa.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

We arrived in Sioux Falls late afternoon and checked into Comfort Inn.  There are disabled parking bays available with a flat entrance into the lobby area.  There are two lifts and our room was nice and comfortable with air conditioning and a refrigerator. The bathroom had a shower and bath in one.

In the morning, we visited Falls Park which wasn’t as spectacular as first thought.  This attraction is all step-free with the path sloping up and downwards; there was no admission charge required.

After lunch and checking out some Western stores, which were all accessible, we departed for small town Murdo located in the south centre of South Dakota. 

Murdo, South Dakota

On arrival in Murdo, we checked in to the Range Country Lodging for the night.  This hotel was accessible, with disabled parking available and a disabled toilet in the reception area.  The room was very basic but it had all the amenities we needed with air conditioning and a fridge.

We went out for dinner at the Rusty Spur Steakhouse; a themed Wild West saloon which is accessible with disabled toilets.

The next day we visited the Pioneer Auto Museum which was located a few minutes’ drive down the road from the hotel.  This attraction allowed my support worker in free of charge where I paid full admission.  There were more than 250 cars all ranging from different time periods; some were as early as 1910!  This attraction has the famous General Lee Dodge Charger from the Dukes of Hazzard.

All cars in the museum are under a roof or inside large sheds / garages, with fairly accessible foot paths taking visitors from one section to another.  Afterwards, it was time to head off to Badlands National Park just over an hour’s drive away.

Badlands National Park

On arrival at Badlands, we enquired with a park ranger about the Access Pass which allows visitors with disabilities to visit as many national parks.  With a bit of negotiating, we were able to obtain one free of charge (they cost $80).  This pass is for a lifetime, there is no expiry date on the back.

Badlands is a vast rugged park and there were some dramatic spots of scenery, but as you venture on it all seems the same.  There were disabled toilets with disabled parking bays but some viewpoints were not as accessible.

Soon it was time to depart for nearby Wall to check out the famous Wall Drug Store.  This tourist attraction is like a shopping mall that sells mostly souvenirs.  There are disabled parking bays available with disabled toilets onsite.  This building is flat throughout with the occasional slope; however, it is rather difficult to navigate your way around.  After a few hours, we departed for our next hotel in Rapid City, 56 miles away.

Rapid City, South Dakota

We checked into Sleep Inn for the night.  There were disabled parking bays and it was flat to enter the hotel.  The room was nice and comfy with all the basic amenities.

The next morning, we departed for Keystone a short drive away, to visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial.  There is a small parking fee to pay to see four US presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln) carved into the cliffside.

There were a few steps with ramps in place for wheelchair users and a wide walkway up to the viewing area.  The face of the cliff was a bit too far for me to clearly see the monument, but with use of my camera, I was able to access it easily.  After spending a small amount of time here we left for Casper across the state line into Wyoming.

Casper, Wyoming

Casper was a planned pit stop; the drive from Keystone was over 220 miles with another 190 to the next destination.  We stayed at Best Western for the night, there is disabled parking available and it is flat to enter the lobby.  The room was enormous; practically double the size of previous hotel rooms, a bit too big for my liking.

We ate out at a steakhouse called Firerock, a short drive down the road.  All fully accessible and we were served with some of the finest steaks ever, excellent choice.

The next morning, we departed for Dubois, with some spectacular scenery on the way.

To be continued...