You know you have a true friend when she travels overseas with three kids in tow and still manages to get enough details on access and inclusion to write you two blogs on her experiences. My friend Sue, Occupational Therapist, took notes, photos and asked questions so I could share information with you about Orlando Florida’s attractions and accommodation.
My family of 5 headed over to the USA for the first time in October and were based in Orlando, Florida. With a background of Occupational Therapy it is part of my core to be on the lookout for accessibility. Having seen various countries around the world, in comparison I truthfully was blown away with how awesome the tourist industry is at being inclusive within Orlando.
Our first week was based at a SeaWorld affiliated hotel, Springhill Suites by Marriott Orlando at SeaWorld. Adjacent to us was Fairfield Suites which shares the same facilities and breakfast room. We had chosen this because of the proximity to SeaWorld related attractions, and due to the free shuttle bus. Being a SeaWorld Resort guest gave us SeaWorld Signature Show Seating, priority entry before 11am on select days to SeaWorld and Aquatica, 10% off the photo package at Discovery Cove, and 10% off food, beverages, merchandise at SeaWorld, Aquatica and Discovery Cove.
Photo courtesy of Springhill Suites Mariott
Springhill Suites has 5 floors, and I was informed that there are at least 10 accessible rooms (unfortunately all were occupied during our stay so I was unable to review them). The signage on one of the accessible rooms makes it look like the access is promising. I’m hoping the hotel will email me further details.
Some rooms offer great views – my son spent a lot of time sitting by the window looking at the rollercoasters of SeaWorld across the road.
Our family of 5 had a 2 Queen Studio with Sofa Bed which was more than adequate. The wardrobe was large enough to store our luggage and had good space for hanging up clothes. There was also a large chest of drawers which made it easy to unpack what we needed for the week and sort into drawers. As we were rarely in the room, we left the sofa bed down most of the time rather than using the couch. The study nook with desk and charging docks was great for recharging batteries and keeping our documents. We found the microwave and coffee machine useful for quick snacks, and the fridge was a decent size for storing salads and treats we had bought from the nearby grocery store.
At the end of the corridor I noticed families filled up eskies (cooler boxes) with ice from the nearby ice dispenser, and with three kids we found the laundry facilities really handy.
We also could see fireworks from Disney World going off in the distance. The hotel features lift access and entrances and walkways which are wide and flat.
The lobby area is spacious with a reception, mini mart (photo below), a cafe serving Starbucks drinks, a tourist booking desk and complimentary breakfast area (pictured above).
Our children were sold on breakfast from day one given there was a lady who made fantastic balloons in exchange for a tip – they walked away with a turtle bracelet, tiara and a jet helicopter.
The kids were also super excited to have make-your-own waffles or pancakes each day, with the option of adding choc chips. Although the hot and cold buffet would be difficult to access if seated in a wheelchair, there were always 2 staff on hand and we found them to be very helpful.
STAYING COOL IN THE POOL
The Splash Zone outdoor pool was loads of fun, and the pretend penguin and orca added a nice touch reminding us of our fun at SeaWorld.
The shallow end of the pool has step-free access and the outdoor spa has a pool hoist (see hoist above). There are disabled restrooms within the pool area but require a key from staff to access. Within the leisure area there is a bar with a simple menu, an arcade room and gymnasium which can be accessed using a room key.
SEAWORLD-AFFILIATED SHUTTLE BUS
As we had chosen not to hire a car, we wanted ease of transport to the main attractions. Springhill, Fairfield and a number of other SeaWorld-affiliated hotels offer free shuttle buses within Orlando. This made getting around so easy. Subject to change, the buses from Springhill service SeaWorld, Aquatica, Universal Studios and Discovery Cove (with a change at SeaWorld for their own coaches that are wheelchair accessible). From Springhill, there is an additional fee to be transported to/from Disney World, however SpringHill Suites at Lake Buena Vista have a free shuttle to Walt Disney World.
Reservations for the shuttle bus can be made in the lobby of the hotel within an hour of departure. The buses are wheelchair accessible with no need to transfer from the wheelchair. At the theme parks, there are courtesy wheelchairs available in the carparks and at bus stops for anyone needing help mobilising from the carpark to Guest Relations where wheelchairs/scooters can be hired.
ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORT OPTIONS
International Drive is one of the main roads that connects to Orlando’s tourist attractions. With a bus stop 5 minutes away from Springhill Suites, we utilized the iRide Trolley to visit destinations on the International Drive Resort Area. Our kids called it the ‘cute bus’ because of the green smiley face on the front, and it had loads of character with wooden seats and pull cords to stop.
The Trolley has ADA-specified hydraulic lift systems for easy wheelchair access, and there is room for 2 wheelchairs in each bus. There is a red line and green line, with trolleys departing every 20-30 minutes. There is the option of buying unlimited day passes or single use passes. We were able to buy our tickets on board or at the tourist booking desk in our hotel. For more information on the routes, check out their website.
For accessing other locations around Orlando not serviced by the Trolley or the complimentary shuttle bus, we had a lot of confidence in Christina, a taxi driver who we called upon throughout our trip.We asked her about accessible services and she said they have buses, mini vans, SUVs and cars, but the bus is the only one with one wheelchair accessible seat. She said they are willing to help but it is best if people get in contact first to see what can be arranged. The company is SSS Luxury Transportation.
Christina can be contacted on 1(480)5400251.
We had split our Orlando trip up into halves with the 2nd part of the trip staying onsite at Disney World. Staying at Springhill gave us easy access to other attractions within Orlando and International Drive had many restaurant options, including Taco Belle, Dennys and Buffalo Wild Wings within walking distance. There were also small pharmacies, dollar stores and grocery shops in close proximity too.
From Springhill Suites we had a wonderful time visiting Discovery Cove, Seaworld, Aquatica and several other amazing places.
Stay tuned for part two coming soon! I have also contacted the hotel to see if they will send me photos and details of their accessible rooms.
A big thanks to Sue for wearing her OT hat, taking photos of access and to her family for sharing their experiences.