dahlia in my garden: Rio Fuego in Coleus leaves

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Accessibility at the Grand Canyon

I just returned from the Grand Canyon and I want to share my experience in the hope of encouraging others with disabilities and/or health issues to go there. The focus on this post is for those with mobility limitations or those who use a wheelchair. I used my wheelchair almost 100% of the time in order to prevent me from walking and standing too much, so we took notes about the pros & cons of accessibility during our trip. It is our hope that it helps someone enjoy the wonders of the canyon regardless of their ability. We were not compensated in any way for writing this review, and no one was aware that we were taking notes. I tried to make this post as comprehensive as possible, so it is very long and jumps to another page. It covers the train, rooms, food, tours, and much more. This review is solely based on my perspectives during the trip I took in April 2017.

Our trip to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon was amazing! Traveling by train was definitely the way to go. It proved to be easy, accessible, and simplified getting to and returning from the canyon. The weather was cold but we were blessed to have a chance to stand on the canyon rim and see such stunning views. It really defies description, but must be seen to truly experience the scale of the canyon, the vivid colors, and the dizzying height. We saw so many animals from elk, to javelinas, to condors. It was a wonderful trip after years of wanting to go.
The Grand Canyon Railway offers the choice of just a day trip to the canyon or various packages which combine staying in the park and/or taking tours. We booked a three night / four day package with the Railway, which is based out of Williams, Arizona. Our first night we stayed at the Railway Hotel In Williams in one of their ADA rooms. It was an extremely nice room which had a roll-in shower with grab bars, fold down bench, and a hand-held shower which was mounted so that a standing person could also use it like a normal shower. Plugs for charging electronic devices were available on the bases of the table lamps, making them easily accessible to use. The common areas of the hotel had accommodations for those with mobility limitations in mind as well. A buffet dinner was provided as part of our package. Although it did not the greatest variety of food options, we found the pasta station to be delicious, which offered items to be freshly sauteed while you waited.
On the morning of our second day, we boarded the train at 9:15 after watching a fun wild west cowboy shootout. The train staff was very helpful with the boarding process. They have a special lift to load patrons in wheelchairs plus those who cannot climb up steps to get on board. We were in the “A” coach class car which was a remodeled 1950s era commuter car; it had a spot for wheelchair parking with a bench seat right behind it for companions.  I chose to park my chair and join my husband on the bench seat.
The restroom was fully accessible and adjacent to the wheelchair parking area. However, if you need to side transfer onto a toilet, it was impossible to do so in the narrow space. However, there is room for another person to be inside the bathroom with you if required. One cautionary note: the bathroom door slides sideways to open and close. At one point when the train was on a mile downhill slope, the door slid closed on my arm when I was exiting the bathroom, causing a bruise and the need to apply an icepack. Luckily I suffered no long term effects and we filled out an accident report to be on the safe side. Have your travel buddy hold the door when you enter and exit!
Not every car which was a part of our train was the same type. There were remodelled 1920s Pullman cars which were adorably vintage, but I noticed that the bench seats looked less padded and not as comfortable as the seats in the car to which we were assigned. There were also other classes of train cars (which I did not get to see) including first class, domed, and luxury.  If you have specific needs, be sure to mention them when you make your train reservation so they can put you in the train car which best suits you.
All the aisles in the train cars are wide enough to allow for wheelchair passage. However, the doors between the cars would be hard to open from a seated position, especially when the train is in motion, so ask for assistance.  A trip to the 1950’s dining car is totally worth it just to see. It offers pre-packaged snacks like chips and beverages ranging from hot chocolate to root beer floats.
The wheelchair lift to get me on to the train
The train ride to Grand Canyon National Park takes about 2 ½ hours. Each train car has its own attendant and they serve as a tour guide as well. Our inbound train had Laura and the outbound attendant was Amber. They were both knowledgeable and entertaining. There was also a singer who played guitar and sang for part of the journey. On the return trip, there is even a train robbery! The Marshall (who is also the mayor of Williams) was funny and a real character. The actual robbery could have been even more fun -- as we used to be part of the Silverado Wild West Company and stage bank robberies at the San Jose Historical Museum in CA, we couldn’t help thinking of how we would have added to their script and made it more playful. But we really did enjoy it and were glad it was part of the train trip.
On the issue of luggage: I had been told that we would only be allowed one checked suitcase plus whatever we could hold on our laps. I always have to travel with a separate suitcase full of foam pillows, pads, and other necessary things. I made sure to get a medical exemption from the Railway the day before. After spending the night in the hotel, we took our bags to the lobby where they were tagged for their final destination. This meant that once our train arrived at the canyon, we were immediately able to begin sightseeing. The Railway delivered our luggage to our lodge which was then taken directly to our room. We never had to pick up our bags or move them anywhere. The same was true when we checked out. All we did was attached a new set of tags to each bag and leave them inside our hotel room and the Railway retrieved them and loaded them for the return trip. We were freed from having to worry about our bags while we enjoyed our last day there.
We stayed at the Cliffrose building of Maswik Lodge. The ADA room was comfortable but rather dated, as it was constructed in the 1960s. The bathroom had a roll-in shower with grab bars for both shower and toilet, and a fold down bench in the shower.. The hand-held shower head was not mounted in a way so that it could be used any other way than by being held. The room had a mini fridge but no microwave. It had few usable electrical outlets. We had to unplug things like the coffee maker and the room clock in order to charge our electronic devices, the power wheelchair, and to plug in my husband’s CPAP machine. One big negative is that the outlets were all down near the baseboards...