Historic cities often pose unique challenges for accessible travel. Our accessible experts Barbara and Jim Twardowski travel to San Antonio to navigate the Alamo and beyond with Barabar’s electric wheelchair and report back on the city’s challenges and rewards.
Lush green foliage and 300-year-old oak trees shade the meandering sidewalks and foot bridges that border the San Antonio River one story below street level. The River Walk originally opened in 1941 with stairways to the street level, rock walls lining the banks and stone paths. Built decades before the Americans with Disabilities Act, the city of San Antonio has been improving wheelchair accessibility along the River Walk by installing ramps, adding new paths, and providing elevators.
While the paths can become quite narrow, we found the River Walk to be extremely accessible. Built along the River Walk is a plethora of restaurants, hotels, bars and shops. The atmosphere is festive.
Before visiting the River Walk, be sure to download the accessible maps which show the best paths and locations of elevators. Before we would venture out, Jim consulted the map and determine the most appropriate route. Many restaurants and shops look as though they are inaccessible, but often have an alternate entrance for wheelchair users. We quickly learned that Jim needed to step inside and ask whenever the accessible entrance was not obvious.
Dozens of restaurants overlook the river where patrons sip margaritas as mariachi music drifts on the breeze. Our favorite spot for dining is anywhere outside. We stopped at the 50-year-old Casa Rio for Tex-Mex cuisine. The street level entrance to the restaurant has steps so we took a detour — walking across the street to catch an elevator that took us down to the river level and just a few feet from the host’s station. We were immediately seated at a table on the edge of the sidewalk. Ducks diving for the remains of chips that bus boys toss into the water provided the entertainment as we waited for our meal.
For a complete list of events on the water go to their website. A wonderful way to become familiar with the River Walk is to take the 40-minute tour offered by the wheelchair accessible Rio San Antonio Cruises. A boat captain explains the sights along a 2 1/2 mile stretch. Cost for general admission is $8.25. The same company operates River Taxis to the Museum Reach (Rio Taxi Red) and the Downtown Reach (Rio Taxi Yellow). A combination Red/Yellow 24 hour ticket allows for unlimited rides and costs $15.
Keep reading for a full rundown of accessible hotels, restaurants and other services.
What to see and do
While the story of the Alamo looms large in American history, first-time visitors are usually surprised at its small size. Located in the bustling downtown, what remains of the mission’s original compound are the church and the lower floor of the long barracks. For Texans, the Alamo is a sacred shrine. Men are asked to remove their hats upon entering, and photography is not permitted inside. Before you visit the Alamo, take in an entertaining history lesson by seeing the 42-minute docudrama, “Alamo — The Price of Freedom,” at the IMAX Rivercenter (the mall at the River Walk).
Ranked as one of the top zoos in the country, the San Antonio Zoo is open 365 days a year. Admission prices are reduced for people with disabilities.
Home to the region’s finest display of Greek and Roman antiquities, Asian art, Latin American and folk art, and American paintings, the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) is housed in the former Lone Star Brewery. A limited number of wheelchairs are available at the front desk. The fully accessible museum has a riverside entrance on the north side with a shaded pavilion, esplanade and terrace.
Six Flags Fiesta Texas is a popular theme park. Stop by the Hospitality Center in Los Festivales for a “Guest with Disabilities Guidebook” which has detailed information on the accessibility of rides, shows, games and restaurants.
SeaWorld San Antonio has the famous orca, Shamu. Before you go, consult the 18-page Guest Safety and Accessibility Guide .
The recently opened Morgan’s Wonderland is a 25-acre accessible amusement park. Reservations prior to visiting the park are strongly suggested. Visit online or call 210.637.3434. Admission for people with “special needs” is free.
Yellow Cab provides a limited number of vehicles that can accommodate wheelchairs and scooters up to 31” wide. Call 210.222.2222 to speak with a customer service representative.
Alamo Trolley takes passengers on an hour long tour of San Antonio sights including: the Alamo, IMAX Theatre Rivercenter, Hemisfair Park, Tower of the Americas, River Walk, Institute of Texan Cultures, La Villita, Market Square, San Fernando Cathedral, the Mission Trail and more. Some of the trolleys can accommodate wheelchairs and scooters. Passengers with mobility equipment are asked to make a reservation a minimum of 24 hours in advance. Call 210.247.0238.
San Antonio has a great selection of hotels for every budget. Accommodations are located near the major theme parks, airport and along the River Walk. The City is host to numerous conventions, so it is wise to make a reservations early.
The newly opened Grand Hyatt San Antonio with 1003 rooms is attached to the convention center and has wheelchair accessible access on the river level.
For a hotel with a romantic view of the river, the Hotel Contessa is a lovely choice. The hotel’s bar is steps from Marriage Island, a tidbit of land, where more than 350 couples are married each year. The boutique hotel has large rooms–perfect for the extra turning space a wheelchair requires.
The intimate Hotel Havana has a spacious accessible room on the first floor of the property. A small elevator enclosed with decorative iron is tucked on the side of the property. No roll-in showers are offered, but the hotel is planning a renovation that will add them. Built in 1914, the historic hotel with 27 rooms, has a lively basement bar and the glass enclosed Ocho Restaurant has a river view.
For more information on San Antonio, check out www.VisitSanAntonio.com or call toll free (800) 447-3372.
And for more information on accessible travel, check out:
- Wheelchair Accessible Lodgings-London
- Wheelchair-Accessible Gulf Coast Travel
- Accessible Travel: The Basics Of Wheelchair Travel
- Accessible Travel section
By Barbara and Jim Twardowski, RN for PeterGreenberg.com. Barbara and Jim Twardowski are freelance writers based in Louisiana. Together, they contribute to publications such as AAA Home & Away, Global Traveler, and Disaboom.com.