Travel Tips

Wheelchair-Accessible Gulf Coast Travel

Blue Heron - Gulf Coast region of AlabamaThe Gulf Coast is a favorite destination for families, but finding a wheelchair-accessible beach retreat can be a challenge. Barbara & Jim Twardowski, RN, share their tips on finding accessible accommodations and experiences.

Row after row of condominiums line the Gulf Coast. Most of the units are owned by individuals and few are configured to meet the needs of someone who uses a wheelchair. Unlike a hotel, homes do not fall under the accessibility guidelines mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Condos, B&Bs and private homes can be good alternatives to a hotel—just be prepared to do some investigating prior to confirming a reservation.

Before you book a room, determine what features the person with a disability needs to be comfortable. Some accommodations are suitable for slow walkers or part-time wheelchair users and some properties are so well-designed they can fit the needs of a person who uses a power chair.

When we look for a weekend getaway, we do not expect everything (such as the kitchen sink) to be wheelchair-accessible.

However, stairs are not an option. A room should be located on the first floor or the building must have an elevator. Doorways need to be wide enough to fit a wheelchair—typically 32 inches of clear passage.

Features that make a property even more wheelchair-friendly are grab bars beside the toilet and inside the shower. A taller toilet, which is 17 to 19 inches from the floor, makes transferring easier. A roll-in shower is the best option for us, but may not be necessary for every person who uses a wheelchair.

Reservation Tips

If possible, speak to the owner. Ask specific questions such as “How wide is the doorway?” If he doesn’t know the answer, ask if he would mind measuring. Be sure to include interior doorways which are often even narrower than outside entrances.

Never assume anything. Even if a room is located on the first floor—ask if there are steps. If so, is there a ramp or an alternate accessible entrance? Often times, especially in B&Bs, beds are raised. Ask, “How high?”

Inquire about the access in the common areas. For example, is the breakfast room at the B&B accessible? If not, can breakfast be delivered to the guest room? Are porches and balconies accessible? Are the paths leading to the property level and wide enough for a wheelchair?

Ask to see photos of the rental. Many properties post images and floor plans online. Begin searching for accommodations well in advance of your vacation dates.

Call the local real estate companies that are listed with the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and ask for their assistance.

If you are visiting a destination and know you would like to return, investigate more properties while on vacation. Ask the owner or manager to show you accessible units. Make a note of the room number for a future bookings.

Four Fabulous Gulf Coast Finds

Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse

The Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse in Grayton Beach, Florida is a 13-room property in the heart of Scenic Route 30-A (a 19-mile road that runs along the coastline). Less than a 10-minute walk to the beach, our wheelchair-accessible room had a queen-size bed, roll-in shower, raised toilet with grab bars, and a sink with clearance for a wheelchair. Parking was on a concrete surface and ramps gave Barbara easy access.

The best spot for sipping coffee and reading a book was on the front porch of Bert’s barn. B&B guests have breakfast next door at the Hibiscus Coffee Shop. Blackboards with the phrase “Be …” are scattered around the café.

Each morning, owner Cheri Peebles fills in the blanks with different words. The signs read: “Be Happy,” “Be Grateful,” “Be Relaxed” or “Be Yourself.” Peebles greets everyone with a smile and a hug, so even first-time visitors feel at home.

Grand Sandestin

Located eight miles east of Destin, Florida, the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort is a 2,400-acre property on both the beach and bay front where you can rent condos, villas, town houses and a variety of hotel accommodations.

Amenities include four golf courses, 19 swimming pools, 15 tennis courts, a 98-slip marina, water sports, children’s programs, a fitness center and a spa. The pedestrian village has shopping, restaurants and entertainment.

The Grand Sandestin is a condominium hotel with a Southern-inspired veranda surrounded by lush landscapes. Guest rooms offer either a kitchenette or full
kitchen. We toured a one-bedroom unit which featured a bathroom had a roll-in shower and grab bars. The kitchen had open space below the sink and a built-in desk for wheelchair users. Resort guests get free rentals of bicycles, canoes, kayaks and boogie boards, and one hour of tennis court time. The free resort-wide transportation system includes wheelchair-accessible trams.

The Beach Club

The Beach Club in Gulf Shores, Alabama has more than 600 condominium units and half are managed onsite by Spectrum Resorts. The resort is on Fort Morgan Peninsula—a secluded spot miles away from the typical strip centers and souvenir shops. Amenities include the clubhouse, five outdoor pools and one indoor pool, tennis courts, a full-service European spa, two restaurants, and ice cream and coffee shops. Guests use the resort’s private beach. Make a dinner reservation at the onsite Southbeach Bar & Grill overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Our corner three-bedroom unit had a wrap-around balcony with incredible views. The master bathroom included a roll-in shower. Note: the door threshold to the balcony does not have a ramp, however, Barbara could access it with assistance and using a manual wheelchair.

Henderson Park Inn

The 36-room Henderson Park Inn in Destin, Florida is a secluded, romantic retreat on the edge of a state park. The adults-only escape welcomes guests upon arrival with a bottle of wine, fruit and flowers.

The Henderson Park Inn spoils guests with a breakfast of made-to-order omelets and Belgian waffles. Boxed lunches can be taken to the beach or enjoyed on the outdoor deck. Each evening, guests partake in a complimentary happy hour. A community fridge contains beverages and candy bars.

Our executive suite included a king-size four poster Victorian bed that measured 32 inches from the floor. The bathroom door at 31 inches of clearance was a  tight squeeze for Barbara’s power wheelchair. The shower had numerous grab bars, but none were located beside the toilet. (The public meeting space on the first floor includes an accessible bathroom with grab bars and ample turning radius.)

The bedroom’s double French doors open onto an outdoor balcony with stunning views of the emerald waters of the Gulf Coast and the sugar white sand. Rarely does a first-floor room provide such an unobstructed and magnificent view.

Related links on

By Barbara and Jim Twardowski, RN for Barbara and Jim Twardowski are freelance writers based in Louisiana. Together, they contribute to publications such as AAA Home & Away, Global Traveler, and