With all the taxis, buses, and major attractions in London being wheelchair-friendly, one would think it’s the perfect vacation for accessible travel. However, less than 2 percent of London’s hotel rooms offer wheelchair access.Barbara and Jim Twardowski, RN, investigate accessible options and offer tips for finding the right hotel room to meet the disabled traveler’s needs.
According to the Accessible Hotels in London study, published by Greater London Authority, the supply of hotel rooms equipped for disabled access is estimated to meet only half of the potential demand.
In the past 10 years, new legislation has required that 5 percent of all rooms in new or renovated hotels are disabled access, which means that the supply of accessible lodgings will continue to increase.
In the meantime, finding a wheelchair-accessible room takes tremendous research. Most travel search engines do not have complete accessibility information, nor do Web sites of major hotel brands. For example, a room may be considered “disabled accessible” but it might not have a roll-in shower or other necessary features.
To make it easier, we’ve put together seven hotels we recommend, as well as tips for locating a wheelchair-accessible room.
Seven Super Wheelchair-Accessible Hotels
The receptionist at check-in suggested we sit at a desk in the lobby, so I could talk to her eye-to-eye from my wheelchair. I appreciate when a staff member does that something extra to make me comfortable.
The hotel has two wheelchair-accessible rooms with connecting rooms. Our spacious king-size room, with a perfect view of Portman Square, was elegantly decorated with a large bathroom.
Both the guest room door and bathroom door opened automatically using either the room key or a control panel—a useful feature for someone in a wheelchair. From the hotel, it’s a short walk to Hyde Park, Oxford Street shopping, and a variety of international restaurants.
After entering the hotel, guests in wheelchairs need to use the platform elevator to access the large lobby–staff members were always available to assist. Our deluxe room included a separate living room with a desk, television and sofa bed, which is perfect for families or those traveling with a companion.
The large bedroom had a raised, king-size bed that made it a bit difficult to transfer. The huge bathroom with a roll-in shower was divided by a column and still had an expansive turning space. We paid extra to use the seventh floor Club Continental, which has a sweeping view of London.
Like a full-service restaurant, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the club, checked our email messages on their computers, and mapped out our day’s itinerary with the club staff’s assistance. The manager, Maria, greets every guest as if they are old friends.
Barely a year old, the Park Plaza is a 1,021-room hotel. It’s on the South Bank, just steps away from the wheelchair-accessible London Eye, the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre. The hotel has a whopping 54 accessible rooms.
Our queen-size room had a mini fridge and an adjoining room. The modern bathroom with a roll-in shower included a bench that adjusts to the height of the guest, a feature we’ve never seen before.
Located near the British Museum and Covent Garden, the hotel recently had a 25 million pound makeover. Two of the 174 rooms are now wheelchair accessible. Our room had a double bed, small desk designed to accommodate a wheelchair, and a bathroom with a roll-in shower with ample grab bars.
Entering the hotel in a wheelchair is difficult. A short, steep ramp leads to a door that opens outward. One must maneuver up the incline while simultaneously pulling the door. A doorbell is installed beside the ramp, but no one responded when we rang. A one-step entrance through the hotel’s restaurant might be easier for some guests to navigate.
The grand re-opening of the hotel was in early May. The hotels’ exterior was built in 1873 and the interior has been painstakingly restored.
It is not often that historic hotels can accommodate wheelchair users, making this stunning property even more exceptional. History buffs should talk to the concierge desk about scheduling a guided hotel tour.
Situated atop a hill, it’s a long climb to the front door. Inside, ramps and platform lifts make access a snap.
Originally designed to accommodate large hoop dresses of the female guests, the hallways are extra wide and perfect for suitcase-toting wheelchair users. Guest rooms are either in the historic section or a brand-new addition.
Our Victorian suite had massive, arched windows and a king-size bed. We had so much room that a roll-in bed was easily placed into a corner for our son. The marble bathroom with a roll-in shower was spacious with plenty of grab bars.
The 100-year-old hotel is flanked by two theaters and is ideal for those who love the West End. The hotel has 15 rooms that have been adapted to meet the needs of people who have disabilities. Six rooms are designed for wheelchair users and five include roll-in showers. All the rooms are located on the first and second floors.
Our executive room was massive with a king-size bed and a day divan. Nearly half of the room was devoted to the bathroom with a separate toilet, glass enclosed shower and a sink/vanity. The Executive Lounge is a cozy retreat and a relaxing spot for afternoon tea. Breakfast is also served in the Palm Court—a two-level ballroom that can be accessed via the lobby and a platform lift.
Our last night in London, we opted to stay near Heathrow Airport. The Sofitel is located in Terminal 5. The new, contemporary hotel was completely accessible.
The concierge contacted Heathrow and let them know we needed assistance getting to our flight. The day of our departure, an airport employee met us in the lobby of the hotel and escorted us to a waiting area for passengers with special needs.
A van with a wheelchair-ramp picked us up at Terminal 5 and drove us to Terminal 1. The driver carried our luggage up to the check-in desk. We’ve never been more impressed with airport service.
Tips For London Trips
Travelers to London needing a wheelchair-accessible room should book early. New or recently-renovated properties are more likely to have wheelchair-accessible rooms.
Note just because one hotel within a brand is accessible, that does not guarantee every hotel in that brand will be. Even if you talk to the hotel’s reservation line, it is best to call the hotel directly and confirm it can meet your needs.
Typically, London hotel rooms are smaller than their American counterparts. Room occupancy is typically limited to two adults. Twin rooms have two single beds. A double room is one that sleeps two people—in either a double bed or something larger. While many hotels offer family rooms, we were unable to find any that were wheelchair-accessible. Ask if a roll-away bed is available or book a connecting room.
VisitLondon.com is the city’s official tourism Web site and contains a listing of accessible hotels according to geographic location.
- Wheelchair-Accessible Gulf Coast Travel
- Traveling Abroad For Wheelchair Users
- Accessible Travel: The Basics Of Wheelchair Travel
- London Olympics 2012 Travel: Tickets, Accommodations, Transportation, Resources
By Barbara and Jim Twardowski, RN for PeterGreenberg.com.