Accessible Travel in our Nation's Capital
As we get ready for the site launch in April, I travelled to do some site visits in the Nation's Capital. I learned a key thing while waiting at O'Hare Airport, Terminal G. If you need to charge anything electronic, do it BEFORE you get to the airport. I was wandering around the entire terminal trying to find a place to plug in my computer. There wasn't one working outlet in the six gates I went to! Imagine if you had a power chair that needed a charge! How frustrating!!
The early Sunday morning flight was fairly uneventful, and I managed to escape the impending ice storm in Chicago to arrive in Washington D.C., which was pleasant and sunny. Yes! It's always nice to get out of the cold, even if it is for a couple days.
The goal for the trip was to visit six hotels and test the Metro and bus system for accessibility. Now, it is widely written how accessible Washington D.C. is for those with special needs. However, it is always good to give it a good double check.
Ronald Reagan National Airport was fairly easy to get around. Elevators were clearly marked, there were plenty of restaurants, and restrooms were plentiful and very wheelchair accessible. Most of the major car rental companies are located in the parking garage, so no need to shuttle to get your accessible rental car. Economy parking garages have accessible shuttles. It was easy to get to the Yellow Line of the Metro to take me to the first hotel near Dupont Circle. I did learn a few lessons about Metro, some of which I tweeted and put on the TravelinWheels Facebook page. Here they are:
- If you require an elevator, make sure you look at the status boards at the station you are boarding. You may find that you need to exit at an earlier stop if the elevator is out. They will shuttle you to your station. It is much easier than maneuvering once you get to your station.
- If you are at all ultra-sensitive to smell, the Metro might not be your best bet. It is a world of different smells down there.
- If you have any difficulty with stairs, take the elevator. Don't bank on the escalators working. There were several times where I had to traverse long, steep out-of-service escalators on a bum knee. It was less than ideal.
- Be careful of what train you are getting on. Everything is pretty clearly marked, but if you are unfamiliar with the system, pay close attention. Some train lines share tracks and you could find yourself going in a completely different direction.
- Pay attention to track repairs. I had a couple times where I got to a station only to turn around a catch a shuttle because the tracks were closed.
I met several special needs travelers on the Metro and had the opportunity to get their insights. Many of them say that the Metro is great, when it works. You just really have to pay close attention to elevator outages, and be easy going. It's unfortunate that they can't just bank on the fact that they can get where they want to go without a hassle.
I did get the opportunity to take the busses, as well. They are clean and readily available. They all have lifts and priority seating on both sides of the bus, near the front. Bus drivers were friendly, and I didn't see any issues when the ramps were needed, unlike other cities I've been to.
On this visit, I stayed in the area of DuPont Circle at the Topaz Hotel. It is a very nice little boutique hotel on a quiet side street, but is surrounded by lots of restaurants and shops. The hotel was three blocks from the Metro and is currently under some renovation, including their ADA rooms. I did get to see one of them, and it will be on the site in April. The only issue about getting around DuPont Circle was managing the brick paved sidewalks on Connecticut Ave.
You can find any kind of cuisine and price point when it comes to dining in DuPont Circle. There are many eclectic shops; however, many of the stores had a single step to enter the building. That was disappointing.
I had the pleasure of visiting the W Hotel, which overlooks the White House. The location is great! I really enjoyed the time I spent there. The staff there is very attentive and really wants its guests to be comfortable. The manager stressed to me that they will do everything they can to accommodate special needs. He suggested that any requests be made during the reservation, if at all possible, so that they can have everything ready for arrival. The rooms are very nice, and the rooftop terrace is incredible!
I strolled down E Street to my next stop, the State Plaza Hotel in Georgetown. I wish I had a better report on this hotel. The staff was nice, but the lobby set up and entrance left a lot to be desired. There are three steps to get from the lobby to the rooms. This requires a wheelchair user to go down a steep grade by the parking garage and come in a back entrance after checking in. It was not ideal.
After an exhausting day, it was time for dinner and a nice cocktail, which was had at Bertucci's in DuPont Circle. They had good food, generous portions, and a casual atmosphere. The tables are spread wide enough to maneuver a wheelchair or power chair. Across the street, the Dirty Martini had phenomenal martinis, but they did not have accessible restrooms.
The next day was spent visiting the Holiday Inn Capitol Hill. It is a block from L'Enfant Station and two blocks from the Smithsonian. It is a great location for museum lovers, but there were few restaurants in the vicinity. Good thing the Holiday Inn has several restaurants, which have braille menus, by the way! The Holiday Inn has hosted both Lighthouse Foundation and ADAPT for years, and they are very good at making sure guests with special needs are well taken care of. I would also recommend this hotel for groups. The lobby is spacious, and there is plenty of meeting space.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to check out the Hirshhorn Museum of Contemporary Art in the Smithsonian. It is an easy museum to maneuver, and they do have wheelchairs to use. The best part about the Smithsonian Museums is that they are free! You can make your way from one to the other without spending a dime, but be forewarned, there are a lot of buildings!
The next hotel was the Sheraton Four Points, which is located near the Convention Center. This hotel is very nice, and again, very accessible. They do have a pool lift that is tested every year. Also, the handicap accessible hotel rooms are all located on the second floor, which is also the same floor as the restaurant and bar. There are plenty of restaurants in the area. The only negative is that the hotel sits atop a steep grade coming up 12th St. from the main shopping area. If you do not have a power chair or scooter, plan to hop a bus.
My last stop on this quick trip was the St. Regis. It is a classically beautiful hotel with a seasoned staff that is very thoughtful and accommodating. The public areas are accessible, with the exception of one meeting room, where a lift must be used. The rooms are huge! A power chair would have no issue maneuvering in any of the rooms. However, there is one issue that you will see in the virtual tour when it goes live. The lovely, roomy bathrooms are well equipped; however, the sink only has a small lip to fit under because there is a non-removable shelf under the counter. It is a lovely piece of furniture, but I fear that a power chair may have to approach the sink sideways. Every other part of the rooms was perfect!
The concierge at the St. Regis clued me into something that also surprised me. There are NO wheelchair accessible taxis within the District of Columbia. There are plenty in Virginia to get to and from the airport, but not within the city. If you do require one, the concierge requested you give plenty of advance warning so they can have one available.
After my brief visit, it was time to head back to the cold winds of Chicago. The weather was turning colder in D.C., as I made my way on the Metro back to Reagan National. It was great to be able to visit these hotels and I look forward to everyone seeing the details about each of them when the site launches!
Until next time, safe travels!