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Barbados, - February 2009 Music Controls

Amaryllis PoolFollowing our successful cruise and stay holiday in 2008 and a little research whilst on that trip we decided to book a similar holiday for 2009, but this time centred on Barbados instead of Jamaica. Our research had led us to the Amaryllis Beach Resort Hotel which had adapted rooms suitable for the non ambulent. Their web site gives full details. We again used Travel Counsellors to organise a 10 day stay at this hotel on a half board basis and a cruise. This report covers our stay in Barbados, that for the cruise on the Ventura can be read here.

The evening before our departure, heavy snow enveloped southern England and in the morning our route to Gatwick via the M25 was blocked. However, we had booked an overnight stay at the conveniently located Gatwick Hilton which allowed plenty of time to get there and leave the car at the APH off airport car park so we were not too worried and just resigned ourselves to inevitable delays.

The journey to Gatwick was slow but steady. APH were not as helpful as the last time we used them and rather than enter a debate about disabled facilities, I dropped Wendy and the luggage off at the Hilton's reception. I then took the car to the car park, returning on their courtesy bus which was a round trip of 40 minutes. We then used Virgin's twilight check in facilities to divest ourselves of our two suitcases but retained our three items of cabin baggage containing medical supplies and overnight requirements.

We encountered the usual problem with the otherwise excellent Hilton room, too low a toilet. At 14 inches high, it is incredibly low for a wheelchair user. However we had come prepared this time and carried a 2 inch seat riser in our hand luggage. Even so this was not totally satisfactory. A note of complaint on the guests comment card handed in to reception on our departure resulted in a positive letter of response waiting for us on our return. The Hilton has advised they intend to purchase a number of toilet seat risers.

The following morning we passed through security, found Virgin's V-Room lounge, where we had a good breakfast and awaited our departure which much to our surprise was on time. In actual fact although we boarded on time, take off was delayed by nearly an hour due to a passenger leaving the aircraft at the last minute. However, we did arrive in sunny Barbados on time after a very comfortable journey in difficult circumstances. The bad weather had caused airport chaos due cancelled flights and staff shortages. The scratch Virgin crew were excellent and even allowed our collapsible manual chair to be stowed on board, a great bonus and if we had been given seats near the front door, where on the 747 the aisle is wider, we would have not needed an aisle chair. At the end of our holiday, this courtesy was repeated on our return journey and because we were seated at the wider section we did not need the aisle chair to disembark. Full marks go to Virgin for this courtesy.

There are no jetties at Barbados and an ambu-lift is used to lower and take the disabled from the aircraft to arrivals where there are plenty of porters to help with luggage. We were quickly through immigration and customs, made contact with Virgin's holiday rep and our courtesy wheelchair friendly taxi was quickly summoned and half an hour later we were sat in the hotel's reception. We were to discover there were three taxis that could accommodate wheelchairs in Barbados, two had lifts and one used ramps. Whilst there are fixed fares in Barbados, it is always best to agree the fare before your journey and we found that these adapted vehicles always wanted to charge a little bit more!

Amaryllis Beach FrontThe Amaryllis is a beach front hotel located about a half hours drive from the airport and 10 minutes drive from Bridgetown. Once into reception the grounds are level and with the exception of the road side amenities of the 39 Steps restaurant, gym and 19th Hole bar, all other facilities are accessible including the beach. However there is no hoist on the two pools or the jacuzzi.

Our room, 244 was located on the second floor of a three story block a short walk away from reception and the beach. Room access is via a ramp and then a lift. The en-suite rooms are spacious with a small balcony which overlooks the tropical gardens. All the adapted rooms were in this block. Not the best location but the bathroom adaptions were very good. There was no shower seat in the large roll in hand shower but there were two different types of free standing ones available on the block's landing. Nobody else was using them so we initially borrowed both, returning one later. They were adjustable in height and with our fitted toilet seat riser, Wendy needed no help from me at all in the bathroom. As stated above, details of the bathroom can be found on the Amaryllis web site and some pictures are included in our Barbados gallery.

The room was equipped with two 18 inch high 4 foot 6 inch beds, bedside cabinet, accessible writing desk, large chest of draws, occasional table and easy chair, wardrobe with a low hanging rail and large safe, (for which there was a daily charge of $BD5 to use) TV, air conditioning, iron and ironing board, kettle, (supply your own tea coffee etc) and last but not least a good sized fridge freezer which you could fill up with drinks/food purchased from the hotels convenience shop, local store or take away. Very handy if you are staying on a room only basis or want to keep your bill down because it is not cheap to eat and drink out in Barbados. Typically a small beer cost $BD6, a spirit with mixer $BD13 and an average three course meal about $BD70 each. One of the first things we did was to take a $BD20 return taxi ride, buses are not wheelchair friendly, into the capital Bridgetown where we bought drinks, fruit, a "Vape Mat" electric mosquito destroyer and although we looked for ice cube bags found none and had to settle for a couple of inexpensive cube trays. We found the mosquitos a bit of a problem until we purchased the "Vape Mat", this is more so in rooms overlooking the garden than the sea.

Hastings Board Walk

There are a number of facilities within walking distance, race course, Barbados National Museum, restaurants and a bank. Unfortunately it is a short but steep push to exit the hotel and pavements in either direction are not continuous and are rough in places. However we found traffic courteous and we walked to Hastings where there is great wheelchair friendly board walk running along the beach front. It is planned to continue this past the Amaryllis beach front and on into the outskirts of Bridgetown. It is currently tantalisingly only a half mile along the beach from the Amaryllis.

We also walked to the interesting Barbados Museum, a walk made much easier by a good pavement with dropped kerbs which runs alongside the race course. This ground floor museum is 90 percent wheelchair friendly and has a wheelchair accessible toilet although a ramp, to a wing of the museum, is very steep but the staff will help if necessary.

On the recommendation of the Virgin holiday rep, we did two all inclusive tours, an evening at The Plantation's Roots and Rhythms show and a catamaran day coastal cruise and snorkeling trip. For both trips the cost of taxis to and from the venues was include.

The excellent Roots and Rhythms show is wheelchair accessible. After a welcoming drink, you are shown to a table and the show starts with a film giving a little bit of the history of Barbados. A steel band then plays while you help yourself to the excellent Caribbean buffet. The buffet is not wheelchair accessible but the staff are helpful and it easy for a carer to collect two meals. The meal over, the stage show then starts and through dance reflects the culture and customs of the Bajans. Throughout the evening drinks are supplied and as fast as you empty your glass it is refilled. The evening ends in a limbo demonstration and competition. Wheelchair accessible toilets are available at the venue.

The catamaran day snorkeling trip we chose is not wheelchair accessible but the crew were more than willing to man handle the wheelchair onto and off the deck. A buffet lunch was provided and again all drinks were included. Wendy stayed aboard the whole trip while I snorkeled the two wrecks and with the turtles we were taken to. It was a pleasant day out.

On our second week we hired a Suzuki Swift for two days to tour the island, visiting the Ocean Park aquarium and gardens, the 300 year old Sunbury Plantation House, the rugged, scenic Atlantic coast and the view points of Farley and Cherry Hill and finally North Point. (Animal Flower Cave)

Ocean Park Reef fish

Ocean Park is fully accessible and is well laid out, informative and fairly level. Wheelchair accessible toilets are available in the bar and restaurant area.

Sunbury Plantation House has ramped access to the ground floor and cellars. The first floor bedrooms were not accessible and we did not notice any wheelchair accessible toilets but we did not go into the restaurant area.

View Points
Cherry Hill is just a couple of laybys on either side of the road with a number of vendors plying their trade. There is no need to alight from the car and the view is similar to that at Farley Hill. However Farley Hill, the site of a large ruined house, has more interest and facilities but it is a steep push up a tarmac road to Farley's view point. We saw a tour bus at the view point so, if it is requested, they may well allow a vehicle carrying a disabled person to drive up.

North Point has rough access but is level and a pretty spot to relax, have a drink, and view the Atlantic breakers crashing against the cliffs. The cave is definitely not wheelchair accessible.

To sum up, we liked Barbados. It is more wheelchair friendly than most of the other Caribbean Islands and it has a friendly atmosphere, fabulous beaches and unlike Jamaica we felt we could go anywhere without being pestered by vendors or dubious characters.

The downsides were;
- we found it expensive at the poor rate of exchange of $BD2.53 to one pound which meant 32 percent less for the pound than a year ago.
- the hotel food, whilst good and well presented, could be monotonous for stays of longer than a week. B&B or room only in this hotel is worth considering. If you did not want to go out to eat, you can still pay for adhoc hotel meals. Most of the guest appeared to make their own eating arrangements and it resulted in the hotel being rather quiet in the evenings, although some of this could have been due to the low hotel occupancy caused by the economic climate.
- the hotel and rooms looked a little "tired" but the big plus point for anyone using a wheelchair is the well adapted rooms.

We quite liked it by the end of our stay.