by Debbie Fogle
While most of the country braces for winter's icy grip, many residents of Arizona are dusting off the patio chairs, sparking up the grill and breaking out the sunscreen. For more than a century people have migrated to the 'valley of the sun' where the sun, oh heavenly sun, shines about 325 days per year. 'The valley' - as locals call it - is comprised of Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, Mesa and Glendale and is the destination for hundreds of thousands of visitors each winter. In addition to short term visitors the valley will see a migration of snowbirds- not actual birds but rather residents of northern regions that will spend up to 4 months sunning and funning themselves in the valley. This year the snowbirds alone will add over one billion dollars to Arizona's economy.
How you get to Arizona largely depends upon where you live and how long you plan to stay. While most snowbirds drive their own vehicles to the southwest, short term visitors are more likely to arrive via Sky Harbor International Airport. Be advised that some areas are under construction, none the less you will notice that the airport makes meeting the needs of travelers with disabilities a high priority. One sign of this is a new paging and information service. Travelers can now send and receive messages at Paging Assistance Locations or "PAL's" which both announces the names of those being paged as well as displaying them on monitors. In addition, each terminal has a family restroom complete with adult changing station. For the four legged traveler there is not one but two 'pet parks' where they can stretch their legs after a long flight. The "Paw Pad" is located just west of Terminal 3 and the "Bone Yard" is next to Terminal 4. The parks' offer water spigots, bowls, accessories for easy cleanup's and there is even a red fire hydrant.
If you need transportation to and from the airport you can call Super Shuttle which operates a fixed fare, lift equipped service. The do require 24 hours advance notice so if you need transportation fast you can call Dial-A-Ride from 7 am to 7 pm, seven days a week. The numbers are: 602-253-4000 or 480-633-0101 and 800-367-8939/TTY, your ride will be provided by one of numerous cabs and private van companies for a fee, of course. Another option is to use the Valley Metro Bus, Red line and #13 both provide lift-equipped transportation to and from the airport as well as throughout the metropolitan area. When making your hotel reservation remember to ask if they provide accessible shuttle service to the airport, quite a few do. If you would like the convenience of having your own accessible van then you should give Wheelchair Getaways a call.
One example of a hotel that provides accessible transportation is the Quality Inn in Tempe. They have 6 accessible rooms with either a roll in shower or tub/shower combination with bench, grab bars and ample room to maneuver about. The Quality Inn is a non smoking property. You may have heard about Scottsdale and all of the upscale resorts that are constantly getting showered with prestigious awards from travel magazines. Many of these resorts command top dollar, unfortunately out of the reach of many travelers, so instead of staying at one of them you can still feel luxurious and pampered by spending a day at the resort visiting one of the many spas and restaurants. If your tastes do happen to run along the lines of luxurious resorts, impeccable service and elegant accommodations then check out the Arizona Biltmore. With architecture influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and eight sparkling swimming pools, not a detail has been overlooked nor a luxury spared. Quite possibly the only thing more impressive than their 5 accessible rooms with marble roll in showers are the 39 accessible acres of this lovely garden resort. Although before you make your reservations you may want to balance your checkbook because these rooms will set you back about $345 per night.
Finding accessible accommodations will not be a problem anywhere in the valley. An Access-Able user recommends the Country Inn & Suites in Mesa. They stayed in one of the hotel's 11 accessible rooms and had this to say: "This was one of the most pleasurable hotel stays we have ever had. The room was wonderfully accessible, roll in shower with fold down bath bench, fully usable counter space in the bathroom. We had requested a room with roll in shower and ended up with a king bed in a suite set up. The area around the bed was tight but certainly doable. The bed was set up for someone to use a hoyer if necessary. The hotel also offers a great breakfast and bedtime snack. Check out the Access-Able Database for other accommodation ideas in the valley including accessible rental houses and RV parks. The valley of the sun has long been a favorite destination for retirees and one benefit is that you will find a lot of affordable, accessible, leisure and fun-based activities. The Arizona Center is a good place to start, located in the heart of downtown Phoenix there are literally hundreds of shops, restaurants and hotels all surrounding a unique open-air oasis of ponds and gardens. The Arizona Center and its' shops and restaurants are wheelchair accessible and there are accessible restrooms in the breezeway between Lombardi's and Sam's.
If you want to spend a day at the races you can go to Phoenix Greyhound Park located just north of Sky Harbor Airport. The Park entertains nearly one million visitors each year and is fully accessible via ramps and elevators. If you like your racing a little faster and louder then check out Phoenix International Raceway. Here you can watch all of your Indy and NASCAR favorites from accessible seats (including a companion seat) in both the Bobby Allen and A.J. Foyt Grandstands.
For a little more hands-on activity you can take your firearms to the Ben Avery Shooting Facility. Here you will find a safe and fun, family-based atmosphere that offers a variety of shooting sports and activities. The entire facility is accessible and there are designated accessible shooting benches as well as designated parking and restrooms. Another good place to visit is the Deer Valley Rock Art Center, home to over 1500 petroglyphs on nearly 600 boulders in a 47 acre nature preserve. The Center is managed by A.S.U.'s Archeology Department and visited by over 15,000 people per year. There is a ¼ mile hard packed dirt path that leads you through the petroglyphs and it is wheelchair accessible. The visitor's center and restrooms are also accessible.
The Historic Heritage Square is another good choice since the Arizona Science Center and the Phoenix Museum of History are both located here. You can easily spend your day here exploring the Science Center which is 4 levels of hands-on exhibits and a giant screen theater and state-of-the-art planetarium. The Museum of History is equally as rich in entertainment value with thousands of displays capturing the early history of Phoenix as it evolved from a dusty desert town to a thriving, modern metropolis. Both facilities are fully wheelchair accessible and they each have a loaner wheelchair available.
Spending time outdoors is something just about everyone does in the valley during the winter months. In recognition of this, the city of Phoenix has a number of accessible trails the wind through some classic Sonoran Desert habitat. There are trails at North Mountain Park, Papago Park, and South Mountain Park Preserve - to name a few. Check out their Web Site for complete details and directions.
If you are afraid that you might miss seeing something worthwhile when you're in town then you should visit the phoenix.gov web site while planning your trip. They have a wealth of information including a section called "Points of Pride". The Points of Pride locations are places you would be proud to tell your friends and visitors not to miss when they are in town. These sights were picked by valley residents and include parks, cultural facilities, historical residences and even mountain peaks. One of particular interest to people with disabilities is Telephone Pioneers of America Park - the nation's first barrier-free park. It opened in 1988 and includes two beep baseball fields, a wheelchair-accessible playground and an 18-station exercise course. If you want to read the full story then go to this month's What's News Page.
It's no wonder that both snowbirds and tourists alike flock to the southwest in the winter months. There is tons of stuff to do, lots of places to stay and the weather sure is hard to beat. The unique culture and architecture of the southwest also attracts visitors and many people plan excursions outside of the valley to visit places like Nogales, Mexico or the Grand Canyon. Let the Access-Able Database help you plan your next travel adventure to Arizona or countless other world wide destination.
About the author: Debbie Fogle has been a staff writer for Access-Able since 1999 and enjoys researching and writing about travel and the outdoors. Debbie works out of her home in Arizona where she lives with her husband, three-year old son and several four-legged friends.
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