Saturday, 27 April 2013

Disability & Access Vilamoura, Portugal - Part1

Yippeee Its holiday time ! This is an account of our latest adventure in Vilamoura Portugal.

Prior to leaving on the 21st April for our trip, as is usual for a disabled traveller , lots of pre planning and arrangements have to be made. Emails and letters exchanged with Gatwick to try and ensure that Hubby is pre-boarded and that we get the help we need, unlike other disastrous trips. We also had to enlist the services of Accessible Portugal www.accessibleportugal.com a small travel agency here in Portugal that can help with equipment, trips out, transfers etc.

Having pre arranged help with the Gatwick team, we phoned to announce our arrival at the Sofitel Hotel, they duly met us there and gave us all the help we needed with our luggage. This time everything went to plan we were pre-boarded in good time and they got word to Faro airport that we needed the electric chair to the aircraft at the other end. I would therefore like to publicly thank the Gatwick team for a job well done. Once on the aircraft we found that BA had slipped up and not assigned us a bulk head seat, but they saw sense and put us there anywhere. Unfortunately on this small plane Hubby being sat on an aisle seat was not good as one of the stewards trod on his foot coming out of the galley. The seats in this small Airbus were very low and extremely uncomfortable for a disabled person to sit in.

We were met at the airport by a friendly representative of Accessible Portugal and transferred safely the half an hour drive to the Hilton. By the way the roads in this part of Portugal are rather lumpy so expect to be thrown and shaken about in your wheelchair whilst in a vehicle.

Accessibility at The Hilton 

Room 2050 has two access doors, which are only slightly wider if at all, than a standard hotel room door, sorry I failed to bring a tape measure with me so I am unable to give the precise measure. These doors being fire grade doors are extremely heavy to open and therefore inaccessible to an independent wheelchair user to open without help. The peep hole is at the wrong height for a chair user. The primary door to this family suite opens on to a very narrow corridor, on the left is one bathroom which is designed for use by the able-bodied in the party and a total no go area for the wheelchair user if they cannot walk. Opposite this bathroom is a set of interconnecting doors then a semi built-in full height wardrobe which makes the corridor even narrower. The room then opens up into a good sized room equipped with usual standard non adapted hotel provided, desks, couches, side tables. There were no wheelchair height adjustable tables provided.


Firstly I would like to report that a productive meeting was held with the local Managers at this hotel to try and educate and illustrate some of the problems we encountered in the hotel, some fixes were easy to carry out, and some would require some longer term planning and authority from regional bodies within Hilton Europe. The outcome of the meeting was that we were moved to a different room where we could manage a little better. We sincerely hope that this report is read, digested and acted upon by Hilton Management to help others travelling to this and other Hilton destinations.  

We were allocated Room 2050. This room was accessed via the lobby lift. The lobby and public areas are well lit, level, uncluttered and easily accessible by wheelchair users. The internal corridors can be narrow for a wheelchair user to get by maid trollies and some are very difficult to turn around in without banging into the walls while manoeuvring. Some of the hall way floors are covered by carpet which may prove difficult for manual wheelchair users.  Where ramps are provided they are on the steep side making the possibility of tipping over in a wheelchair a very real possibility. Also some of the wooden bridges have slopes that are definitely dangerous for average wheelchair users to use unattended.


Room 2050 has two access doors, which are only slightly wider if at all, than a standard hotel room door, sorry I failed to bring a tape measure with me so I am unable to give the precise measure.
These doors being fire grade doors are extremely heavy to open and therefore inaccessible to an independent wheelchair user to open without help. The peep hole is at the wrong height for a chair user. The primary door to this family suite opens on to a very narrow corridor, on the left is one bathroom which is designed for use by the able-bodied in the party and a total no go area for the wheelchair user if they cannot walk. Opposite this bathroom is a set of
interconnecting doors then a semi built-in full height wardrobe which makes the corridor even narrower. The room then opens up into a good sized room equipped with usual standard non adapted hotel provided, desks, couches, side tables. There were no wheelchair height adjustable tables provided. At the far end is French style door opening up onto a narrow balcony. The balcony being narrow and on the small side is not accessible safely by an adult wheelchair user, there is no ramp and a step to negotiate of about 4cm drop plus the height of the door runners, by the time the average user gets over the door obstacles they could find themselves pinned against the metal railings.
Therefore the balcony is a health and safety hazard to a wheelchair user without extreme caution. The location of this room also means that this balcony only gets direct sunlight for one hour in the evening.
For a wheelchair user to move from the living area to the bedroom area via the interconnecting doors is impossible without removal of one of the doors. The door opening is extremely narrow, estimate about 70cm, only just allowing a 45cm seat width wheelchair to squeeze through, users must take care they do not damage their knuckles. Coming through the other way is even worse because of the position of the wardrobe not allowing the necessary turning circle radius. This Hotel made the mistake that most make in that the standard bed offering in the disability suites is a king sized bed, so prior to arrival we had to request two single beds. Disabled couples need the same amount of choice as everyone else, some can sleep in the same bed others cannot due the nature of the disability. Hotel also does not provide beds that are slightly higher in height than their standard beds, which would be of an advantage to most
with mobility problems. As I have often remarked before it is a shame Hotels in the luxury end of the market don’t start to look for adjustable beds as they are becoming more common in general in people’s homes. Managers and hotel interior designers need to acquaint themselves with how disabled travellers are likely to gain access in and out of bed. Some will hire a hoist, lots will use a sliding board, wheelchair access around the bed is therefore imperative. One other thing of note in this particular bedroom was the French door opening was on the wrong side so meaning access was impeded by the bed furniture.


The on-suite wet room at first glance is of a good size, looking closer though I found some errors. The sliding door opening is not big enough, but can be adjusted quite easily. The toilet bowl had been placed too close to the sink unit therefore making the placement of a commode over the toilet impossible. One of the grab rails had been bolted down in place as well, causing a “bump” hazard to those moving around in the room. The shower head provided was the same as in the rest of the hotel, this though being ascetically pleasing to look at, would be extremely heavy to use by a disabled person with weak hands and also difficult to fit underneath ones bottom when sat on a shower chair.



The hotel had provided a long shower hose so well done in that regard. The shower controls may be difficult for those with hand issues to use as there is nothing definite to grab hold of. An able bodied person would also have to adjust the height of the shower head for a wheelchair user to use independently. The signage on the controls needs to be bolder and clearer. I am not sure whether the hot water system has a hot temperature safety cut off, but a definite safety issue if not in place. The water was not hot enough to be an issue when I tested it. The drainage in this wet room was excellent, best I have seen. Floor tiles did not become particularly slippery when wet, although usual caution should be employed as it is not a definitive non slip material as provided.

Two other incidental notes, the two big oval mirrors could have been a bit lower so to allow use by a wheelchair user and the intruder safety catches (door chains) had been put a bit high up and on the wrong way round so they do not work.




Out and about in the hotel grounds, there are no accessible pools either by pool hoist (which I do not recommend as not accessible to all disabled) or ramped access. The grounds have steps everywhere which make navigation around the site extremely challenging. The majority of doors to the outside are too narrow and barely accessible to a wheelchair user. Larger wheelchairs will not fit. 

Having seen various photographs of the Spa I dare not go and see how inaccessible it is. I also note that the hotel mini bus does not take wheelchairs, therefore discriminating against Hiltons disabled customers as they are not able to easily access the Hilton facilities at the beach, I have also noted the lack of alternative accessible transport available in the area, with the exception of one of  the tourist bus-train vehicles that takes wheelchairs.

We were kindly moved to a one bed apartment, 0010. This room also had to have some minor adjustments made, it was found that with the standard double bed there was insufficient room for a wheelchair to get into and around the room. Having furnished the room with 2 single beds this situation remedied itself. The hotel also nailed 12cm high blocks onto the feet of the table so that a wheelchair user could eat at the table in a fashion. They also removed a coffee table to allow for free movement of a wheelchair. The balcony has similar problems to the previous room so if we use we will have to be very careful.

I have therefore recommend to this hotel management to carry out the following alterations,

Short Term

  • ·        In Room 2050 move the wardrobe over another 15cm to make more room for turning.
  • ·        Provide 2 wheelchair adjustable tables, 1 for the restaurants, 1 for room. No more or less than you do for children in providing high chairs.
  • ·        Lower the room mirrors slightly and fix the door security latches and peep hole.
  • ·        Provide a ramped access to the balcony and carry out a full risk assessment as to whether it is wide enough to be safe.
  • ·        Carry out an assessment whilst sat in a wheelchair of safe access routes around the hotel then provide a special map for disabled customers.


Longer Term

  • ·        Look at all doors, widen where necessary.
  • ·        Assess all ramps & bridges for steepness, are they safe for wheelchair users to use, if not fix.
  • ·        Make at least one of the pools accessible via a ramp , you will also have buy a pool wheelchair, it would be appropriate to make a small charge to rent this, so recouping cost of this.
  • ·        Next mini bus bought should be capable of transporting a wheelchair.
  • ·        Look at changing shower heads to lighter ones. Make shower controls easier to use and markings bolder.
  • ·        Look at making the spa accessible.
  • ·        Do some research regarding good heights for beds for mobility restricted customers.




    To Senior Hilton Managers, do not rely on architects to get it right, there are specialists in accessibility, use them. I wonder how well you have done at the new Vilamoura Conrad Hotel?

    Lastly every Manager in every Hilton Hotel should sit in a wheelchair and experience their hotel from that perspective. This makes good business sense, as Europe’s populations age, and medical advances mean that people are now living longer with long term medical conditions, these people want to travel on holiday and business just like everyone else. 

    Feedback from a more general point of view, very limited food menu available this time of year, room service menu very small choice plus every time you order there is a 5 Euros tray charge. Not all the restaurants on site are open. 

    We will tell more about our adventures as we explore the area.

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