At the end of our long Atlanta weekend, I thought, “We didn’t stay long enough.” After three and a half days in Atlanta, I realized there was still so much to see and do. This was my husband, Jamie, and I’s first trip to Atlanta. It was a gorgeous time of year to visit with cool temperatures and beautiful fall colors. Overall, I give Atlanta an A- for accessibility.
We spent the majority of our time in and around Centennial Olympic Park. Re-designed after the Atlanta Olympic Games it now serves as a green space and public venue for a wide range of activities. Situated around the park are many restaurants, CNN World headquarters, the NCAA Football museum, Atlanta Skyview, World of Coca-Cola, the Georgia Aquarium, as well as many hotels.
We stayed in the Luckie Marietta district next to Centennial Olympic Park. This area is rather hilly but if you move southwest from the Hilton Garden Inn around the park it is mostly downhill. For manual wheelchair users, I recommend taking a secondary power device such as a Smart Drive or Firefly. Powerchair users will find this area easy to navigate with clearly marked curb cuts, mainly concrete surfaces, and a mixture of brick and stone that is well maintained and easy to roll over.
We took a ride on Atlanta Skyview to get a bird’s eye view of the city. I love Ferris wheels!! The staff at Skyview are knowledgeable and exhibit great customer service. There is a concrete ramp entry to the platform and then a foldable, portable ramp is used to allow wheelchair users to enter the pods. Inside the pods, the bench seats fold up allowing space for a wheelchair. There is only enough space for one wheelchair user at a time but the pod was spacious enough for my wheelchair to fit and then three non-wheelchair users. A powerchair user could fit in the pod but would have to inquire with staff regarding weight limits.
The park slopes downhill from south to north and would be a steep pushback up. It is beautifully laid out with brick and concrete walkways that are flat and well-maintained. Curb cuts and non-stairs entrances were abundant. We visited statues paying tribute to the Olympic Games, the Ring Fountain, a lush water feature, and the Paralympic Legacy area.
All Children’s Playground is located on the north end of the park and is an accessible playground. The playground was well done with surfaces wheelchairs can roll on, supportive swing sets, and an array of other play areas.
I may not be a Coca-Cola drinker but the World of Coca-Cola Tour is fun and informative. I’ve heard the line for the museum can get very long, however, there was no line when we arrived on a Friday afternoon. The entire tour is indoors with hard flat surfaces for rolling. Staff are knowledgeable regarding assisting guests to the elevator and to areas within the tour that allow the best line of vision. During the opening video, the accessible seating area also has individual video screens for those who may need closed captioning or have visual impairments. I used the restroom in the main atrium area, they have both a wheelchair accessible stall in the restroom and a family restroom. Both have enough space for manual and power chair users, properly located grab bars, and sinks which are reachable while seated.
The exhibits which walk through the history of Coca-Cola were full of interesting facts and cool memorabilia. However, my favorite part of the tour was at the end. You are let into a room that has Coca-Cola products from all over the world and you can sample all you want. Some are delicious and others….not so much.
The catalyst for our traveling to Atlanta was to participate in the Georgia Aquariums Journey with Gentle Giants adaptive scuba diving program. We traveled down with Lifewaters, a nonprofit adaptive scuba program, but the Aquarium dive staff are Handicap Scuba trained so if you are a diver or a snorkeler you can book your visit. The Aquarium is very accessible both in the public areas and behind the scenes of Ocean Voyager where we dove with Whale Sharks and giant Manta Rays!
Ramps, solid surfaces, and a locker room in the exhibit which has a large changing table, restroom, and roll-in shower with bench. The Aquarium also has rolling shower chairs which provide more support to individuals who need it. While we were diving staff led family and friends (who get in free with your fee for diving/snorkeling) to an area in the exhibit where they could see us. I could have spent hours both in the water and just watching these giant creatures in the exhibit but there was more to see!
From belugas to dolphins to local Georgia aquatic life all of the exhibits at the Georgia Aquarium are accessible with slightly sloped ramps leading to the different levels of the exhibits. Marked areas for wheelchair users allowed us to find a space where we could see the animal life among all the other individuals.
We did manage to venture out of the Luckie Marietta District. Jamie and I have a thing for old cemeteries. I love the beauty of the park layout, the architecture, and the history. So we hunted one down in Atlanta. Oakland Cemetery was built in 1850 and is home to a long list of famous Atlanta folks as well as a large division of Civil War soldiers.
Oakland Cemetery was a 10-minute taxi ride from our hotel next to Centennial Olympic Park. We had the taxi drop us at the Oakland Avenue entrance and we rolled on a paved road to the visitor center. This section of the cemetery was accessible if you stayed on the paved roadway. However, getting into the pathways of the Cemetery was dicey due to the large rain culverts. Although the visitor center does have a ramp for entrance, due to the culverts I would print the map and list of who you are interested in seeing before heading out.
Thanks to advice from some locals we headed on the road to the middle section of the Cemetery where the Civil War graves were located. The Cemetery does have moderate hills throughout. After all the pushing, we stumbled upon a neat restaurant right outside the middle Cemetery gate on Memorial Ave called Six Feet Under. Tasty seafood, an urban-eclectic atmosphere, and a roomy wheelchair friendly accessible bathroom made this a fun recovery stop.
We visited a lot of places and enjoyed many activities in Atlanta but there were so many more on the list. I recommend you go and explore this Southern City. One suggestion is the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, located in an artsy/cool part of the city with eclectic shops and restaurants. Also in this area is the High Art Museum, which is a modern building with a few permanent collections and many featured exhibits.
Restaurants and Eateries
Although we opted to not take the tour of CNN World Headquarters it was a location we went back to a few times for the food court. A short push from the hotel it housed various breakfast, lunch, and dinner options in a huge open atrium with a view of CNN offices and the giant globe and escalator. The attendant at the tour desk informed me there was an elevator providing access to all the floors for the tours.
Restaurant Row was someone’s genius idea next door to our hotel. Our favorite spot was Der Biergarten, a traditional German Biergarten with indoor and outdoor seating. The restaurant is located up a level so if you are with someone who can climb stairs send them up and the staff with escort you to the elevator. If not, there is a sign with a phone number which was answered quickly.
The accessible stall in the restroom was wide enough for manual and power chair users with sturdy grab bars. The food was delicious and as with any good biergarten, so were the drinks. I would say this is a must-visit for anyone in the area. Max’s Coal Fire Pizza is also located here. No stairs, solid concrete floors, and a large variety of pizzas would make this a good stop for a family or a group of friends.
We flew into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and took a taxi to our hotel. Checker Cab company does have wheelchair accessible minivans, however, we are often impatient and just hail a taxi that is a sedan and squeeze both of our wheelchairs and bags into one. Prices were reasonable and the drivers were very helpful in breaking down our chairs. I have heard the train and bus system in Atlanta is accessible.
On the website, it says that buses are equipped with an accessible wheelchair lift and space with tie-downs. There were bus stops and train stops within a few blocks of all of the places we went. The area we stayed in had many activities and thus we pushed to and from all of our destinations. Connecting Atlanta with the surrounding area are paved bike trails established through PathFoundation.org. If driving, there are paid public lots and garages
The main purpose of our trip was to scuba dive at the Georgia Aquarium with Lifewaters so we picked a hotel right next door to decrease rolling distance. The Hilton Garden Inn Downtown is beautifully decorated with a welcoming fireplace in the lobby. The staff was friendly and accommodating. We booked an accessible room with a roll-in shower.
Our room (709) was the most accessible room we have ever stayed in! Very spacious with room for our two wheelchairs to move around the room at the same time! This room has two queen beds both low enough for manual wheelchair users to easily transfer but high enough for a powerchair transfer as well. There was enough space for a wheelchair to fit on both sides of one of the beds. Mini-fridge and microwave were low enough for us to use. One of my favorite features was the Keurig, I love my morning coffee. The Keurig was placed within easy reach of wheelers. The closet was half lowered as well.
The bathroom was well done with space to roll under the sink, grab bars by the toilet, and in the shower. The toilet was an ADA toilet with an elongated bowl but it was on the shorter end of the ADA measurement. The shower was zero entry and a large shower bench with a back was provided. The shower controls were in the middle of the back wall and included the detachable shower wand. I love it when hotels get this right and I can control the water temperature from the shower bench!
One of the most unexpected accessible features of the Hilton Garden Inn was the pool lifts. The 7th floor has a beautiful outdoor patio which includes a pool and hot tub. There is also an indoor pool connected to the patio. All 3 of these water features had lifts! What?!? This is progress in the hotel industry.
The hotel is situated on a hill that is a doable but tough push for manual wheelchairs. However, we learned if you are going to Restaurant Row (which I recommend, more on that soon) take the parking garage elevator from level 1 to level 2 and you have now skipped the hill. Numerous restaurants are attached to this hotel and have easy access, these include Legal Sea Food, Johnny Rockets, and Game X. We ate at Legal Sea Food, which if you aren’t from the East Coast and haven’t visited you should! Deliciousness!