13 JUN 2018: The question I get asked the most is probably the one you get asked often too. What is your favourite destination? I have lots of favourites, but one I’m particularly fond of is the beaches of North Carolina and a trip I once took with a pal who is in a wheelchair. North Carolina has built ramps and provides free wheelchairs with fat tires so they roll easily on soft sand.  

They also have ramps to the beach which are great for families with kids in strollers, seniors and people using wheelchairs. My friend was thrilled to be able to get to the water. To be beside him when he did was a special moment. They can also be rented, as the “free” ones are first come, first served.

The beaches of North Carolina are famous for their pristine beaches, and colourful history. This is pirate country, and there are some wonderful tales to be told. In Beaufort Inlet, for instance, divers discovered what is believed to be the shipwreck remains of Queen Anne's Revenge, the flagship of the notorious pirate Blackbeard. The North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort is home to artifacts recovered from the shipwreck, as well as a host of other interesting things. All exhibits are accessible.

The waters of the Crystal Coast possess a hidden graveyard of more than 2,000 vessels that have made their unlikely final resting place at the bottom of the Atlantic. Many ships were sunk by crew members desperately trying to avoid capture and some were submerged in order to promote coral reef devilment. During the Second World War German U-boats frequently targeted and sank merchant vessels carrying oil, sulphur and other natural resources to northern states.

Fort Macon State Park Bathhouse and Picnic area tells its own tale. It was built between 1826 and 1824 to guard the entrance to Beaufort Harbour, and seized by Confederate troops in 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War. Later it was used as a prison during the reconstruction years.

It is accessible, and has handicap parking, rest rooms, picnic gazebos, oceanfront gazebo, and a ramp to the sand and beach. Call or email the park to reserve a beach wheelchair. 252-726-3775.

The seaport town of Beaufort (not to be confused with Beaufort, South Carolina) shows visitors a slice of early American life in a fishing and port town. With tree-lined streets and restored Victorian homes, Beaufort’s historical diversity and Southern charm is everywhere.

Each historic house and site has its own story to tell.

Off season your clients can drive their four-wheeled vehicle on the beach.

Towns on Bogue Banks don’t restrict beach driving to fishing although this is the prime reason for it. Your clients need a permit, and then four-wheel drive vehicles are allowed at Emerald Isle, Atlantic Beach and the Indian Beach, Salter Path area.

City/Beaufort high rise bridge on Radio Island has accessible parking, restrooms and a long-wide pier out on the Newport River. And speaking of Moorhead City, it has an accessible pool at the Sports Centre.

Another pier that’s accessible and you can fish from is the Emerald Isle Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier.

Popular in the summer, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores plays host to “On-board Collecting Cruises” in which curious visitors experience the thrill of wrangling marine life while aquarium experts identify each creature and explain how they affect the delicate North Carolina ecosystem. Once the explorers learn all they can about the Crystal Coast marine life, the creatures are set free in the ocean. All the exhibits are accessible, as are the washrooms, picnic tables, marsh, boardwalks and overlooks.

You won’t be surprised when I tell you that this coast is famous for its seafood. You’ll also find a huge variety of restaurants serving both traditional and creative. Along with the food, you’ll be dished up great stories of the area as well.

You might think of cold windswept dunes in the winter time but the climate is tempered by the Gulf Stream, and Carolinians brag their waters are warmer in the winter than Boston’s are in the summer months.

For more than 300 years the wild horses of Shackleford Banks have taken care of their young, frolicked on pristine deserted beaches and foraged for food with not a saddle or fence in sight. The horses are protected. Scientists, historians and nature lovers alike have speculated on the origins of the Shackleford horses, or “Banker ponies,” the most popular being that the horses swam ashore after a Spanish ship exploring the new world met with a tragic fate off of North Carolina’s shores. You can go to the island by private boat or on one of the ferries running from Harkers Island, Beaufort and Morehead City.

There is a huge selection of places to stay, from beach houses, to luxurious hotels, and of course airbnbs.

The Crystal Coast deserves a huge round of applause for getting into accessible vacations early, and keeping it up.

www.crystalcoastnc.org 

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Sam Ion

The expert on All Inclusives, Sam delivers up-to-date info on alternate Wednesdays in her column Not Just All Inclusives.

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