Monarch Casino Resort Spa Blackhawk Colorado
Hotel: Monarch Casino Resort Spa
Location: Blackhawk Colorado
Accessibility Score: 5/10 ADA compliant, not much more.
My wife and I decided to take a quick overnight to the Monarch Casino Resort Spa in Blackhawk Colorado to decompress and get ready for a busy summer of travel and adventure. We brought a couple friends and my guide dog Fauna along for some relaxation and gambling fun.
Blackhawk is a small casino town located about half an hour from Denver, a mile from Blackhawk is the historic casino town Central City, which also has gambling. Blackhawk (where we stayed) is striving to be more of a modern gambling experience while Central City being a historic town has that old west sort of feel with smaller casinos and less big flashy structures.
Finding your way to Blackhawk is easy, if you don’t want to take the short drive, there are a myriad of gambler busses that will take you to either Central City or Blackhawk from Denver or almost any suburb nearby. Room space is limited, so book early if you want to get a room during peak season in summer or winter. Blackhawk and Central City are located a few miles off I-70, which is the most common way for skiers to get to the slopes during winter.
There are a few different hotels to choose from for your stay in Blackhawk, and we opted for the newly remodeled Monarch Casino Resort Spa. I was interested to see how the accessibility of the hotel had changed since the retrofit. The hotels in Blackhawk are close together, and it is easy to “casino hop” from one to another. Along the main thoroughfare which is where all the casinos are located, I found the sidewalks well marked, and maintained and traffic lights easy to navigate.
Unlike the casinos in Las Vegas, the Monarch is relatively straightforward and easy to navigate. We parked in the parking structure and took the elevator down to the casino, which is spread around the second and third floor. There was a well-marked path from the parking structure elevator but be aware there was no braille on the signs. Once we reached the casino, there were two escalators down to the ground floor where the check-in desk is located. Navigating this was all straightforward. My wife and I chose a king spa suite corner room, and our friends got a normal king spa suite. The front desk took an almost unreasonable amount of coaxing to get the rooms on the same floor, but it was all eventually sorted out. We headed up to our friend’s suite and found the rooms to be spacious with nice seating areas, two televisions and automated curtains. While you soak in the jacuzzi tub, guests have a nice view of the Colorado mountainside. The rooms have a nice mixture of recessed and direct lighting and many controls to dial in the lighting setup that best suits your need or mood. We were excited to see our corner suite, so my wife and I headed to our room. When we arrived at our room, we found that the key did not work. We called the front desk from our friend’s room, and they said they would send new keys down right away, however 45 minutes later my wife had to go back to the front desk and get keys. The valet apparently delivers keys to rooms in this situation, but as he was unavailable, they forgot about us. There were of course five people working behind the desk any of whom could have brought us the keys rather than leaving us sitting in the hall in front of the room – disappointing.
Once my wife returned with the keys to the room. We entered the suite to find none of the lights working. We tried them all, and nothing worked. Just before calling the front desk my wife found that there is a master switch located by the front door labeled in tiny font. Hitting this button then flipping the rocker switches located next to the door, the room lit up like Christmas day. While this may be a cool feature, but this was the first of a list of things that did not make sense from an accessibility standpoint. The automated curtains were also operated by buttons marked with incredibly small font, though you could open them manually I assume this is not good for the mechanism. There were no braille markings in the room other than the room number by the entry door. This was frustrating since the room has many different lights and switches, and it was not easy to tell what they did. Some sort of accessible marking for the master switch and curtain controls would have been a useful addition to their remodel.
There is a big difference between being ADA compliant in terms of accessibility and being useable. If you can find a creative designer for a remodel, they can implement design, aesthetics, and accessible functionality that look good and improve the experience of your disabled guests at the same time. The monarch did a great job of their remodel, but the designer followed the ADA guidelines without taking the next step. Here are a few issues we encountered while staying at the resort.
When you ride an elevator, there are is expected functionality. You expect buttons by the elevator doors for up and down and you expect a panel inside the elevator so you can select the floor you wish to ride to, and buttons to open and close the door. The elevators at The Monarch Casino Resort Spa not only had neither of these, but instead they had a floor selector panel that was visual centric and nearly impossible to use as a blind person. In the lobby, the elevators are located to the right of the check-in desk, which is straight ahead as you come down the escalators, or from the ground floor valet. To choose the floor you wish to travel to, you must use the elevator panel at the security desk which is about 15 feet away from where you would usually press the up or down buttons by the elevator doors. The entire time we were there, there was no security guard on duty, so we were left to our own devices to find out how to operate the elevator. It was super confusing. The panel itself has a button that is marked as handicap accessible, which gives voice listings of the floors available, but there is no braille explaining what is going on when you press the button and if you have no sight, there would be no way to see the button. Once, you choose your floor, a voice tells you which elevator will take you to your floor, but this voice is not heard until after you make your choice, and if you can’t see the interface, there would be no way to make your choice. It is very apparent that the person who wrote the software that operates the elevators considered accessibility an afterthought.
To find the elevator you need to get in to get to your floor, the elevators are marked with large letters, but they are painted the same color as the wall they are located on. There is no contrast, and it is difficult to determine the elevator you are looking for regardless of the size of the letters. If the letters had any color contrast like edging color or anything they would be more visible and easier to see by all guests, not just visually impaired. Bigger isn’t always better, especially if the color scheme makes it difficult to see.
Once you are in the elevator, there is a large display panel showing the current floor number and that number is high contrast. Braille and raised numbers are present outside the doors as you would expect and required by ADA. There is a voice which announces which floor you are arriving on – great touch. The problem with all this is that during the evening and morning hours, there are no voice announcements and even worse there is no display with floor numbers, the entire accessible system is turned off. This might be acceptable in any normal hotel, but casinos are 24 hours, and many enter and leave their rooms to gamble at non-normal hours. If you have accessibility features for your property, why turn them off?
While property cleanliness is not usually something I mention in my reviews, this was an accessibility issue and needed to me covered. There were a few instances where refuse was left rolling around in the hallways and was a tripping or sipping danger for visually impaired guests. The worst of which was a selection of eating utensils and refuse left outside a room door. This was likely left from a guest having room service, but the person bussing the tray did not clean up the forks and such, which were kicked into the center of the hallway. The next morning the utensils and refuse were still in the hall and at one point, was sitting on the floor next to the maid’s cart and never cleaned up. I don’t need to mention the danger of forks left in the hall for guide dogs or blind guests (yes, I have pics). Other than refuse in the halls, the property overall was well kept and clean.
Guide Dog accommodations
The Monarch Casino Resort Spa is not setup well for service animals that need a relieving area. The check-in desk was not sure where the relieving area was located or if there was one. This is poor staff training. I inquired with the valet, and they pointed me to a rocky area across a two-lane street with no crosswalk or light. Training issue here as well, a blind person with a guide dog asking about an amenity and the valet does the classic points and says: “over there” rather than giving useful directions a blind person could use. After a walk across the street and halfway down the length of the property we finally came to the relieving area which was a rocky area with a drainage ditch. The entire area was strewn with large rocks, broken glass, and tripping hazards. I can’t imagine a less safe location for a relieving area for any guest, let alone a visually impaired one. There was no grass to speak of, and the weeds were about a foot tall. There was a holder with relieving bags located near the area, but there was no trash can. The area was poorly thought out.
The staff, with one exception did not attempt interaction with my guide dog at all. The one person who did interact with her was working in the pool area and perhaps seemed like they were newer employees. This is a training issue as well for the staff, because distracting a guide dog near a pool can cause them to lead the handler into the water unexpectedly.
One odd thing I noticed about The Monarch Casino Resort Spa during our stay was that the entire time we were at the resort, not one staff member interacted with me and asked if they could help me find anything. Even when I was obviously having troubles with the elevator system, and there were five staff members mulling around behind the check-in desk chatting amongst themselves. This is bad training as well.
I am far from an expert on mobility accessibility, but I can tell when areas are tough to navigate, because if my guide dog can’t walk with me through an area, then a wheelchair user is going to have difficulty as well. The casino floor and gambling area were very tight with chairs strewn all around. Usually staff are good about pushing unused chairs in in casinos, but not here. Casinos are always crowded and tough to navigate no matter where you are, but this one was significantly worse than any of the other casinos we visited in Blackhawk. In the guest rooms, the (in the king spa suites where we stayed), the tubs are very deep and would be very inaccessible for mobility impaired guests. I would not suggest trying to “make it” in a regular room if the accessible rooms are not available.
The retrofit of the Monarch Casino Resort Spa looked great, but the accessibility took a big hit as they favored form (and look) over function when it comes to accessibility. I’m also perplexed about decisions like turning off the accessible features of the elevators in the evening. Are visually impaired guests not expected to travel the property in the evening? Much of this can be offset if your staff ask if they can help you, especially when you are visibly having issues finding something. I’m still shocked that I never had any interactions with staff members then whole stay at the property.
As with all my reviews, I am always happy to return to a property and amend this review if the Monarch Casino Resort Spa are willing. I’m also happy to come and talk to their staff about how to interact with visually impaired guests.
Feel free to get in touch with me if you are a property and would like to work with me or would like me to come and review the accessibility of your property, feel free to use the “work with me” link above.
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