Leisure, culture, and appealing facilities draw senior travelers and baby boomers closer to river cruises. There seems to be no upper limit or holding back when it comes to river cruising. However, given the features aboard the best river cruises in the world, you might think it is appropriate for passengers traveling with disabilities.
Unfortunately, this is not the case! River cruises present various challenges for disabled passengers, both on and off the ship. People traveling with disabilities, wheelchairs, or difficulty walking need to know the forthcoming pitfalls before booking their tickets. From a shortage of accessible staterooms to activities and excursions, there are plenty of challenges awaiting passengers traveling with disabilities. It is not a smooth sail ahead!
However, it is not just bad news and challenges for us all. The correct information and details can tell you precisely what you should be expecting. You can find a river cruise that offers a satisfying experience to passengers traveling with disabilities too. You just need to do your homework right!
Here is Leisure’s guide to accessible river cruising.
It is tough to find the correct information about the various facilities available for disabled passengers on the websites and their glossy brochures. River cruises might look stunning and almost the same on the outside but are incredibly different on the inside. If you are concerned about how your disabilities or mobility issues might impact your vacation, you should ask the following questions before booking your cruise.
The first detailed information you require is to ensure the correct configuration for your cabin. River cruise cabins are smaller in comparison to hotel rooms. And in some cases, some river cruises might not offer you a stateroom at all. Some provide a tiny number of cabins or accessible cabins, while others might have a modified cabin with wide doors. You just need to know if you choose the right river cruise since suitable cabins are not always readily available.
You should enquire about the doors, whether they can open easily so your wheelchair can go inside. You should also find out if there is enough space to meet your mobility needs and storage requirements. Your equipment should be stored inside the cabin and not in the corridor because of safety regulations.
Although it is extremely rare to find a bathtub on a river cruise, you should ask questions like if they have a shower stall or a fixed door on their shower stall with limited access. Some cabin bathrooms have a small door that folds back to create a larger bathroom space.
You should also inquire about your bathroom configurations, especially if you are not getting a particular accessible room to book.
Most of today’s cruise ships offer elevators indoors. But the number of floors they serve can vary. River cruises have to pass through low bridges, and therefore the sun deck might only be available by stairs. Some of these river cruise ships have unique chairs that lift to take their wheelchair-accessible passengers up to the top deck. Uniworld, Algeria Charter Ships, and Vantage Vessels have some of the options. However, not all cruise ships have these facilities. They are pretty rare on a river cruise.
Daily excursions are usually included in your river cruising fare. You will not get the correct value for money if you are not joining most of them. Usually, there are options for wheelchair-accessible passengers who will be easily able to navigate through these activities. Traveling with disabilities might sound easy on some of these river cruises. Still, not every single tour and excursion will be available for you.
Considering the European river cruises, they go through historic waterways, through many important cities and vineyards. This is an excellent opportunity for passengers traveling with disabilities since they can visit the museums, shops, churches, restaurants, and other attractions along the path without needing bus transfers.
Here, Viking river cruises have various central mooring sports as they own their docks. You should look for cruises that offer walking tours on a gradable basis. This means they are differentiating between their walking excursions based on people’s fitness levels. Slower walking tours suggest people do not need to walk many steps, which is exceptionally suitable for passengers traveling with disabilities or in wheelchairs.
The bad news here, however, is that many old towns in Europe still have cobbled streets. These streets can present various problems for people in wheelchairs.
Your cruise director can also advise you on various suitable tours for multiple individuals, as per their mobility needs. They can also suggest multiple places where such passengers can rest or offer an alternative attraction that is also wheelchair accessible. For example, an alternative short and easy excursion instead of a visit to a castle requires long walks on uneven steps.
For excursions that involve bus traveling, coaches might not be able to take you places. As a passenger, you will require lifting the wheelchair and other mobility aids onto the bus and would be required to climb the steps to board the bus. Considering the repercussions and potential pitfalls of this plan, you would want to research ports on the itinerary you are considering to avoid getting stuck at multiple ports in a row that you cannot explore or navigate.
If the excursions do not suit you, the proximity of town centers and the docking points make it easier for independent travelers to explore the town centers on their own. This is great since many of the waterfronts, besides the rivers, are pretty flat in terms of topography and offer many places for stopping for snacks and drinks. However, since the prices of these excursions are included in the cruise fare, it is entirely up to you to decide if the trip is worth your time and money.
Picking the itinerary
The highlight of any excellent river cruise is the ever-changing panorama of scenic beauty, which can be easily admired from the comforts of your sails. Passengers traveling with disabilities or are mobility-impaired should choose itineraries that cover longer distances on rivers with plenty of time on the cruise. This means that you can spend more time aboard the ship with your loved ones and other fellow passengers. This also comes as an excellent tip for people who are cruising for the very first time.
Danube and Rhine river cruises are some of the most popular river cruises. These highlights include a day cruise along the Middle Rhine, which is UNESCO-listed and famous for the Lorelie Rock. Similarly, the UNESCO World Heritage Wachau Valley is also a great option along the dramatic stretches of the Danube river.
The Main Cruises line offers a 15-day journey from Budapest to Amsterdam along the Danube and the Rhine, offering an easy way to explore five different countries without having the hassle of traveling or exploring on land.
France and Portugal are great options too and are extremely beautiful. However, their itineraries clock up very few river miles between different ports. This means the passengers traveling with disabilities might not witness the scenic beauty as much if they choose to stay on board. In contrast, others are busy with different shore excursions.
The northern France itineraries include one whole day at various sites like the Normandy landing beaches, landmarks for the second world war, which take you on a long bus journey to these locations. This is not highly suitable for people with mobility issues.
For people traveling with disabilities, choosing to cruise through wine-growing regions around south France is better suited since they stop at fascinating locations like Lyon, Avignon, and Macon. These locations can be easily explored without having to transfer yourself through a coach.
All in all, it pays to study your itinerary well before you make any decisions. However, it should be noted that though some tours and excursions are included in your fare, people do not have an obligation to join these activities. A few people always decide to stay back while the ship is docked near the port. So, you will not feel alone.
Most cruise ships cater to the British markets through various tour operators. Out of all these, MS Alegria is perhaps the only river cruise that offers ease of accessibility to passengers traveling with disabilities. The cruise accommodates approximately 100 passengers, of which it can carry ten disabled passengers at a time for one sailing. The cruise also comes with manual and electric wheelchairs, foldable electric scooters, and walking-friendly frames. Passengers can bring the larger electric scooters to use for their shore excursions as well.
For passengers traveling with disabilities, cabins on the cruise feature a pretty large doorway, wet-room-based bathrooms with comfortable seats installed in the shower areas. Other cabins also have wheelchair-accessible doorways and stools, which can be provided at passenger’s request.
Passengers can also rent a ceiling-mount hoist to assist their loved ones in and out of bed, along with other mobility equipment like a walking frame to be used on the ship. Items available on the ship do not include any significant medical equipment. However, the ship does offer a small oxygen cylinder with prior arrangements.
Aboard this cruise ship, three elevators link the passenger decks and two chairs that take disabled passengers to the top sun deck. The cruise also comes with wheelchair-friendly wide corridors and wheelchair-accessible docking to aid passengers in their shore excursions.
Other river cruises
AmaWaterways: Passengers aboard the AmaWaterways are recommended to bring along a collapsible wheelchair stored inside their cabins. All rooms on this ship are wide enough to allow wheelchairs to go in and out. Some of their ships like AmaSonata, AmaSerena, AmaPrima, and AmaReina have specially designed staterooms with large wide doors and a modified bathroom for passengers traveling with disabilities. These cabins also come with appropriate emergency doors that lead directly out of the ship, accommodating a wheelchair in cases of emergencies.
Every ship from AmaWaterways has an elevator serving all the floors, except the lower deck and the sun deck. However, the good news is, crewmembers will be happy to assist passengers traveling with disabilities towards the top deck.
In addition to this, the shore excursions are fully accessible to passengers traveling with disabilities. It is, of course, recommended by the cruise line for disabled passengers to travel with a caregiver to assist them during the vacation.
A-Rosa: This German-owned river cruise line offers one cabin suitable for passengers traveling with disabilities on their ship A-Rosa Viva. Aboard the ship, passengers can also carry their wheelchair and other mobility aid. Medical oxygen bottles can also be carried on this cruise, however, with prior notice. When available, the crew helps passengers on and off the ship and around the stairs. However, caregivers should be present to assist as well.
CroisiEurope: All of their ships are premium-rated and offer completely accessible cabin rooms with all the necessary equipment and wide doors to meet the requirements of passengers traveling with disabilities. This three-deck ship has an elevator that goes up and down the ship, except the sun deck. Disabled passengers can travel with their caregiver to assist them since the crew is limited on this ship. Passengers must also connect with the cruise line before booking their seats on this vessel.
Uniworld: Although the ship does not offer wheelchair-accessible cabins, their shower stalls do have grab bars for people traveling with disabilities. Most of the river cruises by Uniworld have an elevator to serve passenger decks and a chair-lift to lead them to the sun deck. You can also get a travel-sized, completely collapsible wheelchair onboard.
Shore excursions by the cruise line include various programs rated suitable for “gentle walking,” which means passengers traveling with disabilities can also participate. The line, however, does ask passengers to walk unassisted for guided tours, so if a wheelchair is essential offshore, guests would be recommended to explore the locations independently.
Vantage: The Vantage cruise ships are fully equipped with hydraulic chairs between top passenger decks and the sun deck. Some elevators serve the inside decks. Their cruise ship, Discovery II, offers handicapped cabins and accessible restrooms in public areas. Passengers aboard the ship also get access to extra wheelchairs that can be carried onboard. The only policy that Vantage cruises strictly stick to is for passengers traveling with disabilities to be accompanied by someone who can responsibly take care of them.
Viking: One of the most extensive river cruises welcomes passengers traveling with disabilities with a smile. However, this smile comes with particular challenges existing onboard and in their planned shore excursions. Viking does not offer a designated wheelchair-friendly stateroom. Most of their ships do come with elevators. Still, some of them have a split-level deck which makes movement difficult for mobility-impaired people.
Their shore excursions include walking across roads laden with cobblestones or sometimes even steps. So, physically challenged passengers would require an extra pair of hands assisting them at all times since crew availability is limited. Collapsible wheelchairs are allowed aboard the ship, but your motorized scooters are not permitted due to lack of space. Guests with special medical needs - physical and unique, are recommended to check with the ship first to gain information on the ship’s layout or their questions before boarding.
So, should you go cruising this year?
Traveling with disabilities can be easy if you are choosing the right cruise ship. Keep in mind all the abovementioned technicalities to board the river cruise of your dreams. However, if you miss out on even one aspect, your river cruise vacation could throw a damper on your plans.
Choose what’s best for you and your loved ones. Happy vacationing to you!
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