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Limited Mobility & Choosing a River Cruise

Assessing River Cruising for Limited Mobility Clients

River Cruising appeals to all ages and can be a particularly popular holiday for clients with limited mobility or walking difficulties.  Gliding effortlessly along from port to port, as ever renewing scenery drifts past, can be a wonderful experience.

It is important however to understand the challenges that one might experience along the way, and how these might be overcome.

As a travel agent who specialises in river cruising we have a great deal of experience in advising clients on the likely impact of their mobility issues and which cruises may or may not be suitable.

International transport

Whilst one may be able to wander considerable distances quite comfortably day to day, the combined pressures of time and distance imposed at airports can make these particularly difficult to navigate.  Assistance through the airport, generally from the check-in to the departure gate, is available to ease this process.  It can be booked with your holiday, or at a later date, ideally more than 48 hrs prior to departure.  If clients are unable to climb aircraft steps then lifts can also be provided where necessary.

Rail transport via Eurostar is certainly an option for Western Europe and avoids much of the challenges associated with airports and air travel.  This does need to be balanced with the amount of time spent travelling.  We can arrange rail transportation to and from your chosen destination but you need to be aware that it is a good 2 or 3 day journey to get to or from Budapest – although if your budget allows the Venice Simplon Orient-Express can be a very nice way to do it!

Where assistance is requested operators will often go through a healthcheck process with clients to determine travel needs and ensure the holiday is appropriate.

Life on board

The size of the river cruise ships is broadly determined by the width of the locks and height of the bridges.  As a result of this they are relatively narrow and this doesn’t leave an awful lot of room for manoeuvring around in the corridors.  Accessible cabins are available on a number of the more modern ships but these do tend to be the larger, more expensive, categories due to the space required for the adaptations.

Whilst many modern river cruise ships feature lifts on board these frequently only serve the main accommodation and public areas of the ship.  Lifts seldom go down to the lower deck cabins, nor do they reach the upper Sun Decks.  Many ships now feature open, terrace areas off the lounge or restaurant areas that can be accessed quite easily.  River cruise companies will generally ask that you are able to scale a flight of steps to the Sun Deck in the event of an emergency.

On most of the major European rivers, cruise ships will dock alongside each other at some point or other on the cruise.  On a busy river like the Rhine this might be at every port of call.  In these situations you may need to traverse other ships to reach the quayside.  Often you will be able to pass through the lobby, but under some circumstances it may be necessary to cross over the sun decks, which again means scaling steps.

There may also be steps up from the Quayside and in to the town which can also present a challenge to those with limited mobility

Wheelchairs & Mobility Scooters

Very few ships, or itineraries are designed to be fully accessible to wheelchair bound guests.  The limitations of the size of the ship make using wheelchairs on board challenging.  However clients with small folding wheelchairs and collapsible travel scooters have taken these with them for use on tours and whilst exploring alone.

Some of the river cruise companies to keep one or two chairs onboard should you need one, however these cannot be pre-booked.  Any mobility aids would need to be stored by you in the cabin.

Walking frames and sticks are probably the best thing to use onboard if you can manage.

Tours and Excursions

The tours and excursions offered as part of many packages are a really good way to get to know the area you’re travelling through.  Tours are generally via coach or on foot, often a combination of the two and may be over uneven ground.  If you are unable to get on and off a coach then some of the tours would not be available to you. Some operators also offer tours for different levels of mobility, from those that are more active to gentle walkers.

If you can get up and down stairs slowly and are not bothered about long tours then there are certainly plenty of options. We have had many clients who have stayed most of the day on ship and simply relaxed in their beautiful stateroom or enjoyed the company of the staff in the public areas until companions have returned at lunchtime.

Some operators offer cruises without tours included in the price which might work well if you do not plan to take too many of them.  This way you can pick and choose from the tours available depending on what you feel up to on the day.


So, in conclusion, where there is a will there is a way. However, it may not be possible for you to do the exact cruise you have set your heart on. Porto, for example is a very steep city and if you don’t want to get on and off a coach, then you are not going to be able to see it properly.

I do hope that helps and would be happy to answer any questions. It’s your holiday and we want to be able to help you travel with confidence and not worry.

If you would like to discuss your specific requirements please do not hesitate to call.


About Simeon Leete

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  1. I use a stick at home & walk slowly. Last year I had assistance at the airport.I have recently hired a wheelchair on holiday in order not to slow anyone down. Clearly however I could not bring one in airport luggage! Do you therefore offer small folding ones on the boat to use on land? I am able to walk with my stick on board. Mrs D Keen.

    1. Thank you for your enquiry. We have a number of clients who travel with collapsible wheelchairs, or even lightweight electric travel buggies. It is certainly possible to bring one of these on the aircraft with you as a disability aid, in which case it does not generally count towards your individual allowance.

      Some of the ships keep wheelchairs on board for use, however as these cannot be confirmed in advance you would need to take on with you if it were something you required. There is usually good room to store one under you bed in your cabin.

      If you would like to enquire about a specific cruise, or operator, please do not hesitate to call us on 0800 471 4754.

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