I do get often asked about how suitable river cruising is for people with mobility issues. It does of course come down to the judgement of the potential cruiser but I hope that the following bits of information and suggestions may make you feel more confident about whether a river cruise will suit your mobility issues or not. Not all cruises are the same or river ship operators or river itineraries.
1. I’d like to do a river cruise but I’d rather not fly.
Using the train to get to continental Europe is a very viable option these days. Some operators though don’t offer it. The easiest way to get the train to a cruise is to book a cruise that starts in Paris and ends in Paris. As you will be transferred from the Eurostar terminal, there is no need to have to get between Paris stations. A Rhine cruise which can include a transfer from Brussels Eurostar station and return is also an excellent option and some operators will offer a tour manager for your whole train journey from London. It is also simple for us to organise any disabled assistance you might require in France and Belgium if you are not accompanied. A cruise in the south of France can be done by changing changing platform in Lille rather than having to make your way across Paris.
Travellers with mobility issues can get assistance from Eurostar staff, this cannot be pre-booked, but is easily arranged on the day. Eurostar ask that you arrive 1hr prior to departure if you require assistance rather than the 30 minutes specified. They will also liaise with local operators, such as TGV, on your behalf to arrange assistance on arrival.
More information may be found on the Eurostar website at the following link: http://www.eurostar.com/UK/uk/leisure/customer_care/special_assistance.jsp
2. I can fly but getting to the airport is quite a hassle.
This is exactly what the home departure service is for. Your chauffeur driven vehicle will arrive with plenty of time to get you to the airport and your driver will take your bags. It is also possible to take a fold up wheelchair on the service, though not a mobility scooter. You can also be driven to the airport the night before avoiding an early get-up.
3. Is a river cruise ship suitable for a permanent wheelchair user?
The answer is no. The corridors are too narrow as are the public spaces. This is also to do with fire regulations as a passenger must be able to muster on the top deck which will involve walking up stairs as the lifts will be out of action.
4. I can walk but the excursions might be a bit much with my current mobility
If walking for periods is an effort, most operators offer some gentle walking tours. These can be short and give you an orientation of the area you are visiting that day.
If however, you are wanting to take a fold-up wheelchair for brief periods of use whilst on excursions, this maybe possible, but will be down to the discretion of the operator. Again, it is down to the individual tour operator but usually they won’t take any money from you for a holiday, even a deposit, until they have agreed that it is fine.
5. Is it possible to stay on the ship instead of going on the excursions?
This is fine and is better suited to some itineraries and operators. You can buy cruises without excursions included and can then pick and choose which ones you would like to take due to their suitability, either from a list given to you in the UK or when you are on the ship. For example, a Rhine cruise might include a Black Forest Tour, which although you will stop to see local artisans, will mainly be a drive through the Black Forest by coach.
A river cruise is certainly more relaxing than a touring holiday because you get to unpack once and you are not on and off buses all the time. However, some of the excursions will require boarding a bus, even if it is only a 15 minute ride.
6. Do river cruisers have lifts?
A lot of the vessels have lifts these days but most do not go up to the sundeck.
7. How many steps will I have to climb on board?
There is also the possibility that you will have to climb external stairs to get up to the shore if you are moored in a large city. You will also need to climb a small set of stairs to reach the sundeck. Some boats do have stairlifts, the SS Antoinette has a stair lift. However there are stairs to get you to different interior levels. Even though there is a lift on board it is only at the restaurant and lounge end of the ship.
8. I’d like to try a Nile cruise but is it possible with my mobility issues?
Surprisingly there are Nile cruisers which do have rooms suitable for a wheelchair.
I hope that helps.
Global River Cruising