More interesting river cruise related questions have come our way, but one on Twitter recently caught our eye – simply because it is one that has no real easy answers.
Which river cruise line would you suggest for a wheelchair bound senior citizen?
This is a tough question for more than one reason – and sadly, the short answer is this: European river cruising in general is not well-suited to those confined to a wheelchair.
River cruising through Europe can be surprisingly un-wheelchair friendly. Variances in water levels along the rivers can result in steep gangways, and some docking locations are downright unfriendly when it comes to the mobility-impaired.
For guests coming from North America, this might seem to be unfathomable. The simple fact remains, though, that many cities may not have wheelchair ramps at convenient locations simply due to the structure of the cities themselves, which can be hundreds of years old. While major cities will likely have facilities catering to those confined to a wheelchair, smaller towns and villages are less likely.
Not all ships are wheelchair-friendly, either – though many now have elevators to help those with mobility issues. This isn’t because river cruise lines are not sensitive to the needs of their guests; rather, it’s a reflection of two things: the incredible demands placed on the physical dimensions of the ships, which can only be so long, wide, and tall; and the nature of river cruising itself. Water levels, berthing facilities and transportation are all things that are difficult for cruise lines to predict accurately. Your ship may be wheelchair-friendly – but what if you’re berthed next to one that isn’t? Berthing two and even three abreast isn’t uncommon in Europe, and we’ve personally walked across ships that have required guests to ascend or descend to different levels in order to make it ashore. If there’s an elevator, great. If not? Then there’s a problem.
The same goes for motorized scooters. River cruise ships are just not suited for them, and that goes for quite a few European cities. You can have cobblestones to cross, stairs to ascend or descend, and steep gangplanks – and that might just be to get out of the pier area. If you do a Google search, quite a few nasty comments come up from folks who are annoyed with river cruise lines for not allowing motorized scooters (most lines state that you can’t bring one onboard, period), but this isn’t because they’re discriminating against anyone: It’s simply because motorized scooters and river cruises do not mix.
Whether you can take a river cruise or not will ultimately depend on your level of mobility: If you are confined to a wheelchair and cannot leave it for any reason, river cruising likely will not work for you, and we would not recommend it. However, if you are able to stand for short periods of time – in order to perhaps climb stairs on a motorcoach – then it puts river cruising within the realm of possibility.
Before making any booking, though, contact the line you’re thinking of and reconfirm whether the line can accommodate wheelchairs in some fashion. While wheelchairs certainly won’t fit through the cabin doors, if one can collapse and the guest can make it into the room with the assistance of a companion, river cruising is possible.
Most cruise lines outline their policies on their websites, and in their legal disclaimers. It’s absolutely critical that you read these (available on every website and printed in the back of the brochure) before making a firm booking.