Unfortunately, not everyone is able to take a river cruise in Europe. I’m thinking mainly of those with mobility issues who write to me on a weekly basis. It breaks my heart to tell them that river cruising may not be the best choice for them. Why not? First, there’s the infrastructure in Europe itself. Sharp curbs and cobblestoned streets in many destinations can be rough going for those who rely on walkers and wheelchairs or scooters.
June 2019 Update: A Dutch company, Accessible Travel Netherlands, now offers wheelchair-accessible cruises in the Netherlands and on the Rhine. See Accessible Cruises For Passengers With Limited Mobility
While scooters are technically allowed on most river cruisers, they are not recommended and are discouraged as these passengers will find it difficult (if not impossible) to embark/disembark the ships, get on and off the buses, and navigate the cobblestone roads.
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.
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. Complicating the issue is that sometimes ships have to berth next to one another in some of the more popular destinations. That means getting off the ship to go into town—and getting back on the ship—sometimes requires climbing stairs to get to the sundeck of one ship, then back down the stairs to get to the lower level, through the lobby of another ship, etc. The photo that leads this post shows our ship, Riviera’s Robert Burns, docked in Budapest.
To spare you from having to climb too many stairs onboard, nearly all of the modern river cruise ships do have elevators, but these do not always travel to every deck, and not all ships have accessible staterooms.
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.
All of that said, I have seen people in wheelchairs touring Europe by river cruise. They usually have good family support and someone, like me and many others, willing to lend a helping pair of hands. 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.
AmaWaterways rents collapsible wheelchairs for $70 (for the duration of the cruise). Motorized scooters, which can help in navigating the cobblestone streets, also can be rented for $140. Other companies have similar policies.
If you’re unable to river cruise because of mobility challenges, an overland journey or a cruise aboard a larger cruise ship would likely be a better choice. See our sister site, Avid Cruiser for ocean-cruise reviews.