How Does the Travel Industry Meet the Need for Accessible Travel River Cruises?
October 15, 2014 By Lauri Wakefield
What if you wanted to take a river cruise? You would have several choices. However, what if you wanted to take a river cruise and you have physical limitations? What affect would this have on your options?
Accessible Travel refers to being able to meet the needs of individuals with physical impairments. This includes hearing and visually impaired as well as those with mobility issues, which tend to be more complex, particularly for those passengers who are wheelchair-bound. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on travelers with limited physical mobility.
There are some options that can make river cruises possible for almost anyone. So if you or someone you know has physical limitations, you will be glad to know that some of the cruise lines have cabins that are wheelchair accessible, wheelchair lifts, wide corridors and wheelchair accessible excursions.
Surprisingly, many of the major river cruise companies do not have accessible cabins on any of their ships. This includes AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Uniworld and Viking River Cruises. Most of the river boats do have elevators but are not otherwise equipped for passengers with limited mobility.
There are a few companies in Europe and the United States that offer accessible travel on some of their river boats. In Europe there are options on traditional river cruise ships as well as barge river boats. In case you are unfamiliar with a barge, it is a smaller boat that is able to travel along canals and waterways that are not navigable by larger river boats. The barge vessels usually carry between 6 and 12 passengers.
River Cruise Companies that Offer Accessible Travel Options
Listed below are the river cruise companies in Europe that have accessible cabins on some of their ships.
Seine River – Ships: MS Botticelli and MS France
Rhine & Danube Rivers – Ships: MS Beethoven, MS Gérard Schmitter, MS L’Europe, MS Lafayette, MS Modigliani, MS Vivaldi
Garonne and Dordogne Rivers in France – Ship: MS Cyrano de Bergerac
Guadalquivir and Guadian Rivers in Spain – Ship: MS La Belle de Cadix
MS Alegria cruises on the Rhine River and the Dutch and Belgian Waterways.
- Scenic Cruises has accessible cabins on all of 13 of its ships that cruise the waterways in Europe and Russia.
- European Waterways (barge cruising)
La Nouvelle Etoile cruises in Holland from March through May, Burgundy in June and July, and in Germany and Luxembourg in September and October.
- Barge Charters (barge cruising)
La Reine Pedauque in Burgundy, France
For river cruises in the United States, the American Queen Steamboat Company has some accessible travel options. Both the American Queen on the Mississippi River and the American Empress on the Columbia and Snakes Rivers have wheelchair accessible cabins.
Please note that even though these companies have designated cabins for accessible travel, there are a limited number available on each ship. And each cruise company varies with the level of assistance they will provide with regard to airport transfers, getting on and off the ship, making special accommodations for tours and excursions, and other things not mentioned. To determine the level of service provided, you can contact the cruise lines directly or find a travel agent that specializes in Accessible Travel.
Other Considerations For Travelers With Physical Limitations
While you might be able find a cruise ship that can accommodate physical mobility issues, there are a few other things to take into consideration if you would like to take a river cruise.
- Most companies only allow wheelchairs that are collapsible. Some do not allow motorized wheelchairs.
- Solo travel is generally not an option. You will be required to travel with another passenger who can assist you.
- When your boat docks at each new port, there may be times when you will not be able to leave the ship if you are unable to walk and must be carried on and off the boat in a wheelchair. If the cruise line staff is unable to assist and determines it’s unsafe, you will be required to stay on the ship at that port.
- Some of the tours, particularly in Europe, require a lot of walking across cobblestone streets, up stairs and hills, and through narrow passageways both inside and outside buildings.
- You might need to arrange your own airport transfers and tours with companies that can accommodate wheelchair transport. (This is where a travel agent who specializes in Accessible Travel can be very helpful.)
Is River Cruising Right for Travelers with Physical Limitations?
River cruises are not recommended for everyone, especially for those who have physical challenges and would rather not deal with some of the obstacles. However, if you are willing to look beyond the challenges you might encounter in preparation of and during your trip, then absolutely, yes, go for it. Even though you might be somewhat limited, you will still be able to cruise along the river through the heart of many cities, enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way, and savor the many regional dishes served onboard the ship.