Cruising is often billed as one of the most accessible vacation choices for wheelchair-users and slow walkers. Although Caribbean cruises are a popular first-choice for this group, European itineraries have gained a new-found popularity in the past few years. And with this popularity comes improved access; including more accessible shore excursions and the increased availability of accessible transportation in many European ports.
New Ship Sponsored Tours
Until recently, most ship sponsored shore excursions were not wheelchair-accessible; as lift-equipped or ramped transportation was difficult to come by on the Continent. Gladly, that's all changed, and now Royal Caribbean International (RCI), Celebrity Cruises, and Holland America Lines (HAL) offer some accessible shore excursions in their European ports.
The RCI and Celebrity offerings fall into two categories; those that require a minimum of walking and those designed for full-time wheelchair-users. These are not private tours, but because of the vehicles used, the groups are smaller than those on the large tour buses. All the tours are conducted in ramped or lift-equipped vehicles.
The fully accessible tours (appropriate for full-time wheelers) include Easy Tenerife, Easy Lanzarote, Easy La Palma, Easy Athens, Easy Malaga, Easy Barcelona, Easy Palma, Easy Istanbul, and Easy Ephesus. Those that require minimal walking include Easy Pisa, Easy Naples, and Easy Rome.
HAL also offers a few fully accessible shore excursions in select ports. They are called Signature Tours and they include an accessible van plus a guide for the day, so you are free to set your own itinerary. Currently these tours are available in Tallinn and Helsinki, but HAL is looking to expand their accessible offerings. These tours are available on a first-come basis and they can only be purchased on board at the shore excursion desk.
More Independent Offerings
Many local operators are also jumping aboard the access bandwagon, with independent shore excursions now available in ports that were previously thought to be totally inaccessible. St. Petersburg tops the list here, with two companies now offering wheelchair-accessible tours of this Russian city.
DenRus Tours (tel. +561-459-5534; www.denrus.ru) can accommodate manual wheelchair-users who use folding wheelchairs on some of their tours. These tours include transportation in a lift-equipped van, which can accommodate three manual wheelchair-users and six able-bodied passengers. The tours include stops at the Peter and Paul Fortress, the State Russian Museum, and Peterhof Fountain Park.
Liberty Tours (www.libertytour.ru) offers a variety of accessible tours of St. Petersburg, conducted in an accessible minibus with folding ramps and tie-downs. Their website also lists accessible lodging options, if you'd like to extend your St. Petersburg stay.
Getting to the Port
Last but not least, don't forget about getting to the ship. This can be more of a challenge than it sounds, because in some cases, the port is a good distance from the gateway airport. Take the UK cruise terminals for example, which are located several hours drive from Heathrow and Gatwick airports.
If a UK cruise departure is in your future, contact Eddie Manning (tel. +44 7970 761 505; www.limo.co.uk) for a reliable and accessible transfer. Eddie can provide transfers to and from Dover, Southampton, and Harwich Cruise Terminals in his accessible VW Transporter. The vehicle has ramp access and has room for one wheelchair-user and up to five able-bodied passengers. There is baggage space for up to 10 large suitcases, and the drivers will also assist passengers with their luggage on both ends.
Airport transfers to central London are also available, for folks who want to come in a few days early for their cruise. It's a hassle-free and very accessible way to get to and from the ship.
Candy Harrington is the editor of Emerging Horizons and the author of 101 Accessible Vacations; Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. She blogs regularly about accessible travel issues at www.barrierfreetravels.com.
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