Wheelchair Users & The Obstacles of River Cruising

Is river cruising suitable for wheelchair passengers? It's a reoccuring question and we wouldn’t truly be looking after you if we didn’t provide our honest expert advice…

The truth is, there are difficulties that wheelchair-bound and physically limited individuals will encounter on a typical river cruise, which we think you need to be aware of before booking. Please don’t mistake this for ignorance – river cruise operators aren’t oblivious to those less able individuals

Let’s start with adapted cabins

The key reason for few accessible vessels is the restriction in size – because of the nature of a river cruise, navigating under low bridges and through tight locks, the vessel can only be so wide, tall and long; river cruise operators are therefore limited with space.

Therefore, there are few river vessels with adapted cabins. And although the cabin is adapted, you can not neccessarily navigate the whole stateroom by wheelchair. You may notice that many vessels have a lift on board, in a lot of cases the lift does not provide access to every deck of the ship and it doesn’t mean that the entire ship is navigable by wheelchair (most lifts will not take passengers to Sun Deck and is only accessible by staricase).


Operators with adapted cabins*

*Please note that the stateroom may not be fully wheelchair friendly and in most cases, the wheelchair must be collapsible & the bathroom may not accommodate for a wheelchair! I.e. no roll-in shower facilities. Call for further details: 0800 810 8220

Scenic – Scenic luxury river cruises have adapted cabins to help those physically challenged on most of their ships on Europe’s waterways!
Emerald Waterways - Emerald Waterways star-ships have an adapted cabin on board.
CroisiEurope – Have adapted cabins on many of their ships across Europe! Including on the following rivers, the Seine, Rhine and Danube.


So we know that some vessels have adapted staterooms, but it is important to be aware of other obstacles along the way.

There may be difficulty disembarking in various ports – for 2 reasons.

- The Gangway & Water levels
- Berthing alongside other vessels


Unfortunately, the river cruise operator cannot guarantee a wheelchair friendly disembarkation – sometimes vessels dock along the river banks where the gangplank leads to a grass verge (see below).

Ama Lotus Emabarking

Also be aware that even if the gangway is much more reasonable and accessible, the water levels can change drastically throughout the day which may result in a very steep gangway. It is essential that a less able passenger is travelling with somebody who is willing and able to help with disembarking etc. because the staff are not always available to do so.

Lastly, it is a common occurrence for river vessels to dock alongside one another and to disembark passengers may have to pass through another vessel - which is possibly not wheelchair accessible. Few operators allow you to pass directly through their vessel and so passengers are required to navigate stairs to cross the vessels and reach the landing pier.

Triple Berth River Ships

What about the Shore Excursions...

Although you do not have to join an organized shore excursion on your river cruise, surely you would want to first of all for value for money, but also for enjoyment and to immerse yourself in local culture.

It is essential that guests who have physical challenges are aware that most tours and excursions involve walking, and although many offer slow-paced tours, there are many tours along cobbled streets, up steep hills and also staircases. And where transport is needed, it will be most likely be a coach and so a wheelchair would most likely need to be collapsible.


Should I still book a river cruise as a passenger with physical limitations?

Things to consider...

If you’re wheelchair-bound, is the wheelchair collapsible?

Will you be travelling with a companion willing and able to help where needed?

Are you willing to stay onboard in ports where you aren’t able to disembark?

Are you mindful that not all tours will be possible in a wheelchair?


If you requite further information or would like some genuine advice, please do not hesitate to call our river cruise experts on 0800 810 8220.