Scandinavian Cruises for Slow Walkers & Wheelchair/Scooter Users
Are you ready to spread your wings and try a European Cruise? If so, a Scandinavian Itinerary may be the one for you to begin your adventures with. Without a doubt, the scenery is magical with much of it looking as if Walt Disney himself was building a set for one of his Magic Kingdoms. Although it’s been several years since my cruise, I do recall staying awake on many nights so that I would not miss the voyage through the Fjords and seeing the little houses dotting the countryside that look much like Storybook Village at Disneyland. Be sure to plan your cruise as close to June 20 as possible so as to take advantage of the summer solstice and the many hours of daylight. You can catch up on your sleep when you return home!
We just had clients return from a Scandinavian Cruise on Celebrity and I am going to recap their experience for you. Our clients were first time cruisers and included a full time manual wheelchair user. With their permission, I am including some wonderful photos from their trip.
The cruise began and ended in Amsterdam where they stayed at the Amsterdam Marriott Hotel, which is very well located in the heart of the city. They were guests there for several days pre-cruise and one night post and here is what they had to say to the manager, "My wife and I had the pleasure of staying at your hotel twice during the month of June. We found the staff, service and food to be outstanding. The layout of your handicap room was the best we have used in several years. Your staff made my wife and I feel at home from the minute we arrived and upon our return to be greeted by name at the front door was truly a unique experience."
We also had another client visit Amsterdam in July on a land trip. He uses a large Permobil Power Chair and also stayed at the Marriott. A young man about to enter college, he was most interested in the “Coffee Shops” and “Red Light District” which Amsterdam is so famous for. He managed to get around on the trams with his two companions and had a great time. This was his first overseas trip and we are happy to report that his power chair made it from New York to Berlin and then home from Amsterdam without incident. This was due, in large part, to a very diligent mom who knew exactly what to do when traveling with a power chair. We will visit this topic in more detail in a future article.
Our clients did not feel that Amsterdam was very accessible but did find it manageable with a companion. One block from the Marriott is the Blue Boat Company which offers wheelchair accessible canal tours which they felt was a “great way to see the city”!
Our boats are wheelchair accessible!
Because not all our boats are equipped with lifts for wheelchair access, reservations are necessary! You can contact our ticket office the day of the cruise (or 1 day before) by telephone on +31 206 79 13 70. We can then tell you exactly which departures are available with wheelchair access and make a reservation for your preferred time. Six of our vessels are equipped with a wheelchair lift, which allows you to board without leaving your wheelchair. Unfortunately, we can not take more then 6 wheelchairs per departure. If you are with a larger party, it is possible to divide the group over more departures.
We were able to arrange private transfers and day trips for our clients through Port Trips. They opted to travel n a normal sedan and stored the wheelchair in the trunk. However, we also arranged for airport transfer for our oung man who used the power chair in a wheelchair accessible Mercedes Sprinter Van.
Clients found the drivers to be courteous and efficient and they made every effort to insure their comfort and safety. Even though the tours ere planned, the drivers made suggestions along the way to see and do things that met the clients’ needs.
We recommended they take a day trip to the lovely town of Alkmaar in the province of North Holland. Alkmaar is the enter of the cheese trade in the Netherlands.
On market days, the whole of the picturesque place in front of the Weigh House is covered by huge piles of red and yellow Edam and Gouda cheeses. It is not really possible to buy cheese at this market which is really only a demonstration of how this merchant’s market operated in the older days. However, the show, which takes place in front of the Medieval Weighing House, is surrounded by stalls at hich you can buy all kinds of cheese and non-cheese related products
The tour to Alkmaar also included a stop at the Open Air Museum and a visit to the Wooden Shoe Factory which was very accessible. Additional stops included Volendam where the narrow, crowded streets made navigating with a wheelchair difficult and Edam where they provided a ramp into the shops. After several lovely days in Amsterdam, it was time for our clients to board Celebrity’s Constellation for their 12 night cruise. They loved their spacious wheelchair accessible stateroom and appreciated the ramped access to their balcony where they could enjoy wonderful views of the ports.
Celebrity and Royal Caribbean are now offering wheelchair accessible shore excursions in many European ports of call. These are referred to as “Easy” tours and provide transportation on lift equipped vans, motor coaches and mini buses.
It is very important for the cruise lines’ access departments to have weight, dimensions and type of equipment the person is using so they can make a determination as to whether or not each particular excursion will work for that person.
BERLIN (WARNEMUNDE): Easy Rostock Surroundings was offered to wheelchair users and provided an overview of the main sights of this port as well as some background information about the history and the circumstances under which people had to live in former East Germany.
Passengers do not leave the motor coach on this tour. The scenic ride begins in the old fishing village of Warnemunde passing by the old church on the market square, listening to stories of living besides the Baltic Sea in former times before enjoying the wide fields and woods the countryside of Mecklenburg Western Pomerania has to offer.
The history of Bad Doberan goes back to the 12th century when Cistercian Monks decided to settle there and erect the impressive Monastery. About 300 years ago, the neat little seaside resort became the summer residence of the Mecklenburg dukes. Impressive villas and imposing linden tree venues still tell the story about that past.
Continuing on to Rostock, you will see the White Town of the Baltic – Heiligendamm, the first official German seaside resort, founded in 1793. The tour concludes with an orientation of the Hanseatic town of Rostock, the biggest city in Mecklenburg. You will learn more about the history of Rostock and its significance during Hanseatic times.
The tour passes by the town hall which was built in the 13th century by connecting three gabled houses as well as the imposing St. Mary’s Church. You will view the old post station as well as the Stone Gate and parts of the city wall before returning to the ship.
Departing by wheelchair adapted van from the pier you will enjoy a sightseeing drive through Tallinn's historic centre with photo stop in Kadriorg Park, founded by Peter the Great.
Pass the well-preserved 16th century ruins of St. Bridget's convent and the Forest Cemetery travelling to the district of Pirita.
There will be a photo stop at the Song Festival Ground-a sight where traditional song festivals are held in every five years with up to 30,000 performers.
Arriving at Tallinn's Old Town, you will see the Toompea Castle (external view only), which now houses the Estonian Parliament and the Russian Orthodox Church of A. Nevsky (external view only).
Depart by wheelchair-adapted van from the pier for a sightseeing drive through Tallinn's historic center. Have a photo stop in Kadriorg Park, which was founded by Peter the Great.
Pass the 16th century ruins of St. Bridget's convent and the Forest Cemetery, as you travel to the district of Pirita.
There will be a photo stop at the Song Festival Ground where traditional song festivals are held.
In Tallinn's Old Town, you will see the outside of Toompea Castle, housing the Estonian Parliament and the Russian Orthodox Church of A. Nevsky.
Continue to an overlook of Lower Town and then short time for shopping. View the Danish King Garden and the top of St. Nicholas Church before returning.
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK: Easy Copenhagen
If you have difficulty walking or will like to take a tour on your wheelchair without worrying about high steps or having to keep up the tempo of the rest of your group, this is the right tour for you. This city tour will be conducted on a special vehicle specially equipped with a ramp for wheelchairs and in small groups of guests. You will pass the main highlights of Copenhagen including the Town Hall Square, Tivoli Gardens, Christiansborg Castle, the old Stock Exchange and the Royal Palace of Amalienborg and the beautiful Amaliehaven park at the waterfront.
You will also make a photo stop at the original location of the Little Mermaid before returning to the pier. Our clients opted for a half day private tour of Copenhagen through Port Trips International so they could stroll through Tivoli Gardens at their leisure. They report variations in accessibility throughout the Gardens.
HELSINKI, FINLAND: Easy Helsinki
On this tour, you'll see the main sights of Helsinki. After passing Embassy Park, the colorful open-air market, Uspenski Cathedral and the icebreakers fleet, you'll continue to the Senate Square for a photo stop. Then on to Mannerheim Street, the main street through the city, where you can see the Parliament House, the National Museum and Finlandia Hall.
You'll pass the new Contemporary Art Museum designed by the American architect Steven Holl. You'll also pass the Olympic Stadium and have another photo stop at Sibelius Park, where a monument honors the great Finnish composer. You will pass the unique Temppeliaukio Rock Church. ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA: Easy Tours are offered in St. Petersburg, however, our clients again opted for a private tour. This time they used Red October Tours.
While this tour company does not have accessible transportation, they were very good at helping our client and stowing her wheelchair in the trunk of the sedan. Our clients had this to say about Red October Tours: "This company made St. Petersburg wonderful for us. The tour guide was very knowledgeable. She did everything to make an inaccessible city accessible for us. Again, they were able to adjust the tour and offer suggestions that made the tour come alive for us. We were even able to see parts of the city that tour buses were not allowed to go."
Additional comments from our clients included the following: "St. Petersburg had many steps everywhere and very few ramps. Eateries and restrooms in the area are generally inaccessible (except for in a gift shop). The upper level of Peterhof Gardens is accessible but not much to see. The lower level is a little tricky getting down the trail in a wheelchair but manageable. It’s definitely worth the effort….this is a must see! Hermitage Museum has a lift at the entrance as there are a few steps. The second floor is accessible and very worthwhile to visit.
In conclusion, our clients had a wonderful and very memorable trip.They said, “For anyone in a wheelchair manual, dk) we would recommend this trip.” They prefer the private tours and want fellow wheelchair users to know they need to be assertive and make their needs known.
They also stated that, “The preplanning done by Debbie of Easy Access Travel was the greatest asset to our successful trip and one that we will remember for a long time.”
Right: Large Motor Coach with Lift used on some of the “Easy” Tours
Easy Access Travel is dedicated to meeting the special needs of disabled and mature travelers. Our goal is to research our clients' vacation choices and to provide them with the necessary information to make their trip enjoyable and rewarding.
We achieve this by trying to eliminate "surprises" and informing our clients of the situations they may encounter.
Having been to over 30 countries and 88 cruises in a wheelchair, our founder, Debra Kerper is well positioned to assist in the most complex travel requests. For more information: www.easyaccesstravel.com