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, like a set Walt Disney invisoined himself. 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!
Our clients at Easy Access Travel were first time cruisers and included a full time manual wheelchair user. “For anyone in a wheelchair we would recommend this trip. 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.” They also remind wheelchair travelers to “be assertive and make their needs known.”
Amsterdam, Netherlands (Holland)
The cruise began and ended in Amsterdam where they stayed at the Amsterdam Marriott Hotel which is located in the heart of the city. They were guests at that hotel for several days before the cruise and one night post. Here is what they had to say about the hotel:
“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.”
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!”
Six of the Blue Boat Company vessels are equipped with a wheelchair lift, which allows you to board without leaving your wheelchair. 6 wheelchairs is the maximum number per departure. If you are with a larger party, it is possible to divide the group over more departures. Since not all the boats are accessible, reservations are necessary! You can contact the Blue Boat Company ticket office the day of the cruise (or 1 day before) by telephone on 0031-(0)206791370. Blue Boat Company can then tell you exactly which departures are available with wheelchair access and make a reservation for your preferred time.
We were able to arrange private a day trip for our clients through Port Trips to Alkmaar in the province of North Holland. They opted to travel in a normal sedan and stored the wheelchair in the trunk. However, if using a power chair we can arrange for 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 were planned, the drivers made suggestions along the way to see and do things that met the clients’ needs.
Alkmaar is the center 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 which 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.
The Cruise Boat
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.
The “Easy Tours” provided by the cruise lines are definitely a big step in the right direction. However, travelers need to be aware that they are quite limiting and don’t provide the in depth sightseeing that most people desire. For a truly exceptional experience, private tours are the way to go. Unfortunately, these can cost up to $1000.00 per day for an accessible vehicle and guide.
Germany (Easy Tours)
Passengers do not leave the motor coach on this tour. On the way to Rostock you will see small towns and learn about the history and the circumstances under which people had to live in former East Germany. 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 avenues 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.
Tallinn, Estonia (Easy Tours)
Departing by wheelchair adapted van from the pier you will enjoy a sightseeing drive through Tallinn’s historic centre with a photo stop in Kadriorg Park, founded by Peter the Great. Next, you will pass the well-preserved 16th century ruins of St. Bridget’s convent and the Forest Cemetery travelling to the district of Pirita. Another photo stop is at the Song Festival Ground, a sight where traditional song festivals are held 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). 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 return drive to the port.
Copenhagen, Denmark (Easy Tours)
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.
Helsinki, Findland (Easy Tours)
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 and 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.“
More on St. Petersburg
“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.”