Cruising with a wheelchair

 Hi! My husband has muscular dystrophy and uses a power chair. We live in New Zealand and both enjoy travelling while we can. We have just returned from 5 weeks in Europe. We use Blogs and online forums extensively to help us plan our trips; nothing like asking people who have also experienced so called accessible bathrooms and transport for the real facts. We were really impressed with the access in many of the ports we stopped at, especially being able to access the beach down wooden walkways and even swim in the Mediterranean with the help of two life guards and a beach wheelchair. Unfortunately,  New Zealand is way behind in catering for wheelchair visitors, especially in regard to access to tourist transport and accessible taxis in some of our smaller places.

Venice: We cruised from Venice to Barcelona with Holland America. This is our 4th cruise with HAL, and we initially chose this cruise line because our research showed that they have modified many of their ships (but not the smaller and older ones) to enable wheelchair passengers to access the tender deck via a small elevator. A bit of background here; many itineraries include ports where the ship anchors in the bay and passengers are taken ashore with the ship’s tenders. if the tenders are not accessible it means that wheelchair passengers cannot go ashore at this port. Holland America does have a range of accessible cabins, which can be booked and most of the rest of the ship is wheelchair accessible. They also have designated crew members that are on hand to assist when embarking and disembarking as sometimes the gangway is very steep. The crew are also very accommodating in the dining rooms with table selection and moving furniture to fit  a wheelchair.

We initially flew to Venice; a 3 flight 30 hour journey from New Zealand and because we knew we would be very weary on arrival we booked and prepaid an accessible water taxi from the airport to our hotel. The company is called Sanitrans,, it wasn’t cheap but was worth the money for the convenience and also for a scenic ride through the city to our hotel. The crew were waiting for us at the taxi pier at the airport. They have a hydraulic lift for you to board the boat so you can stay in your wheelchair. They then deliver you to the hotel landing and roll out a metal ramp for you to disembark.

We traveled around Venice mostly by vaporetto with disabled people getting cheaper vaporetto tickets, we bought some at the ticket booth at the aiport only 1.75 E each if I remember rightly. We also downloaded a map showing the facilitated bridges from the Accessible Venice website and also maps showing the accessible routes around each district . Unfortunately, because of the bridges we couldn’t go say from San Marco to Rialto with the wheelchair we had to use the vaporetto but they were easy to access and the cheap tickets were a bonus. .  Disabled people and 1 helper also get in free to the Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. The disabled access doors are noted on their websites.  We found Venice a wonderful place to visit but you need to do your homework. 

We stayed at Hotel Dona Palace in an accessible room following a friend’s recommendation who also uses a wheelchair. I think the hotel has only 1 accessible room and the room we stayed in has a shower seat and flat access. There is no curtain around the shower so the room gets rather wet but we used towels to keep the floor dry. The hotel was so central to Saint Mark’s Square and the vaporetto. The room had 4 big windows and shutters that looked down on the street and a balcony that looked down on the canal that goes to the Bridge of Sighs, we were serenaded each evening by passing gondolas.  The courtyard bar also overlooked the Bridge of Sighs and it was very pleasant sitting and watching the passing gondola traffic. The room was on the first floor and there is a lift. Access to the breakfast room is via about 6 stairs but they do have a stair lift that my husband used. The staff were very helpful and the breakfast was delicious.

Looking down from our room to the courtyard bar and the water taxi landing.

Published in Destination, Hotel, Transportation, Travel


  1. Totally agree with the above comments A blog that gives me great info on what I would encounter on a cruise line. I have only been on a cruise once and it never used tenders. That sounds a little scary in a power chair.
    All the details on Venice are really helpful. Think that will have to go on my list now

  2. Thanks for the write up particularly on on Venice. I had always assumed it was totally inaccessible. I had to Google Vaporetto! 😉
    The bridges look impossible, many look very steep. Is it possible to cross even some of them by wheelchair?
    Is the only way to visit Venice to fly in and fly out?
    Thanks again!

  3. There are ramps on many bridges in Venice than you can cross in a wheelchair (these will be shown in my blog about my trip that will be published imminently) they are a little steep but are ‘doable’ in a manual wheelchair if you are fairly fit, also quite often if you start going up one some stranger will offer you help. 🙂

    The ramps are reportedly only put in place late September and removed late Spring but I used them a couple of weeks ago in the first weekend of September and another person in a disabled travel forum I visit reported using them in July so…

    Venice is in Italy so flying in and out is not the only way to visit. The airport is on the mainland so you have to get a bus, taxi, tram, or train to the ‘main arrival’ part of Venice ‘Piazzale Roma’ from there it is crossing bridges or using the Vaporetti. Piazzale Roma is reached over a 2.5 mile/4 km long causeway.

    There are also several islands there that are only accessible by Vaporetto such as Murano (famous for glass making) and Lido where there are beaches (the word ‘lido’ meaning an outdoor swimming pool comes from this island.) Lido also has cars and buses on it.

  4. Hi
    Some of the bridges are facilitated, which means they either have ramps or very shallow steps. I visited the City of Venice website where you can download an accessibility map which shows the facilitated bridges as well as lots of other info. They have ramps on some of the bridges when the Venice marathon is on.
    John Sage a disabled travel expert has much useful info about getting around Venice on his website:
    You can visit Venice by train and catch a vaporetto from the station. The Azienda di Promozione Turistica, a.k.a. the City of Venice Tourist Office, publishes free maps and brochures for disabled travelers (these barrier free itineraries can also be downloaded:
    They also offer general advice, lists of businesses that rent wheelchairs and accessible motorboats, and other useful information. You can also pick up a printed Accessible Venice kit in Venice or Mestre
    You’ll find branch offices beneath the arches at the western (enclosed) end of the Piazza San Marco, at the Venice railway station, in the arrivals hall at Marco Polo Airport, and at various seasonal locations around town.
    A few bridges, such as the Ponte delle Guglie, have special half-height stairs that can be negotiated in wheelchairs. A sign warns that a companion is required–and after watching porters struggle with delivery carts on the bridges, we’d be inclined to second that precaution.

    If you are a disabled person with reduced mobility and need to move with a wheelchair, you can benefit from a discount price on the ACTV Water Bus Vaporetto lines.
    Passengers with wheelchairs can buy single-fare “disabled tickets” at heavily-discounted rates from ACTV ticket booths and Hellovenezia offices. Each ticket is valid for 75 minutes, and a companion travels free.
    Once you have a pass or a supply of tickets, you’ll be able to get between the city’s various “accessibility zones” by using the water buses. (The city claims that about 70 per cent of the streets in the historic center are accessible by vaporetto.)
    This strategy works especially well on the Grand Canal, the Giudecca Canal, and the Lido, where the No. 1 and No. 2 routes are wheelchair-accessible.
    The No. 1 vaporetto is the most useful, since it zigzags from one side of the Grand Canal to the other on its 20-stop journey from the Piazzale Roma to the Lido. This water bus can be crowded during the tourist season, but the conductor will usually clear a path for you, and the crew will help you on or off the boat quickly and without fuss, they also have portable ramps at most vaporetto stops.
    About two-thirds of the vaporetto lines are fully wheelchair-accessible and show the wheelchair symbol on the hull; a few are not, although wheelchair-accessible boats are being introduced on the circolare lines that use split-level motoscafo boats.

  5. Great information on accessibility and practical advise. That’s what is central to planning a trip. It’s always the , “how’s” that need to be researched.

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