Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

InsightThere's a long-standing debate among river cruise operators and sellers about whether river cruising is a friendly form of travel for the disabled.

The issue surfaced again during a river cruise and small-ship seminar at the 2011 Travel Weekly LeisureWorld and Home Based Travel Agent Show and Conference in Las Vegas, Feb. 15 to 17.

When one agent asked whether river cruises were handicapped-accessible, Kirstin Karst, executive vice president of sales and co-owner of Ama Waterways, noted that there are now elevators onboard most river cruise ships and that European law requires at least one cabin on each river cruise ship to be handicapped-accessible.

However, Michele Saegesser, vice president of North America and South Pacific sales for Viking River Cruises, brought up several challenges that passengers with disabilities might face when river cruising.

She cited several examples of situations that might prevent disabled passengers from enjoying shore excursions: everything from the practice of rafting in Europe -- whereby ships dock side by side and passengers have to cross from one ship through the next, often having to go up and over an adjacent ship -- to the large number of steps passengers have to climb in some ports, such as on China's Yangtze River as the tides change.

Janice Tully, senior vice president of sales at Uniworld River Cruises, also chimed in about the inherent difficulties presented by many of Europe's older, cobblestoned cities and towns, which often have winding streets, inaccessible sidewalks and hills to climb.

Karst countered that she hoped that people with disabilities simply didn't write off river cruising entirely.

All agreed that it was important for agents to work with clients with disabilities to properly qualify them based on the level and intensity of the disability, the amenities onboard the river cruise ship and the itinerary.

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