Rolling on the River


From barges to riverboats, river and canal cruising continues to grow in popularity throughout the world. In the United States, river cruising options range from barges to paddlewheel riverboats, while in Europe self-drive barging holidays and canal narrowboats are very popular. Because these river and canal cruises use smaller ships (actually boats), not as many accessible staterooms are available. But don’t let that deter you from trying a river or canal cruise, because a number of nicely accessible options are still available. Here is a brief rundown of some of my favorites. In the United States, The American West Steamship Company operates two paddlewheel riverboats, the Queen of the West and the Empress of the North. Both boats cruise the Columbia River, while the Empress of the North also cruises Alaska’s Inside Passage. The Queen of the West has two accessible staterooms that are do-able for many wheelchair-users. These staterooms feature wide doorways and a level entry. The bathroom has a small roll-in shower, but it lacks a 5-foot turning radius. Although they are not barrier-free, these rooms will work for many slow walkers and part-time wheelchair-users. The more accessible Empress of the North has two accessible staterooms with wide doorways, level thresholds, and adequate pathway access. The bathrooms in both staterooms are identical and each has a roll-in shower with a hand-held shower head, a fold down shower seat, grab bars in the shower and around the toilet, and a full 5-foot turning radius. Both ships feature elevator access to all decks and good access to the public areas. And both crews get high marks in the attitude department. The Delta Queen Steamboat Company also offers one accessible option, the grand American Queen. This paddlewheel riverboat (which has nine accessible staterooms) cruises the Mississippi River and features itineraries that focus on the history and culture of the area. The accessible cabins are available in a broad range of categories and feature wide doorways, level thresholds, and good pathway access. The accessible bathrooms have either a roll-in shower or a tub/shower combination. Access features include grab bars in the shower and toilet areas, lever handles, a 5-foot turning radius, and a hand-held shower. And then there is the River Explorer, a barge that cruises the rivers of America’s Heartland. Operated by River Barge Excursion Lines, this unique vessel has three wheelchair-accessible staterooms with roll-in showers. Over in Europe, you can cruise the canals of Northwest England aboard New Horizons, an accessible narrowboat. New Horizons is operated by the Stockport Canalboat Trust, and is staffed with a skipper and volunteer crew. It features a boarding ramp and lift, plus wheelchair access throughout the boat. The Lyneal Trust provides accessible canal boat holidays on the Llangollen Canal, from their base at the Lyneal Wharf (near Ellesmere). This U.K. charity operates two accessible canal boats, the Shropshire Lass and the Shropshire Lad. The Shropshire Lass is a 70-foot residential canal boat that sleeps eight, and the Shropshire Lad is a 45-foot canal boat designed for day trips. Cruise the waterways of Ireland on the Saoirse ar an Uisce (Freedom on the Water). This fully equipped barge has central heating, a full galley, and a large bathroom and shower. This barge is accessible to wheelchair-users via a boarding ramp. Day cruises, which depart from Bell Harbor in Monasterevin, are available for groups and families. This is not a self-drive option. The 110-passenger MV Dresden makes weekly cruises between Hamburg and Dresden on the Elbe River in Eastern Germany. There is one wheelchair-accessible cabin, with a roll-in shower. This riverboat was built in 1991, and refurbished in 1996. All public rooms are barrier-free, except for the gift shop and the beauty shop Over in France, Croisieres Canal Boat offers the Triton 10.6, an accessible houseboat that sails on the canal du Midi in Southern France. It can sleep up to six people, and it features a hydraulic platform lift between the corridor, the pilot area, and the two front cabins. The bathroom has a continental-style shower, and one of the front bedrooms is big enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Level boarding is available via an adjustable gangway. This self drive boat can be leased for the week or the half week And finally, you might want to consider a French barge holiday. Le Boat, Inc. operates accessible barges on the Midi, Digoin, and Nivernais canals of France. If you prefer to leave the driving to somebody else, they also have a wheelchair accessible barge with full service and a crew (La Reine Pedauque). Says one veteran barger, “If you think a trip to Europe won’t be accessible enough for you, then barging may be the way to go. Floating slowly through the canals of France was a very accessible and totally enjoyable experience for me!”