Have you ever wanted to go on a canal cruise in the Netherlands? Well, now you can!

Accessible Travel Netherlands offer a 5-day accessible canal cruise that visits a number of Dutch towns and cities along the way.

To get to the ship we first had to fly to Amsterdam Schiphol airport. From there we were picked up by an accessible minibus and taken to Arnhem where the ship was docked. The minibus was organised for us by Accessible Travel Netherlands.

The ship

A long white cruise ship docked on the side of the river with a gangway leading to the riverbank
The Prins Willem Alexander

The cruise took place on a ship called the Prins Willem Alexander which is a former hospital ship.

I was impressed with the size of the ship when I first saw it. It has four floors each accessible by two lifts. Accessibility is excellent throughout. There are wide corridors, spacious cabins, and numerous accessible toilets.

 

My cabin contained two electric profile beds and had a pressure relieving mattress on it. It wasn’t an air mattress like I had at home but it was comfortable nonetheless. There were alarms in all of the rooms so that you could call for help if you needed it. But I took 2 carers with me and one slept in my room so I didn’t need to use the alarm system.

I didn’t have an ensuite toilet, but there was a toilet opposite my room. Toilets are shared between every 3 cabins. This wasn’t a problem for me although one morning I was waiting for a little while to have a shower because the toilet was occupied. But overall it wasn’t much of a problem.

 

There were lots of hoists available but they were different to the type of hoists that I use at home. All the hoists on board the ship were types where you had to clip on the sling. It also had a bar that dips you forwards and backwards to sit up or lay down.

At home I have a hoist that has hooks and you can loop the sling onto the hooks. Personally I think the hook type is much easier than the clip-on ones to use. Plus when I first arrived the staff couldn’t find a suitable sized sling for me. So I had to use a sling that was too small and not very comfortable.

 

Later on they did find a bigger sling which was more comfortable and a good fit for me. Once we had this sling I don’t think it was much of a problem. Although my carers had to put the sling in behind me whenever we used it and take it out again afterwards. My sling at home is designed for me to sit on all the time so I don’t need to take out. This makes it a lot easier for me and the carers.

I think it would be better if at least some of the cabins had ceiling hoists that go over the bed. This way there would be fewer people needing to share mobile hoists which means less time waiting to use one. Plus ceiling hoists are easier to use for carers and would free up space in the cabins.

 

One criticism I have about the ship is that the interior does still look a bit like a hospital or a care home. I think it would look better and more homely if the walls were more colourful or there were different shades of lighting in the cabins rather than bright white. Something more mellow would be good I think.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were provided on board and included in the price. Breakfast consisted of bread rolls, a selection of ham, fried eggs, cereal, fruit, and some other stuff. I think there could have been a bit more choice for breakfast to be honest. It didn’t seem to vary much from day to day. I didn’t have lunch on the boat very much as I tended to eat out in the town. The food in general I thought was tasty and good quality. They served some traditional Dutch food which I quite liked.

In the evenings they had entertainment on board such as singers, bingo, or quizzes. I didn’t watch the entertainment very often as I tended to go into town to visit the bars. But from what I saw of the singers there seemed to be a good atmosphere and everyone was getting up and dancing.

Destinations

As I mentioned earlier the cruise began in Arnhem where we first boarded the ship. From there the ship travelled to Nijmegen, Dordrecht, Zaandam, Kampen, and Hasselt along the canals.

We arrived in each city at approximately 12 PM and would stay docked on the side of the canal until the following morning. So we had most of the day and evening to explore each city which was good. I also went out in the evening sometimes for dinner or to go to some bars. Although dinner was available on the boat I wanted to sample some of the local restaurants.

In each place an accessible walking tour was available organised by Accessible Travel Netherlands. The tour guide met us at 2 PM on the boat and showed us some of the interesting sights. All the tour guides were really knowledgeable and friendly and I enjoyed the tours.

I think having a tour around cities when you are abroad is a good idea. It gives you a good overview of the place so that you can choose better where you want to explore further on your own later. Also you get lots of interesting information that you otherwise wouldn’t know.

The access in all the places we visited was good. I noticed that there were a decent number of ramps to get down the curbs and there weren’t too many cobblestones. I guess the places that we visited were specifically chosen because they had decent wheelchair access. This is a good thing about going on a tour specifically designed for disabled people. You can be sure that you will be able to explore the towns and cities that you visit.

Disembarking the ship was quite easy as they have a ramped gangway that they can deploy from the side of the ship. The gangway was a little bit steep but it wasn’t too much trouble. A person in a manual chair may struggle to push themselves up it without help though. But there were always multiple people around to help if needed.

 

My Shipmates

There were 53 other disabled guests on board the ship as well as volunteers, care staff, and permanent crew. The volunteers, crew and care staff were mostly from the Netherlands. The disabled people on board were from a number of different countries like Australia, Scotland, and the Netherlands. So it was a good mixture.

Everyone I met was nice and friendly. They were all happy to talk even though some people could speak better English than others. Personally I struggled to understand what people were saying to me because of my hearing loss.  Accents make it harder for me to identify words. I struggle with English accents a lot of the time, so you can imagine that unfamiliar foreign accents are even harder! I had to ask people to repeat themselves quite a lot but they didn’t seem to mind.

Conclusion

Overall, I enjoyed this river cruise. I met lots of friendly people from all over the world and visited some interesting places. The ship is fantastic for wheelchair users and it’s a great way to see a number of different places throughout the Netherlands. Veroniek Maat from Accessible Travel Netherlands has been fantastic organising this holiday for me. Everything was booked for me such as the equipment, transfer from the airport, and my stay on board. Plus she contacted me during the cruise to make sure everything was all right (it was!) which I appreciated. I definitely recommend going on this canal cruise next year if you get the chance. If you want to discover some of the lesser-known parts of the Netherlands at a leisurely relaxing pace then this is the way to do it.

 

 

 

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