Mediterranean ports handicapped accessible?

I realized last year that I am becoming limited in what I can physically do, so I took a Mediterranean cruise primarily to places I had already been, just to see if cruising was easier. I carry a cane chair ($30-$34 from and avoid all stairs and exertion. For any mobility-impaired travelers, I thought I would share what I learned.

The cruise, Sept. 12-23, ’05, was on the Century of Celebrity Cruises (Miami, FL; 800/437-3111 or Including taxes and insurance but not airfare, it cost $2,802 for an outside cabin for one person.

We started in Barcelona. Instead of opting for the cruise line’s 3-night stay in the city, I contacted the hotel myself and booked three nights at the Atrium Palace for €455 (near $581) plus tax. Celebrity quoted me more than double that price, since I needed a single room. The hotel was good, accessible and centrally located.

I found Barcelona very accessible. Taxis are plentiful and can be cheap if you do not book them through the hotel. (One driver told me they have to pay a fee to the hotel to be called, so the price goes up.) The city tour shuttle buses are wheelchair accessible inside but not upstairs where the view is.

The lines to see Gaudí’s La Pedrera apartment building were about one to two hours long, and there were stairs to the roof.

At Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia (Church of the Sacred Family), the interior was nothing but scaffolding plus a flight of stairs going up to the elevator to the tower, so I felt it was not worth the wait or price to get in. The best views of it are from the outside, and a nice outdoor restaurant/pub across the street was well worth the price of a drink to sit and view the famous architecture.

Strolling Las Ramblas was easy, but getting a return taxi at the south end was not. One couple with a collapsible wheelchair was turned down by several of the waiting taxis; they each said the wheelchair would damage the trunk. Finally, one with a large American car took them for an inflated price.

At that, I walked to a nearby bar, had a drink and had them call me a taxi with no problem (and it cost me half what the one from the hotel to the top of Las Ramblas did).

Wandering off Las Ramblas to the east is okay, but if you go west on a Sunday you will be in the prostitution area and cameras are verboten. Three of the Sundays-only professionals converged on me and were going to take my camera. Luckily, it was digital, so I could show them I was not taking photos of them, then we all smiled, said “Gracias,” and I got out of there.

From Barcelona, access to the ship was easy, but it’s a long way from downtown so taxis are necessary for all but the confirmed hiker.

Using the small boats or tenders to get from ship to shore almost always requires climbing the metal staircase to get in and out of the boats, so it is not practical for the impaired unless you have someone to carry you and your wheelchair. That canceled my planned excursion on Corsica.
Naples was one of the easiest ports at which to exit the ship. Right across the flat parking lot was the taxi stand and ferry to Capri, but that island is very difficult to navigate and I don’t think the funicular is wheelchair accessible.

Naples’ National Archaeological Museum, the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii all have long flights of steps to access each entrance. Ercolano (the modern Herculaneum) is a short train or car ride from Naples, but the depot is at the top of a flight of stairs and then it’s down a long hill to the ruins. You can taxi to a viewpoint just above the ruins to see a lot of it. (They were talking about putting a wheelchair ramp down, but I don’t know if they have done that.)

Herculaneum is smaller and better preserved than Pompeii and actually easier to walk around, without the big curbs to climb up and down that Pompeii has.

In Italy, most of the buses, trains and subways are not wheelchair accessible. Check with the cruise line to be sure your tour will have an accessible bus.

Rome is about 90 minutes from its port. Celebrity Cruises sells a bus ride to and from a spot near the Vatican for $65, then you are on your own to find a taxi or take the city tour shuttle. There are two companies; one of them, the Roma 110 Linea Turistica (day ticket, €13) stops two to six blocks from the sights, which are usually NOT visible from the bus.

Most outdoor sights are at least partially accessible, and most indoor sights have stairs. The Colosseum has an elevator to the upper level, but the exit requires you go up a few stairs to the gift shop, then down again to exit. When I realized that and tried to get a guard to let me out through the entrance, he refused and insisted I go through the shop. I finally started crying and shouting “I can’t!” several times. Then he said, “Stop yelling,” and unlocked the gate.

The 110 bus had such long lines that after missing two buses I took a taxi to Piazza Navona for a wonderful vitello saltimbocca at the restaurant Tre Scalini before returning to the ship.

Messina was a difficult stop with not much to see in town if you did not take the bus tour to Taormina. (Celebrity’s shore excursion to Taormina cost $52 for 4½ hours.) Taormina is a wonderful place, but the buses stopped at a parking garage located a very steep hill climb below the town. Most of the shops and hotels had steps; some of the restaurants did not. In all of the other ports, Century’s tours had at least one flight of steps.

Palermo was another difficult exit; none of the tours were without stairs, so I just stayed aboard.

Valletta, Malta, had a steep hill climb from the dock to the town, but taxis and taxi tours were available. I hired a taxi for three hours for about $75 to take me to a few of the ancient sites I had missed last time. Most were not easily accessible for wheelchairs, but the outdoor ones were on somewhat rough but flattish ground. In town, many shops had steps at their entry.

All in all, I came to the conclusion that cruising in big ships is not easy for the physically challenged because the big ship docks are quite a distance from anything, including taxi stands; there often are stairs between the dock and the taxis, and the tour desks just tell you not to go because there might be stairs. Small ships are probably the same, with more difficulty getting around on the ship.

I have found river cruises in Europe and Egypt to be worse. There were no elevators on the ships, and there were plenty of stairs at each city dock. The best, if an expensive, way to get around is to hire a car (and driver, if necessary). At least then you can get near places like Pompeii.

Some European trains have a wheelchair-accessible car, usually at the front of the train and usually only on runs between big cities. However, getting to and from the gate can be a problem if there is a tunnel with stairs at either end and no elevator.

Sequim, WA