We are thinking of a China trip including a Yangtze cruise. I would love to take the Shennon Stream boat ride. I have a little trouble with my knees. Would it be too difficult for me to board this boat?
-Adele, Richmond, Calif.
I've cruised rivers in China for many years, and from experience, I must tell you that the problem you're facing isn't with the ship. It's with the rivers and the ports. Most of the river-cruise ships are fully accessible; they are ramped, and, like some of the Viking River Cruise ships, have elevators.
However, if you decide to take a wheelchair onboard, or if you want the accessible accommodations, you must notify the booking agent when making your reservation.
Even the booking agent cannot change conditions in China, though. The Orient Royal Cruise itinerary states that some ports are not accessible for people with wheelchairs. This also means it could be difficult—or in some cases, impossible—to get on or off the ships, especially with bad knees.
With China changing rapidly, especially along the Yangtze, where the construction of the Three Gorges Dam has altered water levels, river-port facilities often have steep gangplanks that are less than accommodating to travelers with less than full mobility.
The real question here is how much time you want to spend ashore. Most of China is still not accommodating to travelers with special mobility needs. As a result, many river cruisers opt to spend most of their time on the ship. In fact, some physically challenged travelers have reported to me that they chose a China river cruise specifically because they wanted to see the country from a different vantage point—from the banks of the rivers!