From the Polar Express train ride to a camel tour in the Sahara, here are 11 accessible experiences where the journey is the destination.
1. Ride the Polar Express (Colorado, USA)
The Polar Express is a classic holiday story of a child’s Christmas Eve journey aboard a vintage steam train. First it was an award-winning book by Chris Van Allsburg and it was made into a movie in 2003. Now this magical tale is an annual event in Colorado, USA.
During November and December the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is transformed into The Polar Express™ Train Ride.
Board the train as it departs the station in Durango and sets off for the North Pole to pick up Santa. Sip hot chocolate and listen to the story of the Polar Express en route to the North Pole. When you arrive, you’ll experience an incredible light show set to holiday music.
The train excursion is roughly 65 minutes; allow two hours for the entire adventure so you can enjoy the full experience.
- The wheelchair-friendly coach has a hydraulic lift allowing a passenger to remain in their wheelchair to board. It also features an ADA restroom.
- Service dogs are welcome on board.
Find out more at durangotrain.com.
2. Take a Yellow Water Cruise (Northern Territory, Australia)
Yellow Water Cruises take guests through the heart of Kakadu – offering a spectacular journey through the UNESCO World Heritage listed wetlands.
The Indigenous-owned Yellow Water Cruises takes you on a discovery tour through the rich wildlife, dramatic scenery and ever-changing landscape of the world-famous Yellow Water Billabong. This is crocodile country, so you’re almost guaranteed to spot a croc in its natural habitat and wild buffalo on the floodplains.
Kakadu is home to nearly one third of Australia’s bird species. Keep your eyes open for eagles, the distinctive Jabiru and, if you’re lucky, you might even see a Brolga dancing.
Yellow Water Cruises are either 90 or 120 minutes in duration and offer a year-round spectacle. The different seasons provide a rich and ever-changing glimpse into flora, fauna and bird life in Kakadu.
- The pontoon for boarding is wheelchair accessible, however, guests do need to be able to traverse the 1m ramp from pontoon to boat.
- Motorised wheelchairs cannot access the area.
- The sunrise and sunset cruise are very popular and advance bookings are recommended.
Find out more at kakadutourism.com.
3. Franz Josef Glacier Tour (Franz Josef, New Zealand)
Explore the Franz Josef Glacier, or as it’s known in local Māori legends, Kā Roimata-a-Hine Hukatere (the frozen tears of Hine Hukatere), by air and by chair.
Thanks to the speciality MakingTrax ski-chair and the team at The Helicopter Line, wheelchair users can disembark the helicopter on top of the glacier and explore the snowy spectacle.
From its origins high in the Southern Alps, the Franz Josef Glacier descends into the lush native rainforest of Westland Tai Poutini National Park National Park. This descent occurs from a height of 3,000m above sea level to 500m over a distance of 9km, making it one of the steepest glaciers in New Zealand.
Seeing the glacier from the helicopter is spectacular. And for the more adventurous, getting out of the helicopter and moving around on the ice and snow takes the experience to a whole new level.
Once the helicopter lands on the glacier, the guides quickly assemble the ski-chair, which means that passengers travelling with a disability or mobility restriction can get out and experience being on the ice.
- The MakingTrax ski-chair is available for clients from the Franz Josef Village base.
- Book through MakingTrax with as much notice as possible.
- There is a weight limit of 95kg.
- Helicopter flights can be cancelled due to weather, so book a couple of nights in Franz Josef to give yourself the best chance of getting a fine day to make the trip.
Find out more at makingtrax.co.nz.
4. American Winnebago Road Trip (Florida, USA)
For many, an RV trip through America is a bucket list experience. Traditionally wheelchair users have found it very difficult to find a motorhome that suited their needs. When Winnebago released its AE (Accessibility Enhanced) line of RVs, that changed.
Cory Lee road tested a Winnebago Inspire AE along the east coast of Florida. The RV “is upscale and provides a smooth ride no matter where you’re taking it. To be honest, I was shocked at how smooth it was,” he said.
On his Winnebago road trip, Cory Lee stayed in four Florida campgrounds. At Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine the campground is right near the beach which has a beach access mat and complimentary beach wheelchairs.
Cory Lee’s favourite campground was Ocean Breeze Resort at Jensen Beach. It “has every amenity that you can imagine, making it a luxurious place to stay,” he said. “There was a huge zero-entry pool, a fitness centre, billiards room, a restaurant and bar, and many of Jensen Beach’s shops and restaurants were just a short walk/roll away, including the beach.”
- It has a BraunAbility lift making it easy for wheelchair users to get in and out. There is also a motorised awning to cover the lift if it’s raining.
- There are Q-Straint tie-downs behind the passenger seat to secure a wheelchair while driving.
- There is lots of space inside for wheelchair users to manoeuvre whilst in their wheelchair.
- There is a roll-in shower with a handheld shower wand but there are no grab bars.
Find out more at curbfreewithcorylee.com.
5. iFly Indoor Skydiving (Worldwide)
iFLY franchises around the world offer indoor flying experiences for ages five to 105 years of age with no experience necessary.
Unlike skydiving from a plane, where you jump and fall several thousands of feet, at iFLY you fly gently on a cushion of controlled air. It offers all the thrills of flying, minus the danger.
iFly’s philosophy is that regardless of physical or cognitive challenges, everyone should be given the opportunity to spread their wings. “I highly recommend you get in touch with the guys and they will organise two instructors if you have higher needs,” said Marlena.
“I’m a wheelchair user and have spent approx. 20 minutes in the tunnel now. Do it, you will love it and then be wanting to do the real thing, she said.
The Sydney and Gold Coast iFly centres offer ‘All Abilities Nights’. They are events that have been custom designed for those with physical and cognitive challenges. The team creates an environment of support and inclusion, while focusing on making what seems impossible, possible.
- iFly cannot guarantee that anyone can fly with them, but they do guarantee that they will try their best to help you fly.
- Contact the team in advance to discuss your requirements and choose a suitable package.
Find out more at iflyworld.com.au.
6. Lady Carrington Drive Walking Tour (Sydney, Australia)
Visit Australia’s oldest National Park, the Royal National Park, for a 10km walk along the famous Lady Carrington Drive.
Lady Carrington Drive is an historic carriage route that follows the Hacking River upstream from Audley to Sir Bertram Stevens Drive. The well maintained bush track crosses 15 creeks, each identified by its Aboriginal name.
For those who are blind or have low vision, Cocky Guides have a sensory tour where you can get up close to tall blue gums, turpentines, sandstone caves and rainforests. You’ll hear waters flowing through the creeks, incredible bird calls and you might even hear the mimicking call of a lyrebird.
- Cocky Guides half day tours run from midday to 6pm every Sunday from October to March.
- If you tackle the walk independently, check the weather before you set out as Lady Carrington Drive can become boggy when it rains.
- The bush track is well maintained although not sealed.
Find out more at cockyguides.com.au.
7. Soar with Arthurs Seat Eagle (Victoria, Australia)
With uninterrupted views, framed by swaying gum trees and birdsong, grazing kangaroos and the trace of the distant coastline, you are immersed in a truly majestic Australian landscape.
It’s an awe-inspiring journey as you ascend quietly up Arthurs Seat to the summit where you’ll find some of the best views of the Mornington Peninsula, across Port Phillip Bay towards the city skyline, along the coastline and beyond.
- The entire site is wheelchair friendly with accessible parking and ramped access throughout the Summit and Base Stations.
- The gondolas slow down (and can be paused) at each of the stations and allow level access for ease of boarding. The Gondola doors open to 80cm.
- There is a Changing Places bathroom at the Base Station.
Find out more at aseagle.com.au.
8. Do the Locomotion Through the Rockies (Vancouver to Toronto, Canada)
Traveling through the Canadian Rocky Mountains is an experience like no other. After falling asleep to the rhythmic rolling of the coach, you will wake up in a completely different province and time zone.
Canada’s VIA Rail is a wonderful way to slow travel across the country, enjoying scenery, cities, and people along the way. When you ride “The Canadian” which runs between Toronto and Vancouver, the journey takes four days – if you don’t get off along the way.
The best time to traverse Canada by train is winter. Tickets are much cheaper than during high season and there are fewer people to compete with for views.
“It was an amazing trip and the crew were great about helping us on and off the train for snow play at 4am when the train was stopped at a station,” said Toni Green of her The Canadian journey in 2019.
“We had the Accessible Cabin which sleeps two people and access is via a lift,” she said. “Once in the cabin my daughter could only go as far as the bathroom or the entry to the train but the window was large and provided us some amazing views through The Rockies.”
The support provided by the Via Rail team was exceptional. “Meals were brought to the cabin as we could not get to the dining carriage with my daughter’s chair,” said Toni. ”They blended the meals she chose.”
- All VIA trains are accessible to travellers in wheelchairs but due to the narrow aisles, passengers cannot move around the train with their mobility aids once on board.
- Washrooms are equipped with grab bars, and narrow wheelchairs are available for boarding, detraining, and accessing the washrooms.
- Some VIA sleeping cars can accommodate passengers travelling on stretchers, provided a minimum of 48 hours’ notice.
- VIA Rail will make every reasonable effort to accommodate two passengers with mobility aids to travel together.
Find out more at viarail.ca.
9. Step Back in Time on the Mary Valley Rattler (Gympie, Queensland)
Step on board one of the meticulously restored Mary Valley Rattler trains and travel along the tracks that have been brought back to life. Sit back, relax and enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the Mary Valley.
Your journey from Gympie station will take you through the Mary Valley and the picturesque small town of Dagun to Amamoor, an historic town bordered by the Amamoor State Forest. Here the train will turn around on the restored turntable. You can watch this fascinating process or explore the quaint community of Amamoor.
Foodies will enjoy the local Mary Valley produce on The Rattler Tasting Train, which includes an on-board tasting plate and lunch at the Historic Gympie Station featuring a local seasonal menu and a beverage of your choice.
- All services are wheelchair accessible.
- Bookings are essential. Ring the Station to make your booking directly.
- All Mary Valley Rattler journeys are return trips. No one-way fares are available.
- Domestic pets are welcome on board the Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday services.
Find out more at maryvalleyrattler.com.au.
10. River Cruise on the MS Viola (Rhein River, Germany)
European river cruising is not often wheelchair accessible, especially for those people who travel with a power wheelchair. The MS Viola however is fully accessible for people with physical challenges according to Syliva Longmire from SpinTheGlobe.net.
“The luxurious, accessible cabins on this ship are unique and what many have been waiting for,” she writes.
The MS Viola cruises in view of tulips, windmills, historic cities and farmlands of Germany, Holland and Belgium. Voyages are either six or eight days long.
When it comes to on board amenities, “the bathrooms are shared but private; it has two doors to two rooms,” writes Sylvia. “When a guest from one room is using the bathroom, it’s automatically locked for the other room.”
The ship was completely renovated in 2019, has 4 decks and can accommodate up to 122 passengers. On the Sundeck, which has elevator access, you’ll find a sun terrace where you can sip a cup of coffee and enjoy the constantly changing view.
- MS Viola offers 34 wheelchair accessible staterooms on the upper decks. These are equipped with extra-wide doors, height-adjustable beds, lowerable sinks and walk-in showers.
- On the lower deck, the staterooms are not wheelchair accessible.
- Wheelchairs and mobility scooters are allowed on the ship and can be used at all times.
- Additional mobility equipment is available on the ship, including electric hoists and shower chairs.
- The entrance of the ship is wide and has a ramp that’s put down at each dock.
Find out more at phoenixreisen.com.
11. Camel Desert Safari (Merzouga, Morocco)
Have you ever wanted to experience the romance and mystery of riding out into the desert atop a camel?
Head to the charming Saharan village of Merzouga, with a backdrop of orange-coloured sand dunes where you will feel wonderfully isolated – as if the modern world has been left behind.
The Erg Chebbi dunes are the biggest and most spectacular in Morocco. This vast sea of shifting, wind-swept sand forms picturesque, undulating crests and valleys. During a morning ride, camels and their passengers cast shadows across the Sahara Desert. The interplay of colour and light creates Insta-worthy photo opportunities.
Morocco Accessible Travel Consultants offers guests the opportunity to trek through the Erg Chebbi sand dunes with their adaptive camel saddle. The saddle has a backrest and headrest providing comfortable support while the rider soaks in the experience.
“It felt as if I was sitting in my wheelchair on top of the camel, surprisingly comfortable,” said Cory Lee. “I’ll never forget looking out and seeing the sand dunes as I rode the camel. It was a surreal moment for me.”
- The saddle was developed by a multidisciplinary team to capture what is necessary to keep the client and the camel safe.
- The camel ride typically lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to 1.5 hours, depending on a rider’s tolerance. There are different options to cater to different ability levels.
- There is a weight limit of 150kg.
Find out more at moroccoaccessibletravel.com.
This story first appeared in Travel Without Limits magazine. You can subscribe here.