On the whole, crossing
the channel has got much easier as fleets have been modernised over the years. We used to mainly use P&O Stena
Dover-Calais, it being the cheapest for us. We have also used P&O
Portsmouth-Cherbourg on a couple of occasions but at the time, I could not recommend this
route as the ships were older and a little more difficult with a wheelchair. The older ships on this
route were replaced in 2003. However P&O ceased trading on this route in 2005. We have also used the Seacat but vehicle size is limited to under 6 metres and
there may also be height restrictions. This service used to involve the
wheelchair user travelling as a foot passenger and meeting up with the
vehicle driver on the Seacat and being picked up on the dock side on
disembarkation. Help is provided for boarding and disembarkation. We have also used P&O
Portsmouth-Bilbao, a more expensive option but the service for the
disabled was very good. They have good cabins for wheelchair users and we were
paged to go down onto the car decks once they had unloaded a little and
there was more space available to deploy our ramps.
In August 2004 we used Fjord Line's overnight Bergen to Newcastle service. We booked this well in advance because there are only a couple of cabins on deck 4 offering wheelchair accessible facilities. The boarding procedure was much the same as other cross channel routes except we were allowed to board first to position ourselves near the lift, other vehicles were then parked around us so that we had to wait for them to be moved before we could disembark. The cabins are adequate, everything is at the right height. The en-suite bathroom is equipped with a wheel in hand shower and a shower chair. The only draw back we found with the cabin was the battons on the floor of the bathroom round the shower to prevent water from flooding the floor, hindered the approach to the toilet, the wheelchair's front 4 inch caster wheels jamming on them. Another drawback was a wheelchair user has restricted access to the external decks. The ship the MS Jupiter, is over 30 years old and has some very akward sills to over come. Ramps were available to allow access to a portion of the external side of deck 6. All other external areas were very difficult to get to with some areas like the rear external decks being impossible even with help. This ship was replaced in 2006 and is hopefully better. In 2008 the service was suspended and it is now no longer possible to make this crossing.
In April 2010 we crossed the Straits of Gibraltar from Algeciras to Ceuta and back using the Balearia line, a crossing of approximately 1 hour 15mins. We didn't really know what to expect but ended up being very impressed with the ships we used. The biggest problem is the language barrier and getting it across to the bording officials that you need wheelchair access. The easiest way is to wave your blue badge at them. It helps to alert them to the fact you need the lift which the ships that we used had, but these only went from the car deck to the main passenger deck. The car deck was marked with disable parking by the lift but of course it is suited to left hand drive vehicles so you might have to ignore the gesticulations of the deck hands and park on this spot to give you the most room where your wheelchair exit is. We had to deploy ramps and only just managed to do this. There are wheelchair accessible toilets on board.
A few tips:
Of course the Chunnel is the easiest way for a wheelchair user to cross the channel because you do not have to get out of your vehicle but it is more expensive. However, if you shop at Tescos, the vouchers perodically issued for points earned can be used to purchase both ferry and tunnel tickets at three times the face value. This is a good saving and lately we have been using these to make return crossings via the tunnel. When booking a tunnel crossing, stress you have a wheelchair user aboard because for safety reason you must board in a special sequence which positions the vehicle where the wheelchair passenger can be more easily assisted in an emergency.