[AD – Gifted Experience] Many thanks to City Cruises for having us aboard your York sightseeing tour! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Head to their website find out more about the tours and book your tickets!
I’ve lived in York for coming up to eight years now, and throughout that entire time I’ve had my eye on City Cruises. Every time I’m in the city centre and spot the jolly red boats cruising up and down the river, I push them higher up my mental bucket list… and I’m so glad to have finally been able to experience one of them for myself.
See, this is the thing. You may know that I live with a debilitating chronic illness, and when I’m out and about I generally use a wheelchair. Unfortunately, this means that I don’t always get to explore new places as much as I’d like to, and I can often end up feeling a little excluded from popular tourist experiences. Not this time, though. City Cruises had my back.
In York, there are two landing stages the boats depart from, with the King’s Staith Landing being wheelchair accessible. Two of the boats are also wheelchair-accessible, the River Palace and the River Duchess – River Duchess has a wheelchair-accessible toilet on board too. If you have access requirements ahead of your trip, the team advises contacting them to confirm the sailing times of the accessible boats before booking your tickets. The tours have been incredibly popular this season, so booking in advance seems advisable in general here too.
Tickets booked and access requirements confirmed, myself, my best pal, and my majestic power-chair Janice made our way to the King’s Staith Landing. A word of caution for other wheelchair users heading in this direction (and by no means the fault of City Cruises!) – the road crossing and dropped kerb situation around the Clifford Street area is baffling at best. We’d find a dropped kerb on one side of the street and then, with difficulty, spot the accompanying dropped kerb on the other side several metres away along a busy main road in the city centre. It took a bit of strategising (which thankfully we always leave extra time for any time we’re trying to get anywhere in York with a mobility aid), but your best bet seems to be crossing at the traffic lights near the Zara store and then dropping down Cumberland Street towards the river. Brace yourself for a few cobbles and uneven surfaces, and then breathe a sigh of relief as you spot the City Cruises meeting point.
Boarding begins thirty minutes before sailing time, and queuing from other visitors began around 45 minutes in advance. The pavement and the boat were connected by a long floating dock which people began to queue upon – the entry point was sloped and ramp-like but still quite raised and difficult to navigate in a power-chair. It took a shove from behind from my best pal and a quick prayer to the overlords that I still knew how to swim should I suddenly go flying off the side and into the water, but I’m pleased to confirm we managed to join the queue fully intact.
We hung back and joined the back of the line, and here comes my first tip if you’re using an electric wheelchair or mobility scooter – board the boat first or last, while there’s nobody else standing on the floating dock. When there’s just the weight of a few people on there, there’s pretty much level access between the dock and the boat. However, as there were dozens and dozens of people queuing when we first tried to board, the dock was significantly lower than the boat entrance and impossible to navigate without getting out of the chair. With kind assistance from staff, we physically lifted my power-chair aboard instead, but I appreciate this won’t be an option for all mobility aids users. If we were to sail again one day, I think the best course of action would be to alert a member of staff that you had tickets for the tour and intended to board, but then wait until everybody else was off the dock and on the boat before boarding yourself. At the end of the tour we were the first ones off and, as the dock was level and free from people, had no problems whatsoever in manoeuvring back onto there from the boat.
Once aboard, however, it’s safe to say we had a brilliant experience. The bottom deck, including both an indoor saloon and an outdoor seating area, was easy to navigate via wheelchair. I parked up and transferred to one of the outdoor benches at the front of the boat, and it wasn’t long before we were on our way.
Taking in the sights via the River Ouse, the sightseeing cruises are typically 45 minutes to 1 hour in length. On our journey, we sailed right up to the northern outskirts of the city near Clifton, before looping around and heading downstream towards the Millennium Bridge around the South Bank area of York. I will say that there may have been some parts of the experience that were compromised for us being on the bottom level rather than on the top deck, so if you’re wanting to see the sights and you’re able to navigate stairs, it may be worth asking if you can leave your aids on the bottom level and sit on the top deck instead.
Regardless, there was plenty to look at. Parts of the journey were packed with things to see, whilst other parts were serene and peaceful – just you, the green surrounding area, and the vast expanse of water in front of you. I enjoyed both of these elements equally, though my best friend and I were in agreement that one of the real highlights was having a nosey at the houses and apartments by the riverside and estimating just how much we’d need to win on the lottery before we could make a purchase.
As well as plenty to see, on-board commentary took place throughout the tour from one of City Cruises’ knowledgeable guides. Informative and interesting, but regularly punctuated by self-deprecating Yorkshire humour, I don’t mind telling you that if our guide had a podcast, I’d be the first to subscribe. Something I particularly appreciated, as somebody with noise sensitivity, was that the volume of the commentary where we were sitting was nice and clear to hear, but not so loud that it hurt my head. It can be a tricky balance to get right, but in my humble opinion, this element was pretty perfect.
On a similar note, it occurred to me as we were sailing that taking in the sights by river could be a particularly accessible way of exploring the city for visitors with chronic illnesses. Being able to sit down and enjoy the view, perhaps with a nice drink or snack from the onboard bar, could be a much more energy-efficient way of seeing some of the sights than having to walk from place to place around the busy city centre. The same also holds true for those who, like me, live in York but who always want to explore – there were so many things I noticed for the first time or saw in a different way from the water, that I’d perhaps never really have taken much notice of or been able to access from land.
Even if you’re prone to motion sickness, I wouldn’t rule this experience out by default. I personally felt some rocking motion when on the floating dock waiting to board and can imagine this may make some people with neurological or sensory issues feel unsteady on their feet… but once seated on the boat, this didn’t seem to be an issue. That said, the fresh air and the calming sensation of sailing on the water seemed to have a welcomingly sedative effect on myself and my best pal. I, a known insomniac, fell asleep when we returned to my flat mid-afternoon, and we were both in bed that evening by 9pm. We really are all about that rock and roll lifestyle.
Overall, I really enjoyed this experience! It can’t be easy to accommodate mobility aids and additional needs on a floating vessel, and the boarding process wasn’t seamless, but all members of staff were helpful and welcoming… and keen to take on board any feedback about access, which is always *such* an awesome and empowering thing to hear. Tickets for the tours and sightseeing cruises are reasonably priced, and the tours offer a unique excursion I’m glad to have experienced. If we were to go again, I’d probably opt for my manual wheelchair rather than my power-chair for ease of boarding, and maybe ask to sit upstairs. After having a nosey at the gorgeous Afternoon Tea and Dining Cruises also on offer, though, it may well be that we’re booking our own tickets and heading back on board with City Cruises sooner than we imagined….
People often ask me for recommendations for low energy or accessible things they can do in York, and in the future I’ll definitely be adding these river sightseeing tours to my little list of suggestions. You can find out more and book your tickets on the City Cruises website!
[AD – Gifted Experience] Many thanks to City Cruises for having us aboard your York sightseeing tour! As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. If you found this review helpful, you may enjoy my other Accessible York posts too!