THE BLOG

Planning a Venice Trip, in an Electric Wheelchair

26/02/2014 12:49 GMT | Updated 27/04/2014 10:59 BST

Obviously, being surrounded by water and accessible via boat and water taxis, Venice never struck me as being particularly wheelchair accessible and so David and I would never have planned a quick 'city break' to fly there for just two days. However, we're going to be drive right past it from Verona to Trieste in Italy, so we just cannot afford to miss this magical place on our SMAll adventure!

I had begun to spend some time researching online about wheelchair accessible hotels in Venice independently online and I just couldn't fathom too much from all of the information. David and I wanted to stay in the centre of the city so that we can absorb every single second of our 24 hours there, rather than visit for a few hours and then stay in a budget hotel on mainland Italy in Mestre. We agreed if it's too difficult then we just opt out and stay in a Best Western just outside, and have this as our 'back-up' as it has easy access and the regulatory standard requirements of doorways etc for my wheelchair. I do have a note in the back of my mind that Venice is much older than disabled equality rights and so we're expecting many hotels to have narrow doorways and of course, my arch nemesis, steps.

But this isn't the only issue with Venice. The majority of larger hotels that can accommodate disabled guests have 'water doors', where gondolas and water taxis can drop you directly to the hotel from the canal without find a dock or jetty. These doors jut up to the boats and have a few steps down into the hotel, completely impractical for both electric and manual wheelchairs (and I'd imagine the elderly too!), so we had to find a hotel that had a 'land access entrance'. The plan is for a water taxi to take us to the dock, unload and then arrive at the hotel on foot. With this in mind, I thought it best to stay somewhere on the Grand Canal, and then purely use the water shuttle called the Vaporetto to transport us around Venice itself instead of exploring on foot as some bridges are not accessible to wheelchair users.

I've read online that most of the bridges have/had ramps or even lifts to help wheelchair users to cross the bridges and explore the city, however I have since found out that they have started to remove some of the lifts as they're just too difficult to maintain and so I'm not counting on them working. In respect of this, I spoke to Sage Travelling and discussed how accessible Venice really is, finding this page quite useful on Access in Venice. Initially I know we said we wouldn't ask for such help but truthfully, Venice is very tricky to get your head around, and it isn't just an inaccessible bathroom sink to worry about, there's a lot of water to contend with too!

There's a fantastic downloadable map of Accessible Venice which is extremely useful, here.

I found a hotel through Hotels.com and called to question the access. We sat and discussed different hotels, such as Santa Chiara Hotel for its high quality access by vehicle and disabled rooms, it's sister hotel Residenza Parisi, the Hotel Montecarlo, and the Olimpia which although beautiful was just too expensive to book two rooms. We had to decide whether we stay as close to St Marco Piazza and pay the price but be accessible on foot, or stay a little further away and use the Vaporetto to access the attractions directly. So in the end we decided to stay further out and use the Vaporetto, as we couldn't guarantee that actually we would be able to visit the Piazza on foot, due to bridges and ramps, but arriving by Vaporetto onto the accessible docks meant we'd have a better chance of seeing the sites!

We narrowed it down to three within our preferred location, price range and with a land access entrance with good accessibility inside; the Antica Casa Coppo, Hotel Codega (which was actually our favourite choice but they could not confirm that they would definitely assign me the disabled room even if we booked it, which is very similar approach to mainland Spain where it's basically first-come-first-serve, take note!) and finally the Hotel Ca' D'oro which we booked. This has a deluxe disabled room, with accessible bathroom, roll-in shower, a bed with legs to fit a hoist under and land access entrance!

Going back to the transportation and the the Vaporetto, I found these videos through Sage Travelling and thought they could be useful to others considering to visit Venice in a wheelchair. Here's the Vaporetto which is the main 'bus' through the canals, which you can see looks pretty easy and level.

However, according to the tides and the amount of people on board, there can be a small step. This is also depending on the time of the year too. This guy has a manual wheelchair which makes it easier, but as I'm going in my electric wheelchair I'll need to watch out for this. A few tips are that you can plan journeys around high tide/low tide, and also if you notice the Vaporetto is high causing the step to be higher, let other travellers get in first to weigh the Vaporetto down!

I knew that Sage Travelling were able to organise a tour around all of Venice specifically designed for wheelchair users and being able to do the entire tour without having to transfer from a wheelchair, so this leads me to believe that Venice really is possible to visit if you plan it enough in advance, and to expect a challenge along the way.

We'll be taking some very lightweight ramps on the back of my wheelchair so if the Vaporetto step really is too high or if I'm absolutely sure that I must access that one shop with two steps to buy a Venetian Mask then I can do, and not let it spoil our limited time there.