Are Marine Atlantic Ferries Accessible? YES!

by Dr. Jessie Voigts, Guest Blogger

The following is a guest blog by Dr. Jessie Voigts. She has a PhD in International Education, has lived and worked in Japan and London, and traveled around the world. She’s published six books about travel and intercultural learning, with more on the way. Jessie is constantly looking for ways to increase intercultural understanding, and is passionate sharing the world through her site, Wandering Educators.

As a traveler with mobility disabilities, access is a concern for me, wherever I travel. And whilst many places say that they are accessible, the reality is often quite different. When we took our epic road trip from Michigan out to Newfoundland this summer, I researched the best ways to get there. An airplane was easy, but we wanted a longer journey – one that included many places – and a few forms of transportation! Marine Atlantic Ferries was an intriguing way to get to Newfoundland – and an extremely accessible one, too. Here’s my story.

I travel with a wheelchair scooter, and have years of experience with figuring out how things will be for me on my scooter and when I need to walk. I’d never taken an overnight ferry, however, so I called to make my reservation with a slew of questions. Of course, the website is so helpful with information about accessibility – but there are always concerns when it comes to accessible travel. Heather at Marine Atlantic answered all my questions and then some, which made me quite relieved. We booked an accessible cabin for the three of us, and made plans for the rest of our road trip!

Once we arrived in Sydney, Nova Scotia to board the ferry, we could see what an enormous undertaking Marine Atlantic Ferries is. The new passenger terminal in North Sydney is beautiful – and quite accessible. Wide hallways, plenty of seating in the waiting area, and accessible bathrooms were a prelude to our ferry journey.

To board the ferry, you park your car in lanes, later to be directed on ship. The handicap lanes are closest to both the ferry and the terminal, so you can easily get out and explore the terminal, and then get ready to board when it’s time. We were boarded first, with enough time to unload the luggage we needed – and my wheelchair scooter. Handicap parking is close to the elevator, and there is a ramp from the parking level to the elevator. And, because it is a ship, there are thresholds at each door. No worries – my scooter could easily go across them with a little bump. Excellent safety feature, and one that I am familiar with from our sailboat.

Here’s the magic, though, of Marine Atlantic. The staff there truly cares about each passenger. We were helped with our luggage, with unloading the scooter, and with getting to our cabin. I never felt like I would fall, because someone was there to assist me in every step. It was, truly, the warmest welcome I’ve ever received while traveling – and made our journey on the ferry one of the best parts of our month-long trip.

The accessible cabins have wide doors, a roll-in desk, a large bathroom that you can get your wheelchair into, a roll up sink, toilet with grab bars, and even a roll-in shower. The lower bunks are accessible, as is the small table before the window. If you’d asked me to design an accessible cabin, even I wouldn’t have thought of all these features!

Our trip was peaceful and uneventful. I did scoot around a bit, to explore the ship – again, wide hallways, accessible restaurants and viewing areas, and decks that were a joy to visit (such views!). I slept deeply, rising to get ready to disembark when I heard the announcement that we were close to Newfoundland.

Disembarking was also easy – we waited until almost everyone was gone, and then made our way down to the parking area. Assistance was provided each step of the way, and we quickly and easily loaded up our car and exited the ship, waving farewell madly to our new friends and ocean-home.

Truly, this was one of the most accessible forms of travel I’ve ever experienced – much easier than airplanes and airports, and with a team of caring staff to help me as needed. If you’re traveling with a disability to Newfoundland via Marine Atlantic, you have no need to be worried. They’ve got it covered.