South America Cruises - Wheelchair Accessibility Review - Departing Valparaiso, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina
Our 14 day cruise around South America was aboard the Star Princess cruise ship. It traveled from Valparaiso, Chile, down the Pacific Ocean coast around Cape Horn, and then up along the Atlantic coast to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The cruise ship then returns to Valparaiso. Some cruises head up to Rio de Janeiro and some circle the continent or the globe. This is one great way to see the world, and learn about the history and rich culture of South American. Our Princess Cruise – it gets mixed reviews. The video below covers our 2016 cruise and provides a detailed wheelchair accessibility overview. Please carefully watch or read my comments below, especially the portions covering "Ship Tenders" and "Ship Excursions".
If traveling to the Valparaiso, Chile cruise port from Santiago please note it's about 75 miles due West from Santiago and is about 1 1/2 hours via taxi. You should remember to prearrange your transfer. It's at least $100. For convenience getting to the cruise terminal on time, we stayed the night prior in Vina Del Mar, Chile which is a beautiful coastal resort town about 15 minutes north of the cruise terminal. (SEE Enjoy Vina Del Mar Resort video in Hotel tab). Vina Del Mar is very level and quite wheelchair friendly compared to Valparaiso which is situated on the side as a mountain.
The Buenos Aires Cruise Port is about 1/2 mile (20 blocks) from the downtown city center and about a 45 minute taxi ride from the Buenos Aires airport.
Both the Valparaiso, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina cruise port terminals are very wheelchair accessible and wheelchair accessible restrooms are available. Neither city offers wheelchair accessible taxis or wheelchair accessible transport. We took regular 4-door sedan taxis to and from each port.
When international travel is involved, it is advised that you carry a mobile phone with the ability to dial internationally. Learn how to dial local country and city codes prior to departure. International calls are generally priced at a premium so it is advised that most calls be relatively short in duration.
Cruise Notes: Most cruise lines do not provide many wheelchair accessible excursions, and several ports do not even have accessible transportation. Consider using the 2 tour companies provided in our Travel Tips & Services tab.
Star Princess Cruise South America Visit Website
Valparaiso, Chile Cruise Port: Nudo Baron Sin Numero, Valparaíso, Chile, Phone: +56-32- 255-6391 Visit Valparaiso Port Terminal
Buenos Aires Cruise Port: Visit Buenos Aires Port Terminal
South America Cruise Ships:
- Star Princess (Approx. 25 Wheelchair Accessible Staterooms)
From its modest beginnings in 1965 with a single ship cruising to Mexico, Princess has grown to become one of the premiere cruise lines in the world. Today, its fleet carries more than a million passengers each year to more worldwide destinations than any other major line.
- Staterooms with Roll-In Showers.
- Most Decks Available with Elevator.
- Wheelchair Accessible Restrooms on Most Decks.
Jim's Accessibility Comments: We were in Stateroom B302, a wheelchair accessible mini-suite. Princess does an excellent job in designing living quarters that are comfortable, quite spacious and very wheelchair accessible. The bathroom was large and included a well-designed pull-down bench seat in the shower and reasonable counter space. The shower drains were not so great, as water covers the floor after a shower.
The balcony design on the Star Princess is also not great for wheelchair users. It has a 3 inch riser (and is 2 inches across) making outside balcony access near impossible without assistance. Certain Princess ships and other cruise lines have better balcony design that provides much easier wheelchair access. But overall the staterooms are very accessible.
And Princess Cruises does a wonderful job for wheelchair travelers including accessible restrooms throughout the ship, accessible dining, accessible theatres and elevators. Passenger crews were always pleasant, smiling and attentive.
Internet Access: 1st, Internet service onboard is available but it’s about the equivalent of the old “dial-up” service. Logging on and off from the stateroom was sometimes impossible. ADVICE: Don't buy daily or bulk Wi-Fi or Data Roaming packages, and turn off data roaming options on your cell phone. And 2nd, the new Princess@Sea app is excellent while you're on the ships. Download it to your PC, Mac or phone prior to your departure. I found it easy to use and very helpful. Unfortunately it doesn't work after you've gone ashore, and you cannot download the excursion city maps, which are very well done paper handouts.
Individual Port Accessibility: Princess is reasonably proficient with assisting wheelchair users on and off the cruise ship at each port, and assisting with Ship Tenders when necessary. Training could be better but the crew certainly tries to be helpful.
Ship Tenders: The Star Princess cruise had a couple serious shortcomings. First, ship tenders can be very frustrating. If a port isn’t large enough to permit ship docking, the ship anchors in the bay, and passengers get ashore on Tenders, which occurred at 3 different ports on this cruise. Every cruise contains disclaimers that the Captain can deny wheelchair access to the ship Tenders if the weather is bad or the waters choppy. Our cruise had good weather and calm waters but this particular Star Princess crew seemed to adopt a new policy. “If you can’t walk, you can’t take the tender”. Three different levels of ship officer repeatedly used these exact words - trying to make me stay onboard the ship. It was very frustrating.
I complained to the head of onboard Passenger Services and Princess headquarters after the cruise. They listened but were non-committal. It seems to me that Princess should either welcome wheelchair passengers and make sure wheelchair travelers get aboard the ship tender or tell us to stay home. It’s was aggravating, and I didn’t signup for aggravating. So my advice is to be assertive and demand to board the ship tenders.
Ship Excursions: My biggest Princess complaint relates to Excursions. Princess takes no responsibility for wheelchair accessibility at individual ports for shore excursions. Princess sees to it that local tour companies transport able-bodied passengers. But wheelchair accessible transport and tours are not arranged or guaranteed, even when Princess notes the excursion is accessible. The Princess 800 phone line before the cruise and the onboard Excursion Desk provides absolutely no help. None whatsoever. This is a recurring Princess shortcoming.
So wheelchair passengers are required to arrange their own private transportation at each and every port. You must plan your own day trips and local taxis.
Buenos Aires Shuttle Bus Transportation from the Ship to Cruise Terminal: When it was time to depart the cruise ship in Buenos Aires, there were multiple shuttle buses and almost all were clearly marked with the international wheelchair logo, but the ramps don’t work on any bus. So terminal workers and helpful passengers picked up the wheelchair with me in it and lifted me into and out of the shuttle bus. This happened 4 times. Again I believe Princess should do a better job here and take some responsibility for accessible transport.
Overall we had an absolutely wonderful trip throughout South America. One of our best trips ever. The history and diverse culture are fascinating and we made some wonderful new friends. And the Star Princess, the onboard amenities, interior, staterooms are bathrooms are all very comfortable and wheelchair friendly.
However, on the WJAR Index, I’m downgrading Princess Cruises from a 4 to a 3. Princess needs to improve how they handle accessible excursions and determine a more favorable policy on the wheelchair accessibility to their Ship Tender craft. If you can’t comfortably explore each destination city, what’s the point of the cruise? Frankly, we’re going to explore other cruise options next time.