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Reviews,  Travel

Travelling by Eurostar with a Wheelchair

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Although it does feel like a lifetime ago now, I wanted to write an honest review about travelling via Eurostar with a disabled child.

Travel by Eurostar

Most people from the UK and Europe have heard of the Eurostar, it is a train that connects London with Europe, and you can reach Lille, Europe, in less than two hours. You can also connect with the same train at Ashford International. We decided to do this, as we thought it would be easier than train-hopping to London (how wrong we were) when we spent over three hours in traffic, due to an accident on the M25 motorway. Not a great start to our trip.

The great thing about Eurostar is their website is very informative regarding special needs and disability travel. You can book wheelchair seats with a companion seat. As we were a family of four and our son could leave his wheelchair, we didn’t want to take a wheelchair assigned space from someone else, which meant no ramp access in our selected cabin.

How do you book a Eurostar companion ticket?

If you have medical needs or the requirements to travel with a carer or companion, this can be booked directly with Eurostar. They have special ticket options, but you need to call +44(0) 3432 186 186 (option four); they can discuss your needs and organise special assistance if you need it!

There are designated wheelchair spaces for yourselves and a companion; however, it should be noted you will be required to stay in your wheelchair at all times and if you are travelling with family, they will have to sit elsewhere on the train.

If you decide to use a wheelchair space, these are located in coaches 3,9,10 or 14, and a ramp will be provided. If you use a wheelchair and are not travelling in a space, they can’t guarantee that a ramp will be available.

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Booking Special Assistance

Booking special assistance isn’t as easy as with an airline. I only found out on our return journey that you don’t need to book, you can turn up on the day, and if they have space, they will do it. However, they suggest that you call the special assistance line at least 48 hours before travelling, even if just for advice. I tried every day for two weeks and never got through. They were experiencing a high level of calls. It was never booked (I wish we had).

The staff were excellent during the security process; they didn’t rush us and asked my daughter questions without making it obvious or feeling like an interrogation. They asked if he could leave the wheelchair, and we said yes, so they could filter his cushion through the scanner. I know for permanent wheelchair users, this would be a pat-down.

As we embarked (right word?) at Ashford International, no one was around. I expected to see at least a couple of official-looking people in suits, but no one. It felt like getting on a standard train from Guildford.

Outward Journey

To save money, we opted for an indirect train via Lille Europe. It saved us nearly £600 because we opted to stop on the route. It meant a change of train stations from Lille Europe to Lille Flandres; I will talk about that a little later. It isn’t as complicated as it sounds.

Seating Allocations

Eurostar allows you seat selection at the time of booking, and you can make changes afterwards, as we changed our return journey from the front of the carriage to the back. It does sell out, and if you didn’t book when trains became available, there is less selection. Our return journey didn’t offer much choice.

Seating allocations means nothing to most people; they see it as a standard train and sit wherever they like. So if you book a nice right-hand side, forward-facing seat, be prepared that someone might be sitting in it. On the previous three trips, someone was sitting in our seats on our outward journey.

It can feel pretty intense, especially as I booked a table of four so we could all sit together to help my son with his needs, and a group of girls were sitting there. Luckily, four seats were accessible at the back (obviously their proper seats), and we squeezed into them. Had I paid more for a table or had a direct train, I would have asked them to swap as it was frustrating, and it’s not like we had time to argue.

Travelling Light

My family don’t know the meaning of travelling light! We had three nights in Disneyland Paris, and my 12-year-old daughter had packed for a week! The great thing about Eurostar is that there isn’t a baggage allowance. You can only carry so much, but I think they allow up to the pieces per person, which meant one large suitcase between the three of us and a medium suitcase for our daughter, plus a wheelchair and various backpacks. A kind gentleman helped us with the wheelchair as we threw all the suitcases on (literally).

Lille Europe to Lille Flandres Transfer

SNCF Trains at station
SNCF Train

You used to change trains at Lille Europe within an hour or two. You have to walk 10 minutes to another station; you have to walk to Lille Flandres, which is easy to reach. It was pretty scary to see police with machine guns standing over you; they pretty much walk beside you, behind you; it felt a little intimidating, although for our safety. We queued for about five minutes for the train platform to open, and we were one of the first on the train.

Our biggest issue with both trains was no storage for wheelchairs or pushchairs. We placed his wheelchair with our luggage, but someone had moved it on arriving at Marne La Vallee, which caused us a great deal of anxiety as a guard or official man in a shirt told us to leave while people were trying to get on. One lady grew distressed as a group of girls trying to get on the train pushed her daughters out of the way. They were tiny, so I understand her frustration. If they’d let us off first, they would have had plenty of room for their luggage etc.

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Arriving at Marne La Vallee

Once we had gathered our luggage, we headed upstairs to the Disney Luggage Service to hand over our suitcases and collect our tickets. It can be quite a wait, so bear that in mind. We waited for 10 – 15 minutes, so not too bad. As we had an indirect train, it wasn’t taken directly from the train as the direct one does. We paid £60 for the upgrade to drop our luggage off and collect our park tickets.

The stress began when the French guards wouldn’t let us use the lift to get back down. He pointed to walk across the station to his colleague. We walked across; he told us we couldn’t enter and sent us towards the stairs. We spoke to the lady and said we needed the lift, not the stairs, and she radioed to her colleagues that we couldn’t use the stairs and needed the life. He allowed us to walk back to where we started, stopped us and asked where we were going.

I explained again that we needed the lift, and we were looking for an exit to go to Disney. He waved us through and told his colleague to let us through, and we eventually were allowed to use the lift. I don’t know what was going on, and I think they didn’t understand why we couldn’t use the stairs. It was another 10 minutes wasted. I thought they would hold us there, with all the carrying on.

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Return Journey

Our return journey was a direct train to Ashford; using the luggage service meant that we dropped our luggage off at our hotel’s luggage store, took our token and headed into the park for the day. When we arrived at the train station, we had to go up to the first floor to collect our luggage at least 40 minutes before departure.

After we collected our luggage which was right by the entrance to the Eurostar check-in desk, unlike on the England side, a lady told us we had priority boarding and to walk around the queue. This felt highly awkward to us as everyone didn’t seem to appreciate the jump but do it!

Once aboard the train, we found our allocated seats, stored our luggage and settled in for a two-hour train journey home.

No Access to Technology

Our son has learning difficulties, and on our journey home, the wifi wasn’t working, and his Amazon Fire wouldn’t load as offline, so we had a two-hour trip with no technology to keep him busy. If you or the people you are travelling with require technology, please consider this. It does say that they can’t guarantee wifi speed; I think so many people were trying to connect that it just overloaded. It was a long journey home.

Food onboard

The thing that always lets Eurostar down is its food. It was an evening train, and they’d run out of food and only had a few snacks left. I’m not expecting a meal, but a sandwich box for the kids would have been great. I’m assuming they fill up in the morning and don’t refill for the rest of the day? As I investigated very early on in the journey, it has happened on all of our previous return journeys.

2022 Update: Due to the current travel situation, Eurostar no longer stops at Ashford International or Ebbsfleet International. Trains are currently only departing from London St Pancras International; this will be reviewed.

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This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, this is at no cost to you and it is purely at your discretion.

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