Although it feels like a lifetime ago, I wanted to write an honest review about travelling via Eurostar with a disabled child.
Don’t let the stress of travelling by Eurostar with a wheelchair stop you from exploring Europe! Read our comprehensive guide for everything Eurostar-related, from accessibility options to booking advice!
Travel by Eurostar
Most people from the UK and Europe have heard of the Eurostar, a train connecting London with Europe, and you can reach Lille, Europe, in less than two hours. When we travelled pre-pandemic, we departed from Ashford International station, 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. Unfortunately, for the time being (if not forever), Eurostar is not currently departing from Ashford; you will have to leave from London.
The great thing about Eurostar is their website is very informative regarding special needs and disability travel. They’ve recently updated all the assistance information. 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 a ramp will be available.
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. You can use the contact form online; however, they suggest 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 at Ashford International, no one was around. I expected to see at least a few official-looking people in suits, but no one. It felt like getting on a standard train from Guildford.
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.
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 mean 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. Someone was sitting in our seats on our outward journey on the previous three trips.
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.
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 you aren’t as restricted as you are if you travel by air. You can only carry so much, but I think they allow up to two pieces per adult, as long as no more than 85cm long, 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). Children are allowed one suitcase and one backpack.
Lille Europe to Lille Flandres Transfer
You used to change trains at Lille Europe, within an hour or two, but now you have to walk 10 minutes to another station, Lille Flandres, which is easy to reach. It was 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.
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 (this has now increased) for the upgrade to drop our luggage off and collect our park tickets. This can only be done if you stay at a Disney onsite or partner hotel (exclusions apply).
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 lift. He allowed us to walk back to where we had started, stopped us and asked where we were going.
I explained again that we needed the lift and 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 happening, and 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.
Our return journey was a direct train to Ashford; using the luggage service meant 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 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 queue 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 travel with require technology, please consider this. It says 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.
The thing that always lets Eurostar down is its food. It was an evening train; 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 assume they fill up in the morning and don’t refill for the rest of the day? As I investigated early in the journey, it has happened on our previous return journeys.
2023 Update: Eurostar no longer stops at Ashford International or Ebbsfleet International due to the current travel situation. Trains are currently only departing from London St Pancras International; this will be reviewed.