Over a month ago I was invited to the Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh to review their accessibility for wheelchair users. The Royal Yacht Britannia first set sail in 1953 and for over 44 years it served the Royal Family travelling more than a million nautical miles to become one of the most famous ships in the world. She was decommissioned in 1997 and now sits nicely on the docks beside Ocean Terminal in Leith, Edinburgh.
Whilst organising my visit with staff, they sent me details on where to park and also where to find any online access information that I may need to know. I was extremely surprised at how much information was available within their access guide.
23 pages giving details of different transport options available to get to there, where the lifts and escalators are in the Ocean Terminal shopping centre, measurements of the minimum doorway on the yacht, access information about certain areas on the yacht and visitors centre, different versions of the visitor tours including BSL videos, measurements/information regarding all the accessible toilets available, contact details and much more! I especially found it very handy for knowing where to park when we arrived.
The best car park level I got suggested to park in was the blue area on level E. This meant that we didn’t have to use a lift to get to the visitor centre within the Ocean Terminal shopping centre as it was all on the same level. I found the car park a little dark to navigate around as they use electricity saving light and I don’t think the sensors were picking my wheelchair up. However, the car park is more likely run by the shopping centre and so this may be out with the Royal Yacht Britannia’s control.
Due to being invited for our visit, we met a member of staff outside the visitor centre to pick up our complimentary tickets. This meant that we did not have to queue up for our tickets and unfortunately, I didn’t see what the access was like at the ticket office. From glancing through the window after our visit though I would say it looked spacious, and there was a lowered down ticket desk for wheelchair users. After you collect your tickets you begin your visit by walking through a mini museum within the visitor centre. Here you read about the yacht being built, the workforce that run it and view historic photos of the Royal Family enjoying time together on the yacht.
Once you present your ticket to a member of staff you then have to collect an audio handset to allow you to listen to the tour whilst you make your way around the vessel. These are available in different formats for visitors who have a visual or hearing impairment, but there were also different standard ones available for visitors to either hold them independently, hold them with a strap around your wrist or hold them with a strap around your neck. I chose to have mine around my neck to make it easier to hold and at first, I found it difficult to press the buttons due to my muscle weakness, but after a while they got easier to press.
I visited with my helper/friend Lori and before we started the tour, we headed to the Tea Room to have our lunch. We were treated to a complementary lunch which was delicious, we both had a lunch platter that had 4 small triangle sandwiches, a mug of soup and potato wedges with garlic mayonnaise. To get to the Tea Room I had to use a lift within the yacht which a staff member mentioned used to be the Queens private lift. I would say the lift is really small, although Lori, a Britannia staff member and me in my wheelchair all fitted in it.
Within the online access information, you get told the width of the doors, it’s 670mm which I think is the average width of a wheelchair. Lori found it a little bit difficult to open the lift door when we used it ourselves. This is because there were 2 sets of doors, one that opens electronically and one that opens manually. Lori had to pull the handle on the manual one and hold it open whilst I tried to get in.
The overall accessibility of the Tea Room was really good for my wheelchair. It was fairly spacious to get around and the tables were at a great height. We got a table beside the window which due to it being a lovely day weather wise, dry and sunny, there was a beautiful view across the water. The only issue I would say I had with the Tea Room was that the waiting area was a little narrow for other visitors to get past my wheelchair. When we arrived, there were a few people waiting for a table and I did have to move a few times to let people past when they were leaving, I didn’t mind though. I understand that it is a very old yacht and it’s great that it has been made accessible in the first place. All staff in the Tea Room were very friendly and welcoming when I visited, although one staff member did talk to my helper Lori instead of me in the beginning. After I continuously answered for myself, they began to talk to me directly.
To access each level of the Royal Yacht you have to come off the yacht using a walkway to get to the stairs and of course the lift for me. Each walkway is accessible for wheelchair users, there is a slight ramp to get on and off but it was easily manageable for me. I was really surprised that I could access all areas onboard the Royal Yacht due to the age of it. Similar to the width of the lift I used to get to the Tea Room, some of the corridors were also a little narrow. I sometimes found it difficult to see things to the side of me because I was unable to turn my wheelchair around or even my head. Everything was displayed really well though, they were either enclosed behind glass that went from floor to ceiling, or behind a piece of rope. It was all displayed at a great height for wheelchair users. The only issue I would say I had whilst ‘driving’ around the yacht would be that I needed my helper to support my chest whilst I went over some doorway thresholds due to my muscle weaknesses. This is because doorways were maybe originally built with a step, but pieces of wood have been installed at either side to make the tour more accessible.
Now I’ve spoken before about the lack of accessible toilets before, especially in older building so, I wasn’t expecting much from my visit. However, I was extremely surprised when I found out there was an accessible toilet on every level of the Royal Yacht Britannia. They were also massive (nearly as big as my bedroom), apart from the one located beside the Tea Room. In this one I struggled to even turn my wheelchair around. Within the accessible toilet on the second last level of the ship, I could feel some sort of vibration from the yacht and the floor felt uneven which I think might make it difficult for someone to transfer from their wheelchair to the toilet and back. There is no Changing Places toilet at the Royal Yacht Britannia or Ocean Terminal however, the closest one is at Royston Wardieburn Community Centre which is a 13-minute drive and approximately a 53-minute walk away.
Overall, I would definitely recommend you visit Royal Yacht Britannia if you are a wheelchair user or are living with another impairment. It’s a great day out for visitors of all ages and staff are extremely welcoming whilst being available to help with any enquiries that people may have.
Have you visited Royal Yacht Britannia before? Did you enjoy your visit?