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Being that I am currently using a wheelchair when getting around, I did some digging around online but alas there was zilch to be found about other people’s accessible experiences whether with Island Packers or their competitor, Condor Express.
The experience with Island Packers was A class from start to finish!
Upon arrival, at the Ventura harbor, we found ample handicap parking on either side of the Island Packers’ facilities (even after several other boats had set sail earlier that day). Making our way inside, we were greeted by a colorful and welcoming gift shop well stocked with hats, clothing, and trinkets and a main desk where travelers could check in for their day’s adventure.
At the main desk, the young lady (Leah) who helped us immediately noticed my wheelchair and told us that she would radio the crew and let them know so they could let me onboard early. How nice! I had not expected such a helpful bit of kindness but it would definitely be very much welcomed.
Later while my dad and I were enjoying the view and waiting for boarding to start, the same young lady approached us and introduced us to the volunteer who was at the front of the queue. Again, such great and attentive service!!
Headed down the gangway –
A short while later, the volunteer beckoned us forth, introduced us to a kind gentleman from the crew and we were soon wheeling down the gangway. **Advisement: The gangway is wheelchair accessible but still can be quite tricky and steep so it would be best to have a companion assist you slowly down the ramp. The volunteers and crew were at all times very accommodating and offering their assistance too.**
Once we had made our way to the beautiful catamaran, Island Explorer, we met a couple members of the crew, Andrea and Captain Lee, who were very accommodating and friendly helping me get onboard and recommending where best to sit for the journey. They suggested I sit outside on one of the stern’s middle benches for the best view of the water and marine life. There are also inside seating that might be preferable for some with coverage from the elements but I noticed those indoor views were often obstructed by people standing on the sides of the boat.
Tips for Enjoyment
So if you are like me and will not be able to maneuver around the boat with the majority of the day guests, I would happily suggest sitting on one of the benches and letting a crew member tie up your wheelchair (or walker) on the railings.
The benches can be unforgiving and if you aren’t able to get up and stretch, I’d suggest bringing a seating pad and/or lumbar support pad.
And it is helpful that the two washrooms (one is wheelchair accessible) are just feet away from the bench.
I cannot recommend Island Packers‘ whale watching tours and their excellent crew and volunteers enough!
Everyone was so helpful getting me on and off the boat and I was grateful to a couple of their naturalist volunteers who made a point of coming up to me and pointing out different things I could see from the boat’s stern.
I tried reaching out to their Santa Barbara competitor, Condor Express, about their accessibility but have only had stealth silence so I cannot even think of them as a competitor.
If you are looking for an accessible whale watching tour out of Southern California, Island Packers gets two huge thumbs up!!
Photos from my tour: here.
Disclaimer: Many thanks to Cherryl and Island Packers for the complimentary tickets. All photos and opinions are my own.