My name is Karen Joyce Baker. I recently sailed on Crystal Cruise Lines ship, Serenity 8/19/07-8/31/07. I am a journalist. As I planned my travels, my intention was to write an article for my local paper, about my experiences as a baby boomer with physical disabilities and a wheelchair, traveling in Europe and to Israel by myself. My hope was to encourage others who share similar challenges. My itinerary included a cruise of the Mediterranean on Crystal Cruise Line's ship, Serenity. My reason for choosing Crystal was based on the assurances I received from my travel agent and from the Crystal staff that I would get all the help I would need On arrival in Venice, where I was scheduled to embark on the cruise, I was booked to stay in a Crystal arranged hotel, the Westin Excelsior, for two nights prior to sailing. As part of the package I was to have transportation to the hotel by Starwood. I went to the Starwood office before 7:00PM and found that it was closed. Instead, I was met by three "locals," who spoke very little English and who started to push my chair toward a small boat, telling me it was the only transportation to my hotel. They would not stop pushing me, so I applied the brakes on my wheelchair and yelled for help. Luckily the pier manager came to my rescue. Can you imagine my fear? Because I am vulnerable traveling in a wheelchair, I had paid extra to ensure that I would always be met at airports and transferred safely to my local destinations. The connections in Venice, made in relation to Crystal Cruise Lines, were awful and did not live up to promises. Eventually, after over an hour of waiting, I arrived at the hotel via a large public commuter boat. My feet were very swollen from all the stress and waiting, and the result was that I had to stay in my hotel with my feet elevated for the next 24 hours, losing what opportunity I had to see Venice. Prior to embarking on the Serenity, because I was concerned about the difficulty and safety of shore excursions, I had gone online and downloaded all the excursions and studied them, to determine which excursions would be appropriate for me. When I tried to make a phone appointment with the excursion desk I was ignored and my emails went unanswered. My travel agent got a message stating someone from the excursions would speak to me as soon as I boarded the ship . . . "not to worry." With this in mind, I boarded the ship early for my excursions appointment. We met for about an hour, and went through each excursion. For each trip there was a reason for me not to go: steps, walking too much, no wheelchair accessibility, etc. I am not sure that I could get on a bus (no wheelchair lift of course, but steps about 13" high). Why was no lift provided for me when you were informed I would be traveling with a wheelchair? Why was I told there were excursions for me when there were none? Why did I pay thousands of dollars extra for a cruise which could not accommodate me? Did anyone say "Let's look at these destinations so we can provide assistance for her on and off the ship?" or, "How can we accommodate her?" My first evening meal on the ship, I dressed up, fixed my hair, took extra special time applying my make-up-after all, this was the first time I was going to meet my dinner partners with whom I would share meals for the next 12 days. I had a young man wheel me to the dining room (too far for me to walk from my room). I was anxious to meet my "dinner partners," and guess what: I was seated at a table by myself. I was dumbfounded. There were available places, so if my table was empty, give me a choice: a later seating, other people to dine with, but don't put a single, partially-baled lady at a table by herself her first night on the ship! Screw you Crystal-I wanted to leave and get my money back! The next day I explained to my stewardess, Juliana that I had been in Venice for two days and not seen Venice. The ramp was too difficult for me, the larger tender boat not available, no excursion suitable for me, etc. Juliana said, "It's a sin not to see Venice." She returned with Aries, my Venice guide, who spoke enough English to take me around, and had enough work experience to know how to get there. We had a wonderful afternoon. I see now how this first excursion led me to future trips which I arranged. The next day we were at sea so I had a chance to do some studying. I also asked to be taken around the ship so I could find places on my own. I stopped on Deck 6 mid ship to use the handicap women's toilet Much to my chagrin I could not stand up, the toilet seat was so low, and the bar to my right did not serve me well at all. I had to yell "Help", and my helper had to come into the bathroom and help me off the seat. Now I was looking at going back to my room every time I needed the rest room. For the next excursion I was told that the concierge would help me. The help consisted of my use of a phone. The concierge said he could not advise me on any trips, nor could he help me in any way. He suggested that I would do best using "Goggle" to make my own arrangements. If I needed to confirm by phone or fax I could use the desk phone. If I wanted a crew member to go on an excursion with me to push the wheelchair and assist me, a crew member from the Philippines would be available at a cost of $30.00 per hour. The excursion desk was willing to book me tours for $1200 to $1500 per day, for a private car and guide. After what I spent to book Crystal (about $11,000), I could not afford those costs, so instead I spent $300 for computer online time for the next few days, and went to work, trying to locate a guide and a car, available at such short notice. The gods were with me. How did Crystal help Karen with her excursions? They gave me Ritchie... A young man from the Philippines who had enough English to be pleasant and helpful, His fee was $30.00 per hour, their was no negotiating. I had a helper now all I needed was a guide with an air conditioned car that could accommodate a wheel chair. I spent the next few hours doing research and booking guides for Dubrovnik, Taormina, Sorrento, Rome and Livonia. I was very fortunate ,I had wonderful guides and delightful days.(accept for Rome ) The most congenial guide Mariano Floriento email@example.com I booked him for two days. in Sorrento. I was able to have an excursion which I arranged, at each port. My free time was spent on the computer, so I cannot tell about any of the day time events.