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The Stuff of Dreams: A Western Europe Voyage

The Stuff of Dreams: A Western Europe Voyage



By Georgina Cruz



Osteoporosis and arthritis slowed Betty Spector down, but they could not stop her from realizing a long-cherished goal. One fine day in September of 2002, she maneuvered her walker slowly but surely along the path of the pond of the water lilies at a place that is the stuff of dreams: the estate of the great Impressionist painter Claude Monet in Giverny, France.



She walked and walked, until she found the perfect bench from where she would sketch an enchanting view of the master's gardens.



"I'm a very determined person," said Spector, 79.

Her determination paid off. She sat down and pulled out her pad and watercolor pencils from her bag and proceeded to sketch the scenery of the famous pond, which is framed by weeping willows and other trees, and adorned by dazzling water lilies and a Japanese bridge.



An artist who lives and works in London, Spector was traveling with her sister Elaine Leader of Los Angeles on a13-night Western Europe sailing from Dover to Barcelona on Celebrity Cruises' Constellation. The itinerary visited Britain, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy -with the possibility of taking an optional tour to a seventh country, Monaco-- but unpacking only once.



The highlight for Spector, however, was the visit to Le Havre, France from where she took the 11-hour tour that took her to Rouen and Giverny. "I wanted to see the setting [of Giverny] and sketch there because I have seen --and admire-- Monet's paintings including the water lilies and the whole haystacks series."



At the end of the tour, she was exhausted, she said, because she is the type of traveler who wants to see and enjoy as much as possible and had walked some two miles with her walker, but she was very happy. And safe in her portfolio was a beautiful sketch of the gardens that she would translate into a painting in her studio back home.



A very good itinerary for people with mobility problems, only one of the ports, Villefranche sur Mer in the French Riviera, was a tender port (where passengers are brought ashore via launches boarded from bobbing platforms --tricky for physically-challenged persons).



"That was a bonus," Spector said, but added that everywhere she goes, when people see her coming with her walker, they help. The ship's staff assisted her at the gangway. At Monet's house and garden, an employee took her around a special path that bypassed stairs. At the restaurant in Rouen where the tour stopped for lunch, she and her sister were given a table for two on the first floor, while the rest of the group lunched upstairs. The shore excursions' bus drivers helped her up and down the bus steps. Fellow passengers pitched in to help her lift her walker whenever she encountered steps while touring. And when her walker lost a screw while she negotiated cobblestone streets in Bruges, Belgium, the ship's carpenter fixed it for her at no charge while she was having lunch onboard.



"That was excellent because without my walker I would not have been able to tour ashore for the rest of the trip, including Giverny the next day," Spector said. "I can get by with my walking stick for short distances only."



The 91,000-ton, 1,950-passenger Constellation is an excellent choice for mobility-challenged travelers as it has wheelchair-accessible staterooms, including roll-in showers, in eight price categories, ranging from inside cabins to suites -and many are near elevators to save time and steps.



The varied choices in accommodations for disabled guests are part of Celebrity's philosophy to provide passengers with as many options and services as possible, said Christos Hadjipetris, hotel manager on the Constellation. "That is what we are all about," Hadjipetris said. "We want our guests to have plenty of choices."



Features of the staterooms for the disabled include 39-inch-wide doors; closet rails that come down to wheelchair levels; alarm clocks that vibrate the beds; seats in the roll-in showers; sinks, light switches, hair-dryers and other features at wheelchair level; low toilets; second telephones in bathrooms and emergency cords.



There are wheelchair-accessible public bathrooms throughout the ship and elevator doors are 39-inches wide. And all public areas are wheelchair-accessible, so Spector could enjoy shopping in the Emporium shopping area, filled with boutiques; relaxing in the lounges including the Celebrity Theater where there are sections for wheelchairs; enjoying a massage or facial or other European-style treatments in the 25,000 sq. ft. spa; and sampling the cuisine in the restaurants -these latter, definitely among her favorite places onboard, Spector said smiling.



All dining venues onboard have menus designed by Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux whose Waterside Inn near London is one of the highest rated restaurants in England.



Ashore, disabled guests could sightsee independently or via the ship's shore excursions, and the line rates the excursions as to physical exertion required, indicating how much walking and climbing of steps is involved. Example of shore tours that were well suited to guests with disabilities were a Lisbon City Tour by bus; Scenic French Riviera, with views of Nice, Beaulieu, Cap Ferrat and other locales by motor coach; and a bus transfer to the shrine of Fatima in Portugal.



The line strongly advises (most cruise lines do) that disabled guests travel with a companion who can assist them, so Betty cruised with her sister --a nice family reunion for the two who live on two continents. In Spector's case it was not necessary, but the ship will arrange for special transportation to and from the ship at no extra charge for passengers who cannot board their buses.



IF YOU GO - Celebrity Cruises will offer cruise-tour packages for the 2003 season in Europe on the Constellation, Millennium and Century, ranging from 11 to 17 nights, with fares beginning at $2,210.

For more information, call 1-800-CELEBRITY or visit "http://www.celebritycruises.com" www.celebritycruises.com .