I visited the Autonomous Republic of Crimea during the height of their summer tourist season, from late July until mid-August. The fact that I was one of only a few Americans to visit Crimea this year (I didn’t come across any other Americans my entire time there), hopefully gives me a unique perspective, especially since my background is in professional tourism. I am grateful to my Crimean host for much of my visit and providing valuable assistance and contacts that enabled me to travel the region fairly independently and successfully. It is at my host’s request that I write this review. There is very much I did not experience and thus cannot write about; I will only speak of my personal experiences.

Yalta, Crimea Before I begin details, I must first say the experience overall was very pleasant. I found the people of Crimea overwhelmingly friendly, courteous, helpful, and honest. I did not speak Russian, and only studied enough before the trip to know basic words, such as please, thanks, etc. However, I took an electronic translator that solved most communication difficulties. In fact, the gadget proved to be quite popular as a novelty item to the Russian friends I made!
With that said, communication was the biggest difficulty of the whole trip. Yes, I was able to communicate when essential information was required. But there was no comprehension of general talk in my presence when no one bothered to use my translator. I was simply lost 90% of the time. I wish to visit again, but will not until I learn more Russian, or unless I hire a human translator to accompany me. The subject of English communication will be the largest subject of this review, and pertains to all subjects, thus I shall save it for last. But keep in mind throughout my various observations that this problem was always a complicating factor.

1. Transportation and Infrastructure
Basically the roads in Crimea are horrible by western standards. That’s not a criticism. The terrain reminded me of the permafrost surface in Alaska, where it’s impossible to make a permanently stable paved road. While not a permafrost surface, the Crimea terrain seems unsuitable to sustain basic road pavement for the same basic reason: a spongy type surface that requires major reinforcement to build a strong, stable road.

That said, there must be a major commitment made by the Crimean Republic government to improve its surface transportation system, if it wishes to take future advantage of its tremendous western tourism potential. No tourist wishes to be thrown about and bounced around mercilessly on Crimea roads, whether they be in a car, minibus, or travel trailer. Nor do nearby eastern visitors wish their trailers and cars to be pounded and damaged due to the intolerable road quality. While the major roads are acceptable, they still need much attention. Lesser routes, that lead to the real gems of Crimea, are not at all conducive to tourist travel, and no amount of tourist marketing will succeed long term unless the issues of ease and comfort of transportation are addressed.

Regarding the overall infrastructure of the Republic, I found little to be lacking. You can get to places you want to go via all normal systems of transportation, on mostly regular, reliable, and inexpensive systems. I relied solely on car, bus and taxi services. I understand train travel is slow and lacking in some respects, but I did not experience that mode of transportation so cannot comment if this is at all accurate. I did not experience delays due to road or bridge closures, which was good. However, many roads and bridges likely need closure if funds can be made available for their repair and upgrade.

One note regarding air travel: when I first arrived at the Kiev airport, I was to board an Aerosvit flight for the final leg of my journey to Simferopol, whereupon I would then receive surface transport assistance from my host. Upon arrival at Kiev, that flight did not appear on the departure list. It was quite confusing, and airline personnel were unable to communicate to me the simple fact that the flight was cancelled, and I would be routed on another flight five hours later. This was quite inconvenient, although not uncommon in air travel. The problem was learning what was happening when I, the non-Russian speaking person had just arrived, and no one could tell me what was happening or required. Thankfully, a helpful taxi service manager named Sasha took me under his wing (for money) and with his help everything worked out fine. With some difficulty, I was able to notify my host of the delay, and was timely met when I finally arrived in Simferopol.

2. Accessibility
I was disturbed to find virtually no access for very elderly people or disabled persons at most facilities I visited. This is a major issue the Republic’s government should give more attention to in general. Specific to tourism development, it is a major impediment, and a source of some disgrace. In addition, less impeded persons, i.e., those simply overweight or generally not in good physical condition, cannot enjoy many of the best tourist offerings of Crimea. For example, much walking and climbing is required at most key locations. This is not possible for physically impaired people I describe. I did not observe any accommodation for these people. They are simply excluded because they lack necessary physical condition to visit prime tourist locations. This observation also relates to uncomfortable travel conditions noted in (1) above.

This is important not only humanitarianly, but in terms of economic reality. Older persons generally have more time to travel and more money to spend than other clients. Not accommodating this clientele is very harmful to the potential future growth of Crimean tourism. Also, these seniors may wish to bring offspring and grandchildren, and probably will spend much money on their entertainment. This is impossible if grandpa and grandma cannot visit comfortably!

Regarding disabled people, but not necessarily senior people, wheelchair accommodation virtually was totally lacking in my observation during visit. In many instances, it is not possible to provide access, it is impracticable and cost-prohibitive. However, more effort should be made to accommodate these people. Also, what if I, as tourist, break a leg, for example, during my visit? My visit thus will require me in a wheelchair. What happens to my tourist experience if this happens? Currently, at Crimea, I would be unlucky, unfulfilled tourist.

One example to make this point clear: Swallow’s Nest near Yalta. This tourist attraction gem is totally inaccessible to the population just discussed. It is even somewhat difficult to reach with non-physically impaired, i.e., younger people. The hundreds of stair steps up and down to reach it, and explore the many concessions surrounding it, are a challenge and discouragement to many visitors, who hence will not recommend a visit to other potential visitors. A solution should be explored if financially feasible, to ferry visitors via small train, rope road, or other means, to comfortably and easily reach this prime tourist destination. Bus service is available, but generally inaccessible to the clientele I reference. And even thus, the portability problems remain for the elderly and disabled.

3. Accommodations and Communications
A. My first week in Crimea was spent in the mountain area southeast of Simferopol. My host arranged accommodation in house of Alexander, which provided full comfort, modern toilet and shower facility, a modest pool, and also sauna. Breakfast and dinner were provided each day at a wonderful outdoor gathering area. Facilities provided included a grill, which my host utilized to prepare a wonderful barbeque one evening, and campfire arrangement. He also supplied mountain bikes for my group to enjoy. The cost to my party was only $12 per person each day. This was incredible bargain. I suggest Alexander increase price significantly. It would be paid immediately. Hospitality was excellent. My only regret was there was no regard to specific need of the visitor. For example, this was remote location, thus no shops. However, during day visits away from Alexander’s house, my requests to visit shops for various needs were ignored. Each day there was opportunity to allow shopping, which I requested. This request was generally ignored, and I return to Alexander’s house not fulfilled. Thus, the entire week, while a bargain, was huge disappointment because I was not allowed to provide for myself the comforts I wished. The hosts seemed to think they anticipate and provide all comfort to the guests. This a huge error. It may not be a problem with Russian visitors, but it major error regarding guests from the west. I enjoyed an overall excellent visit and had excellent hosts, but the experience was badly damaged by this error. A pattern was developing: host decide always what best for visitor, with little or even no input sought from visitor. This control of situation, while understandable in some instances, was not acceptable in its totality. The person paying the expense must be offered more choice and voice. This is important concept for future Crimean tourist agents to understand. It makes their job more difficult, perhaps. But that is not a good reason to neglect proper performance of job.

B. After first week, plan was to establish base in Yalta, i.e., hotel. Thus day trips originate from Yalta and end there each day at base. This excellent arrangement. Unfortunately, my first base was totally unacceptable. Again, host decide what adequate. He decide expense should be minimal, with minimal consultation to me. He thus recommend accommodation at old Soviet sanitarium. I agreed, not knowing any other options, none were offered or discussed. This was huge error. The sanatorium was completely unacceptable, although it was cheap, about $23 a day. My guide decided to save me money, without discussing my wishes. This was not my desire. Again, decisions on my needs and wishes were made without my input, and were against my desire. The intent of guide was admirable, I feel no offence. But my input should of been solicited. The guide not know my wish and desire, but he not solicit my input, thus he erroneously choose badly. This again, big problem with tourist business in Crimea: you must know and respect desires of clients! You should not make decisions on their behalf yourself, without their input!

The next day I leave sanatorium. I was required to pay a full week in advance to stay at this facility, and no refund was given. This not matter to me. I depart with my partner to seek new facility. We receive excellent taxi service at minimal cost. We arrive at Lenin Square and search hotels. We find vacancy at all hotels. But I require internet access, and most hotels did not provide it. Bristol hotel provide Wi-Fi internet, and very good rate for accommodation. I was surprised this hotel, located at sea and promenade, give such a good deal at height of tourist season. They had vacancy for fine room and only $120 each night. I booked room for 7 days, it was perfect. Bristol was fine hotel, it had two good restaurants and fine swimming pool. Wi-Fi was perfect, I was able to conduct all necessary internet communication. And it was convenient, just a short walk to all activities on the waterfront promenade.

I placed phone calls from hotel to USA. It was flawless. And very inexpensive. I also bought a Sim card and used a friend’s mobile phone in case of difficulty. Thankfully there was no difficulty, but phone was available. I was very impressed with ability to communicate via phone to USA, and also impressed with huge reliance Crimean people have via cell phones — it appeared everyone had one. My big disappointment was lack of internet connection. It was rare to find, and always I ask, only to find it not available. This certainly not acceptable to tourist clientele Crimea must attract.

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