Number of Cruises: 15
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: July 20th, 2007
We traveled independently and took the train from Rome Termini Station to Civitavecchia. The cost of the train for 2 people was 9 Euros (about 13USD). We found other people at the train station in Civitavecchia and shared a cab with them to the ship (2.50 Euros each). Embarkation was very smooth. We had done online check-in previous to arrival. All documents were processed in less than 2 minutes at the pier. There was no line when we arrived. Note: The brochure notes that it “strongly suggested” your passport not expire for 6 months after travel date. However, in reality, HAL will not let you complete embarkation if your passport expires within that period. Trust me: my partner’s passport expired in October and he had to run to Philadelphia 2 days before we traveled and get a new one.
2. The ship
a. Entire ship
At first, as many of us are, I was not overly impressed. But as the 10 days went along, I really came to enjoy the layout and feel of the ship. The corridors had a nice flow. It was very clever the way the gift shops open up to one large area. The glass elevators overlooking the sea are so much nicer than those on other ships that merely overlook an atrium or public area. It was great to see a real wood Promenade Deck, which was used by many of us for walking and jogging. Of course, HAL has those great deck chairs on that deck. Put me in one with a book, look at the sea, and I’m asleep! My only concerns were the atrium and some of the décor. The atrium was clearly too small and always seemed tight. There is a bar on Main Deck right in the center, which obstructs traffic flow. Some of the décor is eclectic, at best. While the elevator doors are designed with beautiful metal designs, the interiors are modern with strange colors and the areas in front of the elevator also had a mixture of classic and modern styles.
b. Dining Room
The dining room is very attractive. Get a table near a window; part of the dining room is windowless. The service was wonderful, as it usually is on HAL. I did my best to learn some basic phrases in Indonesian and Tagolog, showing the wait staff interest in their culture.
While I didn’t use the spa, I did use the gym every day. It’s the not the biggest and is missing cross-training machines, which I prefer. Nearly half of the gym floor was taken up with exercise classes, which did not often take place.
Nicely decorated, though the art work was a bit strange. There was plenty of ‘secret’ storage space. I discovered midway through the cruise there were drawers under the cushion portion of the couch, and on the last day realized that there were very large drawers under the bed. The bathroom was attractive and offered sufficient room. The amenities were plentiful and of high quality.
I participated in many trivia contests, although I was disappointed that many occurred during late “main” seating dinner. I would suggest having them very late 10:30, or before late seating. The shows were much better than I expected. The house is large, but there are many poor sight lines. I always have trouble with canned singing on cruise ships, but the dancing was excellent.
a. Breakfast – We ate most meals in the dining room, planning our day, so that we gave ourselves enough time to enjoy it. Nearly everything that was offered in the Lido buffet was offered in the dining room.
b. Lunch – This we had to take in the Lido, since we were off the ship during lunch hours. I was impressed with fact that there was an Asian station, which stayed open throughout the afternoon. There was usually a vegetarian meal. Occasionally, we ordered sandwiches in the room when we returned from touring. They were tasty and presented with class.
c. High Tea – One of the highlights of the day. Between trips to the gym, we indulged on pastries and scones with clotted cream at high tea. The service was white glove and a very professional string quartet entertained.
d. Dinner – We took this in the dining room each night, except when we stayed in Santorini for sunset. (On that night, there was a barbeque buffet poolside. We returned at 9:15 and it seemed disorganized and sloppy.) Dinner was always presented with style and was prepared and plated well. I usually had 2 appetizers, since portions were small and some were just wonderful! Kudos to the Head Chef for having an abundance of mango an papaya selections. I couldn’t get these in the Caribbean!! Not being a meat eater, I cannot speak to those dishes, but I can tell you the fish was excellent, particularly the sea bream and Dover Sole.
4. Ports of Call. -- I must preface all ports by saying there was a heat wave. It was 100o or higher many days and touring was just tiring. I carried liters of water with me and still looked like I just ran a marathon.
a. Dubrovnik – This was one of the highlights of the cruise. We shared a taxi from the ship to the city walls. I think it was 5 or 10 Euros for the cab. Cab drivers will try to sell you tours. That’s your call. We walked the entire city walls. Well worth it—the highlight of the city. We visited churches and synagogues in the city and stopped for a beer (a daily ritual).
b. Corfu – The weakest port. We walked to town. Big mistake (well, I got lost!). We should have taken a cab. (HAL had shuttle bus service, but it was always more than sharing a cab.) Corfu had little to offer. We stopped for a Greek (Turkish) coffee and beer and visited St. Spyridon church, paying respects to the saint and icons. A priest blessed all who saw the crypt.
c. Katakolon – I had been here before, but didn’t go to Olympia. We found a well air-conditioned new train that goes from Katakolon to Olympia for 1 Euro (yes ONE euro). The ship did not mention this. We found some other cruise passengers who joined us. We visited the Museum in Olympia, before seeing the ruins. The museum is well worth it; those on the tour who did not see the museum were disappointed.
d. Santorini – We took the donkeys up the mountain. Faster (and smellier) than the cable car, whose line seemed to wrap around the island). Hint: go after 12 pm, most people have made the assent by then. We enjoyed the shopping and tiny streets. We found some churches and took tons of pictures. We stopped for a beer (surprised), high above the harbor. 3 cruise ships were in. We returned to the ship at 1pm and came back to Santorini (tendered) at 7pm for sunset and another drink. Do this—all the visitors do
e. Athens – We walked to the Metro (mistake—take the #845 bus) and then took the Metro directly to Monastiraki, where we shopped, visited the Agora and Temple of Hepheastion. We had been to the Acropolis, so we skipped it this time. Besides, it was 8 bi-zillion degrees. Again, we stopped for a cold local beer. (Beer note: I’m a dark beer drinker. It’s very hard to find any dark beers in the Med and on the ship, there are NONE for sale.)
f. Kusadasi – we enjoyed shopping in the city. I bought a 14k ring and some cheap souvenirs. Everything is walk-able. We found the mosque and visited it. A local showed us the proper way to wash our feet. We took a shore excursion to Ephesus – the only shore excursion we took. We really enjoyed it, even with the extreme heat. It’s really spectacular
g. Messina – We really wanted to go to Taormina (having been there before) and would have taken the train, but the ship departed at 2pm. Therefore, we walked around the city, visiting 5 churches. The most fascinating (and we found it by accident) was a monastery where we saw the preserved body of a female saint. (I’m sorry; I cannot remember her name). We found a way up to pay respects, high above the alter.
h. Rome – We stayed in Rome one night before the cruise, and again, one night after the cruise. On the first day, we saw (via bus and Metro) all of the major sites, except for the Vatican Museum (line too long). As tired as we were, on the return to Rome, we took a train to Assisi for a quick 3 hour visit. The train ride was worth it; Assisi is truly unique. Our hotel in Rome was the Diocleziano, near the train station. Well worth the $120 euros. We could walk to and from the train station.