Occupation:Retired High School Teacher
Number of Cruises: n/a
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: June 9th, 2007
We elected to try Holland America outside of US waters, and chose this 10 day cruise, with four days in Rome. We have taken similar cruises to this particular itinerary in the past on other cruise lines, and it is one itinerary that we love.
Arrival at Rome was as awful as the flight. Hot, humid, smelly and dirty was the arrival area. We felt like we were in San Juan, not Rome. Princess and Royal Caribbean had sailings the day of our arrival, and all porters were tied up with the cruise lines. We finally found a a young man who was willing to help us get to our driver. Point: if you need to get a cart in Rome, you must have 1.00Eu COIN. Nobody, not even the money exchange will make change. Our we went, and were met by our private driver, Luigi.
We pack heavily, often paying extra our bags are so heavy. Before we left Virginia we agreed to an SUV, rather than a sedan for us and luggage. Glad we did! We had a Mercedes SUV, small by US standards, barely acceptable for our five huge bags, and us.
We booked another "boutique" hotel that I found on line, Hotel Veneto, not to be confused with Grand Hotel Veneto. Our little gem was a mere $195.00 US per night, with breakfast. I can not stress the importance of using a land based travel agent, with an office, a real person you can have to handle all your travel plans.
The Hotel Veneto was so perfectly located, Spanish Steps, Villa Bourghese, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, all within walking distance. The rooms at the hotel were very comfortable, equipped with smoke alarms, the hallways had alarms and sprinklers, and were serviced by three elevators and stairs. Inside our rooms, marble, marble everywhere, plasma TV, very Italian fancy bathrooms.
Luigi picked us upon, and we sped to
Civitechia. The bustle of Rome gave way to rolling hill, vineyards and small
towns, as we flew down the Auto Strada. We spotted the twin "trash can" funnels
of the Westerdam looming ahead. The Regent Seven Seas Navigator was docked ,
with serval ferries. We had priority boarding, and were on the ship in less
than 5 minutes.
Our stateroom was not ready, so we went to the Lido Buffet for lunch. More on Lido dining later on.
There is the famous line from the movie Forest Gump, I may misquote it. Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you'll get - well, I have found on Holland America you know exactly what you'll get. Went to the Vista Dining Room, our "guaranteed" late seating table for two, on the upper level, was wrong, wrong time, wrong level, and for four. I went to the maitre d' hotel, Johnny, as it turned out, a grand man we have sailed with several times with before, and he graciously remade our reservation. In the stateroom our bed requirement, as usual, was wrong, and our steward had it configured to king size without any hesitation. We immediately went to the Green House Spa and made our massage appointments.
No big surprises in the stateroom. Tub, lots of storage and good lighting. More than ample closet room, and a large verandah. Our stateroom could hold four, with sofa, and pull down upper berth. There is no internet access from the stateroom, as there was on the Queen Mary 2. Our mini bar was well stocked. Two bottles of Mumms, one from our TA, one from HAl, were iced, waiting. Contemporary ships cabins are basically all the same, however, what sets HAL ships apart is the mattress, a cocoon of marshmallow comfort. Bath amenities are provided by the spa, Elemis products, indulgent, as are the towels and robes.
First dinner, and there is only chance for the perfect first impression, was exceptional. Our waiter, Johnson and his assistant, Citra, were beyond excellent, as was Randy, our wine steward, and table captain Edys. Johnny stopped by to chat throughout the cruise. Other wait staff we knew from previous HAL cruises also stopped by. The menus and the food and presentation were outstanding.
We wandered around the port area of Monte Carlo, then took the blue "train" on a sightseeing trip, a small jitney, with muli-language headphone. Just enough to sample this beautiful city. Docked was an old friend we sailed many times as Home Lines mv Atlanti, the now MSC Melody. It was great to see her, and in excellent care. To get to the blue train, follow signs to Vielle Ville, city tour, its 7.00EU's each. There is climbing, and there are elevators and escalators.
After lunch we strolled around and came upon Restaurant Saint-Nicholas. Escargots, a dozen per order, delighted, followed by petit pasta, sautéed in garlic and extra virgin olive oil and basil pesto, and roast duckling, accompanied by a local Bordeaux. Saint-Nicholas is a member of de la Chaine de Rotisseurs. Lunch 59.00Eu's. sans tip. Bottled water and sodas are available throughout Monte Carlo for purchase. Monte Carlo is one of those rare places that make you feel elegant, grand, giddy and filled with delight. On to Livorno.
I awoke at 4:30am to the stench of oil fumes seeping into our stateroom. We were entering Livornos harbor. Vast oil tank farms, cargo ships of all sizes, ferries and cranes made up the skyline. The dawn brightened, ahead lay the handsome Grimaldi ferries, the Melody, and the Voyager of the Seas. The Westerdam made her way, on a pea soup sea, to the dock.
Livorno is a drab city, the gateway to Tuscany. We took the shuttle bus into town. We found a bustling farmers market, and some butcher shops, cheese shops - much like Boston's North End, or New York's Little Italy, only much larger. We returned to the ship for lunch.
Here I will review the Lido Buffet once, For lunch as well as breakfast. It is crowded, pushy, sloppy, messy, and smells of scraped garbage from dishes. On occasion you may have a steward take your tray to a table. I stress "may". If you like buffet, or mall food court dining, I guess you'll fit in here. The smoked salmon was superb, the omelets OKAY, no fresh melon, fresh squeezed OJ, coffee that was good some days, bitter others, Asian precooked or over-cooked, and all tasting the same. Salads Okay, nothing great. Ice cream still complimentary. Enough.
Prior to my first massage, I set about to see the Westerdam in full, and to video her interiors. The ship is gorgeous. Rather than do a deck by deck, here are the highlights of this beautiful ship. During a three week dry dock in Naples, the Crows Nest was expanded and totally redone. The room is beyond handsome. Leather sofas, sofettes and swivel chairs offer comfort, the view over the bow commanding. Explorations Cafe, the cyber cafe, with pasty and café bar, was added, as well as a branch or the Erasmus Library. This glorious space works perfectly, and is unlike any space found on the Maasdam. The Piano Bar is a sea of graphite and school bus yellow leather couches and chairs, the bar surrounding the piano. As with all HAL ships, the Ocean Bar is THE place to have pre-dinner drinks, in an expansive, circle-the atrium venue. Underused on the Statendam Class vessels, Explorers Lounge was well used, again pre-dinner, and is highlighted by a full wall painting of the early Dutch sailing in New York harbor. The Queens Room is awash in a sea of royal red velvet. There wasn't enough time to visit this room, but it sure is eye catching, it doubles as the theater and culinary arts school. The casino is large, and no odor of smoke was detected. At first I found the Vista Lounge to be cold, austere, not inviting. It grew on me, and I recanted my feelings, and liked the decor, dark and light grays with white accents.
Deserving of its own special paragraph, the Vista Dining Room is one beautiful place, worthy of the excellent meals served there. A grand stairway cuts through the center of the room, linking upper and lower levels. The upper level has an intimate feeling. The ceiling is, I assumed, Murano glass, muted-multi colored morning glory style ceiling fixtures, which cast a serene rainbow glow. Dark walls, tons of highly polished brass, banquettes and open seating areas offer a feeling of intimacy. The view aft, incredible, out to sea.
We did not dine at the Pinnacle Grill. The menu has barely changed in five years, the meals are ok, not special enough to take us away from the main dining room. Passengers in the suites could have breakfast in the Pinnacle. The room, however, is beautiful, a mirror copy of the Pinnacle we did enjoy on the Zuiderdam.
There seems to be less genuine art on the Westerdam, than say, on the Maasdam and other HAL ships. What is found everywhere are handsome, rich floral arrangements, and potted plants and live orchids.
The first sday at sea offered scenic cruising off Corsica, with the bow open to passengers. I spent hours there taping grottos, soaring snow capped mountains, coastal towns and villages, and Roman watch towers. Corsica was one of the places Napoleon was exiled to. I want to visit Corsica some day.
One more morning the stateroom was cloyingly thick with fumes. Robbed, I went onto the veranda to be greeted by dozens of screeching gulls, circling the ship, bidding welcome to Barcelona. Past the oil tanks, with slums beyond, the fumes were gone, I saw acres of new automobiles, waiting for the ferries or cargo ships, dozens of new and old passenger ferries, asphalt silos, piles of hot tar hissing, acre upon acre of cargo containers, this, a real working port. The Westerdam slowly made her way in a sea of murky thick brown water, a pall of pollution hanging over the city.
It has been a while since my last visit to Barcelona, and I did not miss it. The city has one thing going for it, the Gaudi Cathedral. In the old city sector, open sewers erupt from under the sidewalk, spewing unmentionable liquids onto the cobble stone streets. We had an excursion here, lots of driving, not much to see, sped past the 1992 Olympics site, went for an over view of the city, took pictures through the smog, and gladly got back to the Westerdam. I can not see what makes people wax poetic about Barcelona. I just don't see it.
OOOOOH, tonight is BBQ on deck dinner, with a Spanish flair! Not for us, we headed straight for the dining room. Second of two days at sea, then Malta. Palma de Majorca was canceled, and Malta and the order of the day at sea, rearranged.
We enjoyed the ships cast of dancers and their costumes, Bob Mackey designs, were incredible, as were the sets, and staging. We had a "diva" who parodied the great divas, Alfreda Butler, on board. What a voice and stage presence. She was a cross between Mo'nique and Diana Ross. Excellent performer, was she. As for the rest, the usual comedian, and so on. Nothing new, nothing to write home about.
A tour in Tunisia is a must. Don't even think about going ashore by your self. We opted for Carthage, since we've been to Tunisia before. The highlight here was Sidi Boo Said, a lovely town all white with azure blue rococo trim, and some neat local crafts shopping. Tunisia has changed from a once stuffy Arab country, to a democracy, and our guide was proud of his countries accomplishments. We saw a street where a mosque, sits next too a Catholic Cathedral, next to a synagogue. Carthage itself was fascinating. Lots of lovely homes, on canals, reminding of Florida. Carthage itself was second only to ancient Rome. The ruins are of a massive spa, an old Roman bath. Our last stop was Byra Hill, offering expansive views. Local restaurants? Don't.
The menus on the Westerdam were exhausting, and very difficult to order from, at least for us, because they were well planned, and offered too many good selections. The fruits and the shrimp and other appetizers were all well chosen as were the soups. The salads were the freshest, finest, and were interestingly different each night, all dressings made on board. Always available were oil and vinegar. Breads and rolls, artisan quality, all made on board.
Main courses with accompanying starches and vegetables were as expected and demanded, excellent, as well. Dover sole, boned at table, venison, all cuts of beef, lamb, pork, duck and Cornish hens, to chicken, and Asian specialties, all wonderfully prepared, a treat for the palate, and served at proper temperature. Lobster (tails), scallops, clams, muscles, snails oysters, fresh and delicious. And, always available, salmon, steak chicken, and vegetarian. Desserts were wonderful, as was the cheese plate. Sauces that accompanied the entrees and appetizers were excellent. Each night a different flambé dessert was prepared in the dining room, and often two sugar free or no sugar added desserts were available.
An onyx sea, a periwinkle sky beckoned the Westerdams entry to Malta. Malta is a place we love, and to visit again was unplanned, since the Westerdam was due to call at Palma de Majorca, and Malta was substituted at the last minute.
We sailed the long inlet to the inner harbor, passing ancient buildings built into limestone cliffs, a city and a sight unlike no other. Valletta is an awesome sight by sea. Ahead, the Costa Victoria was docked, a nice looking ship. We took our own taxi into Valetta, 10.00 Maltese Lira, NOT Euros, Malta is not part of the EU, US and Canadian dollars are not accepted, in cash, credit cards are.
We entered St. Johns co-cathedral, at 5.20 Maltese Lira. The Cathedral is breathtaking inside. NOTE: if you visit on your own, walk up the steps, stay to the far right, and enter and avoid the huge line with booked tour passengers. Valletta is not a shopping city, per se. We did buy some baby clothes for our one month old grand son, and we had a nice lunch in the square at Leon Cafe, which made excellent hand tossed pizza, a fresh salad nicoise, and a perfect cannelloni, all for a mere 10.20 Maltese Lira, plus tip.
Back at the dock is where the best shopping in Malta is. Bristow Potters and Monica Glass have beautiful items, and are government approved shops for the pottery and Maltese glass. They will ship.
The approach into Palermo was nothing short of dull. The usual pristine white ferries and drab neo-modern apartments rose skyward. Dock workers clanged and trucks roared as we passed. On the dock, dogs happily barked at our approach, racing in and out of the ferries, nipping at the dock workers heels. After breakfast we waited for our tour to be called, in the Vista Lounge. Today, we would tour Cefalu, pronounced CheFaloo.
This town is ancient, and magnificent. Cobble stone streets, old, worn buildings, housing numerous flats, with balconies filled with fresh, drying laundry, dogs, again happy dogs, and vespas and bikes filled Cefalu. Cliffs with pounding surf, fish stalls, and beaches, another world, unlike any resort you could hope top find in the US.
The center of Cerfalu, the Dumo, housed an ancient cathedral. Since this was Sunday, holy mass was being celebrated upon our arrival, an a visit was out of the question. Chairs filled the square, with restaurants lining the square. Lunch was definitely in order. The name was, of course, Duomo Trattoria, next to Dumo Gelataria.
Cefalu had an amazing effect on us. The town mesmerized us, it seemed to want us to stay, and stay we wanted to. Well, the best gelato is all of Italy is reputed to be in Cefalu, at Duomo Gelataria. Know what? It is! Time came to leave this la dolce vita town, with its lidos, cabanas, and tidal pools, its laundry flapping in the breeze, the old women in black, the young men in skin tight pants, young women in skin tight shorts and halters.
Palermo is no shabby city, either. The opera house, that gave Enrico Caruso fame, the Mussolini era post office, huge beautiful parks and massive fountains and a beautiful symphony hall, gave promise for a tour at a future time.
What could possibly top Palermo, Sicily, with its enchanting village, Cefalu? NAPLES. Oh, my, Naples, after Cefalu, it was almost heart stopping. But before we get to Naples, we had the Mariner party.
Boy, was this a dud. Nearly 10 whole minutes, the Mariners repeat party was truly duller than dirt. White wine and champagne, no bloodies, tough and tasteless hor d'oeurves, about one minute for a quick dance, one new honoree at 100 days, a brief mention of the new Eurodam, and that was it. Not like the grand, splashes HAL puts on for Mariners.
Sailing on Westerdam, Costa Fortuna, and Voyager of the Seas, and another old friend, Thomson Cruises Thomson Voyager, the former Swedish America Liner ms Kungsholm, and once P&Os Sea Princess, and first Princess Cruises Sea Princess. It was almost as though Macy's had its Macy's Cruise Ship Parade, with Costa Fortuna, MSC Musica, Voyager of the Sea, and Thomson Voyager all sailing past, passing muster to the Westerdam.
Now, Naples is one heck of place, more Italian than Rome, really. Dogs barked and played, running in and out of the shops dockside. Ferries constantly arriving and leaving the port, churning up trash, garbage, and more trash, to be scooped up by a garbage barge. Beaches at the filthy harbor, and a careless, carnival feel in the air. The place was intoxicating.
Our tour took us up into the hills, over looking Napoli Bay. Vesuvius stood at attention, one day ready to blow its stack, ferries to the outer islands and Capri tooted below. The view was just incredible.
Our tour was Piazza and Pizza. The pizza, hand made and of the highest standards, was the best pizza during the trip. The pizza on the ship should not be called pizza, not after the one we had in Naples. Our tour was hosted by a wonderful guide, Rosario. He wore a white linen suit, pink polo shirt and smart shades. He was so proud of Naples, and eagerly told of its history.
There have been changes made to the Westerdam. The Crows Nest, as noted. Other changes: Forty new cabins and suites were added in May to the fan tail sections of Upper Promenade to Navigation Decks. New deck chairs have replaced those dreadful white plastic chaise lounges. The shopping arcade seemed larger, and the Northern Lights Disco was pleasant, however, the same old golden 70's disco and the line dancing are to, well, awful to have to listen to.
A couple of things that really aggravated me are the following. Passengers refusing to us the hand sanitizer, out of ignorance, or arrogance. Some boasted their refusal, the "I washed my hands, thank you". Then those pushy, cut-in-skies at the Lido, that claw though the food with a spoon, shove to get ice tea, and then, this is a new one, those filling thermos bottles with coffee, or refilling used water bottles from the Lido.
If I had to pick, or rate by ports, I would have to do it this way: the best bar-none would be Naples, capturing the very soul of Italy, where O solo mio was written, home to Sophia Loren. On the chic, Monte Carlo, unquestionably. Unique, why Tunisia, with its North African Flair.
Where will we be sailing next? We have the Queen Mary 2 in September, Oceania Cruises Insignia in March, South America, then Oceania's Regatta for two European cruises, June and November. Will we sail Holland America again? Without a doubt, yes.