My wife and I are not "cruise" people(except on our own boats), however we are retired and have time available so decided to travel to Europe by sea rather than fly. We chose the Holland America vessel "Noordam" on the basis of it'scheduled dates, as it arrived in Citvitavecchia, Rome,from Fort Lauderdale just before we had booked a villa in Tuscany. Our thoughts on the vessel and trip are:-
Vessel- Very efficient, a massive improvement on the predecessor "Noordam" which was our only previous cruise experience(Baltic), and just the right size, large enough to be comfortable and with sufficient amenities, small enough not to be a seagoing town.
Cabin- Excellent,very well designed with generous storage. The bed(queen) and linen were of high quality and,now that we have spent a night in an Italian hotel,extremely comfortable in hindsight. Although we booked a balcony suite we seldom used the verandah and would have been just as happy with an outside cabin with a sea view. Our suite was on the highest cabin deck, #8,(Navigation) and located under the Lido restaurant.We heard no noise and felt little sea motion - the weather was very calm for the whole trip and the ship's stabilisers were effective.
Staff-Cannot praise too highly, polite, efficient and always smiling. The cruise line have a compulsory tipping charge of US$12 per day day per guest which is distributed amongst the crew. This is very fair and removes the inconsistencies which would otherwise arise. We felt the cabin stewards did an exceptional job and rewarded them privately in addition which is permitted.
Food- Generally very satisfactory,as expected given the load on the kitchens,not high end restaurant quality, but equivalent to a good 4 Star hotel (Intercontinental, Hilton, Westin).
Entertainment- A remarkably high standard , clearly reflective of the excess of talent available in the real world.
Itinerary-Although we took the trip as "transport", a little disappointed in schedule(Ponta Delgado, Lisbon,Cadiz, Malaga,Cartagena, Barcelona),We would have preferred omitting Lisbon and Cartagena and possibly Barcelona(crowded and impossible to see in 8 hours)and substituting say Tangier and a French port.Also Cadiz closed up on the Sunday stop, and all museums, art galleries etc. as in Malaga are closed in southern Europe on Monday.
Tours-Did not take any as they seemed to be mainly bus trips and very overpriced,although in reviewing the itinerary it may have been designed to sell tours, as this was the only means of access to museums etc. in Cadiz and Malaga, and Barcelona.
Complaints-None really, the ships wine list was not very interesting and although you were welcome to bring your own, which we did,the corkage fee of USA$18 per bottle was rather high.Bar drinks were around the same price as the USA but brand choice was limited. The ships spirits packages were reasonable value, but there was an embargo on taking your own.
Customs and Immigration- The uniform relaxed European attitude was a wlcome change-NO checks, searches and little formality in stark contrast to the USA, TSA paranoia.
Disembarkation-Again very efficient with no hassle over luggage and customs, In Civitavecchia it is necessary to have planned your exit from the town- we had pre booked a rental car but if travelling to Rome would have taken the train in preference to a shuttle transfer.
Value- We cannot understand how Holland America can make a profit. Taking the various components of the trip for the price paid it is an absolute bargain.
Ports not listed-
Ponta Delgado, San Miguel, Azores, Portugal, Small town on small island, nice to get off ship and stretch legs but little of interest other than topography. Excellent and very cheap fruit market.
Cadiz,Spain, pretty, walkable town,well restored and immaculate.
Malaga, Spain, Again pretty and clean medium sized town. Good Picasso museum but closed on Mondays( like all other museums in southern Europe). Great market for fruit, nuts,cheese and sherry.
Cartagena, Spain, Naval base town, not particularly interesting but excellent restoration of Roman Amphitheatre.