We arrived in Barcelona 3 days early for time adjustment and to see the city. The on-off bus is the best to see the most in a short time. Barcelona was an extremely clean city as compared to Venice (yuk). A side trip to Montserrat was super. Services pre-booked through HAL were great in getting us to the Hotel Melia and to the ship. Unaccustomed to European dining we found restaurant's didn't open till 9 PM. At the ship checking in and getting to room was a breeze. Our veranda stateroom was on deck 8 offering us a great view. Our luggage arrived quickly and we began to unpack before dinner. Nothing unusual through our first day (at sea) arriving in Liverno on day 2. We opted to book an Italian Trio of excursions (Florence / Rome / Naples) through a London Company. All three offered more for almost half the cost of HAL. Only difference was having to walk from the ship to the transportation as they were not allowed on the pier.
Of all the places (cities) we visited Santorini was the most beautiful. This is not to lessen anything from Florence, Rome, Naples, Messina (Sicily), Nafplion , Katakolon and Kerkira (Greece), Venice, Dubrovnik & Split (Croatia), Kotor (Montenegro), Istanbul and Mykonos (Turkey, and Kusadasi & Santorini (Greece).
We noted that there was over 400 kids on our fully booked ship for the first twelve days of the journey creating some consternation due to parents NOT minding their children. The second half there were only about 30. We had a great private tour in Messina booked through people we met on the Cruise Critic web site. At Nafplion we took the HAL tour and later had dinner at the Tamarind (Asian) restaurant ($10 extra PP). We also discovered the Pinnacle Grill ($23 extra PP) which was excellent. It is fine dining to the maximum and we used it four times. The Lido buffet (not like a totally help yourself buffet) was OK but being from the buffet capitol of the world (Las Vegas) we chose late dining. We soon discovered that because Europeans prefer late night options the shows (more on this later) were after dinner so we switched to early dining and had wonderful table mates on both legs of the trip.
Presentation of the food in the main dining room prevailed over the menu choices and the quality. My wife and I think it was better on our last RCCL cruise. We did a few excursions with HAL but found it easy to either book ahead with tour companies or with others we found on CC or found our own off the ship. In Athens at the end of the pier there were taxi's offering trips to see everything HAL offered for only â‚¬90, not the $420 for the HAL excursion. Sorry HAL. In Athens there is an elevator to the Acropolis for handicapped but you have to ask about how to get to it. We finally got to eat a GREEK pizza which we are unable to find in LV. The "Istanbul by Night" HAL excursion was well worth the money. It was great. We took the HAL tour in Santorini, probably the most picturesque of the Greek Islands and then chose to get off the bus in the capital and take the cable car down. It is beautiful and we plan to go back someday.
Although I took a tux I wouldn't do it again plus we just had way too much clothing. If you buy the unlimited cleaning & pressing (we did) you get things back in a day. I kept track of the number of bags and we ended up way ahead. Except for a few shows (outside pro's) most evening shows were less than stellar which was a big minus for this cruise. We've seen better on RCCL & Princess.
We only missed one port (Mykonos) due to heavy winds and seas otherwise it was sunny, hot and sticky all other days. On the final night we dined at the Pinnacle with a number of the friends we had met on the ship and through CC. Overall the cruise was great although taxing as this is a very intensive eighteen in-port day (four sea days) cruise. We got to see everything we wanted to see and more. Lots of walking. Again HAL debarkation to airport in Venice was very smooth. If you are going to sail with Holland America and have the extra cash, I suggest you buy 100 shares of Carnival stock and get $250 in shipboard credits. Carnival owns HAL, Seaborne, Princess, Costa and others.
We are booked on our next cruise in November 2013 -- 21 days Caribbean Seafarer/Wayfarer on the Noordam. Happy sailing.
Alan & Ruth Davis
Las Vegas, NV