We received a brochure in the mail from Holland America offering us a 50% discount on a truly amazing 26 day itinerary cruising the Mediterranean. This was a dream itinerary including a large number of ports that were on our "bucket list". It was an offer we couldn't refuse! We booked through our local AAA travel agency. We arranged everything through Holland America, including the airfare and the pre-cruise hotel package in Rome. This was our first experience booking a "big cruise" so we thought we'd be safer to cover all of our bases including transfers to and from the airport/hotel/ship. Now, after having had the experience and talking with more experienced cruisers, we realize that we would have saved a LOT of money and had a much easier time making air changes if we had booked these things ourselves and not through HAL. When you book airfare through a cruiseline, it totally eliminates the possibility of upgrading your ticket from coach to first class because HAL uses a group booking code for your ticket and the airlines won't even put you on a list to PAY for a first class upgrade without cancelling your whole ticket and starting from scratch which is VERY expensive! So this is the only thing we would do differently the next time. The cruise itself was truly amazing! Our cabin, 6073, was one of their "signature suites" (one of the smaller suites) but it was in a great location and offered more than enough room for the 2 of us for an almost month long cruise. The bathroom had a double vanity, a full sized bathtub with jacuzzi style jet AND a separate shower stall. The queen sized bed was a little too firm for our liking, but was nice all the same. The cabin staff couldn't have been better. They attended to our every need at least twice a day and were on call anytime we needed them. There were a lot of "public spaces" on board the Noordam. They all felt cozy and personal. There was never a time that we felt crowded even though it was a sold out cruise. There were numerous dining choices. We had "as you like" dining where we made our own reservations every night to go along with our schedule each day. We did find a particular table with a particular waiter that we really loved and we were able to make a "standing reservation" for that table at a time that we preferred. Over the course of 26 days, there were only 1 or 2 entrees that were repeated which we found truly amazing. The specialty restaurants were out of this world. Canaletto, the Italian restaurant was truly good and very intimate. The Pinnacle Grill was an experience not to be missed. On certain nights, it had "an evening at Le Cirque" with an exceptional menu not found anywhere except the real Le Cirque. On "normal" nights, the food offered was truly that of a 5 star Steakhouse with service to match. The auxiliary services offered on this ship were exceptional as were the crew members who ran them...The Fine Art Dept (Park West Gallery), The Photo dept., The Greenhouse Spa and even the front desk offered service beyond compare. The crew members greeted you by name every time they saw you whether on or off the ship truly making us feel special. The entertainment on the ship was top notch with the BEST performances being by the Noordam Singers and Dancers...they presented several world premiers while we were onboard with the production Droom being the best show, by far, that we have ever seen on a cruise ship. These men and women were very obviously quite well trained in both dance and voice and all of the shows they did were so good that it was not unusual for us to go to more than one of the 3 nightly performances.
We took only 1 shore excursion from Holland America and it was a good one to Murano and Burano Islands in Venice. We decided to take this excursion at the last minute when it was too late to arrange a private option. We took 11 other tours/shore excursions from private companies after researching the options on Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor. Every single one of those tours were quite wonderful and much more reasonably priced than those offered by the ship. This was our first cruise that we decided to try taking tours offered by someone other than the cruise line...we were always afraid that we would be "left behind" if the outside tour didn't get us back in time....a belief that is often encouraged by all cruise lines. This was absolutely NOT the case. Every private tour that we took made extreme efforts to get us back to the ship with plenty of time to spare. This survey only let us list the #8 as the most ports we visited. We actually visited many more than that. The ports there weren't room for in the survey below were: Argostoli (a nice town that we toured on our own. GREAT seafood restaurants by the sea wall), Katakolon Greece (where we took a private tour to Ancient Olympia...the museum and the archeological site...both were quite wonderful), Santorini Greece where we took a private tour with OceanWave Tours....a wonderful day on a beautiful island. We very seriously want to return here and spend a week or more exploring this fabulous island, Athens Greece where we spent 2 days, took 2 private tours with 2 different companies....there is a lot to see here!, Iraklion (Crete) Greece where we toured Knossos Palace on our own. There is a hop on/hop off bus you can take here, Port Said Egypt...we took a private tour here spending the night at the Mena House Hotel in Giza next to the Pyramids, toured Cairo then re-joined our ship the next day in Alexandria Egypt, Rhodes Greece where we walked around the old town on our own...this was one of the really pleasant surprises on our cruise....there was a lot to see here and we could have spent much more time than we had exploring, Kusadasi (Ephesus) Turkey where we took a private tour around the area...quite impressive especially the Terrace Houses in Ephesus....a site really worth paying the extra money to see!, Mykonos Greece...a nice little town that we just walked around for about an hour then went back to the ship, and finally, Istanbul Turkey where we took a private day long tour of the major sights of the city. It was a wonderful place and quite beautiful. The people were warm and welcoming here.
All in all, this cruise was absolutely terrific! The service couldn't have been better....the price was amazing and the itinerary the best I've ever seen on one cruise....the disembarkation process was great in one way...this was the first time we'd ever been allowed to just wait in our cabin until our number was called....the bus to the airport was a little chaotic...there wasn't enough room under the bus for all of the luggage so some people's luggage was put in the aisle of the bus, blocking people in the seats next to the luggage....and the airport in Istanbul is a lesson in chaos. Delta airlines handling of disabled passengers was less than optimum....we ended up with a VERY uncomfortable 11 hour flight from Istanbul to NYC because they changed planes the night before the flight and did not provide us with seats equal to the ones we had arranged previously....they also did not provide wheelchair assistance down to the door of the plane as previously arranged and offered no help with our carry on luggage either. It was quite disappointing compared to our wonderful experience with United Airlines on the way over to Rome for the beginning of the cruise. But as they say, live and learn! After this cruise, Holland America has certainly become our cruise line of choice....and we plan to schedule many more in the future.