For the last 7 years or so the trend has been for the cruise lines to position their ships around the world, and visiting more international ports than ever before. Which can only be great for the traveler. Part of that trend, especially in the last 2 or 3 years is to also create multiple itineraries as part of one big trip! I think Holland America is leading the way.
The embarkation was painless.
I embarked on an 11-day "Ancient Mysteries" cruise on May 17th, 2013 out of Istanbul. That day there were also people who were beginning a 22 days or 33 days cruise! You could have booked each 11 day segment by itself. The itinerary took us from Istanbul, along the Dardanelles pasageway, to Mykonos, to Kusadasi, Turkey, to Rhodes, an overnight in Alexandria, Egypt, then to Iraklion, Crete and finally to Athens. After I booked this segment I wondered why I didnt book the 22 days as this would have pretty much covered for me all the places Ive ever needed to visit. Now I need to go back and spent more money for just a few more ports. I do not know people's tolerance to be at sea for 33 days, but that itinerary would have covered all the ports for you might otherwise need 4 mediterrenean cruises. The overnight in Alexandria, Egypt was in lieu of a stop at Port Said that was cancelled by the cruise line for safety reasons.
There were really 3 days at sea, going and coming out of Egypt, and the cruising thru the Dardanelles. Another thing I noticed was that on this particular trip I never saw the ship go faster than 14 knots. So it was very leisurely!
While we are in the era of the Mega Ship, not all of these ancent cities old ports can handle big ships. So most ships traveling the mediterrenean will be mid size ships (approx 2,000 passenger), usually built in the early 2000s. So be careful with your expectations.
The Noordam is an elegant, quaint ship. Very European feel to it. Some of its rooms, like the Piano Bar and the Northern Lights (dancing club) are tucked away from the walking halls so you do not have to run into them if you dont want to. And while the Explorations Cafe is a little more open to the hallway, it is probably the most elegant room on the ship. It is the library/computer room with a coffee bar that we would like to have at home. It is only rivaled by the Crow's Nest on the aft portion of deck number 10.
At the same time, some of the luxury restaurants do not have am exclusive area, but they are tucked away enough to make the privacy happen.
For the working man the staterooms are average; the inside, the oceanview and balcony (veranda). Actually some of the inside rooms are larger than the other two mentioned. I was surprised to have a bathtub in my Veranda room, not that I was planning to take a bath, but for the first time I did not have to deal with water sipping out of my shower and onto the floor.
The ship seemed to have plenty of lounging chairs at the main and aft pools and observation areas. The main pool might seem out of chairs at time, but that is just people leaving their towels after they leave the premises. I completely hated the idea of having to cross thru the SPA to go the Fitness Room . And the HydroPool cost makes it a non-issue. I would have paid 10 dollars to go in once, but not $149 for the 11 days.
In this itinerary we never had to tender! What a plus of the mid-size ship! The Atrium, and therefore Front Office area was not as big as I have seen in other ships, but really, aside from that intial impression, how much time do you really spend in the area?
The food and service in the dinning room was good. Nothing to complain about, nothing to write home about. Just what it should be. But definitely not a 9 rating. The food quality at the self serve Lido Restaurant was just like in any other ship; big ticket items like steaks, fish, chicken were good, while things like pancakes, omelets, pizza could be hit or miss. If anything I was surprised, and perturbed to find they would not have an item, say mashed potatoes, Corn Flakes or OJ, on one side, but yet you could walk around to the other side and find it. And their after hours snacks were the same and not that great. My friends did eat at Le Cirque at the Pinnacle Grill and thought it was excellent! The Cannaletto" restaurant was pretty much a made up section of the Lido and you could see the food being prepared and delivered, but other than that I have no idea of wheter it deserve paying the premium fee.
Room service seemed to be a disappointmnet as I spoke with a few people who ordered food and never got it on time. I also left my room after waiting over 20 mins past the high range delivery time (50 minutes in total).
It seemed that the cruise staff was just 4 people; the cruise director and three others who were pretty busy taking care of other things on the ship (games, location expert, etc). They are really busy and you never see them out where you can 'mingle' with them. I could have easily stayed 33 days onboard with the cruise staff in my previous cruise.
The Ships staff employed a policy where in the first 48 hours they would handle everything a passenger could touch in order to avoid any outbreaks once we were at sea. Two to three days before we stopped in Athens, it seemed an outbreak of GIS was prevalent, and the crew took immediate action to prevent the spreading of it. ** Editorial note** If you are reading this and are getting ready to go on a cruise, you are most likely to be the cause. Wash your hands everytime you leave your room, and use the sanitizing lotions available all over the ship, at all times. Sneeze onto the inside of your elbow, dont put your hands inside the covers of the food to show or touch what is it that you want, dont touch tongs all over and then lay then on top of the food you were picking up, touch elevator buttons with other than the tip of your fingers (fist, knuckles, elbows). Walking around the Lido Restaurant geting my food I saw behavior everyday that has no other repercussions but outbreaks of these diseases on enclosed quarters.
Having said that, the Lido servers were excellent; better than at the main dining rooms. The room stewards, at least the ones I had, the best of any cruise line.
While I have never sailed with Holland before, it seems that they are making some changes to the shows created by the line. On this Ship we were treated to the shows Classique, Aces High and Droom. And in ascendent order that is how I like them! DROOM was probably the best PRODUCTION I have seen on board any ship! The customes and stage arrangements are amazing! ON Aces High an interactive projection is happening for the audience to see as the entertainers do their thing on stage.
Their partnering with Dancing with the Stars to run the Dancing with the Stars at Sea competition, might proof succesful! It involves the passengers by having available three dance lessons during the cruise days, and at the end it gives the audience something else other than another show. I was one of the particpants, and it gave me something to look forward (although very nervously) and it is one of the biggest memories I took with me. I am sure that then people that participated along with me feel the same.
Yet, some of the entertaining was below average. A guitarist especialist was boring, maybe better suited for a smaller stage, the local Greek group that came to dance was good, but for how long can you do a local dance for, an entire hour? The magician was good, but, there is one in every cruise. He was actually better in the small setting teaching people magic tricks. And finally impersonators, especially those that can bring music and "nostalgia" to a stage will always catch people's attention.
The TV in the rooms had the best channels I have ever seen; CNN and ESPN! Woo hoo! Last year it took me three days to figure who had won a NBA finals game. And there were up todate movies. The abiltiy to rent CDs to watch in your room was awesome!
ISTANBUL -- Ok, it might seem remote, but it is as cosmopolitan as any city in the world! What a great city! And easy to "navigate"! And yes it is a Muslim city; lets respect each others differences and embrace our similarities! Most likely the majority of the restaurant servers and stateroom stewards are from Muslim countries, and yet, theyre the ones to give you a big smile everyday and treat you with respect! And in these countries where the economic system has not progressed as much as in other developed countries, someone will try to make a buck off of you; know that and deal with it from a business transaction point of view, not with a personal air of disdain for someone who has less. The Taxi might run you 50 Euros to the port from the airport.
There is a train or tram just outside the port and for less than 4 Euros you can ride it into town ( a few stops away). After that you can walk to the main attractions. There is a HOP ON HOP OFF (HOHO) for approximately $25 worthly dollars. GO check out Istanbul!
MYKONOS -- The ship provided a van from the port to town for $5.00. From there you can walk to town. You can do it from the ship, but there are no sidewalks on these very narrow, cliffy roads. We chose to rent an ATV for 15 Euros, and explored 3/4 of the Island. We were lucky to sail out late so that gave us the chance to return our ATV by four and walk around the town after it was not longer crowded. The town is maybe a tat bigger than Catalina Island, but get walking between any alleyway you can find to see its treasures!
KUSSADASI -- Beautiful modern port, no offense to neighboring Izmir, and much closer to Ephesus and the Virgin Mary's last home. We found a taxi van outside the port which took us to both places for 12 Euros each. These taxi drivers have been doing this for years, so while obviously they will ask you for a higher price initially, they know their bread and butter lives with their responsibility. I have done this trip twice, the first time with the cruise tour and paid $89.00. So it is your choice. Still with either one, we had to stop by a carpet and leather factory, watch their demos and deal with the sales pitch. These are turks, the older sellers in history!
RHODES -- No need to get a tour if you dont want to; Outside the port there is a HOHO that after 1230pm charges you 9 Euros instead of 12. The main gate to town is less than a mile from the ship, so you can walk around town all day long.
ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT -- You would not know there is unrest in this country from stepping out of the ship onto this port. The Pyramids are 3 hours away, in a rather chaotic "highway". This is Egypt, it is, what it is. It is hot and sadly chaotic and dirty. The temperature reached 100 degrees in Cairo on May 24th, so be prepared. This temperature is way different from the one in port. The tours companies that you find in a place like Trip Advisor are reputable! They want your money, but also their reputation. Still they are way cheaper than the cruise tours. We used EMO Tours. Their guides are great at dealing with the pestering sellers. Dont commit to any transaction without their help. We heard of people being charge $10 USD for just a picture next to a Camel (which a nice Egyptian local will smiling bring to you, but wont let you go until you pay him), and up to $40 for a ride. With our guide's help we got a camel ride along the Pyramids, plenty of pictures and all for $10.00. We also went to a local Cairo Restaurant, and the food was EXCELLENT (and cheap)! We tend to think that it would be otherwise in these underdeveloped cities, but we dont think that these are people too with desire for good food. The best meals that I have had in the last two years have been in Turkey and this one in Egypt. I also talked to a few people that were brave enough to do the overnight, and they were very sattisfied.
IRAKLION, CRETE -- Like in Rhodes the city center is within walking distance. The HOHO is right before you exit the port and is 20 Euros for the full day and 15 for half a day (till 1230pm). You can get off at the Knossos Palace (6 Euros), but acquaint yourself with its history first.
ATHENS -- The HOHO is right at the exit of the port. Is about 17 Euros, and it will take you to all the places you need to see in Athens. You might want to wait until the afternoon to go up to the Acropolis, that way you let everyone on a cruiseship tour do their thing first. It gets crowded up there.The Marriot, Hitlon and Crowne Plaza are very good choice hotels. A taxi from the port to the Airport will run you close to 50 Euros with tip.