We flew into Barcelona two days early and had a private company meet us and take us tat o our hotel. Two in our party don't walk well and we used private companies several times during our cruise. It was worth every penny and the private tours we took in Pisa/Florence and Naples were actually much less than HAL's private tours and approximately the same as the HAL standard tours.
In Barcelona we stayed at the Hesperia Ramblas. It was 2 blocks from Las Ramblas and 1 block to the wonderful market, a must see. We used the hop-on-hop-off bus to see the city and it was a great tour. You can get off at any stop and wander then hop back on and continue your trip. There are red and blue buses and you should check the itineraries on-line to see which is better for you. The red bus had two lines and you can take both for one fee.
Embarkation: Very easy. Short cab ride from the hotel and we were on the ship within 30 minutes.
The ship is beautiful and very clean. We had a great balcony room in the middle of the ship. We could feel a vibration from the engines, but it wasn't a problem. The room was the usual HAL room. Plenty of closet and storage space. Our balcony was over the lifeboats which was a surprise, so if this is a problem, get a room on deck 6 or higher. When we booked, the balcony prices were the same as an ocean view, probably the reason for being over the lifeboats.
We always have as you wish dining and make reservations for each evening. You can make them 5 days in advance which was a change from previous cruises where we could only make reservations 3 days in advance. This was a nice change.
We went to all 3 specialty restaurants. We love the Pinnacle Grill and, as always, the food was great although the service was not quite up to par. We were surprised that we had to pay for the Canaletto, but it was nice and worth the money. The Tamarind, a new Asian restaurant. It's only on the Nieuw Amsterdam and Eurodam, but should be coming to other ships in the future. Great food and nice addition to the specialty restaurants.
The food in the dining room was very good and we always had plenty to choices. We also had breakfast in the dining room on several days which was much easier than in the Lido. The Lido is great for lunch and also for a low key dinner after a long day in port.
The ports were great and I'll go into more detail below.
We love the casino and the piano bar and both were fun on this trip.
Not many children on this cruise, I think there were 6, so if you want a cruise line for children, I'd recommend looking at NCL, RCL, or Princess.
Disembarkation was a challenge in Venice. We had a terrible docking position and the distance to the terminal was way too long for most people. I had ordered a wheel chair for my husband and HAL was terrific. They had a van for the wheel chairs that took us right to the terminal. Once we had our luggage we were met by a private company, use Viator, and taken to a private boat to go to our hotel.
Marseille: Took the ship's shuttle to the old port and wandered around for a couple of hours. Found a great shop for linens.
Monte Carlo. Took the hop-on-hop-off bus which was at the port. No need to pre-book on-line. They had a senior discount and and you can buy your ticket at you get on the bus. I took the tour twice and got off at the Palace. Walked around and had a wonderful ham sandwich on a great baguette. This is a great walking city, but very hilly. It's beautiful and you'll be amazed at the huge yachts.
Pisa/Florence: We took a private tour with Rudy's Rome Car Tours. They were perfect. There were 4 of us and it cost 550 euros. We were met at the port by Teresa and taken immediately to see the leaning tower of Pisa. She was able to drive up next to the tower. The tour buses aren't allowed inside the walls of the old city and it's a 15 minute walk to the tower. We next went to Florence with a detour into the countryside. Beautiful. After a wonderful day in Florence where again Teresa was able to get us next to all the sights, we had a great lunch and then ended the day at a winery in the countryside that not only makes its wine, but also grows wheat for its bread and pigs for its sausage. This was a perfect day.
Rome: Again we used Rudy's Rome Car Tours and had Rudy as our guide. Another perfect day being taken up to each location with very little walking. Rudy took us to places the buses can't go and it was worth the money
Naples: Another private tour, This time with Joe Banana Limos. Nunzio picked us up at the port we went immediately to Pompeii where we had a private guide provided by Joe Banana. He was great and we spent over 2 hours visiting this amazing location. As we were leaving the ship tours were arriving and it was beginning to get crowded.. We then drove down the Amalfi coast which is spectacular and had lunch in Amalfi. Don't miss this opportunity. We paid a total of 450 euros for Joe Banana and an extra 110 euros for the private guide. This cost was for 4 people.
Messina: Pretty town, but we didn't take any tours. There is a large clock in a square near the port and it's worth seeing it at noon as it not only had wonderful bells, but many other moving parts.
Katakolon Greece: We took the HAL tour to the Magna Grecia Farm. A nice tour after several long days of touring. We had come great food and watched dancing. They have some very nice pottery and you can also buy olive oil products.
Corfu: We took the HAL panoramic tour and it was nice. We stopped at a restaurant on a hill with beautiful views. I stopped in town to shop and bought beautiful pillow covers with silk hand woven designs for 15 euros. Many cute shops.
Dubrovnik: Wow, this was one of our favorites. We had been told to just take the HAL shuttle to the walled town and walk around. This was great advice and I would suggest doing just this. You can walk around the top of the wall, after climbing many steps, but just walking around the small town is delightful. Stop and a cafe and have an espresso or other drink and just people watch.
Venice: We stayed Venice for 2 additional nights and it was wonderful. We stayed at the Antico Panada which is 1 1/2 short blocks to St. Marks Square with no bridge to cross. It didn't have its own taxi dock, but we only had a short walk from where we got off the private taxi. Many small nice restaurants nearby, no need for reservations. The hotel is in a great location, but needs a little updating. However, breakfast was included and the great location made up for the decor. Wander the small streets and you'll find wonderful little shops and lots of gelato. Take the vaporetto, the public boat, and you can tour the entire island. You can also get to Murano and vist a glass factory. This is a beautiful city, but there are no cars and it can be difficult if you have trouble walking.
All in all, this was a wonderful cruise. Look into private tours and check the prices. They are much better than the ship tours, particularly if you have at least 4 people.