We were a group of 8 adults and none of us had sailed on Holland America before. We had one couple who had never gone on a cruise in our group. Our experience on HAL was excellent. Although the ship was continuing on a voyage that had started in Egypt and had had problems with a gastro virus on board, when we boarded in Civitavecchia (Rome)the ship was immaculate and they followed every precaution regarding sanitization and food distribution until they were sure it was safe to return to normal protocol. The weather we had couldn't have been more perfect (no rain - 11 days!) and the itinerary was interesting, too. We were supposed to port in Tunisia, but that was changed to Sardinia and we didn't find out until we boarded.
Our cabin was wonderful (VA8134). We were on the 8th level at the back of the ship. The views were stupendous, and, although I heard that the room could be noisy because the pool deck was above us, we were never bothered, even in the afternoon when there were lots of people up there. Our friends had the adjoining stateroom, so we had the steward open the connector on our verandahs so we could walk back and forth. It was a great experience.
Our cabin service was top-notch, as were the services in all the food and dining areas. We ate at the Pinnacle Grill when they had Le Cirque night and the food and service were fantastic. We loved the staff celebrations of birthdays in the dining room! The menus were always varied and interesting and not one of our group had any complaints about the food at all.
The entertainment onboard was surprisingly good, and the shows were terrific. We especially enjoyed the show put on by the Indonesian service staff, since we had become familiar with many of them, and it was exciting to see them perform rituals from their home country and share their heritage with us. The tour director was very engaging and personable, and the talks about the ports were informative and helpful.
We chose to use private tour companies for our shore excursions and we were extremely happy and satisfied with all of them. I will try to review them separately on this site as well:
Dark Rome Early Sistine Chapel Tour - we were in the Sistine Chapel with about only 15 other people!
Rome Cabs (Roma Cabs)www.romecabs.com www.stefanorometours.com
This company was EXCELLENT! We used them for airport/hotel and hotel/ship transfers as well as tours of Pisa/Florence and Amalfi/Ravello/Positano. The tours were geared to what we wanted to do, and we had our own, air-conditioned minivans. The drivers/guides were friendly, informative, and helpful, and they made our excursions exciting and meaningful.
Dream Tours firstname.lastname@example.org
We used this company for Monaco/Monte Carlo/Nice/Eze/St. Paul de Vence (sp?)
Another incredible, fact-filled, exciting tour. Definitely would use them again
Smart Cruise Tours email@example.com
Another exceptional company. We used them for tours in Marseille/Aix en Provence/Cassis and Palermo/Monreale/Mondello. Our tour guides were wonderful!
We also booked the Uffizzi Gallery, Borghese Gallery, and Colosseum (with Hypogeum and upper tier) all online and had no problem accessing our tickets or getting into the venues.
For Barcelona we used the hop-on hop-off bus and ended the day at Tablao Cordobes (www.tablaocordobes.com) for some tapas and sangria followed by an explosively exciting flamenco show!
Getting on and off the ship was a breeze, and we used the ship's transfers to the airport at the end of the cruise with no problem.
We had a fabulous time!
A few negatives: We weren't happy with the excursion offerings on this cruise, with many of them being a bit on the expensive side and the rental of private vehicles through HAL was extremely prohibitive. We were sort of 'stuck' for our stop in Sardinia (Tunisia alternative) and spent the day on our own there. We also had a problem with our bathroom tub backing up, but HAL was quick to fix it (within two hours). Other cruises we've been on have always had 24-hour food service in the Lido. There were times when we returned from excursions that we would go up to the Lido deck only to find nothing available to eat or minimal offerings, at best, of what was left out by the pool. At night (after midnight) there was nothing available, not even cookies. We are used to sailing on Princess cruises, where food is always available on the Lido deck.
That said, I would definitely sail on HAL again!