Holland America 12-Day Mediterranean Empire Cruise Sept. 12-24, 2013
Ports: Venice, Italy / Katakolon, Greece / Piraeus (Athens), Greece / Istanbul, Turkey / Lesbos, Greece / Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey / Thira (Santorini), Greece / Argostoli, Greece
Captain: Bas van Dreumel
Hotel Director: Marco A.M. van Belleghem
Cruise Director: Anthony Heywood.
Pre-cruise info: Flew from Canada to Venice, Italy on Lufthansa. 4-night pre-cruise stay at the Hotel al Codega. This is a lovely, wonderful hotel set in a quiet courtyard with a perfect location. It’s approximately 5 minutes from San Marco square, or 5 minutes from the Rialto Bridge. Fantastic breakfast included each morning. Free wifi is available, and front desk staff is extremely friendly and helpful. They were spot on with their restaurant recommendations. A full review of the hotel can be found here (http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g187870-d644431-r181149810-Hotel_Al_Codega-Venice_Veneto.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT ). We had two memorable meals at Ai Barbacani and Trattoria alla Madonna. The TA reviews can be found here: http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g187870-d783432-r181292161-Ai_Barbacani-Venice_Veneto.html and http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g187870-d1903041-r181291784-Trattoria_alla_Madonna-Venice_Veneto.html. We decided to splurge on our transportation transfers from the Airport to the Hotel, and Hotel to Cruise Port by booking water taxis. We used the services of Venezia Taxis and were very happy. What a great way to come into Venice after a LONG flight overseas.
The cruise: We originally booked a SY category Suite as a Guarantee. We knew we would be happy with this category of room, and veranda and location of the room wasn’t too important. 2 weeks prior to the cruise, we found out our room assignment, and were pleased to see we were upgraded to a SS category. While in Venice, I checked email, and our Travel Agent sent an email advising us that we were being upgraded once again, this time to a SB Deluxe Suite. Hello, room 6061. On Sept. 12, we arrived at the water taxi drop off at the cruise port around 2:15 pm. HAL representatives met us right at the drop off, and took our luggage, and advised us to wait for the bus to shuttle us to the ship and check in area. There were no crowds at all at this time of day. We walked right up to check-in with our paperwork, and we had our photos taken, processed and cards in hand, cleared security and were walking onboard the Nieuw Amsterdam 10 minutes after walking into the check-in area.
Suite 6061: We were extremely happy with our cabin. Big room with a king-size bed, sitting area with a leather couch and 2 chairs. Very large veranda with 6 chairs. Bathroom with 2 sinks, bathtub w/shower and a separate shower stall. Our room stewards were wonderful, keeping our room tidy and neat. This was our first experience having a Deluxe Suite, so having the Neptune Lounge available for a quick coffee, snack and the use of the Concierges (Cana and Mae), was a wonderful experience. Cana and Mae were wonderful concierges, always greeting us with bright smiles and by name each time we entered the lounge. They helped us with everything from dinner reservations in the Manhattan Dining room and Tamarind, to currency exchanging, to arranging a rental of a Tuxedo shirt and suspenders due to said items still sitting in the closet at home.
Dining: Most of our evening meals were in the Manhattan Dining Room. We opted for Open Seating, which suited us very well. Most meals were well presented and extremely tasty. We did try a couple different tables at the start but then found a table waited on by Andy. We were really impressed by his charm, attention to detail, and sense of humor. Once we found Andy, we requested the same table for the remaining times in the Manhattan. We opted for Tamarind restaurant for 2 evenings. We felt the service and the meal options were well worth the extra cost of $15.00 per person. The atmosphere of the restaurant, pace of the meals, and service where truly most memorable, and enjoyable. I tried the Wasabi encrusted Beef Tenderloin which was fantastic. It honestly didn’t have too much of the Wasabi flavoring, but just a hint of it, so I honestly feel those that do not enjoy spicier type foods would truly enjoy it as well. Other popular items that our party of 4 truly enjoyed were the Satay sampler, Szechwan Shrimps and the Curry coconut chicken. 2 of our party do particularly enjoy spicy foods, and once requested, the kitchen/chef was more than willing to ‘turn it up a notch or two’. The lounge next door, the Silk Den, was to sit in if you have arrived early for your supper. The decor is very interesting, the view of the ocean is wonderful and they bring specialized appetizers to the table (e.g. Pot stickers / Sushi). Very tasty but be warned! You don’t want to fill up on appetizers before you get into the main dining area. We also tried the Tamarind once for lunch one day. There is no extra charge for lunch but reservations are highly recommended as it was very popular during our cruise. Portion sizes are indeed smaller but they have no issues bringing you a second of something you might have enjoyed. E.g. the Hot and Sour Soup. Oh, if you want to make it a bit more sour/spicier, just ask the waitress. They’ll be more than happy to bring out some of the extra condiments for you to add to your soup. (Red Wine vinegar / Chili Oil and Flakes for extra sour/heat). Lunches in the Lido were for the most part alright. You had a lot of choices from the Pasta Bar / Asian section / Sandwich Bar / etc. Some days, depending on the timing you may have to show patience for finding a table and getting your desired items, but so what…. You’re on vacation. What’s the hurry? We learnt that one of the perks of having a Deluxe Suite was being able to access the Pinnacle Grill Restaurant every morning for breakfast. This was a very enjoyable way to start our days. Menu items were the same as what is found in the Main Dining room during breakfast hours, but it was a much quieter atmosphere.
Ports: Our travelling companions and us decided to do very few ship excursions. We did research and pre-arranged a couple private tours ahead of time and we were very pleased with that decision.
Athens: We booked a ½ day tour with Athens by Taxi (aka PK Travel). We had a wonderful time with our tour guide Konstantinos. Highlights of the day was visiting the Acropolis, but also enjoyed the Temple of Zeus, seeing the changing of the guard, and driving through the Plaka (Old Town). A full review can be found here: http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g3239679-d4937087-r182403915-PK_Travel_Private_and_Public_Tours-Greater_Athens_Attica.html#REVIEWS
Ephesus: We booked a full day trip with Ephesus Deluxe. This included a visit to the ‘House of Virgin Mary’, the Ephesus ruins, and a lunch. A full review can be found here: http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g298006-d2366711-r182285348-Ephesus_Deluxe_Tours-Izmir_Izmir_Province_Turkish_Aegean_Coast.html#REVIEWS
Santorini: We booked a boat transfer that took us right from the pier below Thira to Oia. We were able to walk around Oia for a few hours enjoying the sights and sounds there, before we took a bus back to Thira. There we were able to grab a wonderful Greek Lunch, before taking the cable car back down to the pier to catch our tender back to the ship.
Istanbul: We did purchase a $10.00 excursion ticket from the ship which allowed us a return bus ride from the ship to the Grand Bazaar. This is what we did the first evening in Istanbul. The next day we found our way to a Tram station, and took the Tram to the stop that allowed us easy access to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. After visiting those sites we found a small restaurant for some Turkish coffee, and Baklava, before grabbing the Tram back to the port.
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed this cruise. Finally getting to the Mediterranean was a definite highlight, and being on the Nieuw Amsterdam was a definite pleasant way to do so. The staff were wonderful, and eager to please. Food (yes, although subjective to personal preferences / tastes), was above average when we compare to past cruises with HAL and other lines.