Background There were five of us in family myself, wife, (40's) and three kids ages 19, 14, and 7. We traveled with our friends from the US that included a Mom and 3 kids 15 - 12. Third cruise all with Holland America.
Pre Cruise Accommodation. Stayed at Hotel Mediterraneo in Civitavecchia and it was good, if a little pricey I thought for what you got, I would definitely venture that the room prices vary depending on cruise ship arrival and departures. The Hotel itself is ideally located on the sea front, and 200yds to the train station and port shuttle in either direction, i.e. on exit turn left for train, turn right to port. At the port entrance there is a free shuttle bus to your ship. Trains to Rome Termini every 30-40 mins up until 11.20pm about €9 return, journey time varies from 55 to 70 mins
Embarkation. I did not file on line check in, so I had to queue a little, but all in all a breeze. We were on the ship on the day of departure at 12.30pm and in the room immediately so relaxed until our 6.30pm sail away. The Ship. Cabin We had two inside cabins which was a first for us (i.e. no balcony) and they were spacious and very comfortable. Benny the steward was excellent, which pretty much sums up all the crew aboard the Westerdam.
Restaurants Bars and Food. Cannot say enough about the service, food, it was par excellence, and I just do not know how so many meals are prepared to that standard every day on that ship. On one of the nights there was a dessert extravaganza at the Lido pool and we're talking sinful calories but I've never witnessed anything so amazing as the culinary display before me that night. The bars and lounges were also good with me being my usual adventuresome self and only ever having a Heineken, and never tempted venture to the cocktails at all. One silly idea though was the farewell dinner was 3 days before our cruise ended!! Please I'm not even thinking of leaving yet!
Casino. Still a casino virgin, not my scene at all but I do like to see how it's done, and have to say some of the croupiers have the patience of Joab dealing with some of the more belligerent punters at the table.
Entertainment. I went to two only shows all week, a comedian and cockney magician / comedian both were excellent, and I had tears flowing down my cheeks. Did stop by the piano bar some nights and it was good, I do need to mention the resident band who appeared every night in the Crows nest and at sail aways, the lead singer had a voice from heaven and truly seduced you with her voice.
Public Areas. This ship is beautiful, really no more to add. You never feel you are on a vessel that carries 1,800 passengers; it is intimate and yet spacious enough for comfort. The art collection is stunning and tasteful. The dEcor throughout the vessel is eclectic and maybe not everyone's choice but this passenger found it very refreshing. Kids club, teen clubs. 7 year old did join and made friends and the staff were attentive, but he did not have the staying power and preferred meeting the new buddies during the day and hanging out and swimming in the pool. The other two kids made no effort or preference to join so no point in me offering a review, safe to say they met kids their own age and had a ball.
Ports of Call Monte Carlo. Ship docked in port, we walked to the cathedral where Princess Grace is buried and took a tourist train around the sights Casino, Royal Palace, Grand Prix circuit, Aquarium all excellent and a beautiful city. My daughter took a trip in a Ferrari around the F1 circuit costing €45 and was her highlight of the trip. Livorno. Booked the on shore excursion through HAL here, and had a long day in Florence and Pisa, with lunch included. As the weather was very hot it probably was not for younger kids but for the older ones (us incl.) with a basics of Art history appreciation it was excellent. I will say this though VERY expensive. I would prepare myself a bit better if going again, and train and taxi the trip, which would save a huge amount of money. But all in all excellent. Barcelona. Ship docked in port €3 shuttle bus to Columbus monument where we bought 5 tickets for open top bus tour. Saw all the sights over the 4 - 5 hours and good value for money. Lunch in Hard Rock Cafe was good value. Gaudi's work was stunning. If you have a yearning to see the 120,000 seat Nou Camp (largest stadium in Europe, home of FC Barcelona soccer team) take my advise and avoid, it's really disappointing and not worth the money. But we all felt, including my soccer mad sons that we had done that, seen that (Stadium that is)but never to return. Barcelona city was beautiful. Palma Majorca. As we have been to Majorca many times we did not get off the ship here. I would recommend the Caves of Drac if you venture here. Mind your purse and wallet in Palma. La Goullet Tunisia Our second Holland America shore excursion to Cartage Roman ruins. Not as expensive as the Florence / Pisa but take my advise and grab a cab. Fraction of the cost and is worth seeing, it is very much a different port of call to most typical cruise stops and for that alone I thought it worthwhile and interesting. The street traders do not hassle you as much as in Morocco, or as much as the tour guide who was excellent warned us. Palermo Sicily Transport strike on this day in Palermo which resulted in traffic chaos, we had opted for open bus top tour which we waited for at a bus stop for about an hour, no show, so we returned to point of purchase and got our €70 back, we were luckier than some other passengers who did not get their money back, not a HAL issue just the independent on-shore tour bus company . We then did a deal with a taxi for all the sights including the beautiful bay of Mondello for €85 (don't be afraid to haggle). Word of caution...the Catacombs in Cistercian abbey in Palermo is not for the sensitive and younger ones. I could not go in there and those of my group who did regretted it so be warned. Naples. Just had to see Pompeii so again bartered with a taxicab in the port and he drove us there and waited (or arrived back 2.5hrs later) and showed us the Sorrento coast all for €100 not bad. Again it was very hot that day so 7 year old was dragging a bit. Rome.
Disembarkation again a breeze Got train to termini in Rome €4.5 per person. Stayed in Hotel Raffello near the Piazza Republica. Check in staff / person was rude and abrupt but accommodation was good overall. We did the Vatican and Sistine Chapel that day, incredible but a lot of walking and again very hot and too much for kids.
Overall. This was the vacation of my life so far, everything was great, particularly the ship's staff who I think ARE what make Holland America great. As we reluctantly got off this beautiful ship a fellow passenger in the elevator wished us a safe trip home, we of course returned the compliment and wished her safe journey home too, to which she replied "oh I'm not goin home yet I'm stayin on for another 10 days he he" Lucky her.