The ship-organized bus transfer at the Barcelona airport will cost you $49. USD each but you'll have to wait for everyone to board ... get a cab outside for approx. 25€ total tip included. It's a short ride to the ship.
We paid $2,050 USD per person (taxes all in) for a deck-one ocean-view cabin with no obstruction. I thought the price was high but I was willing to pay because Holland America promotes itself as "above the rest". This was our 15th cruise ... we believe there's no such thing as a bad cruise. But, we would position Royal Caribbean and Princess ahead of HAL. This itinerary is a good one because there is only one sea-day. The Free-Style dining works well because it gives you lots of time in port and you don't have to rush back for a firm dinner time.
Normally I wouldn't want a deck-one room but this was VERY convenient to dining and for getting on and off the ship - I would highly recommend it. The ship is medium sized which makes it easy to find things and easy to get on and off. The decor, particularly in the Lido, is very disco-dated and a little worn-out, but, after a few days, you won't notice it. There are two roof-top pools and one has a retractable roof - excellent! The gym is well equipped. The theatre is roomy and the on-ship singers and dancers are very good ... as well as Marty Brill the comedian and Penny, the "Les Miz" lead singer. Neil Diamond fans/groupies may not enjoy the Diamond-impersonator with the Australian accent or the magician who talks too much and doesn't do his act. If you are planning on buying any of the Art-at-Sea from PARK WEST, you may want to Google them before you go - they have lots of unresolved issues with cruise-customers. Online hook-up is $55 per 30 min. - dial-up is very slow (and costly). Internet Cafes at the port in CIVITAVECCHIA & VENICE are about 3€ for half-hour and the phones to N. America are equally cheap. The on-board Casino is very, very smokey and the staff is the worst I have ever encountered on a ship - most of them wouldn't last a shift in Vegas.
SHORE EXCURSIONS!!!! Investigate! If you are willing to be a little adventurous you will save a lot of money by doing the excursions yourself. One simple rule - when you get to the bus or train depot to buy your tickets, ASK A LOT OF QUESTIONS - does the bus/train go direct to the destination? ... what time does it return? ... how long will it take to get back to the ship? ... how much? It's fun to invite other like-minded cruisers to join you you'll be surprised how many other people there are who don't want to spend a lot on excursions. One couple told us that they take the money they would have spent on excursions and apply it to upgrading their accommodations to suites etc. REMEMBER TO ALWAYS GET YOUR BUS AND TRAIN TICKET TIME-STAMPED BEFORE YOU GET ON ANY BUS OR TRAIN!
We haven't taken a train in 30 years. Italian trains are easy and cheap. You will surprise yourself at how easy it is. And, how much you'll save.
The on-ship Shore Excursion guy has a very nice announcer-voice but he will do everything he can to discourage you from using in-port public transportation and particularly the trains in Italy ... HE IS WRONG! ... public transportation in every port is reliable, safe and very cheap ... the trains in Italy may be the best in the world on time, safe, clean, and efficient. They will take you to the destinations you are eager to visit in almost every port. You'll note that the ship's 11-hour excursion to Rome is more than $1,000 USD for 2. Our dinner-mates took it. Their bus attendant could only speak French/Italian so her commentary was difficult to understand on the 90 min. journey to Rome (or back) and the day was quite a rush. They could have taken the train from our port town of CIVITAVECCHIA to Rome and made one transfer to a subway which stops at the Vatican for about 25€ each/return. Another couple slept-in, missed their bus and lost their $1,000. The excursion guy (green shirt) claims to be at the run-way when you depart the ship at port ... we saw him once in 12 days. BUY YOUR TRAIN TICKETS AT EACH STATION - it's cheaper than buying a Eurail Pass unless you'll be in Italy for a month.
The same for LIVORNO/FLORENCE. Take the shuttle from the boat to the bus - then to the rail-station. The return train to FLORENCE is 17€ each instead of $96 USD each, on the ship excursion. Incidentally, as an after-thought, the excursion-guy casually mentions that FLORENCE and its museums (including "DAVID") is closed on Mondays, the day the ship docks.
BARCELONA you must go to the GAUDI cathedral (about 15€ by cab from the ship). The ship looks close to downtown when it's in port but it's not. After the Gaudi, we walked to Las Ramblas, the longest promenade in the city - it goes south to the main downtown area and port. There's lots to do here but we were too tired from the flight over. On the ship, we heard of 5 separate incidences of PICK-POCKETING in Barcelona from fellow-cruisers so be extra careful and always USE THE SAFE IN YOUR CABIN.
MONTE CARLO take public transportation - 1€ each to the palace and 1€ each to the Casino. Entrance to the casino is 10€ each + you must show your passport. The excursion guy said "no shorts" "no running-shoes" during the day for admittance to the casino ... he is wrong.
LIVORNO has the ugliest port in the world. You cannot walk into town - take the shuttle bus. Remember that FLORENCE museums are CLOSED ON MONDAYS,so you can walk the city, go to the Duomo or go by train to PISA.
CIVITAVECCHIA is Rome's port town but it's a long way to Rome - 90 min. by bus - about the same (but a lot cheaper) by train. If you choose not to go to Rome, Civitavecchia is a nice port town for walking and has an open-air flea market with lots of trinkets and trash and shoes & purses.
MESSINA go to the main cathedral in town - awesome! Then, it's a 500 yard walk to the train station. For 20€ return + 1€ each for the bus ... it will take you to the beautiful mountain town of TAMORMINA - you must see this! The on-ship excursion wants $79 USD per person for the same trip.
NAVPLION is a very nice port town. You can walk to the beach (stoney not sandy) no cost.
KATAKOLON is the port town for ANCIENT OLYMPIA and the original Olympic site. I thought this would be a hole in the ground and some rocks. I was wrong. It's awesome and will take you 2-3 hours to see. Take the train in the port town for 2€ each and it stops directly at the Olympic site instead of the ship excursion price of $67 USD each. Get the 11am train or earlier because you'll really need some time at this place.
CORFU we just walked around. Not a very nice port.
DUBROVNIK is awesome! We took the city bus to the old town. There is lots of history and lots to see. You will want to spend some time here (it also has an Internet cafe right at the front gates by the bus stop). And, a beautiful cafe by the walls of the city overlooking the water.
VENICE we walked into the city to PIAZZALE ROMA from the boat - it's a real hike (15€ by cab). Piazzale Roma is the transportation centre. Here, you can get a water-bus, a (very expensive) water taxi or a (very expensive) gondola. Buy a 16€ one-day water-bus ticket which will allow you unlimited use of the water-bus for 24 hours REMEMBER TO GET YOUR TICKET TIME-STAMPED. Yes, it goes to St. Marks and Murano for the glass and Burano for the lace. There are 400 bridges in Venice - you'll feel like you crossed every one of them - you'll need good walking shoes. Venice is very safe. You must visit the Doges' Palace in St Marks square as well as the cathedral - go later or earlier in the day to avoid the cruise-crowd.
If you are going to the airport, after Venice, take a cab ... it will cost you less than $85 USD the ship will charge you. If you want to stay in Venice you may want to do what we did ... stay in a convent. It's only 10 min. from Piazzale Roma - very safe - very clean - very reasonable (a double room with bath + continental breakfast 65€ per night) it's Casa Caburlotto - you can email Martina @ email@example.com
ABOUT ITALY ... they don't have cream for coffee ... most public rest-rooms and restaurants don't have toilet seats ... Diet Coke is called Coke-Light and, like most soft drinks, will cost you 2€-3.5€ (about $5.50 USD) and they don't know what "refill" means. Although Italians don't tip, you will be expected to leave 10%. But, check your bill because many restaurants "include a service charge". Ask cab drivers "how much"? BEFORE you agree to the ride. You'll find that many restaurants charge one price for sitting down for a cappuccino and another for standing up. We were charged 3€ (about $5 USD) for a basket of bread with dinner they will charge for water at your table if they think they can get away with it ... the best advice about restaurant pricing is ask as many questions about the menu and the prices BEFORE YOU ORDER so there's no surprises because there will be surprises.
If you go to The Vatican, you may want to visit the "Scavi" a dig in progress under the main basilica - you have to order tickets in advance - only 100 people per day are permitted entrance go to GOOGLE. A guide for the Vatican Museums? She is very, very good but a little pricey ... art historian, Caitlin Miller, - 65€ per hour up to 4 people - firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Rome convent accommodation was spectacular -Casa Maria Immacolata at Via Ezio 28 and only 15 min. walk to the Vatican. Great breakfast, very clean, double room + bath for 75€ per night ALSO buy the homemade dinner plan, 7:30 each night for 10€ each + tip. Contact Daniella at casamariaimmacolata.it