Through HollAm coordinated flights to Rome we arrived at their recommended Visconti Palace for 2 nights. The rate was high but the location great. The room was small but clean, the cold morning buffet good. We did not see or hear from a HollAM rep until 2nd night when we found her leaving a room. We noticed a board with optional Rome tours but it was too late. She said she tried to contact us yet there were no messages at the desk, our room or on the phone. The morning of departure at 11:30 (only info we got from her as she was in a hurry) there were many not on the bus and she said she would leave without them until one appeared with a letter from HollAm telling them the bus was leaving at noon. We waited and around noon the bus left without her or any word from her.
The embarkation process went smooth and we were directed to our cabin. We did not know what to expect as we were approached 2 weeks before, and the week before the cruise, asking if we wanted to pay more to improve the deck level. Delightfully we found a nicely appointed cabin with wood accents, a newer bathroom and a walk-in closet. The cabin was spotless. We toured the shipped and were haunted by the many Purex sanitizer dispensers all around the ship. That night there was no welcome aboard, just dinner. We opted for open seating. Unfortunately, we were handed a pager and waited, but fortunately for only about 20 minutes. The meal was terrible. My med-rare prime rib was a quarter inch slice of what looked like deli meat well done, served with a potatoe that was hard and colder than the ice in my glass. A replacement was the same but with gravy. The dessert, a flaky crust tart with coconut cream filling, came out as chocolate cheesecake. My corrected dessert was a slice of what appeared to be pecan pie without the nuts. The crust was wet and soggy and the filling dry and disgusting. Never were we asked about the food nor did the waiter ever introduce himself. Stuff was basically thrown at us. I left, complained to the guy at the door that it was the worse meal I had on a ship in 32 years.
Day 2 at sea had it's first group meeting in the Queens lounge that was not a welcome aboard, but a one hour hard sales pitch on future cruises. I approached the person after and told her I could not make a decision to future cruises when my first meal was so horrible. She said her dinner was great. She ate at the upscale Pinnacle Grill. She referred me to the guest services manager who was busy listening to the complaints of another staff member. I finally had to interrupt. I was told that it can't be bad as so many people return to this ship. They sent a bottle of cheap wine to my room to resolve it. He also asked that I give them another chance. Later that day I attended a culinary class only to have half of the time preempted by the woman selling future cruises. I could not complain to the Cruise Director as it was his wife. The muster was incomplete with not all the cabins called. We got an excuse for an answer. Dinner was mediocre but the dessert pie was a dry stale thing. The show was their singers and dancers. Great talent but song selection and choreography was vaudeville-like. I said something to a cruise director staff person who told me to refer my comments to the third party that provided them. Throughout the day we notice a large amount of coughing sneezing going on with the staff, including kitchen staff, and passengers, many of which had already been on the ship weeks or months.
Day 3 Dubrovinik offered an interesting visit to the old town. Shops were expensive and filled with plastic stuff made in China. We elected to do it on our own and were pleased as we got to see some great sites on the way and get some great photos. Back on the ship I became even more conscious of the number of sick people with the same symptoms. We could only ever on this cruise get dinner reservations for 5:15 or 5:30 which probably didn't matter as the same exact food was served in the buffet. My dessert was a poor version of a souffle. Talking with cruisers who did this ship multiple times told us to avoid desserts and stick with the ice cream. The entertainment was a wonderful accomplished flautist. By bed time I started to get a small cough.
Day 4 Sarande proved very interesting. Thankfully we took a shorex to Butrine. The site was early Roman and Byzantine with original chunks of original structures, mosiacs, frescoes in a very lovely water's edge location. The guide was excellent and her English great. On the way to/from the site we went through town and could not help notice the poverty and confusion. For miles were unfinished condo apartment building structures. We stopped on the way back to tour the remnants an early synogogue. More interesting were the people and young fair haired girls begging for you to buy bracelets and what was going on around you. Those we met who did not take a tour disliked this port. Dinner was poor. I requested to meet with the exec chef and bakery chef. The bakery chef met me and claimed all desserts were freshly made until I took a dry stale piece of apple pie apart. He finally admitted most desserts including cakes were brought on board frozen. The entertainer, a singing impressionist was very good. By days end my cough got worse and congestion was forming. At 2 in the morning there was an emergency sounding of the horns. We grabbed our life jackets and headed to the muster station. No staff was there, but immediately thereafter was an announcement by the captain of a fire on the Lido deck and to stay in our cabins. Another announceement later said it was an electrical fire in the kitchen. The next day we heard various stories, Many onthis ship a while said they never got out of bed, almost like they were used to this.
Day 5 Argostoli. We were advised by the ship tour folks to shop here. We did not take a tour accordingly. We were disappointed when we got off the ship to discover it was the biggest holy day of their year and all museums and shops, with the exception of the keychain variety, were closed. We walked around and hit some churches that were open and took great photos. The ship's tour folks blamed their 3rd party for not telling them of the holyday. Sorry, I think that the ship's folks should do their homework before we hit a port especially when they are telling all to do their cruise shopping stop there. Later in day met with exec chef who also claimed all desserts were freshly made there on the ship, but, like the bakery chef, finally admitted pies and cakes were frozen and made commercially on shore.
Day 6 at sea. Most of the day was spent in bed mostly sleeping as I had become weak. At that point in the cruise about a quarter of the passengers were sick with the same illness. Some suspected mold as not all were effected. My travel companion never got it. I slept through dinner time and awoke at 9 pm only to learn all food areas were done and only room service was available. My choices hamburger (stay away from cheeseburgers as they used that plastic coated cheese substitute), a salad, and uggghhh apple pie. Food was delivered quickly. The hamburger edible but old and the pie, well, dry and stale. Also, as my illness got worse, I talked with the head medical officer in the gym who told me I just probably got the flu or was allergic to something in their air conditioning. The nights entertainment was the third party's (ships) singers and dancers. One of the dancers warned me that all of the choreography was by the same person. It was not so good and I left during the show which I never do. Funny though how attendance at these shows got less and less through the cruise.
Day 7 Istanbul. Took the Best of Istanbul full day tour. Visited Blue Mosque, Sofia and other interesting sites. Lunch was at a nice seaside restaurant with local food and drink. Their drink they called "sherbert" is pommegranit juice. The tour guide was knowledgable with a fun accent. In lieu of taking the end of tour rug demo, we opted for a run through the Grand Bazaar. That was fun. We had dinner at the Lido buffet, becoming a smarter choice as the food was the same, we could see what it looked like, and we did not have to spend 2 hours. Beside whenever we ate in the dining room there was no one around us or actually not too many in the room at all. No entertainment tonight as it was dark.
Day 8 at sea Sick day. Day 9 Trabzon was some shopping and a few more old churches. Popped in an Olympic training facility where they were competing in fencing. Free and interesting
Day 10 Socchi Russia. Visited Stalins summer home. Great tour and wondeful guide who taught language at the university so her english was excellent. Would have liked to spend more time here. Entertainment tonight was more vaudeville.
Day 11 Sevastopole. Great port. Lots of colorful military in town. Visited an ancient site with an exceptional guide then strolled and shopped the wide sidewalk boulevards. What a beautiful place and many photo opportunities. People were friendly and prices of stuff reasonable. I could have done another day here. Dinner tonight was at the Pinnacle. OK food, great service..except for same poor desserts as buffet.
Day 12 Nesebur. Beautiful town to stroll and original antiques at cheap prices. Lovely wood frame houses over stone foundations. Comedian tonight not funny and told gay/homophobic jokes as did cruise director. Some people walked out. I commented after the show but heard they did not remove it from 2nd show. Cruise director got defensive when approached and defended his 12 year friend, the comedian. The comedian just laughed.
Day 13 at sea. Now eating exclusively at buffet and little. I took a poll and one out of 3 of a sample of 75 people were ill with the same symptoms. Doctor tried to quarantine one of the passengers but useless as kitchen staff just as sick.
Day 14 Kusadasi. Wonderful tour of Ephesus. Lucked out with another great guide with English better than mine. Not to be missed. Then on to the Virgin Mary's house. Not really believable. It looked like a created tourist site with a small stone structure tucked several thousand feet up a mountain. Long lines to get in. How the aging mother of Christ got up and down is a mystery. Think it's a pilgrimage site for some. I asked if any miracles happened there and was told, "yeah, we all made it back to the bus on time." Lunch and dance show at impressive hotel on mountains edge. Stopped and shopped at Bazaar with great prices on stuff, mostly rugs, glassware, and clothes neither they nor you would ever wear. Great port
Day 15 return home. Flight arrangements thorough HollAm were so tight the plane had to wait for a group of us. Our NYC connection was so tight that we ran and got on but our bags did not. On arriving home went directly to my doctor to learn that I had contracted a viral Bronchitis that is easily transmittable. I guess that was my souvenier of the Prison Dam. I felt sorry for those extending their cruise to Lauderdale. I also started to wonder how many die on this ship.
In summary, I do not recommend this ship especially for health and safety reasons. I talked with the captain, head hotel and restaurant manager, chefs, cruise director and others but to no avail. Repeat passengers will defend this cruise to the hilt for some unknown reason other than it's size and old shoe feeling. Do not be lured by the cabins or size of the ship. It is old, possibly has mold, and has poor food and service in food areas. Only exceptional crew members were 2 new hires, one in the gym and one who did culinary, and the main desk. Most were fat, complacent. surly, egotistical and defensive. Long term cruisers do get special attention. Average age of passenger was mid 70s and some on there months. One passenger told me her children put her on there early this year in lieu of a nursing home. Then everything started to make sense to me about this ship.