We are first time cruisers (55/57) who chose this cruise for the ports of call and the small size of the ship. We are not "late night" people so reports that HAL did not offer a great deal of "night life" was not of concern to us. We also wanted to ensure that our first cruise did not include a lot of children - and this itinerary/timing did achieve that goal. We also very much appreciated that HAL allows you to bring wine on board for in stateroom consumption and took the opportunity to pick up a few bottles in Rome prior to departure. Also as we are not Coke drinkers - having the opportunity to bring on an alternate choice was most appreciated.
We joined the cruise after spending two weeks of independent travel to Athens and Egypt - flying into Rome and transferring to the port by bus. We boarded at Civitavecchia and our initial impression of the ship was old and somewhat rusted from the exterior. Our embarkation process was amazingly fast and we were boarding in less than 10 minutes after our arrival. We had a glitch with my picture and upon boarding were asked to go to the front desk sometime over the next two days for a re-do which we did immediately as well as ordering the "unlimited laundry package".
We also checked our table for 2 for early seating - which was great and re-confirmed that we had a reservation in the Pinnacle Grill for a special anniversary event. All of these steps were "tips" I learned from the Cruise Critic Boards and proved to be very good advice. As it turned out there was no reservation at the PG but that was easily corrected.
Our superior verandah suite was as promised - the balcony was larger than anticipated and the room layout was very functional and comfortable. Our room Steward's (Toto/Supardie) were outstanding and met and exceeded any requests we made. In fact, with the exception of one barman in the Oceans Lounge - all of the Prinsendam staff were friendly, helpful and prompt in responding to any request. I particularly enjoyed Christopher at the HAL store on Level 8.
For breakfast each morning we choose to order room service - which arrived promptly at the time requested with fully complete orders. Once again following tips gained from the CC Board we expanded on some room service items when ordering during the key hours.
We found the food in the Lido to be good but for most lunches patronized the Burger Bar where Edgar quickly put together anything we requested from burgers to cabritia sandwiches. The weather was accommodating and it was easy to find a table to eat outside. For dinner we were in the Lafontaine Dining Room - early seating and were always able to find something that met our needs. Personally I found the portion sizes to be more than adequate and the food quite good. I avoided the deserts but found the "bite" I got from my husbands to be quite tasty. Our Assistant Waiter (Ewan) made the evening meal an event to look forward to - that young man will go a long way if he stays with HAL. We also patronized the Pinnicle Grill on two occasions - both were excellent.
We also enjoyed two sail aways with new friends on our verhanda using champagne we had brought on board under HAL's policy. A call to room service early in the day secured a cheese plate and crackers to compliment the champagne.
Our first day was at sea - which gave us a chance to unwind and to take advantage of the "unlimited laundry" package. I should note there are a number of free laundries on the Prinsendam. I just did not want to spend my vacation time on laundry and at $95 US I felt the laundry package was very reasonable. We did use the laundry room to iron a few items on the first day and my husband even got an offer to take on the pressing for others.
As a first time cruiser I could see the challenge that HAL faces - they have a range of guests that researched and prepared (such as us) to those that arrive on board with no idea of the ports of call. HAL does provide a basic map at each port - which we did find useful. In ports such as Istanbul - we had researched and brought our own detailed map as it would be impossible for them to provide maps of that type - however we did hear from some other guests that this was their expectation. For some guests the food is of primary importance - for others it is the on board amenities. Expectations are high.
Overall we were very pleased with the services offered by HAL and would certainly take another cruise with HAL - once again dependent upon the ports of call. My thanks to all those who share information on Cruise Critic Board as you gave me invaluable tips that made this cruise the success it was.
Ports of Call
Kataklon, Greece - we did not book an excursion at this port - really only item in area to see was the original Olympic site. We choose to walk through the town which was quite pleasant and enjoy food and beverage on shore. We arrived at the same time as the Costa Serna which unloaded a horde of people - most with strollers....once again we were glad with our ship choice!
Navplion, Greece - This was our first and only tender port. While we had three scheduled tender ports the Captain successfully managed to dock at the other two ports which was great. Tender transfer went smoothly - but it is much nicer not to have to use tenders.
Navpilon is a very pretty port - you can walk immediately into the main area of town and there are lots of shops and restaurants in the square. The adventurous can climb up to the historic fort overlooking the town. We did a self tour; a nice relaxing day.
Istanbul, Turkey -- The highlight of our trip without a doubt. Having the overnight in Istanbul was one of our reasons for choosing this itinerary. Once again we did a self tour - utilizing the local trams based on information from the Cruise Critic Ports of Call section. It was amazingly easy to navigate around and if lost, people were quick to help and spoke English. Most of the major sites are located within a short distance of each other. While some commented on the vendors being "aggressive" particulary in the Grand Bazzar - having being to Cario earlier in our trip - we found them to be not a problem.
Sochi, Russia - In order to disembark one had to take a ships tour -- our choice was Stalin's Summer Home. We started with a bus tour and short walk downtown; then out to Stalin's Summer Home for a tour and beverage/snack and then back into town to walk through Riviera Park - which for us was really just a local amusement park. Most found the Riviera Park to be boring.
You cannot purchase anything in Sochi unless you have Rubbles. While there are ATM's around - most were not functioning - however we did find one on the side of the building immediately outside the gate where you board the bus when leaving the ship. Once we returned from our tour - rather than reboarding we choose to take a walk up the boardwalk which is right beside the ship docking area. No one seemed to care that we did not board the ship immediately. Once we found the working ATM and withdrew a small amount of funds we able to make some purchases at the boardwalk stores - particulary a t-shirt advertising Sochi as the site of the Winter Olympics for 2014.
In conversation with other guests later we were advised that the walking tour had not gone well - most were frustrated with the experience and the inability to purchase even a beverage. The guides of these tours did their best - even exchanging small US bills for rubbles where possible - however overall there was client dissatisfaction. I understand that HAL subsequently choose to 100% refund these ship excursions and a 50% of the Botanica gardens tour as well. Most commended HAL for their action.
Bat'umi, Georgia - This was the first time HAL had docked at Bat'umi so initially there was a delay in demarkation as officials were examining passports. There were numerous announcements by the Cruise Director keeping you appraised of the situation - particulary if you were on a tour. Ultimately the officials decided to forgoe any further passport review and passengers we allowed to leave without the requirement of carrying your passports. We did a self tour - and on a few occassions crossed over with ships tours at churchs and museums - in most cases the locals just assumed we were part of the tour and no entrance fees were charged.
A special event was held as the First Lady of Georgia flew in from the capital to see the ship and greet the first officers. There was a ceremony on the dock and we were fortunate to be on the port side to view it. There was a band and folkloric dancers who preformed for her as well as a small contingent of media covering the event for the local news. Overall HAL did a great job making it a festive occasion.
I should note that we heard from numerous passengers that the "highlight" for them was attending the Ships "Folkloric tour" - which was outstanding by all accounts - complete with flashing swoards and sparks flying. To a person everyone we spoke to was impressed with this excusion.
Trabzon, Turkey - once again we did a self tour. The ship did offer a bus to town centre for $10 USD. For those who are not good at walking steep hills - you would find it worthwhile otherwise you can easily find the downtown area by yourself. The bus takes you to the top of the hill so one can walk downhill to do your shopping arriving at ship at the end of your walk.
Sinop, Turkey - The ship docks at a very central location and this is an easy walking tour for most. We walked to the local museum - where once again we crossed over the ships tour. The local museum is quite well done and has so many mosiacs that many are outside in the courtyard surrounding the museum. Continuing downtown you can walk up to the old prison and through the shopping area. There does not seem to be any local by-law controlling development so you will get a bakery next to a clothing shop next to a fish store next to a camera shop.
If you walk to the left after leaving the ship - there are some small souvineer shops - if you continue on further you will find a shopping area that specializes in small ships that Sniop is known for. There are a number of restaurants down by the water where one can have a beverage and a snack and enjoy the sun and surroundings.
Sevastopol, Ukraine - We took the ships tour --Best of the Crimean Riviera - for a visit to the Yalta Conference site. Tour was quite informative - guide very knowledgeable and we felt it was worth the cost of the tour. We had lunch at the Yalta hotel (including a shot of voka per person) and a folkloric group for entertainment. This was the first port where the ship's excursions did not return before departure. One of the full day tours got delayed dealing with an overlap with ship excusions from another ship at the Yalta Conference site and arrived late - everyone on board was very happy they had choosen the ship's tour that day!
Kusadasi, Turkey - our final port and final ships tour - The Best of Ephesus - this was an excellent tour. Initially we were not impressed with our guide who made a point of not talking once he had introduced himself until everyone on the bus was listening to him. At the first site - Home of the Virgin Mary - after giving an initial explanation of the route he would be following - he set off at a pace which even I had problems keeping up to and I walk 5 miles each morning. There were many left behind. All of this seemed to be done to indicate he as in charge and that you needed to keep up or would be left behind (a statement he made more than once - the bus will wait 2 minutes after stated departure time - if you are not on - you are left behind). Once we got to the Ephesus site he did slow down a bit (or we as clients had learned to keep up). After the tour we spent time looking through the local shops and far away from the main waterfront found a rug to bring home with us.
Returning to the ship we found the Oceania Ruby Princess had docked later in the morning - she was so large that her shadow completely blocked the sun from the Prinsendam.....once again reinforcing we had made a good choice in ships. Getting through security to reboard took much longer with the addition of the Oceania patrons.