We recently returned from a Black Sea /Med/Trans Atlantic Odyssey, including a four night package in Rome prior to embarking on this awesome adventure. Air and hotel were all part of the package with 38 days aboard the elegant explorer, HAL's venerable M/S Prinsendam We left Calgary on October 13th during a major snow storm, our normal 25 minute journey took an hour and a half but we left in lots of time so arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Because of the weather the plane had to be de iced so we were delayed about a half hour. We had a connecting flight in Frankfurt which was quite tight and by the time we passed through German immigration, we missed it and so were booked on another, about an hour and a half later. The Rome airport was a zoo, there was no sign of any HAL personnel who were supposed to meet us plus one of our bags was missing. By the time we realized this about an hour and a half had passed, so after talking to the airport authorities and finding that our bag had not accompanied us, arrangements were made to forward it to us at the hotel and thankfully it did arrive later that night. We were tired and cranky so took a taxi to the Visconti Palace Hotel, there we talked to the HAL rep who informed us that her duties ended when we were not on the flight. We tried to get reimbursed for the taxi, but to no avail, take it up with HAL was her final answer.
The Visconti Palace is centrally located and within walking distance of the Spanish steps and Trevi fountain, The hotel puts on an excellent buffet breakfast hot and cold, and was included in the price. The rooms are quite nice and there is no noise from the street. The noise between rooms however is another matter, the walls are paper thin and even with TVs turned down, you can still hear it along with every shower and toilet flush. Hal put on an Italian dinner for the 7 of us who were partaking of the pre cruise package. It was held at a lovely restaurant just a short walk from the hotel, the problem was it was for 7pm on the evening of our arrival and most of us were nodding off at the table. We all got on well, which was great cos the next few days we would spend a lot of time together.
The next day we were on our own and the 7 of us with help from the HAL rep organized a tour of Rome with some excellent stops at places where we would have the best vantage points for picture taking. It was very inexpensive and we all thought it was great. Next day we had a 7am departure time for our included tour of Siena and San Gimigano, the 20 seater bus looked perfect for a long day but after a while the lack of padding in the seats became uncomfortably obvious. The sights of Siena, the piazza the cappuccinos and gelatos and history were fantastic and lunch at a local farm was a delight. They made their own wine and everyone made purchases to take aboard the ship. Our long day was made even longer by 3 traffic collisions and grid lock on the way back to Rome. We eventually arrived at the hotel at about 8pm, so it was a quick pizza for us and bed. On this day we would visit the Vatican and it's environs, although this was considered out of season it was extremely crowded, we saw the Sistine chapel, and museum, all way too crowded for me, most of us had seen it all before so it's never like the first time, but well worth visiting none the less. Our last night in Rome and we dined at a lovely restaurant (the name eludes me) but good restaurants are not hard to find in Rome,the owner serenaded us along with opera that played in the background all evening, the food was good and a great way to conclude our visit to the eternal city.
October 18th and our bus picked us up a little late but it was a Sunday and the journey to Civitavecchia took only an hour and a half, there in her berth, waiting for us was the M/S Prinsendam looking much the same as she did in 2005 when we were last aboard. Our cabin 452 was much the same too, except we had no balcony this time but a nice window and comfortably amid ship. The bathrooms had all been refurbished and were quite practical and pleasing to the eye, ours had only a shower but for us that's not a problem. There was a pull out sofa beside the king size bed, and the bed can be split on request. The room , apart from not being able to pass by if someone is using the stool at the bottom of the bed was spacious enough for us and made a great home away from home. The Prinsendam is showing her age some and we heard complaints of no hot water, phones and fridges not working and the like. Elevators were breaking down too but we still love this ship and it will be a shame when HAL eventually decides to let her go. Cut backs, and there have been some, are vehemently denied by the crew, company policy no doubt. Breakfast and lunch in La Fontaine dining room were painfully slow due to staff cutbacks, I'm told that room stewards now have twice the number of rooms to clean, yet on questioning head waiters and the like, "no cutbacks" was the ubiquitous answer though it's obvious that there have been. Those young and not so young men and women are truly overworked yet you would be hard pressed to read it in their faces. Cruise staff seemed to feel their days are numbered too and we're told that Prinsendam is the only ship in the fleet that has any dam dollar events and that that won't be for long. More enrichment programs will be added in their place, they say. Our on board travel guide Frank, was very knowledgeable about the history of each and every port of call and great to listen to, our other speaker George a former "diplomat" talked of what has gone on before to make the middle east what it is today and how the U.S.A. fits into the world as it is now and what it is becoming. As one might imagine it caused great debate. We called at some 21 ports over the 38 days and we enjoyed them all, some we had visited before, most we had not. We loved Istanbul and enjoyed our overnight stay there and Sochi Russia with it's warm weather and palm trees was a surprise, not to mention Stalin's dacha. Batumi Georgia and Gabes Tunisia gave us the most culture shock, both places dirt poor but interesting to wander around and they definitely made us appreciate home.
We took only two ships tours, most of our tours were arranged through friends we'd met on CC and were booked months before we sailed, all were excellent, thank you Jennie and Linda. Suffice to say that after the busyness of our ports of call, we looked forward to another Atlantic crossing, a time to rest up and adjust to getting home again. One never knows what to expect crossing an ocean and I believe it was our 3rd day out of Madeira when we spotted a lonely sail boat heading for the Azores. For the most part it was very smooth with only a little wobble for two of the seven days we were at sea. We arrived back to reality and rain in Ft. Lauderdale, Grumpy stevedores and delayed flights but we made it home safely with new friends and wonderful memories and pictures, lots of pictures. All in all this voyage was all and more than we had hoped, and for those with the time to do it, I highly recommend the itinerary and the old but still warm and friendly M/S Prinsendam. Toeknee