We left Spokane at 0 dark thirty to fly into Ft Lauderdale the day before our cruise and checked into Hyatt Place North as recommended by members on Cruise Critic. We stocked up on wine at the nearby wine store as HAL allows any amount of wine and champagne in your room. Really appreciate that rule! After serving us a full breakfast the next morning, Hyatt Place took us to the Port at 10:30 and we sailed thru pre-boarding in a matter of minutes. Since the Westerdam had just come out of dry dock, our cabins were ready for us. We deposited our hand luggage, admired our room and balcony, asked Denis (our cabin guy) for a corkscrew and wine glasses, and headed to the Lido for lunch. The crew in the Lido and outside deck were such a pleasure! There was nothing they couldn't do for you and thought of it before you did usually. Very attentive but never in the way and this continued for all 20 days! We requested the late seating for dinner (8pm) and 6-8+ table size. There were 10 of us and we laughed, shared stories and food, (What is that you ordered?) and generally had a wonderful time. Dining was a highlight. The food and service were wonderful and the company from all over the U.S. and Canada was great!
Our Cruise Critic Meet and Greet was set for 11:00 the next day (our first full day at sea) but HAL double booked the Crow's Nest and moved us to a meeting room on the Promenade deck which wasn't large enough as we had over 100 Cruise Critic Members signed up. HAL thought it would be OK as not everyone shows up. The Officers couldn't move about the room any better than we could as it was truly jammed. HAL re-booked our Meet and Greet for the next available time in the Crow's Nest and served us complimentary Mimosas served with lots of apologies. Never under estimate Cruse Critic Members! They also gave us early entrance to the buffet lunch in the galley. This was something new they were trying and judging by the lines behind us and later, it was a huge success. No first hand report here as I got claustrophobia in the galley hall before actually entering the galley so excused myself and my husband all the way back out. At dinner that evening we were told that the galley was gleaming with stainless steel appliances, food was delicious, and you took your buffet meal out to sit in the Pinnacle Grill Dining area, which is sumptuous. The Pinnacle Grill is the 5 star restaurant that charges an extra $20. per person and serves truly 5 star cuisine with service to match. We ate there with 2 other couples from our regular dining group one night. My husband had the flaming Steak Diane and I had the Fillet Mignon. We had 3 flavors of Creme Brulee (coffee, chocolate, and caramel)for dessert since my husband had just been in a cooking class earlier in the day where they were making Creme Brulee. It was truly a wonderful evening. At some point on a dress up night we had a wine tasting party (again for more than 100 people) in a penthouse suite. Our Cruise Critic hosts were a hard working young couple with a 6 year old daughter and her Au Pierre and it made for a lovely experience. It was right after our 1st port of call,in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal, which includes Blandy's Wine Lodge, and a lift to the top of the mountain where you are 20 yards from people's terraces on the way up. Great Madeira wine and wonderful views.
Next stop, Cadiz, Spain - We have been to the fascinating old city of Cadiz 4 times and we have been lost 4 times. We love Cadiz! It's historic old buildings are wonderful and we are always sure we will not get lost "this time". Great city to lose yourself in! Almeria, Spain - Why take a tour when the Alcazaba Palace (2nd in size only to the Alhambra) is minutes walking distance from the port? Pretty impressive and the views are breathtaking! Ajaccio, Corsica, France - lovely relaxing day just touring the town at our own pace. Postcards are .40euro and postage to U.S. is .85euro, so keeping our 90 year old mom informed is not cheap.
Civitavecchia, (Rome), Italy - Courtesy bus shuttles take you to Civitavecchia where you can walk quite a few blocks to the train station and take a train into Rome which takes about 1.25hrs. This is an awesome experience. Don't get off at the 1st stop which is St. Peters Square if it is Wednesday, as the Pope is holding audience and it is packed with people. Go to the second stop and then catch a bus.....I'm lost. We had a lovely couple from Cruise Critic to guide us to the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, several other places, and back on the bus, then the train, and since it was a Holiday in Rome, we had to go around something to get to the shuttles back to the ship. We will forever be grateful to Cruise222 for our day in Rome. Naples, Italy - This was one of the more enjoyable walking cities. We have awesome pictures of my husband and I sitting a table with wood blocks under the legs of the "downhill side" of the table and chairs at a restaurant where no English was spoken and we don't know Italian. The menu of the day way fish or beef...we got that part. We were served wine and course after course until finally the main course (fish for my husband and beef for me) came. We were so stuffed and the bill was still only the advertised 10euro per person. Fun times!
Messina, Sicily - Another very relaxing day just touring the town at our own pace. Oh, we did need to restock some of our wine supply here. Wine quality - excellent. Prices - extremely low even with the disadvantageous $ to euro that we had then. Sarande, Albania - We just walked around town, amazed at all of the fairly new unfinished construction of hotels or high rise apartments. I think this is a new summer retreat for wealthy Europeans or that is the plan. It is a beautiful setting.
Split, Croatia - Our favorite day of all! When you get off the tender, cross the street and enter the Diocletian Palace. The Palace itself is not just an historical ruin but is part of the fabric of the city of Split with numerous working businesses within the actual palace walls. Keep looking up, the architecture above you is outstanding. The Diocletian Palace is one of the best historical sites in Europe. So much we can't explain, you have to see it to believe it!
Finally, Venice, Italy - We spent 5.5 hours on Monday in Venice just trying to find our hotel, (Rezidenca del Doge) for the next day. It was worth the effort. Both our bathroom and our bedroom had windows that opened and you were looking out at a quiet intersection of smaller canals. Since the next day when we actually checked in, we would become virtual prisoners here by the rain, we were grateful for our spacious (by European standards) accommodations. Briefly, we returned home. Venice to Dublin - Trinity House Hotel was very good to us. They kept our larger suitcases while we took a train across Ireland to Galway, (Sea Breeze Lodge outside of Salthill is awesome!) the Cliffs of Moher, Ring Forts, and Dunghiare Castle. 2 more Days in Dublin at the Trinity House before Aer Lingus took us to Orlando and the Hawthorne Suites by Wyndham. The Hawthorne Suites took care of us wonderfully for a very reasonable price ($76.) The next day SWA flew us back to Spokane. Email me if your have any questions about any of our stops or HAL. I'll try to help if I know the answers.