This cruise caught our eye as it was a one-off exotic cruise visiting Greece, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Russia and Ukraine on a Vista-Class Ship, we quickly jumped on the opportunity of this once in a lifetime cruise.
Before starting the cruise in Athens, we stayed for 2 Nights at the Airotel Parthenon which was a nice cozy hotel located on the side streets in the Plaka district and we highly recommend it over staying in the many hotels in Omonia which was where we stayed on our last visit to Athens.
Travel to Port of Embarkation
We decided to get to the port by Metro (after a bad taxi experience during our last visit) which was very efficient and it got us from the Plaka to Piraeus in about 45 minutes, after which we walked for about 20 minutes to get to the cruise port. Embarkation was a breeze, we were on the ship in less than 20 minutes after arriving at the port.
Our first impressions of the Westerdam was that it was HUGE (please forgive my ignorance), we've never been on a ship this size for a long time (the last time we were on a ship of a similar size was on the SuperStar Virgo (1999), after which we've only been on the Volendam (2009) and Rotterdam (2009)). It took us awhile to get used to the size (and the amount of passengers), but I must say that it is a very elegant ship and once you're inside, the well designed public rooms made it feel like the mid-sized R-Class Ships. The only disappointment was that the Explorations Cafe and Library was together with the Crow's Nest which could get pretty noisy at times.
We stayed in a L-Category inside stateroom (1024), and were pleased with the generous size of the stateroom. At 200 sq. ft. it was considerably larger than many of the inside staterooms we've stayed on during our previous cruises. The cabin had ample storage space, a mini-bar (which we asked to be cleared so that we could store our own drinks) and an L-Shaped sofa-bed. Our only gripe was the small bathroom which with an even smaller shower area (we frequently hit our elbows against the wall!).
We took part in a couple of activities while on the ship, this included some gaming lessons and art auctions, although most of these activities were geared towards you spending money some talks were rather interesting and educational especially the talk on Israeli Artists and Russian Culture) .
The service was once again exceptional on this ship except for a couple of crew members which were rather disinterested in their jobs and fairly rude on some occasions. However, the sincerity, friendliness and warmth of the Indonesian and Filipino crew members is what brings us back to Holland America time and time again.
Port & Shore Excursions
We took part in shore excursions for most of the ports visited during the cruise, we were impressed by the efficiency the knowledge of most of the guides that made visiting the sights much more memorable. We also took a private tour in Israel (Haifa and Ashdod) from GuidedTours Israel. We were fortunate enough to get a really knowledgeable guide to show us around Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, Yad Vashem Museum and Jerusalem (which was really crowded due to the feast of Sukkot). Apart from tours, we also independently toured Istanbul, Thessaloniki and Sinop (which, in my opinion, has one of the best museums in Turkey).
We were somewhat disappointed by the variety and quality of the food during the cruise, most probably due to the location the ship was in and the amount of passengers the chefs had to cook for. Although there was no shortage of lobster and shrimp, many of our favorites such as Escargot and Duck a L'Orange only appeared once during a 24 Day Cruise which was very disappointing. Most of the soups were also either very salty or bland, however, the deserts and appetizers were exceptional and was usually the saving grace of the dinner. Despite a Norovirus outbreak during the first part of the cruise, there was very little disruption to the Lido Buffet service (besides the long queue for drinks) and I was very impressed by the way the crew handled things.
We went to most of the guest entertainers shows which we found to be very entertaining, we especially loved the Swarovski Violinist who performed one night with his crystal-studded violin (even his shoes and belt had crystals on them!).
Disembarkation was as efficient and smooth as we would ever expect. We purchased transfers to the airport to catch our early afternoon flight home. The transition from Ship to Airport was hassle-free and it took us about an hour to get to the airport which gave us plenty of time at the airport before our flight.
Despite some shortfalls during the cruise, we were very impressed by the service and the cruise itself visiting many places we never thought of visiting which turned out to be little hidden treasures (such as Iskenderun and Sinop), visiting the larger cities of Cairo, Jerusalem and Istanbul was just a enlightening and interesting. Visiting these ports on the Westerdam was a very pleasant experience and if given another chance, I wouldn't hesitate to go again.