An avid history buff, cruiser, and romantic I booked this cruise based on itinerary and price. $1500 per person for a 21 day transatlantic AND full Med cruise was just too good to pass up. We took the Cruise Connection bus from Orlando to the port (as we have several times) and as usual we arrived refreshed, relaxed and ready to go. Embarkation was effortless (unusual for Ft. Lauderdale but a welcome surprise)
We loved our cabin (regular inside) which was in the rear of Deck 8, one down from Lido. Can't say enough great things about the crew. Service was the best on any ship. Opted for one of the 40 spa packages that included hydrotherapy pool access and got my money's worth every night. Transatlantic was uneventful. We passed the day at the Microsoft classes and cooking demonstrations and happily crashed every evening after dinner (we liked late seating big table best) The shows we did see we liked. We also enjoyed the free movies.
Once we got to the island of Funchal the fun really began. The day we arrived the weather was perfect with high temperatures in the 70's. Everywhere we went on the cruise the locals told us that the day before it was in the 40's and rainy, we were literally bringing spring from Florida to Europe.
We had decided to pre-book top of the line tours through HAL at most ports and all but one were outstanding. My only complaint was people who did not read the description of the tours and were ill equipped to deal with the exertion needed. (causing major disruptions on two of them). We went on the botanical gardens tour of Funchal and adored it. The scenery was exquisite. We took a bus tour to Seville and fell in love with Spain it's people and culture. We arrived during the Festival de Avril and all the ladies were out sporting their festive Flamenco Finest.
The next day we visited Granada and the Al Hambra. If you do, you WILL walk over a mile down hill and up hill just to get to the entrance.
Next up was Corsica and the only tour in my life I've ever walked out on. The guide was boring and extremely inconsiderate marching the group up to the alter in a non descript little church while people were praying and standing there
lecturing in english for over 20 minutes. We walked back to the ship through the delightful town of Ajaccio enjoying coffee and pastry on the way back and an amazing Farmers Market. HAL has no artificial rules about taking food or drink back onboard which was a wonderful surprise. The chef even took a group shopping with him for fresh ingredients for dinner.
The remaining ports of Rome (Civittavechia)where a festival celebrating their patron saint blocked passengers from 5 ships and delayed sailing of all was a classic right out of Roman Holiday. Naples where we toured the Amalfi Coast and a traffic jam delayed our return and the sailing, Messina where we followed the footsteps of the Godfather, and then the incredible surprise of Sarande Albania
with it's mountain top panorama overlooking the Harbor, the Island of Capri, and turning around to the mountains reminiscent of the Teton valley while sipping a cappuccino and enjoying a pastry captured on film and forever in my mind. Next day Split Croatia and a wonderful boat ride to a picnic lunch.
The capper for me was the next morning Sailing into the Grand Canal in Venice past Piazza San Marco dodging gondoliers and vaparettos along the way. Our excursion to Burano and Murano was amazing as well.
The cruise and service was amazing. Next day disembarkation was effortless and we were on the first bus to the airport.
Then the fun REALLY began. We got to the airport in a rainstorm and when I got to the Aer Lingus counter for my flight via Dublin to JFK was given a letter...we're sorry Due to volcanic activity Irish airspace is closed and your flight is canceled.
Time for a quick decision. I looked to the counter next to Aer Lingus at the Delta clerk and asked if she had any direct seats left to New York. "I have 2"
she said, "they're sold I said handing her the credit card I had thoughtfully paid in full prior to sailing, and who I had notified prior to sailing that I would be on the cruise. It took 2 tries but cleared. Once I read the letter outloud to the 150 or so folks behind me (most from my ship) to help the haggard clerk out, I stepped over to the curiously empty Delta counter and asked ok, how bad is it? She sheepishly looked up from the computer and said "$4,400 each one way Venice to JFK Welcome to business first on Delta."
Time to pause and think...I have 40 euros I had planned to use for Guinness
during the layover in Dublin, I'm coming down with a cold, I have 149.9 pounds of dirty laundry, no cell phone service, no internet, it'a raining and my (see planning ahead)travel insurance bought from Vacations to Go with the cruise through a third party expires at midnight...Sorry honey I'm going home. We get on the plane (at least we didn't pay extra for the luggage!) and I asked the flight attendant, excuse me I usually don't fly in the front of the plane but I want to know what I'm entitled to. "when did you purchase your tickets?" 20 minutes ago I replied. She stopped the other two flight attendants and said "Ladies whatever these two want they get, they just bought the fuel to JFK!
After completing the proper documentation and submitting it the Travel Insurance paid it's maximum $6k and Aer Lingus through Travelocity refunded the $1200 for the original flights so I spend about $800 plus the cost of Ins. for the flights.
Based on this experience we sail on Maasdam in a week. I hope it meets expectations. I'll let you know.