The Nieuw Amsterdam is brand new and classy. The Lido restaurant sets itself apart from the buffet restaurant of other lines - orchids on the table and table cloths at night. The Personal Computer classes and the culinary center were great, conducted by two competent and friendly individuals Ryan and Ashley. The cruise director Gene Young and the HAL performers were wonderful These instructors and the entertainment staff impressed upon the passengers that they genuinely love their jobs. Their enthusiasm enhanced a warm friendly atmosphere for the sailing - especially with a long stretch of 7 days. Salute to HAL for a great crew.
The food was good with great presentation. The soup is on the "salty side" to me, may not be for others. For a few nights, the fish was not at its best. Otherwise, there is a lot of variety and HAL lives up to its reputation.
HAL provided a travel expert with specific hours to answer questions. He was also available at shore sides too. Check the daily newsletter for specific times. This arrangement was in addition to scheduled port talk or presentations in the theatre.
Barcelona offers so much. Even after 4 or 5 visits, cruise passengers can find smething to do.
Our disembarkation at Barcelona was made so much easier, efficient and effective because we hired a taxi/tour to pick us up at the terminal at 7:30 a.m.. Six of us then went to Montserrat for a 5 hour tour and the driver/guide dropped us off at our individual hotels. Our drive Juan Collado of Autosvila.com gave us a wonderful tour of Montserrat. He was at the terminal promptly. His van was roomy; all luggage fit in. We could have had 8 people and still had enough room. We kept our group at 6 since Juan offered great pricing already. Juan took us around Montserrat early (no crowd yet), walked us through the Basillica, (thus we could get to the Black Modonna without having to look for directions), and took us for a ride on the Funicular Sant Joan. We could not have done or seen so much and so early without using Juan's service. Furthermore, we saved a trip and taxi fare to the hotel from the teminal since we combined the tour with hotel drop off. We could have done the train/cable car to Montserrat on the day after disembarkation (since we were spending two nights in Barcelona), but it would have taken more time and it would be more strenuous transportation. For seniors, I would recommend the driver/guide route to Montserrat. For energetic people who can spend the whole day in Montserrat, it would save money to do the train.
For our post cruise visit in Barcelona,we covered Barri Gothic and Les Ramblas after we returned from Montserrat. The next day we visited Montjuic - the castle high on the hill and the National Palace/Museum of Catalunya art. The modern part of Barcelona was very peaceful and green, a contrast from Les Ramblas. Since we did the Gaudi sights before, we skipped them. Certainly it would fill a day for others. There would be a lot of variety for sightseeing in Barcelona.
We had an overnight stay at Cadiz (Seville). Quite a number of fellow passengers took the train or bus to Seville. That would be a good option if you are willing to walk 20 - 30 minutes to the train/bus station in both Cadiz and Seville. The ship offered land tours of $179 or $199 to Seville. HAL does not offer a tour with just transportation like Celebrity did. However, since it is an overnight stay at Cadiz, some passengers chose to spend the night in Seville, which was a wise choice for people who had not done Seville before. At the Cadiz pier, Radio Taxie offered fixed price round trip taxi fare to and back from Seville - 4 hour stay at Seville. For seniors who want to see Seville on their own, or for passengers who want to swing by to see Seville without waiting for the next train/bus, this would be a good option. Afterall, the cathedral and Alcaza and the Barri Santa Cruz area are next to one another. The taxi option is about 3 times that of the train/bus. The popular 5 p.m. bus was full and people had to switch to trains. Thus for the do-it-yourself folks, take this into consideraton if you ship does not stay over night.
With the taxi option, it would be possible to visit Rhonda and/or Archos de la Frontera - the white towns. Unfortunately, I was not aware of the taxi availability. From USA, I called Radio Taxi and noone spoke English. I got quotes from various vendors and they wanted to charge 450 - 1000 euros for a 7 - 8 hours tours. In addition, advance payment for the full amount, non refundable. Even people who had visited Cadiz before were not aware of this taxi option. They are just outside the pier and the fixed pricing is posted right there.
Since I was not aware of the taxi option, I had already booked HAL's White Village tour (i.e. in lieu of Achos de la Frontera). It turned out to be a very relaxing and enjoyable tour. Vejer de la Frontera is on a hill and the views of the green landscape surrounding it is very soothing. The guide was wonderful and led us to a very informative walk of the village. We drove along the Atlantic coast and visited a seaside town of Conil. Though not a stunning town, Conil let us take a quick feel of how locals spend time on the beach. Some passengers enjoyed coffee or beer or wine in the restaurants.
A few daring do it yourselves used the bus to Vejer. I did check it out before the cruise. But with ONLY one bus returning to Cadiz in the afternoon, it would have been too risky for me.
After the White Village tour, I still had time to stroll in Cadiz old town for 3 hours (ship did not sail until 11:59 p.m.).
OVERALL FOR CADIZ- there are many options. Some passengers just spent their days walking around and relaxing on the seaside plazas. Some went to Seville overnight. Some took land tours HAL. For do it yourself folks, check out buses/trains/taxis. Shopping was supposedly good too.