Please be aware we are novice cruisers and have little to compare this cruise with. This was a celebration of the end of chemotherapy for me and the end of high school for my son. Thanks to all you seasoned cruisers for all the advice I gleaned from the Cruise Critic site.
I apologize up front for the length of this.
We flew to Rome from the US. It was a harried flight due to weather in Chicago. Thank goodness we had built in an extra day in Rome or we would have missed the ship! Our airport transfer with Rome in Limo was rearranged easily thanks to Jany and we were picked up for an exciting ride through Rome traffic to our hotel next to the Pantheon. All sorts of protests going on so I was glad we had a driver getting us to Albergo del Senato. After a lovely breakfast all we had time for was a tour of the Pantheon and Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Rome in Limo was there for our transfer to Civitavecchia. We had a group of 6 from Cruise Critic so we spent the trip getting to know each other.
The boarding process was a breeze. We arrived around 1pm and found no line for the suite boarding and we were personally escorted to our room. Oh my, the penthouse is beautiful! So much space, so many light switches, two huge TVs, two whirlpools, incredible veranda, champagne, beautiful fruit and flowers. The room was incredibly clean and remained that way thanks to Made and Gede. Our veranda was huge. The outdoor space is a must for me. I loved being outside during the sailaways.
Just a note about the suite perks--they are so worth it. The Neptune lounge is a wonderful area for computer time and snacks. The coffee machine is to die for! The breakfast was perfect for those mornings we had to be underway early and the afternoon snacks were delicious. Doris and Reyan, our concierges, were perfect. They are so accessible, save you so much time, and are full of info on ports, tours, money, dining, etc. Breakfast in the Pinnacle Grill is relaxing and delicious. Jenny the Pinnacle manager is an angel. Laundry whenever you need it is a lifesaver. Priority tendering came in handy in Santorini. The copies of the main dining room menus delivered daily were wonderful and helped planning our dinner.
The Noordam is a handsome ship. She is a classic beauty. She is well maintained, very clean, and filled with beautiful artwork and flowers. The staff is friendly, hardworking, and very accommodating. We loved the ship.
The food: We ordered room service several times for breakfast and dinner. The breakfast was always correct and on time, but just OK. I loved that you could order dinner from the main dining room menu. We had dinner several nights out on the balcony while watching the sun go down behind the islands. Our favorite breakfast was in the Pinnacle with the great views and wonderful menu. Some nights we ate in the Vista Dining room. We opted for anytime dining and loved it. We ate with different people from all over the world---USA, Austrailia, New Zealand, Brazil, Great Britian. I recall waiting once or twice for a table but for only 5 to 10 mins.
The food was good but not great. It was always presented nicely and hot. I just like my food a little more spicy—I know most people do not. The chilled soups were wonderful as well as the fruit crisps for dessert especially when you added ice cream. The Lido had a wonderful salad bar and again the ice cream was wonderful. The Asian station had wonderful sushi and the wasabi was the hot I needed. We really enjoyed the Pinnacle for dinner. The beef, especially the filet, was delicious with wonderful sauces and the crabcake appetizer is wonderful with lots of crabmeat. The servers in the Pinnacle were very attentive. We also liked Canalettos. Loved the Antipasta tray and the veal.
Alcohol: They make a perfect vodka martini which is what I always ordered. I did try a Lemon Drop and Strawberry Daiquiri but always went back to the Martini. My son was miffed that they would let him gamble but not drink at age 18.
Entertainment: We did not go to many shows but loved the juggler with the spoons and a violinist. I saw a couple of movies and my son loved the casino.
Spa: The area is nice and my facial and massage were quite nice but a tad expensive. I wish they would not try to sell you products at the end. I will say they were not very pushy about it—Thanks. Wish I could have tried the heated loungers and whirlpool but you could not purchase for just one day.
Meet and Greet: I had arranged the Meet and Greet and it was well attended by 30 or so people, Drew Smith the cruise director and Mark Pells the Hotel Manager gave a great rundown of the cruise and what to expect from the ports. They also thanked us for our participation in CC and wanted our input if something was not right on the ship. Several other managers also attended. We were even treated to Bloody Marys and Mimosas. It was wonderful getting to know the group by face instead of "call name" and identifying the people on our private excursions. Thanks for the GREAT set up Holland America!
Ports: We took some HAL tours and some private. My advice is private as they are smaller and always get a private guide if that is an option.
Livorno - I joined a group from CC for a day trip to Pisa and Florence with All Around Italy. Our guide was delightful, very knowledgeable, very informative. She was talking all the time explaining things while driving us through the countryside. We arrived at Pisa before the crowds—one perk of a small private tour--and had plenty of time to explore and photograph. Florence was packed with people and very long lines but the countryside was beautiful. We visited a very small winery which also produced meats, olive oil, and the most delicious honey. The day ended with a stop for delicious gelato.
Monte Carlo - We opted to have a late breakfast in the Pinnacle Grill and enjoy the pool and our fabulous verandah.
Barcelona - What a wonderful city. I am so glad we spent the night at this port. Upon arrival we headed up to Montserrat on a Holland America tour. It was OK. We did get to see the Virgin and learned a lot about the city on the way up to the mountain, but we had very little time at the church and we were with 40+ other people on a big bus. The next day we had arranged a private "Gaudi" tour with Spanish Trails. It was a wonderful day with an incredible tour, knowledgeable guide and driver, and not only did we see Gaudi buildings but also the Olympic city and other city sites. Gaudi was an outstanding artist and so far ahead of his time. Thank you Spanish Trails for the fabulous tour!
Tunisia---We were concerned about this port with all the unrest in the area this year but Holland America docked and we had scheduled a HAL excursion to Carthage. It was perfect. Very informative guide who filled us in about the recent changes and what it meant for the people of Tunisia. The ruins at Carthage are small but well preserved and we were able to take all the pictures we wanted of anything in the area. Sidi Bou Said is a picturesque little town all white and blue, but I could not tolerate the shop owners aggressive behavior pulling you into their booths. I hate to bargain but if you love that sort of thing there were great deals to be had.
Naples—Once again we joined a CC group and Fabrizio with AllAroundItaly for a wonderful tour of the Amalfi coast and Pompeii. Fabrizio was waiting at the dock even though we were one hour later than expected. He had to rearrange the trip a little as the ship docked an hour late. We headed out of Naples to the beautiful coast. We stopped several places to admire the view and take pics. We also had time to wander in Positano where Fabrizio directed us to a shop that made Lemoncello. Even though it was 10:30AM we tried some—it is very strong-- and loved it. Of course some came home with us. Next stop was Pompeii and a private guided tour---this is the way to go believe me. We saw so much in a very short time. The entire tour was excellent and Fabrizio was so cute.
Our turn around day we spent on an Etruscan Tour I arranged with Rome in Italy. It was a relaxing tour outside of Rome with Mauro talking us through history as we went through the countryside. We picked up our private guide at the Etruscan burial site near Tarquinia. We arrived well ahead of any other tours and had this hilltop all to ourselves for a bit. Our guide was wonderful. She was talking as we proceeded from one tomb to another and teaching us about this civilization which existed in the area prior to the Romans. She also guided us through the highlights of the Etruscan Museum in Tarquinia so we could see the changes that took place in the area with Greek and then Roman invasions/trade. Our lunch stop was a delightful restaurant on the side of a hill in an extremely old and very small city of Ceri. Antipasta tray was devine and we learned they make all their own meats, wine, and olive oil. Pasta was incredible.
It was so nice to just reboard the ship and not have to worry about the lifeboat drill.
Our day a sea was a great one. I had arranged the Meet and Greet and it was well attended by 40 or so people, Drew Smith the cruise director and Mark Pells the Hotel Manager gave a great rundown of the cruise and what to expect from the ports. We were treated once again to Bloody Marys and Mimosas. Then I hit the spa again and boy is it busy on sea days.
Dubrovnik: We shared a taxi 10 euros to the Pile Gate and exchanged some money to local currency so we could buy a ticket to walk the wall. It is beautiful up there. Then we enjoyed delicious calamari for lunch by the old port and walked back through town. I did not know that Croatia is where the necktie was invented. We bought a tie of course. Croatia is beautiful!
Corfu: We went on a HAL excursion to a local house for lunch and a swim in the pool. It was a small group and the food was delicious. The house and grounds were spectacular as was the view of the bay and ship. Our first stop was at the Achillion Palace which was OK but very crowded. The view from the gardens was incredible.
Katakalon: Our trip to Olympia with a group of 12 CCers was outstanding. We went with Athens-taxi.org and through them hired a private guide for the site as well as the museum. It was very crowded by the end of our time in Olympia but once again we beat the big buses there. The guide was excellent. She made the Olympics come alive! After the tour we headed back to port and had a fabulous lunch of calamari and greek salad right by the water. We even had time for shopping.
Santorini: We were on the first tender ashore but the island was already packed with people. There were extra ships in port due to the strike in Athens. I was so glad we had a private tour arranged. The line for the cable car moved quickly and we (a group from CC) met Dimitris with Oceanwave Tours at the top. The island is lovely. Oia is a dream. I must go back there. We toured, lunched, took photos, and stared at the beautiful caldera most of the day. We spent the last hour shopping and went on back to the ship exhausted. That evening we ordered room service for dinner and watched the sunset and moonrise over Santorini. Incredible.
Ephesus: This was one of the highlights of the trip. A group of 16 from CC booked a tour with ekol travel. It was the best. We packed in everything—Virgin Mary house, Ephesus, Terrace houses, fabulous lunch, and then a visit to a rug factory and leather store. We even had time for shopping at the end. Turkey is beautiful and our guide was outstanding.
Athens: What a big busy city Athens is. Once again we arranged a private tour with a full day guide. We were at the Acropolis light years ahead of the bus tours and rearranged things when we were hot or the sites were crowded. The guide was perfect and gave more info than I can imagine. Do not miss the New Acropolis museum where you can walk around the statues and see through the floor at the excavations being done.
Messina: We did a 1/2 day trip to Taormina for 7 fellow CCers. A lovely 1/2 day and the city is so quaint. We had a great cup of gelato for brunch! But the stores were all closed since it was Sunday and driver said we did not have time to go to Castelmola since on board time was 12:30. Our driver from Sicily Limousine Service was not very knowledgeable or excited about his job or country. We felt like he was just a driver and nothing else. Those who stayed in Messina were not excited about the town.
Sorry about the length of this review. It was a fabulous trip. We have scheduled the Baltic for next summer so I guess we are hooked on HAL.