Since our first cruise was over 25 years ago, and we won it in a raffle, so had no part in the where or when, or even how, I consider us to be first time cruisers for all intents and purposes.
We chose Holland America’s 12 night Mediterranean Tapestry on the Oosterdam primarily for the itinerary. It was filled with ports that we had not previously visited, and was at the right time of year for our travel mates (one of whom is a teacher). We booked over a year in advance and spent that year planning for the “trip of a lifetime”.
About us: We are around 60 years old and live in Southern California, we own our own business, so are not often able to get away. This trip was a first in many ways. First time we had traveled for that length of time together, first time we traveled without any of our children with us, first time we had traveled with friends, and I could go on, but you get the idea.
Now, the actual review, I have tried to break it up into sections, so that you can take what you want from it, and skip those items that do not interest you. Feel free to ask questions if you want more information on anything I mention.
Embarkation in Barcelona- A breeze! We arrived at about 1:00 pm; showed our boarding docs and were directed to the suites line. In actuality, there were not really any lines at that point. Our friends were not in a suite, but when we mentioned we were all together, they let us stay together for check in. Check in was quick, and then we were escorted to the ship and introduced to one of the Neptune Lounge concierges, who then took us right to our room. There was not a “wine table”, so we strolled on with 12 bottles of wine in our wine suitcase. They quickly went over the suite and its features, introduced us to our steward, and invited us to come by the lounge, once we were settled.
Stateroom: 7046 Pinnacle Suite (yes I know, first time cruisers and we booked the pinnacle suite; I did mention that we considered this the “trip of a lifetime”.) More information in the cabin review section.
HAL was very nice to offer us and our guests a “behind the scenes” tour of the ship. It was all set, but that was before they knew the Croatian Coast Guard would decide to do a routine inspection that day. The Neptune Lounge concierge contacted us, letting us know the tour was postponed, then canceled, then all of a sudden back on again. We had to scramble to get our guests back on board. We all loved the behind the tour. There were just ten of us (both of the Pinnacle Suite’s passengers and their guests). We saw the kitchens, warehousing/food storage, laundry and the bridge. At each stop, crew members or officers were available to answer any questions and just give a general overview. We never felt rushed, and the tour probably lasted about 2 hours total.
Entertainment-We went to two of the musical shows and they were fine. Nothing spectacular, but enjoyable to watch. Plenty of seats, the theater was never full when we were there. Because we were in the suite and had plenty of room, we spent a fair amount of time hanging out there with our friends. So we did not take advantage of a lot of the activities that were offered, so I have no comment on the enrichment activities, gym, or the public rooms in general. We also did not hang out at the pool other than when the DH went to have a cigar at the only smoking area on the ship (which was next to a pool.
The other negative (besides the bathtub controls) was on the last night of the cruise. We needed to get packed and have our suitcases out in the hallway by a certain time ( I don’t remember what time that was, I just know I missed it), it was a sauna in the suite. I am not kidding, our perfectly lovely rooms became a nightmare to be in, let alone work at packing everything up and getting it set out for the porters. Now the good part, I called the concierge when I realized I would not make the suitcase cut-off, and she assured me that they would make a second sweep later that night, and just to set them out when I had them ready. I was very late, and would not have blamed HAL if they had made me carry my own suitcases off the ship.
Disembarkation in Venice- This is really in two parts; first getting off the ship. If you are in the Pinnacle Suite, they ask you when you would like to disembark, meet you at your room and escort you and your carry on luggage off the ship, have porters to retrieve your checked luggage, and walk you and said luggage right up to the front of the line and out through customs. The entire process took less than 10 minutes and that included walking from our stateroom to the shore. They were so quick; we ended up having to wait for our hotel greeter, because I had scheduled her for half an hour after I had planned on disembarking. If you are planning on staying in Venice and your hotel offers a “meet and greet”, and it is within your budget, take it. We stayed at the Hilton Molina Stuckey, the greeter met us at the exit point for our ship, got a trolley for all of luggage (an embarrassing amount to be honest), then guided us over to where the water taxi line was. Ah, but did we wait in line? No, she had already called a taxi, and when ours arrived after just a few minutes, we went straight on, our luggage right behind us. We enjoyed the Hilton, and it was nice to have the free shuttle back and forth to St. Mark’s Square. Not sure if I would stay there again.
Main Dining Room, Pinnacle Grill, Rudi’s Sel de Mer, Canaletto, Lido Buffet, Dive In and Gala Nights; we did them all. Just a note: we are not only food lovers, but in the restaurant business.
Main Dining Room- We had any time dining, but the very first thing the Neptune Lounge Concierge did for us was to make our dinner reservations for the entire cruise. She reserved us a table for four every night at whatever time we wanted and for any of the restaurants we desired. This was a great perk. We had the same lovely window table on the port side of the ship each time we dined in the main dining room. The food was decent, not great. We rarely found something we would not eat, but we did find things we would not order again. The presentation was very good and our service was excellent. We brought our own wine, choosing to pay the corkage rather than order from the wine list. This is a nice “perk” to traveling on Holland America Lines, you can bring as much wine as you want, you just pay corkage if you enjoy it in one of the restaurants. Our wine stewards in the main dining room were also very good.
Pinnacle Grill- We ate dinner here once during the voyage, and enjoyed our meal and service. The food was definitely a cut above. (my husband had the lamb, and said it was excellent!)
Rudi’s Sel de Mer- Best thing about this meal was the plates, they were adorable. That is not a great review, and I am having a hard time deciding if we did not enjoy it as much because our service was really sub-par this evening or if the food was really that bad. I had the soufflé, I do not recommend it, I did not eat mine. Probably should have ordered one of the fish entrees, but was not in the mood for fish that night. The escargot was better than in the main dining room according to our friend who ordered it, but still not fabulous.
Canaletto- Our favorite Specialty restaurant, we enjoyed this meal and thought it was a great way to spend the evening. We were concerned about being in a section of the buffet seating, but we didn’t even notice it once we were seated. Our servers did a great job, and we had a really nice relaxed meal. We liked the “family style” service and got to enjoy so many different items this way. I recommend you give it a try.
Lido Buffet-We only ate at the buffet a few times each for breakfast and lunch. It was very nice and plenty of options. We never had to wait too long for anything, although finding a table at breakfast time was a bit of a chore.
Dive In- Not impressed.
Gala Nights-We had ordered a tuxedo rental for my husband, and he wore it both gala nights. While it is true, we were among the few who were “dressed to the nines”, we were not alone, and we did not mind what the other guests chose to do. Meals on Gala Nights were again decent, not fabulous.
Sorry about the long winded review- I did mention we are in the restaurant business. If people make the difference, and I believe they do, Holland America’s dining staff was all around fabulous.
The ship-We found the Oosterdam to be a lovely ship, I did not notice any problems and there seemed to be enough of everything for the amount of people on board. We were able to find chairs when and where we wanted them in any public area we chose to go. We never waited long for an elevator, and were able to get around fairly quickly; this despite the ship being fully booked. We did not enjoy the tenders much, but only used them for three of the ports. Truthfully, it was only really bad once, we were among the first on, and then sat in the heat while it everyone else got on, and the ride was a little choppy. But overall, we would still choose to go ashore, even knowing what it might be like in the tender.
Excursions- I did mention that we booked this cruise a year ahead, and began our planning right away. Well, it paid off! We were able to investigate our ports, and decide ahead of time what we wanted out of each stop. We did not book any excursions through Holland America, but made all arrangements ourselves in advance online.
Barcelona- We arrived Friday Evening with a Monday departure. We attended the Signature Event put on by Holland America for their suite guests, but did not take advantage of the hotel or transfers. I will do a separate review of our signature event, but will say that it was very nice and one of the highlights of our stay in Barcelona. Since we had time, we saw the city at our own pace. We hired a driver for six hours one day, and then walked around on our own the next. We saved La Sagrada Familia for Monday morning, and had pre-purchased tickets. This is a city we would love to return to. We stayed at the Hotel Arts down by the beach, and really liked the hotel. We had our first meal in a Michelin starred Restaurant at the Enotica by Paco Perez inside the Hotel Arts. Now that is fabulous food. The included breakfast buffet was top notch!
Marseille-(Outside Excursion with Provence Private Tours) We had a private guide/driver for the four of us, deciding to take in the market at Aix-en-Provence, Cassis and Marseille. The total cost was 472 Euro plus tip. Our guide picked us up right outside the ship, and we were off. We arrived in Aix-en-Provence ahead of the buses, and were able to see the market before the crowds descended on the small town. We enjoyed browsing through the market, even purchased a few small items and some food on the go, and then wandered the back streets for a bit. Then back in the van and off to Cassis, where we had a wonderful seaside lunch. Our last stop was the Basilica of Marseille. We truly enjoyed our day. So much to see, and our guide was very knowledgeable and very helpful in assisting us in what sights to take in within the allotted time.
Monaco- (On our own) We did Monaco on our own. We took the tender to the shore (this was the least pleasant part of the day), and decided to gawk at the yachts in the harbor for a while. Truthfully, my husband probably would have been okay with just that. But we kept walking, finally arriving at the Casino, after taking a very scenic, but circuitous route. After a drink and a bit of gambling, we moved on in search of a passport stamp. Sure enough, Rick Steves knows what he is talking about. On the other side of the gardens, away from the Casino is a Tourist Information Center where they will stamp your passport. It was quick and fun for me. Note on Monaco, Taxis seem rather scarce. We saw a taxi stand near the casino with a line and in the half hour we watched, not one taxi came. Luckily, it was a short walk back to the dock.
Livorno (Florence) We had hired a private driver (very specifically, not a guide according to the company’s website) for this port. While they say their drivers are not guides; they are. They just cannot accompany you inside the museums. Our driver, Simona, was fabulous. We had early tickets to the Academia to see The David, and she not only got us right there, but made sure we knew exactly how and where to exchange our vouchers for the tickets, and where we would enter (a small roped off area without a line). After the museum, we met up with Simona, and did an absolutely fabulous walking tour of Florence. Since we had time, we made a stop in Pisa to see the Leaning Tower, and get a gelato. I am so glad we did. I don’t care how many pictures you have seen of The David and the Leaning Tower, IT IS NOT THE SAME. We used Rome in Limo, and requested an upgrade to a van, even though there was only four of us, we did not want to be split up in a sedan (total cost 550 Euros).
Civitavecchia (Rome) We had booked a private tour with Rome in Limo, and could not have been happier. Franco was the best! He was funny, thoughtful, and full of information. We had early reservations at the Colosseum, and he spent the drive in giving a history of the Colosseum, and explaining its layout. We had a list of pre-chosen sites we wanted to see, and not only did we get to every one of them, but Franco managed a few more we had not even known about. We did not try and see the Vatican on this day, deciding it would take more time than we wanted to give up. My DH and I went back to Rome after our cruise ended, and gave our visit to the Vatican the time it deserved.
Naples- We decided that we really wanted to see the Blue Grotto, so we hired a private boat with Captain from Capri Boats. If this is something you decide to do, I highly recommend Capri Boats. They have a good selection of boats, and they took excellent care of us. The Blue Grotto is a once in a lifetime experience. By that I mean you really need to do it, but probably only once. It is as gorgeous as it looks in pictures, and the boats and oarsmen are a site to behold. Once we had done that, we cruised around the island, getting to see the other tourist sites along the way. Our captain was friendly and knowledgeable. We stopped for lunch near the docks. I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant, because it was very good. It had seating right on the water, and everyone in our group loved their chosen items. We cruised along the Amalfi Coast on our way back to port. A lovely, relaxing day!
Toarmina- We decided to do this on our own, and as it turns out, it was not our best day. We were too hot, the ride in the tender was miserable, and we did not really have a good plan. If I had it to do over, I would make the trek to Taormina, either with a pre-arranged driver or a taxi. Not much to see or do in Messina. We ended up heading back to the ship early to relax.
Corfu- We had once again decided on hiring a private boat for the day. This one included lunch cooked right on the swim step. Nautilus Daily Tours was our choice, and I would recommend them to anyone who would like a real taste of Greece while enjoying the shore. Our boat hugged the shore stopping often at hidden beaches, where we were free to get out and swim around. The water is not very salty near the shore as there are several fresh water springs, which let out into the ocean. The food was excellent Greek Village food and there was more than enough for everyone. We pre-ordered our entrées from a choice of fish, chicken or pork. All were delicious! This was probably my favorite day, mostly because it was so different from every other day (Even our day in Naples). Okay, it was really because we are of Greek descent, were in Greece, we all knew the language, and we felt like we were home (although, all but one of us have never lived in Greece).
Dubrovnik- We had a long day in Dubrovnik, and our goal was really just to get out early and walk the walls all the way around. Unfortunately, our behind the scenes tour was this morning, and as I mentioned, it was postponed, and then once it did start, lasted about two hours. Not a big deal since we were going to be in port until Midnight. We all enjoyed Dubrovnik, and toured the churches, streets and just in general had a nice leisurely stroll around town. We did make it up to the wall, and all but one of us (okay, it was me) made it all the way around on the walls. This city is totally doable on your own. It was beautiful, and fun to just explore.
Kotor- We heard several people say Kotor was not that fabulous, that the real treat was the sail in/sail out through the mountains. I disagree. While the sail in was too early for us, the sail out was gorgeous, and we thoroughly enjoyed it from our balcony; the city was just lovely. We separated from our friends for the day, and each couple explored on their own. We had a nice lunch at a small café, spent time at the farmer’s market, explored the city walls, and just had a wonderful time. This was a short day (7 am-2pm) and that is probably the right amount of time. But please don’t stay on the ship and miss this beautiful city.
Venice- Our final stop. We stayed overnight and disembarked here. Our small group chose to stay one extra night in Venice, so that we would have more time. Since we arrived around 1:00 on a Friday, but would need to disembark the next morning, had we been leaving directly from the ship to the airport, we would have had very little time in the beautiful city. We did not do tours, but rather read extensively before visiting, and had a plan and a checklist of things to see and do. The first day we took the jam packed water taxi to St. Mark’s Square. We began our journey there and just walked around seeing the sites. We ended up walking almost all the way back to where our ship, along with four others, was docked. I really wanted to take a trip down the Grand Canal, but did not want to get back on an overcrowded water bus. We finally decided to spend the money on private water taxi to take us down the Grand Canal and back to St. Mark’s square. This was one of the highlights of the day. While there is a surcharge to go down the Grand Canal, our driver made it worth the 90 Euros it cost. He went slowly, pointed out interesting sites, and answered all our questions. It was definitely an adventure I will treasure. We were staying another day, so we saved the necessary Gondola ride for the next night, and just enjoyed the city. I can’t imagine not having that extra day; we really needed it to see Venice properly.
After all that, I am still not sure whether cruising is for us, I guess we will just have to take another one. Read Less