We are a couple. This was our first cruise of any sort. We are about 70 and in fair shape. We are experienced independent travelers. We used a land tour only once (in China). We chose this cruise for its Eastern Mediterranean itinerary, its dates, its port of departure/return, and its discounted price. The ship's itinerary included Athens,Istanbul, and Venice, three cities we had previously explored and were happy to see again. We had not visited the other Greek ports or Ephesus. Our plan was to go ashore in all or most ports. We booked two archeologically-oriented excursions. We planned to eat breakfast and dinner on the ship, eat lunch ashore, use maximum shore time, and enjoy onboard entertainment in the evenings. We had traveled in Northern Italy for 10 days prior to our departure. We arrived at the port in Venice by bus from Padua and departed by train to Milan. In general, we stuck to our plan.
There were pleasant surprises. We enjoyed the two sea-days. We enjoyed the two Gala nights. We enjoyed most of the people we sat with in Open Seating for dinner. We enjoyed some great dinnertime conversation. We enjoyed making two new couple friends and spending some shore-time with them. We enjoyed the international mix of the passengers.
Embarkation: At the Venice Cruise Port there is a significant distance between the People-Mover station and the terminal entrance. This is a problem for all older passengers and all those with poor hips and knees. HAL should provide a shuttle, even an optional one for a small charge. Venice is a major port of departure for HAL. What do they do if it rains?
Food: Food was pretty good but not quite as good as one might expect. One pay-extra restaurant (Caneletto) really disappointed (menu choices, food prep, and service). The pay-extra Pan-Asian restaurant was excellent. Food at the Lido could vary more. Our cruise was 13 days. If it had been 24, we would have really tired of the selection. The Main Dining Room was nice. We used it many evenings. Food was okay but speed of getting main dishes out of the kitchen was way too slow on two occasions.
Entertainment: All three small music venues were excellent (classical, blues, and billboard piano bar). We went to each small music venue at least four times. Entertainment at the MainStage was once excellent, mostly okay, and once terrible.
We took two HAL-sponsored shore excursions. Both were good quality. We often went ashore on our own. The ship should have provided more and more up-to-date information about ports of call. Presentations the evening before were difficult to time with dinner if you had been ashore that day. More printed info would solve this. Of the info provided, some was 2-3 years out of date. Guests who want to explore may want to do some of their own research.
This was our first cruise. For the first few days we had many basic questions, about the cabin, location of storage space, location of hair dryer, etc. Since they knew it was our first cruise on HAL, they could have provided a 1-2 page discussion of things we needed to know. It would be more efficient than going down to Guest Services and standing in line. Of course, this would not be a problem for experienced cruisers.
We had a Queen bed and a verandah. My wife, in particular, enjoyed the verandah. The cabin was very nice, seemed new, adequate room for two, all clothes and bag storage, more than enough hanging space and clothes selves, window and verandah made it visually larger, sitting area offered just enough room for breakfast (but would be tight if you wanted to spend time sitting in the cabin), bathroom was well-designed, we heard no noise from other passengers' cabins and almost no ship noise, felt very little motion, verandah was okay size for two, lighting was good and switches well-placed, just adequate outlets, we reserved an extension cord for CPAP machine, reading lights were not good for serious reading, pillows were our main problem with the cabin, the two large pillows were too large and hard and the two small pillows were too hard. HAL should give guests more choice.
This was only a port of departure
probably should have taken an excursion
Went ashore by ourselves. Easy to taxi in and out. Knew the city from previous trip. Adequate time to visit Plaka, see the new museum, and eat. Allow sufficient time for traffic.
We had visited Istanbul before. We went ashore twice by ourselves. Once for an afternoon and evening. Once for a morning and afternoon. Mostly revisited sites and neighborhoods we had seen before. Great city!
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