We chose the 24-day Mediterranean Adriatic cruise on HAL Westerdam for three reasons: friends had taken it and recommended it; it was going to several ports in Croatia and we were interested in sampling that country; it began in Barcelona and ended in Venice, two of our favorite cities and we spent extra days in each.
We had never taken a cruise before, except for a 7-day gulet in Turkey, which we loved. Primarily independent travelers who usually rented a car and apartments while we explored one country for 4-6 weeks, we had not considered cruising. As we aged, however, I wanted to experience being taken care of rather than having to do so much planning. Therefore, this review is mine; my husband would have a different (more negative) view.
What I liked:
-the size of the ship (1900 people) and configuration never felt crowded or too big;
-never having to plan or prepare meals; access to free 24-hour room service; good to excellent food; food stations in the Lido instead of buffet; eating breakfast or lunch on the Lido deck;
-open seating so we could meet different people at dinner every night;
-comfortable, clean cabin; good selection of in-cabin movies; "ask and you shall receive" attitude; the veranda;
-walking on the promenade deck; watching some ship operations, like bringing up the tenders;
-adequate time in most ports; having to tender only twice;
-BB King All-Stars where we could dance and, especially excellent Lincoln Center Stage quintet.
What disappointed me:
-poor amateurish entertainment in Main Stage; lack of other dance venues and variety of music to dance to;
-HAL was noted for providing good port information but we found very poor lectures geared to independent travelers on the ports; lack of helpful printed maps with street names and large enough to read prior to going ashore which meant wasting time finding a town map and planning a day;
-no way to communicate with other passengers, such as to find other cab sharers or poker players;
-too many uninteresting ports; too few at-sea days; lack of interesting day activities (e.g. dance lessons, art lessons, etc.) on board; the library which we had expected and so didn't bring books no longer existed;
-absence of a rabbi for the Jewish High Holidays
-being "nickel and dimed" like $18 corkage fees, $30 (used to be $20) for a filled laundry bag, etc.
-having to pay for shuttles to the ports that we couldn't walk to;
Very comfortable, quiet, stable, and clean. Adequate outlets for charging phones, computers, etc. Decent reading lights. Plenty of storage and closet space. I'd read about bringing magnetic hooks and clips and did so, which was a great idea. I also brought a laundry line with plastic clips, and liquid Woolite packets (Amazon for both) and did my own underwear and socks weekly, hanging my line between deck chairs on the veranda, as well as using the line in the shower. The location of the cabin is very close to an elevator bank which we liked. My only complaint is that the table in front of the settee was too small to accomodate a full room service tray.
We had been to Barcelona twice before and love it. Great city. Stayed 3 nights before cruise.
It's a rock.
Excellent Picasso Museo, even better audio guide than in Picasso Museum in Barcelona.
Hot and humid. Great old bar Nou Manolin for lunch. Nice to walk around the harbor.
Major screw-up in the port resulted in chaotic entry, scramble for shuttle buses (E10pp!!). Once in town we actually went online and found an Apple repair place to deal with iPad problem. The free Fundacion Juan March had good contemporary art and a Feininger exhibit that was outstanding. The San Juan Gastro Market is off the tourist track and a good walk to find, but worth it for a variety of tapas stalls. The Rialto Living shop has gorgeous, expensive things to browse through.
A very pleasant surprise. Very colorful long street market up from the waterfront. Excellent Marine Museum - something I never thought would be very interesting - with great audio guide. Lunch outside at a harbor front restaurant for moules frites. Moules were excellent, frites not so much.
Our first tender experience went smoothly. There is a nice boardwalk along the beach and we spent some time just enjoying sitting on the beach and dipping toes in the Med. Remember to bring beach towels with you.
Monte Carlo is pristine. Probably no cigarette butt or piece of paper is on the ground for very long. Lots of beautiful gardens. The reason to be here is to go to the somewhat difficult to get to Oceanographique Museum. The map is not helpful and we wound up walking up, up, up (defibulators along the way!) and getting to the palace, which we did not want to see, then asking for directions and finally getting to the Oceanographique. This is quite the "aquarium" where you are up close and personal with the fish. We had lunch at a harbor side restaurant which was great for people watching. There was a yacht show going on (that's why we had to be tendered in) , so lots of very well-dressed women with their yacht show passes walking by.
Overcast Sunday in a very unattractive industrial port area. The only reason we went into port (E5 shuttle pp) was to use secure wifi and it took a bit to find an open cafe (Dolly Cafe) which had it.
There is no reason to come to Citavecchia except to get to Rome.
The terminal/port area was loaded with vendors selling cheap trinkets and hawking tours and taxis. We found Messina to be a very dull port, also lots of graffiti, broken sidewalks, dirty streets. We walked for a couple of miles, found one shopping area that had a few nice looking shops – all closed – and headed back to the ship.
The ship can control many things, but the weather isn’t one of them. It was pouring rain with some thunder and lightning. This was a port I was really looking forward to. Around 11:30 I decided it had calmed down enough to get off the ship. We had to wait for the ferry to arrive (we were docked across the bay), then had to wait until more people came. My original plan – before rain – was to get the bus to Mdina which is supposed to be a lovely ancient walled city about 30 minutes away and then spend time in Valleta; that didn’t happen. We actually got to Valetta around 12:30 and it was raining and blowing so that it turned my umbrella inside out. The top of my list was a visit St. John’s Co-Cathedral and it is magnificent (E7.50/senior). Lovely lunch at Palazzo Preca in a refurbished mansion in the former "gut" area. Then an easy walk to see the Renzo Piano gate and Parliament building which blend so beautifully into the old adjacent well-preserved buildings.
I had heard so much about this port and was eager for a visit. After getting Kuna from an ATM - the local currency - we took the easily accessed public bus into town ($8 rt for 2) instead of the ship’s shuttle ($28 rt for 2). We knew about the bus from R. Steve's Med cruise port book. Three cruise ships had come in at the same time. The main Stradum in the old city was so crowded that it was claustrophobic. We found our way to the synagogue which is the second oldest synagogue in Europe. The old town map led the way and we walked up a fairly steep set of stairs, paid our 60DK, and up another set of stairs into the small and historic synagogue and museum. Two of the 3 "curated" restaurants on my list were very expensive and had no one in them, so we went to the harbor for lunch. It became chilly and my husband didn't want to fit the crowds so found a cafe to sit at (E5 for a cappuccino!) while I walked some of the side streets off of the Stradum. I came across a crowd in a square at the end of the Stradum watching the local brass band and I stayed to listen. I found Dubrovnik to be over-crowded, expensive, and disappointing.
What a wonderful surprise is Kotor! Dubrovnik might get the publicity but Kotor is a gem. The surroundings with steep rock mountains around and the old town and the new town at the base is lovely. There are cypress trees and palm trees. We found a wine shop, bought some local wine (E18 for 2 bottles) and asked Milos where we could get a good coffee in a pleasant place. He suggested Luna Rossa and showed us how to get there. It is lovely. After coffee, we had a light lunch (E18), just enjoying being there. The prices everywhere were very reasonable, the people very friendly and helpful. We walked through more of the old town, looking up to see the many folks climbing the 1400 steps to the old fort, enjoying the small side streets. Then out the gate and into the new town to explore for awhile before getting back to the tender.
I've always been fascinated with Marco Polo's adventures. Korcula claims to be his birthe place and I’d read that they opened a multimedia exhibition of his life in 2012; that was our primary goal. I was expecting a newer building just outside the walls but found a small old building. We paid our 120DK, got our audio guide, and started up a dark, narrow wooden staircase. The multi-floored exhibit is meant to make you feel that you are on a ship. The entire exhibit consists of four well-done dioramas, but the only multimedia is the audio guide. So you are standing in front of these life-size compact dioramas for about 10 minutes each listening to a good story; actually pretty funny.
Last chance to spend out remaining 240DK. The ship provided a free shuttle which we took back to the ship, but we walked into town. Split is a beautiful city with a lovely atmosphere. Our visit to Diocletian’s Palace (the old city) was very brief, especially when we encountered massive tour groups. We walked outside the walls onto the Riva esplanade and finally, after asking several people, found the TI and got a city map. The primary thing on my list was to visit the Mestrovic Gallery (40DK pp), a former palace converted to a gallery for the sculptor’s work. It was a very long but lovely walk through a nice residential area, off the tourist track. We spent an hour or so at the gallery, enjoying Mestrovic’s work.
Didn't bother to get off the ship, even to get our passports stamped in Slovenia.
Beware if you make specific plans. Our day began with a terrible experience because the port was fog-bound and closed. Ship was supposed to dock at 6 am and we had plans to meet a friend who was taking the train from Milan at the train station at 10:55 to spend the day with us. Ship did not dock until 1 pm; very unnecessary poor disembarkation as people were anxious to get off and ship provided no organization. By the time we met our friend at 2:30 at the designated restaurant, the kitchen had closed and we had to find another place. Back to the ship to pack and overnight. Then stayed in Venice two more nights before flying home. It was our fourth visit and we still love it.