Forgive the length of this diatribe, but we have to tell someone!
First time Kiwi cruisers not originally contemplating cruising as a preferred form of travel but decided to opt for this one as it allowed the ... Read More
Forgive the length of this diatribe, but we have to tell someone!
First time Kiwi cruisers not originally contemplating cruising as a preferred form of travel but decided to opt for this one as it allowed the opportunity onshore at ports in several different countries. Obviously for us "down under" the major handicap is the distance to travel to get to the ship but with a good airline (Emirates) and a stopover in Dubai it made things a little easier. We booked through a local travel agent and were transferred from Fiumicino airport to our Rome hotel, the Quirinale, as part of the package very efficiently and the hotel was just fine.
Next day transfer to the ship went as planned and the embarkation was very efficiently handled and it was all very exciting. We had a cabin with balcony, (a surprise for the good lady!) and this was well worth while. Very pleased with the cabin (stateroom). Plenty of storeage space, excellent beds, good shower over bath, lighting, dEcor, amenities (inc fridge) Happy with forward, starboard position on the Rotterdam deck. Cabin crew very good (Made & Gede) as were the majority of the ship's crew.
Most reviewers talk a lot about the food, which of course is important and most have different opinions and experiences. We thought that in the main the quality and choices were good and as good as we had expected from our research. Sure we had different experiences at each of the restaurants, for example we went twice to the Pinnacle Grill with the first visit just great. Lot of interaction with the waitress and we enjoyed the fare. My wife still drools over the table side prepared Caesar salad she had. The next visit though was a let down with a great looking steak pretty hard to chew and the lobster tail offered in place of very poor. But other courses were fine. Must take issue with a reviewer who thought the menu wasn't much different than other restaurants, just not correct. The Canaletto Italian style restaurant was also pretty good for a change and although the menu didn't vary we enjoyed the 2/3 times we went there. The Misto de Mare (seafood/pasta) was very good. The Vista restaurant, the main dining area, we found just fine for breakfast if you weren't in a hurry and lunch if you came back off shore. Had dinner once there and we shared a table with two other couples which is fine if you want to socialise. The meal from memory was quite adequate. The Lido restaurant which is the more casual buffet style one open longer hours than the others was the most popular. We thought again the quality and variety of food quite adequate. On the first night the steak offered was just beaut. The problem with the venue has been documented in other reviews in that on shore days it is a real bun fight to get a table for breakfast and quite often the same for an evening meal as well. To get a window seat was quite impossible unless you arrive early evening and we are sure some people must camp in those seats from lunch time! And when they cordon off a large section for the crew, and there are tables not being used there, well it isn't a good look. We went and sat there one night out of desperation and they said that was fine but you didn't get table service but that was fine to. There was also the Terrace Grill open for lunch. All in all there was adequate variety and apart from the above room service was a good option for breakfast prior to going ashore, and evening meals if you wished to relax away from the maddening crowds after a days outing. The service for this was spot on.
A wide variety of activities on board and a comment here about the guy who ran the ship, the Cruise Director Drew Smith who was very good at his job from introducing the shows, conducting an interview with the Captain, presenting the early morning T V show or fronting the line dancing! For an Aussie, he was pretty damn good! Our comments re the shows echo others in that the performers were loud and not that expert, Vivienne and the HALCats were a pretty good band, she had a good strong versatile voice and the string quartet playing modern classics were excellent. You can't please everyone and the majority of folk on board were 60+ so who do you cater mainly cater for? We thought the activities and entertainment were many and varied and even included a couple of good comedians.
In regard to shore excursions we, in the main "did our own thing" or went on private tours with another couple or a small group. The HAL excursions are expensive and you are with a group of 40 folk or so being guided around and travelling in a large bus which is not to everyone's liking. Having said that we did go on two HAL excursions, a pre cruise booked one to the villages of Cinque Terre and a last minute decision to join a short one in Tunisia. The guides on both were very good it should be said. However on the former tour after viewing three of the five villages our return journey consisted of a 20 min wait for the 20 min train trip to La Spezia where we reboarded our coach for the 1 ½ hour drive to Livorno without any commentary or comfort stops. The Tunisia tour luckily was only for four hours and our original decision to stay on board may have been the best option.
Otherwise "doing our own thing" was quite successful. Will mention here the following. Very good private tour in Athens arranged though Nikos Loukas of Private Greece Tours (email@example.com) with the commendable guide Alex. Highly recommended. Also in Palermo we discovered quite by chance Alessandra, a very bright lady who speaks very good English and she looked after us well taking us to Monreale and other places of interest. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last but not least a private tour from Naples to Pompeii, down the Amorfi coast to Positano and Sorrento. Organised through AP Tours (email@example.com) handsome Vittorio looked after us for a great day only ruined by the shipping company (see below). This is a tour you must take and private car is best as you get to Pompeii before the crowds and being in a smaller vehicle you can navigate the narrow streets particularly in Positano which is just magical!
Now going back to our shore trip in Naples, a bit of a gripe in regard to our departure time which may relate to 'Gratuities' below in an oblique way! The itinerary stated that we departed the port at 6.00 p.m. but in fact we were asked to be back on board at 4.30 p.m. for a 5.00 p.m. departure. This impacted on our day's excursion which was a shame as a lovely day it was for our last of the cruise. We steamed for our final port at just over 13 knots. The captain told me that if you steamed for a day at 11 knots instead of 17 knots you could save USD70,000. Average speed over the second 10 days of the cruise was just over 12 knots. Good savings made perhaps and if so (see gratuities) could the crew benefit that way? Actually if you have a look at the Ship's Log departure times from ports we in several instances left earlier than scheduled on the itinerary. Skippers in for a bonus perhaps, he said cynically!
A brief note about gratuities as we see an Aussie gentleman pontificating about why he reckons they should be paid without question. For the uninitiated on HAL accounts USD11 per person per day is added to your shipboard account at the end of a cruise to be divided up amongst crew members as a gratuity to supplement their wages. At the end of a cruise you have the right to adjust the amount you wish to contribute either up or down. On our cruise(s) totalling 20 days there was an average of 1950 guests. So doing the maths USD429,000 could be available to say 600 crew (officers, entertainers, retail outlet folk wouldn't be in the mix I guess) so that equates to USD715 per crew member. We think what you pay or don't pay is up to the individual and his or hers personal particular circumstances. Some folk prefer to tip one to one. We noted that the Cruise Director made an appeal to passengers to dig deep for the crew who we all agreed do a great job. The cynic could suggest that the shipping line pay them a little more and avoid all this scenario. Another point here, and this is peculiar to Kiwis perhaps, is the cost of travelling further than anyone to the destination. Also at the time of the trip the NZD was only buying USD.75c. The AUD was on a par or stronger than the USD. So some folk have it a bit better off and there is a case for others to look closer at expenses. We thought the majority of the crew were just great, many of them, particularly the staff serving in the Lido being under a lot of pressure and had to put up with some demanding people. They deserved a bit extra on the side we reckoned.
Mainly for first time cruisers. Most things, particularly internet, laundry, drinks, photos and HAL excursions are expensive. So do your homework. If you have to be involved with the internet take your laptop or iPad and/or find an internet cafe ashore. Alcohol. Well you can take wine on board for use in your stateroom but there is no bother in wandering up to the Lido with a glass of wine in your hand. If you purchase a wine package it may be a good idea to have all the bottles delivered to your stateroom and then take it to the restaurant, with proof that it is a ship's package, as we only got one of our selection as that particular wine ran out. Very annoying. We also found that if we took a few cans or bottles of beer back to the ship for private consumption the crew didn't clap us in irons. If you like an early morning hot drink the way you like it take a little immersion heater. We found the coffee on board not to our liking. Had some great coffee ashore though. An extra little clothes line is handy (there is one installed over the bath) if you are washing out your own smalls and shirts. They dry quick (don't hang them out on your balcony in view of the rest of the world!) A length of rope as others have mentioned if you want to hold your balcony door open now and then for some fresh air. You don't have to get involved with formal nights if you don't wish to, enjoy the Lido Restaurant or have a rest with room service (it's free!)
All in all it was a marvellous experience and any negatives were certainly outweighed by the positives.
We would certainly travel Holland America again. Read Less