Mediterranean MomentsOur Iberian flight left Washington D.C. for Venice on the evening of June 22nd allowing an extra pre-cruise day to explore this beautiful city. We decided to stay a little off the beaten path in the Cannaregio ... Read More
Mediterranean MomentsOur Iberian flight left Washington D.C. for Venice on the evening of June 22nd allowing an extra pre-cruise day to explore this beautiful city. We decided to stay a little off the beaten path in the Cannaregio neighborhood at the Hotel Vecellio. This made for an easy transport from the airport on the Alilaguna water bus (less than a 10 minute walk to the stop and 13 Euro for the ticket) to the hotel which is located on the lagoon at Fondamenta Nuove. It took about forty minutes and made one short stop at Murano. There was only one small set of steps to maneuver before entering this small charming family run hotel. We practiced a little of our Italian while gathering tips of local places to have dinner, but not to worry as they also spoke English. After refreshing ourselves, we set off to explore the area around the hotel which is quite residential and after about fifteen minutes arrived at Piazza San Marco. From there we wandered along the amazing winding streets to the Rialto Bridge and checked out some of the shops. To save time and steps as we weren't near a bridge, we took a traghetto across a small canal (inexpensive-.50Euro) and continued back to the Cannaregio neighborhood. We had dinner among the locals at Osteria Storica which is run by the daughter-in-law of our hotel manager. The seafood risotto was delicious but the S shaped Burano cookies and dessert wine was even better! We were soon asleep with the sound of the water lapping outside our hotel room.
The next morning we walked to San Marco and easily purchased tickets for the Doge Palace at the Correr Museum and did a self-guided tour with info from Rick Steves. Audio sets are also available. This was a definite "must see." We then waited in a long line for about 30 minutes to enter the Basilica San Marco. We had done a lot of research about the basilica but the number of people, the overall darkness inside, and our schedule didn't allow for as much examination as I hoped. If this is of great importance to you, plan to do a guided tour. We returned to the hotel to pick-up our luggage, took a water bus to Piazzale Roma and a cab directly to the ship (10E.) As we would be staying in Venice until tomorrow, embarkation was a breeze.....no lines at all. We found the ship looking great with rich colors and many artistic accents. We had lunch from the lido on the aft deck which became our favorite spot. We returned to our cabin and found our luggage had arrived so we unpacked before heading back out to explore more of Venice. We walked to the vaporetti stop and did a full tour of the Grand Canal. Again using the info from Rick Steves, we were able to identify many of the key sites along the way. We walked to the Rialto Bridge and again to Piazza San Marco and listened to the dueling orchestras before taking a cab back to the ship. As it was now somewhat late for dinner, we decided to try dinner from the lido at one of the attractive table clothed areas. This was not a good choice. We found all of our entrees to be over cooked and dry.....perhaps because it was near the end of the serving time. This turned out to be more the exception to the rule of our dining experience on the ship but we didn't return there for dinner either. This is not to be confused with the new Canaletto Restaurant.
The next day we explored more of the city, did some shopping, and took pictures etc. before taking the water bus back to the ship for the sail away. It was quite beautiful being on deck for this on a beautiful sunny day. The music was playing, those fancy cocktails were flowing,
and everyone was having a good time. I would say contrary to other posts of HAL ships, there was quite a mix of age groups on board. Though more than half were of my fellow Americans, there were also many Canadians and Europeans. For those planning to travel this route this summer with children and teens, there were a lot of young people having a good time. There were also a lot of young couples as well so this mix provided a good vibe.
Our next stop was Dubrovnik. We took the local bus to the Pile Gate and though we were open to walking around and climbing the wall at the Ploce gate entrance if the lines were long, this was not necessary. Walking the wall is a must. You really get to see the city from a perch. There were even a few residents with small tables selling hand crafted items along the way. The citrus trees were full of fruit almost asking to be picked. The people were very friendly. Having local currency I'm sure is preferred but they would also take Euro if the bills were small. Stop for a gelato by the big ice cream cone in the main square before you leave.
More sunny weather greeted us during our three days visiting the Greek Isles. We walked into the city from the ship to explore the old city walls in Corfu and meandered through the streets. Argostoli was a little gem on the Sunday morning we were there. We attended a service at one of the churches, observed fishermen coming in with their catch of the day, visited an archeological museum, and enjoyed a cup of cappuccino before the shops opened up in the early afternoon. Of course the favorite isle was Santorini. The captain allowed us to go out onto the bow of the ship for the sail into the rim area. We took the cable cars up to the top which moved right along after about a 10 minute wait. We then took the local bus up to Oia. This was even more beautiful than all the pictures that I'm sure you have seen. Make time to visit here as it is less touristy than Fira. We also took the local bus back which was inexpensive and you could buy tickets on the bus. I believe they ran every hour this time of the year. And then there is the sunset...whether you stay in Oia, Fira, or go back to the ship it is a lovely sight.
Back to Italy where the choices are many. The fish market in Catania was great fun, and you also have the ruins right in the center of the city along with the churches. Sit on a bench and people watch as this is a vibrant place. In Naples we took the hydrofoil over to the island of Capri. This was our family name so this was more special for me. It is extremely scenic. You can walk around the many lanes that look over the sea, walk through the Gardens of Augustus, and see the Faraglioni rocks. There are also many shops and cafes to spend time in, as well.
Arriving in Civitavecchia, we took the train into Rome and got off at the St. Peter's stop. The train ride took about 40 minutes. The train was very crowded and we had to stand during the trip in. Once there, it is a short walk over to St. Peter's Square and there are also places to stop for a cappuccino. We chose to visit the Vatican Museum while in Rome as we had missed this during our previous visit. Buy your tickets ahead of time online and get right in. The art collection is amazing. Our guide was great. Pay attention when they explain highlights of the Sistine Chapel ceiling at the orientation of the tour as you are on your own when you arrive there at the end. You are also supposed to be silent which the guards had a hard time controlling! The lines waiting to get into St Peter's were extremely long so plan for this or plan ahead! In Livorno, we took the train and went to Lucca. This was even more charming than I had expected. The home of Puccini, it would be great to attend an opera if our visit was longer. There are many beautiful churches and many shops to get lost in.
Our last stop was Barcelona. This is truly a magical metropolitan city. We were there on a Sunday evening and so the Magical Fountains were showing there colors with music in the background. It takes place in front of the art museum at the Placa Espana. You can arrive there by Metro. We added an extra day to our visit and stayed at the Hotel Jazz, a great modern hotel. It was very conveniently located near the Catalunya metro stop. It is close to La Rambla and La Sagrada Familia. We only wish we had more time to spend in this fabulous city.
We truly had an enjoyable vacation sailing through one of our favorite destinations. We found the ship to be in great shape with a variety of amenities. With only one sea day we tried to save a few hours of each day for time relaxing on deck Though there were many people on
board, we never found the ship to be over crowded. With two pools, one having a retractable cover, there were plenty of chairs and tables for everyone to lounge around. I liked the old fashion wooden chairs with plump cushions. We especially enjoyed the Pinnacle Grill and would highly recommend it. We had both sea food and steak and both were cooked to perfection. I would encourage booking ahead.....before you leave home. We had booked two nights in advance and were given a third night from our booking agent that was a surprise when we arrived on the ship. Unfortunately, we were not able to get a reservation for this third night (unless we ate at 5:45 the day we were in Rome) once on board as they were full. They did arrange for onboard credit which was nice. We really enjoyed anytime dining. We never made reservations, always were able to get a table for four, and only one night did we have to wait twenty minutes (they give you a hand held beeper when your table is ready) for our table. Though we had many different people serving us over the period, everyone was attentive and we did not find this to be a problem. Except for the first two nights when it was just ok, the food in the dining room was quite good, especially the onion soup. Maybe they had trainees on those first nights! During the cruise we celebrated Canada Day and the 4th of July. On the July 4th celebration, they went all out with red, white and blue decorations, ice sculptures, carved fruit displays and of course bar-b-que.
There was great emphasis on hygiene. There was a letter in our room when we arrived explaining what they were doing to keep everyone healthy and what we should do to help. There were many, many anti-bacterial dispensers dispersed throughout the ship, and a number of items were served to you in the lido. The staff appeared to be working very hard and all tried to be helpful and friendly. The special entertainment was excellent. Preston Coe performed everything from a repertoire of the Three Tenors, Roy Orbison, and guitar riffs of Eric Clapton. Leo Ward performed state of the art illusions sprinkled with comedy. They each did one show in the early part of the cruise and returned for a joint show on the last day. The HAL singers and dancers performed two energized shows of dance and Broadway. The other lounge acts were the caliber mentioned in a number of previous posts. I did have to use one service that I hope all of you don't have to. I experienced a bad toothache and had to use the medical center. Dr. Sanchez and his staff were great. They helped to make me comfortable and even arranged for me to see a dentist when I arrived in Barcelona. The other thing HAL did that impressed us was making everyone feel a little closer to home. Having a news recap from a major news source in your country and printing both the daily program and the menu in your native tongue was a nice touch. Embarkation and disembarkation went smoothly as did tendering when it was necessary. The G8 Summit was being held in Italy so extra security required that all of our passports be turned in for a few days and that procedure went well too.
Other than that, the only thing left to comment on is our cabin. We had plenty of storage room and plenty of hangers....I even learned from some of you that I could lift the lid of the hassock for more storage options! We used room service twice, though they had to enter sideways with the tray. We enjoyed our robes and had more TV channel options than on Celebrity. Our only issue was their vacuum type plumbing system. At peak times in the day there would be a long delay before flushing.
Though we often travel to Europe to visit family, we are new to cruising. This was only our second cruise and our first on HAL. I have learned so much from your many posted tips and comments and find great enjoyment in reading about your cruising experiences. I hope my review recalls some memorable times for those of you that have been to these places before. I also hope it provides information and confirmation to cruising newbies like me that you can have a wonderful time even if you aren't sailing in a veranda suite! Hope to meet up with some of you on a future cruise....... Read Less