We chose this cruise for the itinerary, which included the Riviera, several stops in Provence, and a stop for the Alhambra (although Granada was quite a distance from Almeria, it was worth the trip). We are 2 active Americans in our 30s, ... Read More
We chose this cruise for the itinerary, which included the Riviera, several stops in Provence, and a stop for the Alhambra (although Granada was quite a distance from Almeria, it was worth the trip). We are 2 active Americans in our 30s, no kids. We went in late May and had PERFECT weather: only a few sprinkles here and there, temperatures never above 75 F!
We stayed one night in Rome fairly close to Termini station, and found the train to Civitavecchia to be very nice, although you have to walk quite far to get to the platform. Once we arrived in Civitavecchia station it was a bit confusing how to get to the ship; there's supposed to be a bus but we didn't find it. It was a bit too far to walk with luggage, but we made it. Embarkation was a breeze, and disembarkation was very nice - we really liked being able to stay in our state room until our group was called. We waited about 30min after it was called and walked right off, got our luggage, and were on to the next adventure.
The ship itself is very elegant. Almost all of the staff are Indonesian, unlike other ships we've been on that had more diversity. They were all very friendly and spoke good English. The clientele of the ship was significantly older than we're used to (we've only sailed Princess and Seabourn before). We were (jokingly) asked several times if we'd wandered onto the wrong ship. I counted a grand total of 6 children onboard the entire time, and only a few other middle-aged couples like us; at least 90% of the pax were in their late 60s to 80s. Mainly Americans, but quite a few Australians too. Because of the small size of the ship (or the age of the pax?) there weren't a lot of activities onboard, but we were in port most of the time anyway. We did miss the people watching we've previously enjoyed in the Princess atrium. The overall atmosphere was very quiet and peaceful.
Service was generally very friendly and helpful, except for the people in the Lido buffet who either didn't speak good English or were cranky. While I felt everything was sanitary, some details of cleanliness were less than stellar. For example, the phones and makeup mirror in our cabin had clearly not been wiped in some time, and there was crud around the edge of the bathtub that floated atop my bath every night (I easily scrubbed some of it off with a washcloth the first night, but it reappeared from somewhere to leave a brown ring around the tub every night).
We were pleased with 'anytime' dining; we had a grand time dining with a big table of CC'ers we'd met through this forum! Dinner selection was good, breakfast ok, and Lido not so great (but we never like the ship buffets much). We didn't have much lunch onboard since this was a port-intensive cruise, but we did enjoy the afternoon tea service a few times. They had a crepe station one afternoon which was a nice treat. We aren't big drinkers so we just ordered a few drinks a la carte; prices are reasonable. The coffee was TERRIBLE, including the espresso, so we stuck to tea. We also brought our bottles of wine onboard (1 each), but there was no corkscrew in the cabin to open it! We had some onboard credit which we used at Pinnacle Grill one night, but we didn't think it was really worth it. I ordered the crab legs, which were also available in the MDR later in the cruise, and was served an obscene quantity (perhaps 5lbs?), half of which was overcooked.
We only did one ship excursion, to the Alhambra (Granada) from the port of Almeria. The rest of our excursions we arranged with private tour guides and fellow pax from the "roll call" forum. These all turned out to be really good experiences, and we enjoyed meeting the other passengers from the forum.
Livorno: we've seen the sights in Florence, so we decided to DIY to Lucca, Italy. This required 2 buses and 2 trains; while not particularly difficult, it seemed like more effort than the little town was worth. The Puccini museum was a rip-off.
Monte Carlo: the seas were very choppy and we later learned we were lucky to get to shore, as they stopped the tenders completely by noon. The marvelous Michel of Revelation Tours picked us up at the dock and took us to several beautiful Provencal villages including St Tourettes sur Loup, St Paul de Vence, Eze, and Nice. Though the Grand Prix Historique was going on, we had no trouble getting in/out of MC. Michel gave us fascinating details about the history and geography of the region as we drove. In Nice I really enjoyed the Chagall museum (he's my favorite painter), while the others in the group enjoyed a tour of the city. The boardwalk in Nice is also very beautiful. Near Eze we stopped at the Fragonard factory; we probably should've skipped this, as it wasn't that interesting even to the ladies. We had planned to go back out and see the casino in the evening, but the tenders were not running and we were too tired anyway.
St Tropez: Again the wonderful Michel met us at the port and took us to the villages of Grimaud, Port Grimaud (none of us liked this "Disney-esque" resort), Ramateulle, and Gassin. He also took us to a wine tasting at a winery where they make the local (excellent) rose. Again we'd planned to go out and people watch in the evening but were too tired after dinner to venture back out.
Ajaccio: We didn't have a tour arranged from this port, as there weren't many good options. We walked around the markets and the boardwalk, and then along the beach for awhile. We were back on the ship in time for a late lunch, along with most of the passengers. It was pretty but not particularly interesting.
Almeria: This was the only ship excursion we took. It was quite a distance (2 hour drive), but the Alhambra is worth it! However, the excursion only spent an hour at the site and then 2.5 hours on lunch - I would've much rather flipped that proportion.
Ceuta: We were really at a loss as to activities here, since we weren't interested in going to Morocco. An Australian couple we'd met earlier in the cruise attempted to DIY the border crossing and were deterred by "guides" insisting on hundreds of Euros to take them across. Others we talked to later said the ship excursion was worth it, though. We just walked around the small town, had some really great coffee, and walked along the beach for quite awhile. (The beach was fairly nice, and it was sandy unlike the rocky beaches of Europe). At least we can say we've set foot on the continent of Africa now!
Marseille: We had a little difficulty finding our guide (Delphine, arranged for us by Nancy McGee), since the port won't allow private tour vehicles to park very close to the ships. Delphine took us to Aix-en-Provence, which was very beautiful and clearly more wealthy than other villages we had seen so far. There were very large markets going on while we were there. Since it was a perfectly clear day, she then drove us up to the highest European cliff at Cap Canaille for a spectacular view over the Med! We were amazed to see rock climbers on the sheer face. After that we took a short boat ride from Cassis to the Calanques, which are very unusual white rock formations that fall right into the sea. People were out sunbathing on the rocks, which looked very uncomfortable to us. Back in Marseille, Delphine drove us up the hill to Notre Dame, which was very beautiful inside and enjoys beautiful views over the city.
Sete: At first we were confused on how to find our private guide, but then we realized we had to take the short bus ride to the port gates, where our guide was waiting. We were back with Michel, who showed us the Versailles-like gardens and Roman ruins of Nimes. The Colisseum-like arena (later turned bullring) was very well preserved. Then he took us to Uzes, which was one of our favorite villages. However, the highlight of the trip was the visit to the old Roman aqueduct, Pont du Gard!
Barcelona: We were docked overnight here, and opted to take the ship's shuttle, which was worth it - it dropped us at the maritime museum. On disembarkation day we took a taxi directly to our hotel, where we stayed a few more nights. We enjoyed all the usual sights in Barcelona via metro or on foot, and especially appreciated the much cheaper prices on food and shopping! The beach at Barceloneta is pretty and well attended (including by topless and fully nude sunbathers). We booked timed entry tickets for La Padrera, Park Guell, and the Sagrada Familia, which helped with the crowds. A highlight here was the Camp Nou Experience, which was well done even for someone like me who doesn't really care for soccer (football).
Though we enjoyed our cruise, we would probably not sail with HAL again due to the vast age difference, unless the itinerary was something we couldn't find elsewhere. Read Less