My 20-year-old daughter and I took the 12-night Western Med cruise leaving out of Rome, and just returned a few days ago. The cruise definitely exceeded our expectations. We flew into Rome, and took advantage of HAL's air program. I ... Read More
My 20-year-old daughter and I took the 12-night Western Med cruise leaving out of Rome, and just returned a few days ago. The cruise definitely exceeded our expectations. We flew into Rome, and took advantage of HAL's air program. I was able to get air for just $804 round trip pp through them, and that was a direct flight from Chicago. We stayed at a wonderful B&B near the Vatican (Al Colonnato di San Pietro Bed and Breakfast), number one on tripadvisor, and I can see why. Reasonably priced, perfectly located, and the proprietor, Rosa Maria, took care of us like family.
After four glorious and extremely tiring days in Rome, We were ready for our cruise. We took the train from Rome to the port, Civitavecchia, and then simply took a cab to the ship after we arrived. It was only 20 euros, and well worth avoiding the hassle of waiting for a bus. Additionally, we had saved a ton taking the train down, at only like 5 euros each. Embarkation was a breeze. Very little waiting and super organized. Our room was actually ready when we arrived as well, and we were early at just before 1 p.m.
We had chosen an inside cabin, 8126. The cabin had tons of storage, so we were able to get everything organized and put away. Very little noise and very little movement. Our stateroom was attended by Asis and Eko, and they were just phenomenal throughout the cruise taking care of the cabin. When we arrived, the room was made up into a king, but when we asked, they quickly changed it to two twins.
The ship itself is a moderate sized ship. I was told we had just over 1800 passengers on board. The majority of the passengers are over 65. There were virtually no passengers my daughters age, and only a few my age. That did not remotely diminish our experience however. We have both been on multiple cruises on lines including Celestyal last year, Costa, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and NCL. We both agreed this line had the best food and the best staff of any we have sailed on, and we truly had a tremendous time.
We opted for the open seating option for dining. Because this cruise was extremely port intensive with only 2 sea days out of 12, we weren't sure when we would be ready to eat each day. That option was definitely perfect for us, as we ate anywhere from 5:15 (when the dining room opened) to 8:45 p.m. We never waited for a table. They always were able to seat us immediately. They gave us the option to share or to sit alone. Most nights we shared, and we met many wonderful people on board. All of the passengers we met were extremely well-traveled, and it made for really awesome dinner conversation. Staff was amazing and super friendly. Food was superb. Best we have had on any cruise line by far. I had duck several nights, pheasant, quail, lobster, filet, salmon, just to name a few of the entrees. There were numerous options in every category every evening, and everything was prepared perfectly. With all of the people we sat with, and many quite hard to please, none had anything negative to say about the food or service. I just wish I had taken more of their names to give each recognition here. There were so many who went above and beyond for us. One evening, we arrived back from Barcelona extremely late. We knew we were going to miss the show. When the Maitre'D heard we were wanting to make the show, he found us a table for 2, and had us surrounded by staff. He assured us we would make that show, and we did, with time to spare. It was amazing, and made us feel really special.
Mornings before a port, we would have room service, which was always prompt and very good, or we would go to the Lido, and have something made for us to order. The crepes were amazing. Staff there was attentive as well, and always made sure to find us a table, and keep our drinks filled.
We were pretty tired in the evenings, but still managed to make most of the shows. Our favorites included a magician, an impersonator/comedian, and an incredible piano player. The band was also excellent. I would have enjoyed some music pool-side on our sea days, but it was still pleasant to sit by the pool. We played ping pong and shopped, went to the teas, and rested up on these two days. Spa options were long and rather pricey. Some short options for massage would be my only request. There was internet available, and I bought a package. Every line I have sailed on has had fairly poor internet service, and this was no exception. It rarely wanted to connect without a very lengthy amount of time, and we went through our minutes very quickly and had really looked nothing up. I would recommend to wait for shore.
Our ship stopped in Livorno, Monte Carlo, St. Tropez, Corsica, Almeria, Ceuta, Marseilles, Sete, and Barcelona.
In Livorno, we grabbed a cab to the train station and then took a train to Pisa. I had made arrangements in advance to climb it, and we had lunch literally looking up at the leaning tower. Pure magic. We then took the train to Lucca, and rented bikes, and biked all around the wall of the town. Took our bikes down to a little cafe and had croissants. It was a truly splendid day. Hint: Cabs are plentiful and much quicker than the bus service and parked right there at the dock. However, returning to the train station in the afternoon, it is difficult to find a cab. Make sure to leave plenty of time for this.
In Monte Carlo, the Antique Grand Prix was going. This definitely added to the event, and we could see the cars racing below from the palace, as well as hear them zooming past us on the streets behind barricades. We loved it, but admittedly it made it trickier to get around. Gorgeous yachts were in the port. We saw the changing of the guard at the palace, went and lost a little money at the Grand Casino and went to a great market there. We also took the train to Eze that day. Had lunch at Le Chevre D'or, a two michelin star restaurant overlooking the Med. The view was pure magic. Even got a little teary as they showed us to our table. It was that spectacular, and I had read about the place long ago. The medieval village of Eze was gorgeous. We did some shopping there. A little rain came, and we went and took a wifi break and waited it out. It was a great day. Hint: Take the bus to Eze. The train station is a long long distance from the village and is at the base of the cliffs. It is really not walkable. The bus does pick up there in front of the train station however, and will get you to Eze. We had difficulties finding the bus station in Monte Carlo, as the stop we needed was barricaded up.
In St. Tropez, I had also been given some erroneous information, making it sound like Pampelonne Beach is walking distance. It very definitely is not. Of course we realized this once we were about 25% there on a road with no place to walk and surrounded by vineyards lol. Ended up finding this strange oasis in the middle of nowhere, where we bought fruit, and the proprietor called a taxi for us for the rest of the way. 30 euros to go 2-1/2 miles was a bit extreme, but we were just happy to not be on the side of the road anymore. I would have paid anything lol. Went to Nikki Beach Club, so my daughter could finally see some people her age. We were there a bit early, and it was super quiet, so headed to the beach. Daughter rented a jet ski for 65 euros for 20 minutes, but the guy took a liking to her and she ended up out there for about 45 minutes, then had lunch at a great french restaurant literally right on the beach. After lunch, headed back to Nikki's. It was now PACKED. Loud music and a fashion show going on. The bouncer found us a bed and we enjoyed music and laid out the rest of the afternoon. It was a great day. Had a mercedes sedan take us all the way back to the ship and he charged 30 euros as well. Just be prepared.. In St. Tropez.. Have a lot of money. We spent almost 100 euros for lunch. The beds were 20 euros apiece. It's not a cheap place lol.
In Ajaccio, Corsica, I really wanted to take one of their boat tours; however, literally none of them worked with out time in port. We had eight hours, and but they literally all were approximately 15 minutes off. We took the petit train tour of the town. Saw all the sights of Napolean's birthplace, and then went to a great market right in the town square. Ended with some great food right on the dock, and then went back to the ship. Pretty laid back and relaxing day.
I had a private tour arranged in Almeria, Spain with Jackie Bragg of Costa Almeria Tours. She took my daughter and I on a tour to Cabo de Gata. My daughter is specifically interested in flamingos, and she assured that she was able to see them there. The tour also included a boat ride to see the cliff formations and some sea life. We ended the tour at a lovely fishing village and had an amazing lunch there. Absolutely breathtaking view and a really awesome time. Jackie went out of her way to make sure we had a great time, and she assured we got back to the ship in plenty of time as well.
In Ceuta, Spain, we went with the ship's tour to Tetouan, a medina on the African side of Morocco. The tour originally was sold out. I had been on the waiting list for over a month prior to the cruise. In the end, the ship was able to accommodate the 100 plus guests on the waiting list by taking multiple buses. We absolutely loved this tour. The border crossing would have been impossible to do on our own in just 7 hours in port. They kept us in smaller groups and then took us on a tour of the medina. We had a very small amount of time to shop and then had a truly wonderful lunch with traditional moroccan food and dancing. We were very happy with the tour.
In Marseilles, we were bussed to the port area, and did pay a small fee for the transportation. We took a boat tour of the calanque formations out of the port for 27 euros each. We then went to lunch at Miramar Restaurant, a very swanky port-side restaurant. At 113 euros, it was an expensive lunch, but the food was quite good. In the beginning, the hauty waiter was ignoring us. We noticed French patrons around us talking about us and motioning to us. Suddenly, the couple sitting to our right complained about our service, and suddenly everything changed. We had great service after that, and our fresh fish was amazing and swimming in butter. Yummmm.
We also took a boat out to the Island of If, where there is an old prison, made famous in the book, The Count of Monte Cristo. We had fun exploring that as well. Bus service back to the ship was quite slow to arrive, and many passengers were getting disgruntled about that. In the ship's defense, everyone arrived looking to go back around the same time, so that is rather hard to avoid.
In Sete, we had very little planned. Just an easy day sightseeing this pretty little town with canals. We went to an awesome bakery and had croissants, and then went over to the town market. Fresh so fish it was still moving! :/ Dear daughter bought some strawberries and we found some wonderful soaps and sachets from the region's lavender. Had lunch in a little bistro in town, and then headed back to the ship.
Our last port was Barcelona, where we overnighted. It ended up being our favorite port. We started out in La Rambla and enjoyed that immensely. Mimes, and booths of very type abound there. We ended at this square (Placa de Catalunya) that is literally covered in pigeons. Dear daughter bought some seeds and they were all over her. After lunch at an awesome little bistro nearby, she wanted to come back and do that again. Got some great pictures, and then took the subway to La Familia Sagrada (powerful and breathtaking), followed by another subway trip to Park Guell. Hint: Park Guell is a very long and strenuous walk from the subway station. A cab might be a good idea. If you want to enter La Familia Sagrada, be sure you have made a reservation before arrival. We thoroughly enjoyed Barcelona and definitely would like more time there. It was nice that the ship overnighted there, but we had to leave the next morning, so we went back around 8:00 to have dinner and pack.
Overall, it was a lovely cruise. I would highly recommend Holland America Line. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and cannot say enough about how great the staff is. The food was wonderful and the ship was beautiful and kept very clean. Entertainment was very good, and certainly in adequate supply given such a port-intensive itinerary. Read Less