54 Rome (Civitavecchia) Holland America Westerdam Cruise Reviews

Holland America Westerdam Mediterranean Civitavecchia (Rome) to Barcelona June 2017 While everyone has their own likes and dislikes, there was very little not to like about this cruise on the Westerdam. This ship had been in ... Read More
Holland America Westerdam Mediterranean Civitavecchia (Rome) to Barcelona June 2017 While everyone has their own likes and dislikes, there was very little not to like about this cruise on the Westerdam. This ship had been in drydock a few weeks earlier. Some of the rehab work took longer than expected and continued up until our voyage. By the time we got on, all of the work appeared finished. New carpet and drapes were just the start. The lobby was completely redone (the crystal chandelier is gone), along with most public areas of the ship. A few new cabins were added. The most controversial moves among the HAL devoted were the elimination of the old library and the Crow’s Nest, the former high front-facing bar/nightclub. The real consternation on message boards seems to be the worry that HAL is straying from the classic maritime look. After actually seeing the changes in person, I personally think the worry is overblown. The new look is definitely more “modern.” For the most part, the color palate is understated with grays, browns, golds and creams with a few other splashes of color carefully mixed in (frosted blue chairs in the cabin for example). Nothing screams at you. I remember the world almost came to an end when the Zuiderdam was first introduced with the bold loud colors. While some elements may not be my personal taste, the look is certainly fresh and clean, and I would argue, classy. This cruise represented a bit of a personal transition for our family. It was the first time our teenage boys (ages 14 & 16) were not active in Club HAL. This was quite a departure from previous voyages where one (or both) would rush through dinner to race up to the Club HAL room. We have great memories of Club HAL adventures over the years. My wife and I will never forget walking on the deck one evening after dinner and glancing in a window and spotting our boys, dressed in pirate hats and painted on mustaches, swinging swords as they marched through the ship. Our boys especially remember a few of the CLUB HAL counselors over the years, especially the guys who actively played with them instead of just babysitting. Kids grow up. Now we’re at that stage where the boys aren’t interested (yet) in a teen disco. Our boys played a few video games along with basketball and even soccer on the sports deck. We’re thankful they have each other. We are all creatures of habit and we like what we “know.” Count our boys in that category. Last summer, we took Princess to Alaska (my wife and I had taken HAL to Alaska before kids and we wanted a slightly different itinerary. During our entire trip on Princess, our youngest, talked about how he wished he was on HAL. He constantly pointed out the differences. Of course that immediately prompted comparisons the moment we stepped on the Westerdam. Despite the bias of a 14-year old, the service and staff on the Westerdam was really superior. We only saw natural smiles on the crew members. On this cruise, more than any other we’ve been on, we were constantly greeted and engaged by the crew. It is really an understatement to say we were pampered. In the Lido we were constantly asked if we wanted a refill on juice during breakfast. Plates were removed from the table without being intrusive. Staff members polishing the stairways would ask if we were having a good time—and really wanted to hear the answer. Our room steward Mawardi IMMEDIATELY knew our names when he first saw us. His assistant Wayan was almost as quick! Our luggage had gotten wet during our travels. Mawardi came to the rescue and volunteered to rush it to the laundry and got it back in three hours! During our cruise we came to know Mawardi as the outgoing type who would see us down the hall and call out our names. Wayan turned out to be more reserved but yet so kind. We had “Anytime Dining” which we had enjoyed on HAL before, but found it more cumbersome on Princess. Previously on HAL, we could make reservations (6:15 for example). We tried unsuccessfully to do that last year on Princess and ended up standing in line each night. Again, back on HAL, we made reservations for the full cruise and had the same wait staff. After the first night, our waiter Jro Gede had glasses of iced tea waiting on the table for us. A constant smile on his face even when he was busy. Again, like the assistant cabin steward, our assistant waiter Wayman (yes, similar name) was more reserved but was gracious and the ultimate professional. Throughout the cruise at least one of us at every meal would comment about how much better the food was on the Westerdam than Princess. My wife pointed out that it seemed we ate more quantity on Princess in an effort to find something that satisfied us. Our dishes were all well prepared. Some nights we even skipped a course or didn’t order dessert because we were full and happy and couldn’t hold any more. We did note a little pattern as the cruise went on with side dishes and garnishes. For example one night would be “eggplant” night and it would be used in some form or fashion on many dishes— main dish of eggplant parmesan, on another dish there be a slice or two of grilled eggplant as a side and a small wedge of eggplant would be used on yet another dish for a spot of color on the plate. Another night it would be spinach, risotto, broccoli or potato. We just found it amusing to see how many forms each one could take. We did not visit the Pinnacle Grill or Canaletto. The Lido has some subtle changes. It’s now called the “Lido Market.” Other than a few new fabrics, I really can’t see many physical changes. There are slight changes to the way some foods are presented and served. The hit seemed to be a somewhat expanded salad bar on both sides in the back – you tell them what you want in your bowl. You do not touch anything. They’ll even toss the salad for you if you’d like (just like some of those trendy big city salad restaurants). Many sandwiches are pre-made and put in brown wrappers. An Italian section is open almost all day and night where you choose your noodles, sauce and add-ins. This is also where the pizza station is. While lacking a large variety, the pizza HAS GREATLY improved. For years, the pizza on HAL was the worst on the planet. This is one area where Princess still prevails, but now HAL pizza is actually pretty good. It’s closer to Papa John’s as opposed to the sorry excuse for food it used to be. The next step would be more exotic toppings but I’ll gladly take this current offering as a decent option. The Dive-In is still a hit! The burgers are really excellent. We were split on the Dive-in fries. Two of us LOVED the seasoned fries. Two liked them but preferred regular fries. None of us cared for the hot dogs. They were big and plump but we all seemed to think the burgers were by far the better choice. The steam table next to the Dive-in had chips, salsa and other Mexican items. There was an excellent seafood salad and corn salsa. This is a chance to be creative. We had traditional Mexican food, but also experimented. Once we used the BBQ on top of the nachos instead of the traditional taco meat. Two things hold this back from being a spectacular experience-- the nacho chips themselves are really inferior from what people are used to now and the melted canned yellow cheese is tasteless goo that is not even served anymore at ballparks and amusement parks. A few other notes about the revamped Lido: More often than not, they bring drinks to you (or at least they offer). Scooped ice cream is still there with a rotating flavor in addition to the big three. The famous HAL bread pudding is at the ice cream station during lunch hours and I forgot all about getting some! In the evenings, the entire Lido is dressed up a bit with trendy bamboo looking placemats and a few other flourishes. The demise of the deck parties is apparently true. Totally gone. A few years ago we had lavish deck parties featuring food from the ports/country we were in. Two years ago, we noticed the number of deck dinners had been scaled back but yet there were still hors d’ordeuvres or appetizers served on some nights instead of full buffets. Of course the dessert extravaganzas are totally gone as well. I understand the issue of running into sanitation regulations with the deck dinners but the loss is still there. I also admit the dessert functions had gotten smaller and less “extravagant” and were much less tasty or tempting. But they did add energy and provided an “event” to each cruise. The entertainment puzzle is a hard one to solve. I’m really not sure if there is a way to put all of the pieces together and make everyone happy. We enjoyed some of the offerings, others we didn’t care for. We did appreciate the flow and timing of the entertainment— so that when one event ended, another act would be starting in another venue. As the cruise went on, our routine seemed to settle on the main showroom and then exiting to the duel pianos (called “billboard onboard). But we did stop by Lincoln Center Stage (classical) and BB King’s Blues Club a few times. With a music and entertainment background, we found the production shows good to OK. We never had a problem getting a great seat -- and that actually saddens me. If people do not attend, they’ll stop mounting these production shows. On the other hand, if the quality were boosted just a bit, then I think people would respond. Generally, the production shows lacked personality. They were machines on the “automatic” setting. The people who put these shows together obviously favor dance movements over vocal. I watched as the performers “pranced” through the paces. We used to call it “voguing,” where someone struts across the stage as if they’re on a fashion show runway. The dancing was sharp and very good—but the performers were robots. One guy, Gene, gave it his all night after night, every single second he was on the stage, but he was the exception. The vocalists could all sing but the shows did not allow them to show off their talents. The shows followed a formula with the six vocalists trading off solos and a few duets. There were very few times when the six sung at the same time to create a strong wall of sound. The shows had many successful ingredients, but when baked, they lacked the flavor. The electronic sets, combined with the costumes, were really stunning. The song choices though baffled me—some were obscure, others left me shaking my head asking, “why did they pick that?” If the audience does not know the song, then it better be so intense, so well done, so strong, that the audience gets caught up in the pure talent. Otherwise, pick songs that are familiar. On nights when then there were not production shows, the entertainment had a wide range: -A Tina Turner sound-alike (haven’t I seen this before) -A magician (Ruben Vilagrand – I wasn’t excited about seeing this but he was an original spin on a magic show) - Musician who played many instruments (Andy Bunger – Different!! Panpipes, marimba and others) - Spanish musician Andrea Amat (Let’s just say it’s hard for one person to hold a stage for an hour.) The Mainstage highlight turned out to be a movie???!!! In a fairly new concept, a one hour nature film, Frozen Planet Live,” was shown on the digital background in brilliant HD. All of the ship’s instrumentalists were pulled together from the Lincoln Center Stage, BB King and the Mainstage. They performed the musical score live (but somebody please move them over a little bit so they don’t block the view of the screen). It was absolutely beautiful and was the only time that people were excitedly talking about how good the show was as they were leaving the showroom. Even ship officers and staff members came in to watch. I should also single out that part of the renovations of the ship included opening up the piano bar to the casino. The lack of walls invited people to stop and listen for a while. The piano bar concept is now TWO pianists and singers. The two guys were incredibly talented. They took turns playing/singing and they would also sing together and harmonize. The two seem to enjoy each other and that attitude filled the huge space. One minor criticism was that both had higher voices and a lower key would have made it easier for the audience to sing along. We appreciate the effort to keep PA announcements to a minimum but we rarely heard or saw Cruise Director Hamish. I do wish he had pumped a few of the shows by saying something like, “you’ve got to come to the Mainstage tonight for ‘Planet Frozen.’ It’s a totally new concept on HAL with super crisp HD images of penguins and polar bears and every musician on the ship will be on stage to play the score live.” On past cruises the cruise director would push and promote one big thing each day so people knew what they should not miss. Several cooking demonstrations were offered during our cruise. Have things changed? We were surprised no “nibbles” were offered of the dishes they were showing. I REALLY wanted a bite of those “Ultimate Brownies.”  The chef (I never caught his name) was excellent and engaging. Only one hands-on class was offered and it happened to be on a PORT DAY when we were off the ship. We found ourselves with extra on-board credit and opted for a spa visit. My wife described the treatment as wonderful but was a bit turned off by the “product sell” at the end of the session. She said it negated some of the relaxation treatment she had just received. As with every cruise, we get off regretting we didn’t sit on the balcony more! But having it there with the large windows is sure nice. All cabins now have large screen TV’s. Our was mounted to the wall instead of the small box tv sitting on a shelf. The TV’s come with on-demand movies, music channels, some live TV channels, shore excursion information and more. This is a huge improvement. We will admit to binge watching (it’s vacation and during the school year we don’t have time for movies!). So while it was nice to watch in bed (stayed up too many evenings!), we do miss the dedicated movie theater and the popcorn that came with it. We really had one true frustration. While I would not call it a “complaint,” others on our cruise did! There were several points (Livorno, Sete, Marseille and Barcelona) where the ship was docked at a large port and shuttles were needed to transport guests to the city entrance. The city of Sete provided a free shuttle but Livorno and Barcelona required an extra charge. We had private tour companies come to the ship and pick us up in Livorno and Barcelona, so we did not have to deal with the shuttles. In Marseille, we were told we had to buy shuttle tickets or use a cab, but thankfully I had read on the internet that a free shuttle was provided by the port if you followed the path (the ship did not mention this to passengers). We heard others who were “mad” they had to pay extra just to get off the ship. I believe the cost was about $16 each, but obviously that adds up for large families or groups. Our frustration was more about getting information. There was a cloud of suspicion that ship personnel were not forthcoming about land transportation so you would buy a shuttle ticket or a shore excursion. While that suspicion may not be founded in fact, there is the issue of perception. To sum up the cruise itself, we felt like we were on a new and fresh ship. EVERY crew member seemed happier than any other cruise we’ve ever been on and our food seemed especially well prepared. ----------- Our ports of call: Rome (Civitavecchia) Livorno, Italy (Pisa/Florence) Monte Carlo, Monaco Villefranche-sur-Mer, France (last minute change from St. Tropez,France) Ajaccio, Corsica, France Almeria, Spain Ceuta, Spanish Territory Marseille, France Sete, France (Carcassonne) Barcelona, Spain We had difficulty finding information about some of the ports, so I’m including this: Rome— We pre-booked the TAM bus from the airport to the main train station for five euros. Note while you book a “time,” there is no problem simply jumping on the next bus if your flight arrival time changes. We stayed at the Boscolo Exedra Roma using Marriott points. This hotel was awesome. It was in an historic building and was unique and different from a sterile Marriott! Elite members are offered a huge free breakfast buffet that was also unique with meats, cheeses, European cakes and even a salad bar. We walked almost everywhere. (There is also a metro stop at the hotel front door.) PLENTY of restaurants are nearby. We used walksofitaly.com to book two tours (easy process on-line). One was a night visit to the Colosseum (we picked a 7pm time and got to experience both daylight and night). Our other tour was the night Multimedia Tour Inside The Forum. Both experiences were neat. I will note, it appears private tour companies buy these tickets in bulk and resell them. Your “added benefit” to justify the price markup is a guide that talks to you for about an hour before turning you over to an official guide at the venue. Yes, we learned more with those extra tour guides, but I’m not sure the extra cost was worth it. However, you may not have a choice because individual tickets are hard to come by for these venues at night. During the day, we did a six hour bike tour on the ancient Appian Way with topbike rental. This was excellent. They provide “e-bikes,” which made your ride much easier. You don’t have to be an athlete to do this. It would be suitable for regular people, young and old, as long as they are somewhat comfortable on a bike. The ride took us out of Rome along the Appian Way. The original stones on the old Roman road create a bumpy ride, so we mostly rode beside it (hee-hee). We stopped for several breaks, including a tour of some catacombs and a park to view the aqueducts. On our second day we pre-booked a tour with Eating Italy Food Tours. This was also a fantastic experience. It took us just outside the main tourist areas through the Testaccio neighborhood. We visited a gourmet grocery store where we tasted “aged” olive oils, sandwich and pastry shops, a produce and food market, had a pasta lunch at a neat restaurant inside what used to be a Roman trash dump (a mound made out of broken pottery jars) and were taught how to spot “real” gelato from the mass produced stuff. In between all of this, we visited the monuments and fountains. Rome to Civitavecchia: Pre-booked train tickets on Trenitalia (five euros). Walked with our rolling luggage several blocks from hotel to train station. The train ride was just over an hour. The walk from the Civitavecchia train station to the port property was easy (a wide sidewalk lined with vendors selling t-shirts, hats and art. After walking through the gate, we weren’t sure how to get to the ship. We started walking and lucked out on finding the free port shuttle. That bus took us to a staging area where all cruise ship passengers get on buses to individual ships. This process took more than an hour. It would be impossible to do this with a lot of luggage. We did not see any cabs outside the Civitavecchia train station (they have to be there somewhere???) Apparently a cab can take you directly to the ship. Livorno, Italy (Pisa/Florence) We hired a private car (Nicola Scovenna) which met us at the dock. Our driver took us to Pisa and drove us around the town for a few minutes before letting us out at the gate to the Leaning Tower/Church property. Nicola Scovenna arranged for timed tickets for us to climb the tour and enter the church. We were told to spend as much time as we wanted and spent about 90-minutes there. He then drove us to Lucca for a great afternoon. Our driver actually lives in Lucca and he drove us around the “new” portion of the city for a few minutes and then took us to the “old walled” city. Cars are not allowed inside the old city. He took us to a bike shop where we rented bikes for two hours and we rode on top of the old city walls (very level and easy). Then we rode the bikes through the skinny streets of the city and explored. Later, we met our driver back at the bike shop and he drove us around to another side of the walled city and let us out at the edge where he pointed us to a gelato shop (CHEAP compared to Rome) that’s been in business for nearly 100-years. After our snack and more time to explore another part of the town, we headed back to the ship. Our driver stopped by a huge grocery store/mall where we bought a large package of Coca-Cola for five euros to take onto the ship. We could have done most of this by train and saved a few dollars. But our driver arranged our tower tickets, we didn’t have to manage train schedules, and he took us directly to the bike shop in Lucca and to the gelato place and we stopped by the grocery store. All of this was still less than expensive than the ship tour. I should point out we chose Pisa and Lucca because we were docked on a Monday and some museums and attractions are closed in Florence on Mondays. Monte Carlo My original plan was to jump on the Hop on hop off bus (La Grand tour red bus) that stops at the cruise dock. The line was long and after waiting for two buses and realizing we didn’t stand a chance of getting on a bus anytime soon, we set out on foot. I read on the internet there are easier ways to go “up” the hill toward the palace, but I couldn’t figure out how. Many would not want to walk and climb the stairs we did! We toured the palace and watched the changing of the guard and then walked the streets and the parks and visited the Cathedral. We decided to return to the ship and ate lunch and set out again to see the car museum and look for an ATM. After returning to ship again for dinner, we took an evening stroll over to the famous casino (another long walk). The Grand Prix had just been the week before so we walked in front of the grandstands on the streets that are used for the track route. We made it to the casino at dusk and got some beautiful pictures of the casino and watched the expensive cars arrive. The evening walk and pictures were probably our favorite part of our day. Villefranche-sur-Mer, France High winds prevented us from docking at St. Tropez. After two attempts the Captain pulled back and headquarters sent our ship to Villefranche-sur-Mer. We were so glad the day worked out like this! The extra time on the ship allowed us to rest and take it easy. We docked around lunchtime, so most people ate on board before getting off. There was a beach within easy walking distance. After spending three hours on the beach, we explored the charming town. There were many sidewalk cafes along the waterfront where we saw many from our ship soaking in the atmosphere. I didn’t hear one person complain about our change, in fact most seemed happy about it! Ajaccio, Corsica, France This port has been described as the perfect kind of stop—easily walkable. This was market day in the town square and we saw many tents selling meats and cheeses that are special to the region. Too bad we had no way to buy and transport those tempting foods home!! This town is known as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. We paid a small fee and toured his small house (more interesting than we expected). This was another place where it’s best to simply walk and explore. Almeria, Spain We normally make our own plans in port and book with private vendors. But after finding very little information about this port on the internet, we ended up taking a ship tour of the Tabernas Desert. The tour was actually pretty cool. We boarded buses that took away from the port to our restroom stop (about a 20-minute ride) where we were divided up to ride in jeeps. Each off road vehicle held between eight passengers along with a driver. We toured the desert and learned that it is actually quite famous. Hollywood discovered the location decades ago. Our guides provided pictures of famous movie scenes and so we could easily see what had been filmed in specific spots. The desert is used so often that electric power cables are even buried in the ground to help moviemakers. The desert has been used for westerns, action films and war movies. The producers are required to return the desert back to the original condition. We even heard stories about production assistants carefully putting small three inch rocks back in the correct spots after filming. A small theme park is nearby built around some of the old western movie sets but we didn’t go there. After our jeeps left the desert, they dropped us off at an olive oil production facility. Since harvest season is in the fall, we were able to tour the entire factory. Ceuta, Spanish Territory This was also a port where I had difficulty finding information about private tours and vendors. We opted for the ship tour into Morocco. Looking back, this is one of those rare cases where I’m glad we took the ship tour instead of trying to do it on our own. The bus ride to the Moroccan border was less than ten minutes. Moroccan authorities took our passports and kept them until we returned. On the bus, our Moroccan guide told us how safe we are in his country. However, we were advised to stay with the group once we got to Tetouan, Morocco because the tour of the Medina (the old city market) was like a maze and we could get lost. Unlike European markets that are in large squares and along wide streets, a Medina in many middle-eastern countries is located in skinny alleys. Think about spy movies where a chase takes place—where people are running and tripping over animals, produce boxes and sneaking down small side alleys. All was good until we turned a corner. I was in the back of our group and I heard commotion at the front. A man came running up to our group and punched a lady in the face while screaming in Arabic. Thankfully, after getting over the shock, the lady was ok. It was then we realized we had four bodyguards with our group… including an undercover police officer. They quickly went into action and wrestled the suspect down. The suspect’s pants got pushed down during the scuffle and revealed more than you wanted to see. It was a dramatic few minutes. The undercover officer put handcuffs on the suspect and led him away with his pants still down enough to reveal every “thing.“ Our tour continued with the guide and authorities grabbing native costumes and dresses from vendors and using the attack victim as a model and then giving her the clothing to take home. She ended up with a nice collection of goodies. A delicious lunch was in a restaurant with musicians and dancers. After lunch there was the expected rug store stop which most people seemed to take in stride. Much to our surprise, some people actually bought! I personally don’t see how anyone could make a decision about a large and expensive rug in such a rushed manner. But to each his own. I would certainly take this tour again. I didn’t feel unsafe before our “incident.” And after discovering we had bodyguards, I totally felt safe. I’m sure the suspect was dealt with severely. Marseille, France During research, I read how easy it would be to take a bus to Aix-en-Provence. It turned out to be super easy (almost)! Passengers were told it was not possible to walk from the ship to the city and that shuttle tickets could be purchased that would take you to the city. I hated the thought of buying four shuttle tickets, but still be faced with the task of getting to the train/bus station. We asked on board about a city bus (thinking that would get us to the bus station) and couldn’t get a firm answer. We got off of the ship and started walking looking for the port exit to get a city bus. After a five minute walk, we came to an area with benches and a sign that said “FREE SHUTTLE for cruise passengers. We saw a port security guard and he told us the shuttle would be coming in a few minutes. Another option was we could have walked to a nearby gate and gotten a city bus. After a 30-minute wait, the shuttle arrived. The shuttle ride was long—so it would have been impossible to walk to the city square. On the far end of the square, there was a metro (subway) station. We easily bought subway tickets and rode two stops to the train station (I’m told walking is possible but we wanted to maximize our time). At the fairly large train station, we found the city bus parking lot (plenty of bus signs in the train station) and found the #50 bus. There was a bus ticket window inside the train station but we were told to pay the bus driver. The ride was about five euros each and took about a half an hour. The buses travel between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence frequently (roughly every ten minutes). Exiting the bus station in Aix-en-Provence we turned left and walked down the street about three blocks and were in front of the large visitor’s center and a large modern glass Apple Store. We got a map inside the visitor’s center and spent several hours exploring. This was a Tuesday and was market day and was one of the most expansive street markets we had seen. It covered blocks. A few of the tents and stands sold food. Mostly the vendors were selling women’s dresses, scarves, hats and shoes. A few offered linens (table runners and tea towels). We are not shoppers and grew tired of the market fairly quickly. But wandering the streets of the historic town was nice. There were cafes, bakeries and many shops selling only nougat (A Confection: Main ingredients: sugar or honey, nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, or hazelnuts, egg whites, sometimes candied fruit). We visited some sites/churches and made our way back to the bus station for our return. Aix-en-Provence is picturesque (go on the side streets off the main road) and well worth a few hours. We again went to the FREE SHUTTLE stop near the city square and waited about 20-minutes for the shuttle to arrive. Because of this, we decided not to venture back into Marseille late in the afternoon. Sete, France (Carcassone) A free shuttle was provided by the town to take you from the ship to the edge of the port where you could walk into the town. It is described as a movie set, an ideal seaport town with art deco buildings along the Canal Royal. We did not see it. Instead, we went to Carcassonne, the number two most visited site in France behind the Eiffel Tower. But getting started was the hard part. In researching options, I found some opted for a train to Carcassone and others chose a rental car. Of course the ship tour is always an option as well. Before the trip, I didn’t see any information about how to get to the train station. In addition, a map showed it was not near the ship. I also didn’t see much information about how to get from the train station to the historic site. I saw one person mention using Europcar for a rental. But again, the office didn’t appear close to the port. I chose to use Hertz and got a fantastic deal with my corporate code (less than $50 for an automatic) for a somewhat decent sized car. By looking at the map, I was going to have to take a taxi to either the train station or a rental car location, so I chose Hertz for the price and to get points . On the ship, I had the hardest time getting information about how/where to catch a taxi in the port. When we got off, Sete shore representatives were super nice and called a taxi to meet us at the shuttle drop off location at the edge of the port. It took 30-minutes for a taxi to arrive. I’m not sure what we would have done if we had taken the shuttle directly to the port gate because I didn’t see any cabs. The taxi took us to the Hertz location (which was actually part of a Toyota dealership). It took quite some time to complete the paperwork even though I’m gold. Once we were in the car we followed Mapquest or an hour and 20-minute ride. Whew! Carcassone was neat. It’s a walled city that dates back to Roman times. Walking around inside the walled village is free. There are restaurants, candy stores, bakeries, clothing shops and even a hotel. It was easy to think you were in a manufactured fantasy land at an amusement park, but the buildings were REAL. The main attraction is the castle. The entrance fee for that includes an audio guide. While standing in line to buy entrance tickets, a group of people wearing the cruise ship tour stickers came up behind us. In other words—the ship “tour” was transportation to Carcassone—They still had to buy tickets to visit the castle. The castle history was interesting. I note there were no furnishings in the rooms. After our tour, we walked along the ramparts (along the top of the walls). There was a beautiful cathedral in the village and a music concert happened to be going on inside when we were there. We left around 2:30 and started back to Sete. There was a shopping center with a grocery store and a McDonald’s and gas station. We zoomed in there to refill the tank. The gas pump wouldn’t take my card and I had trouble finding someone who spoke English. Finally I figured out I had to fill up my tank and then drive to a booth and then pay before I could leave the gated area. Once back at Hertz, we asked them to drive us back to the port. We didn’t have enough time to really see or walk around Sete. I would estimate our total cost of the day was around $125. Barcelona, Spain In an effort to maximize our time in Barcelona, we hired Barcelona Day Tours for a half day tour. They met us at the ship which meant we didn’t have to bother buying tickets for the ship shuttle. The ship was docked a L-O-N-G way from the port entrance. We had a driver and guide and they moved us quickly through the city and showed us the highlights. A skip-the-line ticket at Park Guell was included (we had roughly 45-minutes there). After four hours, they dropped us off near the Palau de la Musica Catalana (the music hall) where we had tickets for the 3pm English tour. At this point, since we knew where we were, we explored and looked for a quick lunch spot and found a Spanish fast food restaurant called Pans (a mixture of a Subway and a McDonald’s). We went back to the Palau de la Musica Catalana for our tour. Well worth it!!! The building is noted for a giant stained glass roof. You’ve no doubt seen pictures of it advertising TV sets in the Best Buy ads. After our tour we grabbed a cab (very reasonable) to travel across town to Sagrada familia for our 4:45 timed ticket entrance that we bought in advance (highly recommend buying in advance to avoid the LONG line). At this point in our trip (and combined with other vacations) our teenage boys really didn’t want to see “another church.” But I promised them this one would be different. Words can’t even begin to describe this. The story behind it is incredible. The construction techniques are unbelievable and the beauty of the interior is genius. Our ticket included a trip up in an elevator in the “Nativity Tower” (walk down winding stairs). Construction is expected to continue until 2026. My family wants to go back then! We spent three hours there taking the audio tour, the tower climb and looking at the exhibits in the basement. We took some absolutely gorgeous pictures of the light coming through the stained glass windows. Another cab took us to a dinner location for tapas—TAPS (Mare de Deu Del Remei 53). The food was reasonable and good (but choices were more limited than I expected). After dinner, we walked to watch the magic fountain show. The streets and sidewalks are packed around the main fountain. When the show started there was excitement in the air. Everyone was smiling and enjoying and EVERYONE was taking pictures. The fountain is historic. It dates back to the 1929 World Exposition. The show itself lasted a solid 45-minutes. You’ve probably seen other water fountain shows with a few more tricks thanks to modern technology, but again, this was fun and happy and a great way to end our day and our vacation. We easily hailed a cab when the show was over and it took us directly back to the ship (again bypassing the need for the paid shuttle bus). Read Less
Sail Date June 2017
We had a really nice trip on the Westerdam. However, it is a far cry from the Holland America trips of the past and really leaves a lot of room for improvement. Let's start with the good: - Great cabin upgrade to the Neptune ... Read More
We had a really nice trip on the Westerdam. However, it is a far cry from the Holland America trips of the past and really leaves a lot of room for improvement. Let's start with the good: - Great cabin upgrade to the Neptune Suites. Really, these rooms look amazing. The difference in the decor is a great improvement! These cabins are by far our favorite (with the only exception being the Pinnacle Suite of course) - Staff on this ship was amazing. Everyone was friendly and seemed very happy. Our room stewards were out of this world, and our dining room server and assistant were amazing as well. Club HAL was amazing with our daughter even if it was underused by others who had kids on the ship! - We really loved the new addition of the EXC travel area on level 10, and the ability to access and book tours via my cell phone was super easy and convenient! - The new television system was super nice! Being albe to watch movies on demand as well as any news channels was awesome! I loved this new addition! - The itinerary was a great one, and we had a lovely time in all of the ports. It was especially nice having the late times in port at quite a few of the locations which allowed for a very unique experience of many of the cities we stopped in! - HOORAY!!! The casino is FINALLY SMOKE FREE!!! I am beyond thrilled about this, as we were finally able to enjoy an evening in the casino and all over the ship without having to worry about smelling like smoke! Seriously.....this was a HUGE benefit of this ship! Ok....now on to the NOT GREAT parts: - The laundry service on this ship was by far the worst we have had in the past few cruises we have been on over the last 12 months. It was incredibly slow, and on the last day we were on the cruise, I had to call the Neptune Lounge at close to midnight to find out where the rest of our laundry was. NOT what I have experienced in the past at all, and VERY disappointing considering that this is part of what you pay for with a suite. - The spa was also a HUGE disappointment (as others have stated). I have stopped using them after past experiences....especially on this particular ship. However, my husband always looks forward to it, and how can I say no. It's his vacation, and he enjoys relaxing in the hydro pool especially after a long day of walking. Well, he wasn't allowed to use the spa for THREE NIGHTS on this trip which was 100% unacceptable. No notifications, nothing. One night it was closed to be cleaned (not sure why it wasn't cleaned between when we arrived and got on board), another night it was closed for Lady's Night which we have continually told HAL to stop doing because it's ridiculous, and the last night we weren't allowed in because Holland America had booked a VIP event on board where they were trying to show off the ship to bloggers and news people. The last one made me more mad than any, because my husband wasn't allowed to use something he paid for so that Holland American could promote their own ship. RIDICULOUS. The president of Holland America was on board, and he should be ashamed of himself for treating customers like this!!!!!!!!!! - We had more issues on this ship than any other when it came to my husband's Gluten Free eating requirements. I have no idea why, but we filled out all of the paperwork over 6 months in advance of this trip. There was NOTHING Gluten Free available in the Lido and nothing in the Neptune Lounge. We had to work everything out after we got on board and were then told it would take 24 hours to arrange for everything. NOT OK!!! With what was paid for this trip as well as the fact that they new 6 months ahead that this was a requirement of ours, it should have been handled over the phone prior to us arriving on our trip or atleast the day we got on board. The Lido usually has signs saying that they have gluten free pasta and other gluten free selections available, but there was NOTHING and everything at the midnight buffet WAS NOT gluten free. So, my daughter and I had no problems, but my husband was VERY limited with what he could eat...which should not happen when you fill out paperwork for a dietary restriction. - This ship decided to refuel while we were on our last day of the cruise in Barcelona. We were essentially staying overnight in the city and then disembarking the next day. I was a little peeved about this, because we had a very noisy refueling ship sitting outside our balcony the entire afternoon we were in Barcelona on our last day of the cruise. This is an INCREDIBLY POOR decision on management's part period. We paid for a full 12 day cruise, and for an entire day I was not allowed to use the balcony unless I wanted to listen to a refueling ship. I cannot understand why they wouldn't have waited to refuel until the following day when everyone was getting off the ship and new passengers were getting on. I have never had this issue before, and I was NOT happy about it. - Changes to the in room dining SUCK big time! It used to be that you could order bay shrimp salads, great sandwiches, beautiful salads, etc. through in room dining. It has become VERY limited, and I found it hard some times to pick certain things off of the menu vs in the past. Not that we use in room dining all the time, but seriously to not offer kid type foods until after 5:30pm. What are you supposed to do if you are traveling with a child??? We also had a huge issue with my husband getting something that should have been gluten free (he ordered it the day before) and it wasn't. It caused him to get incredibly ill...which was NOT COOL! Overall I am still pretty happy with our experience with Holland America Line, but there were by far some HUGE differences between when we cruised in December vs. this cruise. NOT for the better either. You can tell where they are skimping, and it is not in the areas where they should be. The food was good, but I have had bigger portions and BETTER food on past cruises. So not sure if it is something that has changed this year or not. They seemed to run out of certain things on this trip too, which we have never experienced before (for example....running out of Coconut ice cream and Cheddar Cheese???). I have been on this ship twice. Once when it was older and now once after the rehab. I have to say that while the rehab is nice, I am still not a fan of this ship for all of the things listed above. My guess is that it has to do with management. The real issue is that some of these issues we had previously on the Westerdam, so I am assuming that it just has to be management on this ship. For this reason, we will probably be looking for cruises on other ships.....but will probably not be back on this particular ship again. Read Less
Sail Date June 2017
The newly refurbished Westerdam was wonderful.....except on a back to back cruise that they encourage, you get repeat entertainment from the ship's entertainers. One show was a week after the first time. This to me is unacceptable. ... Read More
The newly refurbished Westerdam was wonderful.....except on a back to back cruise that they encourage, you get repeat entertainment from the ship's entertainers. One show was a week after the first time. This to me is unacceptable. The have, in my opinion ruined the Crow's Nest. The comfortable tecliners are gone and replaced with less comfortable chairs. The whole ambiance has been ruined! The new library is now located in a small space on deck 10 but has very few books now....most are reference type books. The excursions office has taken over a large space on one side but their staff don' spend a lot of time there. There are a few electronic tables where you can explore but??? I heard a lot of people who did not like these changes to the Crow's Nest. The new carpets and curtains add a little colour to the decor. The cabins also have new carpets, newly covered couch and new veranda furniture. I was disappointed that they did not refinish the bathtubs. Ours was quite marked and pitted. The staff as always were exceptional and did their best to please. All in all, the Westerdam provides a good environment for you to enjoy a wonderful cruise vacation. Read Less
Sail Date June 2017
We wanted a cruise that visited Barcelona, Dubrovnik and Venice and this one fit the bill. We had a fantastic experience with the Royal Princess last year and were hoping to repeat or excel that with this cruise. Unfortunately this ... Read More
We wanted a cruise that visited Barcelona, Dubrovnik and Venice and this one fit the bill. We had a fantastic experience with the Royal Princess last year and were hoping to repeat or excel that with this cruise. Unfortunately this ship fell down in many areas The onboard experience was very staid and dull, the food monotonous and bland. The options nowhere near the Princess cruise which had 14 different venues versus 5 on Westerdam. The staff however were great, very polite and friendly. There were issues with the cabin with the air conditioning 4 nights and the toilet over flowing 2 other times. There was the outbreak of Norovirus which affected myself and I felt that the ship just paid lip service to the sanitisation of the cabin or perhaps it was just my sanitation crew. I had to instruct them to wipe down the surfaces which was done reluctantly. The excursions are very expensive and the ones organized through the roll call on cruise critic were smaller and much better value for money. The hot tub/whirlpools did not work after the first week. The renovations seem to have been done nicely however. I would not book another HA cruise after this one. Read Less
Sail Date June 2017
The ports on the cruise itinerary were interesting and new to us and this was our first HAL cruise. We enjoyed the nightly entertainment like the Lincoln Center quintet, the B. B. King singers and especially the Billboard on Board dueling ... Read More
The ports on the cruise itinerary were interesting and new to us and this was our first HAL cruise. We enjoyed the nightly entertainment like the Lincoln Center quintet, the B. B. King singers and especially the Billboard on Board dueling piano players. The staff at the Explorations cafe, Lido buffet and the main dining room were the best as they were always so helpful and provided service with a smile. I wasn't lucky at the casino so I limited my play. We had the Signature Beverage package which was part of our Explore 4 promo but will probably not purchase it if it was not given to us as we could hardly make 6 drinks a day (including specialty coffees and bottles of water). My daughter and I attended the free half-hour stretch class. Embarkation in Rome and disembarkation in Barcelona went smoothly. In summary we had a great time on our 12-day Mediterranean cruise on the Westerdam and would definitely sail with HAL again. Read Less
Sail Date June 2017
This was the first cruise after dry dock. We did not experience any issues in our stateroom. We did see some steps in the main dining room where the carpet needed to be tacked down. Deck 10 was closed but this was not a problem for us. HAL ... Read More
This was the first cruise after dry dock. We did not experience any issues in our stateroom. We did see some steps in the main dining room where the carpet needed to be tacked down. Deck 10 was closed but this was not a problem for us. HAL generously compensated us with a $200 on board credit to make up for this issue. This was our 3rd HAL cruise but probably our 20th cruise in total--losing track! The food exceeded my expectations for the most part. I did have to send back under cooked salmon one night in the main dining room. We loved having the drink package and took advantage of the chocolate shakes available at the pool bar and the coffee bar on deck 3. A few annoying things--it is nearly impossible to get half and half for coffee. Everything labeled cream barely colors the coffee. Cappucino with steamed milk was a palatable solution. Also, the orange juice seemed to be watered down in the Lido. On a positive note, the Omelet bar is a great option for breakfast and I loved the raisin bread. The Pinnacle was good for a filet mignon. We went a second time and had the halibut but it wasn't worth the upcharge. The Canelleto restaurant was a nice change from the main dining room. We went to one show. It was a musical production. The performers were good singers with one exception. People seemed to love the Billboard Piano Bar and the BB King lounge. We did not spend much time at either venue. There were never enough bartenders at any of the lounges which sometimes made it difficult to take advantage of the drink package in the evening. This was a very port intensive cruise so we were back in our cabin by 10 PM most nights. We did go to the casino and it was fine. We never saw America's Test Kitchen when it was open. Seemed to operate at odd times. We did not take any of the ship's excursions. We had a large Roll Call but HAL did not provide anything for the Meet and Greet which was well attended. Loved all of the ports--most surprised by Slovenia because I had no expectations. Embarkation was quick but not fun. It was pouring and there was no covered walkway to the ship. Disembarkation was very smooth--no complaints! We did not have any discrepencies with our shipboard account, we were able to stay in our room until called and we found our luggage immediately. Overall, a very enjoyable cruise! Read Less
Sail Date April 2017
Well, except for some small points about the shipping company and the boat as: The reserved cabin, Signature Suite category SY "guaranteed", does not correspond with the awarded (6108) Suite SS category, supposedly superior ... Read More
Well, except for some small points about the shipping company and the boat as: The reserved cabin, Signature Suite category SY "guaranteed", does not correspond with the awarded (6108) Suite SS category, supposedly superior category, but being special for people with disabilities, the configuration of the cabin is different: It has no bathtub Hydromassage, no shower with screen, no double sink. In addition it was damaged twice, having to make use of the public. And it was not bad because it is supposed to be configured to facilitate the mobility of a disabled person and / or wheelchair: It does not have the usual step of entry to the bathroom, handles in the bathroom on all sides; For access to the terrace has a small ramp to save the door frame. But, as I said, it does not match the characteristics of what I booked, even though they told me that I had been upgraded.  The Spa pool was inoperative for two days and at the time I wanted to use it, for maintenance. That I say: could not they do the maintenance at night, after closing? At Westerdam you can see the years in spite of the remodelings and lifting that is carried on. In fact, from deck 10 up was closed the whole cruise because they continued working renovating / expanding staterooms, spaces, etc. Unfortunately, from what we were told, work on 25 new cabins added to deck 10 was not completed as planned prior to our departure as well as some additional finishing work. This meant that the Crow's Nest and / or the Explorations Café were not available. The racking of new mattresses, boxes etc. Was evident occupying the elevators until the cover 9 and of this one towards the 10 by stairs. Do not ask me why. In the restoration aspect, being generous, I give it a 5. Of course, when one has tried the excellence of a Koningsdam last year (for not changing company), any comparison is odious. But it is inadmissible to order a drink, when you sit in the dining room, and that you serve it when you go on the second plate: No, I do not want it now. Either the salmon is ironed, or the breakfast card in the cabin is so minimal. Regarding the scales, except for Koper that does not have much in itself, the others are fine. In Messina, Dubrovnik and Venice we had already been on previous cruises; Of Malta, Mdina; Corfu surprised us; Kotor and his surroundings reminded us, saving the distances, to Flam; And amazing Split that will stand up after so many years. All the scales we made by our account and are easy to do. As far as I can see, I have the impression that the space dedicated to the Rijksmuseum at sea and the B.B.King Club were still to be defined. In particular, the Sala B.B.King used it both for this music and to congregate the passage before disembarking in tenders, as well as to listen to the explanations of what to see in the scales of the following day by the Guide of the excursions department. By the way, I would highlight the B.B.King band, the rhythm section (bass / drums) and the wind section (sax / trumpet). The guitar somewhat loose and the keyboardist complies without great frills. As for the voices, Olivia stands out above all, for my taste. To have a good coffee, you have on the main deck a slight representation of what will be the Explorations Café of deck 10, in a corner enabled with a bar that I do not think that goes beyond 3 meters: Queue and few tables. The indoor and aft pools if I could try: divine, all for me. And free sunbeds all you want. About the occupation, it was supposed to be full. Or at least it was what they told us when we asked to change our cabin: there was no free of our category (or superior? I do not know, I do not know). At times, in the buffet, more than the lack of tables, what were missing were plates and cups !, amazing !; As well as a near-British closing schedule. To be fair also, I have to say that because we could not use the common spaces on deck 10 upwards for the theme of the renovation, we were paid $ 200 per person on our bill (I think the whole passage). And in our particular case, the Spa Access Bonus for all the days of the cruise that we hired on the first day (perhaps having had a whirlpool bath in our cabin, we would not have hired it), we were compensated, paying the amount of the expense in our account. Something of reason we should have. It can be said that the "Adriatic Dream": sailing along the Adriatic coast, the scales included and the good weather we had, was fulfilled. I'm sorry to comment on this bittersweet flavor, but we've lived like this. Read Less
Sail Date April 2017
We are equal opportunity cruisers…we will consider almost any line and choose based on itinerary, schedule, and price. As an example, our last four cruises have been Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and most recently Holland ... Read More
We are equal opportunity cruisers…we will consider almost any line and choose based on itinerary, schedule, and price. As an example, our last four cruises have been Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and most recently Holland America. Our next cruise is on Regal Princess so maybe we're repeating the cycle, who knows? We were on the first Westerdam cruise following dry dock at the end of April. Our cruise was extremely port intensive. It was a 12 night cruise with only one sea day. My husband and I thought the ship was an excellent choice for such a port intensive itinerary, but I don't think we would choose it for an itinerary with a lot of sea days. For a cruise with a lot of sea days, we prefer a larger ship with a wider variety of venues and activities. We didn’t do too much in the evenings because of the type of cruise…we were worn out after full days of touring! One change that was made during drydock was the addition of Billboard Onboard, a dueling piano bar that packed people in every night. That venue and Lincoln Center Stage were always crowded and had loyal followers. We appreciated the smoke-free casino but didn't spend too much time there. I was lucky enough to hit a decent payout on a slot machine early in the cruise and thought it prudent to lock up the cash and stay out of there! I can't tell you much else about the nightlife because our days were so long and tiring we became early to bed cruisers! In my opinion, the food in the dining room and Lido was very good. I liked having items served in the Lido, and the limited hours were not a problem for us because we usually had lunch on shore. We had any time dining and never had to wait for a table. The burgers and fries at the "Dive-In" window were excellent! We also enjoyed specialty dining in the Pinnacle Grille and Canaletto. We were in a Neptune Suite which had been beautifully refurbished during the dry dock. Service throughout the ship was exceptional, and we had no problems that were related to the drydock. The Crow's Nest was closed during our cruise due to continuing construction. We were given a $200 OBC each for that inconvenience. I thought the ship was a great choice for the ports that we visited. My preference on this kind of itinerary is for a "smaller" ship, which ruled out quite a few options. My other requirement was a minimal number of sea days since I can get those closer to home without spending the money to fly transatlantic. Believe it or not, I actually could have used an additional sea day! We loved the places that we visited, but it really was very tiring. I can’t over-emphasize the importance of planning. I read/heard complaints about a lack of things to do in several of our lesser known ports, but we had a great time on the independent excursions we booked. We thought variety was important…you can only walk around so many ancient walled cities without a plan! I would put HAL at the top of my list for this kind of cruise, and I would visit again at the same time of year. Because it was early in the season the ports weren’t too crowded and we were able to dock in ports we had anticipated would be tender ports. We wanted a ship to truly be our floating hotel on this trip, and the Westerdam did the job perfectly! Read Less
Sail Date April 2017
I chose this cruise for the destinations especially Dubrovnik and a chance to relive memories of Malta and Gozo. On arrival at the embarkation I could not believe how simple and easy check in went - on board within 30 minutes of ... Read More
I chose this cruise for the destinations especially Dubrovnik and a chance to relive memories of Malta and Gozo. On arrival at the embarkation I could not believe how simple and easy check in went - on board within 30 minutes of arrival. Apparently the ship had been in dry dock and some work would continue during the cruise. A benefit of $200 each for the inconvenience was added to our onboard account as a gesture of goodwill. Some noise was evident but as the cruise only had a single sea day this was not a problem. Part of the ship were out of use but this did not hamper our enjoyment. Valletta - choose the hop on hop off bus tour which is value for money . Red route in the morning ,blue route in the afternoon. Gives a good impression of Malta but having revisited Bugibba ,St. Julian's etc. I don't want to see them again. Gozo - very pretty on arrival but unfortunately I damaged my meniscus on alighting the tender in choppy seas and lasted only 15 minutes on Gozo. On return to Westerdam I made my way to the Ship's medical centre and was seen by the excellent Dr Dupreez and his team . We were given the option of early disembarkation,not a nice situation to be in. Having weighed up the options this seemed to be the way forward having now been fitted with a full leg brace and on crutches . The next day being a sea day gave me a little more thinking time before our arrival in Corfu where I spent most of the day in a clinic for more X-rays etc. We made our way back to the ship with 20 minutes to spare. The option of leaving the ship was discussed but the only suitable flights were some 19 hours duration with a couple of stops on the way. Faced with recovery at home or on the ship we chose the later and we were allowed to stay on board. I missed out on Dubrovnik and a couple of destinations as I couldn't board the tenders but having said that we managed to get a lot of enjoyment out the cruise and the kindness of the ship's company due to my lack of mobility. Kotor - very pretty and fairly easy to get around. Busy market Korcula - tender transfer so unable to vist. Split - Probably the best location for my limited mobility . Very busy with many market stalls and numerous ferry passengers. Koper - Sunday visit so most things closed but pleasant ambling around. Venice - misty arrival but very busy with at least three cruise ships in dock. Always a memorable place to visit and this was no different. Cabin 7015 - well tended by Bagus and Sugiman , well sited for Lido breakfast . Not so for the main dining area when on crutches. Dining - always a good standard in the Lido. The main Dining room served by Alip and Fauzi , a good choice throughout the courses and superbly tended by the afore mentioned gentlemen. However the best meal was served in the Pinnacle Grill. I have never seen prawns so large and the filet mignon was outstanding. It was unfortunate that there was a ' bright star ' medical emergency during our dinner and suddenly reality bites. I hope the lady in question has now fully recovered. I will revisit on our next cruise with Holland America. B.B.Kings club is always to our taste rather the shows on the main stage but from the small amount of viewing the performers were very capable and professional. One small gripe , why have music trivia quizzes at 9:00 when most people are still in the late dinner sitting. 9:30 would have been better from our point of view. Service - throughout our cruise,through the ups and downs of medical problems this has been the best cruise I have been on . We didn't t get the feeling that everything as a cost and suffer the perception that you have to pay for every thing, however small. Congratulations to the Hotel staff. Read Less
Sail Date April 2017
Cabin and ship very poor, In the morning you do not even get a pot of tea and a freshly baked hard roll. In every port the worst berths, not a single time a transfer to the city for travelers who even go on a sightseeing tour. It is the by ... Read More
Cabin and ship very poor, In the morning you do not even get a pot of tea and a freshly baked hard roll. In every port the worst berths, not a single time a transfer to the city for travelers who even go on a sightseeing tour. It is the by far bad ship with which I have ever taken. Complaints are accepted and one is friendly, but absolutely nothing is done. Every 10 meters on the corridors a bucket that catches water. In the gourmet restaurant sorbet was on the menu, I ordered it. With a grin I was given the cheapest ice with the comment on the table, sorbet would not exist. This is quite typical of this ship, I have experienced it several times. Only positive was the fruit in the morning and the check in. I will never travel with Holland America. Other shipping companies offer much better ships and a real service. Most of the staff on Westerdam made a very untrained impression Everything quite terrible! Read Less
Sail Date April 2017
Based on my experience with the Veendam and now the Westerdam, Holland America Corporate doesn't give its ships enough time in drydock to finish repairs and modifications. That caused major problems for some passengers from broken ... Read More
Based on my experience with the Veendam and now the Westerdam, Holland America Corporate doesn't give its ships enough time in drydock to finish repairs and modifications. That caused major problems for some passengers from broken glass in uncleaned rooms to no electricity in the room or no water or no ability to raise the temperature above 58f. (We were relatively lucky. Our key cards didn't work, but our steward let us in the room until the locksmith came. Our veranda was repainted 2/3rds into the sailing, so we could no longer use it b/c of fumes, but upon asking, they provided us with a fan, so there were no fumes in the room.) Lines of angry passengers were long at first, and it seemed like, with numerous workers hammering away at modifications to Deck 10 and taking up crew beds, that the Westerdam was short staffed and unable to handle issues quickly. Nevertheless, good weather and good ports improved spirits and this was a good sailing. The quality of the food was adequate though people thought changes to the buffet were odd. There's very little that's self-serve now, and the variety of options seems to have diminished. Entertainment and enrichment were also adequate. Classical music in the Lincoln Center Stage venue was exceptional. The dueling pianists in the piano bar were loud and off-key, but hugely popular. They must have been doing something right, but what it is, I'm not sure. Trivia with Jake was fun. Tom, the port lecturer, did a great job helping people NOT on shore excursions figure out how to get around the various destinations and learn about what to see. By the end of the cruise, his talks became more akin to sales pitches, but he was available to answer questions mid-day. That was good because people complained his talks were scheduled in the middle of dinner. He was highly knowledgeable and an asset to the ship though this sailing could definitely have used more in the way of enrichment. The condition of the ship was less than stellar. A fair amount of mess created by the new carpet, a crop of technical difficulties, leaks causing minor floods in several areas, and inadequate replacement venues for the unavailable Observation Deck all led to furrowed brows. Hopefully, all that can soon be fixed. On the other hand, flow felt counter-intuitive. Why must people tramp through the spa to get to the Lido? Lack of staff led to confusion at disembarkation, too, and made it harder for people with limited mobility. Good things about the ship: The refurbishment means it's not at all smoky. Elevators are plentiful. The beds were comfortable, and in our room at least, the air flow was excellent. This was my second HAL cruise and compared to Princess, HAL seems much better about not creating a high-pressure sales environment for jewelry and art. Pre-cruise arrangements (airport transfer, hotel stay) with HAL were organized and efficient. After the initial hiccup, service was great. They did a markedly better job than the Veendam of keeping track of my dietary restrictions - really impressed. Stand out crew members include Wisnu in the buffet, Rirus in the dining room, Darius at guest services, and our stewards Eko and Juns. Overall, a cheerful and earnestly friendly crew. Fellow passengers were mostly friendly and, after the first three or four days, smiling and having a good time. Most ports were excellent and considering the crowds we've heard to expect in Croatia in the summer, going to the Adriatic in late April/early May, before high season, was a good idea. Enjoyable overall, and I'd sail with HAL again, but if at all avoidable, not right out of drydock. Read Less
Sail Date April 2017
I chose this cruise for the great itinerary. As for embarkation, getting aboard the ship went incredibly smoothly, but then the issues began. The tone set from the beginning was negative. No welcoming glass of juice, much less champagne, ... Read More
I chose this cruise for the great itinerary. As for embarkation, getting aboard the ship went incredibly smoothly, but then the issues began. The tone set from the beginning was negative. No welcoming glass of juice, much less champagne, and no one available to help with directions. No sail away party. For the first two days, there was a lot of finger pointing about which department was responsible for fixing snags. For example, our key cards did not work, a problem not rectified for six hours. Lines were long to have this addressed because an enormous number of passengers had issues. What I learned from this experience is to avoid taking a cruise on a ship just out of drydock, partly because of the newly introduced glitches and partly because the refurbishment wasn’t finished – paint fumes were everywhere. Neither the observation deck nor the library were available for the entire cruise. Onboard credit was given for this mishap, but it was inadequate, especially for passengers without a veranda. After the first few days, the staff went out of their way to be helpful and were very pleasant and friendly. The size of our veranda room was adequate, but could have been better laid-out—the closet/bathroom area didn’t make it easy for two people to get ready at the same time. The food was good, but not exceptional. There were unusually short hours for both the dining room and the buffet. The passengers we met were well-traveled, very friendly, and interesting. On a positive note, the ports were exceptional. They were all enjoyable, scenic, historic, and at times breathtaking. Most of the shore excursion guides were informative and engaging (with one big exception in Gozo.) The astonishing beauty, wide-ranging history, and charming Mediterranean atmosphere I encountered on this itinerary made this a wonderful trip. Read Less
Sail Date April 2017
The laundry is piled up and gradually working through the machines. Just returned home yesterday after 18 days at sea, boarding in Rome, Italy and disembarking in Fort Lauderdale. Eight port cities, some surprises, and seven lovely days at ... Read More
The laundry is piled up and gradually working through the machines. Just returned home yesterday after 18 days at sea, boarding in Rome, Italy and disembarking in Fort Lauderdale. Eight port cities, some surprises, and seven lovely days at sea on the HAL Westerdam. We traveled with another couple whose cruising experience was limited to a couple FL/Bahamas excursions. It was interesting "seeing" this extended cruise through their eyes. Specifically booked on a Vista class ship for the hydro pool and "lizard lounges" in the Thermo suite. Also, this ship itinerary had an overnight in Funchal, Madeira which was highly recommended as a must-see by friends. Did not disappoint. Received a super upgrade from HAL - booked lowest level outside (fully obstructed view) cabin. Were immediately upgraded to a full view outside cabin, then ten days before sailing, was offered balcony (VA) cabins for $99 each - took the offer, obviously and sailed on the Rotterdam deck. Entertainment was superb - continually surprised that it didn't disappoint. You learn early to not assume anything with regards to the vista lounge entertainment. Don't judge a comedy/juggler until AFTER you've seen his act! Food was good, as always. Crew were friendly and helpful, always. Passengers, not always so much. Took some issue with the information (or lack) regarding the ports we were visiting. Of course, the incentive is to book excursions through the ship, which we only did twice (Funchal and Malaga for the Alhambra). Other ports, there were some unpleasant surprises re: getting into town (buses, long lines to board, pushy passengers, and Euros needed for transport) Needed a little more info from the ships crew re: what to expect. don't mind paying for a bus, but would rather have the Euros in hand ahead of time; not have to ask the bus driver "how much?" All said, another great cruise. Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
The MS Westerdam October 21 - November 12 Western Mediterranean Cruise was as different as any Holland as any Cruise I have been on. (Which now is twelve) This was my fortieth cruise overall.We embarked from Civitavecchia after three days ... Read More
The MS Westerdam October 21 - November 12 Western Mediterranean Cruise was as different as any Holland as any Cruise I have been on. (Which now is twelve) This was my fortieth cruise overall.We embarked from Civitavecchia after three days in Rome. The ports of call were as follows: Livorno, Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Cartagena, Malaga, Cadiz, Lisbon and Funchal Madeira. I won't dwell on the ports as everyone's perception of a destination is completely different. I enjoyed them all and some were repeats and Malaga, Cartagena, Livorno and Madeira were new to me. I enjoyed Funchal the most as we were there overnight and the island is just simply stunning.In my opinion HAL has been downgraded in several ways. The first thing I noticed was laundry was four days instead of next day service as advertised. I travel in the SA Class as I am used to getting one day service and therefore bring fewer clothes. When I complained I was given a lecture by my cabin steward (twice) stating they were understaffed and I should not expect the kind of service I am used to. I certainly am not used to this kind of disrespect from the crew and I was rather amazed.The next thing lacking was entertainment. In the Crow's Nest, for instance, they had for the entire eighteen days one singer from eight until nine and that was it. No HAL Cats or anything else. There was some entertainment in the Ocean Bar and the Queen's Lounge but the quality was poor. The shows were typical cruise fare and generally were terrible.On a positive note, the food was good, the Spa was great and the ship impeccably clean. I had lunch with the Captain one day and he was a jolly fellow, though quite serious.The ship seemed very understaffed and lines in the Lido were long. Also there was an outbreak of the Norwalk Virus during the cruise which slowed things down around the ship with their prevention methods.The seven Sea days from Funchal to Fort Lauderdale were dreadfully boring as there was little offered to the passengers during the day other than normal cruise ship fodder such as bingo and trivia games.Embarkation and disembarkation in all ports was efficient. We tendered in Monte Carlo and that was smooth as well.Another point of concern is now HAL has changed their Mariner recognition codes. I am now level three, yet no pin was awarded. I was told it will be mailed to me. We were given a lunch, but no personal recognition was given to long time passengers as in the past.I have to say this was the first time I was happy to leave the ship. Usually I can't get enough. My future plans will have to be reevaluated regarding cruising. One last issue. My travel agent sent me a bottle of Scotch for my cabin. It never arrived. I contacted the Cellar Master, a Erik Van Kampen, and he assured me credit would be issue to my account. This did not happen. I will be looking at upgrading to Silver seas or Seabourn as I feel I was on a Carnival cruise on this last one.If you have any questions please contact me at peterc6@bellsouth.net.Peter CFairhope, AL Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
Our party consisted of two couples who had not sailed on Holland America in 20 years. When we saw the itinerary and price of this cruise we decided it was time to see how Holland America had changed. It has changed and not all for the ... Read More
Our party consisted of two couples who had not sailed on Holland America in 20 years. When we saw the itinerary and price of this cruise we decided it was time to see how Holland America had changed. It has changed and not all for the better. Holland America bills itself as an upscale line and it certainly used to be one of the more upscale lines, but it is now just a middle of pack cruise line that no should be regarded as high end. I will not review the ports of call in this review, but have posted recommendations under specific ports. This review will concentrate on the cruise itself and is pretty long. Embarkation We sailed from Rome and had airfare and transfers provided by HA. Usually, I book my own air, but the deal HA was offering was too good to pass up. Surprisingly the air schedule was very nice. FLL to ATL-- a two hour lay over and then nonstop to Rome on Delta. The flight was very nice. We arrived in Rome at 7 AM. After getting our bags we began looking for the HA rep. Finally found her, but Princess had people all over the place. The HA rep said to get our bags and meet her under the clock. We did and were then informed that we had to lug our bags out to a waiting truck in the rain. Princess was collecting all the bags inside and taking them to the truck for the passengers--much nicer. We then had to hike back inside and find out that the bus would leave in 45 minutes. Not too bad we had a cup of coffee and a light breakfast. The bus ride to the port was fine--about and hour and 20 minutes. When we got to the port we were told to go wait inside. Inside was a warehouse type building and we were told that boarding would begin at 11:30am. I understand why, but they could have provided coffee and snacks or at least have heat since they knew a ton of people would be getting there around 9 am. Once boarding began, it was quick and easy. On boarding the ship, the first thing we all noticed was that the old HA met you with a white gloved guide to your room. Not any more. There wasn't even someone to greet you or direct you to your room. We did find our room and headed off for lunch. The advertised dining room lunch for Mariner members did not exist so you had to go to the Lido for a buffet lunch. Not a problem, but it was the first of many broken promises. Room Our room was the largest and best arranged we have had on any ship. Very clean. Nice beds. Set up the way we requested and the best cabin stewards we have ever had. This was certainly up to the standard we expected from HA. Could not have been better. Public areas Very nice. The only area that was not very good was the shopping area. Strangely arranged and not much in the way of merchandise. Very clean ship. Maybe the cleanest we have sailed on. Great maintenance and they still had the wooden deck chairs with pads. Show room very nice. Facility wise, still among the best ships afloat. We really like sailing on a mid size ship. Dining Service Here was the first area we really noticed that HA has fallen way down. The dining room service was adequate to poor. Often got orders wrong and you just did not have attentive service. Not sure if anytime dining is the reason for the decline or automatic gratuities, but the service was really not very good. The Pennacle Grill, for which there is a $20 pp service charge was the poorest service we had on the ship! The Lido buffet has some nice touches, like table clothes at night, but seemed to have a real organization problem. Often ran out of coffee and plates and drinks. Many machines always seemed out of order. One person with one grill cannot keep up with grilled sandwich demands. So you have big bottlenecks in the line. Some days they had people wandering around with refills, other days not. You never knew what you should do and what they would do and DO NOT make a suggestion-- not welcome. The service in the Canaletto was much better. Food Very good-- not excellent, but very good variety and a few outstanding items. The onion soup was great. The steaks were very good. They do not have a clue how to cook a lobster. The food in the Lido, pretty much mirrored that served in the dining room. The breakfast in he Lido had anything you could want. The outside bar b q one night was not great. Could improve their pizza, but all the dishes in the Canaletto were good. Coffee is better than Princess, but still not great. Room service was prompt, but stick to cold items in the morning. Everything is cold in the morning from room service. Deck Service Very nice. Our ship was not full and so there was never a problem getting a chair and there were plenty of towels and bar service. Lots of places to sit if you did not want a deck chair. Very pleasant with the covered pool. Purser's desk This was the source of the first and maybe the biggest problem we had on board. We were suppose to receive an on board credit and some wine and soda cards. They were not in the room and when I went to check on them, with my printed receipt, they said they had no record of any credit. Well I showed them the receipt and they said they would check. Next day they said I would get nothing. I said why? They said you can't combine things with the low airfare. I said why didn't you tell us? They said contact your travel agent. So I sent an email. Travel agent said they sent the paper work in and HA was crazy that the airfare had nothing to do with the amenity package. Well to make a long story short. It took 5 days and a transatlantic phone call before the problem was resolved. HA did NOTHING to help except to tell me I should have booked directly with HA and not use a travel agent. I pointed out that their rate was $400 pp more than my travel agent. They said well you get what you pay for! Just were not helpful at all! In dealing with minor things they were fine. On Board Services Internet is a joke. Because HA won't buy more band width, service can be very slow when a number of people are on. It took me 25 minutes to load the front page of the NY Times. Thank goodness it was on the free portion. Internet was pretty fast at 4 am. Can get wireless in your cabin sometimes. Just very unreliable. On board port "expert" was worthless. Could not tell us how much the hop on hop off bus was-- response to "is there an internet cafe near the ship?" Well they do have them in Spain! Lots of help. If she was not reading from her prepared script, she was worthless. Photographers were good, but $20 for a 5 x 7 was a bit high. But they did not pester you. On board cruise consultant was OK, not real deals, but not his fault. Limited hours. Shopping on board was minimal. Make sure you take your own medications, because all they have is aspirin. Library was very nice and the Explorer's Lounge is a truly nice room. Again the ship is great, just not great service. Entertainment The worst I have ever seen. The singers and dancers could do neither and were saddled with really bad production numbers. The guest entertainers were better, with The Unexpected Boys really very good. But the on board entertainment was not even good. People just stopped going to the production shows. Otherwise the activities were very limited. Seldom was there more than one activity going on at a time and the daily schedule could have been Xeroxed. Nothing changed. Same thing very day at the same time. Often a time you could not figure out. They had a good program fro helping you with your photos and using your computer to store and enhance them. Held 3 pm while in port?? Or in the middle of the dinner hour?? Cruise director was a nice young man, but organization was not his strong point and he seemed to not have much help?? He hosted almost every event! No staff. This was a 18 day cruise and I can say that a lot of books were read-- nothing else to do. There was also no place on the ship to dance unless you liked to dance to progressive jazz. If you asked for a different kind of music you got a blank stare and then they made fun of your choice. The passengers on this ship were in the 50s to 70s and might appreciate a little slow dance music. Again just not good on passenger service. Conclusion Overall a very nice ship. Very clean. Good room service. Everything else was just adequate and you could see HA cutting corners. Most of the old time HA passengers I spoke with were not happy. It is too bad, because with a little better organization and little more emphasis on pleasing the passenger rather than the bottom line, HA could be great. But it is losing ground to Princess and RCCL and Celebrity and may go the way of Home Lines and Sitmar. Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
There can be little more memorable than watching large, sleek cruise ship at anchor in the clear azure water of a Caribbean inlet like Half Moon Cay. Unless it's looking up at that very ship from a tender as you make your way back ... Read More
There can be little more memorable than watching large, sleek cruise ship at anchor in the clear azure water of a Caribbean inlet like Half Moon Cay. Unless it's looking up at that very ship from a tender as you make your way back from the pier at Monaco, the city climbing the ridge behind you. Or perhaps gazing out over the tiled rooftops of a small Spanish city like Almeria at that very same ship anchored in port beyond them. The Westerdam's Journey to the New World (transatlantic) cruise in October offered all those memories and more. I am a 60-year-old single male who traveled solo on this cruise. I booked this cruise based on the itinerary not because of expectations for the cruise line or the cruise itself. My perceptions and opinions may be somewhat different from those of many considering Holland America Line (HAL), the Westerdam, or a similar itinerary and should be read as one viewpoint among the many that can be found at CruiseCritic. I have tried to touch on points not covered by other reviews rather than give my impression of ports of call and the like. As a result this is a somewhat longer review than many. Precruise visit to Rome I booked a short precruise visit to Rome and used HAL to reduce the potential for disruption and problems. If I were to do it again, I would have certainly used HAL for the air travel and transfer to the port, but not for the rest. The transfer to the hotel was poorly organized, slow, and chaotic. HAL's contractor for the transfer provided guides whose English left a lot to be desired, a problem that they compounded by providing little useful information. I believe I could easily have found a better-located hotel at a more reasonable price at this time of the year. The hotel was the Parco Dei Principi, which was a good 20-minute walk from the central part of the city. While the Villa Borghese Park separating the hotel from the city is very pleasant and great for walks (and from all appearances very safe) the streets in the park are somewhat confusing and many of them did not appear on any of the four maps that I was using. The Galleria Borghese is within walking distance. I had no difficulty getting a ticket with an almost immediate entrance time late in the afternoon there. Hotel staff were efficient, responsive, and knowledgeable. I ate dinner in the dining room the night I arrived and the staff was very accommodating, going out of their way to make a single traveler feel comfortable. The food was so-so. Many people have written reviews about visits to Rome and I will not duplicate what they have written. My only suggestions are definitely prebook a tour for the Vatican early and if you want to see the inside of the Coliseum, buy the combination ticket at Palatine Hill (allowing you to see both this fantastic ancient palace area and the Coliseum). The lines are much shorter there. The Ship The Westerdam is a relatively new ship that was refurbished earlier this year. As part of that process the Lido restaurant was expanded, which was badly needed since it is still too small to accommodate all 1800 guests on sea days. Despite the fact that the ship was just in for updating there are noticeable signs of wear. As an example, the seating outside the dining room on Deck 2 is thread bare and worn through. Carpets in many areas are a monstrous riot of reds and blues that is discordant with the crystal, prints, and statues found in various parts of the ship. HAL advertises the quality of the "art" displayed around the ship. It is true that there were no velvet bullfighter pictures in gilt frames, but beyond that I'm not sure it rises to the level of 'art'. I booked an inside cabin that was more than large enough for my needs. I didn't miss having a porthole or a verandah and in fact I found it much easier to sleep in the darkness that the interior cabin afforded. It was my plan to spend minimal time in the cabin and I elected to spend the money elsewhere (HAL cooperates with that by giving you lots of opportunities to spend, spend, spend). There was plenty of storage in terms of closets for one person, although drawer space was quite limited. I can believe that a couple or a person with more "gear" (such as make up) might find the lack of counter space a severe limitation. There were several other problems as well. The lighting is quite good in the central part of the cabin, but the configuration was such that the closets were very dark and it was often hard to find things in them, especially in a hurry. Additionally, the walls are thin and I sometimes heard the people next to me (or their television). HAL does provide toiletry items and a hair dryer; however the shampoo and body wash were quite thin and the hair conditioner was so thick that it was very difficult to get it out of the bottle. I would carry my own if these items are important. The hair dryer is mounted under the counter in the sleeping area and did not appear to be moveable. If using a hair dryer at the sink is important bring your own. The Westerdam offers a range of television programming, including a wide selection of movies. Unfortunately its not possible (or at least I didn't figure out how to) tell what movie is being shown when. Some of the channels offer ship information (weather log, navigator log, and so forth) and information about ports of call. Others are pretty much a shill for HAL products and services. More information on ship activities as well as more detailed weather reporting would be helpful. HAL talks about flat screen televisions. I didn't see any. One of the real attractions was Westerdam's exercise facility. The ship has a fairly large number of Cybex treadmills, stair steppers, a rowing machine, and weight machines as well as exercise classes (for a fee; always for a fee). Additionally there is a spa facility that offers a wide, wide range of services and packages. Incidental feed back about the spa was uniformly good. The promenade deck was a great place to walk (3 laps equals one mile) or to run, although casual walkers frequently had a problem making passing room (or understanding the courtesy involved in doing so) and were dangerous at times. Westerdam's crew was professional, efficient, and responsive; however, I didn't notice the level of personalized customer care that others comment on here. Passengers were asked to complete comment cards by Saturday morning. Services and attitude both seemed to decline after that point. Another interesting event occurred when HAL hosted an officer's reception. This event was attended by Westerdam ship's officers as well as other members of the crew (mainly those having to do with customer services). HAL provided free drinks (alcoholic and nonalcoholic) to its personnel, but charged passengers bar rates (which are quite steep) for the same products at the reception. I find this sort of behavior outrageous. At $2.00 US for a soda and $5 to $7 dollars for an alcoholic drink like wine or a cocktail HAL can easily afford to comp attendee drinks (at least nonalcoholic ones) rather than so blatantly treat their passengers like cash cows. Passenger Characteristics HAL's reputation is generally as a refuge for the pale and frail. The passengers on this cruise fit that profile with both its benefits and detriments. There were no loud parties or packs of drunken passengers coursing through the corridors in the middle of the night. On the other hand (setting aside some very clear exceptions) a significant percentage of the passengers were slower, more muddled, and more whiny than average. There is, in addition, an incredible sense of privilege, entitlement, and superiority in certain quarters. Piano Man Kory's parody of passenger behavior entitled "Get Out of MY Way" (sung to "I did it My Way") on the last night of the cruise highlighted this unattractive behavior among some passengers. If this behavior (the presumption of privilege, not the making fun of it) irritates rather than amuses you, then you would be well off to look at other cruise line alternatives. Food Westerdam food was significantly better than I expected it to be, although it is far from gourmet. I am a diabetic and carefully watch what I eat, so I signed up for a healthy diet dinner selection; however, I found lots of diversity on the menu and decided to order from it instead. In addition to a range of dishes that varied from night-to-night plain fish, chicken, and steak alternatives were offered every day. These dishes were grilled and served with steamed vegetables. I had no problem keeping my glucose levels within target over the entire 16-day cruise. I had lunch in the dining room only one day. The food was similar in type to that offered at dinner and was quite good. I visited the dining room once for breakfast, where I asked to be seated alone as I was planning to read. After waiting for 10 minutes for service I left and went to the Lido instead. As a rule, I found, HAL tolerates single travelers rather than welcomes them and this was one example of how HAL tends to make the single traveler feel like a burden. Most of my lunches and breakfasts were eaten in the Lido. The Lido is organized as a series of buffet type stations, which helps keep the lines down, but on sea days the dining room was slow and crowded anyway. It offers healthy alternatives (baked fish and roasted meats along with healthy vegetable selections and sushi) as well as no sugar added deserts of several types. Sugar free pancake and waffle syrup is available, if you ask for it. Westerdam offers free coffee and tea at the Lido. All other drinks (including coffees in the cafes) are on a cost basis. Soda, wine, and cocktail cards are available and are convenient, but not really a bargain. Unfortunately the ship ran out of most of the better wines long before the cruise ended (even in the house pour categories). Since Westerdam operates on a cashless basis (all costs are charged to the cabin account) it is very easy to run up significant bills one soda at a time without realizing it. I checked my bill periodically to stay on top of charges and ended the cruise within budget. Entertainment I found that I enjoyed the entertainment thoroughly, much to my surprise. There were two acts that more or less fell to my expectation: a juggler and a magician. The others were much better. I especially enjoyed the oboist, the pianist (Amy Ambler, who has incredible energy) and the pianist/classical singer duo. Other aspects of the entertainment program were well attended and I think enjoyed by most passengers. There were a couple of lecturers, one of whom was excellent; the other was less so. There were many and varied classes, meetings, and lessons. Shopping The Westerdam offers a range of shops, especially selling watches and jewelry. There were continuing sales and specials that resulted in feeding frenzies of various levels of intensity. Prices are hefty and it would be wise to buy staples (motion sickness and cold pills and most types of clothes) before starting the cruise. Shore Excursions and Visits The Westerdam had an interesting itinerary as well as a five sea-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. The Shore Excursion Office on Board is open several hours a day. In addition there is an electronic booking kiosk that can be used anytime. We visited the following ports: Livorno/Florence Florence is a beautiful city with better prices and friendlier people than Rome. Tickets to the Uffizi and to the Accademia (home of Michelangelo's David as well as home to a Stradivarius violin) can be ordered via the Internet and will save you significant amounts of time (I used Florence Art) and doing it as early as humanly possible. I booked a couple of months out and had significant limitations on hours available. Getting into the Uffizi is time consuming and involves several lines and stops. It's well worth the effort. The Duomo and the Santa Croce church are both worth seeing. The Santa Croce houses the graves of a number of famous Florence citizens. As in Rome sidewalks are narrow and crowded in Florence. It therefore takes longer to walk anywhere than you would normally expect. Also (as in Rome) the streets are twisty and often change names from one block to another. Bring more than one map and consult them frequently. Everyone knows you are a tourist and looking at a map won't make it any worse. Florence is definitely a more refined, pleasant, cleaner, and friendly Italian city than Rome (which is, after all Rome). I will definitely visit Florence again. Monaco We tendered into Monaco, a very pleasant and well organized experience. I took the tour to Nice, Eze, and Monaco, which I thought was excellent and well run. While Eze is picturesque and lovely it is high on a hill and involves lots of walking. Marseilles I took the tour to Arles and Le Baux, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Again the tour operated smoothly and on time. Le Baux, like Nice and Eze, is a great place to buy souvenirs of Provence. I have always found French people to be incredibly warm and friendly (especially if you try to speak a little French) and the people of southern France seemed even more so. I look forward to revisiting this area in the future. Barcelona/Valencia I had a cold these two days and limited myself to short shore visits in both cities. Both Barcelona and Valencia are beautiful and clean cities (although pick pockets appear to be active in both places). I thought that Las Ramblas in Barcelona offered little beyond the very standard tourist fare. Almeria This is a small city on, I believe, the Costa Del Sol. I visited the Abacazar, a restored Moorish citadel, which is well worth the climb and the visit (and its free!). The ship docks within walking distance of most sites, which is uncommon, but Almeria offers limited alternatives for tourists. Ponta Delgada We visited Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel Island on a Sunday and little was open. I took a bus tour that allowed me to see much of the island, which is very lovely. The tour also visited Riberia Grande on the north coast. This is a small town with a lot of charm. Watch for the cows! Half Moon Cay Half Moon Cay is privately owned by HAL and offers many water sports as well as horse back riding (which is not so widely advertised). There are also a few souvenir shops, a replica of a Caribbean village, a dining pavilion and several bars. After five days at sea, several of them quite rough (waves in the 12 foot range) being on dry land was a wonderful experience in and of itself. Visits to Half Moon Cay are also via tender; however these tenders are based at the Cay and the process worked far less effectively than Westerdam's visit to Monaco. Waiting for the tenders on Half Moon Cay can be a debilitating experience as chairs are provided in the hot sun and the wait can be 20 minutes to half an hour (HAL staff on duty at the embarkation point are given a tent fly for shade; passengers have no cover). Embarkation/Disembarkation Embarkation was incredibly smooth and fast. I registered online and there was literally no wait in CIVITAVECCHIA. My cabin was ready by the time I boarded (about 12:30) and luggage arrived shortly thereafter. The boat drill was very well managed and provided excellent preparation for emergencies. Disembarkation was much less successful. Stewards began coming around at 7:30 trying to begin making up cabins. I felt we were herded into public rooms, where we waited until nearly 9 before disembarkation began. There was no water available and the ship was hot. The baggage area was chaotic and although luggage was sorted it was very difficult to locate (the signs weren't accurate). There reputedly were fights in the baggage area, which I can understand given the crowded conditions and the sense of entitlement some passengers held dear. While immigration and customs were well handled by the federal people there was practically no direction or assistance from HAL in boarding buses to the airport. Again, if I were to do it over I would handle that transfer myself and would probably carry my own luggage off (an option offered by HAL). Security The Westerdam is a very secure facility. All boarders are screened at entry. Safes with electronic locks are available in all cabins. The ports that we visited are well known for pickpockets. I purchased a messenger bag from Travel Smith that was very secure (zippered pockets within zippered pockets and a steel cable in the strap, which was long enough to slip over my head). I was very careful to watch the street in all of the cities that we visited and to keep my bag close to my body. I also made sure to carry only a limited amount of cash and one credit card. I had one encounter with what I believe to have been a pick pocket team in Barcelona, which I circumvented by slipping around them. In Conclusion I took this trip in order to visit the ports at which the Westerdam stopped and for the experience of sailing across the Atlantic rather than for the cruise experience itself. On that basis the ship was a delivery system for me that was cost effective (room and board are in US dollars not in far more expensive Euros) and pleasant. I would equate the "hotel" aspects of the Westerdam with those of a reasonably good hotel chain in the US. I would sail on a HAL vessel in the future if it "going my way" as it were. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
Review of European Crossing Holland America Westerdam October 4-21 Arrival and Transfers We flew from Austin to Rome via New York (JFK) on Delta Airlines. The Austin-New York leg was fine but the transoceanic flight to Rome was ... Read More
Review of European Crossing Holland America Westerdam October 4-21 Arrival and Transfers We flew from Austin to Rome via New York (JFK) on Delta Airlines. The Austin-New York leg was fine but the transoceanic flight to Rome was terrible. We flew a Boeing 767-300 in coach class. There was absolutely no leg room for anyone over five feet ten inches. We were cramped beyond belief and thus got little sleep on the flight. Our arrival at Rome's Leonardo De Vinci Airport was uneventful as all our checked baggage arrived safely. Holland America (HAL) provided for transfer to the Westerdam at the port of Civitavecchia. After a long uncomfortable flight, it took close to two hours to transport all guests to the ship. Embarkation Check-in at the ship was pleasant and efficient. We were provided our passkeys and other documents quickly and cheerfully. Our baggage arrived in our cabin within an hour or so of boarding which was very quick based on other cruises we have made. Ports of Call The Westerdam sailed from Civitavecchia and stopped in Livorno, Monte Carlo, Marseilles, Barcelona, Valencia, Almeria, and the Azores. The only complaint was that the port visits in Monte Carlo and the Azores were on Sundays and most of the shops were closed. Ship tours were informative and interesting. In some ports we chose to sightsee on our own and this worked out just fine. We did have a final stop in Half Moon Cay, a HAL island in the Bahamas. This is one stop that could have been skipped as it offered very little to guests. Accommodations We received a cabin upgrade to one with an obstructed window view mid-ships. The cabin was quite large with adequate storage space. The bath included a bathtub as well as a shower. Location on the 4th deck was perfect. During some days when the seas were a bit rough, we barely noticed the roll when in our cabin. Ship Condition The Westerdam entered the HAL fleet in 2004. The crew has done well to maintain the vessel. There were some minor issues such as jammed exterior doors and non-working sinks in public toilet areas but overall the material condition of the ship was excellent. Crew members were observed painting, scraping and polishing each and every day. Food The Westerdam food was ordinary and average for a cruise ship. The Vista dining room menu was varied but portions for many entries were very small. Many of the selections were over salted and required a substitute in some cases. Salads in the dining room were uninspiring to say the least. The Lido buffet was better than the dining room in many cases. The Lido layout facilitated diners and long lines were the exception. Desserts are the hallmark of HAL ships and the Westerdam was no exception. Desserts were varied and delicious. We also ate one meal in the Pinnacle Grill, the high-end restaurant. The steaks were outstanding but the entire meal was not worth the extra $30 a piece to eat there. I discovered several sanitation issues in the Lido. However, when I brought these to the attention of the Food and Beverage Manager, he willingly discussed them in person and promptly rectified the situation. He deserves a emphatic well-done for his customer service response. Service The Philippine and Indonesian crewmembers were simply outstanding. Food service in all dining areas was prompt, cheerful and efficient. Our waiter and assistant waiter were the best we have ever experienced in twelve years of cruising. Not only were they attentive to our needs but also they went out of their way to know our names and recognized us when they were working the buffet as well as the dining room. Our room steward was rarely visible but the room was always clean. And any requests were promptly filled. One negative was the shipboard laundry service. Clothes were cleaned, pressed and returned to us within twenty-four hours; however, HAL raised their prices by over 100% in the past six months so the service was very expensive. There were no coin-operated laundry facilities on board so guests were captive audiences. Activities The Cruise Director, Rebecca, and her staff left a lot to be desired. Except for introducing the evening entertainment, we rarely saw her about the ship. Her staff members were on occasion rude and condescending to passengers. More activities could have been planned, especially for the at-sea days. The guest lecturers were boring and dull in their presentations. The duplicate bridge instructor/host was the worse I have seen since I began cruising. Rather than host duplicate games, he ensured that he and his partner played in every game, even turning away other guests in the process. Evening Entertainment Holland America is not known for outstanding entertainment. However, this cruise was a pleasant surprise. The HAL singers and dancers were below average for cruise ships. However, the Three Tenors, David Copperfield, and Amy Abler were outstanding, and gave memorable performances. The other entertainers were very good as well. This was by far the best evening entertainment we have ever seen on a HAL ship. Fitness Center The Westerdam fitness center is barely adequate for a ship of her size. It was made worse when staff members decided to use the equipment during peak morning hours. I brought this to the attention of the Greenhouse Spa and Fitness Center Manager as well as the Office but no action was taken. To add insult to injury, staff members never wiped their equipment when finished with disinfectant wipes. Debarkation Debarkation in Fort Lauderdale was a complete farce. Many passengers had HAL transfers to either the Miami or Fort Lauderdale airports. There was mass confusion with the buses. No one seemed to be in charge and people were boarding buses based on the amount of luggage they had rather than where they stood in line. Some guests were put on a bus while their spouse was asked to board a different bus! HAL needs to review their debarkation process and institute significant improvements. Overall Assessment Overall the cruising experience on the Westerdam was positive. There were problems which I enumerated above. I have seen similar concerns with other ships and cruise lines. I felt the positives far outweighed the negative. We would do a few things different to mitigate some of the concerns such as taking a cab to the airport rather than rely on the HAL transfer. We plan to cruise Holland America again in the future. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
Background: This was my 3rd cruise within the past 2 years, my first on a HAL ship, my first time visiting European ports, and my first Trans-Atlantic cruise. I'm a woman in my 40's, traveled solo but had family members also on ... Read More
Background: This was my 3rd cruise within the past 2 years, my first on a HAL ship, my first time visiting European ports, and my first Trans-Atlantic cruise. I'm a woman in my 40's, traveled solo but had family members also on board, did most activities on my own. Hotel Info: We were in Rome for 5 days pre-cruise and stayed in an apartment which we found through the Bed & Breakfast Association of Rome, after reading about it on our ship's roll call board. It was clean, large, nicely furnished, in a decent neighborhood (Trastevere) and it was convenient to a train stop that took us into the central area after about a 10 minute ride. It was also very affordable compared to the price we would have paid for 3 separate hotel rooms. Communication with our hostess was a bit challenging as she spoke little English and we spoke little Italian, but we knew that would be the case for the apartment we chose. I would utilize that association again for future accommodations. I enjoyed Rome and have already decided to go back after my next cruise lands in Barcelona next spring. I found it very easy to get around the city on foot and much less time consuming, enjoyable and entertaining than to utilize the public transportation. I found most people of Rome to be pleasant and helpful. I enjoyed the food and wine, especially at the restaurants in the neighborhood we stayed in. Transportation from airport to Rome and from Rome to the Port: We arranged in advance to have a van pick us up at the airport then deliver us to our apartment, then pick us up at the apartment for travel to the Port. It went very smooth and was very affordable for 5 people and lots of luggage, at 55 euros from the airport, then 75 to the port. We used a service found on these boards. Embarkation: It was quick & easy; we had filled out our immigration information online, had our boarding passes, and were on board quickly after arriving at the Port about 11am. Lunch was being served in the Lido, cabins were ready about an hour later, followed by our luggage in about another hour. Cabin: My balcony cabin was on the 4th deck, starboard, only a few cabins back from the very front. It was large, the balcony was larger than I had expected, the storage was great and would have been suitable even if I wasn't traveling alone. The bed and bedding were very comfortable. It was nice having a bathtub. Ship: I thought the ship was beautifully and comfortably decorated. The artwork throughout was interesting and I thought it was enjoyable to look at. There were lots of public areas, inside and outside, with comfortable seating. I like to walk outside whenever possible, but I found this ship not very conducive to that. The only deck one could really walk around on easily, without a lot of obstructions, was the Promenade Deck, and the only outside stairs were between the Lido and the Observation Decks. One area I particularly did not care for was on the Lido deck, the hallway from the front elevators is narrow and goes right through the front desk for the salon and spa. The layout of that hallway was awkward, frequently overcrowded, and the staff at that desk seemed to rarely smile. Activities: The spa did have what I thought were some good deals on treatments, and the gym was nicely equipped with a fantastic view, but was too crowded many of the times I went there. The culinary demonstration area was also difficult to enjoy unless you went there way ahead of time. The in-room movie selection was good but lots of people couldn't seem to find their schedule - it's located inside the hard cover book that also includes the room service menu's and other usual hotel-type info. Shore Excursions: I didn't utilize the ship's shore excursions except for Half Moon Cay, opting instead to explore the Ports on my own. In many Ports, we had to take a shuttle bus from the ship to outside the port area and then in the reverse. This wasn't organized, and most times seemed to result in a lot of pushing and shoving, downright rude behavior by passengers, and a couple times I witnessed bouts of swearing between passengers. It was these times that I found the general crowd to be made up of people I really didn't want to be on a ship with; men who seemed to abandon all thoughts of being a gentleman (even towards the very elderly folks with special needs), and loud, pushy women who wouldn't recognize lady-like behavior if they saw it. Truly it often was a disgusting display of human behavior. I enjoyed all the ports but feel most of those are best discussed on the boards since this review is long enough as it is. However, I will say that Half Moon Cay was an island paradise. I had booked the horseback riding and swimming with the stingrays, which were both adventures I really enjoyed. Worth every dime in my opinion. The water was so nice that it was impossible to stay out of it. Dining: Personally, I much prefer anytime dining. However, I enjoyed the dining room atmosphere, our waitstaff, and I found the selection on the menu to be nicely varied. Certainly there were repetitions, but it was a 16-day cruise. The dishes considered the chef's specialties were marked as such, which I thought made it nice to try new things. I never had a bad meal. The lobster was really good, which is not always the case on a ship. I always enjoyed the soups (hot or cold selections). One thing I really liked was that I could order room service off of the dining room menu during dining room hours. I simply had to call room service to ask for a menu; they were very nice and very quick. Once they forgot my silverware, but they brought it very quickly after I called. Next day I was surprised to get a nice plate of chocolate strawberries with their apologies. Ordering off the dining room menu truly was a nice bonus because about 9 days into the cruise I developed a nasty cold so was keeping myself away from other people. Had I not been able to enjoy the dining room food, and enjoy the ocean from my private balcony, I would have been a very sad, sick, puppy. The Lido restaurant did a nice job with breakfasts and lunches, and I understand the dinners were very nicely varied, although I never had dinner there. Although the staff in the Lido seemed to be very on top of their duties, that's the other area of the cruise that I often encountered very rude behavior from fellow passengers. It was quite ordinary to have people literally trying to push their way ahead, or around, those already in line. I heard so many rude comments from other passengers about others that it was really disheartening. The rooms did get quite crowded at peak times, making it difficult to find seating especially when the weather wasn't nice enough to be outside. Disembarkation: I thought it was the nicest I've experienced yet. I felt no rush to be out of my cabin, enjoying a room service breakfast and movie before leaving my cabin around 9:15 to hang outside on the Lido deck until we were called off about 10:30. Summary: Beautiful and comfortable ship, great itinerary, very relaxing atmosphere. That said, it wasn't what I could consider a fun ship by any means, I was really turned off by the rude and generally unpleasant crowds, and I was way too young for this cruise. I had read that about HAL prior to booking, but booked because I really liked this itinerary. I don't think I'll be swayed again by an itinerary into booking with HAL anytime soon. Read Less
Sail Date October 2007
Having learned so much from these boards, I wanted to share my thoughts on our recent Med cruise aboard the ms Westerdam departing and returning to Rome. Ports of call included: Naples, Messina Sicily, Corfu Greece, Dubrovnik Croatia, ... Read More
Having learned so much from these boards, I wanted to share my thoughts on our recent Med cruise aboard the ms Westerdam departing and returning to Rome. Ports of call included: Naples, Messina Sicily, Corfu Greece, Dubrovnik Croatia, Venice, Malta and Salerno. EMBARKATION: If you are departing from Rome, keep in mind that the port of Civitavecchia is a good hour drive from Rome. As our driver approached the port, I was craning my neck to get a glimpse of the Westerdam. And then, suddenly, there she was! Embarkation was a snap. We were aboard by 12:30 pm, had lunch in the Lido and our cabins were ready by 1:30. CABIN: We had booked a verandah cabin as I can't imagine doing a cruise without having a balcony. What I was not prepared for was the amount of storage space; we had packed tons of clothes and found room for everything with storage space to spare. (Hint: the round stool beneath the desk has a removable lid even more storage space.) The bathroom layout was amazing for a cruise ship with full-size tub/shower, plenty of storage and good water pressure. WESTERDAM: The ship is beautiful, if only very slightly worn around the edges. I had read here that she had recently undergone a makeover while in drydock with the installation of flat screen tv's and DVD's. We did not find this to be the case at all. Indeed, the desktop tv would swivel back and forth with the movement of the ship. Some peeling wallpaper in the corridors, minor fraying of carpet seams in elevator lobbies and some burnt out bulbs among the countless light fixtures aboard all indicated to me that things were not quite as up-to-snuff as they could have been. FOOD: I cannot say enough about the quality of food in the dining room. We had late seating and the food was absolutely First-Class. As mentioned here, portions are small, but requesting a second appetizer or entree was accommodated with no questions asked. The Lido was a different story. I don't know how to put this. Breakfast was adequate with an omelet station and the usual sides along with fruit, yogurt, breads, scrambled eggs, etc. One would certainly never start the day hungry, but it was average buffet food to say the least. Except for the inedible hash brown patties. Just awful. We did order breakfast with room service a couple of mornings and it was fine except the first morning when our meal was accompanied by those horrible hash browns. For other meals there is a sandwich station, an Asian station, a pizza and pasta station and the Terrace Grill with hamburgers, fries and a Mexican buffet. While the hamburgers were passable, the fries were terrible. The Mexican buffet was tasty, but not well stocked. The evening offerings in the Lido looked appetizing. Walking through one evening, I saw prime rib offered which I did not experience in the dining room unless we missed it one night. Most frustrating of all was that the fact that our party went to the Lido for dinner at 9:45 on a Saturday night and the only option available to us was the pizza and pasta station. DRINKS: If I recall correctly, cocktails were $5.25 plus a 15% gratuity. Nothing more than an even shot was ever poured and served in 12-16 oz glasses which resulted in a very diluted cocktail. Of course, ordering a double made the drink more palatable, but doubled the price. What you may not know is that if you specify any brand other than well, there is a $1 upcharge per shot and if it is a premium brand, add another 50 cents. Again, all of this is served in a tall glass. The best bargain was ordering the drink or martini of the day. You can't go wrong with a Bombay Sapphire martini for $5.25. Surprisingly enough, the prices of the cabin mini-bar were comparable in price to drinks elsewhere on the ship. Trying to convince our cabin steward to keep the mini-bar stocked, however, was another matter. Which leads me to... SERVICE: I have read so often on these pages of the personalized service offered by the staff of the Westerdam. Friendly, yes. Incredibly efficient, there is no doubt. BUT. We returned one day at 6:45 pm after touring all day to find our cabin still being cleaned. A couple of days later we returned at 8:00 pm and again found our cabin in the midst of being cleaned. After our second or third night in the dining room, we ended up with a server who embodied everything I have read about service aboard the Westerdam. By our second night with him, he knew our names and preferences. If you ever voyage aboard the Westerdam, ask for Herdi in the dining room; you won't be disappointed. We still keep in touch with him via email. THOUGHTS: Traveling to the Med in August can be a challenge. Weather is hot, humid and there are hordes of tourists from all over the World. I packed way too many long pants and not nearly enough short pants. Forget what everyone else says on these boards about looking like an American. Dress for comfort. I bought more clothes for this cruise than I even packed and would have been far more comfortable in my everyday shorts and tennis shoes. While everyone we dealt with was helpful and friendly, I might still caution against wearing the red white and blue, rah-rah, my country right-or-wrong type of apparel. IN CONCLUSION: While I might not consider doing such a port-intensive cruise again in the near future, I would not hesitate to sail with Holland America again. We had a great time with good friends and wonderful food. We got to see so much. Even with ten days there was not nearly enough time to see everything. The whole trip remains a blur, but this cruise is one that will be remembered for a lifetime. And that is exactly what we had hoped for. Read Less
Sail Date August 2007
Westerdam: Eastern Mediterranean July 20 Ten night sailing 1. Embarkation We traveled independently and took the train from Rome Termini Station to Civitavecchia. The cost of the train for 2 people was 9 Euros (about 13USD). We found ... Read More
Westerdam: Eastern Mediterranean July 20 Ten night sailing 1. Embarkation We traveled independently and took the train from Rome Termini Station to Civitavecchia. The cost of the train for 2 people was 9 Euros (about 13USD). We found other people at the train station in Civitavecchia and shared a cab with them to the ship (2.50 Euros each). Embarkation was very smooth. We had done online check-in previous to arrival. All documents were processed in less than 2 minutes at the pier. There was no line when we arrived. Note: The brochure notes that it "strongly suggested" your passport not expire for 6 months after travel date. However, in reality, HAL will not let you complete embarkation if your passport expires within that period. Trust me: my partner's passport expired in October and he had to run to Philadelphia 2 days before we traveled and get a new one. 2. The ship a. Entire ship At first, as many of us are, I was not overly impressed. But as the 10 days went along, I really came to enjoy the layout and feel of the ship. The corridors had a nice flow. It was very clever the way the gift shops open up to one large area. The glass elevators overlooking the sea are so much nicer than those on other ships that merely overlook an atrium or public area. It was great to see a real wood Promenade Deck, which was used by many of us for walking and jogging. Of course, HAL has those great deck chairs on that deck. Put me in one with a book, look at the sea, and I'm asleep! My only concerns were the atrium and some of the dEcor. The atrium was clearly too small and always seemed tight. There is a bar on Main Deck right in the center, which obstructs traffic flow. Some of the dEcor is eclectic, at best. While the elevator doors are designed with beautiful metal designs, the interiors are modern with strange colors and the areas in front of the elevator also had a mixture of classic and modern styles. b. Dining Room The dining room is very attractive. Get a table near a window; part of the dining room is windowless. The service was wonderful, as it usually is on HAL. I did my best to learn some basic phrases in Indonesian and Tagolog, showing the wait staff interest in their culture. c. Spa/Gym While I didn't use the spa, I did use the gym every day. It's the not the biggest and is missing cross-training machines, which I prefer. Nearly half of the gym floor was taken up with exercise classes, which did not often take place. d. Cabins Nicely decorated, though the art work was a bit strange. There was plenty of 'secret' storage space. I discovered midway through the cruise there were drawers under the cushion portion of the couch, and on the last day realized that there were very large drawers under the bed. The bathroom was attractive and offered sufficient room. The amenities were plentiful and of high quality. e. Activities/Shows I participated in many trivia contests, although I was disappointed that many occurred during late "main" seating dinner. I would suggest having them very late 10:30, or before late seating. The shows were much better than I expected. The house is large, but there are many poor sight lines. I always have trouble with canned singing on cruise ships, but the dancing was excellent. 3. Food a. Breakfast - We ate most meals in the dining room, planning our day, so that we gave ourselves enough time to enjoy it. Nearly everything that was offered in the Lido buffet was offered in the dining room. b. Lunch - This we had to take in the Lido, since we were off the ship during lunch hours. I was impressed with fact that there was an Asian station, which stayed open throughout the afternoon. There was usually a vegetarian meal. Occasionally, we ordered sandwiches in the room when we returned from touring. They were tasty and presented with class. c. High Tea - One of the highlights of the day. Between trips to the gym, we indulged on pastries and scones with clotted cream at high tea. The service was white glove and a very professional string quartet entertained. d. Dinner - We took this in the dining room each night, except when we stayed in Santorini for sunset. (On that night, there was a barbeque buffet poolside. We returned at 9:15 and it seemed disorganized and sloppy.) Dinner was always presented with style and was prepared and plated well. I usually had 2 appetizers, since portions were small and some were just wonderful! Kudos to the Head Chef for having an abundance of mango an papaya selections. I couldn't get these in the Caribbean!! Not being a meat eater, I cannot speak to those dishes, but I can tell you the fish was excellent, particularly the sea bream and Dover Sole. 4. Ports of Call. -- I must preface all ports by saying there was a heatwave. It was 100o or higher many days and touring was just tiring. I carried liters of water with me and still looked like I just ran a marathon. a. Dubrovnik - This was one of the highlights of the cruise. We shared a taxi from the ship to the city walls. I think it was 5 or 10 Euros for the cab. Cab drivers will try to sell you tours. That's your call. We walked the entire city walls. Well worth it—the highlight of the city. We visited churches and synagogues in the city and stopped for a beer (a daily ritual). b. Corfu - The weakest port. We walked to town. Big mistake (well, I got lost!). We should have taken a cab. (HAL had shuttle bus service, but it was always more than sharing a cab.) Corfu had little to offer. We stopped for a Greek (Turkish) coffee and beer and visited St. Spyridon church, paying respects to the saint and icons. A priest blessed all who saw the crypt. c. Katakolon - I had been here before, but didn't go to Olympia. We found a well air-conditioned new train that goes from Katakolon to Olympia for 1 Euro (yes ONE euro). The ship did not mention this. We found some other cruise passengers who joined us. We visited the Museum in Olympia, before seeing the ruins. The museum is well worth it; those on the tour who did not see the museum were disappointed. d. Santorini - We took the donkeys up the mountain. Faster (and smellier) than the cable car, whose line seemed to wrap around the island). Hint: go after 12 pm, most people have made the assent by then. We enjoyed the shopping and tiny streets. We found some churches and took tons of pictures. We stopped for a beer (surprised), high above the harbor. 3 cruise ships were in. We returned to the ship at 1pm and came back to Santorini (tendered) at 7pm for sunset and another drink. Do this—all the visitors do e. Athens - We walked to the Metro (mistake—take the #845 bus) and then took the Metro directly to Monastiraki, where we shopped, visited the Agora and Temple of Hepheastion. We had been to the Acropolis, so we skipped it this time. Besides, it was 8 bi-zillion degrees. Again, we stopped for a cold local beer. (Beer note: I'm a dark beer drinker. It's very hard to find any dark beers in the Med and on the ship, there are NONE for sale.) f. Kusadasi - we enjoyed shopping in the city. I bought a 14k ring and some cheap souvenirs. Everything is walkable. We found the mosque and visited it. A local showed us the proper way to wash our feet. We took a shore excursion to Ephesus - the only shore excursion we took. We really enjoyed it, even with the extreme heat. It's really spectacular g. Messina - We really wanted to go to Taormina (having been there before) and would have taken the train, but the ship departed at 2pm. Therefore, we walked around the city, visiting 5 churches. The most fascinating (and we found it by accident) was a monastery where we saw the preserved body of a female saint. (I'm sorry; I cannot remember her name). We found a way up to pay respects, high above the alter. h. Rome - We stayed in Rome one night before the cruise, and again, one night after the cruise. On the first day, we saw (via bus and Metro) all of the major sites, except for the Vatican Museum (line too long). As tired as we were, on the return to Rome, we took a train to Assisi for a quick 3 hour visit. The train ride was worth it; Assisi is truly unique. Our hotel in Rome was the Diocleziano, near the train station. Well worth the $120 euros. We could walk to and from the train station. Read Less
Sail Date July 2007
We sailed on the Westerdam this last July 2007. It was FABULOUS!! Embarkation was smooth and easy, very organized. Once we got on the ship which was early, we went right up to the Vista dining room and had lunch. The food was very good and ... Read More
We sailed on the Westerdam this last July 2007. It was FABULOUS!! Embarkation was smooth and easy, very organized. Once we got on the ship which was early, we went right up to the Vista dining room and had lunch. The food was very good and plentiful. By about 1 PM our room was ready. We were in a deluxe veranda stateroom. It had a balcony but no plexi glass, which was fine. We just stood up and looked out to see everything. The ship left Civitavecchia port at around 6PM. We went to dinner that night and the food was just outstanding in the main dining room. We had the 8PM seating which is really the best one to be at. After a long day in the ports, it was nice to come back and relax and shower before having to go to dinner. The service again was outstanding....they couldn't do enough for us. The dining room is clean, new, and lovely. A very nice and classy group of people on this ship also. We traveled with our two teenagers and they enjoyed it very much. The Ports: Monte Carlo: We got the half day tour to Nice and Eze. First they took us around on a bus all over Monte Carlo, then we went to Eze and Nice. Went to the flower market at Nice and it was really beautiful.....I highly recommend that. After the tour, we walked up to the Palace and saw Princess Graces grave, where she was married and all that. We even saw Prince Albert drive by in his Bentley! What a thrill! Florence: Florence was just wonderful! We took the bus in to Florence where they just dropped us off for the day. What a wonderful city! We ate gelato, went to see the statue of "David", and just walked all over the city...had lunch in a cafe. I highly recommend this. Barcelona: We did not book a tour, we just took a city bus from the port to the city and then walked all along the "Gothic Quarter". This area is only a couple streets to the right of "Las Ramblas Blvd." It is much better, not as touristy, has much better food and sangrias. We bought tickets for the "hop on hop off" bus and rode all over the city which was great, got to see a lot, even went right by the "Sagrada de Familia". You can get off there if you want and go tour it, but there was a huge line so we didn't. Then we got off the bus and walked up "Las Ramblas". It is very touristy and busy and we stopped for another Sangria and some appetizers, but the food and such aren't nearly as good there. Mallorca: We did not get a tour here either. We just took a taxi from the port to the beach and sat on the beach all day and swam. Right across the street is places to shop and eat. We ate spanish "paella" at a restaurant that overlooks the beach there. What a view! Then we took a taxi back to the ship. Tunisia: We actually did not get off the ship here. We were very tired from all the touring, and thought this would be a good time to stay on board. Several people who got off the ship said it was just "OK". They are much more aggressive here, like trying to get you to come into their shops and buy something. No one felt unsafe, it was just something that we as americans are not used to, that's all. Sicily: We took the half day tour to Cefalu. And I highly recommend this. Cefalu was probably one of my most favorite places. Its a really neat seaside town, about an hour out of Palermo. Busy, but not super touristy. Great little shops, cafes and the best gelato we found...homemade! Try the Melon...it's fabulous! Sicily is beautiful! Then we went back to the ship for a rest, then we walked back over to Palermo. It's literally right across the street from where the ship is docked. We went in and did some shopping and had a nice sicilian lunch at a sidestreet cafe of olives, pasta, eggplant....and some great beer! Naples: We took the all day tour that stopped in Sorrento and then drove us all the way around the Amalfi Coast. Sorrento was really a neat busy town. We bought handmade wood boxes in a shop there. Then the drive to Amalfi took us thru Positano and all along the coast. It's very windy and up high right next to the cliff.....so if this doesn't bother you, then it's just beautiful! When you look below, you can see some yachts that the rich and famous come here to vacation on, and the town of Positano is just like a postcard...really beautiful! Then we stopped in the town of Amalfi for about an hour. What a beautiful place! Kind of reminded me of an italian "Rodeo drive". Had some iced cappuccino and gelato there. Then we drove on around to Salerno and then back to the ship. Was just lovely! After that we docked back in Civitavecchia. Then we spent 3 days in Rome which was fabulous! I really have nothing bad to say about the Westerdam or this whole cruise. The service was great, the shore excursions were planned and organized just perfect. On the "at sea" days, we would go to "high tea" or go to the spa. The spa services are quite expensive, so if you don't want to splurge, then I wouldn't do it. The shows were great. They had comedy one time, they had an illusionist another time. Disembarkation again was very smooth and no problem. We had a great time and can't wait to go on the Westerdam or any other Holland America Line cruise ship again. Well worth every penny! Read Less
Sail Date July 2007
Background There were five of us in family myself, wife, (40's) and three kids ages 19, 14, and 7. We traveled with our friends from the US that included a Mom and 3 kids 15 - 12. Third cruise all with Holland America. Pre Cruise ... Read More
Background There were five of us in family myself, wife, (40's) and three kids ages 19, 14, and 7. We traveled with our friends from the US that included a Mom and 3 kids 15 - 12. Third cruise all with Holland America. Pre Cruise Accommodation. Stayed at Hotel Mediterraneo in Civitavecchia and it was good, if a little pricey I thought for what you got, I would definitely venture that the room prices vary depending on cruise ship arrival and departures. The Hotel itself is ideally located on the sea front, and 200yds to the train station and port shuttle in either direction, i.e. on exit turn left for train, turn right to port. At the port entrance there is a free shuttle bus to your ship. Trains to Rome Termini every 30-40 mins up until 11.20pm about €9 return, journey time varies from 55 to 70 mins Embarkation. I did not file on line check in, so I had to queue a little, but all in all a breeze. We were on the ship on the day of departure at 12.30pm and in the room immediately so relaxed until our 6.30pm sail away. The Ship. Cabin We had two inside cabins which was a first for us (i.e. no balcony) and they were spacious and very comfortable. Benny the steward was excellent, which pretty much sums up all the crew aboard the Westerdam. Restaurants Bars and Food. Cannot say enough about the service, food, it was par excellence, and I just do not know how so many meals are prepared to that standard every day on that ship. On one of the nights there was a dessert extravaganza at the Lido pool and we're talking sinful calories but I've never witnessed anything so amazing as the culinary display before me that night. The bars and lounges were also good with me being my usual adventuresome self and only ever having a Heineken, and never tempted venture to the cocktails at all. One silly idea though was the farewell dinner was 3 days before our cruise ended!! Please I'm not even thinking of leaving yet! Casino. Still a casino virgin, not my scene at all but I do like to see how it's done, and have to say some of the croupiers have the patience of Joab dealing with some of the more belligerent punters at the table. Entertainment. I went to two only shows all week, a comedian and cockney magician / comedian both were excellent, and I had tears flowing down my cheeks. Did stop by the piano bar some nights and it was good, I do need to mention the resident band who appeared every night in the Crows nest and at sail aways, the lead singer had a voice from heaven and truly seduced you with her voice. Public Areas. This ship is beautiful, really no more to add. You never feel you are on a vessel that carries 1,800 passengers; it is intimate and yet spacious enough for comfort. The art collection is stunning and tasteful. The dEcor throughout the vessel is eclectic and maybe not everyone's choice but this passenger found it very refreshing. Kids club, teen clubs. 7 year old did join and made friends and the staff were attentive, but he did not have the staying power and preferred meeting the new buddies during the day and hanging out and swimming in the pool. The other two kids made no effort or preference to join so no point in me offering a review, safe to say they met kids their own age and had a ball. Ports of Call Monte Carlo. Ship docked in port, we walked to the cathedral where Princess Grace is buried and took a tourist train around the sights Casino, Royal Palace, Grand Prix circuit, Aquarium all excellent and a beautiful city. My daughter took a trip in a Ferrari around the F1 circuit costing €45 and was her highlight of the trip. Livorno. Booked the on shore excursion through HAL here, and had a long day in Florence and Pisa, with lunch included. As the weather was very hot it probably was not for younger kids but for the older ones (us incl.) with a basics of Art history appreciation it was excellent. I will say this though VERY expensive. I would prepare myself a bit better if going again, and train and taxi the trip, which would save a huge amount of money. But all in all excellent. Barcelona. Ship docked in port €3 shuttle bus to Columbus monument where we bought 5 tickets for open top bus tour. Saw all the sights over the 4 - 5 hours and good value for money. Lunch in Hard Rock Cafe was good value. Gaudi's work was stunning. If you have a yearning to see the 120,000 seat Nou Camp (largest stadium in Europe, home of FC Barcelona soccer team) take my advise and avoid, it's really disappointing and not worth the money. But we all felt, including my soccer mad sons that we had done that, seen that (Stadium that is)but never to return. Barcelona city was beautiful. Palma Majorca. As we have been to Majorca many times we did not get off the ship here. I would recommend the Caves of Drac if you venture here. Mind your purse and wallet in Palma. La Goullet Tunisia Our second Holland America shore excursion to Cartage Roman ruins. Not as expensive as the Florence / Pisa but take my advise and grab a cab. Fraction of the cost and is worth seeing, it is very much a different port of call to most typical cruise stops and for that alone I thought it worthwhile and interesting. The street traders do not hassle you as much as in Morocco, or as much as the tour guide who was excellent warned us. Palermo Sicily Transport strike on this day in Palermo which resulted in traffic chaos, we had opted for open bus top tour which we waited for at a bus stop for about an hour, no show, so we returned to point of purchase and got our €70 back, we were luckier than some other passengers who did not get their money back, not a HAL issue just the independent on-shore tour bus company . We then did a deal with a taxi for all the sights including the beautiful bay of Mondello for €85 (don't be afraid to haggle). Word of caution...the Catacombs in Cistercian abbey in Palermo is not for the sensitive and younger ones. I could not go in there and those of my group who did regretted it so be warned. Naples. Just had to see Pompeii so again bartered with a taxicab in the port and he drove us there and waited (or arrived back 2.5hrs later) and showed us the Sorrento coast all for €100 not bad. Again it was very hot that day so 7 year old was dragging a bit. Rome. Disembarkation again a breeze Got train to termini in Rome €4.5 per person. Stayed in Hotel Raffello near the Piazza Republica. Check in staff / person was rude and abrupt but accommodation was good overall. We did the Vatican and Sistine Chapel that day, incredible but a lot of walking and again very hot and too much for kids. Overall. This was the vacation of my life so far, everything was great, particularly the ship's staff who I think ARE what make Holland America great. As we reluctantly got off this beautiful ship a fellow passenger in the elevator wished us a safe trip home, we of course returned the compliment and wished her safe journey home too, to which she replied "oh I'm not goin home yet I'm stayin on for another 10 days he he" Lucky her. Read Less
Sail Date July 2007
This was our 20th cruise/8th with Holland America. Embarkation was a breeze - absolutely no waiting. We took a van from Rome and cost was about 160 euro for 8 people. Westerdam is impressive - large for Holland America. The ship was ... Read More
This was our 20th cruise/8th with Holland America. Embarkation was a breeze - absolutely no waiting. We took a van from Rome and cost was about 160 euro for 8 people. Westerdam is impressive - large for Holland America. The ship was immaculate - staff always cleaning the railings, carpets, hallways. The ship layout was good with most public areas on decks 2 and 3. The casino was quite busy every night, and offered lots of slots, roulette, Black Jack, 3 card poker, Let it Ride, Caribbean Poker and even Texas Hold-em. We spent lots of time in the piano bar - Kory the Piano man was excellent and not to be missed! We saw several shows - thoroughly enjoyed the magician and comedian. Service onboard was excellent - staff always friendly and outgoing. My only negative observation - we never saw the cruise director. Rebecca (I believe that was her name) made periodic announcements but was never to be seen around the ship. Not that we missed her, but information seemed lacking regarding onboard activities. The gift shop area on Deck 3 was very nice and organized - more like walking through a department store - excellent design. The gym facility was ok - nothing special, and the sauna was quite small - room for maybe three. Seems unusual for such a large ship. The food (both dining room and Lido buffet) was average - nothing special. This was a disappointment as Holland America has always been a cut above the rest. The steaks were small and tough - not what you would expect. The dining room staff and wine stewards (Zuleman and Ana) were exceptional - always friendly and inviting! Ports of Call - Monte Carlo - beautiful and a must see. We spent the entire day exploring. Lots of people watching. It's probably the cleanest place on earth - nothing out of place. The public bus system cost 1 euro and was a great was to travel from one end of town to the other. The Palace (on the hill) is not to be missed. There's an old city there with lots of shops and restaurants. Pisa/Florence - We had arranged for a private van for the day to tour Pisa, the Tuscany countryside and Florence. This was a great day - lots to see. Pisa is only about 20 minutes from where the ship docked, and was great to see - it really does lean. Tours are available about every 30 minutes to climb the tower. Florence was beautiful with lots to see and do. David is a must - simple amazing. Lots of shopping opportunities. Word of caution - keep your wallet and purse close at hand - lots of thieves - one in our group had their backpack (with wallet and passports) stolen out of our van - they had distracted our driver. Barcelona - a great European city - only wish we were there overnight. The open roof double decker bus is the way to go - you get headsets for a narrative tour as your drive around the city. Lots to see. Beautiful architecture. Las Ramblas is main street - lots of shops and things to see - street vendors galore. We took a cab from the cruise terminal to the foot of Las Ramblas - about 8 euro. Palma de Mallorca - fabulous - definitely a place I could live. A small but cosmopolitan Spanish city. Beautiful harbor area that rivals Monte Carlo for yachts. Great shopping in the old town area. We took cab from the cruise terminal (don't wait for the bus) and it dropped us in the old town - about 10 euros. We spent about 4 hours wondering through the old town area, then took a 15 minute cab ride to a nearby beach resort area. Great beach for the kids - water was warm and calm. Lots of water activities nearby - jet skis, parasailing etc. Tunis - interesting - definitely worth seeing. We hired a van to take us to the old town (Medina) area. The guide stayed with us the entire time - important as I don't think you would want to wonder around on your own - very easy to get lost. Good shopping opportunities for perfume (they make their own). The driver then took us to the other side of town Carthage. This is where some ruins are (not many) but the area is much more upscale with shopping. Palermo/Sicily - the city is much larger than I imagined. Traffic is heavy. We spent the morning walking through Palermo - lots to see and lots of shops. In the afternoon we took the bus (line #389) 1 euro up the mountain to a very quaint town of Monreale with an incredible view of Palermo and the coast (not to be missed). There's shopping, restaurants and a wonderful Duomo - the ceiling all gold mosaic. Naples - We had arranged for a private van and guide, and spent the day touring the Amalfi Coast(Positano), Sorrento and Pompeii. All great places and not the be missed. Positano is the place you see on all the postcards - a seaside village built into the side of the mountain - fabulous. Lost of shopping and dining opportunities, and there's a sandy beach. Sorrento is a beautiful town also right on the water. Great shopping and dining. The ruins at Pompeii are not to be missed. I was amazed at how large this is - you can spend hours walking down the ancient streets, through buildings, homes. It's simply amazing how well these ruins survived. This was a great trip. Summer is hot but bearable, the food in Italy is fantastic - eat pasta wherever you go! The only downside is Europe is quite expensive - the exchange rate was about 70 euros to 100 dollars. Beers were typically 6-7 euros, simple pasta 8-10 euros. Read Less
Sail Date July 2007
My family just returned from the June 9, 2007 sailing of the Westerdam in the western Mediterranean. There were a total of nine of us on the cruise--my wife and I, my brother and his wife, my brother's three children (ages 21, 15 and ... Read More
My family just returned from the June 9, 2007 sailing of the Westerdam in the western Mediterranean. There were a total of nine of us on the cruise--my wife and I, my brother and his wife, my brother's three children (ages 21, 15 and 12), one other niece (age 21) and my mother. Overall, the trip was wonderful. My wife and I had been on six previous cruises (five with Holland America and one with Royal Caribbean) and found the Westerdam to be the most logically laid out ship, particularly given its size. Pre-cruise: We flew Delta through Atlanta to Rome, arriving the Wednesday before our Saturday embarkation in order to enjoy Rome before the cruise. We booked four rooms at the Hotel Manfredi, a block or so from the Spanish Steps on the Via Margutta. The Manfredi is a small hotel on the third floor of a palazzo in a prime location. Rates included a continental breakfast (very good) and clean, comfortable rooms. We reserved three superior rooms and a junior suite for three in order to accommodate the nine of us as we had read reports that the regular rooms were somewhat cramped. The rooms were nice, well air conditioned and were exactly what we were looking for in the price range. Aside from the terrific, central location, the other benefit to the hotel was the friendly and helpful front desk staff. They were always available to give directions, arrange transportation and provide recommendations for restaurants. Following their recommendations we enjoyed great meals that were also affordable. While in Rome we visited the Borghese Museum, the Colosseum, Forum, Palatine Hill, the Mouth of Truth, Pantheon, Piazza Navonna and the Trevi Fountain (all on our own). In addition, on Friday we had a private driver reserved from Driverinrome.com, Remo and Daniele Melaragno's company. Remo himself guided us that day. On a previous Mediterranean cruise in 2003 we had used Remo on tours in Livorno and Naples and felt fortunate to experience his unique knowledge and humor in his home town! We had planned to spend the morning in the catacombs, have lunch and then be dropped off for a trip through the Vatican Museum and Saint Peter's in the late afternoon. However, because the Vatican Museum had been closed on Thursday and President Bush was visiting the Pope on Saturday, the lines at the Vatican Museum were astronomical. Sensing our disappointment at missing an opportunity to see the Sistine Chapel, Remo worked his magic during lunch and was able to get us added to an existing tour already scheduled that afternoon. By the time lunch was over we were dropped off outside the Museum and were added to the group without delay. As this was the first time in Europe for my brother and his family, I was so happy they were able to experience the Vatican. Embarkation: Saturday after a lunch at McDonald's by the Spanish Steps (the teenagers could only handle so much fine dining) we were picked up by Driver-in-Rome for our transfer to the Westerdam. We arrived at about 2:30 PM to absolutely no lines and the embarkation was fast and efficient. The Westerdam: Our previous Holland America cruises were aboard the Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Prinsendam and Zaandam so this was our first experience with the larger vista class ships. Although we understood the ship to be at capacity, it never felt crowded and other than by the pool at lunch time, we never had trouble finding a place at which all nine of us could sit together. Service: The service on board was up to the standards we have come to expect. Our dining stewards Putra and Danaan worked very hard but always with a smile and time for a short conversation. Our wine steward Maila would often stop by after the initial crush of filling orders in her section to see how our day had been or to talk about her family. We find these times to be some of the nicest memories and what keeps us coming back to Holland America. One of the front desk staff, Rea Apole, was very helpful as we had a mix up regarding the laundry service (my fault) which was quickly rectified as well as some small paperwork issues that were handled by her very efficiently. People usually only go to the front desk when there is a problem and it amazes me how well the staff does in handling any and all types of problems in such a courteous and professional manner. Finally, while the service was very good throughout the ship, I particularly enjoyed the casino staff. It is a talent to make losing money fun, and Marevic, Raquel and Errol have raised that talent to an art form! Staterooms: We had five cabins on the Upper Promenade deck, category VD close to the forward elevators. The balconies were nice (my wife enjoys going out and looking at the stars just before bed), and the cabins themselves spacious for two people. The location close to the elevators created a central meeting point but there was never any hallway noise that we heard from the room. My brother and his wife had neighbors who would play their television at a high volume such that it could be heard in their room, but that is not a design flaw regarding the ship, and it wasn't irritating enough to get others involved. The beds were comfortable, the water pressure in the shower was fine, and our room was always refreshed when we left. One positive change was a note in our room indicating that fresh fruit was available for the room but that we should indicate what type we liked and then the room steward would bring that and keep it replenished. There is so much food available on board that we have never eaten the fruit left in our room so it was nice not to have it sit there for ten days going to waste. Food: Universally good, and with such a wide range of ages and tastes, our group tried everything. We like that the portion sizes are not super-sized, but rather more realistic and healthy, and the presentation in the dining room is beautiful. There were two formal nights and one 'formal optional' with the rest of the dinners casual. There were more suits than tuxes on the formal nights (2/3 to 1/3), but everyone looked good and appeared to have a good time. We had one meal in the Pinnacle Grill (great steak, nice wine selection) but otherwise took all our dinners in the main dining room. Ship Layout: The new Explorations Cafe/Library and Internet Center integrated as part of the Crow's Nest Lounge was a brilliant design move. The Crow's Nest attracts a more sedate crowd to begin with, and having the books and internet on that level creates a destination for relaxing and enjoying the views as you drink a Latte and catch up on email. Every time we were up there people were accessing the space. Although we did not do much shopping on board, having the halls flow through the shops was really very nice. Finally, having the Casino directly outside the Vista Show Lounge made for lots of activity as each show let out. In addition, we accessed the Spa (Pedicures, Facials and Hairstyling for the women, Massages and the Gym for the men), The Lido, Piano and Ocean bars for relaxing, the Vista Lounge for the entertainment and the Lido for breakfast and lunch. All were nice and consistent with our other cruises. Ports of Call: This was a ten day cruise with stops in Monaco, Livorno, Barcelona, Tunisia, Malta, Palermo and Naples. Monaco: We tendered in Monaco and decided to tour on our own. We walked along a bit of the Grand Prix circuit, then took the elevators up to the train station and caught a short bus ride (6 euros for the nine of us) to Monte Carlo. We did not go inside, but spent some time sightseeing, had an ice cream break, then took another bus ride over to the Royal Palace. There we walked through the park, shopped, saw the church where Grace Kelly is buried and had beer before heading back to the ship. Monaco is a pretty port and is easily manageable in a few hours. Livorno: We again used Driver-in-Rome to take us to Pisa (we had reserved tickets to climb the tower first thing in the morning) and then drove to Florence for the rest of the day. Pisa was beautiful and peaceful at 8:30 AM before the crush of tourists. When we were getting ready to leave it was already filling up. Since it was a Monday, the museums were closed so we were unable to access them, opting instead to see the Duomo, shop on the Ponte Vecchio, have a nice lunch and then visit Santa Croce to see the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo and Machiavelli and to do a bit more shopping. After a brief stop at a scenic overlook above Florence, it was back to the ship. Barcelona: We had reserved Jose Soler from Pepitotours.com to take us on a full day tour of Barcelona. What a fantastic experience! Jose met us at 9:00 AM and took us directly to see the Sagrada Familia (the Gaudi designed church still under construction 100 years after it was started). This is a must see in Barcelona. Afterwards, we dropped the nieces and nephew at the beach and proceeded to the Gothic Quarter for a 45 minute walking tour. Then it was time for an early Tapas lunch. We ate at a restaurant just at the top of Las Ramblas and had wonderful sangria and an assortment of small dishes recommended by Jose, who graciously joined us for lunch. I would move to Barcelona on the basis of that meal alone, it was that good. While we were eating, Jose sent his driver to pick up the kids at the beach and made sure they got sandwiches before re-joining the tour. After lunch we visited Park Guell (another Gaudi designed site), the Olympic stadium and finally Montserrat for a beautiful view of Barcelona. Tunisia: We took the ships tour of Carthage and Sido Bou Said in this port. We were excited to be in Africa, but there is not much left of Carthage and Tunisia is a few years away from developing the infrastructure to be a really interesting stop on a cruise such as this. Malta: We took another Holland America tour that included a cruise around the harbor in small traditional boats and a walking tour around the streets of Valletta's old town. The Malta harbor is really beautiful and the scenic cruise was relaxing. Our guide for the walking portion of the tour was excellent and took tremendous pride in her country. My only complaint about this tour was that Holland America booked too many people for one guide to effectively handle on a walking tour with no amplification for her voice. Palermo: Our last Holland America tour was the Mysteries of Palermo. This tour included a visit to a Norman Palace, the catacombs of the capuchin monks (with thousands of mummified bodies literally on display) and some church now used for concerts. We may have just picked the wrong tour, but this was the worst of all of our stops on the cruise. Holland America had four buses doing this tour, all leaving within minutes of each other and all hitting each site at the same time. This was especially problematic in the Norman Palace where there was not enough room for one group to move about effectively. What should have been a fifteen minute stop on the tour took an hour and a half, with the majority of the time spent waiting for the group ahead of us to move to the next room. For a cruise company that gets so much else right, I was surprised they would have had such poor planning regarding this tour. The catacombs were interesting but the final church felt very much like time filler so that the tour would take the allotted four hours. In reality, there was probably about an hour and a half of content in this four hour tour. Naples: Our last port was Naples and we had again arranged with Driver-in-Rome for a private guide and driver. We were off the ship at 8:00 AM and were met by our guide Santiago and driver Massimo. Our first stop was Pompeii. My wife and I had been to Pompeii twice before (both times using a private guide) but Santiago far surpassed either of the previous experiences in both his knowledge and passion for the subject. After Pompeii we drove to Sorrento for some shopping in that beautiful city and then on to Positano for a lunch at Constantino's, high up on the hill overlooking the town. Constantino's owner, Luigi, personally served us at a long table set next to the open windows with breathtaking views and a cool breeze. Our lunch was served family style and included fresh anchovies, bruschetta, a caprese salad, two pastas, fresh grilled swordfish, plenty of wine, dessert, limoncello and espresso. It was too much, but possibly some of the best food on a trip that was brimming with excellent meals. After our late lunch we drove back to Naples to board the ship for our last night. Disembarkation: We had a private transfer to the airport and were off the ship by 8:30 AM the next morning for the ride to the airport. Disembarkation was again a smooth process, but it was running a little later than anticipated so I was glad that our flight was not scheduled until 12:45. At the airport the lines were extremely long, but we hired porters to carry our luggage and they managed to get us through the check in process very quickly. The flight home was uneventful and after two weeks away we were happy to get home and back to work and our normal routine. Summary: The Westerdam is a great ship, Holland America's people continue to be something special and the Mediterranean may be one of the best itineraries if you are an ancient history buff. We particularly loved this itinerary because it embarked from Rome, a city that you cannot do justice to as a port stop and this allowed us the ability to incorporate a pre-cruise stay in this eternal city. Read Less
Sail Date June 2007
Westerdam Cruise Review 10 Day MEDITERRANEAN ENCHANTMENT We sailed on June 9th, 2007 Group of 5 - Ages 29 - 44 J Class Cabin - Main Deck Booked Online and Phone We traveled with 5 members of our group all long times friends with a wide ... Read More
Westerdam Cruise Review 10 Day MEDITERRANEAN ENCHANTMENT We sailed on June 9th, 2007 Group of 5 - Ages 29 - 44 J Class Cabin - Main Deck Booked Online and Phone We traveled with 5 members of our group all long times friends with a wide ranges of ages. We are adventuresome and are city dwellers. We flew from Chicago to JFK then on to Rome on American Airlines. Arrived in Rome in the early morning the day before the cruise. Took a train from the Airport to the main Termmi station (10 Euro's) Walked about 4 blocks to our hotel. We stayed at a small hotel and rooming house called Ares Rooms near the Termmi station. Small but, worked for one night. And about 40 euro each. Just remember that 5 of us in one room, one bathroom one shower. Thank goodness we are all friends. Next morning after some breakfast and quick sightseeing were off on the Termmi station to get onboard our train to the port of Civitavecchia. This was a wonderful train ride, you got to see lots of the city and countryside along the way, and it was only 7 euros each. (Note - its very crowed and used by locals, if you have a lot of luggage and not used to riding on crowed commuter trains don't' try this. Take a rented Car.) Upon arriving in Civitavecchia main station, cabs and taxis were everywhere. About 15 euros for a van load to get to the ship. Takes about 10 min to get to the Holland America embarking area. Once arrived the checking process was 10 min. the best I have ever seen any cruise line. It pays to do all your online Pre-Check in stuff in advance. All we had to do was show ID's and the credit card and away we went. After we drooped off our stuff in our stateroom we heading for a quick bite and a refreshing cocktail out on deck. After this is back to our rooms for a quick nap before the Mandatory life boat drill at 430pm before departure at 6pm. It's not the best part of the trip people but, it might save your live. The Ship- The Cabins- The cabins are nice on the Westerdam. We had 3 people in our room so we booked a larger inside stateroom. J1019. Wow about 200 sq ft of comfort. The room was nice a calm with blue, tan, and brown accents. Our room had the standard amenities two twin beds that convert to a queen-size bed, bathroom with shower, minibar, TV, in room movies, telephone, and data port. Even with the pull out bed for the 3rd person there were still lots of room to move about the cabin. This was a J class cabin on the main deck. We really enjoyed his location, a few steps from the elevators for easy access to the Vista Show Lounge and access to the upper decks of the pool and explorations lounge which we spent about of our times. This location also came in handy for excursion tour days, when you had to meet in the Vista Lounge, less then 50 steps and you are there. Vista Dining Room is one beautiful room, worthy of the excellent meals served there. A grand stairway cuts through the center of the room, linking upper and lower levels. The upper level has an intimate feeling. The ceiling is glass, muted-multi colored morning glory style ceiling fixtures, which cast a serene rainbow glow. Fine Rosenthal China and sparkling stemware on crisp white table linens lay in wait for you. All the meals here were fantastic. From the rack of lamb to the lobster, this place was completely satisfying to the pallet. The Lido Restaurant - with its pool and terrace on one side and the ocean all around this is a wonderful place, there is no match for the extensive menu, such as carved meats, fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables, pastas, pizza station and salads. And as always, impeccable service provided by the attentive, yet unobtrusive staff which is never far away. And who doesn't like ice cream and pizza 18 hours everyday. The Crows Nest- The forward upper lounge area... A nice bar area with wonderful seating in a relaxed atmosphere, entertainment varied between a piano player and a house band, nice area for dancing. Nice for an after dinner drink and to mix and mingle. Explorations Cafe - A grand coffee house environment where you can browse through one of the best selections of books, check out DVDs for cabin viewing, play board games or simply read the morning paper. The coffee drinks were extra, but, if you are a city dweller, $2 bucks for a cappuccino is no big deal. (Note cappuccino's and espressos are free in the dinning room with dinner). Our group spent a number of evening relaxing in this lounge. I think we are bringing the games Yatzzee and Sorry back. We seemed to attract a crowd nightly when we played. Entertainment and Fun The Pools - Westerdam has two pools: The Lido Pool and a smaller adult aft pool, both popular for sunning, swimming, and napping. The aft pool is surrounded by a teak deck and has two adjoining whirlpools, while the Lido area has three whirlpools and a composite deck that's soft and cool to bare feet. The alt pool at one time was for adults only, but on this past trip, I did not see any signage declaring this to be true. But after 7pm most evening this area of the ship was quiet and a wonderful place to have a late night dip under the stars. Northern Lights Nightclub- Well, a lot can said for what people call a nightclub- It reminded me a Holiday Inn lounge of the 70's with a disco ball. I think if the cruise lines would let the DJ's be DJ's and let them do their thing, the music programming would be better. YMCA twice in a 2 hour period, kids lets get real. (And no it wasn't 70's Night) I realize they are aiming at a general 25- 55 year old Market, but there are other venues for that. Let the 30- something's dance. Vista Show Lounge - There was a different show every night. And ranges from Magicians, to vocal artists to Las Vegas style productions. All were nicely done and enjoyable. One Note - Ms. Alfreda Gerald was one of the best Vocal Performers I have seen in a long time. Great soulful voice, she made for a wonderful evening. Well done floor shows by the house dancers. Casino - Nice casino, if you are used to Vegas, Look away, Look far away. But, if ya just want to feel like Vegas for a few hours, then jump right on in. Lots of slots, a few table games and a few tournaments during the cruise. Older crowd in the early evening, a bit younger in the late night hours. Nice room. Shore excursions - We took several of the tour excursions that Holland America offered. They had it was a nice choice of tours include something for everyone's ability or age. As I can not walk for long periods of time, the staff helped pick up tours that would best work with my abilities and take in account for everyone in our party. (Note- on the tour information that is listed from Holland America most are marked difficult. Check with the Tour Desk, most of them are listed that way because most of Europe is not wheelchair friendly). If you can walk most tours are okay for you. The Highlights Tour of Tunis and the Tour of Pompeii were standouts offered by Holland America. The Ports of Call- Rome - So much can be said about Rome. Is the capital city of Italy and of the Lazio region, as well as the country's largest and most populous areas, with more than 2 million residents? We arrived in Rome a day before the cruise to experience all that is Rome. We took a tour of the Coliseum which was wonderful; it's truly amazing once you see it in person. Just break taking. If you have time, just spend an afternoon wondering around. It is amazing what you will find off the beaten path. If you are urban and city savvy, take a local train to the end of the line and back for a real view of the city. Costs about 8 euros each way. Beware of Pickpockets near the train stations and big attractions. Always use a traveler's wallet. Florence- Livorno is the port city to Florence and Pisa, the gateway to Tuscany. We took the shuttle bus into Florence for a look around this famous city. Wonderful, the best-known site and crowning architectural jewel of Florence is the domed cathedral of the city, Santa Maria del Fiore, known as The Duomo. The magnificent dome was built by Filippo Brunelleschi. This was jaw dropping and a must see when in Florence. We had a wonderful Coffee Break here. (Note- the tour buses can only come within a few miles of city limits - so there is a 10 min walk from the bus to your tour meeting area.) COMFORTABLE SHOES A MUST Tunisia, officially the Tunisian Republic on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. It is the northernmost African country and the smallest of the nations situated along the Atlas mountain range. This was very cool. This was the most exciting experience for me. We docked in La Goulette just outside Tunis the Capital city in Tunisia. The city center is a cultural mix of English, French and Arabic speaking people. Beware of many of the customs in this part of the world. For most women, no shoulders and knees can be shown. Its best to take a cruise ship excursion here, unless you are familiar with Middle Eastern culture. The Holland America tour" highlights" tour is wonderful about 4 hours and gives you just enough time to spark your interests from the comfort of a tour bus, with a few stops for pictures. Malta is wonderful and I would love to visit again. This trip was unplanned, since the Westerdam was due to call at Palma de Majorca, and Malta was substituted port at the last minute. We got up early to see us sail into the long inlet to the inner harbor, passing ancient buildings built into limestone cliffs, a city and a sight unlike no other. Valletta is an awesome sight by sea. The people are wonderful and really love there country. It is something I will always remember. Naples is one heck of place, more Italian than Rome, really. Dogs barked and played, running in and out of the shops dockside. Ferries constantly arriving and leaving the port. The place was intoxicating. The tour with Holland America was great. The Tour of Pompeii. This was truly wonderful, I suggested it to anyone, but, remember do as they say bring lots of water and wear a hat, it can get hot and little or no shade once you enter the grounds of Pompeii. The Staff The Staff- Every one was great, and always a smile from everyone. One note- the assistant cruise director - Jeffery went above the call of duty to help us plan out actives for our group. Also Jeffery always stopped us in the hall to say hello and ask if we needed anything. This makes the Holland America Line top notch and we will travel her again. Check Out was flawless and easy. Our flight home was tiresome, but, slept most of the way. The layover in London was 3 hours locked in a room with 200 other travelers. Not Fun. In conclusion, We had a good time this trip. Holland American and the staff of the Westerdam are awesome. The ship and staff are some of the best in the industry. Read Less
Sail Date June 2007
Westerdam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.4
Dining 4.5 3.9
Entertainment 4.5 3.7
Public Rooms 4.5 4.3
Fitness Recreation 4.0 3.8
Family 2.5 3.8
Shore Excursion 4.0 3.8
Enrichment 4.0 3.6
Service 4.5 4.3
Value For Money 4.5 3.9
Rates 4.0 4.2

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