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Marie-Claude

Rotterdam Review (long) May 19-29 Italian Enchantment

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Here it is...

 

SUMMARY – In a nutshell

Cabin and service: 5/5

Food and service: 5/5

Itinerary: 5/5

Ship activities: 4/5

Entertainment: 4/5

 

Overall experience: 4.5/5

 

 

PRE-CRUISE STAY IN VENICE – 2 nights

 

Since I had the opportunity to fly on points, we decided to book our flight and hotel stay on our own. We arrived in Venice 2 days prior to embarkation on the ship, which was great – it gave us the opportunity to get over the jetlag, and also enough time to see Venice. We stayed at the Abbazia Hotel in the Cannaregio area. We loved it. The hotel was fairly easy to get to (once you knew to take the vaporetto from Piazzale Roma – first stop Ferrovia and a very short walk as opposed to what we did: walk from Piazzale Roma with all the luggage… big mistake as we had to cross over 3 bridges and many steps…). It is conveniently situated near the Ferrovia vaporetto stop. The hotel is an old Carmelites Monastery and is very charming. It has a great interior courtyard with a lovely garden where you can have breakfast in the morning. The room’s windows opened to an interior garden which is so peaceful… we had the best sleep! The staff were extremely friendly and helpful with tips on what to do, places to eat etc. It was a very good value (http://www.abbaziahotel.com).

 

Venice is just a wonderful city to explore at your own pace. First, after a 3-hour nap and a shower, we set out for our first day in Venice. We purchased a 24 hour vaporetto pass and went down the Grand Canal to San Marco. The No 1 vaporetto makes several stops along the way, but lets you take in the activity of the canal and the spectacular view of all the palazzos that lined the canal on either sides. At San Marco, we simply sat for a while watching the sun go down on the Piazza, and the thousands of people and pigeons waltzing around us! Then we walked the Mercerie area, filled with boutiques of all kinds, from Cartier and Gucci, to wonderful jewelleries and several tourist shops. It’s pretty weird to see the street vendors selling fake Louis Vuitton or Gucci bags right in front of the real stores… These streets led us to Rialto bridge where we had a quick yet wonderful dinner of pasta (what else…) in a campo nearby the bridge. After that, we hopped on the vaporetto to do the Grand Canal once more, at dusk, to head back to the hotel – this was a full day for us, considering the flight, the lack of sleep, the jetlag, and the incredible journey to get our luggage to the hotel earlier that day!!

 

On our second day in Venice, we headed for San Marco again, but this time to do some serious exploration. We took the No 82 vaporetto which was supposed to be quicker. I had previously reserved on the internet an entrance time for the Basilica for 10 am. We missed it. So we decided to start by the Doges Palace visit. Lucky for us, the entrance was half price that day. So it cost us 5.50 € for entrance, and 7 € for the audio guide (with 2 headphones). The visit took 2.5 hours, and was extremely worth it. The audio guide made the visit a lot more interesting.

 

Once we exited the Doges Palace, we had a picnic on Piazza San Marco. That was fun!! We had packed a lunch in the morning and we sat down the Campanile to eat our sandwiches and take in the atmosphere. After lunch we went in San Marco Basilica. There was a long line, so I went in to see if they would honour my internet reservation even if the time was passed and they did!! So in we were! There’s no words that would describe the beauty and artwork in this Basilica. Everywhere you look, even the floors are incredible. The only thing that really surprised me is that there is no stain glass work in the windows… curious, especially for a city renowned for its glass making. We were out by 2 pm and were a bit exhausted. So we opted to go to Burano. The 1 hour vaporetto ride to get there gave us a bit of time to recuperate. What a beautiful island! Renowned for its colourful houses, brightly painted in pink, blue, yellow, green, and for its lace makers, it was a perfect afternoon stroll. We walked around town, had a local pastry and coffee on market place, shopped a bit, then took the 4:30 vaporetto back to Venice. We had dinner in the Cannaregio area, near our hotel. After dinner, we took the No 1 vaporetto for a night ride down the Grand Canal. You have to experience Piazza San Marco at night! People were dancing on the piazza to the sounds of the various orchestra from the piazetta’s cafés, and from Florian and Quadra on the grand piazza. It was fabulous.

 

The next morning we walked in the Dorsuduro and San Polo areas, quieter areas where Venetians live and visited the S. Maria dei Frari et S. Rocca churches. It was great just to walk around through the small and narrow streets. We ended up by the Grand Canal at the S. Toma station and chose to do a vaporetto tour, one last ride before leaving. It was fantastic as the morning was very busy on the Canal – UPS and Guinness delivery gondolas, boats going up and down. We saw the vegetable and fish market on the way as well. By 11:00 am we were back at the hotel to pick up our luggage. We opted for the vaporetto to make our way to Piazzale Roma to catch the shuttle to the pier. HAL didn’t have a shuttle, but we were told to take any shuttle to the pier. Costa had a shuttle every 15 minutes. So there were 6 of us going to the Rotterdam, and we took the shuttle and were to the pier within a few minutes.

 

 

DAY 1

 

EMBARKATION

 

Once off the shuttle, we had to walk over to the luggage hangar to drop our luggage. The dispatcher insisted on telling us we should leave a tip for the porters, which we did, and I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but when we got to our cabin, all 4 bags were there! After luggage drop-off, we walked to the terminal for the registration. It was now noon-time. The line to get to the counter was fairly short, and if you had completed the immigration form on the internet we were sent to a counter immediately. They gave us a number and we were seated in the waiting area. We waited 1.5 hour before our number was called. That was a bit long. But after that, everything was quick: they took our picture from a webcam, collected our passport and that was it. A shuttle was available to take us to the ship. Once on board, we were in our cabin within 5 minutes, with our luggage waiting!

 

 

SAIL AWAY

 

After settling into our cabin and a quick lunch at the Lido, we found a spot on Sports Deck for the sail away. You MUST be out to see Venice as we set sail around the island and out the lagoon. It is absolutely incredible. Barbara, the port lecturer, commented the passage on the PA. To sail past Piazza San Marco is a view you do not want to miss. After a while, we went down to the Lido and found a table by the windows where we look at the scenery until 7 pm. The lagoon, the islands, small fishing boats everything about this sail away was fascinating!

 

 

OUR CABIN

 

We had booked a guarantee F category cabin and about 10 days before the cruise, we found out we had been assigned a category E cabin on Dolphin deck 1, cabin 1831. We weren’t thrill about being on the bottom deck, but it turned out to be a great cabin in a great location. It was close to the forward elevators, and just one flight of stairs from the gangway – very convenient! The cabin was very spacious. All cabins have received the Signature of Excellence upgrades which includes a new flat screen TV, a DVD player (great to view your pictures once you had them transferred onto a CD), new Egyptian cotton linens and plush towels, and new Euro-top mattress. The beds… ahh!! The new beds are wonderful; extra thick with a wonderful padding. Terry robes were already in the room as well as a basket of fresh fruits that was replenished daily. There’s plenty of closets: 3 closets for hangers, 2 closets with shelves, a desk with 3 drawers plus 2 night tables with 2 locking drawers! The room has a safe but no refrigerator. The cabin was very comfortable and we loved everything about it.

 

Our cabin steward Hermanto came to introduce himself as soon as we returned from a quick tour of the ship and lunch at the Lido. He was very good and friendly. Always helpful when we needed anything. Also we really enjoyed the towel animals – I know some people find them silly, but I was anxious to get back to the cabin every night just to see who would be greeting us… I have to admit I kept the elephant for a few days… it was just too cute!

 

 

PINNACLE GRILL

 

I had booked the Pinnacle Grill for the first night thinking it would be a nice start for the cruise. What a treat that was! Our team of waiters was very friendly but moreover extremely professional. After showing us the various cuts of meat, we opted for the Petite Filet Mignon. First, we received a plate of amuse-bouches, a Chef’s special. It was presented on 3 porcelain spoons: a vegetable sushi, a salmon tartare with caviar and a walnut cheese. It was exquisite. Followed our appetizers: clam chowder and crab cakes – delicious. Our filet mignon was cooked to perfection and was very flavourful, which sometimes is not always the case. It was served with a delicious béarnaise sauce along with grilled mushrooms, asparagus and scalloped potatoes. Everything was extremely flavourful and tasty. We didn’t really have any room left for dessert, but we had heard so much about the chocolate volcano cake that we had to have it… and we didn’t regret it! It was exquisite. It was a fabulous way to start off our cruise.

 

 

THE SHIP

 

We loved the Rotterdam! Our only other HAL cruise was on the Zuiderdam last August, and while we had enjoyed that cruise and our aft cabin, we fell in love with the Rotterdam. The smaller size of the ship is so much more manageable. The décor is classy, with lots of lounges and public spaces. The new Exploration Café is awesome! It is filled with great books, new releases, best sellers, travel books, atlas etc., latest magazines and several internet stations. It was a great place to just sit and relax while browsing a great book. I love the memorabilia about HAL navigation history, and the artwork representing the various Rotterdam ships. The ship felt like new thanks to the new renovations done to the ship (we were told they put in $25 million during the recent dry dock upgrades). The public restrooms were always spotless and never ran out of hand towels. Fresh flowers on every single tables of every lounge, bars, restroom counters, restaurant tables. There was an orchid on every table of the Lido, inside and around the pool area as well! The shops were larger than the one on the Zuiderdam with an extensive collection of jewellery. The show lounge was accessible from deck 4 and 5, and you had a great view no matter where you sat. The cinema was also very comfortable, and we heard it was also use for culinary demonstration with a fully equipped kitchen behind the screen. We didn’t attend any of the classes but heard it was very interesting. Laundry facilities were available on deck 3 and 4. We had no problem using them on sea days ($2 for washer, and $1 for dryer – soap included). The atrium is on three levels and the astronomical clock that runs the three deck is a beauty. The Rotterdam is truly a classy ship and we would love to cruise her again. Did I say we loved the Rotterdam??

 

 

LA FONTAINE DINING ROOM

 

DINNER :

We had requested and received a table for the Upper Main seating at 8:00 pm, which was perfect time for this port intensive cruise. I don’t know how people can make it to the earlier seating, but that’s just me! We had requested a table for 6 and were given a table for 2. So that was a bit disappointing as we enjoy meeting new people and sharing our experiences. However, we did not request a change as we liked the location of our table, and were still able to fraternize with people in the tables close to ours. Our table, number 78, was around the mezzanine and we really enjoyed that as we could see and hear the musicians during formal nights, and we could also see the set-up of the lower level and the entrance of all the guests, which was usually as we waited for our first course. Our waiter Henri and his assistant Sapto were very friendly, funny and extremely courteous and attentive. They remembered everything after the first night. They offered above average service: they deboned our fish, arranged lobster tails etc. and we saw that not all waiters did that. The food was very good. There was a good variety every night, the food was creative, well prepared, tasty and flavourful, all sign of a good chef. The food was far superior to the one we had on the Zuiderdam last August. The only area that wasn’t stellar were the dessert, they weren’t extraordinary but fine on average. However, there was a flambé every night in the dining room and every one we had was very good. I have to say that the lobster tails were exceptionally good. They were Maine lobster as opposed to langouste and I had never had them so tender and sweet on any ships. Absolutely divine! I can only give two thumbs up for the dining room food. We had Dutch night, and two formal nights (our documents stated 3 formal nights).

 

BREAKFAST:

We had breakfast in the dining room once. The service was good, and the eggs Benedict, fair. I had better but it was fine. They had a really good yogurt parfait!

 

We never made it to the dining room for lunch.

 

 

LIDO BUFFET, LIDO GRILL

 

The Lido buffet was also very good. Having only 1200 guests onboard, we never had to queue for the buffet. That’s a nice treat! The breakfast fare was excellent: smoked salmon was available on most days, build-your-own omelette station, pancakes, waffles, French toast, scrambled eggs and meats etc. plus they had a fabulous Swiss Muesli made of oat, yogurt, honey and fruit that was to die for. Fresh fruits, baked goods, cold and hot cereals, you couldn’t ask for anything more. Moreover, the food was always hot.

 

Lunch was varied and always good. As per the tradition, they had the wonderful bread pudding every day for lunch! I just love that pudding doused in warm crème anglaise… mmmm! Sometimes, we opted for the Lido grill where they had hamburgers and hotdogs, pizza and a taco bar.

 

 

ROOM SERVICE

 

I was pleasantly surprised to see a full menu for room service, not only through the day but for breakfast as well. You could order pretty much anything you wanted hot or cold for breakfast. It was delivered on time, hot and fresh. Just perfect for those early excursion days…

 

 

Speaking of excursions… here is a summary of what we did in each ports:

 

 

MESSINA - SICILY

 

We opted for the Taormina excursion from HAL. This was a half day tour, well worth it. Our guide Aldo made the 45 minute drive to Taormina seem very quick as he talked to us about the history of Sicily in a very interesting and entertaining manner. Once there, we walked the cobblestone streets all the way to the Roman Theatre. What a fabulous natural décor was provided for this theatre: the sea, the cliffy shores, and Mt Etna in the backdrop!! Breathtaking. You could easily go back in time and imagine spectacular tragedies played in this theatre! After the visit of the theatre we had almost 2 hours of free time to explore the city. This was plenty of time to combine a bit of shopping and a relaxing moment sipping a cappuccino and enjoying a Sicilian canolli! I couldn’t pass on the opportunity of buying a Sicilian puppet – I was introduced to this traditional craft on my last cruise on the Costa Magica, where they had a massive display of those puppets in the Casino.

 

 

CIVITAVECCHIA

 

Having been to Rome a few times, we opted for the Etruscan Villages of Tarquinia and Tuscania tour from HAL. This was a 9 hrs excursion that included lunch in a nice restaurant in Marta alongside the shores of lake Bolsena. First, we headed towards Tarquinia where we visited the Etruscan necropolis. We visited 6 or 7 tombs where the painted walls depicted various scenes of the life of Etruscan dating as far as the 7th century BC. It was very interesting. We spent probably close to 2 hours on the site. After that, we went into Tarquinia for a visit of the Etruscan Archaeological museum. This was a short visit followed by 15 minutes of free time.

Then we drove approximately 40 minutes to Marta on the shores of Lake Bolsena, a beautiful volcanic lake. We had lunch in a lovely restaurant, al fresco. The 3-hour long lunch was very good – starting with aperitif of Campari, we had antipasti, followed by pasta, mushroom risotto, mixed grilled meats, dessert and a selection of ‘medicine’ or digestives. It was very relax, leisurely, I guess as the Italians do on a Sunday afternoon, we I don’t think people expected to spend close to half the day sitting in the restaurant. Several people grew restless after a while and started to wander around the town. What was unexpected but made this afternoon even more interesting was that the town of Marta had a parade for its annual fishing festival. So we saw school bands and majorettes, along with medieval dressed people parade down the main street. The whole town was down cheering the parade!! That was certainly fun. Around 4:30, we drove to Tuscania, a 10 minute drive from Marta where our guide took us to a beautiful view point overlooking the meadows. We did a quick walling tour of the town and headed back to Civitavecchia and were back on the ship for 6:00 pm. Even though this was an interesting day, I found the price ($140 pp) for the excursion to be very high for what we had – it made for a very expensive lunch.

 

 

LIVORNO

 

Most people took the opportunity to go and visit Florence. We’ve been to Florence before so our plan was to go to Pisa and Lucca. I had researched ahead of time to do this on our own, but at the last minute I chickened out and decided to book the tours with HAL. So we went to Pisa in the morning, and I headed to Lucca in the afternoon. Since we were in port til 8 pm, I would have expected HAL to do a combo tour of the two cities, but I had to book both tours separately which meant I had to go back to the ship in between – which is a bit of a waste of time, but it was my choice… I could have gone on my own.

 

Once we got to Pisa, the bus parked in the main parking lot. There is a good 15 minute walk to reach Piazza dei Miracoli in the center of Pisa. We found out on the way back that there was a free shuttle from the parking to the entrance of the Piazza – good to know for people with some walking difficulties. Our local guide Antonella was fantastic – very colourful and passionate about her home town of Pisa. She gave us a good history of the building of the basilica, baptistery and campanile. Then at 10 am we visited the basilica with her. The local guide left us in the basilica, and we had about 1 hour of free time before returning to the meeting point. We obviously went to see the tower up close, and took a ton of picture. Like everyone else, we took the famous pose where you look like you’re holding the tower! The perfect spot to take this picture is where you turn left to go towards the basilica from the main entrance. The guide will tell you! But you must make your way all the way behind the tower, from the far corner of the piazza – that’s where you have the best view of the slant of the tower and can really see its banana shape! We had a bit of time to browse the shops along the piazza and outside the walls and even have a cappuccino at the Meeting Point Café before returning to the parking lot with the group.

 

I had about 45 minutes between excursions to grab a quick bite to eat then I went back to the Queen’s Lounge to meet the group for the Lucca tour. Back on the road for 45 minutes. We met our local guide at the entrance of the walled city and started a walking tour that lasted over 2 hours. It was slow paced, which was great as we had time to soak in the beauty of this wonderful city. We walked through the medieval and renaissance parts of the city. We visited the cathedral as well as the S. Frediano church. After the walking tour we had a bit more than an hour on our own. I decided to walk on the walls for a while which was great. The walls are very wide and many people are riding their bicycles, which would have been perfect. I’m sure they must rent bikes somewhere, but I didn’t have enough time to find out. I walked for a little while, then came down and returned to our meeting point through the narrow streets lined with great boutiques. As a matter of fact, Lucca was a great destination for shopping. There was a lot of really nice clothing store at very reasonable prices. Leather was also very affordable – I saw beautiful handmade leather purses for 70-80€. I actually saw the exact purse my mom had bought last year, handmade from Firenze – my mom had paid $200 for it, and it was retailing in Lucca for 85€!! I really enjoyed this excursion which was not too rushed, gave a great sense of the city, its architecture and history and enough time to explore on our own.

 

 

MONACO

 

After 3 full days of excursions, we were a bit tired and we had agreed the night before to stay on board today to recuperate, enjoy the pool, and do a bit of laundry. We have been to Monaco and the Côte d’azur several times, so we didn’t feel to bad about not going ashore. However, as soon as we saw the beautiful sunshine and the incredible setting when we anchored off the shores of Monte Carlo we decided to go ashore for a stroll. The day was gorgeous. As we got off the tender, we went to the small information center. Two ladies greeted us with a package especially designed for cruise ship passengers. It contained a guidebook, a map, coupons for the museums, tourist trains and most attractions, even two postcards!! We asked them what they would recommend to do for an easy day and they suggested we went up to the Oceanographic Institute to catch the tourist train for a relax tour of the city, then maybe spend some time around the Palace and the gardens. That’s exactly what we did. We went up, using the lifts that are in the parking lot very close to where the tenders dock (many people didn’t know where to find the lift and ended up walking all the way up to the Rock…) and hopped on the tourist train, using our coupon, for 5€ per person. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and even if we had been around Monaco and Monte Carlo before, was quite pleasant. As we were there only two days after Grand Prix, most streets were still lined with bleachers that many people were busy taking down. They told us it takes 6 weeks to set-up the streets for GP and 3 weeks to take everything down… amazing! After the tourist train, we walked through the St-Martin’s gardens. It was so pleasant to walk through the shade on that very sunny and warm day. We went into the cathedral and saw the tombs of Princess Grace right beside the recently buried Rainier III. We were right in time for the changes of the guards at the Palace and then went for a quick Mediterranean pizza lunch in a café on one of the small streets of old Monaco. After lunch, we walked down the path that’s behind the palace all the way down to Place d’Armes. We did a bit of shopping on Princess Caroline street, a pedestrian lane going down towards the harbour. Then we walked back to the tender’s docking area while admiring the incredible yachts that were docked at the harbour. We were told many very famous people were still around from the Grand Prix week-end. We returned to the ship early enough to still squeeze in laundry and relaxing time on the Transat chairs of the lower promenade deck. Sail away was at 11 pm and that’s a scene not to be missed. Monaco by night is beautiful – the lights going up the hills and all over the harbour. You can distinguish the street lights that line the three corniches! We opted for Deck 3 to watch the lighted shores fade away in the distance. Beautiful…

 

 

AJACCIO – CORSICA

 

During my research on Ajaccio, I had heard it was very easy to do on your own and found out about the tourist train. It offered two itineraries: one doing the historical center that lasted 45 mins, and a second one combining historical center and a drive to the Sanguinaires Islands lasting 90 mins. The train office was located at Place Foch downtown. The ship docked right across from the dock terminal and it was not a far walk to the city center. As a matter of fact, nothing is really far in Ajaccio. Once we got to Place Foch we were told the long circuit train started back at the pier… so we walked back to the pier to catch the train but it wasn’t there. We had to walk over to the Ferry pier to finally catch the train. We had to wait for a while, 40 minutes, before it departed which started to tick us off. Finally the train left at around 10:00 and went straight to… Place Foch to pick up more passengers. This disagreement didn’t spoil the day for me even though I found the people working there to be very ignorant and insensitive. I travel with my 76 year young mother, and while I didn’t really mind all the walking we had to do to get on the train, it would have been nice for her to be spared all that. Anyhow, we finally set out and started our visit. The road to the Sanguinaires Islands is spectacular. The sea is an amazing swirl of navy blue and turquoise. We drove past very interesting cemeteries – the maritime cemetery where the navigators and sailors were buried, and the civil cemetery where the famous 30’s singer Tino Rossi was buried. We stopped at the islands for about 15 minutes. The view point was incredible and I was able to take spectacular pictures. On the way back into the city, we stopped by the Cathedral where Napoleon was baptised, his native house, Place Charles de Gaulle with the equestrian statue of Napoleon and his four brothers and finally back to Place Foch close to the harbour. We walked back to all the places we had seen as everything is very close. We wanted to visit Napoleon’s house but it was closed until 2:00 pm. There were excursions to the countryside in the afternoon and I regret not taking it to at least see a bit more of the beautiful countryside. Ajaccio is all about Napoleon, and other than his house, a couple of museums targeted to the emperor’s fanatics and a few statues, there isn’t a lot to see. One thing that we really enjoyed were the Imperial Regattas that were held in Ajaccio that week. Classical schooners started the race right at the harbour and we were able to follow them as we went up the coast on our train ride. It was great!

 

 

CAGLIARI – SARDINIA

 

I was hard pressed to find much information on Cagliari during my months of research. So I didn’t really know what to do and decided to take a ship’s tour. All tours lasted about 4 hours and all were quite expensive (mine ended up costing $133 for a 4 hour tour). I chose the Ruins of Nora and Taste of Sardinia tour. It was great! We crossed the lagoon where hundreds of pink flamingos have elected to live in the recent years. This was quite a sight (maybe for people living in Florida it would be pretty common, but for me living in the colder climate of Quebec, I was amazed…). After a 40 minutes drive, we arrived at the ruins of Nora. Here is a good description of the site from their website:

 

‘The Ruins of Nora are situated on the promontory of Capo di Pula which is formed in such a way that it has three natural harbours, which can be used alternatively according to the conditions of the wind and sea. The city was founded by Phoenician seafarers around IX-VIII century B.C.. Little evidence remains of this ancient period in Nora's history, however an important testimony is ‘la Stele di Nora’, on which there is an inscription which bears the name of Sardinia. Nora's Punic history, to a large extent, also remains a mystery, although the materials used in the construction of tombs suggest that it was a rich merchant settlement. In the early period of Roman domination, which began in 238 B.C., Nora was probably the seat of the Governorship. During the Roman era it was proclaimed a municipium and enjoyed a period of prosperity, which reached its peak in the II and III century A.D.. Archaeological excavation has revealed buildings from various periods, but the most important ruins are those from the Roman era. The remains of the thermal baths are located just inside the entrance to the site.

 

The baths are partially submerged by water, but the colourful white, yellow and black mosaics which cover the floor can still be seen. Visitors can also admire the beautiful mosaics of the Central Thermal Baths, as well as at the Small Baths, the latter almost certainly belonging to a private domus.

 

The Theatre, one of the most important and impressive of the city, can be traced back to the first half of the II century A.D., and, under the stage area, large amphora, used to create incredible acoustic effects, are still visible.

The building known as the Roman Temple offers visitors the chance to admire beautiful floor mosaics from the end of the II and the beginning of the III century A.D.. The other sacred buildings to be admired are: Alto Luogo di Tanit, the Temple-Sanctuary of Eshmun-Esculapio and the so-called Canaanite sanctuary, all of which were built on existing chapels, from the Phoenician-Punic era.’

 

Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and made the visit very interesting. After the guided tour of Nora, we drove back to Cagliari and went to the San Giuseppe Cloister, a medieval cloister that was transformed into a reception hall where most Sardinians hold their wedding, to have a snack of traditional Sardinian fare! Pecorino cheese, sausage, goat cheese, bruschetta, flat breads, red and white wine… all under a tent in the courtyard! The venue was beautiful, the stone walls of the cloister were crawling under the fiery red and purple bougainvillaea flowers. The food was tasty, the setting was to die for. This was a very relaxing way of ending the excursion while chatting with fellow cruisers. By 12:30 we were back on the ship. At that time I met my mom back in the cabin and we decided to go back into town to do a bit of shopping.

 

The Port Authority of Cagliari offered a free shuttle out of the harbour area into town. As we got off the bus, young girls came to offer us a Sardinian homemade candy, along with a map of the city, a shopping card for 10% discount on pretty much everything. They also provided a free bus to go further up in the city where a lot of the shops were. They sure know how to take care of their visitors!! We decided to stay on Via Roma as we only had about an hour before the last shuttle back to the ship. We went to La Rinascente, a large department store across from the shuttle terminal. We found really nice clothing and accessories at fair prices. Then we hopped on the last shuttle, back just in time to get settle into a good spot for sail-away!

 

 

DUBROVNIK – CROATIA

 

The ship docked at the port of Gruz, which is about 2 km from the old walled city of Dubrovnik. We woke up to the beautiful view of the new bridge finished in 2001. We had planned to do Dubrovnik on our own, so we were up early to catch the first shuttle into town. But at around 8 am, they announced that the first shuttle would not be in until 9 am. We were very disappointed as the ship was leaving early and all aboard was at 2:30 pm. So we went to Deck 3, lower promenade and enjoyed the Transat chairs while waiting for the first shuttle to come. A few artisan kiosks were set-up on the pier, and we went down at around 8:30 am to browse a bit before heading into town. The shuttle was there a bit early, and we left the pier at 8:45, and reached the Pile Gate of Dubrovnik for 9, along with many, many other buses… I cannot imagine what it would be like in the middle of summer when tourism is at its peak!!

 

We walked through the Pile gate and ended up right in front of Onorio fountain, the perfect meeting point in case you get lost. To the left, there is the main access for those who want to walk the walls. The walls are still intact and apparently offer the most spectacular views of the city. They are fairly high, and about 2 km in length. My mom did not have the heart to climb up so we decided we would explore the city from below!! We were told there was a tourist information center near the place and we found it easily, a few doors to the left of the Placa. Unfortunately we didn’t get more than a city plan from them. They were not very helpful. So we bought a guide book on Dubrovnik in a gift shop across the street and started our exploration of the city. We went down the Placa, the wide main street that runs the length of the city. The Placa used to be a canal that ran through old town. It’s in fact the only wide street of the city. Most other streets are very narrow making the walled portion of Dubrovnik a pedestrian city. We saw a few bicycles and a few electric carts used by delivery people, but other than that, everything is done on foot. At the end of the Placa is the Clock tower on Luza square. Right in the middle of the square is Orlando’s column, also a popular meeting point in Dubrovnik. In front of the column is beautiful St. Blaise Church on one side and Sponza Palace on the other side. Inside Sponza Palace was a very interesting and moving exposition on the 1991 war and a memorial to the people of Dubrovnik who lost their lives. As you turn right from the Placa, heading toward the Cathedral, you will see the Rector’s palace and its museum. The line-up to get in was too long so we kept on walking. Right after the Palace, and across from the Cathedral is the gate to the old harbour of Dubrovnik. It is lined with several cafés. It’s a lovely place to sit and relax for a bit, admiring the robustness of the walls, and the boats coming in and out of the harbour. Unfortunately for us, the patios we’re all full and we had to continue our journey. We went back into the old city and went to visit the Cathedral and its ‘treasure’. The treasure chamber of the cathedral is famous for its collection of approximately 200 art pieces, among them the arm of the S. Blaise from the 13th century and a holy cross that supposedly contains a fragment of the cross onto which Jesus was crucified. It also shows a large collection of objects, among them a pitcher and scale in gold and silver which depicts the flora and fauna of the region around Dubrovnik.

 

After the visit we stopped for a beer in a café behind the cathedral. The cafés were packed. It was such a beautiful day – very sunny and hot. So even if it was only 10:30 am, a nice cold beer was welcomed after all the walking we had done under the intense sun!! We walked through Gundulic Square where the morning market was still going strong. Then, we spent the rest of our time in Dubrovnik browsing the streets and shopping. I bought a great scarf that was hand woven in Croatia. I love buying jewellery or clothing as it reminds me of my travel every time I wear it. We ended up at our starting point, the Onorio Fountain at around 12:30. Having a bit of time left before the departure for the last shuttle, we decided to go and visit the Franciscan Monastery. We had access to the cloister around a beautiful and peaceful garden and to the pharmacy which has been operating since 1391!! After the visit, which took about 30 minutes, we returned to the bus stop just outside of Pile gate and were just in time to catch the last shuttle back to the ship.

 

Don’t miss sail away from Dubrovnik. It is spectacular! We sailed out of the port, by the bridge and then we followed the coast for a while – we were so close to the coast that we could wave at people in their backyard!

 

 

DEBARKATION AND POST-CRUISE STAY IN VENICE – 1 night

 

Early in the cruise the ship excursion desk requires that we purchase transfers to either Piazzale Roma, the airport or to hotels for those with post-cruise packages with HAL. Since we had flown on our own, and that our return flight was scheduled for the day after our debarkation, we bought transfers to Piazzale Roma, hoping to catch a bus to our Hotel near the airport. The cost was 10$ per person.

 

As usual with HAL, you can always stay in your cabin up to the moment they call your debarkation number. We had requested for last debarkation number as we were in no rush to get to our hotel since check-in wasn’t until noon.

We went to the Lido for an early breakfast at around 6:00 am. The arrival in Venice is something you will not want to miss either. Make sure you have a good spot in the Lido restaurant, or by the windows of the Lido pool area. It’s as spectacular as the sail away as the light is completely different. The lagoon was filled with small fishing boats, it was wonderful to see! Barbara, the port lecturer also commented the arrival as she had done during sail away. We were docked at around 7 am. It took a while before the immigration officers had completed their inspection and the first passengers were off the ship at around 7:45. Debarkation went fairly quickly and our number was called at 8:30. We got on a bus that drove us to the luggage terminal. We found our luggage right away and proceeded to customs, and then to find our shuttle for our transfer. By 9 am we were at Piazzale Roma. I tried to get direction to our hotel, but no one seem to know where it was or how to get there. So we decided to get on the No 5 bus to the airport since our hotel was close by. Once on the bus, a Costa employee that didn’t speak much English nor French finally understood where we needed to go, and she told me she would tell me where to stop. So I was a bit relieved! The bus was so full… it was also very hot and humid, even if it was still early, it was close to 95F already. So the journey was not fun. I was standing up with all the luggage, trying to hold on to something. Everybody was complaining, a women made a scene to her husband that she would never get on a bus again… Ah… the joy of travelling!! So we finally drive by our hotel, and as promised, the Costa lady told me, but the next stop was quite a ways from the hotel and with all the luggage, I could not see myself walking on a sidewalkless road … So we went all the way to the airport, and decided to take a cab from there to the hotel. It was only a 5 minute ride, but not having to deal with luggage for that ride was worth the 15 € it cost us!! So here we are at 10:30 am at the Titian Inn by the airport. We had made a reservation via the web (http://www.titianinn.com) , and we were relieved to see they were expecting us, as planned! They also gave us a room without any problem even if we were a bit early. The hotel was very convenient especially since our flight was very early in the morning at 6:10 am! They provided a shuttle for 5 € per room, so at least we didn’t have to worry about finding a taxi to get to the airport. The Titian Inn is fairly new, and the rooms while basic offer all that’s needed for a quick stay and are very clean. However, there is really nothing around it – especially to eat. So plan on going back to Venice, or pack a lunch!

 

By the time we got settled in, my mother was quite tired and she just wanted to relax and take it easy. But I could not see myself spending the afternoon in a hotel while Venice was awaiting, only a 20 minute bus ride away!! So I headed back into town on my own. Since this was a Sunday, the buses didn’t run as frequently, and the No 5 that runs between the airport and Piazzale Roma was only running every half hour.

I got to Venice at around noon, and took a one-way ticket to the Grand Canal (5 €). I went down to Rialto, and browsed the shops on the bridge and along the street in the San Polo area. I hopped back onto the vaporetto at S Silvestri station all the way down to San Marco. I walked through the streets behind the Piazza, after a quick visit to Harry’s bar, and ended up at the far end of Piazza San Marco. The place was packed with people, and since it was so hot that day, everyone was vying for a little spot in the shade… I went to Florian Café, and listened to the orchestra for a bit, trying to hide from the sun for a few minutes. Then I decided to go up the Campanile. The line wasn’t too long, I waited about 15 minutes before getting on the elevator. The 6 € entrance fee is well worth it. The view is spectacular. And on a sunny day like it was, the contrast between the red tile roofs, the pale blue of the sky and the light green of the laguna water all made for spectacular pictures. The breeze was also very refreshing! So I spent about 30 minutes up the Campanile. I even met two couples from Quebec. It’s such a small world… Afterwards, I decided to walk back to Rialto, then I walked through San Polo and Santa Croce sestieri, slowly making my way back to Piazzale Roma. It was a great way to just take in the city, one last time, going through the narrow streets, not exactly knowing where I was going. Every turn was a surprise… a small bridge overlooking a canal with gondolas, a campo where Venetians were lazily enjoying their Sunday afternoon while sipping a glass of Prosecco, that wonderful Italian sparking wine, a small church or a magnificient palazzo etc. It was simply marvellous. I reached Piazzale Roma just before 5 pm and I hopped on the bus to get back to the hotel. I was so tired that I forgot to buy a new ticket – I was so used to travel with the 24 hr tourist pass… But right after we left P. Roma a controller got on board… it figures! We took the bus and vaporetto a dozen times over three days and not once were we asked for a ticket, and the one time I don’t have one we get controlled… I had read about the fines they give you if you get caught without a validated ticket, so I ‘escaped’ the bus at the next stop, just before the controller got to me, and I ran to the front of the bus to get back on… I was not going to wait another 30 minutes on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere! The driver looked a bit amused but he took my money and made sure I validated my ticket. Ouf…. That was close! So needless to say that by the time I got back to the hotel I was exhausted! We had a bite to eat and then closed all the suitcases before going to bed early. We had to be up early to catch our 5 am shuttle to the airport!

When we got downstairs at 4:30 am, the front desk clerk was taking the croissants and pains aux chocolat out of the oven! So we were able to have a quick bite to eat before we headed for the airport. So overall, I was pretty happy with this hotel – no need to get an expensive water taxi or try to find night vaporettos or buses at 4 in the morning…

 

In conclusion, this cruise was definitely one of the best we’ve done so far. We enjoyed the itinerary very much, and the ship was perfect!

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Great review. Thank you!

 

It brought back some wonderful memories of our trip last fall which included 2 weeks in Italy, including Venice, Rome and the Amalfi Coast.

 

jc:)

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Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. We're doing the same trip in Sept. with my sister/brother-in-law. This was so much helpful info for a detail junkie like myself! :) We also booked the Taormina tour as it's such a short time in port that I had concerns about missing the departure. We're all pretty fit (40's and 50's) so we're doing the rest on our own. We also are skipping Florence and hiking the Cinque Terre instead and as we've rented a car will probably stop quickly in Pisa so that they can see the tower.

I especially appreciated your input on embarkation and disembarkation as I didn't go through HAL to book our pre-trip overnight in Venice nor use their airlines. While I'm not concerned about boarding as we'll be there the day before, I've had moments of worry (I know, it's not until Sept.!) about getting to the airport for our 11:50AM flight and it sounds like it won't be a problem if they start letting everyone off at 7:45.

I've been checking these boards almost daily since I discovered them this winter and we booked our cruise in the fall.

Thanks again for all your help.

(P.S. our last vacation was a bike tour of Quebec City and surrounding area and this July we're doing a bike tour of Glen Sutton area - it is a small world)

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Venice sounds great. I am planning to go next year. How was the room size at the Hotel Abbazia?

 

You mentioned the DVD player in the room. Do they have any movies you can borrow to play on the DVD?

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P.S. our last vacation was a bike tour of Quebec City and surrounding area and this July we're doing a bike tour of Glen Sutton area - it is a small world

 

I'm glad you enjoyed biking around QUebec City... it's such a beautiful area, especially when you go east toward the Chalevoix region! HAve fun this summer in Glen Sutton, and have a great cruise in the fall, we so enjoyed ours!

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How was the room size at the Hotel Abbazia?

 

You mentioned the DVD player in the room. Do they have any movies you can borrow to play on the DVD?

 

1- About Abbazia hotel: the rooms were fairly large for European standards. We had two beds, a desk and large armoire to put clothes in. A TV and fridge. The bathroom had a shower, bidet, etc. It was very spacious.

 

We had booked the Standard Double room, and one morning the maid was nice enough to show us the Superior room (we were curious to see if we were missing on something) and the room was the exact same size but the fabric was nicer and the furnishing seem more upscale. So we wouldn't pay that much more just for fabric. Our room was fine. I would definitely recommend this hotel. Check out their website for pictures of the rooms: http://www.abbaziahotel.com

 

2- DVD players were in the ship's cabin. You can borrow movies from the Exploration Cafés and I believe it's free - no rental. They have several channels with movies, new release and oldies on the TV, and they also have a big screen movie everyday (most days had 3-4 showing times).

 

Hope this helps!

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An Italian cruise is the next one we plan to take--I've bookmarked your review and will be using it because of all the wonderful information you so kindly provided.

 

Many more wonderful cruises are wished for you in the future:)

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Thanks for taking the time to post a great review. We will be on the Rotterdam in the Baltics in a few more weeks and I am happy to hear how great the ship is.

 

Thanks again:) bb

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Thanks so much for your detailed review of the ship! We are looking forward to boarding her next month for a tour of Scandanavia, the Baltics and St. Petersburg.

 

Keep on Cruising, we're on the July 14th sailing. Are you? If so, please post on our Roll Call. ;) If not, enjoy your cruise!

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Thank you all for taking the time to read my review!

 

Artemis and keep on crusing, I totally envy you! We did the Baltics a few years ago and that was my favorite cruise. So you'll be cruising my favorite itinerary and my favorite ship - what a combo. I just hope you all have a wonderful time!!

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I'm so glad you enjoyed our favorite ship. We spent the last 3 summers on board, 2 of the transatlantics, and will miss her greatly this year.

 

Thanks for your fabulous review, it made me homesick. Your style appears to be even better than professional travel writers, you certainly have a flair for writing. I really enjoy your posts.

 

We'll be in Canada next week, driving to Montreal from Buffalo to join the Maasdam.

Again, thank you for your review,

GN

Boarding.jpg.bdcf1d0ca32ff7c4be16203f2ac7e81b.jpg

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Thank you so much for your kind words... I love travelling, and I love reading about people's travelling experiences. So when you tell me you enjoyed reading my travelling experiences, you could not have made me happier :D !

 

I hope you'll get to Montreal a bit earlier to spend a bit of time here! Montreal is a great city - make sure you spend some time in Old Montreal - its European charm is sure to please you! Have a wonderful cruise on the Maasdam. I know a few CCers will be on this cruise, so have a great time!

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Hi Marie-Claude -

I too very much enjoyed reading your review - it has just made me wish the time would go faster so that I can be on the Rotterdam: we have a cruise scheduled for December.

Although we have a different itinerary that you had, I wondered if you could talk a little bit about the entertainment and ship's activities. Do they have a piano bar? Were there any bridge tournaments? What were the "big" shows like? I know we may have different entertainment, but I am just trying to get some idea about what we can expect.

Thanks again for your wonderful review.

ponstad

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Thanks for the review - haven't read many of ROTTERDAM post-SOE.

 

I like that itinerary a lot - would like to do something in 2006. (Doing the Baltic this year, but I would like to return to the Med too.)

 

Interesting that they put the figure for the refurbishment at $25m. There aren't many cruise lines out there who spend so much money refurbishing relatively new ships! Another reason to like HAL, I guess ;) .

 

PS: I also really like the bircher museli on HAL - nice to see this on a cruise line geared towards Americans, who don't often eat it. (Indeed I don't think I've seen it on any other US line.)

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I wondered if you could talk a little bit about the entertainment and ship's activities. Do they have a piano bar? Were there any bridge tournaments? What were the "big" shows like?

 

Hi Ponstad

I realized I didn't really talk about the entertainment on board and for no particular reason. I just forgot about it...

 

There were 4 production shows, 3 of which we saw. That's more than what we usually get on a 10 day cruise! It was good while no better or worse than what we see on most ships. I felt like I had seen them before, but nonetheless, we enjoyed them. We missed a lot of the shows that were before dinner at 6:45 as we had second seating at dinner. It's a bit tight when you're out til 5 or 6 PM. Here is the listing of QUeen's Lounge Shows for the cruise:

 

Night 1 - Big Screen movie: OCean Twelve

Night 2 - Monte Carlo (production show) 8:15 & 10:15 PM

Night 3 - Annie Frances (a very good singer) 6:45 & 8:30 PM

Night 4 - Copacabana (production show) 6:45 & 8:30 PM

Night 5 - Hanna Starosta (a violion player) 6:45 & 8:30 PM

Night 6 - Hats Off (production show) 10:15 PM only

Night 7 - Woody Pittman (magician - funny) 8:15 & 10:15 PM

Night 8 - Will Allenby (Baryton singer from the UK) 8:30 & 10:15 PM

Night 9 - Showstoppers (production show) 8:30 & 10:15 PM

Night 10 - Variety (a sampling of the last 3 nights) 6:45 & 8:30 PM

 

They had John Roberts, the piano player at Ambassador's Lounge where they had Singalong, and Name that tune almost every night.

 

A wonderful string quartet was resident at the Explorer's Lounge; the Basul Quartet got the dance floor moving from 5Pm til midnight at the Ocean's Bar; and Bellinia (a TIna Turner lookalike) kept the Crow's Nest crowd entertained every night.

 

I believed they had bridge tournament and other card games as well. There was a lot of activities, but we were so busy with excursions and all that we didn't really attend of lot of them.

 

We did the galley tour on the first sea day - after 9 cruise it was the first time I did it... It was fun!

They also had culinary demonstrations you could attend, or participate to (for a fee). The movie theatre had movies every day (4 showings a day).

 

Overall I found the entertainment to be more than adequate. It was varied, and good quality. My only regret is that we missed a lot of the shows when they were before dinner.

MC

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Thank you for your review. Very pleasant and interesting to read.

 

Last year on the Oceanic we also decided to skip Rome for the Etruscan ruins, we rented a car and visited Tarquinia and Cerveteri.

 

Tnx

 

Johan

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To marp109,

 

My husband and I spent time in the Cinque Terre two years ago for our honeymoon. It's absolutely amazing. Will this be your first time? We stayed in Levanto, then took the train to Riomaggiore and hiked to Manarola and Corniglia. When we saw the 369 steps up to the town, we decided to skip hiking to Vernazza and took the train instead, then took the train on to Monterosso. Vernazza was my favorite of the five. Do not miss going up to the tower, finding your way through all the little walkways is half the fun. For an amazing photo, walk down to the little harbor, turn around and snap a shot of all the little boats pulled up to the edge of the square. With a backdrop of all the colorful umbrellas and the plastered shop walls, it's gorgeous.

 

Have fun!

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My husband and I will be on this cruise with my parents this October and have been reading your review this past week - we are enjoying it very much and will keep it as part of our reference materials. Thanks for taking the time to write!

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THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! for the EXCELLENT review!

 

We are on the same itenerary on Oct. 14th, and I have copied your review and excursion information to a document to take along with us! ;) I appreciate your taking the time to post such a thorough review... it makes me ever that much more excited about our cruise!!! :D

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TEXASDH -- I have started a roll call for Oct. 14 Rotterdam. We are doing b2b starting Oct. 4 so have written more under the first part and can't remember if I have seen your name. Hope we will see you then -

Elinor and Bob

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Marie-Claude, thanks a lot for your excellent review. Sure looks like you had a great time your crise. One question: can you tell me who the captain and cruise director were? We're sailing on Rotterdam on 07 AUG 05

Merci beaucoup!

Take care and be safe

John

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Marie-Claude, thanks a lot for your excellent review. Sure looks like you had a great time your crise. One question: can you tell me who the captain and cruise director were? We're sailing on Rotterdam on 07 AUG 05

Merci beaucoup!

Take care and be safe

John

Hi John: The captain wan Jon Smitt and CD was John Challenger (I think) - I'll check my log to make sure when I'm at home...!

 

 

 

 

We enjoyed this cruise very much... in fact this one came very close to our favorite cruise, the Baltics in 2003! ... but the Rotterdam is definetely my favorite ship so far!

 

So I'm very envious of all of you guys cruising all the wonderful itineraries that she is siling this summer!

 

Have a great cruise, wherever you are going!! - and make sure to report back here once you return! ;)

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