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June 9, 2007


KennethEden
"Westerdam exceeded our expectations. Cruise and ports some of our favorites."

TRIP INFO

Sail Date:06/09/2007
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RATINGS

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COMPLETE REVIEW

We elected to try Holland America outside of US waters, having sailed many times on their fine ships in the Caribbean. We have sailed this itinerary on other cruise lines, and we love it. This was our 68th cruise.

Arrival at Rome was awful, as was the flight. Hot, humid, smelly and dirty was the arrival area. We felt like we were in San Juan, not Rome. Princess and Royal Caribbean had sailings that day, and porters were very hard to come by. We finally found a young man willing to help, and we claimed our bags. POINT: if you need a luggage cart, you MUST have a 100EU COIN to release it. Nobody, not even the exchange, would make change for anyone. Out we went, to our driver, Luigi.

We pack heavily, often paying extra for our bags at the airport. We had Mark, our travel agent, reserve a private car from Leonardo Di Vinci Airport to our hotel in Rome. Upon questioning the car size, we opted for the largest Mercedes SUV, which barely held two, driver and our five huge bags.

We often book boutique hotels, and we booked the Hotel Veneto (not to be confused with the Grand Hotel Veneto), at 195EU per night. It was comfortable, had a Italian flair and elan, and close to the things we love most in Rome.

We toured via on-off bus for our two days in Rome, visiting Trevi Fountain, Bourghese Villa and Gardens, the Pantheon,

Colliseum. We have been dining at Quirino, tucked behind the Trevi for 30 years, and enjoyed it this time as much as the last. We have two more cruises coming up that involve Rome, and we'll stay then as we did this time.

Luigi promptly picked us up and we sped along the Auto Strada to Civitevechia, passing vineyards and country side. Soon the "trash can" stacks of the Westerdam were spotted. Our stateroom was not ready, so we went to the Lido for lunch. More on the Lido, later on.

There is that famous line from "Forest Gump, " "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you'll get" - I have found that on Holland America Line we know what we will get. First, stateroom not ready. Dining arrangements not as we requested, so, I went to the Vista Dining Room, saw the maitre 'd hotel, Johnny, whom we know and love, and he rapidly changed our seating, deck level and secured a table for 2. Our bed, as usual with Holland America, was not configured to king size. Our steward took care of it without hesitation . I wish, right here, to mention the wonderful cabin stewards on Holland America Line, they outshine most others we have sailed with. We fled, and fast, to the Green House Spa for our massage appointments. We have found on our Holland America cruises that their ships have the finest "coccoon" like bedding - like marshmallows - on their ships. Other claim the same, Holland America delivers. Incidently, our luggage was stowed under the bed for us, without me having to ask.

No big surprises in our stateroom. Tub, lots of closet storage, excellent lighting, too few electrical outlets and a large verandah. There is no access to the internet from the cabins, as there is on the Queen Mary 2. Our mini bar was fully stocked with spirits, soda, wine and beer, as well as the pricey bottles of water, which we religiuosly keep ordering for shore trips. We had two bottles of Mumms, one from Mark, the other from Holland America Line, iced and waiting. We sail at a high repeat level on Holland America line, and they are very apprciative. We enjoyed upgraded bath ammenities and small perks, adding to our stateroom comfort.

First dinner, and there is only one chance for the perfect first impression, and the Westerdam delivered perfectly. The entire Vista Dining experience, be it breaklfast, lunch or dinner, was straight -on- excellent. Our waiter Johnson, his assistant, Citra, were beyond superb in their service, as was Randy, our wine steward, and table Captain, Edys. Johnny stopped by often to chat. The dining experience was almost surreal.

We wandered around Monte Carlo, savoring everything we saw. We took the "blue train", a tractor that pulls surry like carts, and had the grand tour. Docked in the inner harbor was an old friend with a new name, the MS Melody, of MSC Italian Cruises, whom we knew at Home Lines MV Atlantic, a ship we sailed many times and loved dearly. The Melody glistened. We are travelers, not tourists, and are not afraid to try local restaurants, and we dined grandly at Restaurant St Nicholas on escargots, petite pasta with garlic olive oil and pesto, roast duckling and a local Bordeaux, and bread to die for - all for only 59EU's, sans tip. Monte Carlo is one of those wonderous places that make you feel chic and grand and giddy, and itching to return to. On to Livorno.

I awoke at 4:30am to the stench of fumes seeping into our stateroom. I put on my robe, and from our verandah saw that we were entering Livornos harbor. Vast oil tank farms, cargo ships of all sizes, loading and unloading, pasenger ferries both old and new, drab and clean darted in and out of the harbor. Cranes climbed into the gray sky. The dawn brightrned, and I saw my first of the beautiful Grimaldi ferries. The Westerdam glided on a pea soup green sea to her berth. The MS Melody was already there.

Livorno, gateway to Tuscany, is one drab city. For its spartan self, it is interesting, worth a visit. We found many local shops, for the locals, and a flea market, where we bought dish and tea towels, and table linens, for next to nothingh. The market area is a sight to behold, with buildings housing meats, cheese, produce and all manner of Italian food items, reminding us of Boston s North End, and New Yorks Little Italy, only much larger. We returned to the ship for lunch and the remainder of the day.

Here I will review the Lido Buffet for lunch as well as breakfast. It is crowded, messy, sloppy, pushy and garbage from scraped used plates can be smelled. On occcasion a steward may help with your tray, I stress "may". The smoked salmon was wonderful, as was the fresh orange juice, omelets almost OK, the coffee good one time, not the next. Ice tea glasses have gotten way small. The Asian stir fries were disappointing, as were the featured Italian pastas, the pizza, the pits. Saldads all picked over. If the food court at the mall is your thing, you probably will like this. Enough.

Prior to my first massage I set out to video the Westerdam in full. Sister to the Zuiderdam, the lay out is the same, the decor is not. This ship is gorgeous, where the Zuiderdam is rather harsh in interior color choices. Compared to the Maasdam, the Masdam has a much more inpressive on board art collection. The Westersdam enjoyed a dry dock, very extensive, in Naples prior to our cruise, to expand the Crows Nest, and what a beautiful result the expansion produced. Leather sofas, ultra suede sofetts, loungers and tables for board games are succesfully integrated with desks, the cyber cafe with coffee and pastries and computers and a branch of the Erasmus Library. Forward, the bar and dance floor offer commanding views out to sea. The room is beyond handsome. The Piano Bar is a sea of graphite and school bus yellow leather, with stainless steel bar surrounding the piano. The Ocean Bar, THE place for pre-dinner libations and snacks, circles the atrium. The shops were expanded and upgraded. Another elegant room for pre and post dinner drinks is the handsome Explorers Lounge, underused on the Statendam Class ships, and fully used on the Westerdam, with the handsome painting of the Dutch Explorers sailing up the Hudson. The Queens Room is a sea royal red velvet. The casino, which we lost interest in years ago on cruises, was not a homely as a Princess Cruises Casino, but certainly not a Edwardian and elegant as the Queen Mary 2's. As I walked through, it had a reek of smoke, traditional to Holland America ships, an oddity I can not understand. At first I did not care for the Vista Lounge decor, gray and white, and found it to be rather austere. I recanted my feelings, and and liked the gray and white leathers, and the huge port and starboard statues placed above the mezzanine level.

The Vista Dining Room deserves special mention for its beauty as well as for its outstanding food and service. A grand stairway cuts through the center of the room connecting the upper and lower levels. Both levels offered an intimate feel, despite the rooms massive size.. The upper level ceiling, I assumed, was Murano glass, multi-colored morning glory like muted ceiling fixtres, providing a soft rainbow glow. The chairs are the same over-sized comfy ones found on the Vista Class ships. Polished brass gleamed.

We did not dine at the Pinnacle. After six visits on our last 7 Holland America cruises, we again skipped it. The menu has not changed and the food in the main restaurant is so good, the quality the same, we skipped it. Change that menu, and lose the attitude of the Pinnacle staff., thats my stand.

We enjoyed our first day at sea cruising the Corsican coastline. We will visit Corsica on our Oceania Regatta cruise in March.

Again, the stateroom filled with fumes, even more cloying than at Livorno. Ah, Barcelona. Gulls screeched good morning, flying under a heavily smogged sky. Piles of asphalt, rows of cars waiting for container ships, and major slums glided past as the captain brought the Westwerdam to dock. There were no pretty ferries, and no MS Melody.

It has been a while since we last visited Barcelona and we did not miss it. The city has one thing going for it, the Gaudi Cathedral, see it once, and that was enough. In the old city sector, sewers beneath the cobble stoned streets and sidewalks spewed unthinkable liquids onto our shoes. People wax poetic about Barcelona, and I can not imagine why.

OOOOOOHHHHH tonight, BBQ onDeck Dinner. No thanks, not for us. One more day at sea, then Tunisia, then Malta, which replaced Palma de Majorca. We love Malta.

We thoroughly enjoyed the ships dancers, and Bob Mackee costumes. The staging and sets were as remarkable as the costumes. We had a "diva" on board, a talented lady, a cross between Diana Ross and Mo'nique, who could belt out a song. The rest, eh, not even typical. The ships orchestra was very good.

A tour in Tunisia is a must, I would not want to wander around that port. We booked the tour to Carthage, the Roman ruins now surrounded by a nice upper class section of town, many homes with pools and yachts, looked more like Ft. Lauderdale to me, not that that is a bad thing. The highlight was a visit to Sidi Boo Said, a town where all of the buidings are white, with azure blue rococo trim. We shopped here, I would advise against having things shipped home from here, you get the hint, also, watch your credit/debit card statements after you return, you most likely will be double charged from the vendors. Local diningon your own? DON'T.

An onyx sea, a perriwinkle sky beckoned the Westerdam entry to Malta. We sailed the long inlet, passing limestone cliffs with limestone homes and offices carved into them, or built on top of them. Valetta, the capital, it almost surreal, or other worldly is its commands its perch atop the small island We docked with the Costa Victoria, a pretty ship. We took our own taxi into Valetta, government regulated rates.

We shopped and poked and ate lunch at the Leon Cafe, in the large main square, on hand tossed pizza, salad nicioise and cannelloni. Excellent, only 10.20 Maltese Lira, plus tip. Malta does not accept the Euro, nor US$. Credit cards, yes.

Palermo is ancient, and dull. We sailed into the city with dogs barking and awaiting our arrival, happy dogs, who live on the fishiong boats and trawlers. Today we took a trip to Cefalo (Chefaloo), and had lunch at the Duomo, yes, across from the Duomo Cathedral. Cefaloo is a resort, and gorgeous to behold. If you only one thing to eat in Cefaloo, try the gelato, for which the resort is famous.Cefaloo had an amazing effect on us, with its miles of laudry flapping from apartment windows, it shops and ancient atmosphere, and we hated to leave.

I did not want to leave Naples, it was so perfectly Italian. Our guide was so very Italian chic, with his white linen suite, pink polo shirt and I'll bet Gucci shoes. He was so proud of his city. We toured everywhere in Naples, and had a stupendous pizza luncheon with local wine and Moretti beer. Our guide was Rossario.

In addition to the aforementioned changes to the Westerdam, and the other Vista Class ships, on the aft decks forty new suites have been added.

This is by far the one tyhing that bothered me most, actually, its a two for one: passengers refusing to use the hand sanitizer, and making a joke of how dumb it was and filling their own thermos with coffee at the Lido, and, worse, filling used water bottles up at the Lido. One other irk, men that wore jeans at night, ate at the buffet for dinner, and copped nasty attitudes to the elderly passengers in wheel chairs. En

ough!

My favorite port: Naples, so very Italian, home to Sophia Loren, the very o solo mio pure Italian chic. Speaking of Chic, why Monte Carlo. Unique? Tunisia, with its North African flair - imagine, an Arab nation with a mosque, synagogue and catholic church side by side.

We ventured back to Rome, stayed at our nice Veneto, and went back to our favorite trattorias, including Quirino.

Where are we off to next? Queen Mary 2 in September, Queen Maay 2 in December, the Reagtta for 21 days in March, the Rgatta for 16 days in June and the Nautica for 24 days in 2009.

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