The Mediterranean has become an increasingly popular cruising destination, and Holland America Line’s 55-day Grand Mediterranean Voyage in 2015 aboard ms Prinsendam offers guests a chance to get to know this region in one dream vacation.
Whether you’ve cruised the Med before or are visiting for the first time, this itinerary is a fabulous snapshot of life in the Mediterranean, with the addition of ports from Spain to eastern Europe along the way.
The journey begins at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when Prinsendam departs March 12, 2015. From there you’ll enjoy a few days of Caribbean sunshine and clear blue waters in the Virgin Islands before beginning a transatlantic voyage. The ocean crossing is a great time to rest, recharge, and enjoy all of Prinsendam’s onboard activities. Get pampered at the Greenhouse Spa or enjoy a cooking class at the Culinary Arts Center. Getting there is half the fun!
Just before reaching mainland Europe, Prinsendam calls at the gorgeous Canary Islands, a fabulous vacation in itself. There you’ll enjoy dreamlike beaches set against rugged volcanic mountains. An overnight call at Santa Cruz allows ample time to enjoy the island of Tenerife — the largest and most populous island of the Canary Islands, situated off the coast of northern Africa, to the west of Morocco.
If you didn’t get enough siestas and fiestas in the Spanish islands — don’t worry. The next leg of the cruise focuses on southern Spain and Portugal with a visit to Funchal, Portugal, followed by an overnight at Cadiz, Spain. From Cadiz it’s hard to ignore the history of Seville, as it is presented in the aesthetic of the city from the Moorish palace that started as a fort to the Cathedral that was once a mosque.
At Barcelona you’ll find a mix of ancient charm and modernist architecture. Legend has it that the city was founded by Hercules 400 years before the founding of Rome, but perhaps the most influential hand to touch Barcelona was that of architect Antoni Gaudi. Seven of his creations have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including La Sagrada Familia, the Park Guell and Casa Mila. Gaudi’s Barcelona is a HAL tour geared specifically towards that legacy that’s not to be missed. You’re also likely to enjoy a beautiful day, as the city gets about 300 days of sun a year!
“[This tour is the] best introduction for first time visit to Barcelona. We were impressed by the architect’s designs and modern thinking. The details about the Cathedral’s construction, materials and plan were mind boggling to one who enjoys seeing different styles of building and design and our guide was so knowledgeable.”
The eastbound Mediterranean journey would not be complete without stopping at Malta. This small archipelago — almost the direct center of the sea, south of Sicily — has been claimed by nearly every empire in Mediterranean history. The Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French, British and more all laid claim to this small but strategically important bit of land.
After Malta it’s on to Ashdod, the gateway to Jerusalem, Israel. This 5,000-year-old walled city is considered sacred to more than a third of the people on earth. Explore the incredible history of the region, meander along the beautiful seaside promenade or dip your toes in the Dead Sea. Many experienced travelers say that there’s no place like Israel.
Turkey takes center stage on the next portion of the voyage, with calls at Antalya, Bodrum, Kusadasi (Ephesus) capped off with an overnight at Istanbul. Get in the spirit of the region by taking a belly dancing class from one of HAL’s On Location experts! Sailing in to Istanbul is a sight to behold. Cross the Galata Bridge to the old city, past the Süleymaniye Mosque, whose 174-foot dome was once the highest in the Ottoman Empire. Pass the ancient city walls, built by Constantine, and beneath the epic Roman aqueduct. A cruise to Istanbul takes you to the world’s only two-continent metropolis, thick with nearly 10 millennia of history. With the overnight call, it’s possible to see the city come alive at night. The Whirling Dervish Show brings the culture of Istanbul to life, while the A Taste of Istanbul: Dinner Cruise on the Scenic Bosphorus tour provides an evening to remember.
We found [the dinner cruise] a fabulous introduction to Istanbul – it helped us orient ourselves a bit when we wandered the next day. Plus it’s so much easier to get great photos from a boat deck rather than a bus window. Our guide, Firat, was knowledgeable and funny, and the food was pretty decent. A good “safe” taste of traditional Turkish cuisine. — Guest Seabiscuit
Following scenic cruising on the Bosporous, Prinsendam calls at the unique ports of Varna, Bulgaria, and Constanta, Romania. Time and history have rolled across the shores of Varna, from the Romans to the Soviets. Varna endures — as a beautiful, hot-spring studded stretch of Black Sea beachfront; the summer capital of Bulgaria; and an array of neo-Renaissance, neo-Baroque, art nouveau and art deco gems.
No visit to the Mediterranean would be complete without exploring the gorgeous isles of Greece. Following an earlier call at Crete, the ship visits Lesbos before making an overnight call at Piraeus (Athens), Greece. In Athens, there’s no escaping the Parthenon. Completed in 438 B.C., the temple to Athena looms from its perch atop the Acropolis. When you come down off the hill, be sure to visit the Ancient Agora, Syntagma Square and the National Archaeological Museum. With the Deluxe Archaeological Athens shore excursion, you’ll take in many of these sites.
After departing Piraeus, the ship heads to Katakolon, Itea (Delphi) and Corfu, Greece, where sun-kissed beaches and white-washed landscapes await.
The ship says farewell to the Mediterranean with two final calls in Italy. Taormina, on the isle of Sicily, is home to Mt. Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe at 10,723 feet high. It has erupted more than 130 times!
Movie buffs and travelers looking for an unexpected adventure can take the In the Footsteps of the Godfather tour. For the fans of The Godfather movie series, many of the places visited in this tour will seem familiar. The coastal road, bordered by villas, flowering gardens, and picturesque villages, leads to the historical artist town of Savoca. In a private house in the village, Bar Vitelli houses a collection of local artisans’ tools and photographs taken when Francis Ford Coppola shot scenes of “The Godfather II.” At Forza d’Agro, a 20-minute drive away, you’ll find a charming little village overlooking the Arab-Norman castle of Capo Sant’Alessio. In 1990, Al Pacino and Sophia Coppola shot scenes here for “The Godfather III.” From the main square, a lane meets the circular steps that ascend to the Gothic-Catalán portal in front of the Church of San Agostino, or Triade. See the Baroque Chiesa Madre Church before returning to Giardini.
A call at Naples marks the final port on this grand journey. There is the docile bay; the peaceful cypress-tufted islands of Ischia, Procida and Capri; and the muscular city of Naples itself. And over it all looms Mount Vesuvius: volcano, national park, and a persistent corrective to any hubris. Cruise to see the only active volcano on the European mainland, which blew in A.D. 79 and buried the city of Pompeii. Naples itself is mere enduring greatness. One of the chief commercial cities of Europe, highlights include Castel dell’Ovo, Castelnuovo and national museums dedicated to art and archaeology. The city center has been designated a World Heritage Site, and the surrounding areas are dotted with cultural and historical treasures, not least of them the restored ruins of Pompeii.
The 55-day Grand Mediterranean Voyage concludes at Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. Those with time can stay in this incredible city and experience the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Vatican City. If you choose to do so HAL has a number of post-cruise packages to ensure your transition from sea to shore goes smoothly and that you receive the same quality of service that you’re used to onboard.
This itinerary offers a multifaceted view of the Mediterranean. What do you think you would like best, the architecture, history or natural beauty of these Mediterranean cities? Let us know in the comments below!