In addition to wonderful ports of call on a cruise vacation, another special part of taking a cruise is the ability to reach parts of the world that would otherwise be nearly impossible, if not totally impossible, to reach by car, plane or on foot.
Alaska is scenic, full of history, offers plenty of nature adventures and once-in-a-lifetime experiences … making it the perfect cruise destination for a family vacation.
A cruise to Europe can be the ideal family vacation. There is something for everyone, from history and culture to sun and fun. And every Holland America Line ship is welcoming to guests of all ages. In fact, the Club HAL program is set up to entertain kids from three through teen. Guest Joost van Driessen took another cruise to Europe on Noordam with his wife and two daughters, Kim and Rhodé. From onboard to ashore, see how Joost enjoyed his 11-day Mediterranean Explorer cruise from Barcelona, Spain, to Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy.
Shortly after noon we boarded Noordam. It was like coming home. We remembered our boarding two years ago. Then, we had to explore the ship to get to know all the restaurants, bars, lounges, etc. No need this time, everything felt familiar again.
Every day and every evening there is an array of activities for all tastes. Some guests choose to participate in team trivia or Culinary Arts Center cooking demonstrations, while others take advantage of the complimentary Dancing with the Stars: at Sea dance classes or the Digital Workshops powered by Windows classes.
Rhodé has discovered Techspert Time. Techspert Krista teaches computer courses, but from time to time the classroom is open to work on your own projects. We use this for backing up our memory cards on an USB stick, just to reduce the chances of losing our photo’s. Rhodé uses the brand new Windows 8 computers to play games like cut-the-rope.
Every evening the ships transform from a relaxed day-time atmosphere to a dazzling evening environment. Lounges bustle with dancing and music, while the main show lounge features Vegas-style performances. Joost and his family took full advantage of the offerings around the ship, from dancing to karaoke.
When it was time to go to the karaoke, we saw Kim and her friends at the Queens Lounge. Rhodé had enlisted to perform ‘Rolling in the Deep’ from Adele. Quite some courage for a 9-year-old whose native language is Dutch. Kim and her friends Nica and Rachel joined in and together they rocked. Afterwards Kim, Nica and Rachel sang ‘Move like Jagger’ and Rhodé helped them with that song. Really great to see the kids have fun.
That evening we danced in the Ocean Bar to the tunes of the HAL Cats. Nice music, very danceable. After dancing we checked out the Piano Bar. The pianoman was Stryker. Wow, that man can play … and he sang really great. He is there every night, so we will definitely return to the Piano Bar later on in the cruise.
The girls took advantage of the Club HAL program. Children ages 3-7 can participate in such activities as pirate treasure hunts, hands-on pizza making, storytelling, “Little Artists” crafts, ice cream sundae parties and a farewell pajama party. Tweens ages 8-12, like Rhodé, take part in Xbox and Wii tournaments, relay races, scavenger hunts, karaoke disco parties and participate in the award-winning National Park Service Jr. Ranger Program in Alaska on Alaska cruises. Teens ages 13-17, like Kim, enjoy mocktail mixology classes, late night sporting competitions, teen yoga and hip hop classes, guys verses girls scavenger hunts, cooking demos, tech classes and teen only night club events. At the beginning of the cruise, during the overnight at Barcelona, Kim and Rhodé took a look at the program.
After dinner the kids went up to Club HAL. Both the Tweens and The Loft had a welcome party to get to know the other kids. Because we have an overnight in Barcelona, a lot of guests will still be ashore. But they did meet other kids and made friends.
Experiencing the many offerings onboard is an adventure, but going ashore in the different ports opens up a whole new world. While many guests opt to take a shore excursion organized by the ship, some guests go explore on their own.
We left the ship at 10 am in Palma de Mallorca. We decided to take the hop-on-hop-off bus. Usually we are more into public buses or taxis and we avoid the double-decker bus. This time the hop-on-hop-off bus had some advantages. It was the only public bus that went up to Castell de Bellver. Since we didn’t know if there were taxi’s available at the Castell, the bus was a good alternative.
Here are more of Joost’s beautiful snapshots from ports along the way.
To read more about Joost’s travels, visit his blog: http://cruisemed.blogspot.nl
Mariners Jan and Dick Yetke recently sailed on Eurodam throughout Europe, and the ship called at some interesting, off-the-beaten-path ports that aren’t often found on cruise itineraries. Similarly, Nieuw Amsterdam’s Hotel Director Marco van Belleghem and Future Cruise Consultant Joanne Gardner snapped some memorable photos at the unique port of Kotor, Montenegro. Enjoy “visiting” these unique and interesting cities. What ports are on your “Bucket List?”
Bergen, Norway, through Jan’s eyes:
Bergen, Norway, is a lovely city. We have been here before but thoroughly enjoy it. Today we got off the ship, walked around the harbor into town by the Fishmarket, and got on the CitySightseeing red double-decker bus for the tour. The city is built in and among 7 hills so the tour is up and down many of the hills going by some very nice viewing points, most of the museums, the aquarium, and the stop for the Mt. Floyen funicular station.
At the end of the bus tour, rather than getting off by the cruise terminal, we rode back to the fishmarket area and had a leisurely stroll back to the ship.
There were the very interesting row of old wooden buildings that you could go into and it was like a shopping area of little shops in there. At one end of these buildings they are sinking a little so there are major poles up against the building where they are trying to boost up the foundations.
Reykjavik, Iceland, through Jan’s eyes:
Situated on the western shores of Iceland lies the capital and largest city of the country, Reykjavik. We have been there before, summer of 2009, and taken an all day tour. So, this time we had decided to rent a car and go around on our own. It turned out to be a good idea.
We got the car and headed down to the Blue Lagoon. We had not seen this on our last trip and had always heard so much about it. It is one of the major tourist sites when visiting Reykjavik. Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa with water temperatures of 98-102F. The lagoon holds six million liters of geothermal seawater, which is renewed every 40 hours. National Geographic says this is one of the 25 Wonders of the World. We went to the Cafe and had a light lunch sitting at a table overlooking the lagoon. We then walked out to touch the water and walked over a couple of the bridges. We did not actually do a swim in the lagoon. It certainly was a really neat sight to see!!!
After going a ways across the south shore, we headed north to go up to the Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir hot spring, and Haukadalur geothermal area. These areas are part of the Golden Circle Tour outside of Reykjavik. The geysir was really interesting.
Then we went to the Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall) waterfall which was magnificent. It is actually two separate waterfalls – the upper one is a drop of 11 meters and the lower one is 21 meters. Together they make Europe’s largest waterfall which plunges 32 meters into a steep-sided canyon.
After seeing these sights, we headed back west thru the Pingvellir National Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the original site of the longest-running parliament in the world, a place where one can visualize the North American and European continental shelf plates being torn apart.
Nanortalikn, Greenland, through Jan’s eyes:
Nanortalik is a small island near the mouth of the Tasermiut Fjord at the very southern tip of world’s largest island, Greenland. The name translates to the “place of polar bears” and the city’s settlement dates back to the late 18th century with Norsemen first setting foot on the land.
We walked around and saw a small church, a community center, a school and a sports center. We also went into a fish market and saw them cutting up and selling all the fresh fish, including whale meat. It’s an interesting place to visit.
When ms Nieuw Amsterdam made its final call at Kotor, Montenegro, for the season, Hotel Director Marco van Belleghem sent some spectacular photos.
Our last time at Kotor, Montenegro, and I decided to climb up to the fort from where you have spectacular views over Kotor. The weather was beautiful and it was not too hot making it more comfortable, even though it is still a steep hike up the mountain. Montenegro is a gorgeous country and sailing through the Bay of Kotor is an experience you only believe when you see this wonderful landscape in front of you.
As for Noordam’s Future Cruise Consultant Joanne Gardner, this is what she had to say about the ship’s call at Kotor:
It was a brutally hot day and we wanted to make the climb of 1,350 stairs each way to the fortress at the top of the mountain backing up the city. We waited until after 6pm to start and although it was still hot, the sun went behind the hills which made it easier. I didn’t plan on making it to the fortress but only on hiking to the church but we made it so quickly that my competitive nature took over and up we went.
The views were certainly worth the 3 euro price of admission. Seeing Noordam in the harbor sitting aside the red roofed buildings was a delight. The ship didn’t sail until 10:30 p.m. which made it possible to have dinner in town.
It is not an easy hike but it is also doable for people even such as me with my bad knees. Take your time and bring lots of water although you will note there are suppliers along the way selling liquids from a cooler. Entrepreneurs are everywhere. The town is lovely and the setting is picturesque whether you stay on the horizontal plain or choose the vertical challenge.
Gorgeous views are just one of the many things you can bring home from your cruise. But if you’d like to purchase one of Marco’s photos or another souvenir that reminds you of your Holland America Line cruise, visit the line’s online store: www.shophollandamerica.com.
There’s something very special about the Prinsendam, something very special indeed. She’s extremely elegant, spacious for a small ship, beautifully appointed, extremely passenger-friendly, and may I dare say, cute? But most importantly, she carries with her a crew that is second to none. I mean that. Second to none. In fact, I will go so far as saying that when we arrived, they were crew. By time we left, they were family. (And of course, there were several crew members with whom we’ve sailed before, so they are well and truly family.) Old friends included Christina, who became the Cruise Director on the second part of our voyage, Kris in the Pinnacle and Charlie – from the dining room staff, all of whom warmly greeted us when we boarded.
Our last port was Rosyth on a very windy and cool day, a day which convinced us not to brave the Scotland of Edinburgh, with its Festival, Fringe Festival, Tattoo and school holiday crowds. After all, been there, seen that, and frankly, thoughts of packing and organising for our stopover in Dubai, followed by our long flight home to New Zealand began to creep into my psyche. Sure, we could have jumped on the train to wave at Waverly Station, but after 35 days of some of the most exciting cruising we’ve ever done, both Terry and I were feeling a wee cruised-out. So, instead, we opted to take the shuttle and the shuttle into Dumferline, a wee town nearby. No, I did not make a mistake in the previous sentence. First, the port shuttle for the 3 minute ride from the ship to the cruise terminal (well, cruise lounge as they call it) and then the shuttle for Dumferline, about a 20 minute ride. The ride took longer than expected, and I must praise the volunteers who rode the buses, were available in the lounge and were extremely helpful and friendly.