Europe is one of the most exciting regions in the world. From the tip of Norway to the shores of Greece, it’s home to some of the most popular and well-known cities like Barcelona, Venice, Athens, St. Petersburg, Copenhagen and Bergen.
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
“The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars.”
Wine is among the oldest human indulgences – dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. Bottles of wine were buried in the Pharaoh’s tombs so they could entertain guests in the afterlife, the most elite ancient Greeks had access to wine, and the Romans created a beverage industry with wine bars and exports.
Today we refer to European wines as “Old World” varieties, for their ancient practices, vines and soil. Holland America Line offers terrific access to vineyards and experts to give guests a fabulous taste of the old world, while experiencing the beauty of each region. From Portugal to Croatia and bubbles to digestifs, there is something for every wine lover.
Great wine is a part of Italy’s heritage. On Italian itineraries guests can tour Medieval Siena and then enjoy an Italian lunch and wine tasting overlooking the Tuscan countryside. Or pop Prosecco in the Marca region, and gaze upon the vineyards at Matsaxlokk, Malta.
If you’ve been to Florence, Pisa and Lucca before this is a great alternative excursion. The owners of the winery were welcoming and the food and wine (which kept coming) were excellent. Our guide Alessandro kept us amused on the journey with light-hearted information about Italy.
-Milly, Herfordshire, England.
A Sommelier-Guidied Wine Tasting at Messina is a perfect opportunity to experience Sicilian Wines. The tour visits San Placido Caloneró Abbey and samples a red wine from the Faro DOC, a white wine from the Mamertino DOC, and a dessert wine from the Malvasia Delle Lipari.
Madeira is a fortified wine that is unique to Madeira Island, Portugal. Guests who call at Funchal, Portugal, have a chance to learn about and taste this well known wine in its home. The Wine Tasting at Sao Tiago Fortress takes a tour through the capital, visiting churches and walking the quaint, narrow streets before arriving at the Fortress of Sao Tiago for a lesson in Madeira wine.
The Spaniards are known for creating spicy reds, acidic whites and bubbles! A Taste of Valencia: Requena Wine Cellars focuses on the effervescent white white that the region is known for: Cava sparkling white wine. Requena is a small Gothic city located about 30 miles inland from Valencia with a rich history of wine making. The cellars have more than 100 years of production history. Here guests can tour the town and San Salvador Church, and dine on wine and light snacks. You can even bring a bottle back with you.
On the southwestern coast of Spain lies Cadiz. The climate in the area lying between Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa María and San Lucar de Barrameda in the province of Cádiz contains a special combination of soil (the chalky, crumbly, moisture-retaining albariza) from which sherry is produced. Guests can take the tour Cadiz, Sherry & Horses to not only taste great wine, but witness the phenomenal production of the Royal Andalusia School of Equestrian Arts. This is a lesser known bit of Spanish culture, an institution protected by the Crown where the best horses are taught to dance to music!
One guest said:
“This excursion turned out to be a highlight of our fantastic cruise. We had not expected to see the fabulous show in the arena featuring beautiful Andalusian horses. It was amazing!! We were also given time to see the horses up close. We also enjoyed the visit to the sherry cellar.”
The classic wine drinker will be thrilled to tour perhaps the most famous wine region in the world, Bordeaux, France. The meticulous Médoc region, just north of the city, produces wines that are nothing short of divine — Moulis, Listrac, Saint Julien, Saint Estèphe, Pauillac, Médoc and Haut Médoc, as well as Margaux, with the celebrated château of the same name.
The St. Emilion Village & Vineyards is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the heartland of the Merlot grape, one of the most popular in consumption. The vines on the “hill with a thousand châteaux” reach right up to Saint Emilion’s 13th-century town walls and surrounding moat dug out of solid rock. Members of the local wine brotherhood, the Jurats, proclaim the vintage banns in much the same way as their ancestors did during the reign of Richard the Lionheart.
Those looking to taste something a bit stronger can head to Cognac and sip its famous namesake brandy. This tour includes a trip to Hennessy, the instantly recognizable brand of Cognac enjoyed worldwide.
For a fabulous snapshot of Greece, Holland America offers a shore excursion that tours Ancient Olympia & Mercouri’s Vineyard’s. To the east of Katákolon lies the mystical site of ancient Olympia. Guests tour the great ruins of the temples, treasuries, porticoes and statues before continuing to Mercouri Estate to experience the beauty and charm of the vineyards, to see the old and new wineries and to taste the locally produced wines.
Renae from Houston, Texas, took the Ancient Olympia & Mercouri’s Vineyards shore excursion and said:
“Pretty fantastic. At the end of the winery tour, there’s a tasting underneath the trees with views of the ocean in the background. Our table had a bottle of red, a bottle of white and a lovely snack of salami, olives, feta, bread, olive oil, cucumbers & tomatoes. We were back in time to spend a couple of hours just outside the pier to explore shops & cafes. Ancient Olympia is a must see and it’s a bit outside of town so may as well take a tour. Our guide, Saskia, was wonderful!!!”
Holland America Line offers trips to expand your palate and your horizons! Have you visited one of these wineries on a HAL cruise? Let us know what you think in the comments!
Holland America Line ships call at dozens of ports throughout Europe. From the smallest of Greek isles to the remotest of Norwegian towns, each itinerary is carefully crafted to feature lesser-visited calls, as well as visits to some of the most well-known and popular ports in the region. The names of certain cities go hand-in-hand with special monuments or sights, like Rome and the Colosseum or Athens and the Parthenon. Shore excursions are designed to highlight these special features and ensure that guests don’t miss an important stop when touring around. Here are some popular and unique tours that highlight the best that these European capitals have to offer.
Sensational Rooftop Walk & Stockholm’s Old Town
They say the best views are often from above, so guests with an adventurous side can see the sights of Stockholm, Sweden, from a unique vantage point — the city’s rooftops! The Sensational Rooftop Walk & Stockholm’s Old Town tour takes guests to the Old Parliament Building where they’ll take the elevator up to the top floor and, via the attic, step out into the open. Under the strictest of safety standards, participants buckle up with a safety harness and take the first steps along the narrow rooftop path. With breathtaking views, the tour is more than just beauty. The guide share stories en route about the history of Stockholm.
Back on the ground, the tour continues through Stockholm’s oldest quarter, Gamla Stan, as well as Stortorget (the Great Square) — the hub of the Old Town. After all that exercise, it’s time to relax on a panoramic sightseeing drive through Stockholm, passing the Parliament Building, the Royal Opera, the city center with Sergels Torg and the Concert Hall.
Kit Haas wrote: This was a great tour, besides the bus trip around Berlin, my favorite excursion and destination on the Baltic cruise. Despite the fact that we were up so high, it was a view like no other of Stockholm and the river.
“Highlights of Rome”
Guests calling at Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy, have an opportunity to experience iconic Rome with Holland America Line’s Highlights of Rome shore excursion. Beginning with St. Peter’s Basilica the tour winds through the Vatican before taking a drive along the Tiber River to view the remains of the Imperial Palaces and the Circus Maximus. A stop at the Colosseum gives guests a chance to walk the ruins before making way to Trevi Fountain, Rome’s most beloved monument. After Trevi Fountain guests enjoy lunch and a few hours to break away and explore the city on their own.
It should be noted that the tour is a long one, but guests who have taken it agree that it’s well worth it. Highlights of Rome is a fantastic way to have a complete Roman holiday in one day!
A reviewer from Scotland wrote: The Highlights of Rome is an excellent trip for those that have never been there before. Rome is such a beautiful city and there is so much to see. Although the tour did not show you everything, it gave you a taster. Our guide was very informative.
“Berlin’s Top Sights by Train”
Berlin combines complicated history with beauty and rebirth. Holland America offers a shore excursion that features Berlin’s Top Sights by Train. Enjoy a light breakfast and take time to wake up on a three-hour train ride from the port of Warnemunde to see Berlin’s main highlights. The remnants of East and West Berlin’s separation can be seen in the ruins of the Berlin wall and Checkpoint Charlie – where U.S. and Soviet tanks briefly faced off in 1961 as well as the Brandenburg Gate, the only remaining city gate of Berlin.
Take a walk through the old Jewish Quarter to see the new Synagogue/Centrum Judaicum on your way to the western sector where you’ll see Bellevue Palace — the official residence of the President of Germany — and Congress Hall.
Modern architecture in Berlin offers a sense of hope and renewal to the city’s storied past. One great stop on the tour is the glass dome designed by architect Sir Norman Foster to house the parliament of the newly founded German empire.
Kurfurstendamm is Germany’s most famous shopping boulevard and the tour ends at the Allied Museum, offering a glimpse into Cold War-era Berlin. After a long day of touring, the train ride back to port is a great chance to relax and reflect on the day in Berlin.
WWWDJ wrote: This was truly an enjoyable day – the train was a wonderful and enjoyable experience. The Top 10 tour of Berlin was terrific and set at an enjoyable pace … This is a tour worth the high cost. You will bond with your shipmates while learning a great deal about Berlin.
When the ships call at Barcelona, Spain, next summer, the Gaudi’s Barcelona tour is one that’s not to be missed. Guests who want to learn more about this famous architect and see the city through his eyes will visit many of his works. His most famous creation in Barcelona is the Sagrada Familia Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is plenty of time to take photos of this beautiful structure, inside and out.
Next, guests will venture to Casa Milá, also known as La Pedrera. A walk down Barcelona’s widest avenue, Passeig de Garcia, leads towards La Manzana de la Discordia. After an eventful tour filled with beautiful sights, guests will have an understanding of the special relationship between Gaudi and the city of Barcelona.
Cyrus wrote: We have been to Barcelona several times and have seen it with Spanish friends, but we saw a lot more (in depth) this time … Although I have seen La Sagrada Familia in different stages throughout the years, I have never been inside. Oh, my goodness! How extraordinary! Believe me, it is the most unique church I have ever seen in my life, but gorgeous. You do not want to miss it.
Ancient Olympia & Mercouri’s Vineyards:
Guests will have the opportunity to learn the history of Ancient Olympia and enjoy authentic Greek food in Katákolon on the Ancient Olympia & Mercouri’s Vineyards tour. Ancient Olympia is located just 25 miles east of Katákolon. Guests will step back 2,000 years into the past and imagine the Temple of Zeus crowded with athletes, orators, merchants and philosophers. They will picture the temples, treasuries and statues as they once were and imagine the excitement in the air as the athletes took their marks. After visiting Olympia, guests will then travel to Mercouri Estate, located in a beautiful area where the Refosco grape was first planted after being imported from Italy. This modern winery and distillery was built in 1930 by the Mercouris and updated again in 1990. Guests will experience the beauty and charm of the vineyards and taste the locally produced wines.
Renae wrote: Wonderful trip to where the Olympic games started and you can even walk or run on the original field. Pretty fantastic. At the end of the winery tour, there’s a tasting underneath the trees with views of the ocean in the background … Ancient Olympia is a must see and it’s a bit outside of town so may as well take a tour. Our guide, Saskia, was wonderful!!!
On a recent visit to Dublin, Ireland, Rotterdam’s bar team went to the Guinness Brewery and Jameson Distillery to learn more about the beverages they serve onboard. Passengers have the opportunity to visit these places, too, during a call at Dublin on the A Taste of Dublin: The Guinness Experience and the A Taste of Ireland: Whiskey in the Jar tours.
If you’re looking for other ports around the globe that have tours to beverage-making facilities, try cruises that call at these ports: Bridgetown, Barbados, for the Barbados’s Finest Blends: Mount Gay & Four Square Rum Distilleries tour; Mt. Rokko & Sake Brewery at Kobe, Japan; Haines, Alaska, and the A Taste of Haines: Meet the Brewmeister tour, and Zeebrugge, Belgium, for the Bruges & A Taste of Belgian Beer tour.
On a recent Noordam cruise guests were treated to a call at Ashdod, Israel, one of the more unique places that Holland America Line visits. Among the hundreds of ports on the line’s roster are dozens of off-the-beaten-path destinations and rarely visited locales. If you’re looking to take a cruise this fall or winter to one of those “wow” spots, take a look at itineraries such as the 41-Day Turkish Discovery & Iberian Adventure Collectors’ Voyage that calls at Kusadasi, Turkey, with the famed Ephesus; or the
21-Day Atlantic Adventurer cruise that visits exotic Casablanca, Morocco. If Asia is on your “to-do” list, embark Volendam for a 30-Day Far East and Indonesian Collector Holiday voyage that calls at Komodo Island, home to the famous Komodo Dragon, along with other unique calls in Vietnam and Indonesia.
When Noordam was at Ashdod, Future Cruise Consultant Joanne went on the The Best of Jerusalem & the Old City tour and sent in her account of the day, along with some beautiful photos. Enjoy the visit to Jerusalem with Joanne.
The port of Ashdod, Israel, offers the opportunity to take a shore excursion to Jerusalem as well as some other spots in the country like the Dead Sea. I hopped on a 9-hour trip to Jerusalem since I haven’t been here in 30 years. It is a heavy duty excursion in that it is non-stop for the entire day, although we had a lovely buffet lunch at a kibbutz prior to the march through the old city.
Many of our European cruises feature a call at Zeebrugge (Brugges/Brussels), Belgium, and it’s close enough to the Netherlands to drive there for an overland adventure should you arrive for your cruise out of Amsterdam or Rotterdam a few days early and choose to explore.
Guests Jan and Dick Yetke joined us again and they decided to do just this prior to their recent Eurodam cruise. Enjoy exploring Brussels, Ghent and Brugges, Belgium, with them.
Upon arrival in Amsterdam on morning of Aug. 21, we picked up our rental car and drove to Brussels, Belgium (about a two-and-a-half-hour drive). Near our hotel was a large square surrounded by many restaurants with outdoor cafes. Next to this square was the Parlamentarium, European District. We had supper at one of the outdoor cafes, walked around a little more, and then went back to the hotel for the night.
The next day we took the CitySightseeing Brussels red double-decker Hop-On Hop-Off bus. We have done these tours in cities all around the world and find them to be very good for seeing lots of the highlights of a city. You have earplugs and listen to a commentary about the city and what you are seeing. We rode the red line first, then got off at Central Station which was by the Grand Place. Walked to the Grand Place and had a light lunch at an outdoor cafe there.
If you’re looking to join us for a European holiday, you’ll have 105 chances in 2014. We just released details on the 2014 season, and there’s a lot of exciting news. We added six new itineraries, six maiden calls and 17 of the ports feature overnight calls.
Eight of our 15 ships will be in the region: ms Eurodam, ms Nieuw Amsterdam, ms Maasdam, ms Noordam, ms Rotterdam, ms Ryndam and ms Veendam. Known as our intimate explorer, ms Prinsendam will sail 13 unique European itineraries in 2014 that feature six of the maiden calls.
The maiden calls include Antalya, Turkey; Burgàs, Bulgaria; Itea and Kavala, Greece; La Palais on Belle-Ile-en-Mer, France, and Montoir-de-Bretagne (Nantes), France.