My husband, Larry, and I decided on this cruise aboard HAL's Rotterdam VI for our 30th wedding anniversary celebration. We had only been on one cruise before, to Alaska on the Legend of the Seas. We liked RCL's cruise and at first thought we'd book them to see Europe. But, our travel agent thought we'd like HAL better, considering that we were a little put off by all the children on RCL's line and it had seemed a little crowded, with over 3,000 passengers. So, we booked this cruise on the Rotterdam. I tried to find reviews from cruisers who had been on the new Rotterdam, or been to the Mediterranean, but there were only a few reviews out there. Now that we've completed this cruise, I can see that the majority of HAL passengers are probably not frequent internet users, and that could be the reason for the lack of online reviews. So, here are my opinions, in case anyone is considering this cruise or this ship.
This cruise started in Rome (really Civetivecchia) on May 18. We knew that would mean flying overnight from our home near Philadelphia, and arriving in Italy early the morning of the 18th, fully jet-lagged. To try to avoid some of that angst, we decided to pay for the extra day in Rome before embarkation. So we flew from Philadelphia to Rome on May 16th, arriving on May 17th. The flight was non-stop via U S Airways. Our cruise documents and tickets arrived at our travel agent's office about a month prior to our leaving and our quick-thinking agent called each airline and confirmed seat assignments for us as soon as she received these documents. It's a good thing she did, as some HAL passengers on this flight were not sitting together with their family members since they had waited to long to try to get seats assigned. Our seats were near the back of the 767, in row 23, but we were seated together with a window and aisle seat. We have thousands of frequent flyer miles from US Airways, but we could not use them to upgrade this bulk rate ticket, no matter who I pleaded with. So, we suffered the 8 hours in coach. The flight was fairly uneventful, other than that they ran out of chicken before they served us, so we ended up with the pasta entree. In spite of taking a sleeping pill, I didn't sleep much, but that's typical of overnight flights to Europe.
We arrived in Rome and the immigration officials barely looked at our passports and waived us on. A HAL representative was standing just past the immigration checkpoint with a large sign. We approached her and she advised us to get our luggage on a cart, and get through customs where she would be waiting for us and several others to take us to our hotel. It took about 15 minutes for all of our luggage to arrive and it was all in order and undamaged. We had four big pieces, but there were large luggage carts right at the carousel and they were free. The customs agents declined to look at anything and again we were simply waived through into the main lobby of the airport. We waited there about ten minutes for the HAL agent, who was dealing with finding a wheel chair for one of the passengers who needed the extra assistance. Finally, about 12 of us were led outside and guided to two mini-buses. We were headed for three different hotels, depending on where HAL had assigned us. We were going to the Jolly Veneto. Ours was the second stop, and it took us about an hour to get through the traffic from the airport, through the city and to the hotel. The congestion was our first introduction to Rome. The driver didn't speak at all until we passed the Cathedral of St. Mary Majore, which we pointed out to us. At the time we didn't recognize the significance of this, or any of what we were seeing.
Upon arrival at the hotel, a bellman gathered the luggage and got it into the lobby for us. Another HAL representative greeted us there, took some of the vouchers from our cruise documents, and checked our passports. She showed us to the registration desk, but warned that our rooms might not be ready until afternoon. It was about 10AM by now, and we'd been up for many, many hours and really were in need of sleeping horizontally for awhile. We were thrilled when the desk clerk told us our room was ready and handed us a key!! The bellman led us to the elevator, and then to the room, through tiny winding hallways. We weren't sure what to expect, as some of the reviews we'd read had been critical of some of the "deluxe" accommodations HAL had provided to others. But, when we finally got to the room it was wonderful. It was on the 3rd floor in a corner. The room had windows on all sides of the room, a vanity/desk, a king-sized bed, two overstuffed chairs, a walk-in closet, and the large bathroom had a huge tub with shower, and a large sink with vanity, along with the typical bidet and toilet area. It was really a very nice room, which was clean, well stocked with extra towels, blankets, pillows, and chocolates on the nightstands. We immediately climbed between the sheets and slept for 3 hours.
When we forced ourselves to get up, we showered and then set off on foot to explore Rome. The hotel was just outside the Aurelian walls that surround the old city of Rome. We walked inside the walls through a gate just a block from the hotel. We were right on the Via Veneto, a street famous for high priced shopping and restaurants. We walked around for hours, past the American Embassy, the Hard Rock Cafe, and Harry's lounge…with their American influences. There were also many trendy fashion shops, with expensive jewelry and clothing. We had a map that the HAL representative had supplied us so we easily found our way around. She had remained in the lobby of the hotel the entire day and evening and offered us tours if we wanted to pay to take them. When we told her we preferred to go out alone she offered maps and directions, in perfect English. She had marked on our maps how to get to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain and we walked to both. We stopped in a sidewalk cafe and had some coffee and a sandwich. The waiters spoke English so no language problems arose. In fact, all of the menus had English writing in addition to the Italian.
After a few hours we arrived back at the hotel and rested a couple of hours, checking out CNN on the television, the only English channel we could find. We bought some postcards and stamps from the hotel lobby and left them with the concierge for mailing. Later we decided to go back out and walk some more. We went in the opposite direction and ended up in Borghese Park. After wandering around the park, trying to avoid the joggers, we decided to look for a place to eat dinner. We found a few cafe's advertising pizza, and thought that would be our best bet. We shared a pizza and then walked back to our hotel. We got a great night's sleep, and were up with our luggage out to be picked up in the hallway by 7AM the next morning. The bus was to pick us up for a tour of Rome and transfer to the ship at 8AM. We had breakfast in the hotel, which was a very good buffet that included American style eggs, bacon, bagels, and also more European breads, museli, fruit and fish. We were ready for the bus at 8AM, but we ended up waiting till about 9:15 for it to arrive. Supposedly it was hung up in traffic. I can believe it. Traffic was a nightmare.
When the bus did arrive, it was already half full with HAL passengers from other hotels. We had hoped for a stop at St. Peter's square enroute to the ship, but since it was the Pope's birthday, that had been cancelled. There was projected to be 20,000 in the Vatican for the celebration, so we wouldn't be going there. Instead we drove through the ancient ruins of the coloseum, forum, and circus maximus. We stopped at the Cathedral of St. Paul and spent about an hour there and in the gardens of the convent that is attached to the church. At about 11AM we left the city and headed out on a modern highway for Civetivecchia, where we were to board the ship. We arrived in the port town around 12:20PM, and sat on the bus for about 30 minutes waiting to be unloaded. There were other buses ahead of us and it was quite hot outside. The HAL folks had decided it would be more comfortable for us to sit on our air-conditioned bus while they worked down the line of people who were embarking. Finally we were taken to the embarkation area where HAL had representatives to take our forms and hand over our boarding cards. It took about 5 minutes and we were smiling for the photographer and walking up the gangway. The stringed quartet was playing as we entered the ship and a steward took our carry on bags and led us to the elevator to go to the 6th floor, the Verandah Deck. When we walked into our room, we were thrilled to see that 3 of our bags were already in our room! So far everything was so smooth.
I'd read enough about what to do IMMEDIATELY on embarkation to know what I needed to do first. Larry wanted to go straight to the Lido to eat lunch, but I knew there were more pressing details to check on. First, we had faxed in a form weeks earlier requesting our excursions. I expected to see confirmation in our cabin and there was nothing, except another form asking us to select which excursions we'd like to take. Some had been marked "limited participation" so I knew we needed to get them booked early. I took my previously faxed form, the fax confirmation I'd received from HAL, and we set off for the Excursion Desk. Others obviously had the same idea we did, as there were already people in line there. It took about 10 minutes to reach the desk and the staffer there said that I'd done all I should have done but for some reason HAL hadn't reserved them for us. He was able to give us every one we wanted, however, and he booked them for us right then.
My next visit was to the Spa. My children had given me a credit for a massage and facial as a Mother's Day gift, but I'd been unable to book it prior to embarkation. (Somehow though, others had booked these in advance, although I've yet to determine how). The line at the Spa only had about 5 people in it. However, one person was booking massages and hair appointments for many people and I stood in line there for almost an hour. The salon had only two people working on making appointments and everyone wanted their hair done for each formal night, as well as many other treatments on each day at sea. We only had two sea days on this cruise so it was going to be tough to handle everyone in those two days. We were planning to renew our vows on the ship and had found out that was scheduled for May 25th; so I wanted to get my hair and nails done that day. I had also hoped to have a massage that day, with the facial, but it wasn't going to happen. I ended up getting the massage and facial on a sea day, the nails done a day later, and only my hair done on the day of the renewal of vows. But, I could live with that. An hour and a half later and I just had one more stop to make before Larry could have lunch.
We'd requested a table for 2 in second seating in the dining room. Our card in our suite indicated we had 2nd seating and table #82, but we didn't know if that was a table for one or two people. According to the posted information, the maitre d'hotel was in the library meeting for dining room changes right now. So off we went to check on that. When we arrived and checked the seating chart, we learned our table was set for 2 and we didn't need to make any changes. Finally we were off to find lunch.
We went to the Lido deck, and this is where HAL has a marvelous "cafeteria" where they serve breakfast, lunch, an alternative casual dinner, as well as 24 hour coffee and tea, ice cream, pizza bar in the afternoons, and late night snacks. There were several entrees, a deli for sandwiches, a salad bar, and lot of desserts. Outside on the Lido deck near the pool there was also a hot dog and hamburger stand, a taco and pasta buffet. We got some lunch and sat on the deck to finally eat. The rest of the day was uneventful and we unpacked and had the lifeboat drill. We learned that there were 4 closets in our mini-suite with verandah, and more drawers than we needed. We were really impressed that we had so much room. There was a bowl of fresh fruit in the room (apples, oranges, and pears) and the refrigerator was stocked with bottled water, beer, sodas, and liquor. However, if we drank anything from the mini-bar we learned we'd be charged for it. We had a lounge chair and a side chair on the verandah, along with a small table. The verandahs have walls that separate the cabins so your neighbors cannot see into your suites. It was quite nice to go outside in a robe upon arrival in a new port, or just to watch for dolphins or whales. We really enjoyed the extra space and view from this suite.
The service on this ship was excellent. We really had no significant complaints, although we did overhear others griping occasionally, about things we considered minor. For example, some complained because the foreign currency desk closed while people were still trying to line up and buy currency when we were docked in Mallorca. But, they had published their hours of operation as 8-11AM that morning and it was already 11:30 when they were attempting to close. Many complaints were overheard about them selling bottled water to passengers leaving on excursions. Some suggested that should be free, given the cost of the tours. Perhaps, but I've never known bottled water to be free in many places.
One legitimate complaint that many people had was that the ship's air conditioning created too many chills. The dining room was freezing cold and many asked to move their tables from some extra cold areas. If it had been 90 degrees outside and it was the middle of the day, it may have made sense. But, it was in the 70's and when we were in the dining room it was dark outside, but it had to be 65 degrees in the dining room. And, many people were in summer clothing with short sleeves. I wore a sweater or jacket to all meals in there, and also in the movie theater. Whenever possible, we ate outside on the deck during the day to warm up. The complaints didn't seem to be resolved.
We heard someone complain about a toilet not flushing, but we did not have that problem ever. The ship was always spotless and the food was very good and beautifully presented always. Other than the original glitch with the excursions being booked, we had no tour challenges. Some people did complain that they were told something was a 10-minute walk and it turned into 20 minutes. But, we observed that this often was due to someone's inability to keep up. In all cases, the excursion guide had accurate indicators of how much walking was required. We were shocked to see passengers with obvious disability going on tours marked 'strenuous walking." After a few stops, sometimes these passengers elected to just sit on the bus. I'm not sure they got their money's worth.
The HAL passengers who elected the Vatican tour were given private entrance into the Vatican Museum after it had closed to the public for the day. This allowed us to tour the Sistine Chapel without waiting in line among hundreds of others. This was a great opportunity that HAL has arranged for passengers during this Jubilee year. I didn't realize how special it was until we spoke to others who had waited in line for hours. We spent about two hours in the museum with only our tour guides and other HAL passengers present. Prior to the museum visit we had spent about 2 hours in St. Peters basilica and the square. The only disappointment we had with Rome was that at the last minute our buses were not allowed to enter the city areas and park near the coloseum. We had been hoping to tour it and so we had not gone on our own. We didn't learn until that morning that it could not be included in the tour. This was not the fault of the tour company, but had been announced by the city government due to the huge number of tourists visiting the city for the Jubilee and the problem it was causing in overcrowding on the streets. So we visited a less crowded area of the city and did not have time to return on our own to see the ruins we had so hoped to walk around.
Other than this disappointment, all other excursions were interesting and enjoyable. We stopped in Palermo, Sicily; Malta; Livorno (with side trips to Florence or Pisa); Mallorca; Tunisia; Monaco; Morocco; Gibraltar; and disembarked in Lisbon, Portugal.
The passengers were predominantly over 65 years of age. My husband is 50 and I'm 49 and we were certainly among the youngest passengers. I think we counted no more than 10 children total among the 1000+ passengers. There were many, many wheelchairs, and canes, and it was often challenging in transports to and from airports and on excursions when entire groups had to wait for these passengers to be accommodated first. We were patient and never complained, but there were others who were vocal about being inconvenienced. In all cases, I felt that HAL was extremely considerate of those who needed assistance and staff members were patient and helpful to everyone.
We paid $95 to participate in the Renewal of Vows ceremony. For that we received a photo in an album, flowers in our cabin, a special dessert in the dining room; and the ceremony led by the Captain. At the ceremony each couple recited the renewal vows separately with the captain, photos were taken, champagne and wine were served, a cake was also served, and each participant was given a corsage or boutonniere (roses). It was completed while a string quartet played and it was very lovely. We felt we had gotten our money's worth.
Our final port of call was Lisbon and we arrived there around 6:30AM on May 30th. Our flight out was on TWA at 10:30AM, so we were concerned about making it to the airport on time. We needn't have worried. First, HAL had arranged for TWA agents to join our ship the day before. Anyone on TWA was given instruction on how to "seal" your luggage and it was taken from the ship and put right on to the flight. We never even had to see the luggage at the airport. In addition, we were given our boarding passes and had our passports checked by these TWA agents before we ever got off of the bus and went into the airport. Those of us on this flight were the first ones off of the ship at 7:30AM and we were in the airport departure area by 8:15AM. The flight to JFK was uneventful and although we wondered if our luggage had really gotten on to the plane, it was all there. We had no stopping in the immigration or customs areas of JFK and within minutes we had handed our luggage back to go on to our Delta flight to Philadelphia. We made it home right on schedule.
There is nothing in the village of Civetivecchia, as it is simply the Port for the ships. Not much of a town so if you dock there you need to sign up for at least a transfer into Rome. Rome is about an hour away by interstate highway. Once you arrive in the city of Rome, the traffic becomes a gridlock and sometimes barely moves. It seems their rush hour starts before 7AM and last till 7PM at least.
We signed up for the full day excursion to Rome that included a "private visit" to the Vatican. We had been told that the morning of this excursion would allow time to visit the Coloseum and Forum, which was top on our list to see. We had a day in Rome on our own and did not visit these sites because we thought we would see them on the ship's tour. However, what happened was that Rome officials have decided to limit bus traffic in the city because of the "Jubilee" year and all the tourists that are adding to the gridlock. So, we were bussed to the Plaza del Popolo and we had about an hour of free time there. This area has a cathedral, Augustus' Mausoleum and some shops. But, it's really too far away from the Forum area to take a cab there and back in the hour we were allotted. We were not happy about this, but there was really nothing we could do. We did drive past these sites, but it was not the same as being able to walk around them on our own.
After the hour or so in the Plaza, we took the bus to a restaurant in the Aurelian section of the city. About 8 busses from the ship were having their passengers all lunch there and the food was a pre fixe meal of fettuccine Alfredo, ravioli, anti-pasta, wine, veal and tiramisu. The veal was tough and there was not a great quantity of food. The inside of the restaurant had long tables that were filled with our passengers. It was quite warm in there as well. We were lucky to be on one of the last busses to arrive, so we were seated outside under a tent and it was comfortable there. The really bad part of the meal experience was the restrooms. There were three stalls in the ladies room and only one toilet would flush by the end of our visit. The owners finally took over the men's room for the ladies and led us in there. They were obviously not prepared for hundreds of women who wanted to use the restroom at one time.
After lunch we went to St. Peter's square and were given a guided tour of the basilica, the grotto (where the Pope's are buried) and the square. It is very impressive. The size is not to be imagined. We were able to take pictures and wander around on our own for about an hour. It has to be one of the best memories we have of the entire cruise. We are not catholic, but we were so impressed by the size and the opulence of this church and its history and significance.
After the visit to the church, we were bussed to the Vatican Museums. These are buildings that are actually located behind St. Peter's square, but it took over 30 minutes to drive around to the entrance. This was primarily due to the changing in the traffic patterns to accommodate the expected Jubilee year tourists. When we arrived at the museum, we finally realized why it was so special that Holland America had arranged a Private visit. This is where the Sistine Chapel is located, and normally there are lines of over an hour wait to get inside. We were being led in after the museum had closed to the public, so the several hundred from Holland America were the only people inside, along with the guards and the janitorial staff. These museums are exquisite. The ceilings of paintings by Raphael and Michelangelo must be seen to be fully appreciated. We walked through numerous buildings of paintings, sculptures, and tapestries, before our last stop in the Sistine Chapel. This is the most famous of all painted ceilings and the guards watch to ensure no one is photographing the paintings. However, many were managing to take clandestine photos as long as there was no flash.
After the museum visit ended, we were loaded back on our busses and we started off for the ship. It took over an hour to get back to the Rotterdam and it was after 8PM when we arrived. Some who had been scheduled for first seating dinner did complain, but surely they understood when they signed up for this 9 hour trip that they would have to make alternate plans for dinner. The Lido was open for them with tons of food, but we did hear some people complain because the dining room could not accommodate all of the 6:15 and 8:15 diners at once. Oh well, some people will complain about anything.
We had signed up for a half-day (afternoon) tour of Solunto and Bagheria. In the morning it was easy to walk from the ship into the village of Palermo. It reminded us a great deal of Rome. There were lots of cars and crowded streets with little shops. We walked about 6-8 blocks up the main street and back. There were a few shops where ceramics were featured, as this is a local craft for which Sicily is famous. We visited a couple of shops and I purchased a teapot with matching cups in beautiful yellow and blue glaze. The owners were working on pieces and you could easily see the craftsmanship. The set I purchased was about $40, but I decided to have them mail them home for me, which cost me another $40. It was worth it because I couldn't have packed them in my luggage. I collect tea sets so this was a great find for me. After lunch back on the ship we joined our tour to Solunto. Solunto is an area where an excavation of a Phoenician town is being undertaken. There is a long, long climb up a mountainside on the bus, and then lots of further walking up the hillside to reach the excavation site. Once up there the view of the Mediterranean is wonderful. At the site you can see the remains of some homes, shops, a theater, and possibly a temple where sacrifices were made. The intricate tile work on the floors of the homes is difficult to comprehend. The work that went into laying an entire floor of one-inch stones over 3,000 years ago is mind boggling.
After over an hour at this site, we were happy to board our air-conditioned bus to ride to Bagheria. This town has a villa that must have been constructed by a crazy person. The wall around the old villa has sculptures of monsters. In addition, there are paintings on the walls and ceilings of the home of very strange characters. It's interesting, but quite run down and decaying. It was not the highlight of the tour.
We had told our guide that we'd heard people raving about the gellato (ice cream) in Sicily and he told us that it was, in fact, the best in the world. So, he added in a stop at a big gellato shop and we all got out and bought some. It was wonderful. Gellato is made here only with fresh fruit, and the taste is something to be experienced. On our way back to the ship we drove through the town of Palermo and past several cathedrals. It was easy to see here old buildings still showing scars from bombing during World War II. Some new buildings are going up, but it still looks like a run down town. It took us about an hour to return to the ship because the traffic was so congested. But, we made it back in plenty of time for the 6:15 diners this time!
Tunisia is a North African country and we immediately saw that it was quite different from the European places we had been earlier. There were mosques and no more cathedrals. Here we signed up for a visit to Carthage and Sidi Bou Said. We stopped first at Sidi Bou Said, where all the buildings are painted white, with bright blue doors, windows, and trim. This is a hold over from the years when the French ruled this land, according to our guide. It's really a beautiful little town with cobble stone streets in front of lots of little shops on the top of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean. However, it turned into an hour of harassment for many of us. The vendors in the shops and in the souks along the streets and in the bus parking area were very, very aggressive. They walk right up to tourists, pull at their arms and ask if they are American, English, French, and say, "come see my shop," and "anything is one dollar," or similar phrases. They follow people down the streets and get right up in their faces. When we arrived in this area the guide offered us two choices: go with him for a guided tour of the town and discussion of the architecture, or shop on our own for 45 minutes. My husband wanted the tour and I wanted to shop, so we split up. Bad idea. I think that because I was a woman walking alone, I looked like an easier prey. I was really bothered, and almost accosted several times by these aggressive men. It was very intimidating to me, and I tried simply ignoring them, but they just keep following. I'd seen vendors act similar to this in Korea years ago, so it wasn't surprising, but it was annoying. I did buy a silver necklace from one vendor after bargaining from $20 to $5. I also bought a gold filled chain, and a coffee mug in a craft shop for $5. But, I was happy when we re-boarded the buses and moved on to Carthage.
Carthage is another area where there is an excavation of the old city from the Phoenician days about 1000 BC. Here they are excavating the remains of baths, and the old port area that was used for their military ships. It was really impressive to see how huge the baths were, obviously an important part of life in the ancient times. There is quite a large area excavated so it is very interesting to walk around and here there is not a huge mountain to climb like in Sicily. We spent over an hour in Carthage, and then stopped at an American military cemetery on our way back to the ship. Here the dead American's from World War II are buried. It was a beautifully landscaped setting and it seemed so strange to see the American flag flying here among hundreds of crosses. It's so odd to realize that during that war the dead were simply buried where they were killed. Quite a moving experience and it was nice that we stopped there, as it wasn't part of the original tour description.
Prior to our arrival in each port, an expert presented a short briefing on what to see in each location. His comments on Malta started with, "If you are awake in the morning when we arrive at the port, you must look outside and see how magnificent this city looks as we arrive." He described it as looking like a huge sandcastle with layer upon layer of light brown buildings. Well, we were lucky enough to awaken before 7AM that morning and I remembered his comments so I opened the drapes on our verandah doors and what a sight! It was truly a unique visual experience. The light sand color is what each building is made of, and it does appear as if each building was built upon another, rising up from the sea to the top of a mountainside.
We hadn't signed up for any tours in Malta, as we'd read several books and heard that this was a great place to just walk around and experience the town. It was obviously a big hike up the mountain to the town gates, however, so we did take a taxi, which cost $5. The citizens of Malta seem to be partially British, and some Italian, some French. There were many languages, but the shops appeared to be mostly English in nature and in content. Once inside the walls of the city, there is almost no vehicle traffic, and just lots of walking among shops and restaurants. We spent many hours there and did a good deal of shopping. I purchased some silver filigree jewelry there, which was a specialty in the country. We also purchased a huge tablecloth, which I'd been wanting for a table that seats 10. It came with 12 napkins and we bargained the price down from $125 to $85 from a vendor set up near the dock. I also purchased a hand knitted sweater for $15 near the ship. There was also a duty free shop that I purchased a coral necklace and bracelet for about $50 total. After shopping we took a horse and carriage ride back to the ship for $10. This was a restful day because we weren't set to anyone's schedule, other than getting back before the ship left.
After a day at sea we arrived in Livorno, another port city in Italy with not too much there other than the port. However, this is the port of Florence and Pisa. Many, many passengers took the daylong tours to Florence. We were not interested in going into Florence for the full day, so we elected to take the half-day tour to Pisa instead. I just couldn't imagine getting that close to the Leaning Tower and not seeing it.
The bus ride to Pisa is about 30 minutes and then there is a walk of about 15 minutes from the parking area to the cathedral and tower area. The leaning tower is actually the bell tower that is next to the cathedral and the baptistery. They are all situated inside old city walls and all along one side of the walls are souvenir booths. It's a little disconcerting to see all these souvenir shops set up so close to the church, but that's they way they do it.
The tower is undergoing construction work to try to stabilize it, so there are cables holding it up and lots of construction workers and vehicles around it. The tour includes visiting the inside of the cathedral, where Galileo was once a member. There is a lot of art work there which is impressive, and I was really impressed by Galileo's lamp. This is a light fixture that hangs by a rope from the ceiling and it swings like a pendulum when the wind blows through the sanctuary. Here the young Galileo supposedly watched the swinging lamp and formulated one of the famous theories of physics (for each action there is an opposite reaction).
After visiting the cathedral and photographing the tower, we had about an hour to shop and I picked up some toys for my granddaughter. The author of Pinocchio was from this area and they sell puppets and dolls there, so we bought one.
We took the tour to Valdemossa in Mallorca, Spain. Valdemossa is the location of an old Cartugian monastery that was made into "rental units" during the 1800's and rented to vacationers. Some of those vacationing visitors just happened to be Frederick Chopin and George Sand (his lover). They were there to help him recuperate from tuberculosis, but he did not do well there. They were not treated kindly by the locals, probably because she was not married to Chopin but was living with him, and she later wrote a criticism of their stay there. The monastery is now partially a museum to him and includes many artifacts from his life that have been moved to Mallorca from all over the world. There are also rooms redecorated in the original monastery way. At the end of the tour of the grounds and building, there is a 15 minute concerto of Chopin's performed by a student from a local conservatory. It was excellent. Of course there is also about an hour to shop, which was great. I was hoping to purchase pearls, as were many others and there was an authorized dealer in the village so I was able to get them there. About $100 for a 16 inch strand of 6 mm pearls. I also purchased an embroidered dress for my granddaughter and an apron there. These shops were very lovely craft stores in a beautifully preserved village. Earlier on the way to Valdemossa we stopped in a beautiful overlook in the mountains and the tour guide pointed out to us a new home recently built by Michael Douglas. It is truly a beautiful area with a wonderful view of the sea.
We did not sign up for a tour of Monaco, but took a tender to the shore on our own and walked up the long hill to Monaco-Ville and the Palace. It was a long walk up the side of the mountain and when we got to the top we learned there was an elevator we could have used. Oh well…Monaco is a very modern city near the port, but if you go to the top of the mountain to the village, it looks like a tiny French town. There are cobblestone streets so narrow you can only walk down them. Lots of souvenir shops and sidewalk cafes there. We also walked through some beautifully manicured gardens and saw the cathedral where Princess Grace is buried. Jacques Cousteau's Oceanographic museum is there, but we did not go in. It was being renovated and we had been told that much of it is not open. There are guards parading in front of the palace and a ceremony at noon each day when they change. We walked through a shopping mall and past hundreds of very expensive yachts on the way back to the ship. Obviously very wealthy individuals live here.
Morocco was another port that was definitely not European. There were many mosques that were evident on the skyline as soon as we were in the port area. We took a half-day tour of the city of Casablanca. The tour guide was a real character. He was a bit difficult to understand and wore a caftan and Moroccan sandals. He spoke French well, but his English was broken. He was almost stern with us, chastising us to "keep up, " and "You aren't listening, I just told you that." He would smile after saying these things, and it was obvious he was enjoying himself. He showed us the open-air markets where vendors were selling everything from flowers and baskets, to turtles and lobsters. Some of the fruits and vegetables were beautiful. In addition to chastising us, he also yelled continually at the vendors who kept following us trying to sell us T-shirts, Rolex watches (for $5) and other trinkets. We saw several beautiful buildings (the King's summer palace, the city hall, and the Mosque) and also visited the one catholic church in the city. At the end of the tour we stopped in a craft store he said was "government" sanctioned so we wouldn't get ripped off. But, it seemed that he must be getting a kick back from this crew as he was really anxious for all of us to buy and to keep us there as long as people were still browsing. We did buy a few things there and they were quite inexpensive.
We were only in Gibraltar from 9AM until 2PM. I took a shuttle into town and went shopping in this village that is very much British with a little bit of Spanish and African overtones. My husband went on a walking tour, which included a tram ride, a tour of the caves and the siege tunnels, as well as a stop at the Barbary apes. He enjoyed it immensely although it was tiring to walk so far. I had a great time because I found one shop selling genuine Pashmina shawls for $135. I checked every shop there and no other one was selling anything like it. I made sure it was genuine and am very pleased with it. It's also possible to take a cab to the tram and do the tour alone of the caves and siege tunnels, as some on the ship did.
We had no tour of Lisbon as we had a 10:30 AM flight out and didn't have time to do anything but look out the bus windows as we left the port for the airport.
In all this was a wonderful cruise and a great way to get an overview of Europe without unpacking every day. In retrospect, there are a number of places we wished we could have spent more time in, so we could do the shopping as well as seeing the sights. We've already discussed going back to Rome to see the Coloseum on our own some day. I hope this is helpful to someone who may be considering Holland America, the Rotterdam, or these ports of call.