Review: Spirit of Freedom Live-Aboard Dive Trip

Fifteen Days in Australia

A Trip to Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, and Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea

Spirit of Freedom

Spirit of Freedom

Spirit of Freedom

We were greeted in Lizard Island by Captain Tony and the Spirit of Freedom crew.  After a short walk to the northern beach, we boarded a dinghy in crystal clear water and motored off to the mothership!  After a thorough introduction and safety presentation, we were shown our rooms.  Since it was all that was available at the time we booked, my dad and I shared a quad room with four bunks and a bathroom.  It was exactly what we expected, and all we needed during the trip.

The Boat

The boat itself is basically a three-story yacht configured to make it a diving vessel.  As such, there’s 1/3 of a deck fully dedicated to SCUBA diving operations — equipment setup, tank filling, storage, etc.  Inside from the dive deck is kitchen and dining room where we enjoyed the wonderful meals aboard Spirit of Freedom.   Further forward on the same deck is the main lounge on the boat, which featured a huge sofa, a bar, and television – it was really a great place to relax between dives.  Six of the cabins were located a deck lower, and a few were on the top deck, just forward of the good-sized sun-deck and aft of the bridge.

The Diving

Spirit of Freedom certainly delivered on the promise of world-class diving.  Over the four days, we enjoyed no less than fifteen dives!  Yes, 15!

On the day of arrival, we enjoyed two afternoon dives on Ribbon Reef number 9 on the Great Barrier Reef.  These dives featured incredible corals and marine life, including a school of barracuda and a large hammerhead shark!

Disclaimer:  The below diving pictures from this trip were compiled by the guests and crew of this dive trip on the Spirit of Freedom from 02 January to 06 January, 2014 — I unfortunately did not take these pictures
IMG_2174

School of Barracuda at Ribbon Reef #9

IMG_8934

Hammerhead on the GBR

IMG_9013

Incredibly clear water makes divers 50m away visible

IMG_9195

The Spirit of Freedom from below

Overnight, we steamed over a hundred miles out into the Coral Sea to Osprey Reef – an atoll basically in the middle of nowhere — certainly not a commonly dived part of the world.  The water here was so clear, it was breathtaking.  Visibility was upwards of 200 feet, and was some of the clearest water I’ve experienced anywhere — including the notoriously crystal clear freshwater of the Florida Springs.

We dived five times on the second day of the trip.  The first two dives were on the North Horn.  The second dive was a shark feeding dive, where a box of bait was essentially lowered on to the reef in the middle of about 30-40 sharks.

A feeding frenzy ensued.  And it was awesome.

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

Shark Dive at Osprey Reef

That afternoon, we took in two more dives on Osprey Reef, including “Secret Caves” and “Admiralty” – both dives were complete with a network of tunnels and caves, which were some of my favorite dives of the trip.  After dinner, we enjoyed a night dive of Admiralty, and it was purely spectacular.

The next day, we steamed South to Shark Reef, where we saw an abundance of Silvertip Sharks an unbelievably clear water.  Later in the day, we dove Vema Reef and then returned to the southern tip of Osprey Reef for the final dive of the day at “Rapid Horn” which was probably the best dive of the entire trip due to the impressive wall, abundant sea life, and sheer number of large sharks.  The final day was spent at Bouganville Reef for a fourth day of spectacular diving.  That final day, diving ended a bit early so we could cruise back to Cairns, where we disembarked on the morning of January 6th.

Food

The food was outstanding.  It was far better than I expected, and was frankly better than almost any cruise I’ve ever been on.  The presentation and taste of every meal was top-notch.  Every day, we were woken up at 6:30am for a light breakfast before our first dive.  This was usually a continental affair featuring cereals, muffins, yogurts,  juices and coffee.  We then proceeded to do our first dive of the day.  Upon finishing the first dive, we returned to the dive boat with the aroma of a freshly cooked breakfast greeting us as we walked inside.  This was a hot breakfast of pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs, and a variety of other goodies.  Lunch was usually quite elaborate, and featured a wide range of cuisines throughout the trip.  Dinner was alway a treat, as the staff served us course by course with some delicious meals ranging from beef tenderloin to chicken to a wonderful fish dish.  The final night of the trip was highlighted by an on-deck barbecue with chicken, steak, sausage, and kangaroo, along with delicious sides — it was just amazing having the meal on deck in the middle of the Coral Sea.  There was PLENTY to eat, and all the food was just first-rate.

The Crew

Simply fantastic.  They bent over backwards for us all week.  The trip director, Nic led an amazing lot of dives, and provided excellent dive briefings before every dive, and summaries of the day every evening.  Hostess Jill and the team really couldn’t do enough for us all week — everything we needed was taken care of.  The crew was really as good as it gets!

Spirit of Freedom Crew

Spirit of Freedom Crew

Overall

I really can’t say enough about our time on the Spirit of Freedom.  It was a SCUBA diver’s dream — plain and simple.

The diving was some of the best in the world.   The vessel was a world-class live aboard ship.  The crew couldn’t have been any better.  The food was borderline gourmet.  Everything exceeded our wildest expectations.  We really viewed this as THE highlight of our entire Australia experience.  I really couldn’t have thought up a better way to spend some great quality time with my dad than this.

Though the Spirit of Freedom is priced a bit higher than some of its competitors, I can say that you get what you pay for.  Pricing information can be found on the Spirit of Freedom website, here.  I highly recommend this trip to all divers — it’s certainly a bucket list-type trip!

How I Booked it…

No points or miles here!  I sent in a reservation request on the website and finalized the details via e-mail with the Spirit of Freedom staff…

Spirit of Freedom Website

Cruise Review: Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


I previously blogged about each port we encountered on the Nieuw Amsterdam, so this post is meant to be about the cruise itself.  Previous posts on the itinerary, ports, and the Pinnacle Suite can be found in the menu links above.  This is a full-fledged cruise review of the various aspects of shipboard life.  As such, it is much longer than my typical blog post.  Enjoy…

Holland America Line
ms Nieuw Amsterdam
12-night Mediterranean Empires cruise
May 2, 2014 – May 14, 2014
Depart:  Venice, Italy (round-trip)
Cabin / Suite:  7031 (category PS)
Itinerary:  Venice, Italy; at sea; Katakolon (Olympia), Greece; Piraeus (Athens), Greece; Istanbul, Turkey (overnight); Mitilini, Lesbos, Greece; Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey; Santorini, Greece; Argostoli, Cephalonia, Greece; at sea; Venice, Italy (overnight)

Nieuw Amsterdam in Katakolon, Greece

Nieuw Amsterdam in Katakolon, Greece

Introduction

This 12-night “Mediterranean Empires” cruise aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam was my 34th cruise, but my first to Europe.  I have previously sailed Carnival 23 times, Holland America and Royal Caribbean three times each, and once each on Celebrity, Princess, Majesty, and Premier.  I consider myself pretty well-versed and experienced in cruises, but I hadn’t taken a cruise in over two years before my trip on the Nieuw Amsterdam, and I hadn’t taken a cruise as long as this one.  My last cruise was a New Years’ trip to the Western Caribbean aboard the Carnival Legend, and my last cruise with Holland America was in July, 2008 to Alaska on the Oosterdam.   I had never cruised in a suite on a cruise except for one trip on Carnival’s Imagination back in 2005, so I especially looked forward to this cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam.

This review will cover the various aspects of life onboard the ship since I’ve already provided a port-by-port account of this cruise in previous posts.  We traveled in the Pinnacle Suite (PS) #7031 on Rotterdam Deck, and I also posted on that earlier.

In Summary…

This was easily my most memorable cruise for many reasons.  First of all, we were traveling in the largest suite on the ship — the Pinnacle Suite thanks to the generous invitation from my Aunt and Uncle.  Since I’m accustomed to standard staterooms, this was a real treat and a definite outlier from my “typical” cruise experience. Secondly, the fact that this cruise allowed us to visit so many destinations to which I had not previously traveled made it an especially memorable experience.  Finally, the company with whom I traveled — my Aunt, Uncle, and girlfriend all added to this cruise.

I’m not sure if it was because we were suite guests, but the service aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam was exceptional in all aspects.  Pretty much everyone we came in contact with went above and beyond throughout the cruise.  Just as exceptional was the food.  I found the cuisine all over this ship to be some of the best I’ve had on any cruise.  The ship itself was beautiful and filled with art, and it had more than adequate facilities for the guests.  Entertainment was for the most part pretty good, but considering the port intensive itinerary, it was not a priority for our party during this trip.  As mentioned before, the itinerary was sensational, as we visited eight ports during the twelve nights.  All in all, this cruise was fantastic and probably my best cruise to date.

Food

Since this was, after all a cruise, there was naturally food available whenever you wanted.  On the Nieuw Amsterdam, there were two primary food venues — The Manhattan Dining Room and the Lido Restaurant.  In addition to these two venues were four specialty restaurants — The Pinnacle Grill, Tamarind, Canaletto, and the Dive-In Burger Shack.  An extensive room service menu was also available, and for suite guests – snacks, hors d’oeuvres, and canapés were available daily in the Neptune Lounge (concierge lounge).

Manhattan Dining Room

We enjoyed dinner most of the nights in the Manhattan Dining Room.  As the main dining room on the ship, the Manhattan offered open seating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as two assigned seatings on the upper level for dinner.  We chose the late seating dinner and enjoyed a table for six by a window in the aft section of the upper level of the dining room at table #57.  Our waiter team led by Slamet and Ming provided impeccable service throughout the week.  By the second night, they knew our preferences, and accommodated special requests without hesitation.  The Assistant Dining Room Manager, Megan paid us special attention and ensured that our every wish was granted.  Starting the second night, we enjoyed most of our dinners with the ship’s doctor Richard and his wife Michelle — they were such nice people, and we enjoyed spending the evening with them on a regular basis.  The food served in the Manhattan Dining Room was fantastic.  It was a definite notch above the dinners I typically receive in the main dining room on cruise ships.  The steaks were cooked properly, the fish and pork dishes were fantastic, and the appetizers and soups were plentiful and tasty.  We found the menus each night to be varied and relevant, as fresh, local ingredients were used on regional specialties throughout the cruise.  All in all, dinner in the Manhattan Dining Room was a really special experience, and we looked forward to dining there throughout the cruise.  As I previously stated, the food was a cut above normal “cruise food” and seemed to be prepared for a much smaller group rather than a ship full of 1,800 guests.

Pinnacle Grill and Tamarind

On the formal nights, we dined in two of the three specialty restaurants.  The first formal night, we chose to eat in the Pinnacle Grill.  The Pinnacle Grill is the upscale steakhouse aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam.  Though it carries a $29 cover fee, it is well worth it.  The menu features an impressive selection of steaks and seafood.  I ordered the rib eye, which was excellent, and my girlfriend had the filet mignon.  The filet literally melted in your mouth, and was one of the better tasting filets I’ve enjoyed anywhere.  We also had the opportunity to have lunch in the Pinnacle Grill on the last day of the cruise ($10) where I had a fantastic shrimp cocktail and a delicious Wagyu beef burger.  The last two formal nights, we dined in the ship’s Asian-Fusion restaurant, Tamarind ($20).  The food here was simply exquisite.  The appetizers and soups were extremely good.  On various occasions, we enjoyed the mixed satays, potstickers, pho, tempura fried shrimp, and spring rolls for appetizers.  The first trip there, I ordered the excellent Penang Red Currty Coconut Chicken, and the second time I had the Wasabi and Soy Crusted Beef Tenderloin.  For desert, the tempura fried ice cream is not to be missed!  The tenderloin, along with the appetizers and aforementioned fried ice cream was one of the best meals I’ve had in my life — anywhere, and certainly the best I’ve had on a ship.  The day we arrived in Argostoli, my girlfriend and I enjoyed a dim sum lunch in Tamarind, and it was also exceptional.

The Lido Restaurant

The other main food venue on the Nieuw Amsterdam was the Lido Restaurant.  This was the ship’s buffet area, and it was split into several distinct food serving sections.  For breakfast, the had a fantastic eggs benedict bar, where one could choose from eight types of eggs benedict; a fresh eggs / omelet bar; several traditional breakfast buffet lines; a fresh Belgian waffle line, and a continental breakfast area complete with every bread, pastry, and fruit one could imagine.  I especially enjoyed the eggs benedict bar along with the waffles.  For lunch, the area changed with choices for a varying “Taste of Nations” line, two traditional lunch lines, two salad bars lines, an Italian / Mexican line, and of course pizza.  Though we only had lunch in Lido a few times (we were in port during lunch on most days), I really enjoyed the Taste of Nations — particularly their Asian specialties.  Overall, the food in the Lido was varied, fresh, and delicious.  The presentation in the buffet lines was clean and appetizing — it was an extremely good option for a meal onboard the Nieuw Amsterdam.

Canaletto and Dive In

We did not try the ship’s specialty Italian restaurant, Canaletto simply because we found it pointless to eat Italian food on a ship full of so many different options, on a cruise that started and ended… in Italy.  On the other hand, we did eat at the “Dive-In” Burger Bar on a few occasions and found them to prepare a very tasty burger.  They utilize a pager operation at “Dive-In” which allows one to go relax at their table until the food is ready.

Room Service

We utilized room service for the majority of our breakfasts, as we enjoyed having coffee and a light breakfast in our suite or on the balcony.  Breakfast always arrived on time, though they did have problems grasping the concept of leaving the food in the butler’s pantry instead of coming through the main door, waking everyone up.  We also arranged for room service to provide appetizers on several occasions prior to dinner.  One one evening, we even ordered some appetizers from Tamarind and Pinnacle, and they were delicious (there was obviously a cost for this).  They really did their best to satisfy our requests throughout the week, as we had some pretty abnormal requests, such as a plate of nachos!

As previously mentioned, the food on this ship was probably the best I’ve had on any cruise.  It certainly was better than the food we had on my last Holland America cruise, and blows away the notion that cruise food is relatively bland since it’s mass-produced.  We found the cuisine onboard to be consistently excellent.

Service

Service aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam truly was top-notch.  From our room stewards, to the concierge team, to the dining room waiters, to the dining room managers, to the bartenders and cocktail waiters — the service was simply spectacular.  Our two room stewards, Mugi and Daniel kept our large suite spotless.  They were friendly and accommodated all of our special requests.  The concierge team of Chris and Nickolai were fantastic.  Again, they went out of their way to ensure that all of our needs were met.  One of them was always available in the Neptune Lounge, and they arranged for everything from dinner reservations to spa treatments to in-room dining.  As previously mentioned, the dining room service was impeccable.  The Assistant Dining Room Manager, Megan literally couldn’t do enough for us.  He personally delivered a plate of fresh asparagus and spinach to the table nightly with a smile, since we’d asked for it on one occasion.  He also arranged for a private tour of the kitchen, led by Petr, the Executive Chef.  I know this was likely because we were guests in the Pinnacle Suite, but it was really appreciated and special, nonetheless.

The same sort of friendly service was found from all the bartenders and cocktail waiters.  They went out of their way to get to know us during the cruise.  Our favorite cocktail waiters, Roland and Fritz greeted us with smiles and conversation on a daily basis.  Again, the service aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam was consistently excellent for the entire cruise.

Entertainment

We really didn’t partake in too much of the entertainment on board, simply because we enjoyed very long dinners and we were dead tired and ready to go to bed on almost a nightly basis.  However, one of the highlights onboard was the Piano Bar, where we enjoyed a drink on several different occasions.  We did see one of the production shows, and it was pretty good — my girlfriend especially enjoyed it.  One evening, we stopped in to see the comedian, but he wasn’t all that great.  On most evenings, we’d have a post-dinner drink in one of the many bars onboard, but usually we ended up in the Piano Bar as previously mentioned.  I did enjoy the casino on a couple of the nights — it wasn’t that large, but plenty big for the ship.  We did partake in one of the “pub crawls” and had a great time despite the paltry attendance of only six guests!

All in all, I’d rate the entertainment on the Nieuw Amsterdam as adequate.  While the entertainment is nowhere near the elaborate shows and non-stop energy found on Royal Caribbean and Carnival, it was certainly plenty for this itinerary and clientele.

Gym / Spa

The Greenhouse Spa and fitness center is located on Lido deck forward, with large windows and a wrap-around view off the front of the ship. I used the fitness center three times on the trip and found it adequate.  I primarily use dumbbells, and they had weights up to 75 pounds, though the lifting area was very small.  This wasn’t too much of a problem since I seemed to be the only person in the area.  Treadmills were plentiful, though they seemed to be almost always occupied by people walking slowly — isn’t that what the wrap around promenade deck is for?

My girlfriend had two treatments at the Greenhouse spa, and seemed to enjoy both of them.  On the first day at sea, she enjoyed a massage, which was preceded by an hour or so in the impressive Thelassotherapy pool and steam room.  On the day we arrived in Istanbul, she got a manicure, and seemed to like that too.  The only negative she mentioned was the price of the manicure seemed to be a bit exorbitant, which can be expected on a cruise ship.

Ship

The four-year old Nieuw Amsterdam is a beautiful ship.  At 935 feet long and 86,700 gross registered tons, she is by no means a small cruise ship, but at the same time, she’s nowhere near being as large as most of the ships our there these days.  This mid-sized ship and relatively low passenger count (1,800 on this cruise) made for a ship that really never felt crowded.  Not once did I wait in line onboard, nor did I have to wait for an elevator.  The Lido Restaurant never had lines except for the first day after embarkation when everyone seems to head straight to the Lido for lunch.  The size of this ship is really just perfect.

The Nieuw Amsterdam is filled with an impressive art collection.  Rich with art at seemingly every turn, one could really pass time checking out the various paintings and pictures that adorned the walls of hallways and public spaces.  Since it is, after all, the namesake of the Nieuw Amsterdam, New York City is the over-arching theme of the ship.  The atrium is adorned with a crystal, icicle-like sculpture of the Manhattan skyline, and the Explorers Lounge is adorned with a huge mural of the New York skyline in the 1930s. The colors on the ship are very nautical and earthy — certainly the antithesis to the Joe Farcus-designed interiors of Carnival.  The interior of the Nieuw Amsterdam had a very classic and elegant feel — I really enjoyed my time onboard this beautiful vessel.

Of its twelve bars onboard, my favorite was the Silk Den.  Located on deck 11, it features panoramic, 180-degree views of the ocean on either side of the ship, and the pool deck.  It is decorated in an Asian theme, and we found it to be relatively empty all week with fantastic waiters.  This was our go-to spot for pre-dinner drinks.  I do love the Crow’s Nest Lounge as well, but it seemed to be the most crowded lounge on the entire ship.  We also really enjoyed the enclosed Lido Pool area.  Since the weather was somewhat chilly (60-degrees) for a large part of the cruise, the retractable roof was closed atop the mid-ship pool.  This created a nice, relaxing, and open space where we enjoyed a few lunches and beers.  One of the great features aboard Holland America ships is the wrap around promenade deck that fully encircles the ship.  It’s a great deck on which to take an evening stroll as the world goes by.

Since this was, of course, Holland America, the average age of fellow guests onboard was rather… seasoned.  My girlfriend and I were pretty clearly the youngest couple onboard.  Though there were a few families with children, probably 90% of the passengers onboard were over the age of 60.

In its entirety, the Nieuw Amsterdam is a very manageable ship — it’s not too big, and not too small.  It’s an extremely pretty ship inside and out.  I wouldn’t hesitate to cruise her again in the future!

Overall

The whole experience was fantastic.  The Nieuw Amsterdam is a really special ship with a very warm, attentive, and amazing crew.  The service and cuisine were equality excellent, as was the incredible 12-night itinerary.  Holland America excels at providing a traditional cruise experience with superior service, food, and onboard experience, and the Nieuw Amsterdam certainly lived up to — and exceeded that standard of excellence.  I cannot recommend this ship and cruise enough!

Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam: Sailing into Venice

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


Join me as I chronicle my journey through the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and Aegean Seas on our 12-night “Mediterranean Empires” cruise aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam. The next few blog entries will detail the various ports of call we visited during the cruise…

May 12 – At Sea

After seven ports in eight days, we were pretty exhausted and ready for a day off at sea.  We spent most of the morning hours before meeting the Dining Room Manager for a private tour of the kitchen.  It was a pretty impressive operation.  After that, we dined in The Pinnacle Grill for lunch before heading back to the balcony for a relaxing afternoon of the coast of Croatia.  Dinner that evening was had again at Tamarind, where I had one of the best meals I’ve experienced — anywhere.  More on that later.

May 13 – Venice, Italy

Another unique feature of this cruise was the overnight in Venice before we disembarked the cruise.  Since the ship was set to arrive around noon, this allowed for the better part of a day and an entire evening in Venice where we could use the ship as our hotel room before disembarking.

The arrival into Venice was simply stunning.  We had perfect weather as we sailed past St. Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal to the cruise port on the northwest tip of Venice.

The view from our suite’s balcony was just amazing.

Upon arrival in Venice, we had a quick lunch on the ship before exploring Venice for the afternoon.  We planned to meet my Aunt and Uncle at San Marco around 5:30pm where we took the Vaporatto to the Lido.  Before that, the two of use decided to cheese it up by taking a gondola ride.  Though very expensive, we felt it was worth it for the experience – even if it was the ultimate tourist trap.  After meeting the Aunt and Uncle and motoring our to the Lido, we explored the town for about an hour, which was highlighted by a trip to the beach club and Adriatic Sea, where my girlfriend was able to dip her toes into the water.  We then shared a great meal of bruschetta, mozzarella, pasta, and pizza at a nice local restaurant named Pizzeria Ai Do Mati in Lido.

We decided to take the Vaporetto back to Pi’azzle Roma through the Grand Canal.  This was a beautiful hour and five-minute run through the Grand Canal at night.  It was well worth the extra time to get to experience motoring through the canal.  We took the short, people mover back to the cruise terminal, where we boarded the ship to pack our bags and take in a final night’s sleep onboard the Nieuw Amsterdam.

 May 14 – Venice, Italy

We awoke to a beautiful, Venetian morning where we disembarked the ship around 7am, and had our driver waiting to take my Aunt and Uncle to Venice-Marco Polo airport for their flights back to Washington-Dulles via Frankfurt and London.  The driver of the private mini-bus then took my girlfriend and I out to Treviso airport for our Ryanair flight to Dublin!  We booked this transfer through Airports Shuttle Express, and the experience was first-class, all the way.  The customer service was fantastic, punctual and friendly, and the mini-bus was exactly what we wanted.  It really made for an easy transfer from the ship to the airport.

We were incredibly sad that our amazing cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam had come to an end, but eagerly awaited the adventure that awaited us in Ireland.

Next Stop:  Dublin, Ireland

Coming later:  A full review of the cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam

Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam: Santorini and Argostoli

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


Join me as I chronicle my journey through the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and Aegean Seas on our 12-night “Mediterranean Empires” cruise aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam. The next few blog entries will detail the various ports of call we visited during the cruise…

May 10 – Santorini, Greece

We awoke early in the morning to witness the scenic entrance into the harbor near Fira, Santorini.  It was beautiful, as we passed the gorgeous town of Oia before stopping in the caldera and natural harbor below the town of Fira.  Since there is no pier, this is also a tender port, but we utilized the local Santorini tenders to take us to the base of the mountain.  Here, one can either walk the over 900 steep steps up to the town of Fira, or they can spend €5 each way for a donkey ride up the steps or a tram up to the top.  We opted for the tram to the top of Fira, where views were spectacular.

We then hired a cab to drive us to Oia.  The drive to Oia was very scenic, but that was just warming us up for the town itself.  I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many, many places.  However, the town of Oia, and the views from the white buildings with blue roofs was probably the most beautiful, picturesque place to which I have ever been.

Ever.

There is one main market street in Oia with dozens of cafes and lodges that overlook the caldera and Aegean Sea.  The views are simply spectacular.

After a brief, 45-minute visit to Oia, our cab driver took us clear to the other side of the island to one of the black beaches, in Kamari.  What we found here was a cute little beach town full of bars, restaurants, beach shops, and boutiques.  The beaches themselves are black beaches – make up of volcanic rock.  We ventured down to the water to dip our feet in the Aegean for the first time.  Since the water was too cold to swim, we settled down at a café overlooking the beach for a beer before cabbing back to the town of Fira.

By the time we returned to Fira, the shops were setup in full swing, and my girlfriend enjoyed popping into the various boutiques.  We met my Aunt and Uncle at a beautiful café that was perched on the cliff overlooking the caldera and our ship.  After a couple of beers, we decided on a cheap, delicious gyro lunch from one of the many street food vendors in Fira.    Sadly, we departed Santorini at 3:30, so we had to get back to the ship and didn’t get to witness a sunset from the famous setting of Oia.  On the return, we decided to take the stairs.  It as a relatively easy, twenty-minute descent, but you did need to move a lot to avoid the donkeys…. and donkey poop.  At the bottom of the hill, we were walking past a herd of donkeys, when one decided to buck, and kicked me right in the shin.  Luckily, it didn’t kick much higher, but nonetheless, I was the recipient of a nice bruise on my shin.  It could have been much worse, I suppose.

Overall, Santorini was by far our favorite port of the cruise.  I certainly plan to return to Santorini to spend several days in the future.

May 11 – Argostoli, Cephalonia, Greece

We had a late arrival in Argostoli – the largest city on the Ionian island of Cephalonia.  Unfortunately, our short time in port of only 4.5 hours did not leave us enough time to explore one of the famous beaches or caverns of Cephalonia.   Luckily, the town was pleasant enough.  We didn’t do much at all in Argostoli, other than exploring the town, shopping, and having a few beers.  We did stop for a snack of fried feta and tzatziki at a restaurant about two blocks to the west of the pier before we went back onboard.

I’d love to visit Cephalonia in the future, and I’d certainly suggest for the cruise lines to spend considerably more time on the island, as the island itself has the potential to be an absolute highlight of the itinerary.

Next stop:  Venice (again)…

 

 

Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam: Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


Join me as I chronicle my journey through the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and Aegean Seas on our 12-night “Mediterranean Empires” cruise aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam. The next few blog entries will detail the various ports of call we visited during the cruise…

May 6 – Istanbul, Turkey

After spending the majority of the day at sea cruising through the Dardanelles, we approached Istanbul from the west at about 3pm.  The approach into Istanbul was beautiful, and I enjoyed pointing our parts of Istanbul to my girlfriend, Aunt, and Uncle.  I previously spent time in Istanbul about a year ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Because of this, I really looked forward to returning on this trip.

We ultimately didn’t dock until around 5pm due to high winds, but when we did my girlfriend and I disembarked and walked into town directly to the Galata Bridge.  We had the fortune at docking at the cruise ship birth closest to the Galata Tower and Bridge, so the location was extremely convenient.  After viewing the fishermen from the Galata Bridge, we proceeded to the Egyptian Bizzare – or Spice Bizzare to see the sights, sounds, and smells of the place.  Overrun with spice merchants, vibrant colors and smells filled the air making for a pretty intense setting.  Ater this, we walked back across the bridge, and up the hill to Galata Tower for a panoramic view of Istanbul.  As the timing worked out, we were up on Galata Tower right around sunset, which made for some amazing pictures.

We then continued up the hill to the Galata area.  We explored the side streets full of bars and cafes, and came upon a few of the bars that I’d been to last year on my trip to Istanbul with friends.  We started back towards the ship before stopping for a Turkish dinner of kebab and Turkish pizza.  It was tasty as always.  We returned to the ship around 9:30pm where the ship was putting on a Turkish Bazaar dinner up on board – they really did a nice job with it though we did not partake.

May 7 – Istanbul, Turkey

This was a unique port of call for a cruise since we were docked in Istanbul overnight.  The overnight call aspect of the cruise was one of the most attractive features of the trip for us.   Having been to Istanbul before, I had a pretty good idea of a proper tour itinerary for my girlfriend, aunt, and uncle that next morning.  We decided to take the tram to the Sultanahmet stop – a short, ten minute trip (for €3 per person, each way).  Here, we toured the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and Sistern Basilica.  Entrance to the Blue Mosque is free, but we did have to wait in line for about a half an hour before being allowed to enter and take pictures.  The view inside was amazing as usual, and  reminds me of the cover of my high school World History textbook.  Next, we walked over to the Hagia Sofia, but decided not to enter due to the massive line to get in.  Entrance would have been €10 per person had we decided to brave the line.  I did go inside the Hagia Sofia on my last trip to Istanbul, and in my opinion, it would have been worth the wait.

Alas, the rest of the group didn’t want to wait, so we headed across the street to the Sistern Basilica.  Entrance to the Sistern was also ten euros per person.  I quite enjoyed this last time, and I did on this trip as well.  It’s a dimly lit cavern full of water and yellow and red lighting.  We then proceeded to the Grand Bazaar, which was only about a ten minute walk from the Sultanahmet area.  As usual, the Grand Bazaar was utter chaos – not quite my cup of tea, but the ladies wanted to get some shopping in.  We took a quick break for a lunch of doner kebap before taking the tram back to the ship in time for our scheduled 5pm departure.  The sail away from Istanbul was simply beautiful as we passed Istanbul landmarks like the Galata Bridge, Topapki Palace, Hagia Sofia, and Blue Mosque.  That evening, we enjoyed appetizers in the room before our dinner at Tamarind — the specialty Asian Fusion restaurant onboard.

May 8 – Mitilini, Lesbos, Greece

We awoke the following morning off the shore of Lesbos – a Greek Island just off the west coast of Turkey.  The ship was anchored about a mile off shore, so we utilized the ship’s tenders to transport passengers into town.  Mitilini is a picturesque, Greek fishing village centered around a harbor.  It really reminded me of the harbor in Georgetown, Grand Cayman about twenty years ago before the high rise buildings.  The harbor is lined with cafes that turn into nightclubs at night.  Since Mitilini is apparently a college town, these seemingly sleepy cafes convert into a raging nightclub scene after dark (or so we were told).  We enjoyed several beers and shots of ouzo at a couple different cafes in Mitiline before and after a stroll down the main shopping / market area of the town.  The ouzo was a must since Lesbos is where the Greek drink originated!  We decided against an organized tour to another location or beach on the rather large island, and this port served as a leisurely break in between the two, tour-intensive Turkish ports of call.

May 9 – Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey

Kusadasi is one of two port cities used by cruise lines to access the ancient city of Ephesus.  It is the much closer of the two ports (Ismir), and it is only about a twenty minute cab ride from the pier in Kusadasi to Ephesus.  We arranged a cab at the pier as transportation to Ephesus for a total of €60, round-trip.  The drive from Kusadasi to Ephesus is very scenic, as you hug the rugged coastline for most of the 15km trip.  Upon arriving in Ephesus, we paid an entrance fee to the ruins.  The ruins themselves were spectacular.  The pictures below speak for themselves.  Highlights of the ruins included the Terrace Houses (extra entrance fee), and the Great Arena, which held up to 25,000 spectators.

After spending about an hour and a half at the ruins, our cab driver drove us back to Kusadasi, where we briefly walked through the town bizarre before having a Turkish lunch at Toros, right on the harbor.  The kebab lunch was fresh and delicious.

Kusadasi itself functions as a major beach resort town on the Turkish coast.  The coastline, the beaches, and water are beautiful in Kusadasi.  The Turkish coast as a whole is renowned for some of the finest beachest anywhere on the Mediterranean, and this is certainly a region to which I’d love to return.

Next stop:  Santorini, Greece…

 

Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam: Katakolon and Athens

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


Join me as I chronicle my journey through the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and Aegean Seas on our 12-night “Mediterranean Empires” cruise aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam.  The next few blog entries will detail the various ports of call we visited during the cruise…

We sailed out of Venice in the middle of a thunderstorm, forcing us to relocate from the open decks at the top of the ship to the our balcony.  Though it was dreary out, we still had some beautiful views of the rooftops of Venice as we sailed out of the picturesque city.

May 3 – At Sea

The first full day on the ship was spent at sea.   After a breakfast of eggs Benedict on the balcony, I headed off to the gym and then to explore the ship with my girlfriend.  The rest of the day was spent lounging around while she enjoyed her spa treatments.  This was the first formal night, and we dined in the Pinnacle Grill — one of two specialty restaurants onboard.  The Pinnacle Grill is an upscale steakhouse serving prime cuts of meat and amazing appetizers.  I ordered the rib eye, which was excellent.  Others ordered the filet mignon, and I go to have a few bites.  It was simply perfect — one of the best filets I’ve had anywhere.  The cost of the meal is $29 per person, and this is WELL worth it, as a comparable meal on land would run well over $150 each.  We were pretty much beat after dinner, so we headed back to the suite after a couple of drinks in the piano bar for some good rest before the barrage of ports ensued the following morning.

May 4 – Katakolon, Greece

We awoke to breakfast being delivered in our suite just after the sun came up.  As the fog burned off, we watched as the Nieuw Amsterdam docked in the port of Katakolon, Greece.  This town is a small fishing village that serves as the hopping off port for Olympia – the site of the ancient Olympic Games.  Though several tours were offered through the ship, we opted to head to Olympia on our own.  We bought a round-trip train ticket from Katakolon to Olympia for €10 each and arrived in Olympia 40 minutes later.  Olympia itself is a cute, clean Greek town with a number of sidewalk cafes, restaurants, and shops.  We walked through the town in the middle of a light drizzle to the entrance of the Olympia archaeological site where entrance was €6 apiece.  Here, we viewed the excavated ruins of the ancient Olympic Games.  The highlight of this site was the original Olympic Stadium where my girlfriend and I ran a lap on the original 440 meter “track” which more resembles a couple of dirt football fields back to back.

We were done viewing the ruins after about an hour.  Unfortunately, we still had about two and a half hours before our scheduled train was to leave.  So, we did the only logical thing – we hopped a bus that we thought may go in the right direction.

The driver spoke pretty much no English, but the only thing he could say was “Pyrgos.”  We knew Pyrgos was a city a little more than halfway between Olympia and Katakolon, so we hopped the bus to see how that would work out – the price was right, at about €1.20 each.  About 35 minutes later, we disembarked at the bus station in Pyrgos – a large, somewhat dirty town about 10 kilometers from Katakolon.  There was another bus to Katakolon an hour later, but we opted for a taxi, who thought he was Sabastian Vettel.  This guy was flying down the road at over 140kph, and had us in Katakolon in no time.  This was a great adventure to get us back to the ship, and was much more fun than the standard bus tour shore excursion offered by Holland America.

Upon arrival back into Katakolon, we found a nice restaurant called “Arhipelagos Fish Tavern” (this is directly from their business card, which may or may not have had a typo) right on the harbor where we enjoyed a lunch of gyros, fried cheese, greek salad, and a few beers (as well as free wifi).  This made for a great early afternoon before we headed back to the ship.  We enjoyed champagne and beer in our private hot tub on the balcony as the ship set sail from Katakolon — not a bad way to spend an afternoon!

May 5 – Piraeus (Athens), Greece

I awoke to the hustle and bustle of a very industrial port swarming with ferry activity.  This port – Piraeus is the port neighborhood of Athens.  Athens is a seemingly never-ending metropolis, and Piraeus is where the sea of white rooftops ends at the Aegean Sea.   We again opted against taking a ship-arranged tour, and set out on our own.  A cab driver approached us and offered a €20 ride to the Acropolis, which we thought was more than reasonable for the three of us.  After about a 20 minute ride through the lightly congested highways and streets of Athens, we arrived at the south entrance to the Acropolis.  We ascended the stairs to overlook the amphitheater, and eventually made it up to the famed Parthenon.  We walked all around the Parthenon and Temple of Athena, taking dozens of pictures of the recovered ruins and stunning vistas of Athens that were aided by picture perfect weather and blue skies.

Once we deemed that we’d seen enough, we walked down the north side of the Acropolis, stopping at a café  for a few beers in the Anafiotika neighborhood on one of the steep, narrow streets lined with cafes and restaurants.  This shady and picturesque street (Mnisikleous Str.) made for a great place to rest the legs, relax with a drink, and check up on e-mail with wifi.  We really enjoyed ourselves at Anafiotika over these couple of hours.  After this, we headed down to the main shopping area in Athens before stopping for a quick gyro lunch.  We decided to take the metro back to Piraeus since it was a straight shot (about 4-5 stops) and only a couple of euros a person.  The train station is about a twenty-minute walk from the ship, but that wasn’t a problem at all.  Upon arriving back in the room, we all crashed for an hour nap before enjoying the sail out of Piraeus into the deep blue Aegean Sea from the comfort of our balcony.

 Next port of call:  Istanbul, Turkey…

 

Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam: Intro, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


The Nieuw Amsterdam on a rainy day in Venice

The Nieuw Amsterdam on a rainy day in Venice

We arrived at the Venice port on a rainy afternoon by water taxi from the Boscolo Venezia.  There in port was Holland America Line‘s newest ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam.  Though I’ve been on dozens of cruises before, I was especially looking forward to this trip because of with whom I was traveling, the incredible itinerary, and the fact that we were booked in the Pinnacle Suite — the largest room on the ship!

As previously mentioned, my girlfriend and I were lucky enough to be invited on this cruise with my Aunt and Uncle.  They take a cruise every year and always invite me, but for some reason or another, I haven’t been able to go.  This year, the dates worked perfectly for my vacation, the cruise went to all new places for me (other than Istanbul), and it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up — so we took them up on their offer!

This was my 34th cruise overall and fourth on Holland America, while it was my girlfriend’s first cruise of any kind.  My Aunt and Uncle have been taking about a cruise per year for the last decade, and it was their second trip with Holland America.  The bulk of my previous cruises were to the Caribbean and Bahamas, as this was my first cruise in Europe.

Itinerary

This particular cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam was a 12-night “Mediterranean Empires” itinerary.  As it was a very port-intensive cruise, we knew we’d need to savor the relaxation that comes with the at-sea days since other than that, it would be a non-stop parade of one port after another.

This cruise sailed us from Venice to Katakolon, Greece — a port city with access to Olympia, the home of the ancient Olympic Games.  The next day the Nieuw Amsterdam took us to Piraeus, Greece — the port city and access point for Athens.  The fourth day of the cruise included a morning cruising of the Dardanelles with an afternoon arrival in Istanbul.  A unique feature of this cruise was that the ship stayed overnight in Istanbul, and did not leave until the following evening, giving us a full 26 hours in one of my favorite cities.  The morning after leaving Istanbul, the Nieuw Amsterdam called at Mitilini on the island of Lesbos, Greece.  The following day was in Kusadasi, Turkey — a Turkish beach town and access point to the ancient city of Ephesus.  The next two days featured a stop in Fira on the picturesque island of Santorini followed by a call at Argostoli, Cephalonia in the Ionian Greek Isles.  Finally, after seven straight ports of call, we had a second and last day at sea before arriving back into Venice where we spent the day and night before disembarking the following morning.

As usual with cruises, most ports featured calls from about 8pm to 5pm, so it provided a good sampler of the Greek Islands and Turkey.  The fact that overnights in Istanbul and Venice were included was just icing on the cake for this robust itinerary.

The Nieuw Amsterdam

Nieuw Amsterdam in Santorini

Nieuw Amsterdam in Santorini

Built in 2010, the Nieuw Amsterdam is Holland America Line’s newest and largest ship.  At around 86,700 gross registered tons, and over 935 feet long, she is a good sized ship, but not anywhere near the size of some of the mega cruise ships at sea today.  As such, there aren’t quite as many passengers, which generally results in better service and a higher standard for food onboard.  We certainly found this to be the case.  Unsurprisingly, the Nieuw Amsterdam had a New York City theme throughout the ship, with beautiful paintings and an impressive art collection spread throughout.   I’ve previously cruised the Oosterdam, which has the same basic layout as the Nieuw Amsterdam, so I was familiar with the ship immediately upon boarding, and served as “tour guide” for our party throughout the week.  I’ll get more into different aspects of the cruise with the full-fledged cruise review I’ll post at a later time.

The Pinnacle Suite

Though I’ve been on a cruise ship for over four months of my life, I’ve never cruised in such style as I did on this trip.   All of my cruises have been in standard inside or ocean view rooms, and on a few special occasions I had a balcony.  Our accommodations on this trip would be… just a tad better.

Yup, we were rocking Pinnacle Suite #7031.

The Nieuw Amsterdam features two “Pinnacle Suites” that each measure a whopping 1,357 square feet — almost 7 times the size of a standard balcony cabin – and larger than my apartment back in Virginia.  Needless to say, we had plenty of room.

We were escorted onboard by a personal concierge immediately upon arrival at the port in Venice, and this personalized service did not stop for the entire twelve nights.  As we initially entered our suite, we walked through our foyer and were greeted by multiple bottles of champagne, a huge fruit plate, and two plates of canapés.

Past the foyer, there is a dining room table for four with a desk and mini bar setup.  Located forward of this dining area is the living room area, complete with a sectional sofa, a large throne-like chair, and a full entertainment center with a flat-panel television, DVD player, and Bose sound system.  A king bed pulled out of the wooden cabinet beneath the television, and this is where my girlfriend and I slept.

The master bedroom is located on the other side of the dining room, and is separated from the rest of the suite by double doors.  Inside the suite, there is a huge king sized bed, plenty of desk space, and a full vanity.  The master bath includes a double sink, jacuzzi tub with separate shower, and a very large walk-in closet that had plenty of room for the four of us.  A separate half bath is located off the foyer, across from a butler pantry with sink, microwave, and full refrigerator.

The highlight of the room was a massive verandah that was accessed through a pair of sliding glass doors.  The verandah featured two padded chaise lounge chairs, a table for al fresco dining with seating for four including a sofa in a carved out, teak wood vestibule, two other chairs, and a hot-tub.

Yes — we had our own private hot-tub on our private verandah.

It was awesome.

The service we received all week was phenomenal due in part to the team of concierges we had for the cruise.  We could see these two, and they were happy to fulfill any wish that we had.  I can’t say enough about the room.  It was truly a special experience, but it may have ruined cruising for me!  It’ll certainly be difficult to go back to a “normal” room on a future cruise, but I’m sure I’ll manage.  Whatever the case, I can’t express how thankful I am that my Aunt and Uncle included us on their vacation — it truly was an experience of a lifetime.

More on the cruise to follow, including the ports and a full-fledged cruise review…

 

Back from Europe

After almost three weeks, I’m back from Europe!  Unfortunately, I was unable to provide regular updates on the blog due to the prohibitive expense and slowness of the Internet on our cruise ship.  As much as I wanted to get some blog posts out there, the $0.75 per minute cost just wasn’t going to happen.  Additionally, the slow speeds would have made posting pictures pretty much impossible.

Luckily, I did spend quite a bit of time during the trip chronicling my journey.  I have several posts already written — all I need to do is edit and add some pictures.  Hopefully I’ll get a few of those out this week.  I’ll leave this short note with a few teaser pics of US Airways Business Class, our Pinnacle Suite on Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam, and the return trip in business class of Aer Lingus’ newly acquired 757.

US Airways Envoy, Aer Lingus Business Class, and the Pinnacle Suite on Holland America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam

US Airways Envoy, Aer Lingus Business Class, and the Pinnacle Suite on Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam

Stay tuned…

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland – Introduction

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


A few months ago, I had a tentative trip to Europe planned over St. Patrick’s Day when my Aunt and Uncle invited my girlfriend and I to take a cruise with them in May.  Since vacation has become a somewhat limited commodity for me lately (I’ve burnt almost all my vacation time), I decided to nix the trip in March in favor of this cruise.

In my previous life, I worked for a major cruise line, and was borderline obsessed with cruises.  When I was young, my family typically took cruise vacations since it was just easy, everyone enjoyed it, and the family could have dinner together every night.  All these cruises added up, and now looking back, it’s pretty clear that I’ve taken an obscene amount of cruises — this will be my thirty-fourth cruise.  With that said, it’s been about two and a half years since my last one, so I guess I’m due for another one.

12-Day Mediterranean Empires cruise from Holland America Line

This particular cruise is on Holland America Line’s newest ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam.    Having sailed with Holland America on three previous occasions, I know to expect impeccable service, good food, a beautiful ship, and generally an older crowd.  The thing that popped out to me about this cruise was the great 12-night itinerary — out of the eight ports of call, I’ve only previously been to one — Istanbul.

I’ve always wanted to sample some of the Greek Islands, so this cruise will really allow me to do so!  Another cool thing about this particular itinerary is that it spends the night in both Istanbul and Venice at the tail end of the trip.  This is somewhat unusual for a cruise, and it’s an aspect that I really do like since it  allows us to sample some of the great nightlife in Istanbul,and to spend a relaxed final evening in Venice.  An added bonus is that I have a very generous Aunt and Uncle who invited us to stay in the Pinnacle Suite — the largest room on the ship.  I’ve never stayed in a suite on a cruise before, so this will be extra-special.

 

Pinnacle Suite Photo Credit:  Holland America Line

Pinnacle Suite
Photo Credit: Holland America Line

Tomorrow, we will depart Washington-National Airport for Venice via Philadelphia on US Airways in their Envoy Suites business class.  We will spend two days before the cruise in Venice, and will stay at the Boscolo Venezia, thanks to a low rate, and the use of some Marriott points.  Following the cruise, we decided to spend some time in Ireland before flying back to the States.  During our four days in Ireland, we plan to hit up Dublin, Galway, the Arann Islands, Cliffs of Mohr, and Shannon.  Since I am using British Airways Avios for our Trans-Atlantic segment on, I am exploiting one of the sweet-spots on their award chart by flying home from Ireland on Aer Lingus — in this case, Shannon to Boston.

Over the next couple weeks, I will be making a number of posts covering various aspects of this trip.  Of course, I’ll hit on US Airways Envoy Suites, the Boscolo Venezia, the cruise itself along with the ports of call, our experience on Ryanair from Treviso to Dublin, our Ireland Adventure, and the flight back to the States on Aer Lingus.   As Internet is limited on board (I’m not going to pay the absurd Internet charges on the ship), my blog posts will be somewhat intermittent over the next couple of weeks.  Here’s a pretty picture of our flights:

DCA-PHL-VCE, TSF-DUB, SNN-BOS-DCA    Red: US Airways; Yellow: Ryanair; Green: Aer Lingus

Stay tuned for a post on what it took to plan this trip, as well as several posts that will log our journey!