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: 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…