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: 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…

 

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!