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I took this cruise in May this year. The Noordam is a fabulous ship! The captain is terrific! The crew is wonderful! The ship is clean, clean, clean.
Here's the thing about this particular cruise, and I have been on many: This is an arduous trip! You will see 16 ports in 20 days! Your tongue will be hanging out! There are some ports where you can get off and walk around by yourself, but if you're not much of a walker, you will need to hop on a sightseeing bus, the hop on/hop off type. You should book tours in advance of the cruise for the best tours (whatever is important to you) because they do sell out.
If you want to really see Rome, see it a day before the cruise or a day after, because the one day in the middle of the cruise is not enough, and no matter how you get there, you're going to pay big bucks.
As to the meal times, there can be a problem if you don't have the late seating reserved. You can stand in line and wait for that on a standby basis in the main dining room at 8:00, but many times you won't get it. Virtually the same meal is served every night in the Lido, where you can just drop in and eat casually. The Pinnacle Grill has a very limited menu, though a huge steak you can order, but probably not worth it with all the other good "free" food on the ship. If worse comes to worse and you don't make it into the dining room on time, you can have the whole shebang sent to your room, just call room service and ask for a menu.
A balcony on this cruise is worth every cent. The views are incredible!!
There's rarely time to use the pool. It's not like a Caribbean cruise.
Be prepared to get up at 6 a.m. every morning no matter your previous time zone. The tours go out early. Order breakfast in your room so you're not so rushed. Let them be your wakeup call.
The trip to Pompeii is excruciating. It's a lot of ruins. The good stuff is all in the museum right there in Naples where the ship pulls up. But Naples has a garbage problem (or had one). Sorrento is beautiful and can be part of the Pompeii excursion. I wouldn't recommend this day for an older person because it's so strenuous once you finally get to Pompeii.
In Tunisia, beware the all-day trip because it's a long, long bus ride. The Bardo museum is wonderful, but the souk market is scary.
In Santorini, you can just pay to take the tram up to the top and look around. It's mostly tourist shops in narrow alleys, tons of tourists, but it's kind of cute. There are also donkeys there that will take you up if you want.
In Barcelona, get the hop on/hop off double-decker tour bus if you can. There are very detailed maps handed out of all the sites you'd want to see there, like the Gaudi cathedral, etc.
Malta's a good walking place. The cathedral is stupendous!
I'd say to try to limit your tours to the 4-hr. variety if possible, except for places like Ephesus. And for the 73-year-old, the walking most everywhere is treacherous - cobblestones, potholes, etc.
The tour guides vary greatly. Sometimes you can't understand them at all, sometimes they give you so much information you think your head will explode, sometimes they're just really funny or quirky. You should tip your tour guide, and sometimes you will want to tip the driver, too. If your tour guide is driving you nuts, and you know where your bus is and what time you're leaving, feel free to wander off and see the place on your own with peace and quiet. Be on time for your tours to leave because you may get a partially-filled bus. If you do get a partially-filled bus, go to the back where there may be open seats and you can have two seats to yourself and spread out.
The ship has a great computer room for e-mail and such, newspapers, a wonderful little library. The gift shop has some great sales, and you can buy a lot of interesting trinkets there to bring home for your friends, rather than paying the inflated prices in the ports - watch for the sales!
Take a few pieces of fruit or some muffins in your bag when you go out on your tours and always bring drinking water (which will cost you, but you buy it as you go out on tour for the day).
Bring a digital camera.
The pasta (made to order)and pizza (at least four different kinds) bar is almost always open late at night. It's delicious!
The lounges for drinks are real snoozers. Not many people participate in this. There's a disco thing going on late at night, but it's mostly young people. There's some singles gatherings, too, and a little fast-walking exercising that goes on on one of the lower decks every morning.
If you're going to the show, go before dinner, because you may miss it if you wait till after dinner. Dinner can last for over 1 1/2 hrs. because they serve in courses and you have to wait for everyone at your table to finish their course before you get the next one.
I thought the 4 p.m. tea with pastries and classical music ensemble was fabulous.
Beware of the art auction. Seriously think about whether you really, really want that. There's an urge to buy things (I can't explain it), but try to resist.
Somewhere in the trip a bill is slipped under your door, telling you what expenses you have run up. This includes $20 a day for each couple, plus all the bottled water you've bought so far, plus drinks (up to $8 per drink), wine at dinner, computer time, tour tickets, blah, blah, blah. It can leave you gasping, yet this is only a partial bill. Try to keep your expenses in mind throughout the whole trip. Keep in mind that you are going to spend $400 per couple for tips, and may even want to tip your room steward more at the end. Keep in mind that you have virtually paid for this trip already, give some thought to drinking the tap water and refilling your water bottles from there. Resist the urge to spend anything on anything.
Save those chocolates on your pillow and bring them home for the kids.
There are first-run movies in the theater and on TV that you would have to pay for at home. It's nearly impossible to make it to the theater because of the tours and dinner hour, though. You can see the front of the ship and the back of the ship on the TV. All the port lectures are on TV (almost continuously) and you will get the same thing as if you went to the lounge to see it live, so just sack out in your room and watch it there.
Use the ship's shampoo. It's great! Good bubbles and washes out quickly.
Beware of the laundry. They'll ruin your clothes!
Bring a lot of low-value Euros for tips and postcards. The ship runs out of the lower denominations. If you need ship's help at the main desk, try to visit them late at night when they aren't so busy. You can mail your postcards from there, and they sell stamps.
There's one point on the trip where you need to change the clock by an hour. Do this!! Then change your watch!! Then remember to change it back again when they tell you. If you don't do this, you're in port, you stay out too long, you WILL miss the ship!!
They'll give you a survey at the end where you can complain to your heart's content. Try not to be picky. Keep in mind what a feat it is for the cruise line to get all of you to all of these places in one piece.
Dress your feet for heavy-duty walking. I brought sandals but never wore them. I have heard that the heat is hellish in July. I went just as the rainy season was ending, it was pleasantly warm, sometimes a little chilly, but lots of tourists everywhere even then. Sometimes another cruise ship or two will pull into the same port at the same time, unleashing thousands of tourists into the exact same spot.
Don't be in a hurry to disembark on the last day. Stay in your cabin with your door open and listen for your number. Otherwise, you're going to be away from your bathroom, etc., and crowded in with a whole bunch of people for a long, long time. Order breakfast in your room.
Another little piece of advice: Regarding Florence, if you're planning to just pop over there to see the Uffuzi Gallery, forget it, because you need reservations.
Personally I prefer second sitting for dinner, as it gives you time to relax after you return from shore, rather than have to rush to get ready as soon as I get back on board. However I'm not much of a morning person, so this suits me. Others prefer to be up as early as possible so dont want to be dining too late in the evening. As for advice, do a bit of research before you go on your ports of call and decide what you want to do/see as a group. With a prty of yopur size using the ship's shore excursions could be very expensive. The ship will publish a daily programme of activities, so make sure you read this so that you dont miss out on the activities and entertainment that suit you best. Some ships also publish daily specials on theri porgrammes (eg spa treatments, cocktails of the day etc). Other than that just enjoy. Cruising is a fantastic experience and I'm sure you will all have a great time. there is always something going on to suit everybod.
I do not know where you will be docking but do some research first as all mediterranean cruises you can do your own thing once you get off the ship at half the price. Just give yourself tie to get back to the ship. For example when going to Rome from the Port you can very easily get a train. About a ten minute walk from the Port gates it will cost you about 9 euros each and taht covers all form of travel in Rome as well. You can do so much more. Being such a large group you may find you will have to split up and do your own thing at times. If you ask on this wesite about certain ports of call you will find taht people will give you loads of advice as to their experiences and what to do.
We went on a cruise to the carribbean for our 25th I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
We cruised last year with a 94 year old and a fourteen year old. We were with RCI but friends of ours regulalrly cruise with HA. You will not have any problems all ages are catered for - don't worry about that - there will never be a minute of the day you can't find something to do and there is almost one member of staff to every few folk so you will have nothing to worry about. I wouldn't have beleived it until I experienced it - its the best service I have ever encountered anywhere!