Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The High Seas of the Mediterranean

I am writing this offline while in our stateroom on the ms Rotterdam. Flagship of Holland American Lines, this is our home for the next 15 nights. We booked the cheapest, last minute fare for an inside cabin, only $599 per person ($705 including all taxes & fees but excluding tips). Compared to a relatively quick, one-way flight home (approx. $250pp flying standby on Delta), this seemed like the far more adventurous option!
The Rotterdam holds only 1,316 guests and 593 crew, small by today's megaship standards. Our inside stateroom on the Main Deck (level 2) is plenty spacious at almost 200 square meters. Despite emailing guest services prior to departure to inform them that we are on honeymoon, this is Greg's first cruise, etc., we did not receive an upgrade nor any special welcome. Initially disappointed, after two rough nights of sailing from Civitavecchia, Italy to Ajaccio, Corsica and then on to Barcelona, Spain, I am now quite thankful for our stateroom's location low and in the middle of the ship.
The embarkation process did not go as smoothly as I expected based on previous experience. It turns out that the ship had to be thoroughly sanitized due to a recent outbreak of gastrointestinal illness. In addition, service procedures have been modified to minimize the risk of person-to-person spread of illness, so, for example, the normal self-service buffet is currently full service, the pool & hot tub are closed, and library books, magazines & newspapers are quarantined.
Once onboard, we explored the ship from top to bottom before we left Civitavecchia. It started pouring rain shortly after we set sail and, by dinnertime, the ship was rocking along in the open waters of the Mediterranean. I managed to make it through dinner, a game of free bingo, and an introductory performance in the Showroom at Sea without getting sick (I was wearing my Sea Bands from the minute we left port). However I did not get much sleep the first night due to the "unbalanced" feeling.
The weather was nice & warm for our port call at Ajaccio on Monday and Greg & I enjoyed exploring the "birth city of Napoleon" on foot for a few hours. Upon returning to the ship we joined about 100 other cruisers for the "Team Trivia Challenge", in which our team of six placed a respectable 3rd by answering 9 out of 15 questions correctly. We also found out that the average age of all the people on our ship (excluding crew) is 65. HAL is known for attracting an older crowd and this cruise is no exception. But we chose this specific cruise for the itinerary, not to party with people our age.
Since the second evening was formal night (one of four during our cruise), we had to eat in the Lido (buffet) Restaurant as we chose not to bring (or rent) formal attire. Again the ship was rocking to the point that our water glasses were sliding across the dining table. It continued to get worse as we got further out to sea, so I took a second dose of Sea Calm (25mg Meclizine HCL, dispensed for free from reception) and retired to our stateroom. We "rented" a movie, The Good German, and laid low for the rest of the evening.
Arriving in Barcelona around 8am this morning, the captain of our ship made an announcement apologizing for the rough seas last night. In fact, the weather was much worse than forecast with 60-70 knot (69-80mph) winds. It was bad enough that they filled two water tanks to help act as a ballast to stabilize the ship and had to change directions so the ship could better "ride the waves." Luckily the Sea Calm worked like magic and I only woke around 2am during the worst of the swells when the bottles of wine in our room starting sliding around the desk and I had to get up to secure them.
Speaking of alcohol, HAL has a very liberal policy regarding carrying your own beverages on board. Many other cruise lines are very strict, allowing you to bring only one bottle of wine for the entire cruise (thus forcing you to pay a premium to drink their alcohol). Since the average beer is over $4 and mixed drinks are $5.75 & up, it is nice to be able to buy wine in port and carry it onboard to consume in our stateroom or even pour a glass and walk around the ship with it. There is an $18 corkage fee if we bring a bottle of wine to the dining room, so we just drink tap water with our meals.
Despite the rough seas, we are settling in to the cruise routine quite nicely. We'll be busy for another four days with port calls but then we have a full week (seven nights) at sea. I'm expecting the transatlantic crossing to be rough but hope I will feel well enough to catch up on more writing as well as participate in more of the fun activities offered all day long (cooking lessons, trivia, working out in the gym, evening shows, etc). We are trying not to overeat, which is difficult when there is so much good food available virtually 24/7. It helps to take a look at our fellow guests, most of whom are overweight!
Signing off for now so we can go ashore and find a free internet hotspot as well as stock up on supplies (wine, toiletries, etc.). I'll try to post again from our last port of call, Funchal, Madeira, in a few days.

The link to my photos from the cruise so far is embedded in this post's title.

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