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The Mediterranean With Holland America

On September 3, I boarded Holland America Line’s (HAL’s) Eurodam in Venice for a 12-night Mediterranean sailing that featured calls in seven different countries. Eurodam is one of the line’s newer and larger vessels, having entered service in 2008, and accommodates more than 2,100 guests. However, since HAL seems to keep all its ships in such exceptional shape, it is difficult to tell that they have not just emerged from the shipyard.

Of course, by itself, Venice is an incredible historic site, so we planned a precruise night and wandered around before embarkation to reacquaint ourselves with the city’s treasures. After a day at sea, our first three ports were Dubrovnik, Croatia, where we circled this most charming ancient city atop its famed walls; Kotor, in the picturesque mountainous country of Montenegro, which we explored on a fascinating tour, my first visit there; and Corfu, Greece, to see the Achillion Palace and the old city of Kérkira. Following a second relaxing “sea” day, we called at three ports in Italy. From Salerno, excursions were offered to Pompeii, Sorrento and the Isle of Capri, but I opted for simply acquainting myself with and photographing Salerno — a most interesting city — on foot. Next, having visited Rome on numerous occasions, we selected an alternative tour departing from its port town of Civitavecchia.

At Livorno, eight of us pooled our resources for an outstanding full-day “taxi” trip — actually, a most comfortable nine-passenger Mercedes-Benz van — to beautiful Florence. Included were a scenic drive through the hills and vineyards, a stop offering panoramic views of the city, five and a half hours to explore Florence on our own and a visit to Pisa to see the famed Leaning Tower before returning to the Eurodam. Next, a hop-on/hop-off double-decker bus proved ideal for viewing the numerous attractions of Monte Carlo, Monaco. In France, tours were available from Toulon to nearby Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, which we had seen before, so we opted for an excursion to the quaint hilltop village of Le Castellet and the seaside resort of Sanary. Our final stop was one of my favorite European cities, Barcelona, Spain.

As is the norm for HAL, shipboard accommodations, food, service, entertainment and the choice of activities and shore excursions were all generally excellent. A particular nicety was that whenever we were scheduled to sail from a port around the beginning of the dinner hours, an extensive outdoor buffet or barbecue featuring local specialties was offered. And, as a serious classical music buff, I was also most pleased that fine performances of complete masterworks, as well as lighter fare and crossover selections, were presented nightly on the Lincoln Center Stage by a group of talented young musicians who are completing their studies at major American music schools. This and such other venues as B.B. King’s Blues Club, Billboard Onboard, the Culinary Arts Center and a Windows Digital Workshop are proof that HAL is taking the effort seriously to provide programming that appeals to all interests.

My only suggestion for group coordinators would be to consider making arrangements for a similar departure a bit later in the fall, as temperatures were still on the warm side and most ports remained packed with hordes of visitors extending their summer vacations into early September.