Family Mediterranean Cruise with Holland America Line

When Jo Speden toured Europe in a combi-van in her early 20s, little did she think that thirty years later she would be returning to Europe with a family in tow and this time on a luxury cruise ship.

Jo and her husband Mike, who had never before visited Europe, decided to take their children on a Mediterranean cruise, after Mike heard a talk-show host raving about a Holland America Line cruise he had recently taken around the Mediterranean.
“That could be quite a good way of travelling with the kids,” Jo remembers thinking.

So earlier this year, Jo went ahead and booked the family’s June/July trip with Holland America Line’s msNoordam.

They booked two separate but back-to-back 10-day  Collector’s Voyage, Mediterranean Adventure trips, which both departed from Rome (roundtrip) and went up the eastern side of the Mediterranean, coming back to Rome to then cruise down the western side. Highlights of the trip included Rome, Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Mallorca, Naples, Dubrovnik, Katakolon, Kusadasi, Athens and the island of Santorini.

It was a great, hassle-free way to see all the beautiful cities and historic sites around the Mediterranean.

And the added bonus for Jo and the family was sleeping  in the same bed for 20 nights and not having to pack and unpack the whole time.

“It was amazing and really great for kids,” Jo says.

“There was one place for sleeping, the kids were entertained, and you could do as much or as little as you want,” she adds.

Our Cabin

Our Cabin

Jo is full of praise for the way the kids, nine-year-old Emma, and 12 year-old Rhys, were entertained on the ship.

What worked out really well was the kids’ club which opened at 7pm; the family generally dined together and then the kids went off and participated in various activities or watched a movie at the club, while Jo and Mike relaxed at the end of dinner.

And Emma was more than happy to stay onboard the ship three or four times, while her parents and brother went out on independent on-shore excursions.

“We knew she was safe and happy. The kids made friends very quickly and we hardly saw them !” she says.

“It was a break for us too.”

Accommodation-wise, the family happily shared adjoining cabins, each with a balcony, which were serviced twice a day, with chocolates left on the beds and a fresh daily fruit bowl.

Jo says when they weren’t visiting the sights onshore, the days spent at sea were full of onboard activities. You could choose to attend seminars, cooking demonstrations, and every night there were “very professional shows” with “top people”.

When it came to on-shore excursions, Jo and Mike and the two kids went on three organised excursions in Tunisia, Nice and Pisa, but because the organised trips were quite expensive, they chose to go on excursions independently of the cruise line.

She says every evening they received an information newsletter about the port they were visiting the following day, giving them a potted history of the area, and which tours they could take.

Noordam Atrium

Noordam Atrium

“They gave you so much information… was a really good service,” she says.

One of the independent trips they made was at the port of Kusadasi, Turkey, where they discovered the local bazaar. It was so fascinating that they collected the kids from the ship and they wandered around as a family – and of course enjoyed the time-honoured haggling experience for clothes and shoes!

Jo says what she noticed in most of the places they visited was how much more tourist-friendly the cities were than when she visited 30 years ago.

“They really cater for tourists now, and a lot more people speak English,” she says.

“In Athens and Barcelona we caught hop-on hop-off buses, and in Messina, in Sicily, we hopped on a little train that took us around.”

Jo says she was also surprised that the majority of the ship’s passengers didn’t fit her image of the cruise-ship stereotype.

“It’s not all old people,” she says.

The mostly American clientele included quite a few inter-generational family groups and people in their twenties, who were well-catered for in the evenings if they wanted to hang out with people of their own age.

Jo also couldn’t praise the food enough, most of which was included in the price, “we ate far too much”, and was impressed about the care the cruise line took to limit stomach bugs at the onset of each voyage.

She explains that for the first 48 hours after each changeover, it was waiter service only, and there was no self-service at all, so that people who came on board with tummy upsets didn’t handle or breathe over the food.

“There were also hand sanitisers everywhere which we encouraged the kids to use all the time,” she adds.

Mandatory safety drills were also part of the ship’s routine.

Jo and Mike were also pleasantly surprised that they were allowed to bring their own alcohol on board.

“But we had to buy the wine in the restaurant, although they would keep the bottle for us for the next time if we didn’t drink it all,” she adds.

Jo says there was very little to find fault with on the cruise but said one of the things to look out for is the tipping policy at the end of the cruise which automatically adds US$12.50 per person per day, to your account. But you can stipulate what you are prepared to pay by going to the front desk and sorting it out.

She also says there was no laundrette on board and the laundry service was expensive, so they  often washed little bits

Noordam Outdoor Swimming Pool

Noordam Outdoor Swimming Pool

and pieces in their cabins.

And she regrets not doing more research on some of the independent onshore trips they did, as you need to “be very organised” to see all of the things you want.

But these were minor points for her and did nothing to mar the wonderful time they had.

Above all, Jo says the staff were fantastic.

“They were always smiling and couldn’t do enough for you. They make the cruise, nothing’s a problem,” she adds.

When it came to leaving the ship the family was unanimous in its verdict.

“None of us wanted to get off. We wanted to stay an extra week.


Thanks to Jo for sharing her story and photos.  Story written by Rachel Sturges


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