I'm sitting in the Milan airport waiting for to board my 1:10 p.m. flight to Hong Kong. Despite being just about to leave Italy, I keep checking my watch and thinking to myself, "What time do we have to be back on the ship tonight before we set sail?"
After 28 days aboard the ms Eurodam, Holland America's mid-sized cruise liner, I'm conditioned to think about all aboard times and last tenders back to the ship.
But alas, the cruise has ended just this morning, dropping its 2,100 passengers off in Venice to return home.
As we disembarked at 5:20 a.m., we saw countless crew members frantically ferrying checked luggage by group and color down to the cruise port for passengers to retrieve on their way out. While the cruise is ending for us, they'll run around cleaning, refueling and restocking to prepare for the next 2,100 passengers boarding this afternoon.
I didn't know how I'd feel about going on a cruise. Nate has never been, but when we found a great last-minute deal on Vacations to Go, we stopped googling, "Exactly how hot is India in August?" and started packing our bags for a month on the Mediterranean.
Our ship left from Barcelona and returned 28 days later to Venice. Little did we know that it was actually two back-to-back cruises, a Mediterranean highlights voyage paired with a Greek Isles cruise. Of the 2,100 passengers onboard for the first leg, only about 400 of us remained on the ship for the full month.
Over the 28 days, we made stops in Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro and Greece. Our favorites were Mykonos (despite warnings that it was just a drunken party town), Santorini and Dubrovnik.
Being budget-ish travelers, Nate and I booked the cheapest cabin option, an interior, windowless stateroom with a queen bed (really two twins pushed together), a small table and chair, a series of cabinets for clothes and personal items and a private bathroom with a shower stall.
Friends warned us that we'd likely feel claustrophobic in the tight space, but after seven months of camping, hosteling and airbnbing, we found our room to be incredibly comfortable and perfect for what we needed. On the first day we unpacked and hung up clothes, commenting that this was the longest our things had stayed put in one place since we left the U.S. back in January.
If you haven't been on a cruise, you may not fully understand the breadth of food options available. This ship was seriously decked out with salad bars, hot bars, Asian food stations, sushi, pizza made to order and an entire grill section for burgers and hotdogs and (our personal drunk favorite) cheese fries.
On top of that, we soon learned that you can order room service for free at any hour of the day. Like at 1 a.m. Or 3 a.m. It was amazing. We often snuggled up in our comfy white robes, watched a new release movie on our on demand TV and ordered cookies and milk... because we're grown ups, duh.
Despite the fact that we could eat dinner anywhere, we often opted for the main dining room where we felt the food was a little better quality. Plus we got to enjoy impeccable service from the waiters and always had tea or coffee afterwards, a nice treat if you're used to splitting a baguette and block of cheese for dinner like we'd been.
While the ship offered a host of entertainment options from towel-folding classes to variety dance and singing shows, we found our favorites in the live music. We befriended the saxophone player in the blues band, the B.B. Kings All Stars, and often went to see them play. We also loved the dueling pianos and belted out oldies along with the singers Danny and Tanya, who were great about engaging guests and taking requests (they even played "Proud to be an American" one night when our group had had way too much to drink. Sorry, fellow cruisers).
When we weren't heckling performers and dancing to blues songs, Nate and I found quiet spots all over the ship to read, journal and reflect. At first the lack of wifi on the ship was unnerving, but I ended up enjoying being disconnected. The ship library had plenty of books that we could check out, and we ended up doing the NY Times crossword puzzle every day.
We also got a lot of relaxing time in by the pools and loved the ship's sail away celebrations where basically they just served us local food on the back seaview pool deck as we pulled out of every port. We had everything from oysters to roasted lamb.
Getting Used to Cruising
Heading into the cruise, our main concern was the age difference between us and the average Holland America cruiser, which the Internet told us was about 60.
We weren't sure if we'd feel totally out of sync with our fellow cruisers but ended up very lucky to meet another young couple from Seattle who we basically glommed onto and hung out with all day every day. We didn't meet them until midway through the month, and I could tell we were all a little ready for 30-something company.
We had a blast exploring ports with them, having meals together and going out into the wee hours of the morning. We also met a number of other young people and found that we'd fallen in with a group, which, after traveling just us for seven months, was really nice and refreshing. The contained atmosphere meant you never had to text someone, you just had to wander around the ship long enough to find your people at one of the bars, trivia or piano shows.
In the end, we paid a total of $5,151 for our 28 days at sea, which included our cruise plus all tips.
It averaged out to be $184/day, about $49 over our allotted $135/day budget, but we knew that the cruise would fall right before four months in Southeast Asia, which would be nice and easy on our budget.
Knowing we'd blow our budget a bit going in, we did our best to eat on the ship and not spend on souvenirs, etc. in ports, but we did still spend about $10/day at cafes (mostly to get wifi) and buses or boats into town from the cruise terminals.
What We Thought
At times during the experience we felt like we were in what we called the "Holland America Bubble," by which I mean we got used to nearly EVERYTHING being taken care of for us and the hardest decision each day was which of the many free foods to try.
By the end, we were ready to get off the ship and get back to our regular travel lives, which are much harder but also at times more rewarding.
We will always remember the fun experiences we had aboard the ship and felt lucky to have made such good friends along the way!