We woke early on Friday to the sounds of a street market going on right outside our window. We got up, showered and repacked, and headed to the lobby, where they were serving free breakfast. There were three girls behind a bar there, making coffee and serving food. It was my favorite kind of European meal: various kinds of bread, cheese, jam, and coffee.
We headed out to see more of Rome before it was time to catch the train. We walked through the market, where you could buy anything you wanted: produce, bread, and even underpants.
We stopped into a Tabac shop to get a couple postcards and stamps, then went over to Termini to see if our train was on the board, but they only listed departures for the next 45 minutes or so. We walked over to the Roman Museum and Diocletian Baths, which were nearby. The gardens of the museum were open to the public.
We met our first Roman cat there. Later he would get in a standoff with a gigantic crow-like bird.
There were a couple women sitting on a bench near the baths, so we walked in and wandered around the grounds. On the way back, there was a chain barrier across the entrance. Apparently we weren’t supposed to go in there, but nobody seemed to care much.
We went to a cafe a block away that had huge cases of amazing pastries and a coffee counter. We ordered and had to go pay at the cashier, who asked if we were standing. (It’s cheaper if you stand.) We followed the lead of a guy standing at the counter: hang out for five minutes or so drinking your coffee, then move on. Even the cappuccinos came in tiny cups like espresso, and they were delicious. (We quickly became fans of this coffee system; it’s way better than the way it works at American coffee shops. We did notice that the guy making coffee gave them to us in to-go cups, as opposed to ceramic like the locals.)
We went to do some wandering around the neighborhood, and confirmed that it was definitely a great city for roaming. We circled a few blocks, then headed back in the direction of our hotel to check out.
We rolled our suitcases to Termini, checked the boards for our train again, and went to go kill some time. We had no idea how early we had to be there, but we were glad to have pre-purchased tickets. (First class tickets were on sale when I bought them, and were way cheaper than 2nd class.) We went to Chef Express and grabbed a couple of Heinekens. At the counter, I discovered something called Pocket Espresso to Go, which is basically the greatest invention ever. I got one of those too.
After hanging out in the cafe for a while, we wandered around looking for a post office box to drop the postcards in, and then went to look for our train again. There was no sign of a train to Civitavecchia at that time, but after examining our tickets for a while we found the train number and matched it with one that was going to Genoa. The second that its track number appeared on the board, a huge mass of people headed that way. I’m pretty sure it must be like that for every cruise departure day.
The train arrived, and we had to roll all the way down to the far end to get in the first car. We hauled the bags on board clumsily, and were met by a porter who was checking tickets and hoisting suitcases up into the overhead compartments. Matt tipped him and he pointed out our seats, but they were the wrong ones. A couple of guys had bags in our actual seats, so they cleared them out and we sat down. More people started boarding, and mass seating confusion ensued. The guys behind us moved their seats and bags twice, and finally everyone was settled.
Another porter came by demanding money for the bags. We were unaware of any cost for that, so I asked how much. He said, “Ten euros. Two people, five euros.” I pulled out a twenty and handed it to him. He rolled his eyes back so far in his head I thought they would stick, and pulled out a wad of cash to give me change with massive exasperation. It was HILARIOUS.
After he moved on, we asked the guys near us if they had been charged for bags. We suspected it was a scam, but had no idea. They were wearing official-looking jackets, but there was no indication that they worked for Trenitalia. (On successive train rides, we never saw porters again. I suspect that’s some kind of semi-sanctioned cottage industry.)
The train headed out, and passed Vatican City again. We were quickly out in the country, headed toward the coast. It was gorgeous.
Halfway through our ride, a guy came to say hi. He was one of the people I’d talked to on the Cruise Critic message boards, and knew he would be in the same train car. He was from Texas, loud, and really entertaining. We compared notes on our arrivals in Italy; over the course of our cruise, it became clear that we were the only people who had an easy trip there. Despite having the longest day of our lives, of course.
We arrived in Civitavecchia around 12:30, and everyone piled off the train (unsurprisingly, no one in first class was going on to Genoa… they were all headed to cruises). For the first of many times, we got to experience the joy of hauling luggage on train platforms in Italy: lug the bags down two flights of stairs to the underground tunnel, roll them a short ways, then haul them back up two flights of stairs. I had a gigantic hard-sided bag that was too heavy for me to lift fully, so there was a lot of bumping involved.
We had street directions to the port, but it was easiest to just follow the crowd. We rolled en masse the five or so blocks to the port entrance (apparently some people take taxis… that’s ridiculous). There were shuttle buses lined up just inside the gates for the five or so ships that were docked there. People were disembarking and arriving at the same time, so a bus would empty and then reload and head out right away. We found our ship’s bus, threw our bags on, and got on to ride to the ship.
We were intentionally very early (it was about 1:15, and the ship left at 7). What we’d discovered on previous cruises is that the first day in port is the best time to wander around and see the whole ship, have some cocktails, and chill. Check-in went very quickly, and then we went through security and boarded.
Our travel agent at Delta Vacations had noted on our account that it was our honeymoon, and we would be happy to get an upgrade if possible. They did very well for us: we had the same class of balcony cabin that we’d booked, but it was on the top deck at the back of the ship. That meant that the balcony was slightly larger, and we had a way more awesome view. We were thrilled.
We unpacked our carry-ons (the luggage would be delivered later), checked out the cabin, and then set off to tour the ship. Our first stop was just upstairs on the Lido Deck, where we took care of the most important business first: cocktails on the pool deck. (From our bartender, Bong.)
We started with the very top of the ship, circling our way down deck by deck, stopping for drinks when we were empty. We checked out the ping pong tables and basketball court, and the super-fancy cabanas that cost a ton of money.
The Crow’s Nest was the big lounge in the front of the ship, where we’d end up spending a lot of time. They had recliners, even! That’s where the game room was, too.
We stopped at the burger grill on the Lido deck for lunch. Matt noticed their collection of weird Dutch sausages, and vowed to try one later. I was happy they had a veggie burger. The server from the bar there asked if we were interested in signing up for either the pub crawl or their mixology classes. Two of the classes were during port time, but one of them was on the sea day and looked interesting. We told him we’d pass on signing up for now, especially since we could easily do our own pub crawl.
After wandering for a while, we ended up at the Ocean Bar on one of the lower decks, and ordered fancy cocktails. The bartenders once again asked about the pub crawl and mixology classes. (They clearly got some kind of incentive for signups, because we were asked CONSTANTLY.) We decided to sign up for the Asian-themed mixology class, but passed on the pub crawl again.
The disco was awesome, and of course we ended up spending a ton of time there over the cruise. We walked through the casino, and I was very excited that they had a craps table. Having toured the whole ship, we decided to go back to the room and see if our suitcases had arrived. They had, so we got to unpacking.
Shortly after that, it was time for the muster drill. It’s no longer a requirement to bring life jackets (people were prone to tripping on the straps while going upstairs), so it’s just a matter of gathering in the right place. They lined us up and took roll call, which took a long time. They radioed in the people that were missing to the bridge, and they made announcements about those people over the loudspeaker. It was serious business in the post-Concordia era: if you didn’t show up to the muster drill, you’d be kicked off the cruise.
Finally we were set free around 5:30, and we headed upstairs to the Cruise Critic meet-and-greet. It took us a while to get there since everyone was waiting for the elevators, so we arrived after it was mostly full. We got cocktails at the bar, then grabbed our nametags. A server circulated with free champagne, so we took advantage of that too.
One of the CC guys did an announcement about casino-related events with the casino manager, and they did a contest for prizes. After that, we hung out talking for a while. We met a couple from Madison, Wisconsin, who we’d end up running into several times over the course of the cruise. We also met the couple who had organized the Meet and Greet, and ran into the guy from Texas again. We stayed there for quite a while listening to Texas Jim’s stories (I still have no idea how much of it was true, but it was hilarious), then headed back to our room to sit on our patio with champagne for the sail-away from Civitavecchia.
We sat and watched them preparing the ship to leave. It sailed around 7:30, and then the MSC ship behind us left immediately after. Once we were out to sea, we went down to put our names on the dinner list. (We had ‘as you wish’ dining, which means you can stop by anytime and potentially have to wait. It worked out very well, and we rarely had to wait long to be seated. We always had a table to ourselves, too.)
We went to the Explorers Lounge to get a coffee drink (or if you’re Matt, Jameson on the rocks), and our dinner buzzer went off shortly thereafter. We got a table and had an excellent dinner. In general, the food quality on Holland America seemed quite a bit better than on other lines we’d been on, which was saying a lot. They had a fully vegetarian menu, too.
Happy hour in Northern Lights (the club) was from 10-11, so we headed there after dinner. It was almost empty when we arrived, so we got seats at the bar. The happy hour deal was the second drink for $1, which for the first few days meant that you both ordered the same thing and it was cheap. Later in the cruise, that meant that you got two drinks yourself. It evolved!
DJ Stylez started playing around 10:30, and we were of course Party Rocked almost immediately. There was a guy sitting at the end of the bar slamming 2-for-1 Coors Lights, rapping to himself. We heard Lady Gaga and Waka Waka, so it was basically everything I wanted in a cruise ship club. We had a couple Mai Tais while we sat there, then decided it was time for bed. We got a to-go Manhattan and headed to the cabin for the night.