Cruise holidays: Sailing Italy and Croatia with Holland America

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PRINT BLURB: writes Neil Porten

The last time I saw Croatia from a ship was in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean; in the warm 3am darkness Croatia was there, huge and bright. Then, our encounter lasted just over 90 minutes as the Vatreni (“Fiery Ones”) succumbed to France in the Fifa World Cup final, watched by me and a couple of dozen football fans on the ship’s giant poolside video screen.

Now, Croatia is right there in front of me again, huge and bright, and if I lean out over the railing of MS Koningsdam I can almost touch the fiery terracotta tiles on the roofs of Dubrovnik.

The famous walled town is the first port of call on a 13-day round-trip voyage from Rome, taking in highlights in the Adriatic Sea, as well as Sicily, Malta and Naples on the return leg. We’re sailing in a heatwave — it’s the hottest June ever recorded in Europe — but Koningsdam, Holland America Line’s 99,500 ton, 297m long Pinnacle class ship launched in 2016, is the perfect vessel to coolly and calmly transport us under cloudless blue Mediterranean skies.

Rome’s sea port is Civitavecchia, 80km north of the Eternal City, and Koningsdam is waiting there at the long concrete pier, 14 decks above the waterline; navy-blue hull, orange-topped lifeboats, white superstructure, dark-tinted windows and glass balconies. Security procedures, check-in and boarding are quick and easy; we are in our stateroom, bags already delivered within half an hour.

Verandah stateroom 5157, starboard midship, overlooks lifeboats 17, 19 and 21 and the Promenade on deck 3. The decor is cream, with brushed bronze cornices and beech veneer — smoothing and restful. There’s a two-seater sofa, desk, chair, lighted mirror, plenty of power outlets, bedside charging ports, and ample storage. The TV is a portal to on-demand movies, music and shows, restaurant menus, ship and trip information, live forward and aft cameras.

In the tiled bathroom, the shower stall is large, and the shower itself is full-strength and simple to use. In the coming days, the Elemis toiletries perform admirably during the heatwave. And the long, firm bed, crisp sheets, long and short pillow combo, blackout curtains, double-glazing and ruthlessly efficient air-con create a haven for sleeping at any time of the day or night. The floor-level sensor light is a nice touch, proving handy for tripless trips to the bathroom in the dark.

The next few hours before we sail is the perfect opportunity to explore our home for the next two weeks. Music inspires the decor onboard. Harps, a double crown in chrome, encircles the three-deck atrium. The B.B. King’s Blues Club/Lincoln Center Stage is a cocoon of varnished wood curved like a cello. Five decks are named for composers, and much of the US$4 million of art is musically inspired. Each space is a careful composition of deep carpet, leather chairs and polished surfaces.

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