On September 4, 2015, David and I boarded the MS Zuiderdam in Venice. This was the beginning of an 11-day journey through the Mediterranean. It would take us through Italy, Turkey, and Greece before depositing us back in Rome.
Arriving in Venice
David and I are airline employees. We fly at discounted prices, but we also fly on a standby basis–only if there’s an open seat can we go. As you can imagine, that might be stressful when it comes to taking a cruise. Even confirmed passengers have to worry about delays, missed connections, or the myriad other issues inherent in modern travel. We left for Italy two days before our cruise was scheduled to leave, just to make sure we would make it. And, due to the quirks of traveling the way we do, actually ended up in Milan instead of Venice.
But it’s fairly easy to take a train between those cities. We found a bus (there are a couple different companies) inside Milan Malpensa Airport who charged 10 EUR for a transfer to the Milan Centrale rail station. From there, we just found one of the ticketing stations and purchased two tickets on the Frecciabianca from Milan to Venezia Sta. Lucia, the main train station in Venice. It came out to 75 EUR for the two of us for last minute tickets, not bad.
While at the airport, we also booked one night’s stay at the lovely Residenza degli Angeli in Venice.
The Venice Cruise Port
Bigger ships in Venice typically use the Marittima area of the cruise port. To get there from anywhere else in Venice…
- Make your way to Piazzale Roma. This is a big square on the western part of Venice. We simply walked there since it was quite a sunny morning and we wanted to pick up some wine to bring on board with us. A bonus was crossing the modern-looking Constitution Bridge–quite a departure from the rest of Venice’s architecture. However, if you’re schlepping some large bags, walking might not be the best plan. Take a water bus instead.
- Find the People Mover just off of Piazzale Roma–this is an elevated tram that will take you to the cruise terminal. It’s only 1.50 EUR, lots cheaper than every other mode of transportation (particularly cabs). Buy your ticket at the vending machine, scan the ticket to enter the station, and board the tram. When you arrive at Marittima, just head down to street level and follow the signs to the port. Once you’re inside the port area, cruise staff should direct you where you need to go (or there’ll be more signs). In our case, we found a sign for Holland America that led to a little waiting area, where shuttles came to take us to the ship.
Boarding the ship
At the Cruise Terminal, we went through the usual process for boarding a cruise. If you’ve never been on one, here’s what happens!
Yes, you’ve checked in online before even arriving here, but now they need to know you’re actually here.
Immediately upon arriving at Holland America’s station, we had to sign a form stating we were not sick, and had not felt ill for a certain duration prior to the cruise. This might seem like an odd thing to have to declare, but remember that you’ll basically be trapped in a moving building with a thousand other people… it’s easy to catch stuff in such relatively close quarters.
Next we walked up to the counter and presented our passports and check-in paperwork. They took our photos for their records–every time you board the ship again during your cruise, your photo pops up so they can be sure it’s you and not someone who happened to get ahold of your key card. And speaking of key cards, this is where we got ours too, after presenting a credit card to which all onboard purchases would be charged. Your key card is your life on a cruise ship. It’s your room key, your entrance ticket, your credit card, and your emergency instruction (your lifeboat is printed on it). Guard with your life!
During check-in we were assigned a number. This was basically just an identifier for when to go through security and board the ship. Very likely on a first-come first-served basis, (though I wouldn’t be surprised if people with some status on the cruise line got to board earlier).
Then a basic security check, making sure we weren’t carrying any illegal or dangerous substances. Throw everything you aren’t wearing onto the conveyor belt, including purses and backpacks.
Then onto the ship and into our cabin to get settled!
Before the ship can leave port, everyone must take part in a security drill. Everyone, no exceptions: staff, crew, guests. They take roll call and you can actually be removed from the ship if you don’t participate.
There are a wealth of instructions on the overhead paging system telling you exactly what to do. But basically you find your lifeboat station (again, it’s on your key card and the staff will tell you which level to be) and listen to the Captain and your crew leader who will show you how to put on a life vest, among other things. It’s a pretty quick drill, maybe 15 minutes. Then you are free to get comfy in your cabin, head up to the Lido deck for some food, or explore the ship.
If you have the fortune of departing on a cruise from Venice, please, please take a few minutes during your departure to head upstairs as your ship leaves port.
You get the singular experience of your massive cruise ship sailing slowly through Venice’s Grand Canal on your way out to the open sea of the Mediterranean. It’s really quite something. You’ll want port side (that’s the left side of the ship if you’re facing toward the front of the ship) for the best views.