Having done two trans-Atlantic's ("TA")from Europe to North America, this year we thought to try it the other way. We saw a very good deal on the Eurodam's TA, probably because there were only three ports before the ship reached Rome, and some people may have wanted more ports and fewer sea-days. Not us, however--we love those languid days at sea!
We flew to Fort Lauderdale the day prior to the cruise and stayed the one night at the Sheraton Suites in Plantation, Florida. We stayed at a Sheraton because I had plenty of Starwood points. This hotel is quite close to the port, and the two room suite is generous. The neighborhood, however, is dicey--it is next to a closed shopping mall. Hotel staff are very pleasant, and the food we had for breakfast the morning of departure is also decent. Yet that was offset by the fact that on arrival we had a bug of some sort, dare I say a cockroach, in our room...yuk. So, I doubt we will return to this hotel. As it was for just the one night, we toughed it out.
Embarkation to the Eurodam was very easy at noon on the Saturday, although the entrance to the port was busy as many ships were departing that day. We were, however, soon on board and enjoying the embarkation lunch in the main dining room, which was full. Yet despite the large numbers service and the meal was great, so we were off to a very good start. By the time lunch was done, around 1:30, we could go to our suite, a deluxe verandah just down the hall from the Neptune's Lounge. Our luggage arrived quickly and our two stewards introduced themselves. These two gentlemen took very good care of us over the nearly two weeks--the room was kept spotless and we would leave them notes with any requests, as we hardly saw them (they were quite busy but very efficient).
Neptune's Lounge service was initially, and surprisingly, somewhat aloof. The first couple of days the two concierges spent much time chatting amongst themselves, not greeting guests as they arrived into the lounge, not offering to assist with the service (toasting a bagel, etc) which is customarily offered. After I had a quiet word with the guest relations manager, there was a noticeable improvement in service and attitude, and that positive development persisted for the rest of the cruise. The two ladies were much more warm, welcoming and helpful, not only to my wife and me but, as I noticed, to everyone.
Dining is very subjective. We were with another couple so we had a table for four, second seating. We enjoy the fixed seating as one gets to know the wait staff and they get to know your preferences. Our dining room team made going to the dining room for dinner a delight: service was great, recommendations as to what was good that night were made, our wine waiter was also helpful and knowledgeable, and the Cellar Master also assisted us with some selections from our wine package that we bought. I liked that we could tentatively order a five-bottle package but not immediately pay for it so, if we needed it to be a seven bottle package, we could just adjust as we went along. I only signed for the wine package on the second-last night, when it was clear that we had enough wine to last to the end.
For the most part the food was, in our view, very good. One person at our table was on a low-sodium diet, so each night the waiter would give her the menu for the next night so she could choose her selection which would be made to her dietary needs. This level of assistance was much appreciated. Again, while we noticed some repetition on the menu, in general everything we ordered we all enjoyed. Some dishes were outstanding.
We went to the Pinnacle twice: for the regular menu which was great, all well cooked and well served, and once for Le Cirque. The Pinnacle staff do a wonderful job, whether serving down in that room or, as do some wait-staff, up in the Neptune's Lounge. We also enjoyed the Tamarind, an "Asian-fusion" type of experience that is free for lunch (reserve on your first day as it books up fast) and has a nominal cover charge for dinner. This is new space on this class of ship and it, along with Silk Den, are lovely additions.
Returning to the purpose of a TA, in addition to crossing an ocean, we find the many sea-days (in our case eight in a row!) to be therapeutic. It is enforced relaxation--I bring no IPAD, no Blackberry, and even avoid TV news. We sleep late, read books, visit the library at the Crow's Nest, have lunch in the dining room most days (it was great), enjoy the Silk Den lounge area, go to Happy Hour at cocktail time and, indeed the day goes by before you know it.
Bar service was very good. Having never bought a beverage card before, I tried it this time, buying the card with the $250 value but paying $225 (hence, the advantage to buy the card). The "happy hour" deals on Eurodam are not truly "2-for-1", but rather pay another dollar for a second drink, and selection is somewhat limited. For example, you cannot get Chivas Regal as a Scotch on the happy hour deal, but we never had trouble finding something good to drink. Moreover, one could use the beverage card to pay for the happy hour drinks, so in effect those with the card were somewhat "double-dipping". Bar service was always very good, cocktails mixed well and well served, whether at the Crow's Nest or in the Ocean Bar.
The Crows Nest had an excellent guitar player in the afternoons, and the Ocean Bar had a good trio playing nice danceable music before dinner, but the Adagio Strings, playing classical after dinner in the Explorer's Lounge, were the best we have seen/heard on any HAL ship. They did one afternoon concert during the crossing, which proved to be a nice diversion for those who attended. There were also lectures ongoing during the day-- I attended a couple of those. The travel guide, Ian, was excellent and amusing in his discussion of our pending ports.
As the show-times were reversed, so that second sitting diners were expected to go to the show before dinner, we saw none of them. I prefer show-time to follow dinner. After all, it is "let's go to dinner and a show", not a show and then dinner, in my opinion. So we enjoyed the piano bar after dinner--the piano-man drew quite a good crowd and we enjoyed his tunes and his somewhat sardonic sense of humour--his special version of "New York, New York" had us all laughing out loud. Bar service in the piano bar was excellent--even if you only wanted water.
We eventually arrived in Funchal, Madeira, a pretty place we have seen before so it was nice to simply walk around, enjoy the city flower festival, and parade ongoing while we were in port. Malaga had us on the very well organized all day HAL tour to the Alhambra. Be warned, there is lots of walking on this tour, but we had an excellent guide. The tour included a very good lunch at a local eatery. It was pricey but well worth the money for what you see and do. Alicante was another nice city in Spain; we did the "hop on, hop off" bus tour that stopped near the port, and then enjoyed lunch in a restaurant on what I would call the boardwalk, a very pretty tree-lined street, and we saw fellow HAL cruisers doing the same. HAL had arranged a city bus to take everyone from and to the actual port, saving us a long and dull walk for a nominal fee. In my view this was good value (it was $5 return per person on this bus, signed to your cabin).
Arrival in Rome was on-time and uneventful. We had a later debarkation so, after a light breakfast in Neptune's Lounge, we sadly said farewell to Eurodam, claimed our luggage, found the car we had reserved--Neptune concierges were helpful in the day prior by calling the limo company to ensure they knew where to meet us--and we headed to Rome for a two day stay, walking our feet off in that classical city.
In summary, this was a very good cruise. My wife and I remain pleased with Holland America, and continue to believe we generally receive very good value for our vacation dollar. This is not to say that a few minor things did not occur, but mistakes can and will happen anywhere--yet, when such was pointed out we felt that HAL rose to the occasion to solve such issues. We look forward to our next HAL cruise, wherever that may be.