Although we knew that a Thanksgiving cruise would have many children we choose to sail on Holland America Eurodam at this time due to my husband's work schedule and the wonderful price being offered for this cruise. We have sailed on other lines, usually Celebrity, but always wanted to try Holland America. For the most part, we were glad that we did.
We were told that there were over 400 children on this cruise, but except for a few times here and there, you would generally not know it. For the most part we found the children well behaved and were very happy about this. In fact the few problems we did encounter were with some fellow adult cruisers who have apparently not yet learned how to wait your turn in line, or be respectful of other people's personal space and desire to listen to the event they came to see instead of someone else's very loud and annoying personal conversations.
Boarding the ship was unorganized and confusing. Apparently it was their first day in this new terminal and the staff was not briefed or prepared. They did not even know where the bathrooms were. We requested and were granted priority boarding in advance due to our adult son's special needs, but it was just one big mess at the terminal. After taking matters into our own hands and finding the right person (finally) we were able to board a little earlier. Once on the ship we proceeded to the Lido buffet where we had a nice lunch and very shortly after that were told the rooms were ready. Having travelled mostly on Celebrity we found it very convenient to have the rooms ready for everyone so early. Our luggage also arrived at the room within about an hour. Celebrity needs to take a lesson from Hal on how to get both of these things done so quickly.
The room was nice. It was a VB veranda room. The storage was massive compared to Celebrity and this was another major plus considering how much luggage we had. Although not as nice as Celebrity Solstice class ships, the storage was better. The bathroom however, had problems. The tub would have been nice except that it wasn't leveled and the water would congregate by the back of the tub. We would always have to spend at least five minutes after every shower kicking the water into the drain. I also found the tub high to step into. I would think that this might be a problem for many of HAL's cruisers and am surprised they have not altered this in some way. I also found that the tub took up so much space that the rest of the bathroom seemed very cramped. Celebrity Solstice class ships definitely win in the bathroom category. They have found a way to make a cabin bathroom much more workable.
The ship itself was very nice, but a little dark and enclosed in most spaces. It did not have the bright and open feel of the Celebrity ships. However, it definitely had an elegant feel to it that was admired, especially in the dining room. In fact the dining room seemed more spacious with room between the tables. This is where HAL wins over Celebrity. In fact one of the worst parts about the Celebrity Solstice ships is the very cramped dining room set-up. Another area that the Eurodam excels at is the full outside deck walking area. This was a major plus, especially for people who have a walking routine. Celebrity has continued to shorten their outdoor walking areas to make room for more cabins and specialty restaurants. A serious downside.
The food review is always subjective, but I definitely found that for the most part Hal shines in this area. I found the food and pastries on the Eurodam to be the best food I have had at sea so far. This is an area I have always found lacking on Celebrity. I know that most people claim that Celebrity has the best food, but I have never cared for their food and find HAL's food much better. Again it is always a matter of individual taste.
We ate in two of the specialty restaurants, the Pinnacle Grill and Tamarind. We are in agreement with most of the Cruise Critic members that the Pinnacle can be hit and miss, and the Tamarind is excellent. Unfortunately for us the Pinnacle Grill was miss in both food and service. The Porterhouse steak was pure fat and so tough I could not get my knife to cut it. We would have told the waiter when we received our steaks and started to cut into them, but he did not return to our table for about 45 minutes after dropping off the steaks. He did not even bother to see if they were cooked correctly. When he finally did return 45 minutes later and we informed him of our complaints, he said "well if you wanted a tender steak you should have gotten the Fillet Mignon." The waiter never returned to our table after that and sent another waiter for our dessert order. Of course the Fillet Mignon is the tenderest steak, however that does not mean that you have the right to serve a porterhouse steak that is shoe leather and fat to those that do not want the fillet. We will not be returning to the Pinnacle Grill on Hal ships in the future.
The Tamarind restaurant was the complete opposite. The food and service was amazing. I am not a big fan of Asian food and cannot eat spicy food, but they are so accommodating that they made the food to my taste and specifications with some wonderful suggestions. It was a great meal where they made you feel special. Thanks to all the cruise critic members for their recommendations on this restaurant. The chocolate fortune cookie for dessert alone would have been worth the nominal up charge.
We originally did have reservations for the Cannaletto but cancelled them after seeing the limited menu.
The nightly shows were not great. The costumes were nice as well as the scenery, we found the dancers were also very good. However 3 out of 4 of the singers were really lacking in voice and pitch and made the shows seem less than professional. The shows also did not seem to have any cohesiveness to them and definitely targeted a certain age group, which I would not have minded if the overall shows were better. The comedian did not seem very funny to us and we missed the magician and his dog. This is also an area where in our opinion HAL cannot compete with Celebrity.
The staff was mixed in terms of service. Some staff was excellent and very accommodating, while others were disinterested and even downright rude. We also found several times that there was not consistency in pricing when speaking with different staff members. We found this inconsistency in both the spa and the shops when they were having their street sales, as well as the Explorations Cafe. We found that overall we prefer the staff on Celebrity better.
The two pools were small, but many people opted for the hot tubs. This was only a problem on sea days. We noticed that on sea days it seemed to be a problem getting a place to sit at the pool areas. We were very happy we decided to take a chance and rent a Lido cabana for the week. This cabana definitely helped make the trip for us. It was great knowing that we had a place to stay and eat when all the other areas were crowded. The service here was also very good. I know that most people prefer the retreat cabanas, but for us they were out of the way and would not work with our son. He absolutely loved the lido cabana. It did get a little warm in the cabana occasionally during port time and when the roof was closed, but it was still a good investment for us.
The ports were fine, except that we do not like the Crown Bay dock in St. Thomas. If you are just staying by the ship, there is very little to do there and very limited shopping. We also missed Half Moon Cay due to high winds. This seems to be a common problem from what I have read.
In summary it was a fine cruise with some exceptions.
The Lido buffet is a mess. The set up is totally congested and this creates huge traffic jams at most meals. There is also way too few staff members working the Lido and this creates unacceptable long lines and waits to get your food. You never know what items to get in what area and which staff member is waiting on which person since a staff member will start with one person and continue with another. The staff was also constantly taking orders from people in line behind me which was irritating. They also continuously ran out of things and again you had to wait. It was the most unorganized and irritating cruise buffet I have ever encountered. Celebrity Solstice ships have the buffet set up with different stations for every group of foods. The food stations are in the middle and do not create traffic jams or long lines. Hal needs to take a lesson from Celebrity on this one and redesign their buffet set up.
The cupcake tea in the dining room was again unorganized. The waiters kept ignoring the section of tables we were in and only came to our section once and allowed us only two bite sized cupcakes while they were going to the other sections 5 or 6 times with cupcakes, sandwiches, cakes, etc. When I complained to one of the waiters when we were leaving, he said they just had too many people to serve. Does this mean that they chose to serve the sections they wanted and ignore the others? Since this was certainly not an inaugural cruise you would think that they would be organized and have a plan to equally accommodate everyone.
The muster drill although definitely necessary has to be revamped in some way or at least special arrangements need to be made for people with disabilities or health problems. We were cramped like sardines in the heat on deck and there were actually people collapsing. All they did was take roll call and show us how to put on the life vests. Celebrity does this with a film they present in different Venus at the same time and this is much more civilized. I understand that they want us to know exactly where our life boat stations are, but I am sure that they can come up with a better way than subjecting people to this uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous situation. Especially people with special needs. I was repeatedly being hit by people around me when they would move and I have bruising issues.
If the water in Half Moon Cay by the beach is not too shallow HAL may want to consider investing in building a dock so that they do not miss Half Moon Cay all the times it is too windy to tender.
The place Holland America shines is the food, swift dining room service, spacious and elegant dining room, rooms ready shortly after early boarding, the piano bar, afternoon teas (as long as they organize it better) the Tamarind restaurant, keeping the specialty restaurant fees down, happy hour specials, dessert extravaganza, full walking deck, nice room service menu, great cabin storage, many trivia contests, allowing us to stay in our rooms until we are called to disembark, very good pricing for third and fourth in a room
(due to our special needs son we will always travel with three) and offering good specials on their pricing at certain times.
In conclusion did we enjoy our Eurodam cruise, the answer would be yes. Were there areas for improvement, the answer would be yes. Would we travel Holland America again, the answer would be yes. As long as Holland America continues to keep their cruise fares down, run specials, and offer good pricing for third person in the room, we will be repeat cruisers with HAL. If Celebrity continues to raise their prices both on cruise fares and specialty restaurants they will lose us as customers. At equal prices we would give Celebrity the edge, but with better pricing we find HAL a very acceptable alternative.