RSVP Vacations started the concept of gay and lesbian cruises in 1985 and the while the passengers are mostly gay men it also includes family and friends of gays and lesbians. This was our eighth RSVP charter cruise; the sixth in the Caribbean; the sixth on Holland America and the third on the Eurodam.
Sat Feb 9 Ft. Lauderdale
Sun Feb 10 At Sea
Mon Feb 11 At Sea
Tue Feb 12 Curacao 8:00 AM (arrive)
Wed Feb 13 Curacao 1:00 AM (depart)
Wed Feb 13 Aruba 8:00 AM - 4:00PM
Thu Feb 14 At Sea
Fri Feb 15 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Sat Feb 16 Ft. Lauderdale
We arrived at Terminal 22 at Port Everglades (all previous cruises were in and out of Terminal 26) just after 11:00 AM and we were checked in and waiting to board by 11:20 AM - boarding group 5. Boarding started at 11:30 AM and our group was called at 11:40 AM. Cabins were not available and we headed up to the Lido. We originally planned on going to the Main Dining Room for lunch but since the Lido was rather empty we opted to have lunch there - as well as the first cocktail.
Cabins were ready at 12:30 PM so we dropped off our carry-on luggage and started settling in. By 2:30 PM all our luggage - including a case of wine - was delivered and we finished unpacking. This was the earliest have ever embarked so it was nice to go hang out at the hot tubs on the Lido deck aft. Since we had been on the Eurodam twice before there was no need to go and explore the ship.
At 4:00 PM we headed down for the muster drill and as usual there were people not paying attention and chatting (on RSVP cruises there are a lot of repeat customers so you get to know a lot of people that you see once a year). The drill lasted about 20 minutes and afterwards a couple of names were called of people that did not attend the drill and they were warned that if they refused to attend that they would be disembarked.
Due to snowstorms in the Northeast there were delays in flights so our departure was delayed till after 6:00 PM. Since we had a long way to go to our first port of Curacao the captain said we could not wait too long. Apparently 19 people missed the ship and most joined us in Curacao two days later (As I was waiting for a cab in Curacao a group of them arrived, rolling their luggage to the gangway and they got an ovation from those already ashore as well as those watching from the ship).
We gathered with a group of friends on a deck 8 corner suite to do a "banner wave" on the Port Everglades webcam and I - Cruise Critic addict that I am - was posting to the HAL thread for the sail-away as we departed!
After five cruises in Vista/Signature ships in cabin 4043 we decided to try cabin 4166 - a VD Verandah Stateroom on Deck 4 (Upper Promenade). After reading about it on Cruise Critic I was eager to grab on of the two Verandah Staterooms on the ship that has a double wide balcony (4168 is the other on the Signature ships). Typical of the balconies on Deck 4, the balcony is 1.5 ft deeper that other regular balconies.
The interior of the cabin was similar to the VD 4043 cabin that we have called home for five cruises. Stepping out on the balcony was the nice surprise: there was the usual two chairs, ottoman and small table found on balcony cabins but there were also two of the blue loungers (like those on the Lido deck) with cushions like that are used on the wooden loungers on Deck 12 above the Crow's Nest.
Just before disembarking I was able to take a peek at cabin 4168 as it was empty and waiting to be cleaned. The difference between that cabin and ours was that 4168 only had a shower in the bathroom and not a shower/bathtub combination like ours. The shower looked big enough that it would make much of a difference to me to book that cabin.
Soon after we got to our cabin, Daha, our senior cabin steward, introduced himself and told us that his assistant Seno was not onboard as he was stuck in New York due to the snow storm delays. By the time we got back from the muster drill, Seno had arrived and Daha introduced us to him. The two of them took great care of us and seemed to know when we left the cabin to service it before we got back.
The cabin was in great shape and we did not find much to complain about except for a loose door hinge in the wardrobe. The cabin looked almost as good as the first time we sailed on the Eurodam 7 months after her maiden voyage.
For the RSVP cruise the scheduled dining hours were:
Main Dining Room
8:00 - 9:30 AM on sea days
7:00 - 9:30 AM on port days
10:30 AM - 1:30 PM (Sunday and Valentines Day):
Noon - 1:30 PM on sea days when there was not a brunch
Lunch: Noon - 1:30 PM on sea days
Dinner: 6:00 - 10:00 PM
Lunch: Noon - 1:30 PM on sea days
Dinner: 6:00 - 10:00 PM
Dinner: 6:00 - 10:00 PM
From 6:00 AM most mornings, sometimes at 6:30 or 7:00 AM
6:30 AM or 7:00 AM - 11:30 AM
Lunch: 11:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Dinner: 6:00 - 10:00 PM
Late Night Snack: 10:30 PM - 4:00 AM
11:30 AM - 6:00 PM
11:30 AM - 4:00 AM
The dress code on RSVP cruises is very casual:
"We do suggest that no shorts or tank tops are worn in the Rembrandt Dining Room at dinner, but that's only a request. Shorts and tank tops are not permitted at any time in the Pinnacle Grill, Tamarind Restaurant or Canaletto."
I don't recall many wearing shorts at dinner in the dining room and don't believe I saw any tank tops. Most people opted to dress up a little bit for dinner.
On RSVP cruises dinner in the Main Dining Room is open seating on both levels. Valentines Day was Formal Optional night - but we did not see too much dress up. We brought out tuxedos but walked by the dining room to see how many were dressed up and since it was so few, we opted to go as we were.
We mostly had breakfast by ordering from room service which was served promptly, hot and mostly accurate! The only major snag was on the first morning when nothing was delivered. On leaving the cabin I noticed that the card was still hanging on our door even though we had put it out well before 2:00 AM. On my rounds delivering reminders for the Cruise Critic meet-and-greet I noticed someone else's card also still hanging on the door. One morning I had ordered eggs benedict but it was too early for that; the steward doing the delivery offered to bring it to me as soon as it could be prepared.
We went to the brunch in the dining room on Valentines Day. There were decorations for the day and the food was served buffet style. It was a mix off breakfast and lunch offerings. I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and enjoyed the meal.
We had lunch in the Lido the other days that we were not in ports.
We had dinner in the Main Dining Room on four nights; two nights in the Pinnacle Grill and one night at the Lido barbeque.
In Curacao before heading out on the Carnival excursion there was a barbeque around the Lido pool. Just as we sat down the power went out on the ship! Luckily we were docked and not drifting in the Gulf of Mexico like the Carnival Triumph! Power came back on about 10-15 minutes and was not an issue for the rest of the cruise.
We had planned to celebrate a friend's upcoming birthday with dinner in the Pinnacle and had selected Wednesday night (for no particular reason) to reserve a table for eight. That ended up being the evening they offered 'An Evening at Le Cirque' and four of the other people opted out. We thoroughly enjoyed the Le Cirque dinner. On returning to our cabin we found a note from the Pinnacle with a little chest containing yummy chocolate truffles.
We had dinner one night in the Pinnacle Grill and had a very enjoyable dinner, as always. Service by Bond (not James) was excellent. I have to say the lamb on the Le Cirque menu outshine the (very good) lamb I had on the Pinnacle night. Unfortunately I was once again disappointed by the chocolate volcano cake for dessert, I should stick to the creme brulee.
We found the food on the Eurodam to be very good overall. The first night's dinner was one of the best I recall in the dining room on Holland America. Valentines Day was lobster night in the main dining room and while it wasn't like having fresh Maine lobster on a dock overlooking Penobscot Bay, it was good. I asked for a few more and the waiter was happy to supply two more lobster tails.
We brought a case of wine and sparkling wine onboard that was delivered to our cabin without any issues. We took it to various dining locations where we were charged the corkage fee every time (which I do not have a problem with). A few times when we brought more than one bottle and weren't sure whether we would consume it all, they were happy to put the wine on ice (if needed) and only charged the corkage for what was actually opened.
I did not notice any mention of happy hours at the bars and it is not mentioned in the "Explorer". At some of the dance parties there were 2-for-1 drink specials for an hour.
Sadly, my friend John found out that the South Sea Aviation cocktail is no longer on the drink menu but some of the bar tenders still knew had to make it and so I was able to have enjoy one in the Crow's Nest. (I prefer those to the popular Wang Wangs)
For RSVP cruises they always set up extra bar service on the Lido aft deck for the various dance parties and the service there is always excellent; you don't have to wait very long for a drink. I do believe that on this cruise the beverage service was a bit more aggressive than on previous cruises. For example: on embarkation when ordering the first beer in the Lido the waiter was pushing buckets of beer and even came up with some offer if I ordered 24 beers! That was a first for me on HAL; I did not take him up on the offer since HAL is not known for great beer selections.
I have to say that I found that HAL had improved their beer selection: the usual offering of boring American beers and Grolsch was complimented with Stella Artois, Dos Equis, Blue Moon and Red Stripe.
Regarding coffee: I did not get anything from the Explorations Cafe and had my coffee in the Lido or in the dining room. Specialty coffee is now charged for in the main dining room at dinner; cappuccino $1.75, espresso $1.25 and 50c for an extra shot. In the Lido the coffee was quite good and I can confirm that it is made with ground beans - on top of the coffee machines you could see the container containing the ground coffee.
RSVP brings on a lot of its own entertainment form performers on the main stage to the various lounges to the DJs at the dance parties.
The regular HAL entertainment gets a break for the week but do still perform at various times like the Adagio Strings in the Explorer Lounge or other HAL entertainment on nights when we have late nights in port (such as Curacao).
I did not attend much of the theater and lounge entertainment so cannot say much about that. RSVP regulars Amy and Freddy (a cabaret act) was popular as always; they even filled in on short notice on the last night when the main entertainer Carrie Fisher bombed at the early show and was replaced with Amy and Freddy. One of the not-to-be-missed events on an RSVP cruise is Church Bingo with Sister Helen Holy, a good Southern Baptist church lady that is able to offend every religion (and non-religion) in the audience. The main theater is standing room only for the two Church Bingo sessions held during the cruise. The pots were a bit smaller his year and I have to wonder if HAL is taking a bigger cut. A few years ago there were 4 bingo sessions during the cruise and on the last night one person won the blackout bingo and $13,000!
On the last night Sister Helen Holy also presents "The 701 Club" ("Because I am just a little better than Pat Robertson", she explains). It was a fun show.
RSVP throws three tea dances (afternoon dances from about 4:00 - 7:00 PM) and three night time dances (from 10:30 PM to 2:30 AM). These dances are held on the Lido deck by the Sea View pool and all have themes such as "Zoomanity", "Caribbean Blue" and "Glitter and be Gay" and most people have outfits for the parties. This "Glitter and be Gay" dance was held at night and quite fabulous and I felt sorry for the crew that had to cleanup after that! The aft elevator area on the Lido deck was quiet a mess with glitter and feathers everywhere but the crew did yeomens' work because the next morning it was all cleaned up except for a few sparkles stuck in the carpets here and there.
For the first time I skipped a night time party! I did not have anything for the Costume Party (which includes a costume contest) and opted for an early evening, I was in bed by 11:00 PM and up at 7:30 AM for a massage to start Valentined Day. I felt like a human being again after a few late nights and busy days.
For RSVP cruises they always bring extra male massage therapists onboard; I believe there were already two on the Eurodam and a third was brought on extra. Even so it is still difficult to get an appointment with one them during the seven day cruise. My massage was OK - not bad and not great. There was no sales pitch afterwards.
I usually gable a bit on a cruise and the first few nights I stuck with slot machines but did not have much luck. The last night of the cruise I decided to play roullette and had an unusual experience: a new dealer took over and on one of the firts few rolls she called the number 8, placed the marker on that number and started clearing the table of chips. In the meantime the ball had jumped from the number she called to number 19 but by then all the "losing" chips had already been removed. The floorperson had to go to the surveillance tapes to figure out which bets may have been placed on the eventual winning number and lucky for me, I had some bets on on it. When I joked to the floorperson whether a round of drinks would be in order for the players he said that was up to the dealer (who made the mistake). We did not get a free round of drinks. By the end of the night I had recouped most of my slot machine losses.
Another note on the casino: on the first night all the male dealers in the casino were wearing vests and bow ties - and no ties! It was a nice surprise on a gay cruise and an example of HAL adapting to a gay environment. They did not repeat the uniform for the rest of the cruise though at times it was a rather relaxed dress codes with them in t-shirts, for example, one night.
We had a nice long day in Curacao on the last day of Carnival. I had arranged to go scuba diving with The Dive Bus that I had dived with 3 years before on the same itinerary. They were excellent as always and remembered from back then. When I contacted them to arrange the excursion they responded with an application form prefilled with the data they already had on file. It was just myself and another man on a land vacation in Curacao, with the dive master. It was a great dive and he gave the best wrap-up debrief I have ever experienced scuba diving. Even though not included in my dive package, they offered to give me a ride back to the ship. The Dive Bus is the best scuba outfit I have dealt with, they rock.
After lunch I walked around downtown Willemstad and looked for some free wifi that I never found. After an early barbeque dinner on the ship, we were on a bus heading to the HAL excursion watching the Carnival parade. We weer in stands midway through the parade route and were mixed in with another group from a local airline. Our excursion included an open bar as well as some local snacks (some kind of satay, beef stew on a roll and if I remember correctly something like empanadas). We had our own bathrooms and space behind the stands to just hang out. Like 3 years before, we thoroughly enjoyed the parade and were amazed at the costumes and music. Too soon it was time for us to leave to get back to the ship before too many streets were closed and to get us onboard in time to watch the final fireworks when the burn the old king of carnival. Unfortunately there was apparently some mishap and after just a few rockets going off there appeared to be a minor explosion and that was the end of the fireworks. We were not sure what had happened.
The next day we were in Oranjestad and I went on the HAL Two Tank Scuba excursion that included diving over ship wrecks such as the Antilla. The dive boat was across the pier from where the ship was docked which was convenient and saved us time compared to 3 years earlier when we had to go to the dive operator's location at Palm Beach. The downside to that was that the dive boat had no wet suits on board. When I asked about it I was told that the water was "warm enough" and that I would not need one. When I asked about the water temperature it was 2 degrees colder than what I experienced in Curacao the day before - and for which I wore a wet suit. I did both dives and I was not as comfortable as I would want to be and the visibility wasn't great but that is not something the dive operation has control over.
Back on board I went to the Excursion Desk to complain about the lack of wet suits and the woman helping me was quiet understanding. The man at the desk decided to get involved and told me that he scuba dived all over the Caribbean and that he never used a wet suit. I told him what he did is irrelevant to whether I wanted or needed a wet suit. The woman took down my information and told me that she would look into it and get back to me but I never heard back from the Excursion Desk during the cruise. I emailed HAL about it after the cruise and so far the only response I have received is that they are looking into it and will get back to me soon.
After dropping my gear off on the ship and a quick shower I went for a walk in Oranjestad and ran into my partner and friends that just had lunch at a Filipino restaurant (one of our friends in Filipino). My partner accompanied me back so I could get something to eat too since the food was so good. There we met one of the RSVP photographers and his assistant (both Filipino); the ship's Filipino crew had told them about the restaurant! The next day we ran into the photographer and his friend in the Lido and they had a table full of Filipino dishes prepared for them by the Filipino chefs and we were invited to join in; the oxtail in peanut sauce and tamarind seafood soup was excellent!
Half Moon Cay.
Our last stop was Half Moon Cay which is always enjoyable. I don't recall that they used three tenders at HMC on previous visits but they were two tender loading areas operating at the same time. Mid-morning they announced that there was a technical problem with one of the tenders but later in the day all three were in operation again. There wasn't a long wait to get off or on the ship.
We did not plan anything other than relaxing on the beach so we grabbed loungers near the pirate ship bar. Even though a group from the ship (maybe the HAL Cats?) was playing there, it wasn't so loud that it was annoying. I did not find the new double-decker cabanas to be that awful and although bigger, they did not really stand out that much amongst the vegetation and the other buildings already there. The water was actually a little warmer than I remember on our previous visits.
Since we were staying in Ft. Lauderdale for another day we opted of the 8:00 - 8:30 AM disembarkation slot. We were assigned Lime 3 for disembarkation between 8:15 and 8:30 AM. It was not a silent disembarkation and colors and numbers were called and they were running early; at 7:45 AM we headed up to the Lido to grab a quick cup of coffee but they were calling our color and number already. We had a quick breakfast and were heading off the ship at out appointed time of 8:15 AM. We picked up our luggage in no time and were soon through immigration and customs and on our way to the airport in a cab to pick up our rental car.
Beach towels were delivered to our cabins prior to arriving in Curacao with a note explaining the new system: towels are delivered for each person in the cabin and will be replaced with a clean one as needed. At the end of the cruise for any unaccounted beach towels you will be charged $27.50.
Cruise Critic meet-and-greet:
I made arrangements for the meet-and-greet through RSVP and asked for it to be held in the Silk Den on the first sea day at Noon. About 40 to 45 people attended and it was great to see old friends and meet new ones -- it is always good to meet people in real life after getting to know them online. There were no HAL staff members at the meeting -- that could be due to someone new at RSVP handling the arrangements and not being as familiar with what happened before. There were a few waiters serving in the Silk Den and they also passed around some hors d'oeuvres. A good time was had by all.