My husband and I are experienced cruisers who have cruised almost exclusively on Princess for the past 8 years. We thought we would conduct a little experiment (while having a wonderful three weeks at sea) and do a back to back to back on three different ships. We have been to the Caribbean many times, so we are not focused on the destinations and don't usually do shore excursions to places we've already been many times. We are 62 and 63 years old and like many baby boomers, we enjoy an active but refined cruise experience. We like the production shows and other entertainment in the theater as well as interesting activities during the day. We do social ballroom dancing so we are very interested in the live music on the ship and the dancing venues. We also enjoy fine dining - that includes good food as well as good service from waiters with whom you can develop a rapport. We also appreciate a ship with many sitting or lounging areas -- around the pool, quiet shaded areas, different lounges at night, etc.
For this experiment, we started out on Liberty of the Seas (Royal Caribbean for a 5 day Eastern Caribbean Feb. 11, 2013), then moved to the Caribbean Princess for a 7 day Western Caribbean (Feb. 16, 2013) and finished with a 7 day Eastern Caribbean on Holland America's Eurodam (Feb. 23, 2013). I've written reviews of each of them and you can find them under my id: lovetocruisenow. It was very interesting to compare the three different cruise lines and ships in such close proximity. Here's the Eurodam review.
My husband and I had not sailed on Holland America for about 8 years so we were anxious to see how today's HAL experience compared to what we remembered. The good news is most of the "finer" things we remembered about HAL are still there. It's still a refined way to cruise. There were some changes of course. The average age of the passengers (on this 7 day Caribbean) was younger than some of the HAL cruise -- probably around 60-65. Here's the good and bad from the cruise:
EMBARKATION AND MUSTER: Embarkation went well. We arrived at the terminal around 11:15 am and moved through the check-in line fairly quickly. We are only 2 star mariners on HAL, so no special check ins. There were special lines for higher level mariners. We got onboard around 12:30 pm and received our luggage around 1:00 pm - WOW. Muster started at 3:00 pm. It was repeated several times that muster was mandatory and if you didn't attend muster you would not be allowed to sail. Don't know what that was about. Muster took place outside at our actual lifeboat station. A HAL representative used paper and pen to check off each passenger by a roll call, this required calling names over and over again. Once all of this was completed the captain spoke about 5 minutes and it was over. It was hard to hear the HAL representative or the captain. You did not need to bring your life jacket to the muster. It was very warm outside but we were on the shady side of the ship so it was okay. This took almost 45 minutes, most of the time was needed for the roll calling.
THE SHIP: The Eurodam was a nice ship -- decorated in a cross between Art Deco and industrial loft style. The ship was neat and clean but showed some wear and tear, particularly with the dark carpets used in the lobbies. In fact, a lot of dark colors were used around the ship. The promenade was very nice -- all on one level and extra wide. Lots of cushioned teak deck chairs with foot rests. There was a covered pool and open air pool with lots of lounge chairs as well as tables and chairs scattered around them. There were lots of places to sit and relax during the day and do nothing but enjoy the beautiful Caribbean. Music was provided around the pool for the traditional sail aways. There were a variety of lounges ranging from a small Piano Bar (that stayed packed once the entertainer began at 9pm) , the Explorers Lounge with a violin/piano duo, the Ocean Bar with the largest dance floor, the Queens Lounge (also with dance floor), and the Crow's Nest (top floor, terrific view). Adjacent to the Crow's Nest was the Explorations Cafe, a combination library, internet cafe, and coffee bar. Sounds strange but it worked very well. Overall, very good use of space around the ship.
DINING: Food in the dining room was good but service was very slow. Food in the Lido Restaurant was okay, service was poor. The layout of the buffet is one of the worse I've seen. The hours were also not user friendly. The dinner ran from 5:30-8:30 pm and after that there was nothing available until 10:30 pm when the restaurant put out an evening snack. I've NEVER been on a cruise ship where there was absolutely no food available for 2 hours. It's a new concept. After the first few days, we opted for the dining room, the Terrace Grill, room service, or anything to avoid the buffet. Room service (something we don't usually do) was excellent. One of the specialty restaurants, Tamarind, provided an Asian tasting menu style lunch (free of extra charge) a couple of days. The food was delicious and the service was excellent.
CABIN: We booked an obstructed view outside cabin and were lucky enough to get upgraded to a "D" category outside cabin (no obstruction). HAL has some of the nicest cabins of any cruise line. You really get your money's worth. Our outside cabin was like a small mini-suite with a setting area in front of the window. The bathrooms on HAL are a little larger also and have a bathtub! It not a large tub but it's soooo much better than a tiny shower stall. We had an excellent cabin steward and never wanted for anything as far as our cabin was concerned. He even made little towel animals for us every night. I took pictures of them and sent them to our grand daughter.
ENTERTAINMENT: The two production shows we saw were quite different from anything we've seen on previous cruises. The first one, In the Air, included some song and dance and a lot of aerial stuff. It was kind of like Cirque de Soliel meets Broadway. It was very good. The aerial performers were excellent. The other show was their big production of Saturday Night Fever. The singers and dancers were very good in this but the show really dragged. It was presented like a play with lots of drama in between the songs. The other show that was unusual was an ice show presented a couple of times through the week in the Liberty's Ice Rink. It was very good, the skaters were excellent. One of the things missing on Liberty was live music. There was one set of live music performed by their Latin band from 7:45-8:30 each evening and that was it until about 10:00pm. The Latin band was very good but the dance floor was very small. Liberty has a dozen or more lounges and bars, each with a different theme but most things don't get going until 10:00 pm or later.
ACTIVITIES: There were the usual cruise activities everyday -- trivia, spa seminars, travel seminars, fruit carving, ice carving, towel folding, dance lessons, etc. Since the Eurodam has the Queen's Lounge and Culinary Arts Center, there were cooking demonstrations and classes everyday also. HAL also has a variety of technology classes as part of their "Digital Workshop". One of the surprises of the Eurodam was the fabulous fitness center. The center featured a wide variety of equipment -- not just the usual treadmill, bike, and elliptical. In addition to the equipment, staff members offered many fitness opportunities including Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, Spin classes, meditation, etc. Some classes were free, some had additional fees. The spa offered everything you would want in a spa at sea including HAL's thermal pool and heated ceramic lounges. There were also the usual "sales", photography studio, Bingo, and other activities some people look for on a cruise but it was done without a look of noise and hoopla. A wide variety of shore excursions were available for all ports including their private island Half Moon Cay.
DISEMBARKATION: I assume there were a lot of first time cruisers or first time HAL cruisers onboard because they actually held a disembarkation presentation in the theater on Friday at 4:30pm and requested at least one representative from each group attend to receive the disembarkation information. Saturday morning, disembarkation followed the normal schedule and was handled well. We had an early flight, so we walked off with our luggage around 7:30am.
Grand Turk -- Nice port with the beach within walking distance. The day we were there it was bright and sunny and 88 degrees :)
San Juan -- Arrived about 1:00 pm and stayed until 10:30 pm. Lots of shore excursions even at night. Mostly sunny and around 83 degrees.
Saint Thomas -- Nice port. Lots of shore excursions. Nice sunny day, temperature around 84 degrees. Arrived around 8:00 am and left around 4:00 pm.
Half Moon Cay -- Holland America does a nice job with their "private island". For one thing, they use larger "ferries" to handle the tender job. One of these ferries probably holds as many passengers as 4 tenders so the ship to shore and shore to ship goes so much faster. Lots of nice amenities on the island. It was a partly sunny day and a little on the cool side but most passengers went ashore anyway.
All in all, this was a nice cruise. I would recommend the Eurodam and Holland America to anyone looking for a "refined" cruise experience. There was plenty to do if you wanted something to do. I love the size of the ship. It never seemed crowded.