Our extended family took a spring break cruise on the Eurodam March 30-April 6, 2013. The eight of us ranged in age from 28-66 years old and we all had a great time!
Before the cruise, I was worried how our group would do on HAL. Out of the eight of us, four of them had never been on HAL before. They have only ever been on RCL and NCL, which to me are VERY different compared to HAL. They hadn't ever been on such a small ship either.
Most of all though, I was worried about how my mom would enjoy her HAL experience. For years, my mom worked as a social director on board HAL ships in the 1970s. She talks so fondly of her time on the Rotterdam and some of the other ships. She always talks about the elegance, how much she enjoyed the smaller ships with only 500 passengers, about the attention the staff would have even with the smallest details and most importantly to her, the high degree of personal service. I've been on HAL once before (the Statendam in 2007) and though the trip was amazing and much better by far than my experiences on NCL and MSC, I was worried that the larger ship, more passengers and less formal cruise ship culture of today would disappoint my mom who is used to the HAL of the 1970s.
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale the day before the cruise. The eight of us booked two suites at the Residence Inn in Plantation with the plan that we'd hang out and do some pre cruise celebrating in our suite, cook dinner altogether, etc. We arrived at the hotel around 2pm. Check-in is normally at 4pm, but if our room was ready we hoped that we could check in early. Our room wasn't ready yet, so we waited in the nice lobby watching TV. 4pm rolled around, our room was still not ready. They said that it would be ready soon though. By 5pm, our room was still not ready. The manager finally says that there is a problem with the room and it won't be ready for a while. He then discounts the room by $50 and starts bringing wine out to us. By the time our room was finally ready at 7pm, the manager had given us probably about 10 mini bottles of wine to enjoy while we waited, popcorn and free shuttle tickets for everyone to the ship and return shuttle tickets too. Though this wasn't as good as being able to be in our room by 4pm, relaxing, swimming at the pool, etc, it wasn't terrible either and I'm glad that the hotel manager tried to accommodate us as much as he could.
We arrived at the cruise terminal around 10:30am. According to the HAL representative that we talked to on the phone the day before when we were killing time waiting for our hotel room, there would be a Mariners' Lunch starting on board the ship at 11am and that all Mariners and their guests were allowed to attend. We didn't want to miss that, so we got to the port early.
Once at the cruise terminal, things were rather easy. We got my mom a wheelchair since she's due for a new hip and has difficulty walking longer distances. With my mom in a wheelchair, the two of us were able to skip most of the lines for checking in. There wasn't much of a wait for the other six in our party though. They got through the lines just a few minutes after we did. When we checked in, we asked about the Mariner Lunch and they told us that only 3 star Mariners and up were invited. I mentioned to the lady checking us in that the HAL representative yesterday told us that all Mariners were allowed. After I mentioned that, the lady went and got us one of the paper invitations. She said that if anyone tried to hassle us when we went to the lunch I needed to just show them the invitation.
After check in, we had to wait what seemed like quite a while to board the ship. Once on board though, we were told that our rooms were already for us. This impressed me as this has never happened with the other four other cruises that I've been on. We dropped off our carry on bags in our rooms and went to the Mariners' Lunch. No one questioned us about being there, but I had brought our paper invitation just in case. The lunch was great. Afterwards, we toured the ship. There still weren't a lot of people on board, so it was great to get our bearings without having crowds to deal with.
We then hung out on our balcony for a while and before we knew it we were moving. On other ships that I've been on, there's always been a rumble from the engines and a little bit of shaking when moving away from a dock. The Eurodam was so smooth and quiet though, I didn't realize we were even moving until I looked up and saw that we were moving away from the dock.
Soon enough it was time for dinner. I was worried with how dinner would be since we had many people that had special diets. In our group of eight we had:
-2 vegetarians that don't eat dairy
-1 vegan diet (me)
-1 low fat / dairy free person
Though we had so many with food restrictions, there really was something for everyone. We told HAL ahead of time about the dietary restrictions and they had custom meals prepared for all of us the first night on board in the MDR.
At the end of the first dinner, our dining stewards brought us copies of the regular menu for the next night and the standard vegetarian menu. The vegetarian menu doesn't change during the cruise, but it has a ton of options and all of them are labeled whether or not the are vegetarian or vegan.
We then were all able to look at the menus and decide which items we would order from the regular menu (which would offer 1-2 vegetarian or vegan entrees per night) and which items we would order off of the vegetarian menu for the next night. If there were certain things we wanted from the vegetarian menu, all we had to do was circle them and write our name and table number. If we wanted to order something from the regular menu for the next evening, we didn't have to pre-order it. We would just remember to order it when we got to dinner the next evening.
Overall this worked really well for us. The vegan options that I had were really tasty and everyone that tried the vegetarian/vegan options were happy with them too. On some nights we had non-vegetarians in our group even ordering off of the vegetarian menu because they really liked those options too.
The only downside was that sometimes people in our group would forget that they pre ordered certain veggie stuff the night before, so they would order other veggie things on the regular menu and then they would be surprised when they would get so much food. Because of this, we sometimes had nights where someone would accidentally order three or four appetizers.
We ended up eating extremely well on the whole cruise. The workers at the buffet were pretty knowledgeable about the food. They would be able to warn members of our group if something that looked like just stir fried veggies really had an oyster sauce in it, etc. We were glad that we could ask them for rice or soy milk too. They keep cartons of it in the areas where the juice is in the morning.
One thing to keep in mind with this is that out of all of the people with dietary restrictions in our group, we are all very easy going and we all just do it for health reasons. Because of that, we weren't asking if things were made in different pans, etc. I did notice at the Terrace Grill though that the black bean veggie burgers weren't cooked on the same grill as the meats. They cook the veggie burgers on a George Forman style electric grill.
Compared to the other cruise lines I have been on, the cruise last week on the Eurodam was one of the most accommodating. When I went on MSC the vegetarian and vegan options were beyond awful (pasta every night and no other choices) and once it was bad on NCL and once it was great.
The two HAL trips have been consistently good with vegan options though and I noticed this time that the current vegetarian and vegan menu is much more extensive than it was in 2007. From the MDR veggie/vegan menu, be sure to try the hummus, baba ganoush and stuffed grape leaf appetizer, there are some good salads, and for entrees we all really liked the tofu and veggie kebabs, vegan chili and tofu pad Thai. There were some really good pastas that were on the regular dinner menu too. Most nights you can get sorbet as a dessert as well. I also discovered that the quesadillas on the lunch buffet were cheese and meat free and there were other great options on the Lido buffet at lunch and late night too.
As for rest of the cruise was awesome. Even with our group of eight, no one was ever bored. We could all find something to do. We were so entertained, that there were days we wouldn't even see each other until dinner. Those that went to the shows enjoyed them, the BB King band was fabulous, the trivia people had fun at the trivia games, the gym was nice from what I heard and the back deck around the Sea View Pool was great. The area was mostly kid free and the kids we saw were always well behaved. From what I heard there were over 450 kids on board, but we didn't seem them much. This was refreshing as it hasn't been like this on other cruise lines that I've been on where it feels like the kids rule the ship.
Even though there were activities for everyone, one thing that was great was the lack of announcements about the activities throughout the day. I've been on some cruises where they are announcing activities constantly. This ship seemed to assume that you knew how to read your daily schedule so they weren't going to remind you of everything on the PA system constantly. That was so refreshing.
The staff overall was incredibly friendly. Our cabin stewards were always so bubbly and helpful. The stewards in the main dining room were wonderful too, as was everyone else that we came across.
Our only two complaints were that there was only one night of karaoke and that we had to get off of the ship after just seven days.
Would we travel HAL again? Absolutely! The four first time HAL cruisers in our group fell in love with the elegance of the ship, the vegetarian and vegan food in the MDR, the spacious exterior rooms and so many other things. The three Mariners in our group were reminded again how much we love cruising on HAL and how different it is compared to NCL.
As for my mom, the former HAL Social Director of the 1970s, she had no real complaints either. Even though the ship is much larger than what she is used to, the common areas were so large that we never felt crowded. Even on this full capacity cruise, there were always open chairs on the decks. She enjoyed seeing that people get dressed up for dinner, even if it's not the tuxes and evening gowns that she was used to. Even though she really liked the Eurodam, she is really curious to try out the smaller ships in the fleet though.
Overall, it was a great trip and we can't wait to get on another one of those Dam ships!