OK - we were finally able to get away for enough days to do a cruise, albeit only a seven day cruise, which for us is very short -- and we also found ourselves on the Eurodam, one of HAL's newest and largest ships - something that we thought we would never do but this was the ship with the timing and itinerary that worked for us.
Let me say this upfront ... the cruise was fantastic! Food was up to standards and everyone and everything on board was working well. No complaints here, just a wish to cruise another week.
The nice thing about Holland America is that all their ships are similar enough in style for us to feel totally at home and comfortable very quickly. Though we did not always know the specifics of which deck each venue was located on we were able to adapt and navigate the whole ship rather quickly.
No denying that this ships pushes the boundary for us in terms of its size. But for a week it is doable. For longer we could do it but not as happily. This ship, this week, feels very crowded -- there are only 30 children on board so we are probably not traveling with an unusually large complement of folks -- it is just that crowded when full. As we walked around we found the aft pool and lido pool areas teaming with people including those folks in the not so private lido cabanas that steal the lido view on one side. In contrast, when we ventured up to the open deck areas above deck 9 they were almost deserted. Is it that there are too many folks or that they are not distributing themselves among all available venues?
If I were ever in the market for a cabana I would choose a retreat cabana as the retreat is much quieter and not crowded. If I wanted a pool I would go down a deck when the urge struck. Personally I am not convinced that the cabanas are anything more than another way for Holland America to sell public space and make it private -- taking it away from everyone else on board. As delightful as private verandas are, these too are public space stealers that ultimately serve to congest those few public spaces left. For me, and this is only my opinion, the cabanas push me over the edge. I find the lido pool area on this ship claustrophobic.
Comment and query: There are a few of the old style (and much revered) wooden deck chairs on the promenade deck, and there is a whole bevy of them on one of the upper sun decks. All of these chairs, however, are now without varnish and showing the ravaging effects of the sun (the wood is bleached and dry) -- My personal fear: Is HAL phasing these chairs out? Is that why they are not maintained? To me this would be a great loss and an indication of one more step on the road to eliminating those things that make Holland America distinctive from the other "big box" cruise lines.
About two months out we originally purchased a veranda guarantee for what I felt was an extremely fair price. Of course, at this time of the year, the prices dropped even farther so I contacted my TA about an upgrade in guarantee status. She returned with both an upgrade offer to a higher category veranda and an up sell offer to an SZ. We took the up sell. We landed in an SS cabin on the upper veranda deck that is about as midships as could be. This is our first time in this type of cabin and I have to say that its size and design is very comfortable.
We particularly appreciate the double sinks and separate shower in the bathroom. The larger veranda with two chairs and table plus two "comfy" style chairs with footstools got more use from us in the first three days on board than we have used all previous verandas that we have had - combined. Kudos for the larger veranda (yes, we are enjoying that private space that we have taken from everyone else on board - Yes - I am a hypocrite).
For those who are curious we have received two bars of the large white soap (rather than the smaller bars of the round, yellow, clear soap that I truly dislike). Yeah for that!
Our cabin stewards (Suko and Agus) - who learned our names instantly - go out of their way to provide excellent service that happens magically when we go to breakfast and dinner ... as it should.
I wish I could speak as well to the condition of the cabin itself as I do of the service provided by our wonderful stewards. The white surface of the tub (acrylic? enamel? who knows) has at least three large chips that bare a dark (and possibly rusting) surface below. Our sinks have smaller but similar scratches. In my mind these defects do not speak to the maintenance provided by the crew, but rather to a very poor choice of materials by the parent company who made the decisions and outfitted this ship. This ship is only a few years old! This type of wear and tear should not be occurring.
There is a similar issue in the cabin itself -- the laminate strips that cover the sides of the drawer faces have been stripped off on two of the drawers -- on one of the drawers the laminate is hanging by a small bit, on the other drawer it has been long gone. In other areas the laminate shows signs of cracking and repair. Again, not so much maintenance as poor original materials.
Frankly we were surprised to discover these things.
As long as I am being critical, the cabin lighting does not seem to be as well designed as it could. There are plenty of light fixtures but, somehow, there is not plenty of light. The one very bright light is the entryway does little to illuminate my image in the floor to ceiling mirror located there. Each night I go to dinner not sure how offensively I might be dressed. The grey tone of the glass in the full length mirror does not help this issue at all. Similarly the closets that are made of fashionably dark colored fake wood laminate get no real light at all from that same single bulb which is aimed only at the floor. It is very difficult to see our closet contents. The lighter woods used in the older ships would make closet viewing much better.
Similarly I find the "make up lights" at the vanity desk glaringly bright, but again my image is hampered by a tinted mirror. I am glad to see the magnifying make up mirror but sad that it no longer has a flip side of the standard lighted mirror that is so useful to those of us who cannot focus all the way to the large desk mirror without glasses, but can focus close rather well. Well, you can't please everyone all of the time!
Loved our veranda -- we had two chairs with ottomans and a small table between plus a table and two chairs that could be used for meals or whatever. Unfortunately it appears that some white paint (probably while painting the ceiling overhang one time) spilled on the table and though clearly valiant efforts had been made to remove the paint from the table, large stains persist. While outside we were aware of smoking from above or next door at times but it usually did not last long and only once were we the recipients of someone's errant ash.
Does anyone out there know why the stunning Chihouly glass sculpture over the atrium now hangs above a large net? The net kind of ruins the ambience in the atrium ocean bar area. I hope that issues with this sculpture are fixed soon. It is nice piece.
The dining room ceiling on the other HAL ships that I have enjoyed always have a delightful, design and fixtures making them an elegant part of the dining room atmosphere. Eurodam's dining room ceiling really doesn't do it for me. The filigreed elements (are they made of wood or plaster?) that drop from the ceiling and reflect the constantly changing colors of light -- frankly it just looks cheap.
The elevators proudly sport mats with the days of the week.
The Lido sandwich stations has a yummy tuna salad made with white meat tuna.
Before dinner they still go through the lounges with the dinner chimes.
The Ocean bar has nightly hot munchies though you may have to ask for them.
A first for us, in our SS we have bed side mats and slippers that are laid out every night. I do not remember these from the Veranda Suites on the R and S class ships -- we have never traveled in a Neptune Suite -- frankly we are truly afraid of trying one and then blowing the travel budget forever after.
Service in the dining room is a bit slow (we average two hours but then talk with our wonderful dinner mates another half hour!) -- we have had excellent service from Jack our wine steward. He has gone out of his way to please us -- and though working very fast and hard Juan and Hendra, our waiters, have done a great job too.
The air conditioning was anywhere from more than adequate to very chilly. In general the ship was cool to chilly and at times very chilly. Certainly no AC problems here that I saw.
Now, for the cruise itself.
We boarded on Sunday, Dec 1. We arrived at the port somewhat after 11. We were sent to the four star line and were processed rapidly. Instead of a number we were given a tag that said "priority" which we still have -- no one seemed to want it back either in port or on the ship. Maybe someone will take it when we return to port tomorrow. We sat a few minutes and then were allowed to board. Very easy.
We dropped our bags in our waiting and clean cabin, waited until noon and then went off to the mariner lunch in the dining room. Good food, good folks.
Monday we had a sea day during which I totally relaxed and enjoyed a spa treatment that worked out many of my knotted muscles so that I could complete my relaxation process.
Formal nights were Monday and Friday.
We did not get off the ship in Grand Turk - it was intensely hot and sunny and short of the desire for a beach or to shop we lapsed into enjoying the fruits of a somewhat empty ship while in port.
We did not leave the ship in San Juan either -- here it was not for lack of wishing to go ashore as we really love walking around Old San Juan -- it was because of the pouring rain. When we pulled up to the dock around 1 pm we could see the RCCL ship on the port side -- on the starboard side we could see the Japanese fishing boat and the old port building but behind that there was no harbor and no city as the rain and fog were so thick. It is a good thing that we have been to San Juan many times so that we were not terribly disappointed.
On Thursday we were in St. Thomas and had signed up for the Champagne Catamaran Sail and Snorkle. There were 43 of us folks aboard the Adventuress that day, on a four hour tour. We uneventfully motored out to Honeymoon Beach on St. John but by the time we arrived the skies were very dark. We went out for the snorkle. I have to report that what we saw was not particularly interesting -- partly because we missed the sun and partly because there were only a few fish, bits of sea grass, small mounds of coral, lots of sand a couple of turtles and sting rays that some folks saw. A bit of a disappointment but the water felt fantastic.
The catamaran was clean and well designed for what we were doing. But, as we came in from the swim the skies opened up! As our crew deftly plied us with non-stop champagne, rum punches and light snacks huge lightening bolts crossed the sky and the water fell as if poured from a large pitcher! We were all under the bimini, the side shades dropped, but the amount of wetness was biblical and came in through every opening in large rivulets and there was no person, place or thing that wasn't drenched to the skin! It is amazing how much two beach towels that have been drenched and later wrung out still weigh!
However, as the rain fell and as our captain motored us back to St. Thomas (no way we could sail) the refreshments kept flowing as did the entertaining good cheer of the crew. Though we now resembled drowned rats, everyone was happy anyway albeit a bit chilly and ready for a hot shower. The folks on our open jitney back to town from the catamaran pier that was near Red Hook (about 25 minutes from the Eurodam) sang songs the whole way. They were very happy.
Neither we nor HAL can control the weather -- we take what we get and we still have a great time.
On Thursday evening there was the Captain's Cocktail party for suites and "VIP's" - there were very few of us as compared to previous cruises -- either a lot of no shows or not a lot of VIP's. Never-the-less there was a huge receiving line of officers and the party was well presented.
After the party we dined at the Tamarind. What a truly wonderful space. We also enjoyed a Tamarind lunch on Wednesday as we came into San Juan. I have to say that Tamarind is something that HAL really got right. The venue is stunning and relaxing, the food excellent ... really good Asian fare -- fresh and tasty with a variety of flavors. But possibly the best part is the design of the food and plates. Each dish seems to come arranged in an exquisitely pleasing pattern on custom designed plates. All the senses in overload and on a ship at sea also! Kudos to HAL for this venue -- I cannot speak of it highly enough.
Friday we were once again at sea and it was a truly glorious, sunny day. I spent hours on our private piece of the cruise ship pie and had a great, quiet time.
There was a mariners reception at 10:30 Friday morning. Well presented but the shortest such affair we have ever attended. A few copper medallions were awarded, and a small number of larger value mariners were recognized. We had one five star couple on board. In terms of ships complement two out of three passenger on board were mariners and there were two seatings for the meal. One at 11 am and one at 1 pm.
We lunched, early seating, with the Guest Relations Manager. I had a wonderful time chatting with folks but unfortunately it was a large table and I was totally unable to speak with our host. So no interesting tidbits to report. Sorry.
Dinner on Friday was formal.
On Saturday we were at Half Moon Cay and I am glad to report the ship was able to make it in and out of the harbor with no apparent issues. We shared the port with the Noordam. The Eurodam used the local tenders. We did not go into port - instead we enjoyed the quiet ambience on board and a quiet Lido lunch. The weather was mostly sunny with a few sprinkles in the a.m. -- nothing serious.
Dinner on Saturday was the Master Chef's International dinner -- waiters in Master Chef's costume but thankfully no meal performance. At the end of the meal there was a chorus of Indonesian songs and the waiters were joined by cabin stewards and other staff. I guess since there is no disembarkation talk anymore this replaces that final farewell.
Eurodam is now on her way to Freeport for a ten day dry dock. As far as we saw or experienced there was nothing happening on board during the cruise that was anything other than ordinary or would speak to a pending large maintenance operation.
This morning, disembarkation day, the dining room was open on level three for breakfast -- and our only hint of the upcoming project was apparent when looking down to the level two dining room. The tables had been stripped bare, the silverware was sorted and sitting in multiple bins on a few tables at the back of the room, and plastic sheeting had been placed on the carpet. No big deal or impact on us at all. This is the second time we have been aboard a ship prior to dry dock and neither time did we feel that the upcoming work had any impact on our cruise at all. I would not hesitate to take another HAL ship into dry dock. Taking a ship out of dry dock, however, can be a different story.
Disembarkation was slow - customs delays. We were to be off at 9:45 - we were called late - had a hold put on disembarkation while in line at the gate. Almost an hour between call for our colored tag and the taxi. Good thing we timed our flight properly.
We had a great cruise - only sad that we had to come home so quickly - only seven days.
Any questions - I will try and answer them.
Captain: Emil De Vries - boarded the ship this cruise
Staff Captain Kevin Biernaert
Hotel Director: Don Habets
Chief Engineer: Marcel Kiers
Guest Relation Manager: Cecelia Grimaldi
S.E.H. Officer: Martin van Dam
Purser: Joni Candra
Culinary Operation Manager: Wessel van Oorschot
Chief Housekeeper: Melcolm Coutinho
Beverage Manager: Kenneth Johnson
Executive Chef: Petr Nozicka
Dining Room Manager: Hadi Prayitno
Shore Excursions Mgr: Monica De Freitas
Cruise Director: Kieron Buffrey
Piano Bar: Jeff Warren
Hannukah celebrations with Rabbi Peggy