My husband and I are on the inaugural voyage of the Eurodam, paying more than $500 a day apiece. The first three days from Rotterdam to Copenhagen, we were in "steerage class." We arrived at the ship to discover that the Queen had christened the ship a day before she sailed. There were no events on board for the passengers because the line was entertaining Centurian travel agents and the press. What this meant was that ordinary passengers could NOT get a reservation at any of the restaurants, not in the main dining room or in the specialty restaurants. We do not like set dining so we were on "dining as you wish." After not being able to get a reservation at any of the specialty restaurants, the second night we went to the main dining room where we were handed a pizza-hut type buzzer and told the wait would be 45 minutes. We then went up to the buffet restaurant where we were told that it was about to close. We then found ourselves among about 50 passengers who were begging the staff to please not close and to let them go through the buffet line. We and two friends who were travelling with us were then told that, if we called beginning at 8 a.m. the next morning, we could get a reservation. The next morning (the third day)our friend called at 8 a.m. sharp and he was told that all restaurants were booked for the night. So, he asked to book for the following night, and then was told that the ship wasn't booking until the next morning at 8 a.m.
But the worst thing about the ship was that our friends, who had booked a handicapped verandah room, got perhaps the worst verandah room, all of us had ever seen on Celebrity, Azamara, or Holland America. It was a cut-up room--a long, and narrow dungeon-like room with a truncated verandah. Our friend is legally blind with only a bit of side vision. The room was really dark. There was barely room to move a standard wheelchair in front of the beds. I helped her unpack and could not tell what color the clothes were that I put on the shelves. She was told that the ship was completely full and she could not move to another room (we surmised that this was probably because a travel agent or someone posing as a journalist got a free or reduced fare and, in a misguided PR effort, were given the best rooms.) As a former journalist and now as a journalism/mass communications professor, I know that very few newspapers and magazines have travel writers on staff. If they are on staff, their publications pay the full cost of the trip. Most of the "journalists" probably were glorified PR people who write glowing reports because of the freebies they got; and, of course, the Centurian travel agents have a new incentive to book on Holland America.
The ship did come through and our friends did get a new room for the 10-day sail. However, they had to repack and move. Because of the stress of it all and the need to put everything back where she could find things by feeling for them, my friend spent the first two days of the sail recovering in her room. Her 80-year-old husband was also stressed out.
On the plus side, the food is much better than Celebrity. The chocolate desserts are lacking (some are made out of powder rather than real chocolate).
We were looking forward to the new ship because all the stools that we encountered on the Vollendam smelled like Marine heads. The stool in our cabin smells although I didn't smell anything in several of the public restrooms. I asked our steward about it and he said some of the other passengers asked him to get rid of the smell; he says its the pipes. (The bathrooms in Celebrity or Azamara did not smell.)
The shore excursions--like Celebrity's--are not the best. Too many people on a big bus, can't hear the guide, too much time spent pointing out buildings as we drive by and not enough time in the interesting attractions. Yesterday's Oslo excursion is a good example. We rushed through the Viking ships museum and the Vigeland (sp???) sculpture park but spent endless time just driving around listening to the guide talk about this building or that building, including a dreary shops/office park built in the '60s. But, to be fair, when we were in the sculpture park, it was raining. But the bus driver came with umbrellas and no one was urging the guide to get us out of the rain.
I am waiting for a company to spring up to offer small-group excursions (6-10 people) at ports in Europe. I had a great guide book about ports in Alaska, which gave advice on arranging your own tours there. I arranged all of my own tours and they were all once-in-a-lifetime-type experiences. I would really love to take a boat ride on Loch Ness, but HAL doesn't offer that tour so we are stuck with a bus ride around the lake. Ship passengers are a captive audience with few alternatives.