INTRODUCING THE EURODAM -- After the pleasure of sailing a few other cruise ships in their debut year, I was hoping that a holiday weekend on the brand-new MS Eurodam from Holland America would be a sweet adventure, and indeed it happily exceeded all expectations. Built to the tune of $450 million by classy Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, this 86,000-ton vessel seems gracefully enormous as you stroll about the decks and pools and bistros, yet it's been crafted slim enough to fit through the Panama Canal, and can therefore be hailed as "Panamax." The ship has eleven decks and 1025 staterooms, with 67% balconies. With an additional deck for cabins built on top of a basic Noordam plan, the Eurodam has entered the Holland America fleet with 63 new staterooms more than their latest Vista-class ship, with 10 of the cabins said to feature floor-to-ceiling wall-to-wall panoramic windows. Eurodam is fitted out with several of the features HAL regulars have come to expect, such as glass elevators that look to the water, a Pinnacle Grill (this one has handsome formal chairs), and a Greenhouse Spa. The ship boasts the latest state-of-the-art navigation and safety systems and brand-new Azipod propulsion technology. Other additions are the Explorer's Lounge, Canaletto, which is an Italian specialty section of the Lido, and a show lounge with theater-style seating where culinary classes are offered. There's also a new wine bar, but it has such ultra-modern decoration that it looks like an uninviting ice sculpture; on the other hand the photography gallery includes an intimate studio area for private shoots.
MANHATTAN EMBARKATION -- Turned out to be surprisingly pleasant, especially considering the disorganized chaos of the disembarkation later. Although the Coast Guard had announced it was conducting exercises on the ship requiring embarkation to delay starting until 3:00, passengers arriving at 1:30 were able to come onboard immediately. And while the Manhattan dock is getting to be one of the oldest in the industry, much of it had been sufficiently refurbished to create a veneer of bright surfaces over the ancient boards. Several groups of lucky passengers in line around me had booked not only our introductory holiday weekend onboard but also the next sailing up along the Canadian coastline. THE
STATUE OF LIBERTY -- Eurodam sailed away at 7:00 instead of 7:30 in order to greet Lady Liberty at sunset. Although it was cloudy and darker than might have been wished, many of the crew had never seen her and crowded onto the decks in their various uniforms to ooh and aaah and photograph themselves beside her. The city coming up in glittering nightlights was beautiful as ever; I'd forgotten how exhilarating it is to view the water-spouting fire-boat show down by the South Street Seaport; and fitting under the Varrazano Bridge was pretty spectacular as well, and certainly worth a snapshot or two.
SHIP -- Everywhere we went onboard this beautiful vessel, passengers were enjoying a variety of activities, from heavily-attended bingo and poolside demonstrations, to afternoon tea and the "On Deck for the Cure" 5K which was "run" on the Promenade Deck as a fund-raiser to fight breast cancer. The ship felt quite stable at sea; she didn't "wiggle her bottom" as do many ships, or rock us to sleep, but that may have been because we were sailing at only 11.5 knots. It was pleasant to think how that might have attracted cresting dolphins if we'd been in the right area. The ship is covered with flowers. Tightly-packed mammoth flowers arrangements (perhaps Asian-influenced) grace hallways and entrances; hundreds of votive-lamp glasses with a single orchid blossom on tables influence the ambient fragrance of many of the bars and meeting rooms.
STATEROOMS -- Cabins are fitted with blonde wood, grey carpet, and highlighted with touches of red; many verandas are furnished with wicker chaises and small tables. Cabins and hallways were impeccably cared for, and groomed with a pleasant-smelling rug deodorizer. With all the buzz around the industry, and indeed right here on the boards, about the "new bed program" in the various lines and ships, here is Eurodam coming right out of the gate with Euro-top Mariner's Dream bed-spread-free beds and and light blankets wrapped in duvet covers. Personally I still think the new bed program is basically an excuse not to purchase and maintain dressy bedspreads, but the high-rising bed was a comfort to my back. Cabins feature flat screen televisions with DVD players, massage shower heads, and really strong hair dryers. Many cabins had fresh flowers and complimentary fruit baskets, although not mine. Adjustable wall lights of the minute tenser variety are mounted above the bedside tables although they are nearly useless for nighttime reading. Although drawers in the desk area would have been appreciated, a side cabinet did provide two small shelves and the leather stool under the writing table had a removable top with room for storage. A small halo-lit magnifying vanity mirror built into the wall is not only convenient for the ladies, but creates a pleasant night light.
BATH -- It was easy to navigate the highly familiar modular bathroom which was, if possible, a few square feet larger than on other ships, and the majority of staterooms are equipped with bathtub/showers. It was a pleasure as well being surrounded by brand-new bathroom surfaces, spanking clean right down to the corners, a still-pristine shower curtain, and the use of complimentary Elemis bath products. And Holland America has given me a new prospective on the bathrobe term "waffle" (which to me sounds like the non-suite inferior variety) because their new "waffle-terry" bathrobes were delightfully substantial and smooth to the skin, and ready in the room at check-in without a hassle.
DINING ROOM -- Both levels of the Rembrandt Dining Room are graciously appointed with lovely furniture and, press shots notwithstanding, the tables come in a variety of shapes and sizes and most are in fact not of the cramped, thin-slice Vegas-show type. A smaller internal dining room, the Kings Room, is available for weddings and VIPs. What a sweet traditional touch it was to have a young crewman kitted out in scarlet bum-free jacket with epaulets marching up and down the hallways along the dining room deck with a small xylophone in hand ringing us in to dinner from our cocktails, just like cruises of old. The food was excellent, and most of the familiar cruise favorites were well-prepared and well-presented. Considering that every week we passengers are reported to consume over 300 cases of beer and 2000 bottles of Champagne & wine, a ton of watermelon, and 300 gallons of ice cream—one wonders where they manage to fit it all! And since debut ship seasons can be plagued by inexperienced staff unfamiliar with ship-life and struggling to learn table-service in a strange new culture, I'm glad to report what a privilege it was to enjoy the services of excellent, if sometimes slow, dining room staff and a really stellar cabin steward.
LIDO DINING -The cafeteria dining area is furnished with rather appealing lemon-colored leather chairs and the poured-plexiglas tables are set with napkin-rolled silverware packets which make going through the lines easier. Freshly-squeezed orange juice available at breakfast is a real treat and fresh fruit -- and quite good coffee, urns for which have a dandy button feature that dispenses a neatly filled cup. Live phalaenopsis orchid plants decorate the tables, which are set with linens at night and table service is offered in certain sections.
POOL LIFE - With pools both amidships and aft, much of the day was spent relaxing on deck enjoying the sunny ocean view. Eurodam has much expanded its poolside merchandising opportunities, with "Cabanas," small curtained-off rental areas each containing a circular king-size chaise and chairs along the starboard side of the pool, and also the new "Retreat" area with cabana rentals available topside and forward in the ship arranged around a center lounge area. Nearby "Spa Cabins" with special amenities add to the new Retreat experience.
I especially enjoyed a deck forward and above the retreat area for my own sunning, and it was filled with the same comfortable wooden chaises which are dotted throughout the promenade deck below. Even with all the space taken up by the two areas of rented cabanas, there were still plenty of deck chairs available, though perhaps not as many by the pool. However, with the largest Jacuzzi available only for a hefty premium, Eurodam could definitely use two or three more hot tubs; they were crowded so constantly I never managed to set foot in one.
EXPLORATIONS CAFÉ/CROW'S NEST - This area spans impressively the entire arc of the ship's front end topside. The portside corner is custom-fitted with crushed velvet sectional divans; there are sections of banquette framing part of the windows with easy chairs facing it and the ocean; and finally, right in the center are a dozen good-sized loungers perfect for the panoramic viewing pleasure of passengers overlooking the ocean. The Explorations Cafe, which is the Library/Coffee/Internet Cafe area, is quite pleasant with; I especially enjoyed the selection of current magazines library-mounted in covers, and there were plenty of computer terminals powered by the New York Times. While oppressively slow, the sign-on system had good functionality and allowed guests to take in the scenic backdrop of the ocean while keeping in touch with home.
ENTERTAINMENT - Music was playing in several locations during most of the evenings. Several friends at our table thoroughly enjoyed the comic performer onboard and regaled us with stories of his performances. Both shows with song-and-dance production numbers, "Night Life" and "Dream Park," were energetically performed by four female and four male dancers plus singers, one girl and two guys, and a female trio of swing singer/dancers as well. Although two of the singers wore cheek-mikes wired to radio-packs, still nearly all the vocals seemed to be recorded with performers lip-syncing and live performing only minimally. Even then, they sang only in "karaoke" style, following the tape, but this is getting to be the custom now throughout the cruise industry. The shows made extensive use of colorful digital background images and some fireworks at the climax.
SHIP'S MUSTER -- Chaotic and claustrophobic, this may not have been Eurodam's finest hour. While squashed in noisy military lines with my fellow passengers, I did discover HAL's admirable practice of demanding hospital-style ID-wrist-bands be worn by all children for the entire cruise, but taped instructions about how to put on a life vest were redundant since we were ordered to don them on in our cabins. Although it was the first time to see attendance taken being taken at a muster, administration might do well to visit other ships and see how it's done on other cruise lines. Rather than encourage an informed sense of safety, I predict Eurodam's ship's musters may occasionally incite episodes of panic.
EURODAM CHRISTENING -- After enjoying her charms for a few introductory days, I was ready to appreciate viewing the July 1st Eurodam dedication ceremony included among the daily television offerings. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands presided over the festivities in a lovely orchid picture hat, formally naming her and ringing her bell, and there were steamers, a crashing Champagne bottle and spectacular music. Although it took place in Rotterdam, the service was conducted in English, but at the end all voices on hand joined in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony chorus and it sounded as though it may have been sung in Dutch.