We just returned from a week's cruise to the eastern Caribbean on Holland America's newest and largest ship, the Eurodam. It went into service in July of this year, and from our experiences, many of the kinks still need to be worked out. This was our ninth cruise, the first with Holland America, so we had RCCL and Celebrity for comparison. The cruise ranked in the bottom three for us.
Embarkation on Nov. 29 was smooth and quick once we got to the cruise terminal. Fort Lauderdale has to do something soon with the horrendous traffic tie-ups entering the port area. Arriving around noon at the curb we quickly found a porter and our luggage was dispatched for $2 per bag. Lines moved quickly and completing all the pre-boarding online helped speed things. Lunch at the Lido was an experience. As previous posters have noted the aisle area between the lines for the buffet and the seating area is very narrow. We would not eat on the tables directly opposite the food lines as you are sure to be jostled by folks passing by. For some reason Holland America doesn't think people can serve themselves from a buffet line so they even have a person placing a slice of cake or pie onto a large plate for you. I guess you can say that is pampering the guest, but to me it slows down the works and makes for longer lines. It was almost impossible to find a table for the six of us traveling together but we found something in the sun on deck. If you like iced tea it would be wise to take two glasses at a time because the glasses are very small. Coffee is filled about 3/4th of the cup so you are always looking for refills. Compared to the other ships we have been on, service in the buffet area is spotty. Often you have to search out a waiter/attendant to get more tea or remove plates, etc.
Our balcony cabin was 7024. This was the first time we had had a balcony room, and as we had heard many times, once you have one you will never go back. The room was the largest we had ever had. There was ample space to hang clothes, plenty of hangers, lots of drawer space. We overpacked and still had more than enough room to put everything. The only electrical outlet in the room was along the desk and there was one outlet in the bathroom. A lighted magnifying mirror (for makeup) was on the desk, a hair dryer was provided, a small refrigerator loaded with a huge variety of drinks, an easy-to-use safe was in one of the closets. The TV was a flat screen and a DVD player was included. Disks could be rented for $3 form the library on Deck 11. There was a love seat that folded out into a bed. Two long robes for use on the cruise were included. The bathroom came with a bathtub. The door to the balcony was heavy and would not stay open on it's own. We would have preferred a sliding door. The sides of the balcony were made of solid material so we had privacy from our neighbors. Unfortunately, our luggage didn't arrive at our room until almost 4:30pm. In our location we scarcely heard a thing from above, below and the sides. The AC/heat was easily adjustable and there were no rattles or annoying squeaks.
Because we booked only six weeks previous to our sailing date we were unable to get assigned early or late seating in the dining room so were forced to do the "at your own" seating. This was the first time we had ever had "free-style" seating or whatever is the term. We are traditional cruisers who enjoy having a specified table with our tablemates. We enjoy having a waiter and an assistant waiter who get to know us and we get to know them. In the "free style" dining you get whomever you get and whatever table is available. We never had to wait for a table. But, we felt we were missing the special treatment we were accustomed to. On the three nights we dined in the main dining room if the waiter gave his name I didn't hear it, so service was impersonal, like you would get at an Applebees. I did not see any assistant waiter for our table and I did not see any headwaiters for a grouping of tables. I had to ask for iced tea and then for refills. On a few occasions one of our party was given the wrong dinner…a definite no-no in a cruise ship dining room. The waiter did not make any small talk, ask us about our day, give recommendations for the evening meal, talk about the next day's menu. I guess we have been spoiled by Celebrity and RCCL.
Given what I have said, whenever you walked on deck or in all parts of the ship you would always be greeted politely by all staff and there were many smiles to go around. The hotel and restaurant staff was primarily Indonesian. We did have some problems getting through accents and often they spoke too softly to be heard (remember, this is Holland America with an older clientele). One night we opted for the Italian specialty restaurant, Caneletto. Oddly, this restaurant was really a section of the Lido buffet deck set aside for dinner. It was just like eating breakfast or lunch there. There was no surcharge for the Caneletto, but the food was very disappointing. We waited about a half hour for our entrees to arrive. I had lasagna and in all honesty it tasted like the Stouffer's you would get from the frozen food section of Kroger. None of our friends were wowed by anything on the menu either. To make things worse, the section of seating we were in was freezing. We complained to the person who seated us and the waiter and were told they know there is a problem but they haven't got it solved yet (after six months). Needless to say we did not return to this "restaurant" again.
The ship seemed to have problems regulating the AC in other parts as well..some areas warm, others chilly. The first day (Sunday) we were at sea. From the time we hit the open seas we were in for a rock and roll ride. For a new, large ship, supposedly state-of-the-art, there was far too much roll. We have been in far choppier water with larger swells and did not experience the movement we did on the Eurodam. While eleven decks high the ship appeared to have a narrower beam than others, perhaps accounting for the roll that the stabilizers could not offset. I truly would hate to be on this ship in rough seas.
For Catholics, there was a priest onboard and Mass was offered every day. We found the prices for massages and items in the shopping areas to be noticeably higher than on other ships. We received a coupon book containing "extra values" but we didn't use a single one. The slot tournament consisted of a fee of $30 to get you three minutes play on a slot. The highest six scores over a three hour period would pay out a total of like $750 in price money. If you entered twice you got a third entry free…so $60 for 9 minutes play. We declined that offer. We didn't play bingo either because the prize money seemed too little for the cost to play. However, the slots did seem quite a bit looser on this ship. While we came off losing, we played longer on a smaller amount. The slots were coinless. Winnings were conveniently added to your room card so you could move from machine to machine easily…yet at the end of the cruise you had to cash in your casino winnings because they didn't go towards a credit on your shipboard account..something they didn't widely publicize. People tell us they had a special deal for soda drinkers but I did not see it advertised at all. Also, drink stewards were difficult to find at the main showroom. On the Lido deck they had specialty days with Mexican, Thai, and Chinese and the food was tasty.
On our first day, the room steward didn't straighten our room until 1:30pm but on the rest of the cruise the room was attended to by 11:00am. Oddly, there was not a bedspread on the bed except when we entered the cabin for the first time on Saturday. The bed was as you would have it in the evening..just some literature, a chocolate and a towel sculpture was added in the evening hours. The ship had a small cinema room with very comfortable chairs with different movies each day. Again, oddly, they showed "Mamma Mia" in the main showroom one evening with a crowd of almost three hundred in attendance, but the next day, a sea day, they ran "Momma Mia" again in the small cinema all day instead of something different. For us, the activities on sea days were not as many and as varied as we would have preferred. It seemed like there were several of the spa "infomercials" as I call them to get you to buy those spa services.
I must say that the large productions shows held in the main showroom were outstanding, perhaps the best we have seen on any ship. The lighting, sound and special effects were fabulous. Our week was the last one of the contract for the singers and dancers so they were well seasoned and familiar with the show. Also, one evening we had classical guitarist Justin Miller who was superb. He performed again later in the week in an afternoon performance and told wonderful stories about Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Grace Kelly. We could have listened for hours. There was also an excellent juggler/comedian and a comedian/magician. Again, entertainment was top notch. We got to know the cruise director, Shane Michaels, pretty well and were very impressed. We told him that we were involved with a theater in our community and he arranged a private tour of the sound ad light booth, the stage and dressing rooms. That went over and above and was greatly appreciated and enjoyed.
Grand Turk Island, our stop on Monday, was disappointing. The ship docked at the pier adjacent to the "cruise center" that was just a collection of souvenir shops and a Margaritaville. There was a large sandy beach but the water was a bit too chilly for most to venture into. We weren't there long enough to take a tour into the town and many said that there really wasn't that much to see anyway. The system used to get guests on and off the ship worked very well..hardly any waiting at all.
After the first night when we met our four other companions we found that they had a big problem with their cabins. They were in balcony rooms 8075 and 8077, one deck below the Lido buffet. From like 4:30am they heard constant banging and later discovered it was carts going to and from the Lido rolling over the expansion thresholds. When they complained they were told there were no other rooms to which they could go. After a couple more nights of the same thing, one couple was given another room (5015)…the office told them the people in there left the ship due to illness. Our other friends were offered an inside cabin to sleep in and they would keep their larger, balcony cabin as well. It was clear that this is an ongoing problem that needs to be permanently resolved. We heard from others through conversations that rooms on deck eight under the Lido were very noisy. However, our friends were pleased with how the ship handled the problem, giving each a bottle of wine and candies to sooth the ruffled feathers.
The next day was Tortola. We booked the ship's tour to "The Baths" on Virgin Gorda. Exiting the ship around 12:30pm we waited in line in the sun till 1:00pm when we boarded a shuttle to take us to a dock where we stood in line for another half hour for the boat to take us the half hour to Virgin Gorda. If you are prone to seasickness you will want to take something before starting on this trip. Upon reaching the island, we quickly boarded other trams to take us the ten minutes to the top of the baths….arriving there around 2:20. The walk down to the beach was approximately 15 minutes. It was not bad for those younger and in good condition but was a bit trying for older, more out-of-shape individuals. One of our group didn't even attempt to make the trip down to the beach, instead waited at the comfortable bar, dining and shopping area on top. Two others choose to remain on the first beach while I and two others attempted the caves, moving in and through boulders to get to another beach. Again, there was a lot of bending, climbing ladders, squeezing through small passages…about twenty minutes worth to get to the second beach. It was neat making your way and checking out the large boulders, but had I to do it over again, I would have been content seeing the pictures of the boulders and caves on the Internet. The climb back up the hill took about twenty-five minutes. We had to be ready to re-board the tram at 4:30..so we really didn't have time to spend on the beach. To me, "The Baths" experience didn't live up to the hype. We were too tired from the day to return to the town of Tortola before the ship sailed.
Wednesday was St. Thomas. Having been there before, we opted to skip sightseeing and the beaches in favor of shopping. There are many, many jewelry stores in St. Thomas and we bought a nice amolite ring for a fair price. For lunch we thought a hamburger would be just right and so did many other people. We waited for fifteen minutes for the one worker to grill the meat and serve it. Since the burger/hot dog station was always busy one would think they would expand the size and add more workers to keep the line moving. We ate that night at the Lido where we were offered such delicacies as Pot Roast and Stuffed Pepper (meatless as I later discovered). Friends had a seafood pasta dish and the shrimp were smaller than the popcorn shrimp you get at Red Lobster. The scallops were the size of mini-marshmallows you get hot chocolate. For an upscale cruise line, these offerings were far below par.
Twice during our cruise we had room service for breakfast and we were very pleased. Our meals were served at the times we requested, the food was warm and the presentation was very nice. The décor of the ship was very attractive and it was easy to see the ship was new. There were live orchids throughout the ship, including all of the tables on the Lido deck…a very refined touch. Christmas decorations were to be found and enjoyed throughout the ship as well. The second formal night (Thursday) we ate dinner at the Main dining room. We had no wait and it was steak and lobster night. The food was delicious but again, service wasn't at the level we have come to expect. The waiter served the free bottle of wine given to our friend by the ship without a corkage fee. For breakfast that day we ate at the dining room with two couples. One loved Holland America and the other, like us, was less enthusiastic.
Friday was Half Moon Cay, Holland America's private island. We found the whole experience to be excellent. The food was delicious, the dining areas numerous and clean, and the sand on the beach was powdery…the best I have experienced. A friend and I snorkeled. It wasn't the Great Barrier Reef to be sure, but we saw some colorful fish. Here again, the water was a little chilly and it was partly cloudy so not as many were in the water or sunbathing. Getting to and from the ship via tenders was well done and there were no delays. We opted to carry off our own luggage on Saturday so we exited the ship at 8:00am…no delays at all and went though customs quickly.
So, in summary, we had a fairly good time that could have great time if the ship didn't roll so much, our friends had cabins in quieter locations from the start and if we had an assigned first seating table. I would not take the Eurodam again, but we might be tempted to try an older and smaller "dam" ship.