Who: Sue (51), HAL Mariner Dates: November 7 - 14, 200p Ship/Cabin: Eurodam CA 10004 Experience: 20th Cruise - 9th on HAL
INTRODUCTION: My HAL experience includes the old Westerdam, Ryndam, Amsterdam, Zuiderdam, Rotterdam, Zuiderdam again, Veendam, current Westerdam and now the Eurodam. The other cruises were a Carnival cruise with sorority sisters almost 30 years ago, NCL's Norway in 1983 and 9 Disney Cruise Line cruises (1 with a teen, 8 with only adults).
My cruise line of choice is Holland America Line. I don't even consider the others, as HAL is a great fit for me and I look at the others and they pale in comparison. So, while I try to be objective and know HAL isn't always going to be perfect, I do have some bias towards this line.
ITINERARY: Saturday 11/07: Embark in Ft Lauderdale, Sail 5pm Sunday 11/08: Sea Day, Meet & Greet, Formal Night Monday 11/09: Grand Turk, 7:00 am - 3:00 pm (actual sea day) Tuesday 11/10: San Juan, 1:00 pm - 11:00 pm (actual 8:30am-11pm) Wednesday 11/11: St Thomas, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm Thursday 11/12: Sea Day, Breast Cancer Walk, Formal Night Friday 11/13: Half Moon Cay, 8:00 am - 4:00 pm Saturday 11/14: Debark in Ft Lauderdale
EMBARKATION: I arrived at Port Everglades at 10:30 am on the dot, and parked in the parking garage across from terminal 26 after dropping off the luggage. A small crowd was formed at the entrance to the terminal, and the door opened promptly at 11am. Suite passengers and 4-star mariners are taken inside when they arrive but the rest of us remain outside.
Once inside the rest of the process went very quickly. We placed our carryon items on belt to be xrayed then walked through a metal detector. After that check in is in another room, where each passenger is given a card with the number of his/her boarding group (I waas 5). Then it was up the escalator to sit in the waiting area until 11:30. Promptly at 11:30 suite passengers and those needing special assistance were allowed to board, and then they started calling boarding group numbers. I believe I was on the ship by 11:45.
Upon entering the ship a steward directed people to the Lido, but the dining room was also open for lunch. It seemed the stewards would send people to the lido for a while and then switch to the dining room. Passengers who were aware of both could go to either, of course. I checked the dining room menu and decided I'd rather just grab something from the lido and then explore the ship. Initially it wasn't too crowded, although that would change as more passengers got on board. The food was plentiful & tasty, and the cabins were ready at 1:30 pm.
SHIP: The Eurodam is a beautiful ship - just over a year old, and looking like new. Stewards were constantly cleaning, touching up, making minor maintenance repairs, etc - always with a smile and friendly greeting. The fresh flowers and art gives the ship a sophisticated and comfortable feel. The public areas never seemed very crowded, with the exception of the lido during common meal times. Many times I'd be wandering the ship and not see another person for periods of time. The Tamarind restaurant and Silk Den are wonderful additions to the ship. The Lido Cabanas are terrible - hot, humid, not private at all, and they took away space that was available to everyone to create these things.
The crew was overwhelmingly smiling & friendly, and the service at Tamarind was exceptional. After 1 evening in the Ocean Bar when I returned a couple of nights later an entirely different steward knew exactly what I wanted. My cabin stewards did a great job servicing my cabin and keeping my ice bucket full - and had several daily greetings as I'd walk down the hall. The internet manager was also helpful & friendly - usually they're neither in my experience.
The Main Stage was a comfortable theater for the evening shows, and although I wasn't happy when I'd heard they only had theater seats (no bench/loveseats) it meant more people fit into a smaller space. Most of the theater had rows that were high enough behind the row in front that even shorter people's views were not obstructed (very nice touch). Each armrest had a cup holder that could be popped out. The Pinnacle Grill was very pretty, as was the Ocean Bar and Explorer's Lounge. I really like the Explorations Cafe being up in the Crow's Nest and I loved the small Screening Room where movies are shown.
The casino looked pretty big to me, but I'm not a gambler. The entire area (casino, sports bar, piano bar) stunk of cigarette smoke, so I wouldn't have been in there even if I did gamble. It was bad enough walking past to the theater a few times! That was really the only area I noticed smoke, thank goodness.
There are 2 pools on board - the lido (midship with the retractable roof) and the Sea View (outside on the aft). Sea View was designated for adults only, and I didn't see any kids when I was there. The Lido Pool frequently had kids splashing around. I really hate that whole area - it's just crowded, hot & not very pleasant. I'm glad the families stay there, though!
I'd read horrible reviews of the front desk staff but my one experience there was delightful - the person went above & beyond. Cruise Director Nancy Leach seemed to enjoy her job and I envy her energy (do cruise directors ever sleep???). I love the historic HAL pictures lining the hallways on the stateroom decks - it's nice that HAL spends the money to make these areas attractive.
The promenade deck is one of my favorite spots, and made use of it morning and afternoon. I never spent time sitting reading out there this trip, though. Any ship that doesn't have a promenade like HAL's should be ashamed to sail, in my opinion!
STATEROOM: My cabin was a spa oceanview stateroom on deck 10 facing forward over the bow. Being up that high and so far forward was not a problem, even in very rough seas the first day or so. A benefit of the 4 CA cabins is an extra 2-3 feet of width - it made the cabin feel very large. Friends in an aft VB cabin had much less space than I did. Also, my window was huge - another bonus! It was very convenient to deck 9 (lido) and Crows Nest/Explorations Cafe. One downside is I wasn't able to get an internet signal in the stateroom, so I had to take the laptop up to the next deck. This surprised me, since it's a new ship! I liked this cabin well enough that I booked it to repeat this ship/itinerary/stateroom in March 2011.
ENTERTAINMENT: The Westerdam cast performed 2 production shows. Both were really just a compilation of songs (as opposed to a story) and they were both enjoyable. James Cielen (illusionist) performed one night and did a more "close up" show where he explained things another night. He was good, but a bit annoying in my opinion.
There was a celtic music group called Live Wire who performed one night and then again as part of the final night's show. They were good, but I couldn't sit through an hour of that music and the blonde on the violin got annoying after a couple songs. I much prefer the celtic music performed by Off Kilter at Epcot.
Melvin George II was the comedian, and he was very good. I'd never heard of him before, but that's not surprising. He also performed again as part of the final night's show and wasn't as funny as his first show.
ACTIVITIES: I really didn't do any activities, since my main reason for cruising was to relax and escape from work for a week. They've discontinued the Dam Dollars on this ship, and I have no idea how the turnout was at those events. With the new format of the daily program it seems like there's less going on, and I prefer the old format.
They had bingo daily - never attended, as I have no interest in that, and also daily team trivia that seemed well attended. Couldn't get near the casino, the stench was so bad. They did run free and for-a-fee classes several times a day in the gym.
I did the On Deck for the Cure, and they had a good turnout. They recognized the survivors & had them lead the walk. The cruise director showed up wearing a tiara and waved a magic wand to signal the start of the walk. At the end they did have water & pink lemonade available, and a crew member held up a sign showing the # of laps left to go as we'd pass.
They showed a movie 3-4 times a day in the Screening Room, with the movie changing each day. Whatever movie was being shown that day would be on tv the following day. The Screening Room is so small only around 30-36 people can see a movie at one time so if the weather is bad it was necessary to get there early. I attended a movie on a port day and fortunately got there 20 minutes early so I had a seat. People showing up at the last minute were out of luck.
I'd arranged a Meet & Greet for fellow cruisers from Cruise Critic and as usual HAL did a great job providing refreshments. One of the participants brought her bottle of champagne and several of us shared that even though it was 10 am! It was a small group but a really nice bunch of people.
FOOD: The food overall was very good on this cruise, but the desserts were almost always disappointing. Even the food in the Lido was better than expected. The burgers at the Terrace grill were very good, as were the fries. Hot food was hot, meats were cooked to the right degree, and service was efficient. I had dinner in the dining room 3 or 4 nights, the Tamarind 1 night and just had hors d'oeuvres along with pizza later the other nights.
I had open seating for dinner, so I never got to know a pair of dining stewards, but could have cared less about that. My only expectation was to be served efficiently in a friendly manner, and that's exactly what I got. The wine stewards were prompt in arriving at the table, and service from them all was excellent. I ordered 1 room service breakfast (debarkation day) - it was delivered on time and the hot food was hot.
I'd ordered a wine card online before the cruise, and used it for the house pinot grigio at dinner. It's an excellent value, and I'll order it again each cruise. The only other drinks purchased were a couple of pina coladas from the Lido Bar and a Strawberry Banana Ecstasy from the Ocean Bar - they were delicious and a good portion for the price.
The only disappointing food was dessert - they'd look good but the taste just wouldn't match the visual. There were an awful lot of non-chocolate desserts, too.
PORTS: The ports were supposed to be Grand Turk, San Juan, St Thomas and Half Moon Cay.
Grand Turk - It looked beautiful, and I was looking forward to a beach day here, but the winds were such that we were not able to dock. The captain tried for a while, then had to give up and we had a sea day instead since there's no other port close by. He said the maximum wind speed to safely dock was 22 knots and we had 35-knot winds with higher gusts. So, I've missed Grand Turk on both cruises this year. I'll try again in 2011.
San Juan - Since I did an excursion here in February I opted to do the walking tour of Old San Juan on my own with maps and instruction printed from the internet. Because we'd skipped Grand Turk we arrived here at 8:30 rather than 1pm. Even early in the morning it was hot walking! As I got off the ship a man from a tour company approached offering the $49 ship's island tour for $20. I was going to do it until I stepped onto the little bus and it reeked like a stale ashtray so I left. I missed some of the stops on the walking tour but did find El Morro and enjoyed touring through there. That's the big fort. It cost me $3 for admission and that was the only money I spent in a port this cruise. To get back to the ship I took the free trolley, which picked me up right at the entrance to the fort and dropped me across the street from the ship. Can't beat it!
St Thomas - I've been here too many times to count on previous cruises and HAL ships dock at Crown Bay, which is a taxi ride away from the main shopping area. So, I stayed on the ship and enjoyed a sea day without the crowds.
Half Moon Cay - This island is beautiful! It was cloudy at first and the waves were higher than normal due to a weather front. Since I've enjoyed many beach days here this trip I opted to ride a tender over to just take a few pictures (mainly of the ship) and then returned to enjoy another quiet day on the ship. I was surprised at the number of people who did the same!
DEBARKATION: HAL certainly does this right. HAL sends everyone a questionnaire fairly early in the cruise asking for your desired debarkation time and I chose the early group (8:30). Luggage needs to be in the hall by 1:00 a.m. (much better than the earlier time on other lines), although suite passengers have until 6:00 a.m.
The last full day of the cruise I received luggage tags and a letter confirming my debarkation window of 8:30 - 8:45. They also have a program for passengers willing to carry all of their luggage off the ship - they could leave around 7:15.
I left the ship at 8:15 (15 minutes early but it seemed HAL was ready early and their employee told me to go) and was driving out of the garage at 8:36.