What bad thing could I possibly say about Holland America? My philosophy is this: once you've cruised, you can't take another type of vacation ... and once you've cruised with Holland America, you can't cruise with any other line. Plain and simple, I am a fan.
A little background, I am in my late 40s, live in NY, and traveled with my husband, 2 girls, ages 11 and 15, and my 81-year-old mom who paid for it all. This was my 22nd cruise, my husband's 20th, my 11-year-old's 17th, my 12-year-old's 19th and my mother's 30th.
We flew to Fort Lauderdale from Islip MacArthur Airport on Long Island, which feels like your own private airport. What a pleasure! I would encourage anyone from the Long Island area to skip Kennedy or LaGuardia and use MacArthur. We flew Southwest Airlines, which is also a pleasure, and of course, your baggage flies for free.
There was absolutely no hassle at the check-in. We didn't even have to sit down; we headed right to the desk, skipped the ship's photographer, and got right on the ship in time for lunch at the Lido.
Now, before I go any further, let me give you my very short list of complaints. First, please bring back the trays to the Lido restaurant. I understand that Holland America is probably cutting costs -- no trays means you fill fewer plates and thereby the company slashes food costs -- but this results in two things: First, you burn your hands carrying hot plates to your table, which may be quite a walk away. Second, this move now eliminates both the friendly individual who hands out the trays (and usually remembers your name) and the stewards who help carry the trays to your table.
The second complaint is another example of cost-cutting: no more Dam Dollars. Yes, they have done away with Dam Dollars, which means they can give away less stuff. Now, instead of everyone collecting Dam Dollars for activities, only winners receive small trinkets like key chains. Unfortunately, I had saved up my wad of Dam Dollars from the last cruise, hoping to score some big item like a sweatshirt, only to find that the Dam Dollars had gone the way of the French Franc.
My final complaint is the kids jumping and splashing in the Lido Pool, which can be downright dangerous. Even my kids didn't want to deal with the rowdy children, so we'd take them to the adults-only pool in the back of the ship where civilization reigned. Someone someday is literally going to get their neck broken by some 6-year-old horsing around in the pool.
Again, these are my only complaints. The Eurodam is just as spectacular as when I first took her on a Transatlantic voyage in August 2008. And, believe it or not, many of the crew remembered me from back then!
Stateroom: We had a veranda stateroom on deck 5. It was very comfortable. The Holland America beds are so comfortable, and I always find it amazing that their pillows never give you "bedhead" when you wake up in the morning. Our cabin stewards kept the room immaculate, and even pulled our suitcases out from under the bed on the night we had to pack (imagine coming back to a bed covered with suitcases - how depressing!).
Food: Fantastic, as usual. Breakfast specials in the dining room are great. My favorite part of the Lido restaurant was the Asian section -- one afternoon they put out Indonesian food, which was really delicious! The best meals I had were the amazingly delicious (free) lunch at the Tamarind, the incredibly tasty and perfectly cooked surf and turf, the huge broiled shrimps (which were as big as lobster tails) and the sweet pumpkin ravioli, which I had instead of Thanksgiving turkey because I was on vacation and had freedom of choice. All in all, there was not one bad meal on this cruise. Our waiters, Andie and Mikey, tried very hard to please us -- Mikey going out of his way to make my girls strawberry milkshakes near the end of the cruise.
Activities: There was always something to do on board, whether it was going to the shops, which had an excellent selection and very good values ... going to the movies ... or attending trivia. I was always circling something on the daily program to do -- which actually brings me to another point: Holland America has revised its daily program so that activities fall under different sections (spa, Digital Workshop, "Mind & Body") instead of in time order. So, in other words, you have to search from category to category to find out what the next event of the day is, which can get annoying.
Service: Impeccable, as always!
Entertainment: There was a variety of entertainment. I attended all the shows except one -- James Cielen, the magician, only because I have seen him perform twice before on Holland America ships. The 2 production shows were very good, although there is really no continuity between songs performed. The cast works very, very hard, especially the male dancers. The guest entertainers were magician James Cielen, comedian Melvin George II (who was funny) and Livewire, a very talented violinist/guitarist duo who performed Irish tunes, among others. We all enjoyed the Filipino crew show. My mom and I also performed in the Superstars show, singing an original song to the cruise director JT. JT was an affable fellow, but I felt he should have been out and about more. But by far, the best performer onboard was Les at the piano bar. He was extremely talented and versatile -- he could perform Def Leppard followed by Scott Joplin! He could play the entire "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen followed by the entire "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" by Meatloaf. All I can say is WOW! When he stopped playing at 1:30, no one wanted to leave!
Club Hal: My younger daughter didn't want to go that often to Club Hall because she is 11, and the Tween group is from 8 to 12, and she didn't want to hang out with the younger kids. My older daughter hung out with the teens in the Loft. She made several new friends and I think they want to form their own Facebook group. They had a lot of great activities for the teens -- she even took a Mixology class to learn how to make virgin mojitos and cosmopolitans.
Ports: In Grand Turk, we walked right off the pier and onto the beach. What a beach! We also enjoyed spending time in the adjacent Margaritaville.
In San Juan, we took the El Yunque Rainforest Bus Tour. This is an extremely good value and I would recommend it to everyone. For, I believe, $59 per adult and $25 or $30 per child we got a 5 hour trip, including a bus ride, short hikes through the rainforest and a climb to the top of a tower for beautiful views. Our guide, Yogi, was very entertaining and knowledgeable about Puerto Rican culture.
Also in San Juan, we went to the Coach Outlet Store (150 Calle Cristo -- 10 minutes from the pier)for incredible deals. I bought my mother a large leather satchel, originally $350, for $125. I bought my daughter an insignia cross-body bag, originally $150, for $69. And I got a silk insignia scarf, originally $58, for $20! If you want a real bargain, you must go to the Coach store. The staff is very helpful and the selection is huge.
In St. Thomas, we went shopping for souvenirs and liquor and then headed back to the ship. We had wanted to go to the beach, but it was getting late and it was also showering, so my daughter and I sat on a bench at the pier and watched the iguanas.
Half Moon Cay is one of my favorite places in the world. It is absolutely gorgeous, with its soft sand and turquoise water. We had a delicious lunch in the picnic area to the sound of the rooster crowing, enjoyed the water, and walked the length of the shore. If I could have my way, I would have the ship anchor off of Half Moon Cay for 3 days and go back and forth every day.
Disembarkation: As with embarkation, there was no problem. We left the ship at 9:45 and headed to the airport for our flight home. Holland America has instituted a new policy of not making disembarkation announcements. You now get off the ship at the time indicated by your color code. It's very orderly and it works.
I don't think I've left anything out. Being a loyal Holland America passenger, I can't say enough about the outstanding service and the little touches you don't get on other lines. Give it a try and see for yourself!