This was our second HAL cruise, the first being a 2006 Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Zuiderdam. That cruise was a fantastic experience and we expected more of the same on the Eurodam.
For the most part, Eurodam lived up to our expectations...with one major exception being the food. More on that later.
Embarkation was smooth, professional and quick. Everything you'd expect from a cruise line that's been doing it for as long as HAL has. We cruised with Disney 2 months previous to this HAL cruise. The contrast between the loud and somewhat confused throng of Disney embarking passengers and the quiet, efficient HAL embarkation process was stark. HAL has this process down cold.
The ship was tastefully decorated and in tip-top shape. I pretty much explored every part of every deck and the entire ship was astonishingly clean at all times. You'd have to be extraordinarily fussy to find fault with the condition or cleanliness of the ship.
I did find the deck layout a bit odd. Deck 11/forward is a reserved area for guests with appointments. So to get to the forward part of Deck 12 (the top of the ship) you need to go down and inside to Deck 10, then back up and around. In other words....you can't just take the stairs from 11 to 12 (because the outdoor spa lounge area is off-limits unless you have an appointment). Not a big deal but a bit confusing if you enjoy spending time outside on the top of the ship.
The Explorations Cafe, on Deck 11, is a fabulous place to spend time. It's very large and boasts a well-stocked library. It has lots of comfortable chairs (including a number of recliners) and a coffee bar.
The main pool area is nice but a bit cramped because they've used one side of the deck area for private cabanas. This isn't a big deal but it does reduce the number of available deck chairs.
One disappointment was the adults-only pool area, located aft on Deck 9. This open-air area is certainly nice enough with a good pool and hot tub. BUT - it is also where HAL has chosen to designate as their smoking area. So, to get to the pool, you need to walk out the doors from the Lido cafe and walk the gauntlet of cigarette smoke. Unfortunately for us there was a very large party of Russians on board. Nothing against Russians, but they do love to smoke and these particular folks seemed to spend all their time sitting in this area smoking a small forest of cigarettes. After a day or two I gave up trying to go to this pool during the daytime.
We took part in a couple of wine tastings which were fun and reasonably well attended. Fernando, the ship's sommelier, did a good job of making the tastings enjoyable.
The crew and service were outstanding almost without exception. They all obviously took great pride in the ship and their jobs. Our room stewards were much like the embarkation process: efficient, professional and unobtrusive. Service is a real strength of HAL. The competence of their people really shines through. We are mostly beach people so we only booked one shore excursion which ended up being cancelled due to high winds.
Our ports of call included: St. Thomas, Grand Turk, San Juan and Half Moon Cay.
St. Thomas is...well, St. Thomas. If you like shopping for jewellery you'll really like it. Otherwise, book a shore excursion or find a private beach (Emerald Bay is only 5 minutes from the cruise terminal).
Grand Turk was rained out, which is too bad because it's a fantastic stop for beach people. The ship docks right beside the beach, so it's really easy and convenient.
San Juan has a lot of interesting things to see and do (we chose to tour one of the old forts) and HAL gives you lots of time to explore the city (all aboard 9PM) so take advantage of it. I've been to San Juan 3 times and the weather has always been perfect. It's a fantastic place to spend an afternoon.
The highlight, however, is Half Moon Cay. HAL likes to brag their private island up - and Half Moon Cay absolutely, 100% lives up to the hype. From the crystal-clear water, to the baby-powder soft white sand beaches to the "to die for" BBQ, Half Moon Cay is in a league of its own. You need to take a tender to the island, which is very fast and efficient, and usually starts about 8 AM.
Get there EARLY, because the time will go by way too fast and if you waste time lollygagging on the ship, you'll regret it when it's time to leave. You want to spend every minute you can on Half Moon Cay.
It sounds great...and it was, except for the food. Which was simply disappointing, there is just no other way to put it.
The choices at the Lido cafe were bland and limited and not at all up to the standard either of our previous HAL cruise or our other cruise experiences in general. We only tried the main dining room one evening and found it disappointing. Room service food ranged from mediocre to awful.
The only exceptions to the gastronomic disappointment was the premium Tamarind restaurant and the poolside grill.
For $20 per person the Asian-themed Tamarind was well worth the money, especially given the lack of other palatable dinner choices. The poolside grill serves up burgers, fries, hot dogs, etc that were quite good...but eating a cheeseburger every single day isn't for everybody!
One last note: we didn't cruise with our kids which was a good choice. The Eurodam is decidedly not a kid-friendly ship. The average Eurodam guest is fairly elderly and the on-board rules definitely cater to them. We're in our mid-30's and were among the youngest people on the ship.
Overall, we had a very good time. HAL service lives up to its promise and the ship and itinerary were very good. If the food had been up to snuff this would have been a near-perfect cruise.