Cruised on the MS Eurodam February 27-March 6, 2010 to Eastern Caribbean with my mother and a friend of mine (ages 28, 31, 57). First of all I have to say kudos to Holland America for giving us a great first-time cruising experience! After reading some negative reviews here and lots of positive ones we went in with a positive attitude and to be honest can't understand how someone could have a completely negative time.
If you're looking for a party ship, I think you should stop reading now and switch to a different cruise line. HAL definitely caters more to families, seniors, a lot of families with grown children and those just looking for a relaxing and not-rowdy time. There's plenty to do on the ship if you want to take it in, and also plenty of places to tuck yourself away and stare at the ocean while reading a book if that's what you want to do. But, I don't think HAL is in the 'party ship' business. They definitely are in the relaxation business!
Arrived at the terminal around noon and we were on the boat within 10 minutes and sitting next to the pool. Don't bother eating before you get on board, there will be plenty of food waiting for you!
Cabins: Our rooms were ready around 1:30pm and we had all of our bags delivered to our room by 4pm. We had an verandah stateroom on deck 4 (Upper Promenade). We were right behind the elevators but never heard a thing. The staterooms have plenty of storage - which we were concerned about having three girls in one cabin - we had plenty of room to spare and our bags fit nicely under the beds. The cabin was very comfortable for the three of us and we never felt like we were crowded in there. Our cabin steward David was excellent and has been with HAL for 10 years. That's one thing that stood out, a big portion of the staff has been with HAL for close to 10 years - and it shows in their knowledge and service.
Activities: I can't really speak too much to this because we were more the type to amuse ourselves reading or just laying out in the sun. We did go to one show which was good and heard from others that the others were great (the magician, comedian, singers, etc.). We did enjoy the Screening Room and took in a couple movies during the week. You never have any problems finding a nice lounge chair to relax on.
Food: Nothing short of phenomenal the selection that they have. I can only say if you're not able to find something enjoyable to eat you must be WAY too picky. Breakfast was our favorite - pretty much had every type of breakfast food there was. We went to the Rembrant dining room on 4 nights, excellent service by Aziz and Al, quick to transition between courses and wonderful service. The Pinnacle dining room - well the steak and service there will keep you coming back for more! Make sure to make reservations early in the week - they purposely don't fill all the tables in all slots to ensure that each server only has a small number of tables to cater to.
Our one and only complaint had to do with the food - my mom is allergic to gluten and dairy and we'd indicated this when we reserved. If you have allergies (especially more than one allergy) be prepared to be on your toes - on more than one occasion they served my mom something that was gluten OR dairy free but not both (we only found out accidentally that this was what was happening - my poor Mom had to suffer the consequences one evening after enjoying two desserts she had ever reason to think were gluten and dairy free - but were not).
Shore Excursions: We did shore excursions in all of the places except Half Moon Cay. The rainforest tour in Puerto Rico, swimming with stingrays in Grand Turk and touring the island and shopping in St. Thomas were all great excursions for us. Half Moon Cay - well as many have said before me - there are no words - you truly never ever want to leave. Such a relaxing place.
Disembarkation: Again, HAL has this down to a fine science. We did the expedited embarkation (we had an early flight) and we were the first ones off. They disembark in 45 minute time periods and everyone is assigned a time based on a questionnaire you fill out earlier in the week. The transfer bus was waiting to take us to the airport...smooth and easy!
Ship: If you get sea sick I can see that it may be a problem. Lots of people came prepared with the patch behind their ears and did great. We came prepared if we needed it but we didn't - we all found it quite relaxing the rocking motion. If you get sea sick pick a lower deck mid-ship, talking to others the higher decks felt the rough seas more.
If you're concerned about smoking - don't be - the only place you even smell it a bit was in the casino/sports bar - otherwise I would've assumed the ship was smoke-free.
Overall HAL provided us with a relaxing and pampered cruise experience. The staff on HAL are well-versed and just so pleasant to deal with. They are always aiming to please and it shows - but don't expect anything in return. HAL charges $11/day per person for tipping ($4 to cabin steward / $4 to dining steward, remaining $3 distributed among the "background" crew) - if you want to tip more you can. Our cabin steward David was truly shocked and humbled when we gave him an extra $60 - could not say thank you enough ...even though he deserved every penny and more!
We are already starting to think about our next cruise and we will definitely cruise with HAL again and again! Less