This was my first cruise. Before cruising, I read the other reviews of the Eurodam and some of them scared me silly. After the cruise, I felt like I had just finished sailing on a ship utterly different from those who gave Eurodam such bad reviews! How does one account for this? I'm not demanding enough? They are way too demanding? I was lucky and they were not? Who knows? While I will note features I found disappointing, they are not the cruise-spoiling sorts of things; not by a Texas mile.
My wife and I arrived in Fort Lauderdale the afternoon before the sailing, to ensure we had all the wiggle room we might need in transportation, and to allow for an unhurried approach to the cruise. It worked, and I recommend this to anyone if they're able to schedule it. Seek for hotels that offer shuttle service from the airport and to the cruise port.
Upon arriving at the Eurodam's pier, I was amazed at the efficiency, ease, and speed with which we delivered our bags to friendly, smiling porters; and, then, proceeded into the building, guided by friendly red-coated guides stationed along the way, as well as by a large blue line on the pavement. We stood in one line for less than five minutes. We sat on airport-waiting room seats for another five minutes, and then we were called to board the ship. Start to finish was about 20 minutes total. To us, it felt like a breeze, but we'd never been there and done that before. Novelty is great entertainment and makes time fly.
ARRIVAL ON SHIP
We were boarded directly onto the Lido Deck which contains the long buffet-style casual-dress restaurant. Yes, it was packed. Why not? It wasn't designed to accommodate the entire passenger list! But, everyone first appeared on the ship in this restaurant until the rooms were ready for occupancy. We did get food (plenty of it), and a seat for two with no difficulty. It would have been off-putting if this were the atmosphere of the place throughout the cruise; but, it was crowded only during this embarkation period. Once the rooms were ready, the crowd diminished immediately.
We had booked what Eurodam calls a Deluxe Veranda Ocean-View Stateroom (No. 5043, for those who want to see where it is on the deck plan). For what we desired and needed, it was entirely satisfactory. It was clean, the bed was fantastic, the pillows and linens were clean and exceedingly comfortable. The closets and cabinets easily held all the contents of two very large suitcases, a hanging bag, and the largest carry-on the airlines allow. We unpacked everything and found storage for the bags under the bed. The room came with a bath/shower combo. Towels were abundant and soft. Two bathrobes were provided. The cabin steward removed an excess of hangers from the closets. An easy-to-use room safe provided peace of mind.
The view from the veranda never disappointed. With floor to ceiling windows you could see the sunrise over the moving sea each morning.
Possible disappointments: there are only two 110 AC electric outlets in the room, and they are located at the desk/vanity. Also, the assignment of light switches on the walls must have been determined by rolling dice. It took a day or two to figure out how to get the lights you wished on to be on.
Another disappointment: the glass wall on the veranda was stained with sea water spray, so that one could not sit on the veranda and get an unclouded view of the ocean. As we disembarked, we noted these panes being washed. Evidently that washing was overlooked before we arrived.
It's everywhere and effectively it's all the time (except, perhaps, between midnight and 7:00 AM.). In-room dining for no extra charge is always available, though the menu is less varied. Each night, a card for ordering in-cabin morning repast is available. You can select delivery times within 30 minutes (i.e. 6:00-6:30; 6:30-7:00; 7:00-7:30; etc.). Whatever we ordered invariably arrived in the middle of the period. So we always had coffee in our cabin upon arising, my wife always ate a full breakfast in the cabin, while I ventured forth to meet new people over a lavish breakfast in the Rembrandt dining room.
FOOD: REGULAR MEALS IN THE REMBRANDT
We booked the cruise late, so traditional early/late seating was already full. Instead we had open seating, and in future I will always choose this, as it guarantees you will be eating with new people at every meal, something I enjoy. It also gives us greater flexibility in our schedule. Open seating dining in the evening is available from 5:15 until 9:30.
The Rembrandt dining room is a two-level affair, pleasing to the eye, but regrettably noisy when full. Breakfast and noon meals don't have this problem; but evening meals are difficult for conversation at your table, unless you eat late or eat there on an evening when many passengers are in port for the evening.
We heard a few passengers complain of slow service. I never had that problem. The pace was leisurely, but so was I!
The four-course meal was generous (appetizer, soup/salad, entree, dessert), and plentiful. If you wished two of something, it was yours for the asking. One man one evening finished his 10-ounce New York Strip steak and asked for a second one, which came promptly to the table. I usually added a scoop of ice cream to the dessert I selected. For each course, you had at least six choices. Plus, there was a list of "always available" items for every course, no matter what the menu for the evening.
Again, service for us was always satisfactory. We never waited longer than one would ordinarily wait in a normal restaurant. I really enjoyed being served by efficient, nimble young men (no waitresses in the Rembrandt) who did NOT want to become my best buddy and engage me in tacky banter during the meal. Drinks were always filled without asking and with minimal intrusion. Our waiters were like our cabin steward (see below): easily summoned, minimally verbal, accurate and prompt when fulfilling requests.
FOOD: THE LIDO
The Lido Deck contains the Lido Buffet in most of its central area. At either end of the Lido Deck are swimming pools and sunbathing areas, along with hot tubs and dry saunas, all available to any guest. There are numerous buffets -- some serving "tastes of the world" cuisine, others more conventional American fare (meats, vegetables, starches, breads). Salads, drinks, and desserts all have their own separate buffet stations.
The whole point of the Lido Restaurant seems to be speed and convenience. Patrons seemed to be mostly those folks in the pool areas that flank each end of the very long Lido Buffet. It was common during lunch to see "pool people" in the Lido, gathering their food and returning to the outdoors areas of the pools, where one found an abundance of tables under shade.
My wife and I often ate in the Lido at lunch. I usually ate a large salad, tempering my GI tract for dinner, dontcha know! After that first very crowded experience in the Lido when we arrived at the ship, we never found the Lido to be disagreeably crowded. It IS self-service. Most of the staff on the floor are busing tables, though they will respond politely and quickly to requests for refills on drinks (or, at least, those we asked did so).
FOOD: SPECIALTY RESTAURANTS
The Canaletto: This is tucked into a corner of the Lido Restaurant. We missed it, so have no comment. Others we consulted were very pleased with it. No extra charge, but reservations are needed since it is small.
The Pinnacle Grill: a softly lit, wood-and-brass decorated steak place (plenty of other options available too: fish, chicken, lamb, pork). $20 a head extra to dine here, reservations required. The seating is by reservation, so you decide. My wife and I had our anniversary dinner there the second night at sea. Service was very good and the food was excellent. Knowing it was our anniversary (I had mentioned this when making the reservation before the cruise started), we were seated in a fantastic corner booth for two, giving us a panoramic view of the restaurant. A special anniversary cake came with dessert.
The Tamarind: this is billed as an "Asian fusion" restaurant, which seems to mean varied forms of Oriental-influenced fare. $15 a head extra to dine here, and my wife and I ate there the last evening of the cruise, forgoing whatever hoo-haw had been planned in the Rembrandt for the last night (who knows? maybe we missed something special?). The Tamarind was special. Very excellent service, and extremely tasty and exotically spiced food served in generous portions. Again, the four-course format with at least six choices per course. Our Wasabi Soy-Crusted Tenderloin Steak was fabulous. The appetizers were abundant and plentiful. The ambiance of the restaurant was peaceful. I heartily recommend it.
My single quibble -- and this applies generally to the ship -- is that my ear is not tuned to English spoken with a very strong Indonesian or Filipino accent. So, I often found myself saying "Beg pardon?" and "I didn't understand you." But, we always got through these challenges, and we decided to face them with a gaming interest rather than irritation.
The Terrace Grill: this is a hamburger joint at one of the Lido Deck pools. The one day I grabbed something from it, they were offering cheeseburger, lamb burger, veggie burger, and turkey burger, all with fries and condiments. It was fast food on the ship, and though I was expecting to be underwhelmed, I was shocked and delighted with the charcoaly taste of the burger. Yum! The dessert buffet was just inside the Lido Restaurant, so I ducked in there for cookies and ice cream, carrying them back to my bride with no problem at all.
Sundry Food: Hors d' oeuvres are served in many of the bars in late afternoon, but I never partook of those offerings. I'd be surprised to learn they were subpar, as all the other food I ate was excellent. There is a coffee/pastry shop on the 11th deck that contains the Internet stations and library. Imagine a smallish Starbucks and you'll know what it's like.
Almost every evening, there was a show in the triple-deck space of the Mainstage auditorium. Lasting about an hour, these shows were quite good. I feared there might be a lot of raunch (such as one might find in a Las Vegas floor show), but these were free of that sort of funk. The singers had strong, on-key voices, the dancers were athletic and nimble; the shows (according to someone I spoke with) are designed by Barry Manilow. Given the space constraints of a ship, I was intrigued with how lively a show they produced with the sets and lights available.
The show was offered at 8:00 and 10:15 in the evening, the earlier audience far more "packed" than the latter. A highlight for us was a magician. I'm sure the shows change frequently through the year, so I won't comment further. If Holland is able to secure the same quality of performers as what we saw, no one will be disappointed.
ON BOARD ACTIVITIES
These were abundant and varied. In a week, I could not possibly partake of most of them (even if I had wanted to; I don't gamble, for example). There was a cooking seminar running through the week; also one on digital photography, with laptops supplied. Lectures in the Mainstage on various ports and their attractions were common. The ship contains a library with a couple of thousand books of varied fiction and nonfiction (my wife found and read a 400 page work on the Congress of Vienna in 1814).
Internet service is pricey -- from 85 cents a minute to 45 cents a minute if you buy access in chunks. I purchased 100 minutes for $55, so I could monitor a few potential trouble spots at home. I used up about 60 of those minutes. I could also read one blog of personal interest by pulling up the page on the screen, and then hitting the print button. Actual reading took place via ink on paper.
Personal Complaint: I could find no place on the ship (other than my cabin) that was truly quiet. There was always noise -- people talking, overhead music -- which prevented me from reading a book I'm reviewing for a publication. I really needed a genuinely library-quiet atmosphere for this, and I was disappointed that in a ship as large as the Eurodam there is no such spot (not that I could find; and, I queried several staff about this).
Holland offers many of these. We did only one -- I para-sailed at Half Moon Cay. Otherwise, on this first-cruise experience, my wife and I kept ourselves to wandering around the ports, looking to see what we would find on our own. It was fun. It was successful. We were entertained. On St. Thomas the shopping was a blast, particularly if you're looking for distilled spirits or jewelry. Much to my delight I found and purchased a pair of sapphire and diamond earrings for my bride -- lovely, dangly, sparkly things -- for a price that was unbelievable, from a long-established and highly rated jeweler (Cardow).
As I scanned the excursion list from Holland, they seemed pricey to me for what they described. Obviously, I can be wrong here. But, with so much in port to do and see without paying someone to herd your around --- well, we'll exhaust these possibilities before we feel attracted to excursions.
Our cabin steward obviously studied us to know what we wanted, how we wanted it, when we wanted it, and he delivered it totally behind the scenes.
Every time we returned to our room, it had been tidied up, even if we were gone for only an hour. One cruiser joked that the cabin stewards were like ninjas -- when you are in they're out, when you're out, they're in. You begin to think they hid in a secret compartment in your cabin, jumping out as you depart to tidy up you little messes. It was one of the most astounding things I've ever seen. Beds turned down every night, lights dim, chocolates, ordering card for in-cabin wake-up coffee and food as we pleased. I don't know how they do this for over 2,000 passengers at a time.
Evidently, disembarking times are assigned based on flight times. Our TA had told us to book return flights no earlier than 1:00 PM, and this appears to be correct if one were to exercise what the lawyers call "an abundance of caution." I noted the possible choke points: (a) failure to get a disembarking time sufficiently early for your flight; (b) time looking for your luggage; (c) long lines at customs; (d) securing a cab as they come in waves to the pier; (e) long lines at curbside check-in at the airport; (f) more lines at airport security.
Luggage valet service is supposed to eliminate some of the above problems (a, b) but not all. Eurodam got everyone off in fine form and we didn't wait in lines created by Eurodam itself. Customs was slow at one point, and as there were three other ships disembarking that morning in the same area, getting a cab was an interesting exercise (!), and the lines at the airport were humongous. I'm guessing, however, that this is pretty normal.
This was our first cruise. Most of the folks we met had cruised six, twelve, even more cruises, on different lines. We invariably asked them to rate the cruise lines they had used, and to compare them to Holland. In every case, they said Holland was superior to anything they had encountered elsewhere. I wonder if I am now set up for disappointment if I ever cruise another line!