Eurodamnit! This review isn't supposed to start for 10 more minutes! Just hang in there for a couple seconds while I slip into something a bit less comfortable. There we go -- your flustered host has his velvet smoking jacket on, and is ready to guide you through a compelling review that will hopefully distract your mind from any lingering images of himself, his lucky underwear, and several tins of kippered herring snacks. Sit back, relax, and prepare yourself for a journey to The Gems Of The Baltic on Holland America's Eurodam.
July 7, 2010: The journey starts with your humble reviewer eager to leave behind the 100 degree temperatures in New York for the cool refreshing breezes of the Baltic Sea. Fast forward to the next day's arrival in the promised land: Copenhagen, Denmark.
Copenhagen is a spectacular and perhaps underrated city. The architecture! The danishes! The English-speaking Danes! It's just like being at home, only better. Your faithful host on this journey spends a night at the Copenhagen Marriott. A nice hotel for sure, the Marriott is in a quiet location a moderate walk from many of the city's attractions. Most importantly, however, the bathroom floor is heated for guests' comfort. With just a bit of internet savvy, rooms can be had for less than 11,000 DKK. Yes, Copenhagen is expensive, but this frugal traveler found some awesome food for very reasonable prices. Either that, or he hasn't quite mastered the exchange rate yet.
The crowning glory of Copenhagen is undoubtedly The Little Mermaid; a tiny statue perpetually surrounded by tourists and ignored by Danes. July, 2010 finds this statue in Shanghai, or so your inquisitive guide is told. Visitors to Copenhagen are instead greeted by a television screen broadcasting an image of the tiny statue currently in China. Of course, this is all hearsay; as your loyal narrator had better things to do than stalk a tiny statue. Highlights of Copenhagen include: Børsen - the Stock exchange with the entwined dragons' tails spire and Vor Frelsers Kirke- a church with a spiral-shaped spire open to the public and offering unique views of the city. There may be other highlights as well, but time is a fickle mistress who waits for no one.
July 9, 2010: The Eurodam departs from Copenhagen! Many Eurodam passengers stay at the same Marriott, and your refreshed host is fortunate enough to share a cab to the cruise terminal with one such family. This particular family (from the USA, of course!) is prepared for any number of natural catastrophes that could result in the Eurodam running out of water or wine. So prepared, in fact, that your flummoxed narrator would have felt pretty foolish had such an event caught him without ten days' worth of beverages on hand. Thankfully, the ship did not at any time run out of water. Or wine.
Check-in at the ship is completely unsurprising: all passengers arrive at the exact same time, drop off luggage, and wait in an enormous line in the hot sun for their turn. If there is one really super way to top off traveling thousands of miles, carting around two weeks' worth of luggage, and waiting in a massive line in the hot sun, it is definitely having one's portrait taken by the ship's photographers immediately after. There is no doubt these bloodthirsty vultures have a contest going to see who can take the worst picture. Your savvy host bypasses this opportunity for immortal shame; but later very much enjoys perusing through these particular portraits on display for all passengers to ridicule in the photo gallery on the ship.
This is the part where the studious reader should begin taking notes. The first order of business when boarding the Eurodam is: making dining reservations before other passengers figure out how to do the same. Specialty restaurants that require reservations include: The Pinnacle Grill (surcharge), Tamarind Restaurant (free for lunch, surcharge for dinner), and Canaletto's Restaurant (free). The freebies fill up fast, so plan ahead! After that (and the unpacking), your work is done and you have an incredible cruise to enjoy!
The end of Day One brings your humble reviewer to The Pinnacle Grill, the most expensive and exclusive of the on-board dining options. The food is certainly good, especially the Crème BrûlEe; although this frugal traveler does not think it is worth the $20 surcharge. Perhaps the highlight of dinner at Pinnacle is admiring how certain other guests manage to take the perfect photograph by precariously balancing their camera on top of a glass of water. Call this writer snobbish if you will: he feels a red wine would be more suitable.
July 10, 2010: The Eurodam arrives in Rostock, Germany! Rostock may be the nicest, most pleasant-smelling city in all of Germany; but your eager cruiser wouldn't have any idea, as he promptly boards a bus to the charming medieval town of Lubeck through a Holland America excursion. The tour guide, a native of Lubeck, is friendly and very knowledgeable. Lubeck itself is fascinating, scenic, and full of history. That said, the oppressive heat -- our first taste of Heat Wave 2010 makes it difficult to enjoy. While the thermometer inches its way toward the 100 degree mark, your sweaty host finds refuge in Lubeck's famous Puppet Museum. This museum is not to be missed, as one or two of their displays are not at all creepy!
July 11, 2010: The Eurodam Sails the Seas! This first of two sea days gives your dutiful host a chance to give the reader a hint of shipboard life. Your lucky correspondent is fortunate enough to stay in The Best Room In The History Of Cruising: 8127. This room is right off the aft elevators and staircase, one floor below the entrance to the Lido Buffet: literally a 10 second walk to nourishment. While the buffet is not, in fact, open 24 hours per day; there is usually some sort of food service available. Plus, room service is available 24/7. Throughout the day, the ship offers lectures, cooking demonstrations, trivia challenges, tours, and more. Other activities to pursue include taking advantage of the library and games provided in the Crow's Nest, browsing in the ship's shopping area (raffles will keep you coming back for more!), perusing the "art" offered at auction, enjoying the aforementioned photo gallery, and general people-watching.
As afternoon turns into evening, it becomes painfully obvious which of the other passengers did not get the memo about "Formal Night". Note to couple wearing matching black t-shirts and white jeans: this comment is not directed at you. You rocked that look! Note to people wearing bathrobes: "Formal Night" does not mean tying your robe shut instead of letting it casually hang open to show off your bathing suit.
Your hungry correspondent takes this opportunity to try out the Rembrandt Dining Room for dinner. The Rembrandt is the main, full-service dining room. The food there is excellent, although the background noise of happily conversing and eating passengers tends to be a bit overwhelming, making conversation difficult. Couple that with the rather slow pace of full-service dining, and the meal tends to drag. Your cruising champion does not return to the Rembrandt for dinner throughout the trip.
July 12, 2010: The Eurodam arrives in Tallinn, Estonia! Decades of Soviet occupation left the ancient town of Tallinn relatively unscathed, much to cruisers' delight. The old town is marvelous, with old architectures, shops and restaurants, and scenic vistas. Also, it is a very short walk from the cruise terminal. Heat Wave 2010, nature's very own Crusher of Human Spirit, drives your overheated host back to the air conditioned comfort of the ship prematurely.
July 13, 2010: The Eurodam docks in St. Petersburg, Russia. St. Petersburg is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the Gems of the Baltic tour, and this morning finds your eager host giddy with anticipation. Giddy, with anticipation firmly in hand, he springs from bed to the windows to discover a fairytale-like vista spread before his very eyes: concrete high-rise apartments and a nuclear power plant.
A note about Russian Immigration: we are guests in their country, and are bound by their rules. Holland America is very good about telling passengers what to do and what to expect. Those who precisely follow instructions tend not to have any problems in this respect.
Cruisers are exempt from visa requirements, provided they are at all times in the company of an official tour provider. This first day in St. Petersburg finds your excited envoy on a Holland America excursion visiting the Catherine Palace and the fabled Hermitage. Catherine Palace was completely destroyed by the Nazis in World War II, but ongoing efforts at rebuilding and renovating have produced a spectacular result. The Hermitage is, of course, one of the world's most important museums; with the absolute largest collection of paintings. While a visit to the museum is a dream come true, visiting it with 20,000 other people and Heat Wave 2010 make enjoyment a challenge. Did your dehydrated host forget to mention that the museum is not air conditioned? Special note to visitors: if both of your hands are on your camera, whose hand is that in your pocket? Truly spunky travelers will intentionally leave their pockets empty and just enjoy the friskiness of the locals.
Holland America's offerings for evenings in St. Petersburg leave a lot to be desired. Accordingly, your daring reviewer ventured out and booked a tour guide and car/driver from a well-known local company. This proved to be a very smart move. The guide and driver whisked your dazzled correspondent all over the city to both famous and not-so-famous sights. Several highly-rated local companies offer tour packages to cruise-ship passengers. Future cruisers would be smart to consider their offerings.
July 14, 2010: The Eurodam hasn't budged! Day Two in St. Petersburg, and the temperature plummets down into the upper 90s. The heat is brutal, but your undaunted reviewer has a full day planned with two Holland America excursions. The first is a visit to Peter and Paul Fortress: home of Peter and Paul Cathedral, the final resting place for virtually all of the Romanov Tsars. The second is a behind-the-scenes look at life in St. Petersburg, featuring a ride on the subway, a visit to a market, and vodka! The excursion ends, as all ship-sponsored excursions have, with a visit to the very same souvenir store. Holland America would be wise to address this, as three visits to the same store gets to be annoying.
July 15, 2010: The Eurodam arrives in Helsinki! Your humble correspondent can not tell a lie: he is far too tired, hot, and moist to enjoy Helsinki.
July 16, 2010: The Eurodam cruises in to Stockholm! It seems obvious to this particular cruiser that the captain must have executed some tricky maneuvers to outrun Heat Wave 2010. Perhaps he used magic. Whatever the case, the day in Stockholm features the nicest weather of the trip to date. The city itself is spectacular, featuring the island-bound old town with the modern city grown up all around. There is much to see, and much of the city is very easy to navigate on foot. Cruisers are particularly privileged to enjoy the scenic boat ride through Stockholm archipelago. Travelers arriving in planes, trains, or automobiles miss out on this spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
July 17, 2010: The Eurodam Sails the Seas, Part Two! Remember way back when your humble guide on this journey mentioned the first order of business upon boarding the Eurodam? Well done! Learned readers who took notes will undoubtedly remember it had to do with dining reservations! That kind of foresight pays off on this sea day, as your well-prepared reviewer has a much sought-after lunch reservation for the Tamarind Restaurant; lunchtime dining being free. This particular lunch is easily worth twice the price: the Tamarind offers a wonderful set lunch menu of dim sum. The green tea tiramisù for dessert alone is worth the visit.
Faithful readers who haven't given up on this review in favour of a nap are about to be rewarded with another cruising tip: Teatime in the Rembrandt Dining Room is not to be missed! Few people take advantage of teatime; however, cruisers who like an "in-between-meal meal" should definitely check it out.
July 18, 2010: The Eurodam arrives in Kiel, Germany! As Kiel is not particularly exciting, many passengers take advantage of Holland America excursions to Hamburg. Since this stop is on a Sunday, absolutely nothing is open except for the shops in the train station. Thank heavens for trivia and teatime back on the ship!
July 19, 2010: The Eurodam returns to Copenhagen! Your sad (and slightly embarrassed) correspondent is dragged kicking and screaming from the ship known for the past 10 days as "home." The disembarkation ritual is relatively pain-free. Passengers place their luggage outside the door the night before, and then retrieve said luggage after leaving the ship. Travelers in need of a taxi then queue up in an orderly fashion. Tip: if you have an easily manageable amount of luggage, don't bother with the night-before-routine. Just take your luggage and leave at your appointed time. That way, you will not have to search for your luggage once you leave the ship.
Tipping: Holland America charges passengers' accounts a set amount per day for tips. You will discover that the ship's staff (especially dining staff and room stewards) earn every bit of this and then some by treating you like royalty. The staff is unbelievably gracious, friendly, and hospitable.
Excursions: Holland America offers many excursion options for each port of call. While it is possible to book excursions on the ship, the smart traveler books online beforehand, as some excursions fill up quickly. Third party tour offerings are also available in many ports, especially St. Petersburg. These companies routinely work with cruise ship passengers and offer excellent value.
Entertainment: You may have read that what Holland America's shows lack in content, they make up for in costumes. When you see the Eurodamncers dressed as carousel horses, you will understand.
Children: Do not bring your children on this cruise, unless they are the type of children who spend time in bars and casinos. About the only thing of interest to children on the ship are the pools and hot tubs. The ports and excursions are not of interest to kids. Seriously, save yourself some aggravation and find a more suitable family vacation.
Decor: You may have heard that there is some ugly artwork onboard. There is. Deal with it.
Food: The food is excellent and plentiful. Special thanks to the omelet chefs and the waffle guy. Special special thanks to whomever created the Canaletto's tiramisù -- it is to die for.
Currency: Bring US Dollars, Euros, credit cards, and an ATM card. The ship exchanges many of the currencies of the region; ATMs are plentiful as well.
Rooms: Rooms are small, but there is indeed an abundance of storage space: night stands, drawers under beds, drawer under couch, "secret compartment" in footstool, etc. Balcony rooms are totally awesome.
Transportation: In cities where the ship docks a longer distance from the center of town (Stockholm, Helsinki), Holland America offers a shuttle bus. Expect to pay a premium for this convenience.
Ship-board Account: If there is a way to part passengers from their money, Holland America has thought of it. Alcoholic beverages, bottled water, soda, "artwork", photographs, spa treatments, cabana rentals, and premium dining options all take a heavy toll on your shipboard account. Then, there is the shopping arcade featuring jewelry, clothing, and souvenirs; with cheaper items rotated in toward the end of the cruise. Most passegers provide a credit card for their account before the cruise. Near the end of the trip, passengers then have the chance to inspect their account charges before departure. Finally, the account is charged to the passengers' credit card upon departure. There is nothing quite like that next credit card bill to welcome you back home and back to reality.
Alas, loyal reader, your beloved host has faithfully guided you to the end of this journey. The time has come to send you off to plan your own adventure. First, however, your grateful guide must thank individuals and groups who made the delights of this journey possible:
Piano Man Eric: Your efforts are appreciated, even when passengers request the same tired old Elton John or Billy Joel songs. Special thanks for opening your prize closet to us.
Random Dining Neighbor #1: The $15,000 you spent to take a nap was money well spent. You have never looked so refreshed.
DenRus Tours: Booking your evening tour in St. Petersburg was one of the best choices made on the whole trip. You greatly exceeded our expectations!
Preston: What do you call a man who travels the world with his General Lee beer cozy autographed by Ben "Cooter" Jones? Two words: My Idol.
Random Dining Neighbor #2: Who needs gourmet food prepared with the finest ingredients by master chefs when you can have chicken soup instead?
The Texans: Next time, try not to forget your clothes.
Lufthansa Pilot: Thanks for a safe landing, eventually. Third time's a charm.
Most importantly, Thanks to J, without whom many a travel mug, tote bag, pin, and luggage tag (all inscribed with the Holland America logo) would have been won by someone else!
Narrated by The Eurodamned Smoking Jacket by Sergio Valente® Lucky Underwear by Hanes® Custom Monogramming by Mom Snacks by Brunswick® Seafood Snacks
Why, persistent reader -- are you still there? As much as your beloved host has grown as fond of you as you are of he (well, not really), this really is the end!