This was the first trans-Atlantic cruise for my wife and me after 30 years of cruising. We chose the Holland America Eurodam (also first cruise with Holland America) departing from Fort Lauderdale, FL primarily due to its itinerary and value. After leaving Fort Lauderdale we had two sea days prior to arriving in Kings Warf, Bermuda for a day followed by four sea days to Ponta Delgado, Portugal in the Azores for a day. After Ponta Delgado we enjoyed another sea day and arrived in Lisbon for two days followed by the ports of Portimao, Cadiz, and Malaga. After a final sea day we arrived at our final destination Barcelona Spain.
We live in Orlando, Florida and rented a car to drive to Fort Lauderdale with our cruise companions in a vehicle rented from Avis. This worked out great since the car return was within a mile of the port and Avis simply jumped in our rental car and delivered us to the port. At the port we were greeted by baggage handlers who quickly took our checked bags to be delivered to our state rooms. Arriving around 12:30 we simply walked into the greeting area, filled out the required medical form and proceeded to the embarkation area. Again no line and within minutes we had our boarding cards and were on our way up the gang plank to our state rooms. As this was the first cruise out of dry dock our rooms were ready for us when we boarded. After dropping our carry-on bags off in our stateroom we proceeded up to the Lido deck for a lunch buffet which was the first of many fine meals (more to come on this).
After our lunch we took a quick tour of the ship to get oriented and then back to our stateroom (5072) on deck 5, midship, to unpack. We did not find our baggage waiting outside our hatch as expected; instead both bags were on our bed on a leather mat which was unexpected. As always the state room seemed a little small but we quickly got accustomed to it. We found the head (bathroom) more spacious that on previous cruises and it also had a tub instead of a small shower. There were plenty of hangers to hang our cloths on and you could lower a shelf if you wanted room for full length hanging. My wife lowered the shelf in her closet while I kept mine in place. While there was plenty of room to place your garments there were no dresser drawers so you had to use the open shelves. We brought wine onboard and found that the desk bench opened and provided a perfect storage spot for it. The bed itself was king size with a very comfortable mattress. The TV was a small (approx. 20 inch) flat screen which was fine. We found the veranda to be smaller than expected but it met our needs. We had an adjoining room with our traveling companions and had the veranda separating door opened allowing us to socialize, drink wine and enjoy the views together. During the first day at sea Holland America hosted a Cruise Critic meet and greet that was well attended by ships staff. It provided a good opportunity for the many individuals from the forum for this cruise to meet prior to our independent shore excursions.
Our cruise highlights include the food, ports of call and activities. We chose the open seating option for flexibility but ended up with a reservation for the same time each evening. We were hoping to get a 7:00 PM reservation in order to attend the 10:00 PM evening show. Although attempting to get our reservation immediately after boarding the best we could get was at 7:45 which proved to be problematic. To accommodate the older (more on this later) clientele on this cruise the show times were set for 7:00 and 9:30 which did not align with our dinner time. To our rescue the chief dining room steward. Not only did he hold our reservation for us until we got out of the 7:00 show (around 8:00) he reserved a window table on the fantail for us each night. The food itself each evening was nothing short of splendid. Each menu provided a good variety to choose from across all courses. I particularly enjoyed the cold soup offerings and desserts. All the food was served hot and as far as I could tell freshly prepared. I did not have one meal that I did not enjoy immensely. One night steak filet and lobster were offered as separate entrees, my stewart readily accommodated my request for surf and turf by adding a lobster to my filet entree. A second night to my pleasure steak and lobster was again offered.
Our travel agent, AAA, gave us complimentary Pinnacle Grill reservations (along with $25.00 pp. drink cards and $50.00 onboard credit) to our delight. The Pinnacle is a superb specialty dining experience. Following a shrimp cocktail (4 large prawns) and an outstanding onion soup, I had a 22 oz. prime Porterhouse which was cooked medium rare to perfection. All of which was accompanied by a fine French Wine (extra). I do not even recall the two desserts I enjoyed that night.
We also dined at the Tamarind Asian restaurant twice for lunch (free) and once for dinner ($15.00 pp. surcharge). The lunch was a multi course meal consisting of an oriental salad, followed by a superb hot and sour soup then an entrEe consisting of a variety of steam and fried dumplings. Outstanding condiments ranging from mild to sizzling were provided for the dumplings. For dessert a coconut cream ice cream. I added cold raspberry sake to accompany the meal. For the dinner menu you had a good selection to choose from for each course including sushi. My wife and I enjoyed all these meals greatly however our traveling partners were less impressed.
Finally we tried the Canaletto Italian specialty restaurant (free) and found it to be very average Americanized Italian food. Although we enjoyed it there is a lot of improvement needed to turn this venue into a fine Italian dining experience.
We found the dining for breakfast and lunch equally enjoyable. Our personal preference was to dine in the Rembrandt dining room as it was not crowded and our dining was more leisurely. The few times we ate in the Lido the food selection was good and well prepared.
Holland America put together a fine itinerary of Ports of Call and we enjoyed each. Along with our traveling companions we chose to do independent tours at each port with the exception of Portimao. In Bermuda we hired a taxi driver guide (reserved ahead of time on the Web through Co-op Taxi Service). They provided us with an older gentleman by the name of Cubitt (pronounced Cupid) who was waiting for us on the pier. He provided us with a lively 6 hour tour of the Island. By his own admission he was the best guide on the Island and was certainly an icon as at every turn resident locals were calling him out by name or honking at us as we drove by. We drove through Hamilton, which we chose not to stop in as it looked like any other city, and experienced the western shore. In St. George we got out and took a short walk around the city. We stopped at the Crystal Caves which were ok but not great. We then drove the eastern shore and stopped at one of the pink sand beaches. We got a real taste for the Island and went away feeling the tour was well worth the money at $40.00 per hour for the cab (equivalent to a $60 pp. ship shore excursion).
Following four interesting days at sea we found ourselves in Ponta Delgada. Again we chose a private tour this time from Ricardo Amorim found at www.amazingtours.se. Our guide was waiting for us on the pier as we departed the ship to begin a wonderful tour of the Island. The views of both the South and North shores were stunning. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable of the Island, its history and plant life (he reminded us many times you can grow anything on São Miguel). He made numerous stops allowing us to capture the many views of the Island. The highlight of this tour was viewing the multiple sites in the Furnas Lakes region.
After another day at sea we arrived in Lisbon. The ship arrived at 2:00 PM and we were quickly off by 2:05. We had arranged to be met at 2:20 by a guide provided by Spain Day tours but did not find anyone waiting for us. Becoming impatient around 2:20 I called Spain Day Tours and simultaneously saw a gentlemen dressed in a suit and tie walk up with a sign with my name on it. He quickly noticed we were anxious and pointed out that it was 2:20 our agreed to meeting time and proceeded to escort us to our waiting Mercedes minivan. As it turns out Victor was extremely professional and provided us two tours second to none. His resume included driving and being a tour guide for numerous dignitaries and VIPs and we were very fortunate to have him. On day one he provided us with a 4 hour comprehensive tour of Lisbon and the surrounding areas. It was the exact overview of Lisbon we were looking for. On day two he again arrived at the exact meeting time for a tour of Sintra and coastal tour back to Lisbon. He was a driving encyclopedia of Lisbon and Portugal history and provided us all the information one can absorb. He was also very personable sharing many personal experiences and anecdotes. In short he provided us the insight and world view of life in Portugal we were hoping for.
Our next port was Portimao, Portgugal advertised by Holland America as a small fishing village. I could not find a private tour so we chose the Holland America shore excursion Alluring Algarve. It was a good choice and we enjoyed the tour. We had considered staying in Portimao to walk this small fishing village on our own, turns out it was a rather large city and appeared to be a mini Miami with condos stretching far along the coast. We were glad we took the tour.
The next day we arrived in Cadiz, Spain. Here we arranged a small group tour (16 individuals) to Seville again provided by Spain Day Tours. After exiting the ship we were met by our escort to Seville, boarded our mini coach and were on our way to Seville. Our escort was a young American on his first day on the job and did not provide much information along the way. However once in Seville we were greeted by a certified English speaking guide who provided a magnificent walking tour of Seville. The tour was exactly as advertised and all left the tour feeling the trip to Seville was well worth the time.
Our next port Malaga turned out to be one of the major highlights of the trip. We had arranged another independent small group tour thru Spain Day Tours to Granada and the Alhambra. This tour exceeded all my expectations. Again we were met on the pier by Spain Day tours and escorted to our mini coach. This time we had an exceptional escort by the name of Debbie from the UK who was a long time resident of Malaga. On the two hour drive to Granada she provided a wonderful dialog of the local history and life around Malaga. Once in Granada we were again greeted by an exceptional certified guide who personally guided us through the Alhambra. She was very knowledgeable of the Alhambra and provided all the information one could ask for. Towards the end of our tour of the Alhambra our group became briefly separated and she was a real mother hen rounding us up and getting us together again. She wasn't about to lose any tourists on her watch. I cannot over emphasize to future cruisers to visit the Alhambra either on a ship tour or independent tour, it was simply magnificent.
Finally after a final day at sea we arrived at our destination Barcelona. We had arranged a private full day tour by Spain Day tours and again were more than satisfied. We were provided a comprehensive tour by our guide Armando who was very knowledgeable of Barcelona architecture particularly Gaudi. On day two Armando drove us to Montserrat stopping to provide us with the most spectacular views of the mountain. At the end of our tour on day two Armando spent the time to help us plan the remainder of the day and our next independent day. On day three we spent the whole morning at the Sagrada Família, we got there early and had a little wait prior to getting inside. Do not leave Barcelona without spending a significant amount of time in this magnificent structure.
I cannot over emphasize my satisfaction with Spain Day Tours, they delivered on all promises. All guides (private and group) were professional and knowledgeable. I would use them again without any reservation. Most important their tours are comprehensive, personable and fraction of the cost of the ship tours.
Given the length of the cruise a little more information on our experiences aboard the Eurodam is warranted. All services were provided professionally and courteously. Our room steward kept our stateroom immaculate. Our dining room steward was a joy and quickly learned our likes and dislikes. In the Explorers Lounge the individual in charge of internet services was most helpful. While the internet service itself was slow he readily replaced minutes that I felt were wasted on numerous occasions. He never once questioned my request to add minutes back to my account, a big A+ to Holland America for this. The Captains announcements each day provided the necessary information but also included trivia that I began to look forward to. We took advantage of other activities such as Bingo, lectures, and cooking demonstrations. We learned that the ship made no money from the Bingo games (all fees went back as winnings) and if someone had won the daily jackpot it was 100% funded by Holland America. Shore excursion lectures kept to what you needed to know and did not try to sell the ships excursions. A point to note is that very little selling was done on this ship which I appreciated. Everything you come to expect on a cruise was offered but no pressure was applied to buy anything.
Now for my only negative of the cruise, I was deeply disappointed with the entertainment. I was looking forward to the transatlantic crossing expecting good (not outstanding) entertainment and my expectations were not met. There was some good entertainment in two of the smaller venues (Adagio Strings & and a small jazz quartet) however the ship was essentially dead after 11:30. My traveling companions and I think it may be due to the age demographic that Holland America caters too. On our ship we estimated both the average and median age to be greater than 70, thus the limited late night entertainment. The last main stage show featuring the ships singers and dancers entitled Avalon was their only good production show (though we lost one show due to rough seas). From the main shows, the main singers and dancers, to the smaller venue offerings, all were less than I have come to expect on a cruise. Specifically Celebrity, Princess and Royal Caribbean all provide superior entertainment. I do not know if it was just the Eurodam or if it is Holland America fleet wide. In any event the entertainment has much to be improved. I was so disappointed I almost stated on my onboard comment card that the lead female singer should be replaced. You see better singers on American Idol and better dancers on Dancing with the Stars. One comedian Julie Barr bombed on the main stage but put on an acceptable adult show in a smaller venue. A magician was featured on the main stage that performed three tricks in 45 minutes, the cutting rope trick, a card trick and the bottles in the tube trick while wasting a lot of time trying to be funny. The exception was a ventriloquist who was exceptional, he did many things I had not seen before and related to the audience well. The problem here was they featured him once on the main stage during the entire 10 night Atlantic crossing. He could have been used in the small venues as entertainment was sorely lacking there. The ships band called the HALCats incorporated the Adagio Strings for the show called Avalon, renamed themselves the Avalon Orchestra, and brought the house down. Why they were not featured in this format earlier eludes me as they were really good. I could have listened to them late into the night in a smaller venue in this format every night. As the HALCats they were simply mediocre. Needless to say I was disappointed in the ships variety, quantity and quality of entertainment, they can do better.
Also note that the ship is not smoke free. Smoking was allowed in the Casino which prevented me the pleasure of enjoying this venue, particularly on a 16 night cruise.
Disembarkation was uneventful, very well organized with no crowds. We were able to disembark at the time requested and luggage was quickly found.
So would I cruise with Holland America again? In short yes if the itinerary was as good as this one and I felt it was as good a value. The entertainment not withstanding I was very pleased with this cruise. The ship's crew from the Captain, primary staff, various stewards, and chefs all need to be commended for providing a memorable cruising experience.