We returned on September 10, 2011 from a 17-day transatlantic cruise on the Eurodam that started in Dover, England on August 24 and ended in Manhattan with stops in Amsterdam, Zeebrugge (Belgium), Dublin, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, St. Johns (Newfoundland), and Halifax.
The itinerary was spectacular. What attracted us was the nice mix of ports and at-sea days and the mix of exciting large cities (London, Amsterdam, Dublin, and New York) with remote cultures of the North Atlantic and with the charm of St. Johns and Halifax. We were not disappointed. It was a wonderfully varied cruise with times when we could completely relax and times when we were touring interesting places or sailing past jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery.
The highlight of the trip was the day we spent scenic cruising on the Prins Christian Sund in Greenland. Through an incredible bit of luck, we had unusually good weather - cold, but very clear. The result was breathtaking. We spent the better part of the day cruising through a fjord with unbelievably tall, nearly vertical, sheer granite cliffs punctuated by glaciers and waterfalls. Because the weather was so uncommonly good, the captain extended the tour into a portion that no cruise ship had ever visited before.
As they do on their Alaska cruises, HAL provided piping hot pea soup on the outside decks that was most welcome in the 30-degree (F) temperature. (For a fee, you could also get Irish coffee or brandy to warm you up.) It's a classy touch. And the crew serving it seemed as exuberant as the passengers about the sights.
About midway through Prins Christian Sund, there was tiny village on shore. The ship sent out a tender with pizzas, and the tender crew also sliced off some ice from one of the icebergs floating in the sound and brought it on board for passengers who wished to have the unpolluted ice for their drinks. The next day, we stopped at Nanortalik, Greenland. One of the tenders returned with a bunch of children from the town and the crew treated them to pizza, hamburgers, hotdogs, and a tour of the ship. We thought that it was a wonderful gesture.
Some notable things:
Boarding the ship in Dover and getting off the ship in New York were both speedy and painless experiences. We have found HAL to be remarkably efficient. We spent two nights in London before leaving for the cruise. Since it was a HAL pre-cruise, we were met at Heathrow and taken to our hotel (JW Marriott Grosvenor House). It's a great location. You can pretty much walk to most things you might want to see, including Buckingham Palace and the National Museum. HAL provided the bus transportation from the hotel to the ship.
We are not buffet fans, so we can't comment much on the Lido except to say that the food looked attractive and varied when we walked through, and we never saw long lines, but since we weren't up there during a lot of meal times, I can't say that they did not exist. My wife went either at the very beginning or just before the lunch period ended and had a good experience when she purchased soup or a sandwich.
We dined mostly at the Rembrandt Dining Room ("As You Like" dining). We had a few meals where we were at tables of four people. Eventually, we settled into a nice routine of making reservations several days in advance for 6:00 or 6:15 p.m. at a table for two, and generally got the same table (No. 111), overlooking the ocean. There were tables for two at either side of us, and night after night we would see some familiar faces, but we also wound up meeting some new people. For us, that seemed ideal: it had some of the characteristics of a fixed seating time (we got to know our serving staff and wine steward - it was a great crew!).
We ate at the Tamarind twice. It was superb! It is one of HAL's best ideas, and I wish that all of their ships had it. (I think that the restaurant is available only on the Eurodam and the Nieuw Amsterdam.) It's an Asian fusion restaurant. The restaurant's menu has been endowed with tons of imagination and variety. The service is impeccable.
We also dined twice at the Pinnacle. Once was on my birthday, where I gluttonized on a delicious steak. The second time was at one of the two Le Cirque dinners. Le Cirque is more expensive than the Pinnacle's regular $25.00 per person charge. The question is this: is it worth it? My wife and I would say, "yes."
One of the questions we had before we took this cruise was this: how cold is it when you are cruising the North Atlantic in August-September? For most of the cruise we could go out on our veranda to take pictures, sometimes needing a fleece jacket, but it was generally too cold to sit out on the veranda for an extended period of time. There were a couple of times when this was not the case. In fact, one night when we were in port , we ordered dinner from the Rembrandt menu and dined out on the veranda. Bear in mind, too, that in addition to the wind speeds, you are on a ship that is moving at 18-21 knots, so there is a certain amount of wind chill that is generated just from the fact that you are on a moving ship. In any event, we'd suggest that you brings clothes that will allow you "layer" yourself well, and bring more long-sleeved shirts/blouses than short-sleeved.
And how rocky was the North Atlantic?
There were a few days when the winds were so extreme that it was almost impossible to push the veranda door open. (At those times, the ship also closed the outside decks to passengers - a sensible precaution, especially as there were times when the wind speeds reached 70 miles an hour, which is virtually hurricane force! The Lido deck pool was emptied once when the wind and rocking was significant enough to cause unsafe conditions for walking or sitting in the pool area.)
But overall, there was actually less rockiness than we expected; however, being mid-ship was decidedly more stable than rooms closer to either end, as several passengers attested. There were several nights when the ship's rolling was strong enough that we had to put something in front of the drawers in our stateroom to prevent their opening and closing from waking us. We also had to take down hangers that didn't have clothes on them, since they, too, got rather noisy when they banged against each other.
There was only one time when we felt that the rolling was very pronounced. Fortunately, it was while we were in bed, and, frankly, it was a rather enjoyable and even soothing feeling. During the at-sea days, we loved sitting by a window with a book or a drink and watching the waves. My wife also took photos of the 8 to 12 foot waves, capturing their fountains of spray, and sketching the result. There is a strange and enduring beauty in the waves when you are on the sea. It is one reason why we will definitely take another transatlantic cruise. In fact, the crystallized ginger candy which my wife brought along for possible nausea was not used for that purpose but rather (by her) for a little indigestion she experienced caused by rich ingredients used in dressing vegetables, making the scrumptious hot or cold cream soups and the elegant desserts. But what's a cruise without an occasional indulgence? In any case, she swears by the ginger candy, which she purchased at our local co-op (organic) food market.
We heard very little about people experiencing sea sickness, and since there were the usual number of folks at meals, I suspect that it did not present a problem for most passengers. I would say, though, that if you are generally unsteady on your feet, you might want to think twice about a transatlantic cruise. It is going to be rockier than a cruise in (say) the Caribbean. My wife noticed many passengers with a motion-sickness prevention patch behind an ear.
This was another highlight. First of all, we've never been on a cruise before where the personality of the ship's captain played such a major role. Captain Darin Bowland was on several panels in the Queen's Lounge or Mainstage during the cruise. Two of his young children sat up front in the Queen's Lounge , watching their self-proclaimed non-cooking Dad give a memorable performance during a culinary "cook-off". During the show, the Cruise Director and the Captain attempted to make a winning venison entree with sautEed vegetables while two other staff persons accompanied their venison with a soup appetizer. The panel of judges (passengers) did not vote for the Captain's team; in fact, they found no menu item particularly palatable. When not cooking, the Captain is informative. He is hilariously funny (by the way, he could pass as a Jay Leno look-alike). He seems to love the work that he does. He gave those who heard him some insight into the kinds of issues that he and his staff face in managing a cruise ship. He also did some interviews on hurricanes and hurricane-tracking (we sailed when Irene was tracking up through the Northeast United States and into the North Atlantic), and they were broadcast on one of the ship's TV stations.
On board for the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and Canadian segments of the cruise was Jon Sigurdsson who gave great lectures on the culture, geography, ecology, and geology of the region. He played to pretty full houses in the Mainstage Theatre. He also provided commentary during scenic cruising. He has a deft touch for mixing information, insight, and humor. In other words, he is a perfect speaker for this kind of cruise.
We stayed in a Deluxe Veranda Suite. It is spacious and well-appointed with a huge amount of storage space. There was even space under the bed to fit all of our suitcases (two rather large ones and two carry-ons with wheels). Mary Rose and Mina in the Neptune Lounge were outstanding, as were Nina and Chandra, our stateroom stewards. The Neptune Lounge provides concierge service, and, yes, they will handle pretty much anything that needs handling. While these are (admittedly) fine accommodations and worth the extra money, we met lots of people who were not in one of the deluxe suites who also found this an enthralling cruise.
This 17-day cruise had five formal nights.
Getting off the ship was a breeze. We left the ship around 8:30 a.m., got our luggage, found a porter who accompanied us and the suitcases through Customs and to the street, where we hopped a cab to Penn Station to drop off our suitcases. Here's a tip from the porter: if you snag a porter to tote your suitcases on a wheeled cart up to customs, the agents service passengers with porters first. But, be patient with getting porters: remember that the Eurodam carries over 2,000 passengers and that they first announce disembarkation of those passengers who have planes to catch. We spent the day in New York (including a matinee performance of The Book of Mormon - by the creators of the HBO hit, South Park - which we highly recommend) and took Amtrak back home to Delaware.
We were in bed before 11 most nights and while we both found one of the Mainstage shows rather entertaining (a couple who performed several routines while executing unbelievably quick changes of dancing costumes), my wife attended only one other show. At the 11:15 pm crew show, she particularly enjoyed the experience of watching an especially beautiful member of the Neptune Lounge staff from Bali flawlessly perform a 15-minute, enchanting "bird dance". However, we both liked relaxing with an after-dinner drink while the Adagio String Quartet played beautiful classical music from 6 pm to 10 pm each evening. Two different couples, passengers themselves, surprised the seated passengers with a lovely tango on two separate occasions.
We both look forward to the day when HAL bans all smoking onboard - anywhere. For those bothered - as we are - by second-hand smoke we held our breath and moved quickly through the Casino area.
This is not a cruise for people who want non-stop activity and parties. For folks who like visiting a range of really interesting and sometimes fascinating ports, but who also like the peace and relaxation of at sea days, it is ideal - especially if you also enjoy excellent food, good conversation with well-educated guests, and intelligent lectures.
One substantive complaint is that the Eurodam puts its library ("Explorers Cafe") on the top deck with the Crow's Nest. That's a goofy place to put a library: it is way too noisy and not very conducive to sitting and reading, especially when there is Muzak playing in the background and folks gathered around the bar at the Crow's Nest. Putting it on the 4th deck, as it is on most other HAL ships, seems a much better place for it.
Another complaint was that we learned from other passengers that the tender service in Noratalik was extremely s-l-o-w with long lines and long waits, partially due to a mechanical problem. (Since that was the only port where we stayed onboard ship, we can't comment directly. It was quite cold and windy, and we opted to stay onboard.) There was also a luncheon buffet in the Pinnacle Grill to showcase culinary displays that drew long lines on one of the at-sea days; on another day there were long lines at a Polynesian-theme buffet around the pool.
In other respects, however, the Eurodam is a wonderful ship. The "Rembrandt" theme works extremely well throughout the ship. The ship is kept spotlessly clean. We were on the Eurodam two years ago when we sailed on one of HALs Canadian/New England cruises, and we were glad to see that it remains such a beautiful and well-run ship. The crew were very friendly. In addition to the kudos mentioned above for our Neptune concierges and our stateroom stewards, we would also mention Temmy, our wine steward in the Rembrandt Dining Room, who was always eager to please and very amusing, and Anne Jameson, manager of the Pinnacle, who is a class act.
Finally, Muji, who made the seating assignments in the Rembrandt when you arrived for dinner, (for those passengers with or without reservations), had nerves of steel. He never displayed anything other than a pleasant demeanor. On every cruise, there are always a few people who act like jerks - particularly when the matter at hand concerns food. They don't make reservations or they show up late for them, but then are put off because they don't get exactly the table or location they want. Muji was unflappable. We both came to admire his patience and good nature, even when a guest was being rude.
In case you're wondering about us: I am 66, and my wife is 62. This is our fourth cruise (all have been on HAL).
Amsterdam - we took a HAL tour that include the Van Gogh Museum. Spent lots of time at the Museum and then took a very leisurely walk back to the ship on a route that took us past the Anne Frank House. Some passengers complained that none of the HAL tours included the Anne Frank House. The problem, we think, is that there are very long lines to get into it. We believe that the waiting time was 45+ minutes, and that is tough to schedule as part of a tour. It was moving to stand in front of it, however. Since it was a somewhat longish walk back to the ship, we stopped for tea at an outdoor cafe by one of the canals.
Zeebrugge - we opted for a tour that included Zeebruge and Damme. Saw a lot of the Flemish countryside and learned some history. It probably would have been more interesting to have gone to Brussels, but we did enjoy the tour we took, and the tour guide was excellent.
Dublin - like Amsterdam, a tremendous city with lots to offer. We took a HAL tour, and, again, an excellent tour guide made it worthwhile. We saw the Book of Kells at Trinity College Dublin and spent some time walking around (including a stop at a pub where I had a Guinness and my wife had her favorite pie - apple - which she declared was the best she ever tasted). We also did some shopping. One of our fellow passengers spent the afternoon at a performance of River Dance. They explained that they went to the tourism center in town and learned how to get tickets. We thought that was a neat idea: to go to a matinee performance while we were in port. We wish that we had considered that option, though we don't regret the tour.
Faroe Islands - the weather was gloomy and a bit chilly, and towards the end of our tour of Torshavn (which included a fair amount of walking), it started raining. That said, our tour guide gave us a lot of insight into the history of the Faroe Islands and what it is like to live there. We were glad that we took the tour, despite the wretched weather. Rain gear is a necessity for this cruise!
Reykjavik, Iceland - the only disappointment, not because of Reykjavik, but because the tour guide's English was not up to the demands of conducting a tour. We opted for a general tour of the city. Judging from our conversations with other passengers, touring the geothermal sites would have been far more interesting. And those who visited the Blue Lagoon loved it - this was true whether they took a Blue Lagoon HAL tour, one of which included an opportunity for a 3 hour swim in its warm water, with nearby showers and lockers, or opted to go out there on their own (which was undoubtedly a less expensive option).
Greenland - as mentioned above, this was the highlight. It is an extraordinarily beautiful and fascinating place.
St. Johns, Newfoundland - this was the only place where my wife and I opted for separate HAL tours. I did a tour that was more history-based, with visits to Cape Spear (you can see the WW II defenses there), Signal Hill, and the Basilica of St. John the Baptist, which is a pretty spectacular church. My wife opted for the Memorial University Botanical Gardens and loved it. The gardens are on 100 acres which university students reconstructed after a fire had destroyed much of the foliage. What resulted are beautiful and varied displays of indigenous flora and fauna as well as carefully constructed areas made to protect small animals and even butterflies.
Halifax, Nova Scotia - since we had been to Halifax before, we didn't do a tour. We walked from the ship to the Maritime Museum and spent several hours there. It is a terrific museum. Lots of information on the Titanic and on the horrible 1916 explosion in Halifax harbor. It also has models of 19th century ships. It was a well laid out and very engrossing museum. There are nearby shops with intriguing art and sculpture which gave us the opportunity to purchase a thank-you gift for our cat-sitter.