We enjoy traveling with our children on holiday breaks as it is a special time given our dual profession family. All of us are music and history buffs, and we love the outdoors, hiking and biking or being on the water. Most of our holidays through the years have involved rented apartments, flats or houses in North America or Europe. Hotels are not usually to our liking. But Mom still has to shop and cook, at least some of the time! Restaurants are not easy for kids in Europe for every meal. European hotels are extremely expensive for more than two, and meal plans do not exist.
After renovating our house and a busy working year, we booked this cruise fairly last minute. I asked for Holland America having sailed before in the early 90s, and wanting an authentic and smaller cruise feel. We had never seen England, Scotland or Northern Europe, having stayed previously in France, Italy.
The Eurodam exceeded all my expectations. The areas we used, including our More
staterooms, were meticulously clean and kept in that condition throughout the cruise. The bathroom and provided amenities were wonderful. The beds were fresh and very firm, sheets were changed during the cruise, the cabin steward was excellent. We had already been in England and Holland for 10 days so we used the laundry service, exceptional, every T-shirt was ironed. The turnaround was less than 24 hours. (Compared to many hotels where we have stayed in Europe with NO laundry service, that is why we rent flats).
Meals were excellent, in fact, outstanding. The Lido restaurant and Lido grill were especially wonderful with teens/preteens as everyone found something they liked for every meal and snack - including the requisite "healthy" servings of fruit and vegetables that the physician mom decrees are necessary. The formal restaurant on level 2 we visited together on formal nights and some nights just the two of us while the kids dined at the Lido. This because the meal is 3 or 4 courses and lasts a long time. This is how we like to eat and enjoy a superb meal but if you remain in Type A mode during a cruise be prepared - it is leisurely, you won't be served quickly and scooted out by servers clearing your table. The views to the ocean are unbelievable from the formal dining room windows as this is deck 2 near the sea. I particularly loved the lamb burgers at the Lido grill. The chefs/servers in the Lido restaurants (they cook right in front of you behind serving counters) were cheerful, very professional, and bent over backwards to give passengers whatever they needed/wanted. Four to six different "menu" areas throughout the Lido restaurant and all right from the grill/pot onto your plate. Truely, the food was exceptional. The views from the Lido restaurant (deck 9) were also amazing at every port (we visited 9 ports).
The Lido pool/hot tub area was chic yet fun and never crowded; we went every day. We spent every evening and our whole days at sea in the Crow's Nest and Exploration Cafe at the top/front of the ship. We played chess and board games there, read books from the library (very fine), listened to the guitarist (very fine), and watched the scenery go by. Bar service and boutique coffee bar there. We all felt right at home. One of my favourite parts of a Holland America ship is the Promenade Deck. This retains all the flavour of a cruise ship of old with wooden railings and deck. It encircles the ship so you can actually walk and excercise outside, lovely on evenings with sunsets. Many ships have done away with this concept and are like floating hotels/casinos - the promenade deck is more our style.
I used the spa and it was really lovely, great service. This ship has very little shopping, again I was not looking to shop on board. We spent every day all day outside at our ports of call, which were amazing beautiful cities where we could walk, shop and explore and often, hike on our own. We did prepare and research all our ports of call ahead of time; essentially we created our own itineraries and had the local bus/train/other maps and schedules ahead of time. We booked our own shore excursion at Invergorden through a local outdoor oriented touring company since all the exciting areas were inland and Scotland rental car agencies are not open on Sundays. If you have a family, we suggest doing this planning ahead as you will maximize enjoyment when in port. Ian, the ship's guide, gave fascinating commentaries as we entered and left port.
Having read many commentaries, I would recommend folks read the information provided by the cruise line before you book, and certainly before you leave. We knew that alcoholic drinks were extra (there is a wine plan), all HAL ship excursions are extra, HAL adds $11 per person per day service gratuity (which you can actually modify at the end if you felt your service was not superb but ours was). But many things friends have told us were extra on their cruises were not extra on ours (extra snacks mid day for hungry teens such as pizza and ice cream, regular drinks such as iced tea and 5 varieties of juices), movies etc. We did not expect to have such fine musical entertainment as we are not "show people" - we very much enjoyed the daily string quartet and the guitar singer in the Crow's nest, and the jazz trio.
Lastly, as noted in "Traveller" magazine and doctors travel journals, a cruise is in fact the most economical full service way to visit Europe with family. If you have not been over the pond before (we have been four times) it is crazy expensive and quite difficult to book if you are traveling around, and restaurants can be a big challenge. On a cruise, your room travels with you to many fascinating places, you can get back on the ship if the kids are tired, security is phenomenal, food is "North American" and kid friendly but varied including fine European dishes, you have a pool, everyone is happy and MOM GETS TO REST. (Dad did too). You can safely go out for formal dinner and leave young teens in the room or secure kid/teen places. Essentially, you get on, and forget rental cars, endless traveling and restaurant reservations - you simply float along and enjoy. Do it. Less
Eurodam Cruises to the British Isles & Western Europe
Our next port was actually Kristiansand, but it is not on the list! Bergen is also very authentic Norway, lots and lots of shops (catering a bit towards tourists but the kids loved the Norweigian pewter, swords etc). Our dock was a short walk to downtown. Excellent tourist centre near harbour. We took a train/tram to the hills and then walked 20 minutes to the home of Grieg, Trauldhogen which was lovely. I wanted to see a genuine Stave church nearby but the kids were by then too tired to walk another 20 minutes there and back from another train stop. We did walk about 3 km that day. The walking available at Northern European ports is amazing - often easy hiking trails pretty close to dock (within 1 km).
Having spent many trips and many months in France, this felt very, very similar - but with canals. Very untouched by time, very beautiful and clean. Over 50 chocolate shops. Lots of walking available through parks and cobblestone streets. Canal cruise is lovely. Many historically unique and interesting buildings, many fine museums. Sidewalk cafes and formal restaurants. We did need to take a local train from our port to Brugges, this was very easily navigated.
I need to mention that our next two ports, Alesund Norway and Invergordon Scotland are not on the list. I could go on and on about those two (both 5+).
Does Edinburgh really need to be described here? Phenomenal city laden with history. We spent almost the whole day inside the castle (which is like a small town on a rock, built of rock) and had a beautiful lunch there. The views go on for miles and we visited at least 5 museums within the castle complex, and yet there were more. We walked the entire Royal Mile down to Hollyrood Castle so lots of opportunity for walking. Beautiful shops. We bought a sword and the ship took it away on re-boarding security but stored it for us to retrieve at the end of the cruise. Ship security, by the way, was amazing, we knew the kids were safe. We were stopped every time even with encoded cards because I have a different last name from my daughter. They had to check this over every time.
Amazing port, everything near the water. Walk easily from the dock to the City Hall/central city shopping area and local ferries. Our ship overlooked the castle that sat on a promotory right below us. Buy and use the Oslo pass. We spent two whole days in Bygdoy (we took the local ferry) at the Viking Museum, Folksmuseum (Open Air Museum), Kon Tikki museum, and walking around looking at street after street of beautiful houses that all looked like captain's homes. Wonderful shopping. Beautiful park that is truely a museum filled with statues from one sculptor commissioned to celebrate the human experience from birth to death.