The following is a review of our recent sailing aboard Eurodam (17-24 December), our first time with Holland America Line. Our photos are at http://globaltraveller.smugmug.com/Ships/Eurodam.
We really wanted to like HAL. Celebrity is our preferred cruise line, but we tend to alternate between Celebrity and other lines (and between cruising and land vacations). Our most recent cruises have been on Celebrity Summit (Bermuda), Celebrity Solstice (E. Caribbean), and Disney Magic (Mediterranean). We did our best to check our previous experiences at the gangway and go about this cruise with open minds. Long story short, however, is that the comparisons to Celebrity and other lines were inevitable, and often not in a favourable light for HAL (which we'd hoped could become a regular line for us).
But let me be clear in saying that we had a good time overall. Being on a ship beats being at home, and being in warmer climes this time of year is always a plus. HAL does a number of things well. They started us off on a great note by upgrading our VH guarantee booking to a VA aft-facing balcony, a great surprise two weeks before sailing, and that was the biggest highlight of our trip. Beyond this, however, the potential for greatness was there, but the execution left us with a rather mixed experience (and take it as just that, what we experienced and how we saw things -- some on this and recent cruises have voiced similar thoughts, while many others have enjoyed themselves immensely... 'different strokes' and all that). There wasn't one thing that went horribly wrong. Ours was an experience more of subtleties and intangibles, some things that worked and some that didn't, adding up to an average week with no 'wow' factor or much that was 'above and beyond.'
Below we've listed some highlights as well as points for improvement.
+ Nice size cabin (even the non-suite / non-deluxe cabins are comfortable).
+ Wraparound promenade deck: great place to walk around, get sea views... follows traditional ship decor/features (really wish Celebrity or Royal Caribbean had this).
+ Ship is divided into smaller, more intimate areas. (*for the trade-off, see section below)
+ Ship is very clean, inside and out ... fresh flowers around ship... flowers and cloth towels in public washrooms.
+ Fresh squeezed orange (and other) juice in morning, and cappuccino /
espresso available in dining room at no extra charge (other lines charge for this).
+ Drinks were good (even better with happy hour, beverage card, etc)... good portion and mix.
+ Grill at pool had good lamb burgers, fish & chips, etc.
+ The dinner served at the Lido buffet has many of the same items as in the main dining room; but they come out at/near proper temperature, as opposed to MDR where your food can sit for a while before being served)... this is a good 'preview' of what you'd see later in MDR.
+ Variety of offerings at Lido, from lunch to dinner to late night snacks, is plentiful -- maybe best we've seen at sea (*but see below).
+ Our dinner at Tamarind was nice. Not a 'wow' but a solid meal. (*but see below)
+ The 'anytime' items on dining room menu seemed reliable (especially steak).
+ Cheese selection (about 15 varieties on cheese menu) after dinner in main dining room was a plus.
+ Some desserts worked well: no-sugar-added mango mousse was nice; cheesecake was light, not heavy. (*but other desserts lacked flavour and/or presentation)
+ Fresh fruit is available in the cabin on request. (*but see below)
+ Staff are Indonesian / Filipino and usually friendly (especially the guys in traditional uniforms)... Indonesian "Happy Birthday" songs were fun.
+ Ship exterior looks like a liner, great for photo ops from shore etc.
+ Half Moon Cay was outstanding, a great day!
+ Relatively few announcements or sales pitches (similar to Celebrity).
+ Two separate pool areas are nice... one is covered so that's good for rainy days, etc.
+ Crow's Nest is a nice lounge area.
+ Customer service response was quick, especially when we voiced issues to them directly or on the "mid-cruise" survey cards (or to front desk, etc). Lido manager and Canaletto manager were both nice fellows who were professional and responsive, as was our matre d' in the MDR.
+ We ate well OFF THE SHIP... from simple meals in Grand Turk (simple cracked conch and grilled chicken at Jack's Shack) to our standby Dragonfly in San Juan. Pre- and post-cruise meals in Florida were the best. First (and hopefully last) time we've experienced this phenomenon on a cruise vacation.
+ And we were very lucky in the cabin lottery. We booked an inside cabin, then were able to upgrade for $100pp to balcony guarantee (the kind where they assign it shortly before sailing)... we ended up in an aft-facing cabin, large veranda, great views, no wind. This is what made our cruise -- sunrises, sunsets, lazy afternoons and evenings... we'll take that over snow and cold any day.
*** While food is a highly subjective area, there are opinions and then there are facts. Salt/sodium is a measurable component. The food in all dining venues was very salty. There were large amounts of salt in things that didn't warrant it, like rice... and dishes were doused with lots of salty, oily sauces. Considering the trends in cuisine as well as HAL's clientele, this was a big surprise. Some other guests seemed not to notice or care about this -- if they are used to such a level of salt in their diet (which many in the States seem to be), alarm bells should be ringing.
*** Flavour of food was often not consistent with menu description (ingredients missing or changed), and was sometimes just plain odd... moreover, the food temperature was usually lukewarm (better in Lido than MDR).
*** So although the offerings seem good, the execution was often subpar. We were never 'wowed' by the dining, and ended up satisfied start-to-finish only with a couple of meals. We did speak with our waiters and maitre d' about this. They offered a bottle of wine one evening (nice gesture, if not what we were seeking) and expressed concern, but in the end there are some things that are beyond their control.
*** Dining and stateroom staff are overworked -- this is, unfortunately, an industry trend -- they have too many people to take care of, and the individual attention isn't what it used to be.
** Pinnacle Grill was not a good value ($25pp extra, didn't feel 'special' and food was inconsistent... and yet nearby guests said this was the best meal they'd had on a ship in a long time... oh well). DW had to send her filet back twice -- she'd ordered it medium, it came out rare, it came back again (a minute later!) still rare... finally the assistant server stood by the table to take sure it was cooked "to your satisfaction" (is 'medium' a subjective term?). There seemed to be no communication with the head server or maitre d' about this, not a good sign for what's supposed to be a specialty venue. My porterhouse was properly cooked and quite nice, while the sides ranged from average (baked potato) to inedible (creamed spinach was completely pureed, like baby food, although no baby should be subjected to that much salt).
** Lido buffet is crowded, doesn't flow well, tough to find a table at peak hours, and food ranges from good to mediocre in quality (eggs and sausage were disgusting; cheese and smoked salmon were good).
** Lunch at Tamarind was not a good experience. The 'dim sum' items were not at all what we know them to be (and DW is Chinese, so we know); worse yet, some of the items with shrimp came out undercooked. The icing on the cake was when the waitress brought over the dinner menu and asked if we'd like to make a reservation. We'd just eaten dinner there the night before, and had experienced a lunch that was less than satisfactory. We politely declined -- and later called dining reservations to cancel our prepaid Tamarind dinner booking for the last night of the cruise (took a few steps to get this refunded, but eventually it came through).
** Canaletto seems like a nice casual option at no extra charge -- but here again we experienced the same consistency issues as elsewhere on the ship. I was served a rubbery piece of microwaved chicken (water oozing out) that wouldn't be fit for a school cafeteria.
** Ice cream is not high quality and does not always taste like the flavour advertised; some cruise lines make their own ice cream while others buy the mass produced stuff. Where does HAL fall? Really odd. Seriously -- we'd take one bite, and it would taste like, say, butter pecan. Then subsequent bites? No flavour. Odd.
** They did not invite us to the sail-away lunch in main dining room, even though we have 'Mariner' status having sailed sister lines in past... We'd contemplated showing up, but tried the Lido instead as the offerings seemed decent and the rush had yet to start. We did get invited to Mariner brunch later in the week, which had a nice touch of sparkling wine, though the menu was fixed and fairly simple (not elaborate like on Celebrity)... and despite having promised us twice that we'd be receiving a souvenir Dutch tile delivered to the stateroom, we never got ours.
** We knew that HAL's decor tends to be more conservative compared to other lines. Comparing Eurodam to Solstice (same age but a bigger ship that was designed to be 'revolutionary') might not be appropriate, but even compared to Celebrity's Millennium class ships (10 years older), Eurodam is still dark; has some odd colour schemes; and has public spaces that are often less than welcoming.
** 'Flow' of ship had bottlenecks when moving from/to/through public areas. And Eurodam is lacking a true central gathering place -- the trade-off for the smaller spaces -- there is an atrium, but is small, dark, and underused (as are a couple of the lounges). The corridors in the cabin areas feel like an old Ramada or Best Western, starkly lit. The MDR is unevenly lit: if seated on the sides, you may find it quite bright; in the middle areas are dark pockets; and the light above our table would flicker on and off for much of the cruise. The potential is there... but in its current state, the results are mixed.
** English communication skills of some dining room staff and cabin stewards were lacking at times, making some requests somewhat difficult since one may nod as if he understands you. We've never had this issue on other cruise lines, and are very accustomed to communicating in different languages and with people who speak different languages.
** Cabin steward kept forgetting DW's name... towards the end of the cruise, he'd would greet us with something like "Hi Mr. Schwartz, Hi Mrs. Aaaaaarrrrh" (the sound he'd make to cover up not knowing the name... well at least he remembered we have different names)... our extra towel request was only fulfilled once... ice disappeared for a couple of days... they apparently don't offer a carafe of water?
** The cabin had a lot of dust when we first boarded -- it seemed not to have been cleaned thoroughly (perhaps the by-product of turnaround day where HAL allows guests to remain in their staterooms until disembarking, and then lets new guests enter the rooms at 11:30)... so we didn't trust that the fruit bowl, glasses, tongs, etc were clean.
** Not a lot of variety of educational lectures (no guest speakers) on board as compared to other cruise lines. HAL changed their focus and do not want to offer these as they once did. The in-house facilitator (seen on TV) was simply reading a PowerPoint presentation... not impressive.
** While some crew were friendly, others (particularly officers and more senior staff) seemed to be in their own world, occupying spaces in the Lido, Crow's Nest, etc. and carrying on conversations as if we weren't there. While I appreciated some of the information (like the lectures mentioned above) gleaned from the loud staff at the next table in Tamarind, their demeanor was not professional.
* In our aft cabin and at certain locations about the ship (including midship Tamarind & Silk Den), there was a mechanical vibration most noticeable when the ship was either in port (not moving) or moving through calm seas. It was enough to shake the pillows on the bed and move the flat-screen TV back and forth constantly about 5 degrees in either direction. This did not impact our cruise much (other than us waking up a few times at night... once from the ice bucket/tray, which had been clanking from said vibration until I dismantled it), but it's worth noting since others have mentioned it. We have experienced brief periods of vibration on other ships when entering or leaving ports, but nothing as prolonged as this.
Again, lots of mixed experiences. Part of our viewpoint may be shaped by having cruised a dozen or more times before... could we be jaded? And yet we sailed Solstice within the last year and were instantly and repeatedly impressed; and even our recent sailings on 'older' Summit and Disney Magic were outstanding. I know that HAL has plenty of fans (including people we know, people who sailed Eurodam and said we'd love it); there were others on the same cruise who enjoyed their meals and said the ship was beautiful -- that's very subjective, isn't it? We really wanted to become fans, but it hasn't happened.
Would we cruise again on HAL? Would we recommend HAL to a friend?
It depends. For a Caribbean or Europe cruise, probably not, as there are too many other options for better value. Friends of ours had already booked Zuiderdam for Alaska this year -- HAL offers a better itinerary featuring Glacier Bay, and that's a tough one to beat, so rather than try to talk them out of it, we simply passed along our experiences.