We were fortunate to be on the Eurodam in the Eastern Caribbean January 21-28, 2012 and had a fantastic experience in every way. I promised my wife and the friends we met on board that I would write a full review of our sailing. However, several other cruisers (whom I do not know) beat me to it, and they captured many of the things I would have written about. One fellow passenger has also written a negative review of the cruise, which surprised us, as his experiences in no way mirrored ours. While I don't for a minute doubt that they had a bad cruise, it raises the question of how people on the same cruise can have such vastly different experiences. I'll address some of my thoughts on that later on in this review, but first let me briefly cover some of the major things that I think people are interested in.
Pre-cruise: Flew in to FLL Friday on Virgin America (highly recommended) from SFO. Stayed at the W Hotel on the beach, also highly recommended. Outstanding dinner at "Steak 954" at the hotel. On Saturday morning we took a taxi to "Wine Watch" in Ft. Lauderdale which is a hidden treasure I found online. It is the most unusual wine store I have ever entered; more like a private cellar. They stock over 20,000 bottles of hard-to-find recent and older vintages of wines from all over the world. We bought a mixed case of reds and whites to enjoy on our cruise. I highly recommend this place. It was very hard to find, but if you call or email ahead of time they will deliver wine to your hotel, or even to the pier. We enjoy high end wines, and their selection and prices were outstanding. (This is not the place to go to buy Columbia Crest Cabernet.) The taxi waited while we shopped. We then headed to the pier about Noon. Upon exiting the cab, a porter was right there, took our bags and case of wine, and I tipped him $20 and looked him in the eye to make sure he took good care of the wine. He did. We headed inside.
Embarkation: As others have mentioned, HAL does a superb job of this. We were in a suite on Deck 7 (Rotterdam deck). We found the line for Suite check-in, and were ushered to a special check-in area. Filled out the health forms, presented our passports, had photos taken, and were then escorted onto the ship. Total time: maybe ten minutes. We were met at the gangway by the Neptune Lounge Concierge, Bien, who took us to our cabin. Our room stewards, Sri and Zam, presented themselves to us in short order. Our wine arrived first, and the luggage shortly thereafter (while we were touring the ship). We were unpacked and settled by 3pm.
The Ship: We loved the ship, but that is just us. We prefer nicely appointed ships, without a lot of Las Vegas-y glitz and glam. The stairways have elegant wood paneling and nice Dutch art reproductions. Art pieces adorn the hallways in many areas. The colors for the most part are pleasant. The ship seemed to us to be in good repair. Yes, some wooden railings are weathered, but that is a constant battle with sea and salt, and we saw continual maintenance being done, as all ships do. Some people write reviews in a tone suggesting that everything should always be like new, and that seems unrealistic to us. Just our opinion. In any hotel or cruise ship one will always find little things (carpet stains, smudges, weathered wood) but it's not really a big deal to us, within reason. As I said, we thought the ship was in extremely good condition. Other posters have written about things like "the small, dark and dingy atrium" and the "annoying winding hallways" (whereas straight walkways would be more efficient, apparently.) Our thoughts: The atrium is indeed small, and does not have the cache of older traditional ocean liners, where folks made a grand entrance down the stairway on the way to dinner. But in our opinion, the atrium is just something you walk by occasionally and is intentionally not a focal point on this ship. Its small size allows more room for other features. I have been on ships with grander lobbies, but that was at a time when more people dressed up and a big entrance was more special. In this case, it all seemed fine to us. No one spends time here, they just walk by or through it. As for the meandering hallways on decks 2 and 3, we thought they were great. They break up the monotony of straight lines, and make for more interesting alcoves inside the rooms and lounges that are on those floors. We can't understand why anyone would complain about this, but, they do.
Service: In a word, outstanding. I cannot recall having a single bad service experience on this cruise. Yet, sometimes other cruisers receive unsatisfactory service, according to reviews. How can this be? This became a topic of conversation onboard with our tablemates at dinner (two other couples we were paired with who have now become lifetime friends.) My new friend Alan literally took the words out of my mouth one evening when he said "I think you get as good as you give." I agreed wholeheartedly, and that is how my wife and I approach every service situation in life. I believe (because I see it all the time) there are people who exude an attitude that almost guarantees that they will be unhappy with the service rendered to them. We, on the other hand, make it a point to be friendly and welcoming. We always introduce ourselves to staff on the ship and make a point to shake hands, exchange and memorize names, and engage in a little conversation (where are you from, how long have you been on the ship, etc). We even bring small gifts on board (this time four small boxes of candy from our hometown) which we gave on the first evening to our room stewards and the Neptune Lounge concierges (Bien and Roxy). While this did not take the place of gratuities at the end of the cruise, it certainly created some early goodwill and ensured that these important staff members remembered us. We soon found that many crew members knew us by our first names. We would particularly like to mention Romel (a server in the Piano Bar) and Ayu (a server in the Tamarind restaurant who just went home to Bali at the end of our cruise) as having provided us with the friendliest and most professional service we have had at sea, or anywhere else.
Entertainment: As others have stated, the production shows are somewhat amateurish, and there are not many other options, save for a Magician one night. We aren't much for these shows anyway, so we frankly didn't go to any. We ate at the late seating and took our time, then went to the Piano Bar or the casino, and to the disco once it opened around 11:00 or 11:30pm (it varies). We enjoyed the jazz trio that played for dancing every night, and we heard that Jaime the guitar player was very good, but we never made it to see him. A string group (The Adagio Strings) played several evenings late, and the HalCats played a couple of nights, and there were karaoke and Marriage Game activities on different nights, so it was possible to find something to do other than the production shows. Again, it depends on your preferences. Roger Carr in the Piano Bar is great, although he does have (in my opinion) a tendency to be a little too funny and not sing as much of each song as he should before changing to humorous lyrics or ad-libbed words. Sometimes, he should just let us enjoy the songs, and sing along, without trying so hard to be a comedian. Just our opinion. But he is quite talented, and we enjoyed him several nights.
Food: We thought the food ranged from good to Outstanding. The Tamarind has been mentioned often and has rave reviews, and deserves every one. Best meal we ever had at sea. The Main Dining Room was actually pretty good. The menus offer a good variety (although one night I had a hard time finding anything appealing, so I ordered from the "always available" menu) and the food was good, although not great. Now, in our books, you won't get great food in the MDR, because there is no way to prepare that much food for so many people all at once, and also cater to the wide range of tastes, nationalities, preferences, etc that you will find on a ship. So they aim for "good" and that's what they get. So that's what we expect. We are foodies, and live in a place (Napa) with some of the best food in the world. So we don't expect to get that quality at sea. But apparently others do. Anyway, for the nights we ate at the MDR, the food was fine. (And the food was NOT oversalted, in the opinion of our table. Just shows how tastes differ.) The service, however, in that room always seems rushed. Food comes too fast, and there is no time to linger. The Pinnacle Grill and Tamarind, on the other hand, feature a more leisurely pace that we (and our tablemates) prefer. What is funny, though, is how many people criticize the slow service at Pinnacle Grill. We thought the pace and quality of service there was outstanding, at every meal time (breakfast, lunch and dinner). Again, some people have different sets of expectations; some people like to eat quickly and get to the show, or back to the casino, or whatever. And others like a 3 hour meal. (That would be us.) We had breakfast delivered to our room one morning, and the server did not set it up; he just delivered the trays. That surprised us, but certainly did not ruin our day. The eggs were no longer hot, but that just taught us that we should not rely on room service for hot food. For lunch, we either ate in port, at the Terrace grill poolside, or in the Lido Cafe (once.) For many cruisers, the Lido is their home away from home. People pile their plates and make many return trips. I have seen lengthy email threads about the quality of the pizza found in HAL's Lido cafes. I even saw one poster ask if he should choose HAL or Princess for a first cruise, and there were several people who voted Princess because the pizza is better. REALLY? Is this what some people rate highest for a cruise? The pizza? To each his own. I have a cafeteria at work that is better than any cruise ship (in quality, not in range of selection.) As you may have guessed, the Lido cafÃ© is not important to our enjoyment of a cruise, but your mileage may vary. Finally in the food section, a word about the Le Cirque dinner in the Pinnacle Grill. We had signed up for this, but canceled because we preferred to have another dinner with our tablemates, rather than dine separately. And decent food with friends wins out over great food with just the two of us. So I cannot speak to the Le Cirque experience on board. However, we did recently eat at a real Le Cirque restaurant, in Las Vegas, and it was outstanding. It also cost about $600 for two, with wine pairings. Now, many reviewers have maligned the HAL Le Cirque because it has small portions, service is slow, and there are few choices. I can't help but wonder how many of these reviews come from the people I saw piling their plates high in the Lido with mediocre food. Le Cirque sacrifices quantity to deliver quality; better cuts of meat, richer sauces, better presentation, exquisite service. For some people, this translates to "too fussy, too small, too slow, too expensive." So, again, know who you are and what you want/like before booking a table here.
Retreat Cabanas: Heaven. We originally booked one for the week, but canceled our reservation when we paid to upgrade to a larger suite. Our new friends, however, had reserved a Retreat Cabana, and we were invited to enjoy it on a couple of afternoons. While not near a pool, that is actually a blessing, as it is quieter that way. The views, and the flowing air (the Lido cabanas are very stuffy due to being up against a glass wall on one side)made for a very pleasant way to spend the day. The service was excellent, and the servers knew our first names within a minute, and remembered us when we came back several days later. Highly recommended.
Demographics: Much is written about the age of HAL cruisers. They clearly aim their offerings at older cruisers, but that doesn't mean others are unwelcome or won't enjoy it. One recent Eurodam reviewer said he was 53 years old and found it was not his cup of tea and said he might wait 20 years before returning. I happen to be 53 and I loved it! I appreciate the fact that HAL creates an atmosphere that is more refined and subdued, although there are programs for young children, there is a disco, and there were in fact people of all ages on the cruise. Yes, the median is older, and some people have walkers and wheelchairs, but it's not like people are walking around in hospital gowns wheeling their IVs with them. If you want a more active cruise with a younger crowd, PLEASE go on Allure of the Seas, which was docked next to us in St. Thomas. Boasting 4400 passengers, 2000 crew, an ice skating rink, water parks, Central Park, a carousel, a Starbucks, miniature golf course, Chicago the Musical, a Dreamworks show featuring Shrek, and as many as 1500 kids on board, you will be much happier. Then I can enjoy my canapÃ©s from the Neptune Lounge on my balcony and wave at you.
Ports of Call: It all depends. Sometimes we select cruises based on itinerary. Sometimes we just want to "get away" and get on a boat and enjoy the whole cruise experience. This was the latter. This cruise featured basically two beach stops (Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay) and two cities (San Juan and St. Thomas.) San Juan was very picturesque and interesting, and St. Thomas not so much. (Five ships in port, very crowded, and if you aren't into jewelry shopping there is not much else to do in town. There are, of course, quite a number of wilderness excursions and tours you can take.) We enjoyed Grand Turk, and recommend walking 400 yards to the left of the pier and going to Jack's Shack. It's a small Mom-and-Pop run beach hut with food, drink, snorkel gear, chairs and umbrellas, etc. We spent the day there and had a blast. HMC is amazing as others have mentioned. We had a cabana (#14, next to last) which was much more relaxing and quiet than if we had been closer to the ship. Only a short walk to food and drinks. We shared this with our friends, and we were all on the last tender back.
Disembarkation: Our group was called first at 8am, but we did not leave until 10. We did leave our room so the stewards could clean (and guarantee the room being ready for the next travelers), but our flight was very late, so we did not hurry off. We had breakfast in the Lido and sat in Neptune Lounge reading. No one made us get off at our called time, but we did get off at 10am when everyone is supposed to be off. Fair is fair.
Vibrations: Yes, it vibrates. But honestly, it's not that bad. The ship also rolls from front to back, and from side to side, depending on the seas. It's a ship! We noticed the vibrations, because you can't help but notice them after reading Cruisecritic. But honestly, we all agreed that they weren't so annoying to ruin our enjoyment of the cruise. Your mileage may vary. By the way, our airplane ride home had some bad turbulence during the middle of the flight. Do I get any on-board credit for that?
Language Barrier with Crew: Nada. Truthfully we did not have one difficult or misunderstood communication with anyone on the crew, and we have a severe California accent. (That's a joke.) We have read a few reviews where people mention communications difficulties with the crew. I guess your mileage varies. Many passengers are difficult to understand, I should point out, and not all speak English well or clearly, so we have to take that into consideration as well. But in any event, we did not see any language issues with the crew.
Dress Code: We like dressing up, so we do it with relish. (And hence my screen name.) I believe I wore a tie 5 nights out of 7 on this cruise, even though not required. On our cruise there were people who did not meet the evening's dress code at times, but compliance at the late seating seemed to be pretty good. It is amazing to me how poorly many people dress at all times of the day, but since I work in silicon Valley, I am somewhat used to it by now.
Chocolate Extravaganza: This was our only disappointment (although my wife was secretly pleased that I could not find too much there that I wanted to eat.) I recall past dessert fests to be much better and have much more chocolate. In truth there was very little chocolate here, but a lot of dessert. Many of the stations repeated the selection of cakes, etc, so you saw the same things a lot. But very little pure chocolate. There was a big fruit station with chocolate fountains you could dip the fruit into, but also lots of dessert breads, cotton candy, sugar free desserts, and candied apples. The damned candied apples seemed to be the big hit.... Many people had TWO on their plate, and trust me when I say that some of these folks didn't need even one. I had a small sliver of non-chocolate cake and then wolfed down both chocolates on our pillow when I got back to the cabin.
On reviews: I almost stopped reading reviews before we left home because they can be depressing. The power of the pen on the internet cannot be underestimated. However, you never know who is writing the reviews, and whether you would have the same opinions that they do. All you need to do is look around the ship and see your fellow cruisers and you say "wow, I am not like many of these people." Yet when you read the reviews, it is easy to forget that. I am sure we have all been on cruises where you see people who have bad attitudes, are argumentative, boorish, rude, loud, poorly dressed, oblivious, or otherwise "not like you." Some of these people go home and write reviews, and complain about how they got poor service, etc. I am certainly not saying that any of the other reviewers possess any of those attributes! All I am saying is, take all comments with a grain of salt. The good news is that, if you read a lot of reviews for a particular ship, you should get a good overall reading of what you can expect. Just don't give too much weight to any one review.
About us: Sometimes it helps to know a little about the reviewer. We are a married couple from Napa, California. Our kids are grown and gone, but we are still young and fun! We travel a lot, and are fortunate to enjoy high end hotels and restaurants when we do. We go to Las Vegas several times a year and enjoy 5-star accommodations, food and shows. In other words, we aren't at the buffet. When we cruise, which we have done 5 times in the past 6 years (3 on HAL, 2 on Silversea), we enjoy the overall experience, but do not expect the food or entertainment to be better than what we get when we travel to Vegas or other places. That's our expectation. If we really splurged and went to Crystal or Regent we might expect better food, but we understand that trade-off (money). We are 53 and 54, and can be found dancing in the ballroom as well as the disco. We enjoy meeting people when we travel, and go out of our way to do so. Everything else is a bonus to us.