A Wonderful Cruise
This was our first "real" cruise (we took a cheapo three-night cruise out of Los Angeles 15 years ago, but it wasn't anything to compare from). We are in our late 50's and normally do more adventurous self-guided travel. This time we were more in the mood for a trip where everything is planned and done for you, and this cruise did that.
Airline -- We booked online through Holland America. This was the only area where we felt truly let down. Apparently we had been booked onto an oversold flight. I had a hint that something was amiss because upon booking, we were given our seat assignment for the return flight, but not the going flight. I wrongly wrote this off as an airline protocol and never questioned it. When we got to the airport we were told we did not have seats. Several other passengers -- also bound for the Eurodam -- were in a similar situation. After some pressuring with the gate staff, the airline came through, sort of: my spouse was assigned one of the crew chairs, while the flight attendants sat on boxes in the galley! Lesson learned -- if you don't get your seat assignment promptly after booking, raise a fuss. Given how far in advance we had booked there was no excuse for putting us in this situation.
Cabin -- we booked a Veranda cabin on the 5th deck, but were upgraded to an identical one on the 8th deck. In hindsight, while the 5th floor cabin would have been just fine, I would have spent the extra money to assure the higher deck. I can't imagine taking this cruise in an inside stateroom, as the verandah was our most enjoyed feature. The cabin itself was spotless, and everything worked. The bed was roomy and very comfortable. Absolutely no problems here.
Ship condition -- The ship was immaculate throughout. We had not heard about the vibration problems before the trip, but it was evident and did affect our enjoyment. We never felt queasy....just constantly shaken which cost us a lot of sleep and left us feeling jangled. I would have to try other ships to really compare, but this attribute alone would tempt me to pick another ship next time.
Service -- Our cabin attendant was a delight. We looked forwards to his nightly turn-down service, which included an animal sculpture made from folded towels. One night he gave us a demonstration and said they are trained to make 47 different animals. Service in the MDR and on deck was consistently good.
Food -- We aren't epicures, but it sure was good from our experience! The main dining room fare was wonderful. Portion sizes were modest so we didn't blow our diet, and there was always room for the wonderful desserts. We tried the Tamarind Restaurant one night -- even better! We also dined in the Pinnacle Restaurant and it was the best of all -- a truly memorable meal. Wines were a bit pricey but we discovered that if you only drink half the bottle at one meal, they will store it for you for the next night. We aren't big drinkers, so this let us stretch the investment. In the MDR the open seating worked well. We found that provided we were willing to share a table we could walk in when we arrived -- never a lineup. Tables for two were in demand so may require a wait or even a return visit later in the evening. We ordered room service for breakfast every morning (you fill out a card and hang on your door before retiring) and it arrived hot and right on time. One night I forgot to hang the order on the door. The next morning, when I realized my mistake, I called room service, and they cheerfully took the order, which was delivered in far less time than I expected. We seldom ate in the Lido restaurant because it was very crowded, but when we did the fare was quite good. Mostly we ate there when we just wanted a salad -- one learning for us was how cruise meals do offer just too much of a good thing. There is no shame in passing up the full meal now and then!
Activities -- we were on the cruise to get away and relax, so spent more time in a deck chair than anywhere else. I did take the "Behind the Scenes" tour of the ship -- which cost $150 per person - wonderful. We were shown the things that one doesn't think about - the tailor shop, the ship's laundry -- more piles of things to launder than I ever imagined - and the kitchens. Not to mention the engine room, control room, and bridge. With a mid-tour stop for bubbly and a post-cruise drink in the Crowsnest lounge thrown in. Internet ($50 for 100 minutes) was a bit balky - spent a lot of the paid time waiting and had trouble sending outgoing mail.
Shore stops -- The beach stop at Grand Turk was marvelous -- a beautiful beach with ample room to spread out, fish swimming all around us. At San Juan, the sights and shops around Old Town are a bit spread out. Walking may be involved unless you book a tour. We are able walkers and got around just fine on foot -- safe and easy to navigate, but there is only so much to see so we were back on ship in time for dinner. The in-port guide that the ship gave out really didn't give much guidance, so book a tour or do your research in advance. At St Thomas, the Eurodam docked at Crown Bay, a satellite dock a couple of miles west of downtown. We knew this from our pre-cruise research, but a few were surprised as Holland America doesn't really disclose this. No harm done since there is good cheap "taxi" service to downtown -- these are more like open-air busses that come along frequently, stop anywhere, and only cost a few dollars. They are totally trustworthy and quite fun. In our case we walked downtown -- a fun excursion, and felt quite safe. Half Moon Cay was another wonderful beach experience. Unlike Grand Turk, shade was at a bit of a premium and the eating and drinking facilities got a bit crowded at lunchtime., but unlike Grand Turk lunch was provided by the ship staff and you could charge all your shopping and drinks to your ship tab.
In summary -- definitely got our money's worth. Our main wants ie a good stateroom, good meals/service, beach time and some new sights to were well met. The ship vibration was the biggest concern, and the airline experience was, well, air travel at its usual.