Enjoyed an incredible Baltic cruise on the Eurodam in May 2011.
Initially I booked the Emerald Princess for a very similar itinerary but in February HAL offered an incredible price so I switched to the Eurodam. Initially booked an aft SC cabin but HAL offered a booking in an SA cabin for the exact same price. Decided to move to an SA. A few weeks before the cruise, HAL made an upsell offer to PS and we decided to splurge. I never thought I'd get to cruise in the penthouse on the Eurodam but this was a good opportunity to try it.
The Eurodam penthouse (one of two on board) was all I could have hoped it would be. But more on that later....
Arrived at Heathrow a day early and spent the night at the Renaissance Hotel at Heathrow. (Nice hotel - see a more complete review on TripAdvisor). The next morning, returned to Heathrow terminal 3 to meet with up with HAL for a HAL transfer to Dover. Even though there were cheaper options from Heathrow to Dover, I selected the HAL transfer for simplicity. The HAL staff at Heathrow were friendly. Even though it was only 8:00 am, there were already a lot of people waiting for the transfers to begin. I guess they mostly arrived on very early flights that morning. HAL did begin boarding buses and we had to wait about a hour before our color badge was called. (Color badges were distributed by the HAL staff on what appeared to be a first-come, first-served basis.) I was surprised that HAL required us to get our luggage to the bus but I guess I was used to the Princess transfers where they take your luggage as soon as you check in with their staff. There were a lot of people with a lot of luggage at Heathrow. Good thing Heathrow provides free luggage trolleys!
Boarding the bus, I was surprised to see it was only half full. I was ready to spread out to the empty seats when we pulled up to Terminal 1 and boarded the other half of the bus. The bus was full and we headed to Dover. Dover was about a 2.5 hour trip and there was no water provided on the bus. Glad I had taken a bottle with me.
The bus transfer was uneventful until we reached the coast. I didn't know what to look at first - the Eurodam or the white cliffs. Both were impressive.
The bus pulled up to the terminal and we headed inside and upstairs. HAL had made a point of mentioning that Suite and Penthouse guests would have a special check-in area. Even though there were signs indicating a special check-in area for Suite, Penthouse, and certain level Mariner members, everyone was sent into a single line. Maybe the bus was full of high-level Mariners but having to stand in the line was a bit disappointing after HAL had advertised differently.
Thankfully, the check in process was fast enough - maybe 30 minutes. Just as they handed me key cards I heard the announcement that the ship was ready for boarding. Color coded cards were used and luckily I had the first color called. There was an initial rush to the three security lines but again the process moved quickly enough and we were on the ship 30 minutes later.
Since cabins were ready, we headed straight to ours to drop off hand luggage and secure valuables in the safe. Upon entering the penthouse, I had to stop and say "Wow!". Even after viewing diagrams and photos, it still seemed larger than I expected. Thoughts of singing "If They Could See Me Know" did pass through my mind.
Stopped in the Neptune Lounge to meet the concierge Ian who would become wonderful resources for the cruise. Asked about a special dinner on the cruise. At first they thought I was asking about the dinner in the main dining room on the last night but eventually they mentioned the Sommelier dinner. That's what I wanted and they booked it right away. The Le Cirque, Tamarind, and Pinnacle Grill dinners had already been booked prior to the cruise so this was the only special meal that I needed to book onboard.
Headed to the dining room for lunch then back to the room. The cabin stewards came by to introduce themselves. Do they always have two stewards for the penthouse? Well, they must assign their best to the penthouse because their service was flawless. Luggage soon appeared so we unpacked and headed to the spa for the tour and the lucky draws. However, I wasn't so lucky - no free spa treatments for me. Better luck next time.
Had extra early seating (5:30) so we changed and went to main dining room for dinner. Waiter and food were both very good. Dinner was quick enough that we could go to the early show in the showroom. Returned to the cabin for the night.
So, time for some review of the penthouse. The penthouse was larger than imagined. I didn't realize there would be a cabinet full of Waterford crystal in the dining room. Wine goblets, champagne glasses, double old fashioned, high ball glasses and even a wine decanter were all in the cabinet. How decadent I felt having my Metamucil in a Waterford glass! On top of the cabinet was a bottle of champagne chilling on ice, a nice corkscrew, and a beautiful arrangement of fresh flowers. The penthouse had primarily brown and wood tones accented with orange. The flowers were predominantly orange which looked great in the cabin.
When the stewards stopped by, they gave us a quick overview of the Audio/Visual systems. The living room has one and the bedroom has one. They are almost identical but in the bedroom it took three remotes to work everything and in the living room two remotes sufficed. The Bose equipment in the living room controlled the four zones in the penthouse. You could separately turn on/off and control the volume for each of the four zones using control centers on the wall. One zone was the living/dining room. The second was the bedroom. The third was the bathroom and the fourth was the balcony. If you knew to look, there was a jack that could be plugged into any device you brought and you could listen to your own music rather than just the ship's channels. I plugged the cable into the headphone jack of my iPhone and it worked just fine. The A/V setup included a DVD/VCR (the Bose box also had DVD capability) and a flat panel TV recessed into the wall. The same equipment existed in the bedroom except that Bose box was not connected to the four zones. Plenty of options for a technical geek like me.
There were windows in the living room and bedroom as well as the sliding glass door from the dining to the balcony. All had sheers and room-darkening drapes that were controlled by nearby switches. There was a desk area in the dining room with another small window looking out over the balcony and that had an electronic shade. When they were all closed, the room was sufficiently dark.
Other highlights of the penthouse...there was what appeared to be a king size bed that could be folded out from under the A/V equipment in the living room. The dining room table had another fresh flower arrangement. The bedroom had an incredibly comfortable king size bed (that cannot be converted to two beds). The bedroom had a desk area and another area you might call a makeup table with great lighting and a magnifying lighted mirror. To the right of the front door was a kitchen with a stocked refrigerator (I used to chill the bottles of champagne we carried aboard), a microwave, a sink and cabinets with extra dishes/utensils. Also included was a coffee maker along with coffee (both regular and decaf). In the cabinets, I also found a blender. This room had a separate door to the hall. To the left of the front door was a bathroom without bathing facilities.
The walk in closet area was really large - four large closets. One had a set of three drawers with the safe on top. The other three were jammed with hangers. This is the first time I ever remembered having too many hangers! Unpacking in here was easy.
And then thee was the master bathroom. At the far end, there was a room with toilet and bidet and sink. In the main room, there was a double sink with double medicine cabinets and a large whirlpool tub. If you've seen pictures, you know there is a sculpture of a Greek god (Zeus? Poseidon?) and his mouth is water spout for filling the tub. However, when I turned on the faucets he spit across the tub and soaked me with water. Since I was preparing for a soak this wasn't a problem but it sure was a surprise! From then on, I used the regular faucet to fill this tub. Unfortunately, every time I turned on the regular faucet there was a short spell of brown water and an occasional small chunk of rust that came out. I learned to wait for this, drain, and then continue filling the tub. The whirlpool jets were great although the controls were a bit confusing. The room steward also showed me a remote control for the tub but I never did get that to work.
The shower was amazing. A cylinder contained the shower. There were settings for the hand held wand (that could be hooked to a rail), or for a rainshower effect from the top. There were also jets that were at your sides when you sat down as well as jets that massaged your spine. By kicking open a small box on the floor, you could also get jets that were aimed straight up for a foot massage. Incredible shower with a mirror, glass door, and mother-of-pearl accents. I seriously want to install one of these at home.
The cabin steward ensured there were abundant supplies of towels and toiletries.
Finally, the balcony. The penthouse balcony is huge. There are five regular balconies above the balcony for the penthouse. From outside the ship, you can't miss the penthouse balconies. They are the only ones lined with wood on the walls and ceiling. Plenty of chairs and lounges and the decadence of another whirlpool tub on the balcony. I really enjoyed cruising along in a bubbly tub drinking bubbly on the balcony. That's probably one of the reasons we realized we were going to spend a LOT of time in the penthouse during the cruise.
I am one of those passengers who hates formal nights. Well, not exactly the night but I hate having to get so dressed up. I'm on vacation and decided that I wanted to minimize the amount of time in a tie. Since the second night was a formal night, we decided to order in. Every day the main dining room dinner menus were delivered to the room. (I saw them in the mailbox for all of the suites - maybe HAL delivers them to everyone?) We decided to simply order in for dinner. Well, the dinner arrived and they set the dining table with a table cloth. All of the food arrived hot and fresh. Having dinner in the room was such a great experience that we repeated this pattern many nights of the cruise. I could have the same food and could avoid wearing a tie. Now this is a vacation!
Some mornings we went to the Pinnacle Grill for breakfast and some mornings we'd order breakfast for the room. Each time the food was on time and delicious. I was really impressed with HAL's food. One night we went to the Pinnacle Grill for yet another good dining experience. We thoroughly enjoyed the Sommelier dinner. The Le Cirque dinner was almost a letdown - they had this dinner the night after the Sommelier dinner and it paled a bit by comparison. The Sommelier dinner was about $70 a person including all the wines while Le CIrque was $59 including wines. Both were very good but the Sommelier dinner was our favorite of the two.
We had lunch in Tamarind the first day and were very impressed with the Dim Sum lunch. Dinner at Tamarind was so good we did it twice. Tamarind is now my favorite specialty restaurant on any cruise ship. Excellent food and excellent service. I was surprised it wasn't packed every night.
The food was consistently wonderful. From the breakfasts to lunches to snack in the Lido in the afternoon to the pasta at Cannalotos to all dinners, I always found something that made me anticipate the meal. Rarely was I disappointed.
I can't comment much on other shipboard activities. I did attend one show in the main theater but realized it simply wasn't my style. The string quartet was always a pleasure to hear. Shopping was a disappointment - prices seemed high. I was particularly disillusioned with shopping at two points. First, I needed some cough syrup and was shocked the Vicks DM was $17.99 a bottle on the ship. That's a lot of markup on medicine that costs $4 in my local drug store. Second, we were teased with "best prices" on Russian souvenirs. However, they didn't sell those until we departed Russia. Only then did I realize how much more they were charging on the ship for nesting dolls than was being charge in St. Petersburg. Be warned! Didn't try the spa, the casino, the nightclub or the movie theater. The penthouse was so comfortable that we spent most of our shipboard time lounging there.
Before reviewing ports, I do want to say that the staff was the best. Everyone was friendly and smiling. At the Cruise Critic meet and greet, I told the hotel manager how everyone seemed genuinely happy. On other cruise lines staff has been friendly and polite but never did I seem them so genuinely happy as they were on the Eurodam. Good management helps make that happen to congrats to HAL.
If you're still with me (yes, this is long!), let's talk about the ports on this Baltic cruise.
First port was Copenhagen. Spent $7 each way for the HAL shuttle into Copenhagen. The morning was wet and rainy. The shuttle bus was an easy option located just off the ship. When we were dropped off across from the Tivoli gardens, we stopped by McDonalds for great free Wi-Fi. A cup of coffee to alleviate the guilt was kinda expensive but McDonalds does not seem to be a busy place in the morning in Copenhagen. The Wi-Fi was fast and free.
After catching up online, headed down the main shopping street. Thankfully, the rain ended. At the end of the street, across from the park, is the dock for the canal tours. As I had read, the first tour company you see is much more expensive than the one just down the street to the right although tours are the same. Caught the 10 am boat - there were only five passengers (the more expensive boat was mobbed) and we were all from the USA. The guide only had to speak English on this tour. Enjoyed the canal ride - especially since you could slide open the panels above the seats and stand up for much of the tour. Just needed to watch out for low bridges! The tour provided a good orientation to Copenhagen and we saw a lot of the unique church steeples. As you may have read elsewhere, the Little Mermaid statue is probably one of the biggest tourist disappointments in Europe. Very small, not particularly attractive, and in an odd location. Don't go out of your way for this but you will see it on the boat tour.
The canal ride lasted about an hour. A few blocks away was the large Magnum department stores. When I don't know what else to do for lunch in a European city, I head to a large department store. They almost all have a cafeteria on the top floor and Magnum was no exception. I can pick visually at a cafeteria rather than attempting to translate a menu. Eating was quite expensive (and Magnum seemed a bit more reasonable that other locations.) A salad with a grilled chicken breast, an open face shrimp sandwich, and a shared bottle of water set us back about US$30. However, they also had fast and free Wi-Fi access (again) although you had to ask customer service for a code. Customer service is on the same floor as the cafeteria.
After lunch and some window shopping, we returned to the Tivoli for the afternoon. By now, the sun was out and the Tivoli was a beautiful visit. Beautiful flowers and gardens. Lucked into a ballet rehearsal at the ornate Chinese theater. Walked to the back of the park and found a Momofuku Noodle Bar. Darn - I wish we had waited for lunch because I really like Momofuku. Didn't realize these existed outside of London. Enjoyed an ice cream cone with jelly drizzled on top and left the Tivoli. I hope someday to see the Tivoli at night because the lights must be quite magical.
After finding the bus (which was about a block from where they said they would pick us up), we returned to the Eurodam satisfied that we had seen about all we could see of Copenhagen in a short day. Went to the Silk Den at 5 pm for happy hour (great martinis and a very good vantage point). Ordered dinner in the room and relaxed for the rest of the evening.
Next day we arrived in Germany. One of the staff told me that at least 2,000 people were heading to Berlin for the day (the ship stayed in port until 11 pm). I must admit watching from the balcony while so many people streamed onto a train was a bit surreal. Why was I watching from the balcony? I had a great week in Berlin just a few years ago so didn't feel the need to go. Instead, we had a nice breakfast in the Pinnacle Grill (one of those perks for guests in suites) and then departed to the train station. Caught one of the frequent trains to Romstock and strolled around that city for a while. Returned to Waarnemunde and strolled along the canal to the beach. This is such a nice seaside town - the canal is lined with boats converted into seafood restaurants and the other side has shops, restaurants and hotels. There were numerous TMobile pay phones with a pink light at the top. Turns out those pay phones are also Wi-Fi hot spots. TMobile charged about 4 euros for 60 minutes of time. Strolled to the beach, returned via the back streets, had a great grilled bratwurst, then headed back to the ship. Just outside the ship there were a number of great sand sculptures. Returning to the ship, we took a nap, used the Jacuzzi on the balcony, had dinner, and departed the ship for an evening stroll along the canal. What a difference! During the day, the walk was bustling but in the evening the pace was relaxed and quiet. Very nice. I was using the TMobile hotspot just off the ship when I saw the Berlin train approach. Knowing they would have some long lines for security with so many returning, I quickly returned to the ship and was surprised to see that I could still get the TMobile signal from my balcony. Drained my 60 minutes by making a few Skype calls home. Beautiful sunset that night - probably because of the ash from the Iceland volcano that had recently erupted.
Next day was a sea day so I decide to check out some onboard activities. We had a good lecturer about Faberge eggs even if it was a bit of a sales pitch. They sold a few of the eggs that week onboard. Attended a computer class which was impressive. Those classes had a tendency to fill up quickly probably because the topics were quite relevant. Decided to try the Lido for lunch and was impressed. I usually avoid the buffet if possible because the area is usually crowded and even a but unruly. Yes, there were a lot of people but the traffic flow seemed reasonable. Discovered the great sushi they offer each day. Also enjoyed the ice cream. Simply relaxed the rest of the day and watched a DVD.
On to Tallin, Estonia. Thanks to Cruise Critic buddies, we joined a small group who had arranged a walking tour via SBP tours. We were met at the dock by our guide who was born and grew up in Tallin. She knew the history and really brought the town to life for us. Tallin is an easy walk from the cruise ship but beware - the old town has a lot of cobblestones. Our guide joked that you get a free foot massage just by walking the streets. Tallin was a surprise - it still felt unspoiled. I'm sure all of the tourists and cruise ships will change that over the next few years but for now that hasn't happened. I wished I had seen the documentary "The Singing Revolution" before going to Tallin. I did order it from Netflix when I got home. This would also be a good DVD for HAL to add to their onboard library.
Tallin can easily be seen in about a 3 hour walking tour so we returned to the ship for lunch and a restful afternoon. This was the first evening where I would get dressed up (a bit) for dinner in Tamarind. Wow - what an experience. Great menu, great food, incredible service. This was easily the best specialty restaurant I'd even encountered on any cruise ship or any cruise line. Everything was simply perfect. Surprisingly, the room was not too full.
On to the high-point of the cruise - St. Petersburg. In December, we decided that for Christmas we'd treat ourselves to a private tour in St. Petersburg. Booked the tour through DenRus and they were great. I adjusted their standard two day tour by asking for early entrance to the Hermitage on the second morning plus adding a subway ride and a visit to a typical market. The tour would have been a bit more expensive if we booked a car with air conditioning but that seemed unnecessary in May. We were right.
The first morning, we left the ship about 7:45 am with the instructed paperwork, easily cleared immigration (they had no interest in the copy of the passport we made for them per DenRus' instruction) and met up with the DenRus representatives just past immigration. We were about 30 minutes early (I didn't know how long immigration would take) but eventually our car, driver, and guide arrived. This was the best decision of the cruise - we saw so much more than the tours offered by HAL. First we stopped in central St. Petersburg by the light houses with the ship's bows on them for an orientation. The rain began but that didn't matter. We had umbrellas and DenRus had given us plastic ponchos to use. On the road out of St. Petersburg, we stopped to see a monument to Russian soldiers. Very impressive. Our destination was Catherine's summer palace. We were dropped off a close as possible to the entrance. This is where a small tour was helpful. The tour group entrance was not quite open yet. There were two lines - a long one with large tour groups and a much shorter one with small tour groups. At opening time, the person at the gate only allowed a few tours through at a time. We barely waited and our guide popped through the gate. They tried closing the gate before I got through but she grabbed my hand and pulled me through before the gate again closed. We entered the palace, checked our coats/bags, and went to the visitors entrance. You have to wear shoe covers to protect the beautiful wood floors in the palace. Our guide led us through the various rooms and ended with a room with photos of the palace after the war - bombed and burned. What an amazing job they've done of restoring this palace. What opulence - one room was entirely covered in amber. Our guide brought it to life by mentioning details we would have overlooked on our own. We collected our checked items and headed to the gardens out back. The rain continued but it was more of a heavy drizzle. The gardens were beautiful and we enjoyed a song by a quartet singing in the garden pavilion.
Due to the crowds, this tour took most of the morning. We met up with the driver and headed to lunch. DenRus used a beautiful hall for lunch. We were one of the first to arrive and we were seated at a table for two. Champagne was poured. A salad was served. We used the dressing on the table only to find out it was sour cream for the borscht that followed. Ooops! They brought more sour cream, a wonderful borscht, and a delicious chicken Kiev for the main course. There was also dessert. The champagne was refilled several times which was OK by me.
After lunch we stopped at a touristy spot across the street. I think we were killing a little time. There was a typical Russian village that had been recreated with nice wood carvings on the building and barnyard animal (chicken, goats, etc.). We didn't stay long and then left for the Peterhoff.
Peter's summer palace was another beautiful Russian palace. Skipping a tour of the interior, we went around back to see the spectacular fountains. Wow - all of these gold covered statues with an amazing water display. The rain stopped and the sun emerged making this even more spectacular. Our guide told us this was all accomplished without pumps - they didn't have pumps when the fountains were built. This was all accomplished by gravity and a holding tank for water. We wandered the gardens and really enjoyed this visit.
Heading back into the city, we stopped at a subway station. You may think this is crazy, but a St. Petersburg subway station must be seen,. After a LONG escalator ride, we came to the station. Beautiful marble - nice sculptures - you've never seen a subway station like this. We rode one stop to the next station and emerged to find our driver waiting for us. He was always as close as he could be to pick us up. We next saw a traditional food market and returned to the ship for the evening.
We really debated about going to a Russian folklore show in the evening but had decided that was almost too much. Ordered dinner in the room, went to bed early, and got up early for the second day in St. Petersburg.
Day two our driver had been given a nicer, larger car. It had air conditioning (we didn't pay extra!) but we didn't need it. We stopped to see a few sights (statues, a Russian church where we could see a traditional ceremony since it was Sunday), and eventually we headed to the early entrance at the Hermitage. Even with the special early entrance permission, there are a LOT of tours arriving for early entrance. Our guide was thoroughly familiar with this museum - actually 5 palaces interconnected. it is huge. This was Catherine's palace in the city and she collected so many items that she had to keep adding more palaces to house everything.
We were incredibly lucky that day - after entering the museum, we almost always were the only three people in every room we visited. Our guide even commented that this never happens. We were just lucky. There was always a large tour in the room ahead and another large tour in the room behind. We felt lucky and blessed. At one point, our guide stated that we had just completed a two hour tour in one hour. She also said she typically has to fight to show just a corner of a masterpiece because typically the rooms are packed. Since we were early, she took us to even more rooms. I didn't know that the Hermitage had a collection of impressionist paintings.
After overdosing on culture, we finally left the Hermitage and went to great restaurant for lunch. Beef stroganoff was the main course. Another great lunch with wine. We walked around the corner and visited the Church of the Spilt Blood. Unbelievable! The outside is impressive but the entire inside is covered with Russian mosaic - even into the onion topped towers. This place left me speechless. We also took a canal tour then went to the burial spot of the tsars. We could have spent more time in the village near the church but we were worn out. We returned to the ship, said goodbye to our wonderful driver and guide, and had dinner in the room. (A special thanks to DenRus - they really came through with a great tour, tour guide, and driver.)
You should check the ship's tours and compare how much we saw to what they offer. I cannot say enough good things about DenRus although other passengers who booked with Red October and SPB also were very pleased with their group tours.
Oddly, the second day of St. Petersburg was a formal night. On the ship, they kept telling us that they had the best prices for genuine Russian souvenirs. However, they couldn't begin selling until we left St. Petersburg. They filled a meeting room with tables and opened the store. There were mostly formally-attired guests and a few of us (like me) in jeans. The passengers took to the Russian souvenirs like locust. I wasn't happy because there prices were much higher than the prices I saw in St. Petersburg. I left empty handed - this was one of the few unpleasant experiences on this cruise.
Next day was Helsinki. I really wished for a sea day to relax but that wasn't the itinerary. Again, some of the Cruise Critic members arranged for a 3 hour bus tour in Helsinki through SPB tours. On another rainy morning (thankfully our last), we met the bus and departed on the tour. Our guide was from Italy and her English was spoken in a manner that was annoying to me. We drove past several downtown buildings and then headed to the park to see monuments and sculptures. We stopped at the Rock Church which was unfortunately closed for renovations. Even more unfortunate was the fact that the church was reopening the next day. We then had the option of being dropped off in downtown Helsinki or returning to the ship. Since the rain stopped, I chose to spend time in Helsinki. Found an incredible department store - one of the nicest I've ever visited - and enjoyed a stop at both the Marimekko and the Ittalla flagship stores. Bought my first souvenir - a beautiful glass Itallla bird. Took the HAL bus back to the ship (although this time they would not allow charging the ticket to the ship account as they had in Copenhagen) so I had to get a few more Euros from a nearby ATM.
Final port was the next day - Stockholm! This was our first and only HAL shore excursion. Since the Eurodam was docking about an hour from Stockholm and we were tendering to port, I thought a HAL excursion made the logistics much easier. That probably was true even though time passed slowly getting into Stockholm. The tour went past a few sites in Stockholm but my major stop of interest was the Vasa Museum. We arrived and quickly entered. This museum of a recovered Viking ship did not disappoint. When we left, the lines for entry were huge and the sign pretty much said that they could only let in new people as guests inside left. So, go for a tour with an early visit to the Vasa if that's on your plan. The tour dropped us in central Stockholm for time on our own. The weather was beautiful as was the city. Caught the bus back to the ship (they ran several of them at various times) and vowed to return to Stockholm for a longer visit in the future. We had to clear some immigration/visitor checkpoint when we returned to the pier but that seemed just a formality. Tendered back to the ship without issue.
The final day was a sea day - a great way to end a cruise. Arrived at Dover on time, had breakfast in the dining room, caught our bus to Heathrow (another long bus ride).
Overall, this was a great cruise. I'm glad to have experienced the penthouse but probably would never spend the extra money to do that again. A regular suite - especially an aft suite - will be just fine. Thoroughly enjoyed the Eurodam, the HAL staff, and the amazing sights on this Baltic adventure.