Confessions of a Cruise Ship Virgin
by Susan Campbell
I always thought I probably wouldn’t be a cruise person. I figured I would get very restless being stuck on a floating hotel for too long. But so many friends and colleagues swear by this form of travel that I finally succumbed and planned a girlfriend getaway aboard one. And like the tides, it had its highs and lows. But in retrospect, it was mostly smooth sailing and quite enjoyable. It all depends on the type of holiday you’re seeking.
We chose Holland America’s Eurodam to do the Eastern Caribbean tour because I’d not been to some of their island ports of call ( St Thomas/St.John and Grand Turk) and also because it’s not too large. I doubt I would have been comfortable aboard a mammoth party hearty Vegas style vessel for my first journey. Also, I had the sense that this voyage catered to a more sophisticated, well-traveled crowd, and though some of the guests were a tad older than we would have liked for socializing and late night revelry (the disco was usually empty,) the overall vibe did fit our expectations and needs very well.
Our room was surprising. Beautifully appointed, very luxe yet homey, and SO much larger than I anticipated. But the piece de resistance was the veranda. Now that I’ve traveled with a private deck, I can’t conceive of cruising without one. Some of our most enjoyable times were lounging there watching the wake and enjoying room service al fresco. My only real disappointment regarding the room was that you’re not supposed to leave the door open. We really loved to go to sleep to the sound of the sea. Though we did prop it slightly anyway, the humidity from outside set off the fire alarm at 4am in the morning! Twice! So we finally did reluctantly obey the rules and kept it shut. I get that it’s probably a safety hazard (think tsunami wave while you sleep) but it was disappointing all the same.
One word: outstanding! Everything I’d heard about the fantastic service aboard the Eurodam was true. And then some. What a great bunch of extremely competent, happy, smiling (and not in a false way) group of workers, servers and cabin boys. They were delightful across the board and always anticipating every need. Gratuities per day are added onto your bill but they are pooled for the entire staff, so if you feel specific service was over the top, personal cash extras are always welcome. They do work tirelessly around the clock on that ship. From beginning to end, the service was above reproach in every way.
Wining and Dining
The main buffet was insanely long and extremely diverse, but we preferred to eat a la carte more often than not. We really enjoyed the Asyouwish® seating in the main dining room, early or late; we never had to sit with anyone else at a communal table. We also tried out some of their speciality spots for an extra cost but well worth the expense. The one we enjoyed the most was the Pinnacle Grill. We ate there twice. The first time we had their regular menu, first-rate steaks and a pumpkin risotto that was truly inspired, but it was the second time that really impressed when they did “An Evening at Le Cirque” dedicated to the legendary New York hot spot. They did an excellent job recreating the actual dishes- exquisite butternut squash soup, interesting Chicken under a Brick, perfect rack of lamb… right down to their famous crème brulee- all served on Le Cirque’s signature tableware. On the most part, all the food we had onboard ranged from good to excellent, with very few disappointments. And the chocolate festival? Don’t even ask. An entire pool deck full of chocolate everything? How can you go wrong? On the wine front, the lists were extensive, though expensive, however you are allowed to bring your own wine (not spirits) aboard the Eurodam, but you will be charged a corking fee if you bring it to dinner. Many people simply poured themselves a glass in their room to bring and returned for refills. Smart. They also have a revolving happy hour special on drinks in their bars and lounges that you can follow at a different place and time each day.
Our ports of call began with San Juan. I know my way around, so we walked old city’s attractions on our own and then headed to one of my favourite spots Barrachina – Birthplace of the ‘Original Pina Colada’- always a must-visit. On our St. Thomas stop, we opted not to spend our time duty-free shopping but instead hopped a water taxi to neighbouring St. John for a snorkel outing at Trunk Bay arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. It was indeed stunning and well worth a half-day’s sojourn. Half Moon Cay is HAL’s own private white sand cove on Little San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. It’s touristy for sure, but a very nice beach, and though they offer many active excursions, if you’d rather just chill on the sand and listen to some live music at their Captain Morgan on the Rocks pirate ship bar, it’s still a very pleasant afternoon. They also offer fully-equipped private cabanas with private butler service, and groups can enjoy renting an entire beachfront cottage oasis replete with hot tub, full bar, sound system, BBQ and private snorkel slide. But it was Grand Turk that stole our hearts, not for the giant Jimmy Buffet emporium right off the dock, but for the snorkeling with stingrays excursion and our discovery of Jack’s Shack.The stingray experience was out of this world as they are in the natural habitat and the little island we did it from was surreal in its beauty. And if you keep walking down the beach from the tourist village in Grand Turk you will come across the best little beach bar run by friendly ex-pats Jack and Janet who really know how to make authentic cocktails using local spirits. They are also famous for their jerk chicken as well. Do seek it out!
Of course on board there was a ton of activities scheduled daily. There are cooking classes, art auctions, a full service spa, a cool little casino and nightly entertainment in their theatre as well. But the time went far too fast to do everything and we really were there for a rest so we didn’t overdo on the activity front. On the most part, I did like this cruise line; it was just right. Elegant, refined, and easy going. My only real complaint was that it was very cold everywhere. The airco in every bar, dining room and even in our stateroom seemed to be going full blast 24/7 and we didn’t bring suitable clothes to remain comfortable in that environment. (Sweatshirt over a strapless cocktail dress just doesn’t cut it!) Next time, I will know better. And yes, I will cruise again.