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Cruise Ship Review

ms Eurodam - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

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First Impressions

The 2008 debut of Eurodam, Holland America's newest offering, reveals a ship that represents an evolution -- rather than a revolution -- for the cruise line. There are some distinctions to Eurodam that aren't otherwise found on Holland America vessels, but the ship resolutely maintains the many HAL traditions that have made the line distinctive in the first place.

New to HAL are efforts to broaden enrichment, dining and spa options. Eurodam also has a contemporary -- even trendy -- onboard ambience.

More traditional standouts include warm and efficient service by the ship's largely Filipino and Indonesian crew -- many of whom I encountered during my previous sailings on other ships in the fleet. Classic public rooms like the elegant Explorers Lounge, the intimate Ocean Bar dance venue and the Explorations Cafe, with its village green atmosphere, all are preserved. HAL's Signatures of Excellence initiative, offered fleetwide, is evident here, too; in-cabin features -- such as upgraded bedding, fresh flowers, DVD players and bathrooms with tubs (in all but inside staterooms) -- contribute a touch of luxury.

If anything jarred on my recent three-day sailing, it was that the ship felt crowded, even though Eurodam is HAL's biggest -- by a hair -- ship. Crowding is not a quality I've encountered often on Holland America ships, but the fact that Eurodam carries 256 more passengers than the nearly same-sized Vista class (Zuiderdam, Oosterdam, Noordam and Westerdam) is telling. It's likely that you may, as a result, encounter more congestion, whether finding a table in the Lido during lunchtime rush hour or booking a dinner reservation at The Pinnacle Grill alternative restaurant.

Also important to note is that many of the nifty new options come at a price. This is no different from strategies employed by any of the big-ship lines that are rolling out innovative features and amenities, but be prepared anyway. Cabins may come with DVD players, but you'll shell out $3 to borrow a disc from the library. Pinnacle Grill and Tamarind, the main dining room alternatives, carry surcharges ($20 and $15 for dinner, respectively). New venues like The Retreat -- an outdoor area with private cabanas and a pool deck -- and the spa's thallosotherapy pool and thermal suite charge breathtakingly high fees for use ($20 per person per day for each).

Mealtime

The two-deck Rembrandt Dining Room is Eurodam's main restaurant. Rembrandt is open daily for breakfast and on sea days for lunch. Both meals are open seating; passengers may elect to sit with others or request a private table at a time of their choosing. At dinner, the restaurant divides into two: One deck features the traditional set-seating, same-tablemates scenario, while another is open seating.

The Lido, Eurodam's buffet venue, is the other main eatery onboard and spans the length of the main pool area and the aft pool. It's open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and various snacks (early morning, late afternoon, after dinner). One of the most gorgeous buffet restaurants in cruising, it is, alas, less efficient than some. The buffet spread is primarily laid out in long cafeteria lines -- as opposed to specialty stations -- so waits are common during peak hours. One of my favorite aspects of the restaurant is that you can eat on the spacious aft deck, as well as at poolside tables. Both areas have full-service bars and are lovely alfresco choices. One warning, however: Private, for-fee cabanas line one side of the pool area, which means there's less room for tables there.

The Pinnacle Grill, Holland America's Northwest-themed alternative restaurant, has long been one of my favorites at sea -- both for its elegant, yet simple, ambience and its delicious and distinctive menu offerings. On this ship, it's taken a more Continental turn and offers more variety in a rather too-jazzy, eclectic ambience. Unfortunately, the outing was not a success; after waiting 30 minutes to be greeted at the table, the food was seriously sub-par. I hope the restaurant has since improved. The menu included Colorado lamb chops, French onion soup and a very rich lobster macaroni and cheese (better as a starter than a main course). The Pinnacle Grill is open evenings (there's a $20 cover) and for lunch on sea days ($15).

More exciting are the two new alternative restaurants. Tamarind, located at the top of the ship, features pan-Asian cuisine in a serene setting that feels oceans away from a traditional cruise ship restaurant. It's open daily for lunch and dinner, and the menu changes for each meal. Lunch features a menu of dim sum, which is a bit like the Chinese version of Spain's tapas. The menu also offers hot and sour soup, Szechuan sesame salad and your choice of a variety of steamed dumplings (chicken, pork, spinach and mushroom, etc.) and "from the wok" fare (spring rolls, spicy crab sushi nuggets and shrimp wonton sticks). Diners can also choose from a whole bunch of "fusion sauces" like Bora Bora BBQ (tomato, ginger, soy sauce) and Mirin Pesto (sweet wine, garlic, basil, soy and lemongrass).

At dinner (reservations recommended) the menu offers tons of choices, and I could see dining here at least twice, just to try different dishes. The menu starts off with soup (try "Jewels of the Sea," delicate lemongrass broth with shrimp-filled wontons), followed by a selection of sushi and sashimi. (You can choose six of these in lieu of appetizers or 12 as an entree.) Other appetizers include pot stickers, spring rolls, Thai beef salad and Shanghai ribs.

Entrees are listed under four categories: Water (snapper, backed in rice paper); Wood (wasabi and soy crusted beef tenderloin was on the menu -- at our table most deemed it adequate); Fire (I had the Szechuan shrimp with Thai basil, and it was delicious); and Earth (for vegetarians, it included a five-spice seitan and tempeh). Dessert sounded more promising than it was. The "Mango Cloud," described as a "light egg-white souffle, served with a mango sorbet" tasted more like frothy egg than souffle. The ginger-banana bread pudding and tamarind chocolate (shell filled with tamarind and chili-flavored chocolate and ginger mousse) were ultimately more appealing.

The restaurant is clearly finding its voice -- but I love the concept. It's unique at sea, and its top-deck hideaway gives it a worlds-away kind of ambience. Try to make time for a cocktail in the adjacent Silk Den before or after dining.

The evening-only Canaletto, housed in a corner of the Lido, is also new to Holland America. It reminds me of a cross between Princess Cruises' Sabatini's Trattoria and the Olive Garden chain of on-land restaurants. The Italian restaurant, named after the famed Venetian artist, features a first course of Italian-styled antipasti and a set menu of pasta dishes and desserts. The no-fee Canaletto features waiter service and decoratively arranged tables, and it was hugely popular (very tough to get in).

Bedtime

With the debut of Eurodam, Holland America has introduced a handful of new stateroom concepts (including cabins with panoramic, floor-to-ceiling windows; and spa-style staterooms). Decor and design have also been freshened with new color schemes. But there's absolutely nothing wrong with the standard layout of HAL's existing categories, which are found on Eurodam in abundance. In fact, Holland America's standard cabins -- in layout, amenities and decor -- are the loveliest among big ships, and they aren't much different on Eurodam from those on the Vista-class vessels (such as Noordam).

I stayed in a Category VO – a deluxe balcony stateroom. I vaguely remember Holland America trumpeting its new cabin design strategy some time back, but there's really nothing outlandishly new about this particular stateroom. It's pleasant, featuring dark woods; autumn colors of rust, orange and green; and Dutch prints on the walls.

Standard rooms run about 254 square ft. (including balconies). Key features include king beds that convert to twins, televisions and DVD players in all cabins, and bathrooms (save for inside cabins) that come with tubs with good, strong showers. Toiletries are by Elemis, which runs the spa. Beds are very comfortable. Here's a tip that took me most of my trip to figure out: Drawers have been built underneath the beds for extra storage space. (There's decent closet space but, oddly, a lack of drawers.)

Kudos to HAL for offering DVD players and flat-screen televisions in all cabins. While holing up in your cabin and watching movies is not necessarily the point of a cruise for most travelers, it's still nice to have some downtime to catch up on flicks. DVD's are available for rent in the library ($3 per day). Suite residents can check out DVD's for free.

Spa cabins, which are unique to the ship, seem to be a bit of an afterthought. They're located on two decks. Beware: Those on Deck 10 only have French balconies -- you can step out but, there's no room to sit. All spa cabins are decorated in organic, natural colors (green and gold) and feature a few extras, such as a desktop fountain, free bottles of vitamin water, Bose iPod docks, teak bathmats and "greenhouse spa" menus for in-cabin dining. (Turkey bacon, Kashi granola and meatless soy patties are among the offerings.) A concierge is also on-hand to book spa treatments.

I did have a chance to tour a few of the suites, and I have to say they're magnificent (especially the deluxe verandah suites, which are pretty similar -- albeit a tad larger -- to the superior suites, but which also come with access to the Neptune Lounge). They're spacious -- L-shaped with a generously sized couch -- and I love that, on the balconies, there's room enough for a dining table.

Grand Old Favorites

The ship represents a new class for Holland America, but it still feels a lot like the old HAL, despite some new additions. The Explorer's Lounge has always been a favorite after-dinner spot (classical quartet, cordials). The Culinary Arts Center is first-rate -- you'll feel like you're visiting a Food Network studio! Pool areas, both main and aft, are elegant and sophisticated. (I particularly love the French Riviera-esque striped tents, which communicate a sense of frivolity, at the aft pool.)

And service, by and large, was personal, warm and memorable. Beware, however, of the people who staff the Purser's Desk. Service there was often rude, required long waits, and resulted in information that was sketchy at best and downright wrong at worst.

New & Nifty

The line's first-ever Digital Workshop enrichment program -- which consists of free computer and photography classes, taught by Microsoft-trained experts -- is a welcome addition.

The aforementioned restaurants -- Tamarind especially, but also the Italian Canaletto for a very casual experience -- deserve a nod. The Silk Den, the lounge adjacent to Tamarind, is a gorgeous spot for a quiet drink.

The Retreat is an exclusive, open-deck area, above the main pool, that features private cabanas outfitted with comfortable loungers. The cabanas offer a variety of services (fresh fruit and lunch delivery, among others) as well as a respite from sea-day crowds -- that is, if you're willing to pony up $75 for a day's use (the price goes down to $55 per day when Eurodam is in port). More curious were the Lido cabanas; these are snuggled right up to the glass walls that run alongside the main pool area with little space for breezes. There's also a walking trail -- with pretty constant traffic -- that lies between the cabanas and the deck chairs that ring the pool. These are cheaper than those in The Retreat. You'll pay $30 in port and $50 at sea.

Huh?

This is a quibble, but it's important, nevertheless: With all the attention paid to giving cabins a fresh, new look, why is the lighting so horribly bright and fluorescent?

In some lounges, Holland America's definitely trying to be more contemporary in decor and furnishings, but there's the occasional design victim -- like the bar stools and chairs (which are like Lucite tea cups) in both the Queens Lounge and the bizarrely Spartan Wine Bar. In both cases, they are insanely uncomfortable.

Explorations Cafe -- HAL's coffeehouse-style, book-lined gathering spot -- is tucked into the top-of-ship Crow's Nest, rather than on one of the main decks amidships. It took me a while to find it! Feelings are mixed, regarding the new locale; it's a bit smaller and definitely cozier. There's also no wall between it and the Crow's Nest, so the two areas sort of blend. (People sit at Explorations' Internet terminals while nursing cocktails, and the lounge area is well-used in the daytime as an extra reading room.)

Kid-Friendly Factor

Club HAL has a presence on Eurodam. These dedicated facilities for kids include a computer room, games arcade, playroom with crafts and a teens-only loft. The programs are divided into rather broad age groups (3 - 8, 8 - 12 and 13 - 18). Even so, it's not a seriously family-oriented ship. So unless you're traveling with a multigenerational group, you're better off choosing from cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, which are more family-friendly.

One observation, though: On my trip, a couple with two young children (under five) booked one of the cabanas on the lido deck, and it gave the kids room to spread out (and nap, occasionally) -- yet it was close enough to the pool and its activities.

Bottom Line

Has Holland America's classic charm and personality been diluted by Eurodam's high passenger numbers? In some ways yes, but that's the tenor of the times as passengers demand more options. Ultimately, Eurodam works very well; it's a genuinely comfortable ship with a nice balance of elegance and spirit and a good blend of the traditional with the contemporary.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief

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