- I reported daily from my Caribbean cruise on Eurodam back in March. Here’s the full report, which was published in the Sunday Mirror this week.
Don’t you just hate the last day of a holiday? I know I do, especially when a cruise comes to an end. Somehow, all the misery-inducing factors are magnified at sea.
After one or two weeks of absolute laziness and sybaritic luxury, suddenly the real world comes crowding back in.
There’s the ceremonial arrival of the on-board account. If you’re lucky, the worst that can happen is the sudden realisation of just how many Margaritas you downed on party night, and how much you spent on having your pictures taken at the Captain’s cocktail ball. If you’re unlucky, you’ll have to queue at the reception desk to get them to agree that you didn’t charge $500 of casino chips to your account, or you didn’t watch that adults-only pay-per-view movie.
There are decisions to be made about how much to tip the cabin steward and your restaurant waiter.
You’re disembarking early tomorrow morning and there’s all the packing to be done. As you won’t see your cases again until you collect them from the terminal building,
you have to remember to keep some fresh clothes and, most importantly, your flight tickets and passport in your carry-on bag.
And then there’s the perennial question, so beloved of cruise directors: “Should I put my cases out for collection before or after I go to bed?”
On my most recent cruise though, on Holland America’s newest ship, Eurodam, none of this was a problem. Far from being a nightmare, the last day was an absolute dream.
For a start, we spent much of it on an idyllic pine-fringed beach at HAL’s own private resort, Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. The sand was as soft as talcum powder and almost as white; the sea was turquoise-blue, comfortingly warm, and clear as the finest sipping tequila. .
After working up an appetite by walking a mile almost to the far end of the crescent-shaped bay, I returned to a barbecue prepared by the ship’s catering crew, and drinks were available at the appropriately-named “I Wish I Could Stay Here Forever” bar.
We couldn’t stay for ever, unfortunately, but at least we left it almost until the last tender before we returned to our luxury suite on board Eurodam, where we were delighted to discover that we had until 1.00 a.m to put our suitcases out for collection. So we could enjoy our last evening on board and not have to wear the same clothes for the next day.
Even the packing was less of a chore than usual because one of the perks of staying in a luxury suite was complimentary laundry and dry-cleaning, so half the wardrobe was full of cleanly-pressed outfits instead of bags of dirty washing.
There was no need to fret about tipping, because a daily charge of $11 (about £8) had been added to the account, which thankfully did not contain any nasty surprises.
What’s more, we could still have breakfast in the suite before we left – many ships shut down their room service on disembarkation day, but not the friendly Eurodam.
For once, the holiday did not end as soon as we stepped down the ship’s gangway shortly after breakfast. Our flight back to the UK from Miami was not until later in the afternoon, so we were able to enjoy a morning excursion to the Everglades.
At the Sawgrass Recreation Park, a 45-minute drive away, we boarded airboats to skim across the water and meet up – at a safe distance – with the local alligators and bird life.
The tour bus delivered us back to Miami airport and even then the relaxation was not quite over. For £20 each we checked into the Club America lounge for free coffee, biscuits, and a drop of something stronger to drink. Not to mention the free wi-fi internet access.
Does the fact that the last day was so enjoyable mean the cruise on Eurodam had been a disappointment? Not at all; it had been a near-perfect winter break in the Caribbean sun.
It started with a scheduled BA flight from Heathrow’s Terminal 5 to Miami, and a coach transfer to our overnight hotel on the Atlantic shoreline in Fort Lauderdale – a perfect place to relax with no anxious moments about getting to the ship on time.
A gentle stroll along the Broadwalk took us to a lively country concert in an open air theatre, and a gaggle of welcoming bars and restaurants – not a Michelin star between them, but just the place for a beer and a bite before bed.
Next morning we were collected by coach again and driven a short distance to Port Everglades, where there were half a dozen giant cruise ships in harbour.
Busloads of Brits, who like us had flown over the previous day, were heading for the Emerald Princess and the Ruby Princess, and raucous reggae music pumped out from the Carnival Freedom fun ship. Just across the quay was the Independence of the Seas, which like the Eurodam spends the winter in the Caribbean and the summer in European waters.
Whisked through check-in, another perk of the luxury suite, we were aboard in time for lunch and had the rest of the afternoon to unpack and explore our new resort home.
As the sun set over Florida, we headed out into the Atlantic with a calm day at sea ahead of us tomorrow, followed by a day on the beach at the Carnival Cruise resort at Grand Turk, in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The more energetic could go SCUBA diving, horse riding, or swimming with stingrays, but most did not stray further than the shops of the cruiseterminal or the swim-up bar at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.
The next day we visited San Juan, Puerto Rico, a city which was attacked by Sir Francis Drake in 1595, and by the Earl of Cumberland three years later. But we came in peace and were able to explore the city’s fortifications and the headland fort of El Morro without coming under fire.
As the ship was in port until 10.00 pm there was also plenty of time for shopping in the old town’s narrow streets, paved not with gold but with shiny blue cobbles cut from furnace slag carried across from Europe as ballast in Spanish ships.
And though we were not there late enough to sample the lively night life, we had a taste of some early evening life at least, with a Margarita or two at the lively and almost legendary Senor Frog’s bar, where the slogan is “If we’re open, it’s happy hour.”
On to Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. This is the shopping capital of the Caribbean, a must-visit port of call for most of the Americans. There were shops at Crown Bay, where the Eurodam berthed, a huge collection at Havensight Mall across the bay, where the Disney Magic and a Carnival ship were tied up. And even more downtown, where spacious warehouses have been converted into vast duty free emporiums.
It was a relief to escape under the waves for a 40-minute dive in the Atlantis submarine, on a $129 (£90) excursion organised through Holland America.
As we sat back to back in two lines, facing out through the observation vessels on either side of the vessel, our jovial skipper said he was often asked which was the best side to be. His answer was “the inside.”
I did feel slightly cheated when the excited shouts of “There’s a shark,” and “Look at that stingray” always seemed to come from behind me. It was an unforgettable experience nevertheless, but matched by the one which awaited us back at Crown Bay.
There on the rocks at the entrance to the port were a dozen or so iguanas, lazing on the rocks in the sun. They seemed almost to get as much pleasure from watching us as we got from staring at them and snapping away with our cameras.
Back to the ship, and our fellow passengers. What’s the Eurodam like for a holiday, and who sails with Holland America Lines?.
There was a sprinkling of Brits on board, but most of our fellow passengers were American, and it was apparent that the majority had cruised with Holland America before; the line certainly scores highly on customer loyalty.
HAL is part of the Carnival empire, so is owned by the same company as P&O, Cunard and Princess. If Holland America were a supermarket, they would be Waitrose rather than Tesco; if they were a High Street fashion store they would be Jaeger rather than Top Shop.
Eurodam is HAL’s biggest and newest ship, named last July by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and about the same size as Cunard’s Queen Victoria and P&O’s Arcadia. It copes with its 2,100 passengers comfortably, and there was never a moment when it felt over-crowded.
There’s a wraparound Promenade deck and plenty of open space on the Lido Deck and Panorama Deck, and there were no unseemly squabbles over the reserving of sun loungers, even on days at sea. Not that we had to worry about that too much, with the splendid balcony on two sides of our suite.
The décor is muted, similar to P&O and Princess, rather than the gaudy excesses of Carnival and Costa. Onboard currency is the US dollar.
During our week on board there were two formal nights, when the majority of men were in full evening dress and the women got out their posh frocks. The remaining evenings were smart casual – and no-one dared try to wear T-shirts or shorts to dinner.
Evening entertainment was rather limited. The ship’s theatre company was proficient, but their shows were a bit samey. At least with P&O or Fred Olsen, for example, there’s usually a comedian or two, and there’s a good chance that you will have heard of at least one of the performers.
It’s a well-worn cliché that cruise passengers expect good food, and lots of it. But it’s true, and the Eurodam let no-one down in that department. The presentation, the variety and the quality was superb. The main Rembrandt restaurant offers traditional fixed sittings at 5.45 pm and 8.00 pm, or open seating at any time from 5.15 pm to 9.00 pm..
The Pinnacle Grill steakhouse costs an additional $20 per person. On the night we ate there my rib-eye hung over the edges of the plate and was sumptuously tender, though rather over-seasoned for my taste. One word of caution, the wine list is eye-wateringly expensive.
The other premium dining alternative is the Tamarind, serving a succulent Eastern fusion menu and also sushi. Cost-saving tip: look out for the days when the Tamarind is serving lunch, often rijstafel, with no surcharge. The adjoining Silk Den bar is a peaceful retreat, high up on the ship , with great views forward out of the panoramic windows
On many ships the buffet restaurant is on a par with a motorway service station. Not so on the Eurodam. There was a huge variety of dishes throughout the day, starting with freshly-squeezed orange juice – sadly a rarity these days – at breakfast, alongside fruit, fry-ups and waffles. The omelette bar was always popular, and there was also a bewildering variety of variations of Eggs Benedict to choose from.
Lunch-time brought an ever-changing hot buffet, a variety of salads, sandwich bar, a Tex-Mex counter, and an international buffet with a daily changing menu.
A bit like the cruise itself, in fact. A daily changing feast of sights and experiences as we soaked up the sun – and the occasional splash of “liquid sunshine” as they call rain in these parts. There can’t be many better ways to spend a week in February.