Goldilocks Principle: First-Time HAL Cruiser Finds The Right Fit
by Bruce Parkinson
Open Jaw's Bruce Parkinson travelled with his son Neil for their first Holland America experience.
Service on Eurodam was superb. Here's Neil with wonderful stateroom attendants Anom (l) and Siti.
Dining was a highlight of the trip. Neil mastered chopsticks at Eurodam's delicious Tamarind Asian specialty restaurant.
Sail-away after a gorgeous day at Half Moon Cay.
Holland America ships Eurodam and Koningsdam pictured from the shore at Half Moon Cay.
The rapidly expanding choice of cruise styles gives travellers and their advisors the opportunity to exercise the Goldilocks principle – finding the ship and ambience that’s not too hot, not too cold -- but just right for them.
I’m no cruise expert, but the waterborne experiences I have managed to take as part of my job are diverse enough to help establish personal preferences if I were to choose a cruise for my own vacation.
The first was a jaunt from Florida to Grand Bahama with the late and unlamented Discovery Cruise Line. The buffet battles and casino cacophony almost put me ocean travel for good.
I cruised on Oasis of the Seas when it was brand-new and the biggest ship in the world. I was amazed by the engineering, but the size overwhelmed me. I felt like I was lost in a mall.
I circumnavigated Cuba with my family on what was then CubaCruise, now Celestyal, on the nearly 40-year-old Crystal. At around 1,000-pax, I enjoyed the greater intimacy of the ship, but it was lacking some of the modern amenities and design innovations that enhance today’s cruising experience.
Earlier this year I spent a week on the 4,200-pax Norwegian Dawn. I was there for a conference, not a vacation, but definitely came away impressed by the many experiences possible on a state-of-the-art, billion-dollar ship.
Last week, I had the opportunity to cruise on Holland America’s Eurodam, a 10-year-old mid-size ship that carries 2,100 pax. I had the joy of travelling with my 16-year-old son, who made the supreme sacrifice of taking a week off from Grade 11 to cruise the Eastern Caribbean in the depths of a grey Canadian November.
I was excited about experiencing Holland America’s particular ambience. I’ve always been intrigued by the line’s long history and the respect still paid to its traditions. I’ve watched as the line has created partnerships with brands like BBC Planet Earth, BB King’s Blues Club and America’s Test Kitchen that appeal to my own tastes. And Eurodam’s size seemed like it would match my comfort level.
In short, I had a feeling that HAL might be ‘just right’ for me. And I wasn’t wrong – here’s why.
From the port-side employees during check-in at Port Everglades to just about every staff member we encountered over seven days, the service on Eurodam was superb. Staff always had a smile, an eagerness to assist, and it was amazing how many remembered our names. Our stateroom attendants, Anom from Bali and Siti from Sumatra, were warm, gentle and kind, and they fashioned a menagerie of towel animals over the week, delighting my son each day.
This is where Holland America really blew me away. During our sailing we sampled just about every dining option. This required some patience from my son, who would be happy with cheese pizza three times a day, but even he had to admit the range of choice and quality was impressive. And his sweet tooth was sated with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, waffles made to order at breakfast and ice cream anytime.
Two areas really stood out. One was the casual Lido Market, which served buffet-style breakfast, lunch and dinner as a less-formal option to the a la carte main dining room. Each meal was a feast with myriad choices, all of it well prepared and tasty. There was an extensive salad bar, selection of breads, pasta station, breakfast omelette station and much more.
To start the day, I could exercise my catholic taste (or as my son puts it – weird), with a Full English one morning (with black sausage and fried bread, mushrooms, beans and tomatoes, oh my!) and Chinese rice congee the next. Not for everybody, but there definitely was something for everybody. Other casual choices included tasty New York Pizza or Dive-In Burgers poolside.
The specialty restaurants were exceptional. Tamarind is the best Asian restaurant I’ve experienced at a resort or on a ship – so nice we went twice. The beef tenderloin with a $15 add-on of a large plate of King Crab legs at Pinnacle Grill was delicious. And Rudi’s Sel de Mer, the once-a-week pop-up restaurant in the Pinnacle Grill space, delivered sophisticated seafood in a whimsical atmosphere. The only one we missed was the Italian specialty space Canaletto, but other guests thoroughly enjoyed the family-style sharing of plates.
As a big live-music fan, I really looked forward to the ‘Music Walk’ area on Eurodam, with separate venues for Billboard Online, the BB King’s Blues Club and Lincoln Centre. I also love to cook and eat, so the America’s Test Kitchen demonstrations held strong appeal.
The duo piano act at Billboard Online didn’t set anybody on fire, but there was nothing ‘lounge-y’ about the Memphis blues players at BB King’s Blues Club. They brought the real thing, and the audience loved it. Similarly, but in the chamber music genre, the Lincoln Centre musicians balanced serious playing with an accessible repertoire.
Foodies will enjoy the America’s Test Kitchen presentations, essentially an onboard version of the popular educational TV show. There were different topics explored daily during the voyage and the ‘Everything About Salmon’ theme I checked out was entertaining and provided valuable tips. The partnership with BBC Planet Earth delivered in-stateroom documentary entertainment as well as the innovative ‘Frozen Planet Live,’ which combined glorious nature footage with live classical music.
With just three port calls on a 7-night cruise – one was cancelled due to rough seas – we spent more time onboard than normal. But with a comfortable verandah stateroom and the many quiet, comfortable spaces scattered about Eurodam, we never felt bored or cooped up.
In fact, we felt just right.
Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief
An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.