The latest word from the cruise industry is that shipboard vacations are riding a growing wave of popularity as the global economic decline that erupted in 2008 begins to ebb. In fact, last year alone 11.1 million North Americans took to the sea and a substantial increase is expected this year. People are typically attracted to cruising for a number of reasons: good value, interesting ports of call, safety, gourmet dining, top-notch entertainment and, last but not least, the convenience of unpacking suitcases just once during the trip.

These may have been among the reasons that inspired Ottawa couple, Laurie and Hugh Macdonald, to book a 7-day Caribbean cruise aboard Holland America’s MS Eurodam, however, they also had another reason. Laurie was approaching a milestone birthday in February and the couple decided to celebrate the event with a cruise.

Hugh had done a trans-Atlantic crossing when he was a youngster but had no lasting impressions of the trip. Laurie, on the other hand, had never taken a cruise, so for the most part they were cruise virgins.

They freely admit their experience on the Eurodam exceeded their expectations in every way. “We searched the internet for a really good cruise and we came up with the Eurodam and its eastern Caribbean itinerary,” said Laurie. “Everything about the cruise and the ship was excellent,” said Hugh. “The food was outstanding, the staff was exceptionally friendly and accommodating, the ports of call were great and we had a balcony stateroom that was roomy and nicely furnished. Overall, the cruise seemed a bargain for the value we received,” he said.

I, too, was on this particular cruise and concede that my impressions of the Eurodam pretty much mirror those recorded by the Macdonalds.

The Ship

The Eurodam was launched into service in June 2008 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and was christened by Dutch Queen Beatrix. With 12 decks and 1,056 elegant staterooms (67% with balconies), this state-of-the-art vessel measures 935 feet from bow to stern. Onboard amenities include two main dining rooms, a vast buffet restaurant, three specialty restaurants, an Italian trattoria, an outdoor grill and a pizzeria. There’s also a full-service spa, a large internet room, library, casino, two pools (one for adults only), a fitness centre, grand theatre, shopping concourse and several bars and lounges.

Ports of Call

The Eurodam departs from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and follows a winter itinerary that includes San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Grand Turk (the Turks & Caicos largest island) and finally the private island of Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.

Each port differs dramatically in character, offering Eurodam passengers who choose to go ashore a variety of Caribbean experiences. San Juan is, of course, famous for El Morro, one of the largest and oldest Spanish fortresses in the Caribbean. Dating back to the 1500s the fort took 200 years to complete and today it’s a World Heritage Site.

St. Thomas is renowned for its vast selection of duty free shopping; however, on this cruise I was most impressed with what has taken place on Grand Turk. About a dozen years ago I visited this Turks & Caicos island on another cruise and, to be truthful, there seemed to be little there to entertain visitors. To my great surprise this time around, there is a brand new and totally impressive Cruise Ship Complex that features a modern shopping centre offering everything from island souvenirs to fine imported goods. The development also has a long, white sand beach with plenty of beach chairs that are free for passenger usage. There is also a salt water swimming pool, restaurants, bars and stores that include everything from Diamonds International to T-shirt shacks.

Last but not least was the port stop at Half Moon Cay. This is essentially a beach day where passengers are tendered ashore to enjoy snorkelling, swimming, para-sailing and a sumptuous outdoor barbecue staged by the ship’s kitchen staff.

Shore Excursions

You can pretty much name whatever onshore excursion you’d like to do and the Eurodam offers it. At San Juan there’s everything from a traditional city tour to a once in a lifetime visit to Puerto Rico’s famous El Yunque rainforest. Also, here’s a little known secret. Walk from the port to San Juan’s official tourism office, just minutes from the ship, where visitors are offered a full-size, free rum punch as a means of promoting the local rum industry.

St. Thomas – the shopping capital of the Caribbean – has plenty to offer people beyond a multitude of stores selling duty free merchandise. A huge selection of shore excursions includes swimming with dolphins, a champagne catamaran sail, snorkelling, island tours, kayaking, scuba diving and more.

Having visited St. Thomas on previous cruises, I opted for the ferry ride to the sister island of St. John. Here, there was a variety of optional tours that included eco-hiking and a National Park tour; however, I elected to explore the island on my own. Just milling around St. John’s harbour town is pleasant enough, however, visitors can also rent a car but it should be noted that island driving here is on the left side of the road.

Grand Turk also has a host of shore options including a three-hour island tour, a 4WD or dune buggy safari, scuba diving, sport fishing, snorkelling, biking and kayaking. Last stop on the itinerary is Half Moon Cay where the great majority of passengers make it a beach day on the island’s mile-long crescent-shaped waterfront. However, for activity-driven passengers there is snorkelling with stingrays, glass bottom boat tours, kayaking, biking, Para-sailing and horseback riding both on land and along the edge of the sea.


As a cruise addict I have done my fair share of cruising and I can say with certainty no ship I have sailed on surpasses the cuisine offered by the Eurodam. All restaurants feature an awesome variety of meals and I heard not a single passenger complaining about the onboard fare. Two of the three specialty restaurants charge a small, per person fee ($15) and reservations are required. Not only am I a cruise aficionado, I am also a big fan of Far East cuisine and on the Eurodam I hit the jackpot. The specialty restaurant, Tamarind, offers some of the finest Asian food I have ever eaten. Case in point, I dined their twice in spite of the extra tab and in spite of the fact there were other great onboard options. Likewise, Laurie and Hugh Macdonald were similarly impressed with the Tamarind for they too dined there twice. This is one of the great restaurants at sea and, as such, it has received recognition from a variety of respected food critics. The Pinnacle Grill, also a specialty restaurant, specializes in beef and seafood. The Italian restaurant, the Canaletto, does not charge a fee, however, reservations are required.

Overall, the ship is much like a floating hotel that glides through the Caribbean stopping at specially selected ports of call. This particular cruise made stops at the Dutch/French island of St. Martin, St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The two-level main dining room offers dining by choice.

The upstairs level has pre-set seating and dining times while the lower level features “as you wish” dining where passengers can sit down to eat when and with whom they please.

Wherever onboard guests decide to take their meals the unwavering promise is that there’s an impressive abundance of food. Prior to cruising, the Eurodam loads nearly 12,000 lbs. of meat, 3,800 lbs. of poultry, 2,500 lbs. of seafood, 137,500 lbs. of fresh vegetables, 23,000 eggs, 1,600 bottles of wine and thousands of pounds of other food items.

Onboard Entertainment

There are nightly shows in the grand theatre that include musical presentations, comedians, and on this particular cruise the highlight was notable Canadian magician, James Cielen. This is a man who has received the highest possible recognition in the world of magic and not surprisingly, he consistently brought down the house with his incredible feats of illusion.

Be aware that onboard entertainment may change from cruise to cruise, however, there are certain regulars such as a piano bar, dancing, karaoke, chess tournaments, bingo, recent-release movies, international beer tasting, cooking lessons from professional chefs, and much, much more. Each morning passengers receive the Holland American Lines Explorer, a four-page bulletin outlining the complete activities schedule for the day. On the various port days, the Explorer contains additional information about the history of the port and what to do ashore.

The Neptune Club

Booking a deluxe veranda suite or the Eurodam’s penthouse suite automatically entitles these passengers to all the extra services and amenities provided in The Neptune Club. This private club occupies luxurious space on Deck 7 where a personal concierge is always ready to assist in all matters pertaining to the cruise. Additionally, throughout the day there is a variety of delectable food and drinks available beginning with an extensive continental breakfast, tea, coffee and cold drinks. This is followed by luncheon-type fare, then afternoon tea and, finally, evening canap‚s. For cruisers who relish an extra level of service and pampering, The Neptune Club is well worth the cost of booking a deluxe veranda suite.


INFORMATION: For more information about Holland America Lines cruises worldwide, go online at or call 1-877-932-4259. Your travel agent can also provide all pertinent details and booking information.

GOOD TO KNOW: Holland America Lines has one of the highest staff members to guests ratio in the industry. They also receive high ratings for passenger satisfaction and boast one of the highest repeat cruiser records among all the world’s cruise vessels.

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