EASTERN CARIBBEAN ON THE EURODAM
The Holland America five-star luxury cruise ship Eurodam was our home for a seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruise in early January, 2011. We boarded in Fort Lauderdale mid-afternoon and immediately checked out our deluxe verandah cabin, measuring 200 square feet, which was amply comfortable. The stateroom had a 54-square-foot balcony with a gorgeous (and comfortable) wicker-like pair of armchairs with ottomans and a table just big enough to hold drinks. The cabin’s decor scheme was quite cheery, and, frankly, it was one of the nicest cabins I've seen in cruising.
Our dinner in the main dining room was a preview of the delicious menus we anticipated daily during the coming week. There were four choices of appetizers as well as soup and salad. Eight different entrees included a pasta choice, a big salad, fish, beef, chicken and a fancier dish, such as lamb or lobster. Each section on the menu featured an option for vegetarians and, as well, a spa choice for those wanting more healthy fare.
After dining with delightful companions, we wandered into the piano bar, which we enjoyed so much that it became a fixture in
our plans every evening. The piano man, Michael Sara, was an unbelievably talented musician and singer who bantered with the patrons and performed everything from Sam Cooke to Frank Sinatra to show tunes as the crowd sang along.
Our first full day was at sea, with the outside temperature at a perfect 73 degrees. We relaxed on our balcony and kept busy with a variety of ship activities.
The next day, our first port-of-call was on Grand Turk Island, which is the largest of the seven islands comprising the country of Turks and Caicos. Grand Turk is the administrative and political capital of the Turks & Caicos Islands and Cockburn Town (pronounced “ko – burn”) has been the seat of government since 1766.
As we began our excursion, we discovered that this small island is bursting with turn-of-the-century Caribbean charm, and it is considered the safest tourist destination in the world. Police do not carry firearms, and our tour guide told us that they play dominoes all day. There are no stop lights, and there are no taxes, but 25 per cent of everyone’s salary goes toward health care.
Although it is
known as a beach paradise with its tranquil, turquoise waters and white sandy beaches, we are not beach people anymore, so we had chosen an easy, yet enjoyable, excursion that would not aggravate Bill’s mobility issues. While driving through Cockburn Town, we observed wild donkeys as they grazed on the side of the road. All donkeys belong to the government and roam at will all over the island. We drove past the area of the Atlantic—only 550 yards offshore-- where John Glenn splashed down in Friendship 7 after the first manned space flight in 1962. After another fifteen minutes of driving, we stopped for photos at Materson’s Point, one of the most picturesque spots on Grand Turk.
From there we walked to the world’s only exhibition devoted to the queen conch (pronounced “konk”), called Conch World.
The facility is located on a fifty-foot-high hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. We began our visit with delicious samples of fried conch fritters and rum punch at the Bare Naked Conch Café before learning all about the queen conch on a guided tour of the conch farm. We saw live conch being raised from eggs to adults and thoroughly enjoyed a “performance”
of the two trained conch mascots, Sally and Jerry, as they ventured out of their shells, bare-naked, to greet us. The only two times that conch venture out of their shells in nature are when they lay eggs and just before dying. Sally and Jerry, however, have been trained over a period of two years to exit their shells completely and do a little dance on command. Absolutely amazing!
Over-harvesting has depleted the world’s supply of conch because of the high demand. It is quite high in protein and nutrients and also thought to be an aphrodisiac. In fact, conch is called “the Viagra of Turks and Caicos.” The queen conch is now an endangered species, and the goals of this center are to educate the public and encourage conch farming. Conch is the island’s most famous delicacy, historical icon, and number one export.
The next day we visited San Juan, Puerto Rico. As we approached the island, we gathered in “Explorations” for a scenic, sail-in commentary by the ship’s naturalist. Tucked away on deck 11, Explorations is a gathering place that mixes together a library, Starbucks coffee bar, Internet café, lounge, card and game room,
HD television, and DVD rentals. The library is the best I’ve seen in cruising, and the reading chairs recline in several positions while facing out to the sea.
As the ship approached the pier, we sailed past the picturesque El Morro Fort, a six-level citadel with an eighteen-foot-thick wall of time-stained stone. The oldest Spanish fort in the New World, El Morro was built in 1539 to protect San Juan from attacks from the sea and to control entry to the harbor.
A five-hour rain forest drive awaited us upon arrival. The cool, mountainous El Yunque rain forest is the only tropical rain forest in United States’ territory, and at an elevation of 3,543 feet, it receives about 240 inches of rain each year. The forest’s 28,000 acres is home to 240 species of trees (some on the verge of extinction), 150 types of ferns and many species of tropical flowers.
Our drive took us past tropical woodlands of giant ferns, wild orchids, and crystalline waterfalls, and our first stop was at the tourist observation tower, where a walkway set sixty feet above the ground allowed for views of tops of trees and sounds
of the coqui frogs (onomatopoeically named for their loud sounds) enjoying the moisture of the forest. We made another brief stop at La Coca waterfall, a dramatic cascade down mossy cliffs, and the natural pool with its paved pathways where you can enjoy the magical pristine beauty, the sounds, and the serenity of the rain forest. A final stop was made at Yokahu Tower, which is a round, stone lookout 1,575 feet in elevation. A broad vista includes El Yunque Peak in the distance.
The idyllic port of Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas greeted us on the fifth day of our cruise. This was our third visit to St. Thomas, so we chose to do something different and visited the newest attraction on the island, Coral World Ocean Park.
Coral World Park is a marine life park with one of only a few underwater observatories in the world. We spent about 3 ½ hours enjoying the entertaining and educational exhibits including the Marine Gardens, a gallery of 21 tanks with hundreds of marine species in their natural habitat; the touch pool, where Bill touched a nurse shark, and I gently handled starfish and
sea cucumbers; an air-conditioned undersea observatory located about one hundred feet offshore; an 80,000-gallon coral reef aquarium where sea water is constantly pumped in and out and where the top is open to let sun and moonlight in to preserve natural breeding patterns; the lorikeet garden; a stingray lagoon; turtle pool; and a performance by the sea lion gang of Franco, Remo, Omar, and Romulo. While I shopped in the Go Fish gift shop, Bill enjoyed the patio area with his drink called “shark bite,” which was a smoothie containing pineapple, mango, and spiced rum.
The rest of the afternoon was spent sitting on our stateroom balcony, reading and enjoying the passing waves.
Our last port of call was scheduled to be one of Holland America’s private islands, Half Moon Cay; however, we encountered a storm, which made the seas too rough to dock at the island. Instead, we had a day at sea that was filled with activities. We saw the movie “The Other Guys” in the screening room, and we attended the Captain’s lunch. I took two more digital workshops sponsored by Windows. Ten different digital workshops had been offered during the week, and
I managed to take six of them, all excellent, including Creative Editing, Moviemaking, Messaging, Webcams, and Safety. An excellent magic show entertained us in the afternoon before our usual evening activities: dinner, the Mainstage show, and closing out the night with our favorite entertainment, the Piano Bar with Michael.
Holland America is definitely one of the top lines if you are looking for elegance, great food and entertainment, and a laidback atmosphere. The food was excellent, and most of the familiar cruise favorites were well prepared and beautifully presented. Among the negatives, however, was the often-slow dining room staff, making each dinner in the main dining room a two-and-a-half-hour event. Another negative was the small portions. This was the first time on any of my 25 cruises that I have still been hungry after dinner! One of the salads with a fancy name came as a thin slice of cucumber on a lettuce leaf. One of the appetizers consisted of one stuffed mushroom cap. They were artistically created, but small. I did not gain a pound on this cruise, so I should not complain!
The Lido buffet, on the other hand, was overflowing with food of
top quality and variety. However, the lines became quite long as guests were not allowed to serve themselves. Staff waiters served the food--smaller portions than the guests might have taken themselves--and the beverages. This not only slowed the process but also took waiters away from servicing the dining area. We often sat down without silverware on the tables, and with no waiter in sight. Many tables were not cleared in a timely manner for the same reason. I did enjoy my favorite meal of the entire cruise in the Lido buffet: the fried soft-shelled crabs! I think I went back in line three times and ended up eating six or eight of them.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Explorations Cafe, unlike anything we had seen in our cruising experience. It was a comfortable coffee-house environment on the top deck with plush loungers faced the ocean for panoramic viewing of the waves. We could browse through an extensive library, check e-mail, and read the morning paper and various current magazines while taking in the scenic backdrop of the ocean and enjoying coffee or a variety of other beverages and snacks.
The show lounge featured talented vocalists, dancers, illusionists, comedians and variety acts, all of which were immensely entertaining.
The Piano Bar was our favorite venue, with Michael Sara, the Piano Man," at the keyboard. We so enjoyed his pleasant personality, repartee with the audience, singing talent, and his magical fingers dancing on the "eighty-eights" that we made it a point to be there every night. His voice channeled such greats as Sam Cooke, Elvis, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Sinatra, and many others.
Overall, the plusses far outweighed the minuses, and we would definitely sail on the Eurodam again. In fact, we are already planning another sailing!
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