Cruising the Caribbean Holland America Style
I caught myself snoring a few times both entering and exiting sleep. It was the middle of the day, but I couldn’t help but knock out. I was at the receiving end of a 50-minute reflexology therapy session—or, nearly an hour of the best foot rub ever. With Eastern instrumental music playing, I awoke to a light ding my therapist made by tapping a metal triangle with a small metal rod. My massage, as all good things do, had come to an end. I drank water with a hint of mint as I looked at the ocean go by just outside the window. Now this I can get used to.
I was on Holland America’s Eurodam cruise of the eastern Caribbean. Lately, I only travel for work or family events. When I travel for “pleasure,” there is usually some level of roughing it. So cruising—and allowing myself to just enjoy life’s pleasures for a week—is something of a novelty. Now, back in cold New York with lots of work on my plate, I’m glad I did it.
There is, apparently, a cruising culture. You’re at sea and several ports of call with a largely self-sustaining, mobile community of over two thousand people who generally know how to sit back and enjoy life. On day two, you start seeing the same faces as you make your way around the 936-by-106-foot, 11-deck ship (yes, you will get lost). People start to say hello. You start to say hello. Heck, we’re in this together. Besides getting pampered at the Greenhouse Spa and Salon, there’s plenty to do on the Eurodam. With seven restaurants ranging in ambience from flip-flops’ll-do to don-your-best-sports-coat, eating is a great place to start. There’s the casual, buffet-style Lido, where you can pretty much eat whenever you want. The salad bar, with fares like spicy quinoa garbanzo salad, doesn’t disappoint. One restaurant highlight was the east Asian-inspired Tamarind. An evening of sashimi, shrimp-filled won tons, Shanghai ribs, lobster, ginger banana bread pudding, and warm sake allows for indulgence, to say the least. Want something fancier? Check out the ship’s Pinnacle grill. Lobster bisque, filet mignon, raspberry cheesecake, and cabernet sauvignon, anyone?
Then there’s the booze—lots and lots of booze. First off, check out the daily drink. If you don’t see it in the daily itinerary left at your cabin door, ask any bartender. My favorite was the Bahama Mama, “a tropical mix of coconut rum, dark rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, and Grenadine.” I’m a rum guy, plus I’m nostalgic and the drink reminds me of the first time I went to the Bahamas. Another way to celebrate drinking is by joining the Eurodam’s pub crawl that starts with not one but two Long Island ice teas to loosen everybody up. With nearly-impossible challenges—like getting an egg from one shot glass into another without touching it—and prizes, the major pub crawl rule is to moderate your drinking and not get too excited. You don’t want to cause a scene. Save your energy for the dance floor at the Northern Lights nightclub, where the crawl ends.
Nights on the Eurodam, especially for the younger crowd, frequently end at Northern Lights. While the deejay is overly fond of Michael Jackson, he is also open to requests. He indulged the young Miami cruisers with the largely unknown, original version of Doo Doo Brown. (The 2 Live Crew version and associated dancing would have likely caused just as much confusion.) A woman, nicknamed the Dancing Queen, who mysteriously appears everywhere music plays was, to the chagrin of many, nowhere in sight when Doo Doo Brown blasted from the club’s sound system.
Most of the cruisers on the Eurodam are an older crowd. The ship’s captain, John Scott, says that the Eurodam is becoming more inviting to younger travelers. One change, Scott mentions, is what is considered appropriate cruising apparel. “The dress code is more relaxed,” he says. “It’s a more comfortable style for young people.” Indeed, I enjoyed being able to wear jeans and a polo shirt on some evenings, and slacks, a button-down, and tie on others. When I passed couples in tuxedos and gowns, there was no sense of anyone being too dressed up or down. Each night spot, like the restaurants, has its own vibe and culture, and guests dress accordingly. The Piano Bar, with its sophisticated clientele, was its own brand of good times. Singing the Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow with cruisers who remind you of your parents can be as much fun as shaking your backside to reggaeton with your peers at Northern Lights. You just gotta get into it.
On full days at sea, you can disconnect. Internet is slow in the middle of nowhere, so hit one of the pools or play a game of basketball on deck 10. If you really need to know what’s going on in the world outside the Eurodam, you can read the Times Digest, a short version of the newspaper of record, published daily and found throughout the ship. A nice place to read the news with a cup of coffee is the Explorations Café. When you’re ready to get your drink on again, the Crow’s Nest bar is right next door.
Here’s the point: even if you’re used to roughing it when traveling or are a workaholic who can’t get your mind off of on-shore responsibilities, kick back and let the cruising experience take you somewhere new and refreshing for a week. You’ll have plenty of chances to rough it and drown in your work when you get back to reality.