Here's Part 1 of my pictorial review of HAL's Noordam, from May 4-14, 2010.
Hope you enjoy it!
Noordam May 4-14, 2010 Part 1 Monday May 3, Ft. Lauderdale
We flew in to Ft. Lauderdale a day early, as is our habit. It was a two-flight trip, from Halifax to Montreal, layover, then Montreal to Ft. Lauderdale. Both flights were the scariest we have ever experienced! The turbulence was so bad, they warned us not to get up and use the washrooms, and in-flight service was suspended for most of the flight.
We were very glad to touch down safely in Ft. Lauderdale!
Our choice of hotel was one we've stayed in before, the Ramada Inn of Ft. Lauderdale and Cruise Port. It is close to both the airport and the cruise port, has a free shuttle to and from both, a complimentary hot, full break-fast, as well as a choice of restaurants/bars for lunch, dinner, snacks, and nightlife.
The hotel is built around a common, featuring a beautiful, warm pool, and the most lovely gardens, including a Tiki shack bar for outdoor drinks.
It was wonderful to spend the after-noon and evening in and around the pool, relaxing, enjoying the nice weather, and playing with the resident cat who wandered out looking for attention.
The shuttle service to the cruise port was modern, comfortable, and on time.
We arrived at the port by 11:45 a.m., were in line by 11:50, and the line moved quickly.
Security was heavy, reminiscent of the airport, but it also moved quickly, and staff were orderly and polite. We were on board by 12:30, and as cabins were not yet ready, we headed straight for the Lido Buffet.
It was very crowded and busy at the buffet, long lines in all areas, and no seats available.
One of the first things I noticed were the signs posted at each station; "Please allow us to serve you".
There was no self-serve at this buffet, all plates, cutlery and food service, even access to coffee and drinks were off limits to passengers, and although there were many staff members available to serve you, during this peak time, this caused many back-ups in line.
They also did not allow you take a tray, but did offer to carry a tray full of food and drink to your table if needed.
We thought that this new practice was most likely a result of the health and safety pre-cautions taken against threats such as Norovirus and H1N1, but also had the advantage of avoiding wasted food, and messy serving areas. Despite the positives, the negative was that buffet service was often slow and waits were long.
Once we finally got our food, we went outside to look for seats, which were also all occupied. We sat on the side of the pool for awhile before a table became available.
We feared that this would be a crowded cruise, but it turned out that it was only the rush of embarkation day that was truly busy, and really did not have a problem with seating for the rest of the cruise, including deck chairs.
After lunch, we did some ship exploration, checking out the main areas, pools, atrium, and deck chair areas. The main pool area had plasticized rattan looking chairs, covered with comfy striped cushions and prepared for use with a rolled towel.
There was a particularly attractive seating area near the main pool bar, with a "conversation area" of rattan chairs, with oversized lamps with huge shades that made a very cozy spot to meet with friends over drinks.
The aft pool area, and the upper seating areas had the older white plastic deck chairs, with dark blue net covers which unattractively showed all the stains of lotions, creams, food, and drink of previous users. We made sure they were always covered by fresh towels before we used them!
Around 1:30 p.m. we were able to get into our cabin, #6005 right at the far front of the ship, starboard side, just before the curve to the bow.
Our balcony cabin was nice, tastefully decorated, with a nice bathroom that included a small bathtub, a nice change from the tiny shower stalls we're used to.
The only downside of our cabin was that we found storage space lacking, compared to Carnival or Princess.
We were introduced to our cabin steward, I kid you not, his name was "Bang-Bang".
After sharing a laugh with him about his name, he introduced us to his assistant, and again, I kid you not, his name was "August". We had no trouble remembering their names all cruise!
Following the regulation Life Boat Drill, we headed to the Main Pool Lido Deck for the Sail Away party, and missed half of it because there seemed to be nothing going on, and we wasted time waiting, while all the while it was happening at the AFT pool!
You'd think by now, we'd have learned to read the fine print on the daily newsletter, and find the right location!
Once we found it, the Sail Away party was in full swing, with colourful flags flapping, even more colourful sailaway drinks being sold, and live music from the pool and lounge band, Kat and the HAL Cats.
The band was great, but Kat the lead singer was weak, and not a good front for the band. We would learn to cringe every time we saw her performing during the weeks ahead...
Dinner in the Vista Dining Room on this first evening, was a bit disconcerting.
First of all, there was a 15 minute delay getting in for the 2nd seating, making for a late start, a later ending, and resulting in us missing the the 9:30 Welcome Aboard Show.
It was quite busy and noisy in the dining room, and as we were being lead to our table, I could hear James mumbling under his breath, "please let us have our table for 2, please let us have our table for 2", and as we approached the table and saw another couple already seated there, I could hear his mumbled curses.
Apparently they were feeling much the same; they too had requested a table for 2, and had already spoken to the Maitre 'D, who had told them he had 76 requests for a table for 2, and could not accomodate everybody. They were about as happy to see us as we were to see them, however, polite introductions were made, and surprisingly, we hit it off immediately, and they became our dining companions, our Trivia teammates, and our good friends for the duration of the cruise!
Dinner itself on the first night was very good. I had grilled chicken with roast potatoes and vegetables, with frozen yogurt for dessert, and all was delicious.
I was very impressed with our waiter's attention to my gluten-free request. He had a seperate plate of gluten-free bread delivered to our table, and each night he presented me with the following night's menu so that I could choose what meal I would like, and they would substitute gluten-free foods if need be. Excellent service.
As our dinner ran late and we missed the Welcome Aboard Show, we just wandered the ship, checking out lounges and bars to see what was available. We stumbled upon some music and singing, and found the Piano Bar, featuring pianist Jim Fischer, who did a very good job singing, playing, and leading a sing-along in a packed house.
Jim was funny and enjoyable, and we stayed till 11:30, when fatigue overcame us and we headed off to bed, after a very pleasant first day on board.
Our first stop on this cruise was Holland America's beautiful private island, Half Moon Cay.
We started our day early, with a room service breakfast that was very good, and delivered promptly.
As the ship anchors offshore from the island, tenders run all day, ferrying passengers to and from the island.
The tenders were large and accomodating, not lifeboats from the ship, and the passage took only 5-10 minutes.
We had visited Half Moon Cay on our honeymoon 9 years ago, and we noticed a lot of additions and improvements since then.
There was a beautiful welcoming area, with a fountain, signposts, open stall shopping, and a few new air conditioned shops, including a souvenir shop and a jewelry store.
Paving stone pathways led all over the island, through lush greenery and flowers everywhere, so that walking was easy.
One of the most interesting and welcome additions were the misting stations strategically located every 100 yards or so.
These were little structures with thatched roofs with hoses wired into the ceiling, letting off a misty waterfall inside.
If you were walking along and feeling overwhelmed by the heat, you just had to step into one of these stalls and feel the refreshing spray of water all over you to cool you down - it was wonderful!
Restrooms were easy to find, large, and clean. I particularly liked the sense of humour shown in depicting which one was for the girls, and which one was for the boys.
Another area that was new and well equipped was the Water Play area for children. There were several climb-on water toys, with sprays and geysers, slides, and water trampolines. There was also a new and improved childrens' play park off the beach.
The beach itself was magnificent. The colour of the sea was gorgeous, the sand like white talcum powder, and the views of the ship and of the island just spectacular.
The beach was clean and easy to enter the water, with no rocks or pebbles, and no sudden drops, just a gradual easing into the sea, which was warm and comfortable.
I had brought along a dollar store find, a small inflatable air mattress about the size of a child’s flutterboard. It had a plastic "window" in it, and through it I could see the bottom of the sea, and coral, seaweed and the occasional fish swimming by. It was lovely just floating around on this little mattress, peering into the depths, or gazing up at the blue sky!
We had booked a "clamshell" on the beach, which is a clamshell-shaped shade structure that fits over 2 beach chairs. We found it so stifling hot inside that we dragged our chairs back out onto the beach, and at least there we caught a breeze. Cooling off was as simple as jumping into the water!
While on the beach I couldn't help thinking of my CruiseMates friends and wishing you all were there to enjoy the beauty of Half Moon Cay with me, so I wrote a message to you in the sand...
Waiters from the ship were a constant presence on the beach, offering drinks from the bar, so one didn't have to venture out for a drink.
I did notice one bar though, and intrigued by the name, had to take a picture of it. Truer words were never spoken!
At lunchtime, we followed the paths to the BBQ area. There was a huge set-up, with several lines running simultaneously so there was little wait.
You could choose from BBQ chicken, ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, cookies and fruit desserts, drinks of lemonade or iced tea, and all of it was delicious.
There were many covered shady areas with picnic tables to choose from, and we had no trouble finding a seat to enjoy our lunch.
We had been on this beautiful island since 8:30 a.m. and were feeling a bit sun-soaked and light-headed, so after lunch, we made our way back to collect our things and headed back to the tenders. Along the way I made several stops at the misting stations, and at the "I Wish" bar, and at one point, saw a perfect photo opportunity when I spotted an ice bucket stand, with a bottle of champagne and 2 glasses just sitting there by a bench. Someone had obviously had something to celebrate on this perfect little island!
As we approached the tender, HAL employees were handing out paper cups of cold water, and iced towels to passengers boarding the tenders.
A very nice and welcome touch of service!
Sorry I had to break this up, but it wouldn't let me post the whole Part 2 as it was too long!
So, to continue Day 2 at Half Moon Cay...
Upon arriving back at the ship I was feeling a bit of heat-stroke, so took some Tylenol and had a nap in the air conditioned cabin.
Feeling much better, we enjoyed a late afternoon cup of tea and some delicious pizza in the Lido restaurant, then sat out at the aft pool enjoying the late afternoon warmth and light breeze.
This evening was the first of 3 formal nights onboard, which meant cleaning up and dressing up for dinner.
Most people did make an effort to dress formally, and both the passengers and the dining room looked very elegant that evening, although the white formal covers on the dining chairs could have used a good ironing!
The meal itself was excellent. Between the 4 of us, we enjoyed a cold Mixed Berry Soup, Shrimp Cocktail, Rack of Lamb, Land & Sea (or Surf & Turf), Strawberry Cheesecake and English Trifle.
On this very formal evening, a funny incident happened at our table, and I only wished we had had our video camera with us at the time.
Both my tablemate Elaine and I had ordered the Rack of Lamb, and she had to ask for Mint Jelly to accompany hers.
She waited quite a long time for it, and consequently, was slower to finish her meal than the rest of us, and still had an extra lamb chop on her plate.
Our waiter, seeing that we had finished our meals, came to collect our plates and ready the table for dessert.
He grabbed Elaine's unfinished plate and walked off with it. Elaine, in shock and indignation called after him "I wasn't finished with that!" and as he didn't hear her, she jumped up from the table, hiked up her long gown, and went running after him, catching up with him just as he was about to scrape her precious lamb chop into the waste bin!
He was highly apologetic, and seemed shocked that she had chased after him.
Elaine came marching back to the table with her plate to finish her rescued lamb chop, and we all had a good laugh.
That little show in the main dining room was a hard act to follow, but the evening’s entertainment was not over yet.
After dinner we made our way to the Vista Lounge, the main theatre onboard, for “Ballroom Blitz”, a grand retrospective of dance eras and styles, with wonderful dancers, costumes, music and excellent singers.
I must say here that the Noordam has some of the best main show singers and dancers I’ve ever seen at sea, and in particular, the 4 main lead singers.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the lead singer of the main pool and lounge band, Kat and the HAL Cats.
Following the theatre show, we went to the “50’s and 60’s Prom Night” dance in the Queen’s Lounge, where Kat and the HAL Cats were entertaining.
Although I love the music from the 50’s and 60’s, and although the HAL Cats were and excellent band, I just could not take the weak, pitchy, off-key lead singing of Kat.
Apparently many agreed with me, because the event was sparsely attended by only a few over-65’s on the dance floor, although considering it was well after 11:00 p.m. that in itself was a major feat!
We only lasted about 20 minutes there and headed off to bed by 11:30, looking forward to Grand Turk tomorrow!
Goodnight from the wide-eyed stingray we found on our bed!
As always Donna writes the best reviews. I always look forward to my morning coffee and this great read!
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.“
I honestly still think that someone should hire you to do cruise reviews. You have a knack for doing the most entertaining reviews I've ever read. For what it's worth, I've read now probably hundreds of reviews and written a few but yours are the ones that remain with me and really engender a desire to again go cruising.
Noordam Part 3
Day 3 Thursday May 6, 2010 Turks & Caicos
On Day 3 we were not due into Grand Turk until after noon, so we had a full morning of activities.
After a light breakfast, I attended my first Pilates class in the Greenhouse Spa/Gym, while my hubby took advantage of the treadmills and the stationary bikes in the gym.
I found the Pilates class gentle, well taught, and very pleasant with instructor Chloe.
In fact, I was still suffering from severe back pain that had started before I left home, and by the time the class was finished, the pain had vanished! I signed up for 3 more classes during the week, and they did wonders for my back, and for strengthening core muscles, not to mention working off the many calories I consumed on this cruise!
At 10a.m. we headed up to the Crow's Nest on Observation Deck 10 forward, a beautiful open airy lounge with a spectacular view of the sea.
From there we exited to an outdoor lounge area where there was a set-up for a class in Pan Drum instruction.
I had always wanted to learn how to play the Pan Drum or Steel Drum; the sound of the instrument has always fascinated me, and here was my opportunity!
One of the members of the HAL Cats, Junior, was offering Pan Drum lessons and I was first in line!
Junior gave us a quick history lesson of the origin of the Pan Drum and how it is made, then proceeded to teach a group of us how to play all the basic notes in the scale.
I loved it, and was very grateful for the opportunity to play at last!
Following my lesson, we moved back into the Crow's Nest for Movie Sound Byte Trivia. We are not exactly knowledgeable movie fans, but with the help of a stranger who joined us, we didn't do too bad, scoring 11 out of 15 questions!
We decided to have an early lunch prior to docking in Grand Turk, so we tried the outdoor Grill by the Lido Pool.
I had a cheeseburger (no bun) with fries and it was delicious, but the line-up was long, and then you had to line up again at another spot to get your condiments and salad. Again, all of this was under a plexiglass cover and Saran Wrap and supervised by staff members.
We docked in Grand Turk around 12:30 and were one of the first off the ship. As we were waiting to have our cards scanned, a Security Officer in a very big hurry, pushed through the line and ran off the ship. He looked very serious and was radioing for help on his Walkie Talkie.
We knew something serious was going on, and as soon as we exited the ship we found out what.
Somehow, a woman had fallen into the water right off the pier, right next to the ship!
I looked over the edge and saw her floundering around wearing an orange life ring that someone had thrown to her. She was trying to swim her way back to the gangway, as the Officer reaching down on his belly could not reach her.
I had to leave as we were trying to catch our excursion bus, so I don't know what happened, but I'm assuming they got her safely back onshore.
Here's an important reminder: those yellow lines painted along the edge of the pier are there for a reason - don't step over them!
Once down the pier in Grand Turk, we found our little air conditioned tour bus which took us on a very quick 5 minute tour to see the Government House and the airport, then straight to Governor's Beach.
What little I saw of the island left me with the impression of flat land, scrub brush, and an area still in development.
Governor's Beach however, was a beautiful spot, and beach chairs and snorkel equipment were included in the excursion.
The access to the beach was a bit rocky and pebbly, but the snorkeling was great, the views incredible, and the beach was quiet, with no loud music and no vendors. A peaceful few hours in a beautiful place.
While there we also saw another excursion of horse back riders along the beach. What a beautiful ride they had!
We took the bus back around 2:30 to visit Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville which was situated right on the pier.
We were instantly drawn into the party atmosphere by the great music played by a DJ in the Radio Margaritaville booth facing the incredibly beautiful pool in the back.
We did a little shopping in the store, then joined the party out by the pool, where we sampled Margaritas and I did some swimming, and yes, dancing in the pool! It was a great time, I had a blast, and enjoyed the sun, music and of course the Margarita.
On the way back to the ship, we noted just how crowded the public beach was in Grand Turk, and were glad that we had gone on the excursion to the quieter Governor's Beach.
It was almost 5:00 (Somewhere...) when we returned to the ship, cleaned up and went out to the Lido deck for afternoon tea and pizza, which was becoming a habit! The Noordam's pizza was as good, if not better than Carnival's and I cheated on my gluten-free diet just to have some.
That evening's dinner was good, at least for me. I loved the Turkey, but James' Tuna was tasteless. We did however enjoy dessert:
Puff Pastry Swan with Raspberry Mousse, swimming in a pool of Chocolate Syrup!!
The evening's theatre entertainment was an Olympic gymnast named Lance Ringnald, and we chose to skip the show, thinking "what could a gymnast have to offer on a ship?".
We were to find out later that we missed a great show, and made a point of seeing him later in the cruise.
Instead, we wandered the bars and lounges, settling for a while in the Ocean Bar overlooking the Atrium, enjoying the easy-listening band called Neptune.
Hanging from the ceiling of the Atrium is a strange piece of artwork, sort of spacey-looking, and which changed colours every so many minutes. Strange, but beautiful at the same time.
Following that we made a brief visit to see Jim Fischer in the Piano Bar once again, but were both feeling fatigued and headed off to bed.
Goodnight from our Towel Lobster!
Tomorrow, Samana Dominican Republic.....
Last edited by rollerdonna; May 19th, 2010 at 11:13 PM.
Donna, This is the highlight of my day. Your trip sounds wonderful. I look forward to the next installment.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.“
Noordam Part 4
Day 4, Friday May 7, 2010 Samana, Dominican Republic
We had pre-booked online, a beach excursion in Samana, but in the past day or so, we had heard from several people that the tender ride from the ship over to Samana would be about 30 minutes, and that our excursion involved an hour and a half open-air bus ride over very rough terrain, which worried me concerning motion sickness.
We had also received more information on the ship regarding excursions, detailing what was NOT available on our excursion.
Important amenities such as access to washrooms, (none), beach chairs, (none), shade (none), and air-conditioned buses (none).
These factors, combined with the long tender ride and the intense heat, had led us to the decision to cancel our beach excursion the day before.
Apparently it was the right decision because we heard from many people afterwards who asked, "DId you go onshore in Samana?" and when we replied "No," they told us "You didn't miss anything".
There had been an insert in the Daily Program as well, which basically amounted to a disclaimer, or warning to remember that "Samana is a 3rd world country still in development. You will see poverty, but please try to remember that these people rely on you as tourists, and will do their best to serve you."
From what we heard afterward from several people, they were inundated with begging and pushy vendors from the moment they stepped on the island. I don't know if Samana will stay on the HAL itinerary in the future, with so many unfavourable comments about it.
So, while the ship was anchored off the shores of Samana, we found ourselves with a free day, and a non-crowded ship to ourselves!
We began the day with a leisurely breakfast in the dining room, and the operative word here is "leisurely".
It's a good thing we didn't have a time limit and an excursion to catch, because we would have missed it.
Service in the dining room was slow to say the least.
We were seated at a table with strangers, which my husband tends to hate doing, however in this case, we were lucky once again, in meeting a lovely couple from Georgia who were on their honeymoon.
We told them about our love of Trivia and they later joined us, along with our dinner tablemates, in all the Trivia games we played on board, and we made a pretty good team, winning several times!
An incident during this breakfast leads me to an aside.
If you are Canadian, do not order "Canadian Bacon" on a cruise ship.
To us, Canadian Bacon is just plain ordinary bacon. To the ship, or perhaps in the U.S., Canadian Bacon is essentially Back Bacon, or something quite close to a round slice of ham. My husband ordered Canadian Bacon and had an argument with the waiter that what was on his plate was NOT Canadian bacon. As he had already waited so long for his breakfast, he didn't dare risk letting it go back to the kitchen for "American Bacon"!
When we finally finished our breakfast, it was 10 a.m. and we headed out to the aft pool. It was sparsely populated, with plenty of available chairs, and best of all, peaceful and quiet, no music, just restful. One of the nice things we noticed about Holland America was that there was a lot less "in your face" background music played outdoors and in the Lido dining area. Mostly, it was gentle, quiet classics, soft jazz, relaxing.
We took a quick break for Morning Trivia in the Crow's Nest, came in 2nd again, then back out to the pool until breaking for lunch at 12:30.
It was kind of nice just having a relaxing day to do whatever we wanted, enjoy a leisurely lunch, and go back out in the sun.
I must also say here that all the lunches we had in the Lido Buffet were excellent. There were many choices, Italian, Asian, Deli, and regular buffet style food.
I was also a frequent visitor to the Ice Cream counter, where the free soft-serve chocolate ice cream was the best I've ever tasted!
By 4 p.m. we were back at the Crow's Nest for Afternoon Trivia, with our very personable Cruise Director Mike Connachan, a fellow Canadian.
We were joined by our breakfast and dinner tablemates, April & Phil, and Elaine & Lou, and we didn't do very well.
Who knew that Aladdin's nationality was Chinese?!
After Trivia, we headed back to the aft pool for the Sail-Away from Samana. The HAL Cats were playing, and we went for a swim, then a relaxing soak in the hot tub, watching our departure from Samana, and the sun setting in the Dominican Republic.
We were feeling relaxed and lazy that evening and decided not to dress up and go to the dining room for dinner.
Instead, we opted for the Lido Buffet, which offered much the same meals, in a more relaxed atmosphere.
Strangely enough, we met our dining room tablemates there as well, and we enjoyed a relaxed, less hurried meal, and shared some great conversation and a lot of laughs with them.
We also opted out of the evening's entertainment, concert Pianist Elena Ivanina, and instead, visited the Piano Bar for a while before turning in early.
Goodnight from our Conehead Squid Towel Animal.....
Noordam, Part 5
Day 5, Saturday May 8, 2010, Sea Day
Ahhh, Sea Day! How wonderful to have a whole day ahead of you to do anything you want or nothing at all!
This one was another glorious weather day, high of 28C or 83F, the perfect day for my favourite ship pass-time, lying around by the pool.
But first, I started my day with another Pilates class up in the gym. It was a great class, a sweaty workout which completely alleviated any residual back pain, and both relaxed and energized me. I promised myself that I would continue Pilates exercises on my own once I got home, as it always leaves me feeling so good!
By 9 a.m. I was out by the aft pool, enjoying the sun, my reading material, and my MP3 player. A quick break inside for a Lido lunch of roast chicken and salad, then back out to the aft pool for 12:30 Name That Tune Trivia.
We loved it when Trivia was held out by the pool on Sea Days.
We could sit in the sun, order drinks, dip in the pool, answer questions, and sing and dance along to the music.
Our friends and tablemates Elaine, Lou, April & Phil joined us to make an awesome team and we had all the song titles right except for one.
The well-known cruise ship sail-away party staple line dance song "The Electic Slide" is NOT actually called The Electric Slide, it's called The Electric Boogie! It was the only one we got wrong, and therefore, we didn't win, but we sure had fun trying!
The afternoon was a lazy one, spent out by the pool basking in the sun, with the exception of a brief clouding over and rain storm which the Captain expertly manoeuvred the ship around. One minute, there was a heavy rain storm just ahead, and the next minute, it's off to the side and we completely missed it, staying dry until the sun peeked out once again. Clever Captain!
We played Trivia again with our team at 2 p.m up in the Crow's Nest, but we failed dismally scoring only 6 out of 15 questions.
We didn't really care, because we always had fun playing with our friends.
We ended up staying out by the aft pool until 6 p.m. enjoying the sun, the warmth, the drinks, the music, the hot tub, and some late afternoon pizza to tide us over until our late dinner. This evening we had our reservation at the Noordam's specialty restaurant, The Pinnacle Grill.
The Pinnacle Grill is situated on Deck 2, adjacent to the Atrium. It was another spot from which one could see the strange space-like orb suspended from the ceiling. From here, it looked like an evil eye.
The restaurant itself is quiet, with elegant, subdued decor, and a touch of class. I found the air conditioning extremely chilly, and even though I had brought a shawl to cover my sundress, I was still freezing. Our waiter very obligingly brought me a second shawl to warm me up!
This kind of attentive service was one of the highlights of our meal at the Pinnacle Grill.
I will take you through the meal by using the titles on our menu:
"The Wine List":
During the week in the main dining room, I had noticed a couple sitting near us who had a lovely pink wine on their table every night, and I wanted to try it. Our wine steward suggested a White Zinfandel, Berringer, which is a lovely sweet, light Rose wine.
It was absolutely wonderful and we enjoyed the whole bottle with our meal.
"The Beginning", or Appetizer:
I chose a Caesar Salad, which was wheeled in on a cart and prepared piece by piece before me, and I must say it was one of the best Caesar Salads I've ever tasted.
James chose the French Onion Soup, and although nobody seems to be able to make French Onion Soup the way we used to get it in Montreal, it was a pretty close second.
"The Intrigue", or Entree:
I had a Filet Mignon, cooked to perfection, and served with scalloped potatoes and just-perfect asparagus, that was probably one of the best meals I've ever had.
James ordered the Land & Sea, which was a delicious Filet Mignon and Jumbo Shrimp, served with fried onions, beans, and scalloped potatoes. For once, he could find no fault with his meal - it was delicious and perfectly prepared.
"The Finale", or Dessert:
My choice to top off my excellent meal was a Triple Creme Brule, in 3 flavours, chocolate, vanilla and coffee. It was quite simply, decadently delicious and I wished I'd had room for more!
James chose the Chocolate Volcano, served with fresh cream, and his too was incredibly delicious.
All in all, the best specialty restaurant meal we've ever had on any cruise, and a wonderful gastronomic experience!
It was pretty hard to top the wonderful experience of tonight’s dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, but the evening’s entertainment in the Vista Lounge came pretty close.
The show was called “Broadway Blitz”, and I envisioned a full Broadway style song and dance extravaganza, with costume changes and all the razzmatazz.
As it turned out, there were no dancers, no sets, few costume changes, but there were four very talented singers who did a spectacular job covering many Broadway classics, backed up by the very profession HAL Cats Band.
A class act and a very entertaining show to end a perfect evening at sea.
Goodnight from our Unknown Species Towel Animal. (Your guess is much appreciated!)
I love your bathing suit! And your towel animal looks like a lobster...Boy, we sure don't have the same digestive system! If i drank a bottle of wine, and ate all that food that late at night (especially the chocolate) i would be up all night! (Like i spent most of the last cruise!)
Donna - just had to reply re: the Berringer White Zinfandel. It is my favorite wine and I have one chilling in my refrig right now. A 1.5 liter bottle sells here in New York for $9.99 - wine doesn't have to be expensive to be good. Can't imagine what it cost on the ship. Also, I am reliving my last year's summer vacation on the Miracle. Booked that trip just to go to Half Moon Cay and was not dissapointed. Rented a cabana and it was wonderful. Love your pictures and I feel like I'm right back there. Also stopped at Grand Turk. We had a great time. "Thanks for the memories."
Bonaire was another port in which we had pre-booked online, a beach shore excursion, but had canceled it while onboard after we learned that there would be no bathroom facilities at the beach, no chairs, no umbrellas, and no air conditioned buses to take you there.
With the temperature blazing at 31C or 89F, we couldn't take a chance in the intense heat as we suffer from both breathing and heart ailments.
We're sorry we missed experiencing the beautiful beaches of Bonaire, but without the basic facilities, it would not have been enjoyable.
After an early breakfast, we decided to get off the ship and explore the port area on our own.
My first impression of Bonaire was that it was old, neglected, slightly dirty, and not a particularly pretty port.
The street was narrow and cobble-stoned, the buildings were in a state of disrepair, and there were a lot of small cars and motorbikes zipping by as we made our way into town.
One of the first places I found was a washroom attached to a bar, and I had to take a photo of the sign outside the door:
Next to the washroom, and just outside the bar, was a cozy little corner cafe with comfortable seating, and a fire pit for cool evenings.
Eventually we came to a large outdoor marketplace, where many vendors had set up their wares under large white tents.
The usual T-shirts, handicrafts, and souvenirs were available, and I finally found a Bonaire pin to add to my collection.
As the heat was intense, we were directed to a mall where we hoped to find some air conditioning. However, it turned out that most of the shops were closed as it was Sunday, and the few that were open were very expensive.($21.50 for a decorative wine cork!).
From the mall, we exited back onto the quai-side where we found an outdoor bar/cafe with umbrella tables, where we sat and enjoyed the light breeze, and the view of the ships in port (Noordam and Maasdam, which seemed to follow us everywhere we went!).
It was a great spot for watching the dockside activities, small pleasure boats arriving, tourists passing by and the local bird population.
After a 15 minute walk back to the ship in the intense hazy heat, we were glad to be back onboard in the air conditioning, and enjoyed a wonderful lunch of Fish 'n Chips in the Lido buffet.
There was a special Mothers' Day Brunch being held that day, in the Vista Dining Room, but I chose not to attend, preferring to eat and dress casual, and make the most out of the sun and pool time on the aft deck that afternoon.
At 4 p.m. we headed for the Crow's Nest for our daily Trivia game with Mike the Cruise Director. Our "Tablemates" team was there, and although the questions were tough, we managed to tie for 1st place with two other teams.
There was a tie-breaking question, which we answered correctly and we won 1st prize!
Our prize was the very stylish "Dam Ships" hats that were for sale in the gift shop, and each member of our team received one.
We were in a celebratory mood, so we stayed in the Crow's Nest for awhile, sharing some lively conversation and laughs with our team, and enjoying the relaxing guitar stylings of lounge performer Gary T'To, until sail away from Bonaire around 5:45.
We had planned to meet up with our friends again at 7:15 in the Vista Lounge, for the Newlywed/Not-So-Newlywed Game.
We knew from past experience that this game on every cruise is good for a few laughs, and we weren't disappointed!
When it was over, and our sides hurting from laughing, we headed off to the Vista Dining Room for dinner.
After both couples' two nights' absence from the dining room, we were greeted warmly by our waiter and out wine steward who seemed genuinely pleased to see us again.
Our meals were excellent all around; I enjoyed a Sirloin Steak and Baked Potato, while James and Lou both said their Chicken stuffed with Guava and Mango was delicious. Elaine tried the vegetarian dish of Rice, Beans & Lentils with Curry and she too said it was good.
Again, we all enjoyed our desserts which were Apple Blossom, Apple Strudel and Mango Parfait.
The evening's show in the Vista Lounge was comedian Craig Diamond, who we had missed the first night at the Welcome Aboard Show.
He was funny, with some great observations about cruise ship passengers, but he also had a very annoying high pitched voice, and his manner was reminiscent of Howie Mandel's early manic comedy. We did leave laughing however, so that's what counts.
Off to bed by 11:00 to find our nightly visitor, the Towel Animal Pig (I think!).
BON BINI! or Welcome, to Curacao in the Dutch Antilles.
I think Curacao has one of the prettiest port views of all the islands I've visited. I just LOVE the colours!
It was another beautiful hot day in the Caribbean, 32C or 91F, so we set off on our morning exploration with sun hats and plenty of water.
Fortunately, it was lovely and breezy in the port area, and immediately after leaving the ship there is a large white tent-covered area for shopping at outdoor stalls, which was comfortable in the shade.
I have to mention here something I have never seen before. Upon visiting yet another public washroom, I was amazed to find the toilet seat covered with what looked like Saran Wrap. Just the seat part, not the middle. There was a big red button on the side and a sign that said "when finished, push the red button" and lo and behold, the plastic cover slid all the way around the seat, the "contaminated" portion disappearing in back, and a fresh one appearing out of the other side! One of the neatest things I've ever seen, and certainly a sanitary plus for a public washroom!
Adjacent to the tented area is a long winding cobble-stoned path along the waterfront, with beautiful views of the sea crashing up on the rocks, the large fossilized rocks along the shore, the ship, and the sea.
We followed the path, which was clean and bordered by lovely plants and flowers, towards what we later found out was the Renaissance Hotel. This was a beautiful resort hotel, and an upscale area of shopping, situated inside the old Fort Rif.
Here, we found an open courtyard concept of brand new, air conditioned shops, and outdoor cafes and bars.
Trees, flowers and shrubs decorated the square and it was very pretty.
Gentle music played from speakers hidden in the trees and shrubs (I heard the Bee Gees!).
There was even a large fountain in the middle, with geysers of water shooting up from below, and into which I danced in my bare feet to cool off!
It was a real pleasure to walk through this picturesque area of Willemstad, and we even enjoyed our walk back to the ship.
We were back onboard before 11 a.m. and had just entered the elevator on Deck A to head to Deck 10 for Morning Trivia, when the elevator stopped suddenly, and all the warning lights and bells started to ring.
After a minute of sheer panic in the elevator, the doors opened and we found ourselves on Deck 3. Apparently we had missed the PA announcement that there would be a power shut down to test the generators, and not knowing how long the elevators would be out of commission, we decided to hike up 7 flights of stairs so as not to be late for Trivia!
When we got there, all sweaty and out of breath, it was only to find a near-empty room, and no Trivia host. He, and most of our fellow players, arrived 10 minutes late - they had wisely waited for the elevators!
We had an excursion booked for the afternoon, the "Beach Express", so we had a quick lunch after Trivia then headed back out to the pier to find our tour bus. It was not hard to find. Gaily painted in a Caribbean theme, it was an old military bus, and we were assured it was air conditioned - all the windows were open!
Inside, the entire roof was covered with thatched palm leaves. Very authentic, and surprisingly cool once we started moving and the breeze blew through the bus.
I took notes during our journey to the western side of the island, our hostess was very informative and gave us all sorts of information about the island, but as it was a very bumpy ride, I cannot read my notes!
One of the things I remember though, was that Curacao is a volcanic island, and that explained the rather gray coloured landscape and sparse vegetation. They also do not get much rain, so you don't see a lot of green.
We did see a lot of construction going on, not only holiday homes, but government sponsored homes for the people of Curacao; everyone is given a home by the government.
After about a 40 minute drive, and a few lessons in local culture and language, we arrived at Cas Abao Beach. It was a beautiful sight!
The water was turquoise and lovely, and there were lots of thatched shade umbrellas and large shaded huts on the beach.
Lounge chairs were available without extra cost, and there was a large bar and snack bar area.
The beach area here was very pebbly, with coral stones and rocks making it difficult to enter the water without water shoes (which I had forgotten back in the cabin). However, once you braved your way into the water, it was magnificent!
Snorkeling equipment was included in this excursion, and I spent quite a bit of time exploring the underwater wonders of Abao Beach.
The water was crystal clear, and I could see many fish, coral, and rock formations.
At one point I noticed something green in the sand at the bottom, and upon closer inspection, I could make out the number "10".
With my toes, I managed to pick up the object, and much to my surprise, brought up a 10 gilder note! (tien gulden)
I believe 10 gilder is worth about $6 U.S., not bad for a snorkeling find!
We were sad to leave this beautiful beach, but the time came to return to the bus. We had another long ride back with excellent commentary by our hostess, and the bus even stopped so we could take pictures of is island's flamingo population grazing in the salt flats.
Back at the pier, it was already after 4 p.m. and we were too late for Afternoon Trivia, so we stayed on the pier under the big white tent, and enjoyed one of Curacao's specialties, the Blue Margarita, made with Blue Curacao liqueur.
There is a bar in the centre of the tent, and a stage off to the side where a single performer sings, plays saxophone and steel drum with pre-recorded synthesized accompaniment. He's actually quite talented, reminding me very much of Al Green. I'm sure it was the same guy who was there entertaining us the last time we were in Curacao!
On this day in Curacao, the ship remained at dock until 11 p.m. so there was planned, a Lido Deck BBQ at dinnertime.
We chose to attend the BBQ instead of the dining room because it sounded like fun, and it was such a beautiful evening, warm, with a light breeze, and we got to watch the sunset over Curacao as we ate our dinner al fresco by the aft pool.
Chairs and tables were brought outdoors from the Lido buffet area, and large tables of food set up along the perimeter of the deck.
There was BBQ chicken, ribs, baked potatoes, salads, fresh fruit, and a whole selection of delectable desserts.
DJ Mark played some great music, and we sat with our friends Elaine & Lou and shared a bottle of Beringer White Zinfandel over dessert.
It was a lovely evening out on deck, and we stayed until the deck hands were putting away all the tables and chairs around us!
At 9 p.m. we headed in to the Northern Lights Disco, where DJ Mark was hosting evening Trivia. We did so well, we won again, this time, a round of drinks, which we cashed in on another evening in the same bar.
At 10 p.m. we went to the Vista Lounge Theatre for the Pan Drum Show. Junior, the HAL Cats band member who had given us Pan Drum lessons a few days ago, was featured in his own show.
It was the only show of it's kind in the entire fleet of HAL ships, and it was worth seeing. Backed by the talented HAL Cats (minus Kat), Junior amazed us with his prowess on the Pan Drum, playing the impossibly difficult "Flight of the Bumblebee", Beethoven's 5th, and many, many, Caribbean classics. A thoroughly enjoyable show!
And to end this perfect evening, and this perfect day in Curacao, Goodnight from our Towel Animal Elephant!
I am really enjoying this reading. I will be as sad as you were to see your cruise end. Thank you for taking the time to write this and post the beautiful pictures.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.“
I know I'm beating a dead horse here but like Laura, I don't want your review to end! Between your prose and your photographs, after reading one of your reviews, if it doesn't make one want to run out and book a cruise right then and there, then you'd best stick to flying and/or driving.
Enjoying the reviews as usual....I feel like I am right there with you! It seems by your visit to Curacao, that, it has changed a bit since I was there,and that's good...if it should come up on a cruise I am on, I will get off with renewed interest.
I too, have beea a fan of Bereingers white zin, for years..especially on my cruises...around here the smaller bottle is around $6.99. Last time, I think I paid $22-24.00 onboard...the price boggles my mind, but well worth every sip.
Trip, with her book & tea!
Chat Hostess & Board Moderator
Up early this morning for an 8 a.m. shore excursion, the "Catamaran Sail & Snorkel".
This was the first shore excursion on which our new friends Lou & Elaine joined us, so we knew it would be fun.
We had a short walk from the ship across the pier to board the Pelican Adventure "Tigre" catamaran, where we met our friendly and funny crew and settled in for a 1 hour sail along the beautiful coastline of Aruba.
The sea was relatively calm, the views of the many hotels were impressive, and I enjoyed relaxing on my favourite spot, way up front on the nets.
Around 9:30 we arrived at our snorkeling spot near a beach, and we donned our gear and exited the boat for about 45 minutes of snorkeling.
The area was shallow, clear and calm and perfect for snorkeling.
I saw lots of fish, coral, rocks, sea urchins, even a turtle, and I really enjoyed myself swimming around exploring the underwater world.
Back on the boat, it was Open Bar, and the specialty of the house was their version of "Sex on the Beach", dubbed "Sex on the Boat"!
These consisted of a little rum, a little vodka, some orange juice, pineapple juice and fruit punch. And they sure packed a punch!
By the time we had sailed to another beach, I had had downed two of these and was feeling no pain.
At least until we docked at the beach and we were making our way to the beach chairs, and I did not see a large hanging wooden sign and walked right into it, smacking first my head, then on the rebound, my shoulder! Then I felt the pain!
One of our helpful crew members ran back to the bar and got me a cup of ice for my head. I was a little dazed and bruised, but fine.
We settled our things on the beach chairs in the shade on this lovely beach, then went straight back into the water, where we were served MORE drinks by our friendly crew!
I had brought my dollar store float with me and enjoyed just floating around in the warm turquoise water, drink in my hand, and thinking how lucky I was to be able to experience such a wonderful place.
Elaine borrowed my float while she and Lou enjoyed their drinks in the water too.
By the time we had to leave and get back on the catamaran, I was feeling pretty hazy again, and settled myself right up front on the nets for the 1 hour ride back to the ship. It was amazing, sailing over the waves, the wind rushing in your face, the spray shooting up from below, the sun baking down from above, and I was so relaxed I fell asleep out there for most of the journey!
Back on the pier I spent a little time exploring the Tourist Welcome Centre, which held air conditioned shops full of all sorts of souvenirs.
After a morning of swimming, snorkeling, sunning and drinking, we were pretty tired and hungry, so went for lunch on the Lido deck.
James went for a nap in the cool cabin after lunch and I went to the pool, which was quiet with many passengers still on shore.
It was pretty hot out there (31C or 90F) and I didn't last long after all the sun and drinks I'd had already that day, and ended up having a nap in the cabin as well.
By 4 p.m. we met our team in the Crow's Nest for Trivia, and it was very crowded. Everyone was back on board by now, and there was a Sail Away party scheduled there right after Trivia, so it was a full house.
Trivia was fun as always, and we came close, but didn't win. We stayed for the party to enjoy sail away drinks and fun and lively conversation with our friends.
Guitar player Gary T'To was playing again and I caught the honeymooners April & Phil in a romantic dance as we sailed away from Aruba.
When I returned to my cabin after our departure from Aruba, I couldn't get in, my card would not work! I checked it more closely and realized that the name on the card was not mine! Somehow during all the rush upstairs in the Crow's Nest, my card had gotten mixed with someone elses' when we ordered drinks at the bar.
I ran back upstairs to the bar to find my waitress, and she immediately escorted me downstairs to the Front Office to explain the problem.
My card had already been handed in by the other party, no extra charges were on it, and all was well, and I was thankful for such a quick response and handling of a potentially disastrous situation!
Dinner on this evening was a mixed experience. First, I had noticed that after the first 2 or 3 nights, our waiter no longer brought me my gluten-free bread. I never said anything, mostly because I really didn't enjoy the bread very much and figured I could do without it.
My soup course, Chinese Chicken Noodle was delicious, as was James' Split Pea soup.
However, when we ordered our entrees tonight, 3 meals were brought to the table and mine was missing. I urged the others to start without me and waited. Meanwhile, James' steak was tough as shoe leather and he asked to have his meal changed to the fish dish.
His 2nd meal arrived even before mine did!
When it finally arrived, at least 10 minutes later than everyone elses', it was very good.
It was called a "Mixed Grill", and consisted of a lamb chop, pork tenderloin, veal and bratwurst, all grilled delectably, and served with delicious potato puffs. Worth waiting for!
Desserts of Chocolate & Vanilla New York Cheesecake and Chocolate Mousse were also very good.
Meals were always good in the Vista Dining room, but we were getting tired of the spotty service, the noise and the rushed atmosphere.
After perusing the menu for the following night (my gluten-free prerogative), both couples decided to make tomorrow a Lido Buffet night and take a break from the dining room.
Sometimes on the Noordam, there were so many interesting things to do we were hard pressed to choose. Tonight was one of those nights.
The evening show schedule conflicted with the Chocolate Extravaganza which we didn’t want to miss. However, we decided to give the show a chance and if it was good we’d stay, and if not, we’d leave for the Chocolate Buffet.
We never made it to the Chocolate Buffet.
“A Tribute to John Denver” was the title of the show, and the artist, unknown to us, was Jim Curry. Although we liked John Denver, we didn’t think anyone could do justice to his music. We were wrong.
We were hooked from the first note when Jim Curry walked out on stage and opened his mouth. Jim looks like John Denver, dresses in his relaxed country style, and best of all, sings with John’s beautiful, clear voice.
He had shivers going down my spine, and rekindled in me a lost fascination with an artist who was so ahead of his time, writing and singing about love, hope and environmental issues.
Accompanying Jim’s performance was a visual presentation on a big screen behind him. Here, were slides and video of all the things John Denver sang about; The Rocky Mountains, Colorado, nature in all it’s glory, eagles and wolves, horses, and most moving of all, the John Denver Sanctuary nature park in Aspen Colorado where giant boulders are etched with the lyrics of his songs.
In all, a truly wonderful, moving performance, and one of the most enjoyable cruise shows I’ve ever seen.
After the show Jim made himself available to meet the audience in the lobby, and we talked with him a while and bought his CD. A truly personable guy.
Please check out his website and watch his videos, I think you will agree.
******************************** John Denver Tribute Show Starring Jim Curry
Well, that ended another wonderful day on board the Noordam.
Our visits to the beautiful Caribbean ports were over and we were on our way back to Ft. Lauderdale, but we still had two glorious Sea Days to look forward to.
It was off to bed to see what interesting Towel Animal awaited us.
Either our room steward was inexperienced at making towel animals, or he had a warped sense of humour, but tonight’s effort looked suspiciously like a Muppet to me!
Last edited by rollerdonna; May 23rd, 2010 at 11:39 AM.
Reason: spell check