We boarded the Noordam around noon on 23 Dec 11 and had a small wait until our room was ready. We had a superior veranda suite and was very pleased with the size of the room. We had so much room we didn't know what to do with it. In the bathroom we loved the double sinks, the separate shower as well as the jetted tub/shower combo. My boyfriend and I were able to get ready at the same time without getting in each other way. The closets were big enough to hide all our suite cases and clothes. The balcony was so big it accommodated four chairs, a table to eat on and a side table. Our room stewards Aep and Hans were the bomb. They were available for anything we needed (I don't know when they slept). I always looked forward to coming back to the room to see what towel animal was waiting for me.
The staff were very friendly and personable. You could engage in conversations with anyone in the staff and you feel like you have known them for years. We had open seating andhad great servers except when we ate at table 4. The server never introduced himself to us and he appeared as if he really didn't want to serve us. I try not to complain when servers act ignorant but show them how displeased I am by either not eating there again or showing it in their tip. All I ask from my server is to be polite. The food was excellent from the omelets in the morning, the burgers at at lunch, the variety of dishes at dinner to the cookies and ice cream at night.
Our first stop was half moon cay and it was wonderful. You had so much to choose from to do. (Pay the extra for the shell). We had to tender to get there and it was not so bad a ride (I am terrified of the small boats considering I can't swim).
That night was formal night and it was nice to see others dressed up. The crew did an international Christmas program and it was nice to see all the different nationalities singing songs from their native countries. It was wonderful.
Our second stop was Turks and Caicos but did not stop because the weather did not cooperate and the captain came on and explained.
The entertainment staff were nice and I enjoyed them. The Hal Cats were excellent. Drew, our entertainment coordinator, was entertaining. Keep up the good work Drew. Reggie, our DJ, had the music bumping. Great job.
We also stopped at Samana Dominican Republic(Tender), Bonaire and Aruba. I loved Curaco. We were there from 0700-2300hrs. The floating bridge was the gateway to the other side and there was shopping galore and when nightfall came, the entertainment started. I wished we could have stayed over night.
We spent four days at sea (25, 27, 31 Dec 11 and 01 Jan 12) and there was so much to do from just laying around catching some sun to different activities to choose from. We had two more formal nights (27 Dec and 31 Dec). In the evenings, you could listen to the violinist, go to the piano bar, go to the disco, the sports bar, the casino, the explorers cafe for espresso, a good book, magazine or games. On New Years Eve, you had different choices on where to go for the count down. I was a little disappointed that the only place to get your hat or tierra were in the main dining room and everyone did not get one. They should have had different sections where you could get it especially if you ate in your room or the lido. It was nice to see the staff who were not working dressed up in their uniforms bringing in the new year.
We did the luggage direct program and it was worth it. It only took us 20 minutes to get off the boat and we didn't see our luggage again until we landed. Sweet!!! I truly felt spoiled on this boat. I I think I have become an Holland American girl.
I will never recommend somebody this ship. It was the worth experience in my life. Food in “ all you can eat” buffet is like food in High School Cafeteria. The shore excursions are TURIST TRAP.
At Palma de Majorca they took us to pearl factory trying to sell. We did not come from NYC to visit pearl factory. Then we spent 40 minutes across the street on bullring, witch is place for public urinate. Nice. We spent 1hour and 20 minutes in cathedral where other people spend 20 minuets and cost for public ticket only 4 euro.
Out of 4 h we spent 1 ½ h in the bus and did not see Palma de Majorka. Shame!!!It was insult and abuse. And when you complain, they ignore you. It was like robbery. They spoiled our vacation.
Our 5th cruise, This was 3 weeks mediterranian may 2014 from Barcelona to Venice. Everything was Perfect, We were on the 5th level which has slightly bigger balconys (the lowest balcony level). The boat was full but never had any waits except a few times for dinner (we had open seating). The buffett was not bad but we loved the normal restaurant. Most always all was perfect- When you order a steak medium rare it is always so. There was always room at all shows and pool areas and whirlpool. We like Celebrity a tiny bit more. I can not say enough that this was way excellent in all aspects.
Below are copies of the note I sent to Holland Americal line and
their response on the 10-DAY SOUTHERN CARIBBEAN SEAFARER January
18th January 28th on Noordam:
> From: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> Sent: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 10:16 AM
> To: Guest Relations (HAL)
> Cc: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> Subject: 10-DAY SOUTHERN CARIBBEAN SEAFARER January 18th January 28th on Noordam
We were very disappointed with our most recent voyage on the Noordam. There were some very good points about the ship as well, but the overall impression I/we had with the Noordam and Holland America was negative.
I would like to start with the GOOD Ray and Vincent at the front desk/Purser's desk were excellent, providing as much assistance as possible with a smile. The Ship it self was clean and in good repair and well handled, both in our cabin and the public areas. The Spa/Gym staff were excellent, especially Saundra the leader of the morning Stretch and exercise class!! (and having these two sessions each morning from 7:00-7:30 and 7:30-8:00 as free classes was GREAT) The dinning room food was excellent as
However, our vacation was overshadowed by several events starting even before we boarded:
The first being our dinning room seating. When we booked initially, we were unable to get first seating (5:45) and were wait listed. Our travel agent suggested we try back on the day the final portion of the fare was due, which we did. We were able to obtain first seating (and it was reflected on the web site.) When we did the original submission of our documents to check in, 1st seating was displayed. About five days before sailing we went to print more luggage tags and noticed we had been re-assigned to open seating for dinner. We called Holland America Line and were told there was nothing they could do and we would have to call our travel agent, which we did. After spending close to an hour on the phone with our travel agent, we were able to again have 1st seating in the dinning room. (And again, we checked the next day to be sure it was on our reservation on the web site and it was.) When we came to board and were issued our ID cards, printed on the face of the card was open seating for dining. We immediately brought this to the attention of the agent that was checking us in. She, rather curtly said there was nothing she could do and we would have to handle it 'ship board' by talking with the dinning room manager. (In the past we have had to do this to get early seating and it always involves a "gratuity" of around $50.00 and since we worked at getting first seating before the cruise we had no intention giving anyone a gratuity for this again.) At my insistence, the manager on duty came over and I explained the problem. He also said there was nothing he could do and the only way to fix it was to do it on board.
I was surprised that a member of management was not empowered to resolve issues of this nature in a better way. He said my only alternative would be to call the 800 customer service number, which he provided. I did so ASAP right there and then (I think to the manager's surprise) I talked with a gentleman who claimed he was in the President's office. He also said that we should just go and talk with the dinning room manager. I again explained that fixing it with the dinning room manager would involve cash payments and about 1-2 hours of time. I pressed him with "if you are in the president's office, you mean you can't solve a simple customer's issue like dinning room seating?" he then put me on hold to "check something" and after a few minutes he came back and said that we should check with "Annie", the guest relation's manager on the ship and she would resolve our issue. I thanked him, boarded the ship, and went straight to the front desk/purser's office and asked for Annie. After a 10-15 minute wait, Annie came out and introduced herself. We explained our issue and she called the Dinning room, and after some discussion, we were granted 1st seating and had our ID cards re-issued, but not before Annie informed us that it was not the ship's fault that we did not have 1st seating. In all of this, we managed to miss the Mariner's Lunch in the dining room. We were the 7th, 8th and 9th people at a table for eight, so it was crowded, but our dinner companions were great and we all enjoyed each other's company each night at dinner (there were always empty tables in the dinning room and we heard from many others that they also wanted early seating and could not get it, but this has been an ongoing issue, since anytime dining was introduced and a different matter all together.) In all of this, the overall attitude that we encountered, both on the phone before the cruise, at check in and on board was:
It's not my fault
There is nothing I can do about it
It's not my issue
Where I was expecting the attitude of "How can I fix/resolve your problem." Which to me would be a signature of excellence.
The 1st night of the cruise, we received to notes about the deep sea fishing excursion we booked for a member of our group. One of the notes said the boat was out of commission and the other said here is your ticket for the excursion. Neither were date/time stamped so we did not know which to believe. We called and were not able to reach the excursion's desk (they were closed) We went down to the front desk to ask. They did not have a clue on which was correct, had no information other than the schedule for the next day with a mark next to the deep sea fishing and said there was no way to contact the excursion people to ask. (Where they were very nice and trying to be helpful, apparently they were not empowered to call/page/locate the excursion people to get an answer to our question) They suggested that we plan on the excursion, just in case it was "on", which we did and the it was (thank god we did plan) We also noticed that there were several people signed up for Deep Sea Fishing that did not show up at the boat, and we wondered if they had the same issues we did. Again we had the attitude of "there is nothing I can do/that I am allowed to do, to resolve the issue."
One night we ordered an in-room movie to be delivered. After the phone hold wait of 3-4 minutes they came on the line, took our order and said the movie would be there in 10-15 minutes, even though we offered to pick it up. After waiting over an hour for the movie, we called again (same 3-4 minute hold) they were surprised that we did not have the movie, then put us on hold trying to find out what happened, then we were told they thought the movie had been delivered asking us to be sure (we checked the outside bin, even though we were in the room the whole time, it was not there) then waited while they tried to figure out what happened. We never got the movie.
The times and locations of the ship board activities were poorly thought out nothing scheduled then several things scheduled at the same time. Locations and times of things like team trivia, and shipboard movies were greatly varied, even thought it was always well attended (when we could locate it) The quantity of the activities was very low. The late night Dessert event was held in the atrium, which was way too small. It was cramped, on three levels, and the A/C could not keep up we left quickly, without sampling much (We almost felt like the venue was chosen so people would leave quickly without partaking in the dessert buffet.
The movies around the pool on the Lido deck could not be heard/understood, ruining the movie. This is a BAD place to present movies and we declined to view any other movies on the pool deck. When we mentioned it to the Cruise Director, he said he knew and there was nothing that could be done. (Notice the theme of "not my fault, nothing I can do...")
The following items are just notes/comments about other things we think you should be aware of that normally we would not bother to write about, but since I am already writing, I am including them as well:
The Cruise Director, (Sean Michaels?) was the poorest dressed Cruise Director I can remember, who told very old, poor jokes to an audience that clearly, after the first couple of times he spoke, didn't what to hear them. I may be an old fogey, but on formal night, I would expect the Cruise Director to be turned out in a well fitting Tuxedo, complete with bow tie, cummerbund/vest studs and cuff links. This was not the case and it was noticed by many of the guests.
In the past, participation in trivia, game shows... yielded some nice mementos of the trip. This time, either they were not given or they were so poor as to be not wanted who really wants another pin... We can remember the days of the Dam Dollars and ending up with a "dam ships" sweat shirt, hat or t-shirt and we miss them.
Room service was prompt in the morning, delivering our wake up coffee. However, it took them forever to retrieve the tray (sometimes as late as 4:00 pm, even though we called early to to have them picked up) We honored the request not to put them in the hallways, but we were tempted to several times because of the delay in getting them.
Calling anyone on the ship's telephone resulted in always being put on hold for 1-5 minutes, regardless of who we were trying to reach.
The tenders on half moon cay were some of the worst boat handlers I have ever encountered. They struck both the dock and the ship very hard, jarring the passengers and alarming some of them. The weather was not particularly rough or windy, just poor drivers (When the Ship's tenders were used at Samana, they were smooth and gentle, in worse conditions...) Where this did not affect our enjoyment much, I thought I would note this for you, since they are outside contractors and you need to know the quality (or lack there of) of the contractors.
This was my 3rd cruise on a Holland America ship in the past five years and each one has been a step down in customer service from the one before. This is an alarming trend and feel that as a loyal customer, I need to make you aware of them. If this trend continues, Holland America will no longer be my cruise line of choice.
On 2/11/2013 11:50 AM, Guest Relations (HAL) wrote:
Thank you for your email to Holland America Line's Guest Relations Department.
We are committed to providing our guests with the highest level of service, and appreciate the effort it takes to write to us. Please be assured that we respond to all correspondence in the date order it is received. At times it can take several weeks to properly investigate and research some issues to provide a proper response. We appreciate this opportunity to review your correspondence and thank you for your patience.
You will be hearing from us soon.
If you find it necessary to contact us in the meantime, please refer to your booking number.
Office of the President
Holland America Line
We had arranged our flights through Holland America, and everything went smoothly. We were met at the airport in Rome by the HAL representatives, who were very helpful in getting our luggage onto the truck to the port, and to our bus. It is about a 45 minute drive from the airport to Civitiveccia, where the ship is docked. Once at the pier, we quickly received our ship's card and were on board. Unlike many cruises, we were able to go to our cabin, even though it was before noon. After admiring our cabin and spacious balcony, we headed to the upper deck casual restaurant for lunch.
The Noordam, as sister ship to the Westerdam, on which we'd sailed a few years ago, was a little easier to navigate than a brand new ship, but we still were lost some of the time. One thing that we really enjoyed, which a lot of ships no longer have, is a wrap-around deck for walking. We only got to use that one the 2 at-sea days, but it is really nice. That deck also has deck chairs for lounging, which we did afew times.
We liked the "open seating" dining that we opted for. We had a table for 2 twice, and "sharing" tables the rest of the time & had great table mates. Fixed seating is nice, if the mix is good & most of the time, we've had good luck, but there have been some that haven't been so great. We ended up missing three of the shows in the main theater since we were having such great conversations. One other nice thing about open seating is that you don't feel like you have to leave the table so that the waiter can clean the table for the second seating.
Our favorite entertainment venue was the Adagio Strings, a classical quartet, two men & two women who were wonderful. They played in a fairly small lounge, but one night they were in a larger theater doing Vivaldi's 4 Seasons concerto and it was fantastic. They had a great comedian/magician who was amazing, and we also saw one of the singer/dancer shows.
Our first port was Dubrovnik, Croatia. We took a tour that included a performance by an ethnic singing/dancing group at an outdoor theater. They were great, but all I could think of was how hot they must be. It was very hot/humid in the outdoor theater & at least we were in the shade. They were in long pants or skirts and long sleeved blouses/shirts. From there, we walked through the city's "Old Town," with its fortified walls, churches, monasteries & shopping areas. People on the tour had an option to be dropped off there to shop, after visiting the beach area, but we opted to return to the ship...just too hot!! From the Old Town, we went to a seaside resort area and relaxed by the beach area in the shade. It was beautiful! That afternoon, we went to the pool and it was nice, though a little crowded. The Noordam did have an "adults only" pool at the aft end of the ship, which was nice.
On the 9th, we were in Corfu, Greece, and we took a tour of the "Palaces of Corfu," two residences with a lot of history. The places were beautiful and it was interesting to hear about the area.
The next day, we docked in Katakolon, Greece, where we took a bus tour out to the sie of the original Olympics and the Olympic village. It is fascinating to see all the excavations that have been discovered and restored. It was a huge area, and the guide was very good at explaining everything. I'm not a huge Olympics fan, but the history is fascinating.
Saturday's port was Santorini, Greece, the one that we'd been waiting for. We visited Oia, a town way up on a hilltop and looks like the setting for the movie, "Mamma Mia." the views were breathtaking! This is the place where the artwork/photos must be taken for travel brochures for the Greek Isles...beautiful whitewashed houses & churches, with ocean blue roofs. They also had a lot of nice shops.
We visited a winery on Santorini and sampled three wines, yes at 9 AM...and they were all delicious. Better than the wine was the fantastic view from their patio. The ship looked gorgeous in the harbor. That was the only port that we had to tender to shore.
On Sunday, we were in Kusadasi, Turkey, where we took a tour to Ephesus. The restored ruins there were even more amazing than the ones at Olympus. This was our only afternoon tour, leaving at 12:30 PM. I was concerned at first that the heat might be worse, but it was fine, and there was a lot of shade. It was nice to sleep later, since our other tours before & after were EARLY, assembling in the show lounge before 8 AM...no sleeping in for those!
Following the tour, we were taken to a shop for a "rug demonstration." It was fascinating to watch the worker weave a rug, and lovely to watch the workers lay out the gorgeous rugs of various sizes, but then they put on a pretty agressive sales pitch that wasn't at all enjoyable. We had thought some of the designs were lovely, and might have bought a smaller size rug, even just to display on a wall, but the overwhelming aggressiveness of the salesman was a huge turnoff, so we just left. We walked through the shopping bazaar outside of the port area and found that ALL the sales people in that town in Turkey were super aggressive. I might have looked at some of the cloth purses that looked nice, but I didn't want anyone hanging over me trying to make a sale. It was a relief to get back to the ship, but we did enjoy the trip to Ephesus.
The next day, we toured Corinth and it was kind of an anti-climax, since the excavated ruins there are nowhere as impressive as Ephesus and Olympus, but it was interesting and they had a very nice, informative museum.
Our last at sea day was spent mostly on our balcony in the afternoon after walking on deck in the morning. It was another day when we really appreciated being able to sleep in. We had taken advantage of an upgrade offer from HAL to go from a Verandah cabin, to a Superior Suite. It was great having a much larger cabin & especially the extra room on the balcony. We had wicker furniture with comfortable cushions, not just plastic chairs as we've had on other lines.
Our last port was Messina, Italy where we had booked a tour called "In the Steps of the Godfather." We had liked that one, not so much since it went to the villages where the movie(s) were filmed, but because the villages sounded interesting. They were, indeed, very interesting. Both were at the top of the mountainous island of Sicily, and on the trip up to the second village, we had a fantastic view of a beach resort.
We docked back at Civitiveccia on Thursday, and took a bus to Rome and our hotel, where we spent two additional nights before flying home.
I can definitely recommend both the Noordam, and this itinerary. We spoke with several people who were doing back to back cruises on the Noordam's other itinerary to the Western Mediterranean, making it a 20 night cruise. The Noordam staff was wonderful, no complaints at all.
In September 2011 my wife and I boarded the Holland America ship Noordam for a 10 day cruise to Greece. This was our 19th cruise but our first on a Holland America ship. We had been upgraded to a suite and were happy about the spacious accommodations. In fact, on the first day we were talking about becoming regular Holland America cruisers.
On either the second or third day, we began to notice the smell of sewage in our room and in the passageway outside our room. It seemed to get worse as time went on. I began to make sure that the bathroom door was closed at all times thinking that the smell was coming from there. It did not help and I became nauseous from the smell. I called the room steward and he said the smell was coming from the AC unit and he would notify engineering. Engineering came and said that they would notify housekeeping.
The oder seemed to go away for a day and then came back as bad as ever. Once again, I called to complain. Some people came to investigate but I got norelief from the problem. I was only able to tolerate being in the room by using a chair to hold the door open to the veranda. On the last day, before we docked, the odor went away.
We took a land tour and sat at a table with another couple that were on our ship. We all said we were having a nice time on the cruise until I said that I had only one problem: "the smell in our room." With that, the man went into a rant about how awful the smell was in his room and that he would never go on another Holland America cruse. I asked if he had complained and he said no. I told him that I had and it did no good.
I know that there is a tendency to blame the cruise staff for these problems and I want to say that I place no blame on any of the crew. In fact, at all times, they were friendly, courteous and respectful. Clearly, the blame for our terrible experience rests on top management for allowing such conditions to continue.
A mediocre experience.
This was our 3rd cruise with Holland America; the entire experience did not measure up to our previous cruises.
Definitely, there were very good things: attention for safety and infection control was outstanding. Every single corner of the ship was sparkling clean. The decorations on the ship were of the best of taste (the Florentine mosaic table in the library, the valuable pieces of Dutch art, or Turkish carpets, the old books, etc) The suites were great: lots of storage, and a large veranda, on deck 6. We were able to get in the very moment we were on board The cabin and dining room stewards were indeed very professional. Room service worked well The good habit of HAL to welcome back the tourists after their shore excursion with cold towels, lemonade or cold water was a very nice touch; we noticed that other ships in the port (from Cunard, or Royal Caribbean) did not do that for their passengers.
Unfortunately, the list of "not so great", even negative things , is longer. Embarkation was less smooth than accustomed to. It was a very hot day of August, and everybodywould have appreciated some complimentary cold water or lemonade. Food in "Lido" was mediocre. For infection control purposes, food was handled by the personnel; they were not always in the best mood. There are no more plastic trays, that makes difficult to carry the food to the table. The personnel was less eager than we were used to to help the older/disabled passengers. Food in main dining room looked very nice; main course though was too salty, most of the time. The shore excursions were expensive. We were a party of 5 (15- 68 yr); we planned our own land trips, at a fraction of cost. There were much less fresh flowers arrangements that we were used to. The entertainment was probably the lowest point of the cruise. The string trio in the Explorer lounge was sub mediocre. Most shows in the Vista lounge were mediocre one man shows, the dancers and singers were OK, but the quality of productions was almost embarrassing, obviously done on a very low budget. "Very low budget", or, in better words "much lower budget than before" is the general note on board of Noordam in 2011.
This was a first time cruise for my wife and I starting off from Ft. Lauderdale for a 10 day cruise. Stops included Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, St. Thomas USVI, Dominica, Curacao, and Aruba.
Dominica was the port that we liked the most. We took the Rain Forest Tram tour, and it was a really fun time and the tour guides were very friendly and made sure everybody had a good time. All of the stops were great with clear blue waters. Snorkeling was very good at Half Moon Cay and Aruba.
When we first pulled up in the Ramada Inn bus, the lines for embarkation looked long and disorganized. But as soon as we were handed over to the staff of Holland America, things changed very quickly. There were many red jacketed people there to help and point us in the right direction. Within 20 minutes we were welcomed onboard the ship. The entertainment had already started with a band playing and a crew wanting to serve.
At 1:30 pm the announcement came that cabins were ready, so we made our way to our cabin on the UpperPromenade deck. The cabin was larger than expected with the balcony on this deck being about 2 feet wider than on the others to help cover the open deck below, but it is a great benefit for those on deck 4. The cabin was just as described, which is not always the case for rooms. The bed had a pillow top mattress and top quality bedding.
Dining on the Noordam has many options. We ate in the Lido dining room most of the time. The food is the exact same menu as in the Vista dining room, but you are able to see the dishes before ordering. We did dine in the Vista a couple of times, but preferred the Lido.
The staff were so friendly and helpful. The Pinnacle Grill was as nice as any five-star restaurant on land.
The entertainment was very good. The cast of the ms Noordam, which is a 14 member cast of singers and dancers, were really good. Many of the HAL ships do not get very good reviews, but that is not the case with this cast on the Noordam. With featured male and female singers, along with a male and female lead singer, dancers backed them up with 4 each of male and female dancers, they perform some very good shows. The guest performers were also of top quality. As for music, Caren and the HALcats were everywhere from poolside to lounges, and they sounded good no matter where they played. Dave the piano man put on a fun show every night. There was some type of music or show every night for everybody's taste, from a string quartet to piano players, to disco.
One of my favorite things to do each day was that the Exploration Café personnel would give a 30 minute talk about each stop, or a history of the area in general. Some of the talks included Rum Runners, The Real Pirates of the Caribbean, and Under the Keel. These were very informative and interesting even to those not that interested in history.
Holland America's silent disembarkation works very well. You are given a time slot and they leave it up to you to be there. No calling out of group numbers or colors every few minutes; just a smooth fast-moving line all the way to the airport bus.
Friday, January 2 Picked up at 7:00am for 9:30 flight to Ft. Lauderdale. It was snowing and 30 degrees. Arrived 12:30 in 80 degree weather. Stayed at a Marriott, which takes its customers to their ships for free.
Saturday, January 3 Arrived at the ship, Holland America's USS Noordam, about two years old. Dark Blue hull with white superstructure. One of the first on board, we went immediately to the spa to make various appointments. I'm not a spa person, so I passed. Arrived at rooms about 2:30. Before the market crash, I, as usual, was feeling flush, so I got a suite for us and an outside balcony for the kids. The suite was at least twice the size of a normal stateroom, came with a private lounge for suite holders, a Captain's welcoming cocktail party, free laundry service, and other meaningless BS. But I loved the size of the room. Ship left the dock shortly after 5:00pm. The dining room has two fixed hour dinner seatings and a dining when you want to seating. We took the second. The room was three floors, with fixed dining on the first andthird. The third floor was crowned by murano glass-like flowers that were actually made of some kind of plastic, but looked authentic. Attended the captain's cocktail party. Melanie wore a Maori hook necklace (looks kind of like a reverse "s") on a rope around her neck. I had been trying to identify the captain's accent and asked him where he was from. I guessed Australia, but he was from New Zealand and immediately noticed Mel's necklace. That got them off talking, and Mel identified herself as a rugby player and a New Zealand All Blacks fan. The two bonded immediately!
Sunday & Monday, January 4 & 5 Two days at sea. The first evening was a formal night, Phil and I in tuxes. We ran into our biggest controversy of the cruise, the fact that one had to be 21 to drink. Of course Phil had expected to be able to drink once we entered international waters, but that wasn't the case. That night, our table service was very good, and we had a lot of fun kibitzing with the crew. They suggested we come back the next night, so I went to the private concierge for suite holders who reserved the same table for the rest of the cruise. It became the only place where Phil could get a drink with no hassle. As an aside, their dessert menu always had a "shooter" of the day. So, of course, most nights, Dad and the kids enjoyed an after dinner zowie!
Tuesday, January 6 Arrived in St. Thomas, USVI. Holland America and other premium cruise lines use the new Crown Bay dock, leaving the old one to Carnival and its ilk, much to the consternation of the souvenir sellers at the old one. We were picked up by a very nice older driver, who took us to Coki Beach, a snorkeling venue, and an aquarium. On the way, we learned that there were a total of nine cruise ships there, adding some 20,000 visitors to the island. The beach was a sea of humanity, but the water was 78 degrees. Snorkeling was OK, including the sighting of an octopus, but the crowds made it impossible to relax. On the return, we HAD to stop at McDonalds so that Phil could get his fix.
Wednesday, January 7 Dominica, with the accent on the "ni." The kids did a zip line adventure, while mom and dad tubed down a river. We had guides, but I still went ass over applecart through one of the rapids. Upon return, we all went to the local hotel for some local beer, Kuhbuli. When I went into the bar to order, I noticed that the TV, instead of carrying CNN, was carrying Al Jazeera. The island is mostly rain forest. No beaches, little snorkeling and no resorts -- probably the only one of its kind in the Caribbean.
Thursday, January 8 Granada, with long second "a." I was immediately corrected by our guide in pronouncing the island. I assumed ahh. Anyway, Melanie and I had our own excursion, a climb to see the seven sisters, a series of waterfalls in the highlands of the island. It was quite a workout. The guide/driver talked about a 72 year old man who had recently made the hike; I waited until I had actually made it before telling him my age. Mud steps were carved into the sides of the hills, mostly going up. If you saw Lord of the Rings, I felt like Frodo, climbing the Mountain of Doom. I stopped several times to catch my breath and rest, but we made it to the first two waterfalls -- a great view, lovely pools, etc. Mel swam in one of them, freezing her ass off. It was there that we learned the other falls were accessible only to those who were willing to ascend on all fours and return the same way, who were dressed properly to resist the cutting of the saw grass, or who were willing to dive from pool to pool back down to where we were now standing. I took a pass, as did Melanie. We then had to return, and it seemed as if I were still going uphill instead of down. But, at the end of the hike, Melanie was quite proud of my being able to do it with her, and I got TWO bottles of the local beer, Carib.
Friday, January 9 Martinique -- well, of course, our favorite island. But no excursion. Not enough time. Besides I had to track down my favorite Martiniquan rums!!! and Mel had to have a typical Parisian lunch of bread and cheese.
Saturday, January 10 St Maarten/St.Marten, half French, half Dutch. Docked on the Dutch side. I had arranged for a car and driver for half a day. We were met by a young man, with no personality, who knew little about the island, except for where the tax building, police stations, and school buildings were. He also turned out to be a Muslim, as he reminded us too often that he didn't drink. Anyway, we ended up on the French side for a quick lunch, and returned to the Dutch side for some shopping. Not me! Phil and I found a local bar and had a couple of beers. The interesting thing about this island is that from it you can ferry to Anguilla, British, and to St. Barts, French.
Sunday, January 11 At Sea. Finished reading my second book and started the one that I held for last, Jon LeCarre's new one. Last Formal night of three. By this time, Phil had become one of the finalists on the Ship's karaoke competition, had developed a reputation for being a wild and out of control, though charming, dancer, and hung out with the only two or three females that were his age. Also by this time, Melanie had made friends with the young spa ladies, and they partied into the night the last few evenings.
Monday, January 12 Holland America, like many cruise lines, has its own private island, this one called Half Moon Cay, but it's a part of a larger, empty island in the Bahamas. They have a beautiful beach, a place for kids, and some shelter from the sun, a barbeque, and some water toys. There are also "cabins" available that come with a butler, so that you don't have to go to the barbeque house and mingle with the commoners. Interestingly enough, even though they are all open ended, they also have an air conditioning unit. Phil managed to befriend the only girls whose parents rented one. There are only 15 or so spread around the beach. I opted for renting a sunfish sailboat, and setting off for parts unknown. Of course, since it's only 10 ft. long, I could see all of the unknown parts. In the course of turning a sailboat, one has two options: turn with the wind in front of you, or behind you -- the safer being the first of the two. As I turned into the wind and came about, I forgot to let go of the line attached to the sail. A gust of wind turned the boat over, so for the second time in a week, I got dunked. I was taught how to right the ship, so to speak, though I was quite unsuccessful in doing so. Anyway, I determined to get back on the horse, and sailed around the bay for another 15 or 20 minutes before calling it a day. Left with a sunburn and a bruised ego.
Tuesday, January 13 Ft. Lauderdale. Saw both the Queen Mary and the Queen Victoria docked ahead of us, as well as the ship known as The World, a condominium ship that takes its owners literally all over the world. We exited the ship, and took our last excursion to an Everglades venue for an airboat ride to find alligators. Unfortunately, there was no sun, so the buggers were hiding. Though, we were fortunate enough to see 2 before a second airboat came roaring by.
My wife and I were on our 16th cruise sailing from Ft. Lauderdale on Thanksgiving Day for 10 days visiting St. Lucia, Tortola, Barbados, St Kitts, Martinique and Half Moon Cay. This was our second trip on Holland America and we are both 45 years old. This review will be detailed for those that want specific information.
We stayed at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort and Spa prior to the cruise. They have a restaurant called 3030 which is one of the top places to eat in Ft. Lauderdale. We had a fantastic meal at 3030 which was one of the highlights of the trip. My wife also used the Marriott spa for her seaweed wrap. The cost is cheaper than you will pay on the Noordam and includes a message jet bath which the ship doesn't. I set this up in advance and my wife loved it. The Marriott has a private beach and a tropical pool which were both excellent. A great start to a vacation.
Ports We really enjoyed all the ports and particularly enjoyed the "Boat Yard" beach in Barbados and Cane Garden in Tortola. The Boat Yardis $4 per person by cab and provides a free ride back to the ship. Entrance cost is $15 per person and includes chairs, umbrella, choice of free drink and unlimited use of non motorized beach items. In Tortola we got off the boat and found a 30 person taxi waiting. He was charging $6 per person for Cane Garden Bay Beach. We spent 5 ½ hours at Cane Garden and found plenty of taxis for the return trip ($6) back to the ship. Chairs are $5 per person and several friendly vendors will set you up right on the beach (umbrellas were $10). The beach has plenty of shade if you don't want to pay for an umbrella. We had lunch at Sharkys on the beach which had a great lobster salad and cold beer.
Embarkation We arrived at the pier about 1:30 pm at the same time as a few buses from the airport. We found a line out the front door and thought we were in for a long wait. This was because the metal detector and x-ray machine are at the entrance which actually worked better. The line moved fairly quickly and the only snag was with the medical questionnaire. The lady who handled it was rude, didn't give instructions until you were at the point where you needed to have it filled out and just a pain in general. Not a big deal and we quickly filled it out while in line before getting to the check-in counter. Note: even when filling out everything on line "before" hand, you still have to have the immigration form in your cruise documents signed. They then write completed on a line across the top. The whole check in took about 30 minutes and because it was after 1pm we were able to go directly to our cabin and drop off carry on bags.
Crew I will say that we have seen several different types of crew members over the years. We have had crew members who do what is required only and those who go above and beyond especially with automatic tipping. The Noordam Cabin Stewards, Waiters, Assistant Waiters, pool and cleaning staff are all from Indonesia. Your bar staff is from the Philippines and your officers are mostly Dutch. All crew members are highly trained and it shows. We never heard the word "NO" and heard "Yes" to all requests. I had very high praises on the comment card and to some supervision about this very hard working crew. They smile all the time and will accommodate special request with a smile. Just ask if you want something and give them a little notice in the dining room and it's done. Service really makes HAL and out of 1900 passengers on board, 1300 were repeat customers. Many people have had comments about extra tipping, the extra cash given to an employee stays with that employee. The automatic tipping is pooled and distributed based on a formula. I was told that as long as you left the "service charge" as they call it alone, the crew kept the extra cash given.
Cabin We booked a "guarantee" inside and were upgraded to a large inside. The cabin had 3 separate closets, tie holder mounted to the door, shoe shine basket (for free shoe shine) a safe, plus plenty of space, once you placed the life jackets under the bed. Note there are two drawers under the end of the bed that pull out. You can easily place suitcases and life jackets under the bed to allow for more cabin space. The cabin has a hidden dirty laundry hamper located in the chair under the vanity/desk. You pull the seat top off the chair and place dirty laundry in it. It seals up and the chair slides right back under the vanity/desk. You also have a full mini bar located to the right of the vanity with the same pricing as the other ship bars. On the left of the vanity/desk a hidden compartment has a hair dryer and extra glasses for wine or champagne (a bottle opener and cork screw are provided with your ice bucket). The hair dry only plugs into the vanity and can't be used in the bathroom. Two HAL robes are provided and are a nice touch and so are the full size bath towels. HAL uses Elemis spa shampoo, body wash, conditioner, lotion and soap (replaced daily). They don't use those stupid wall mounted soap and shampoo dispensers. Beds were fantastic and the room was keep spotless.
Pool and Deck Space Plenty of deck chairs padded and non-padded. Chairs were always available at both pools and plenty of chairs were available in the shade. No signing out towels with a limit (like RCI -- so stupid) you just help yourself. This includes towels when going ashore which are not signed out with a threat of being charged if you don't return them. Other lines need to take note here, we are adults and don't need to sign out a towel. HAL gets points for having towel stations all over the ship. You don't have to go down to the pool to get towels from the upper decks (like RCI). They also have towels at the hot tubs and on the Promenade deck #5. The pool and decks are clean and trash is removed quickly to avoid stuff blowing all over (NCL is famous for this one). I was very pleased with the efficient deck staff and their willingness to get water or tea for seniors.
General Areas Spotless and public bathrooms have cloth hand towels which keep the restrooms clean. No paper towels anywhere and plenty of hand sanitizers. Bars and common areas have comfortable seating, the recliners are located in the observation lounge, great leather seating in Library/Coffee bar. In the stairwells between decks is some very nice art work of the different HAL ships through the years. Outside the shops on deck #3 is a touch screen interactive map showing ship location and other information about the ship.
Food This one is subjective but this is my opinion. The Noordam Lido has the same concept as you see on Costa and Carnival with the newer ships. The use of food stations which include a sandwich bar, pasta and pizza, salad, dessert and ice cream, Asian and sushi station and a hot food station. They have the stations located on both sides of the ship when in full service. They also have a taco, fajita, hamburger and hot dog station by the pool. What is different here is the execution. You are served most of your food and several things are cooked at the food station limiting people handling items and keeping food fresh. All plates are served covered to keep food hot until you return to your table. In the mornings most stations cook eggs, make toast and have basics along with the specialty items. This keeps lines down because you have multiple egg stations going at the same time. They have three special breakfast items daily plus all the basics. They have a great waffle station and an eggs benedict station which had some nice combinations. During the day, tea and water are served table side so you don't have to get up for a refill. Juices are available from 6am to 6pm at the ice cream station (just ask the attendant). Free fresh squeezed orange juice is available in the morning which is not the case on most lines. I found limited lines and the Lido staff assists with carrying trays and keep lines moving. This concept is less of a buffet and I found the food quality to be very good. Plus not as much food sits out and people handling items is kept to a minimum.
The dining room food was on a 20 day menu cycle which gives better variety on longer trips. The lobster was excellent because we asked in advance for it to be steamed, not broiled. The prime rib and all steaks were very good. The Coho salmon was good and the Noordam uses large shrimp, not the mini shrimp used by other lines. All the deserts were lighter (less sugar) than I have seen on other ships. The sugar free items were pretty good and the ice cream selection was nice. Fresh fruits were top notch! We did assigned second seating and had a table for two (plenty of them) and had fantastic service. I didn't notice any major waits for the "as you wish dining" but didn't use it. We also skipped the specialty restaurant Pinnacle Grill which I never saw even close to full. Overall food was very good.
Spa/Gym/Pools The gym was very nice, good sized with most of the standard equipment, classes and a great view. A nice touch is the cold towels available in the refrigerator after your work out. The Spa is very nice and the girls are very friendly. We only used the hydro pool and the relaxation room (a hidden gem with a great view and chairs that will make you fall asleep). The sauna and locker rooms are complementary and so is the gym. The hydro pool can be purchased with packages or just used at a rate of $20 a day. That includes use of the robes, slippers, showers and changing area. We chose the day pass and it was nice, but, I would not get the whole week. Pools are not sea water and the main pool (top) was closed and opened according to weather conditions. The whirlpool closest to the spa has foot jets and seats that fit the body.
Entertainment The Vegas acts were very good and vary from cruise to cruise. We had a comedian, classical pianist who did magic and a juggler. The dancers had nice sets and a great theater and several production shows. Two male dancers destroyed some classic songs and several of the female dancers were a bit chunky (which was something I had seen in other reviews and made me laugh). Overall it was fine and we went to most shows. The crew also has a show which is popular.
Overall this is a great ship and I found numerous people under 40 who were trying cruising for the first time. It is true that most of the ship is over the age of 55, but I found the older group to be fun, interesting and respectful. So this ship is a winner for all ages.