We're Copper 4-star Mariners in our 60s and this was our fifth Noordam. We've sailed Zuiderdam (11 times, our other fave), the old Noordam, old Westerdam, Zaandam, Maasdam, several on RCI, Celebrity & Princess... 30 all day. The ship is our destination, and on HAL we always experience the finest in service and accommodations... that's why we keep coming back.
EMBARKATION DAY: After two weeks of agonizing about the non-availability of a Suite Upgrade, we decided to enjoy our SS with the angled veranda and never, ever again, play the upgrade waiting game. Our nerves were shot.
The flight to FLL the previous day was uneventful, and our stay at LaQuinta was comfortable. The shuttle took us to Red Lobster for our traditional pre-cruise lobster fest, and I retired early while Jim wrestled with the remote control (why don't they give you a TV guide?)
We arrived at Pier 26 at 12:30 and because we're 4-star Mariners, were allowed priority check-in, and, for some reason, priority boarding. We were in our cabin at 12:50. One of our CruiseCritic group made a reservation for a 10-top in my name, but the Dining Room host had no record of it, and we were seated with 3 other couples for the first of many lovely meals.
After lunch we were greeted by our room steward and told that we "were moved". It seems that a couple on the second leg of their Collector's Cruise had taken ill and left the ship, so Hotel Manager Jessica Schumann assigned their stateroom to us. When we went to the Neptune to change our keys, we were greeted by our old friend, Franz! He has been our Concierge for 3 or 4 sailings, and was amazing help to me with the arrangements for our CruiseCritic event.
It was a bit awkward at the Passenger Emergency Drill, because our cabin number had not been changed on the manifest, and when our number AND NAMES were called over and over, it took awhile to convince the attendance-takers that we were there!
We stopped in at the Suite Cocktail Party for a short time. Since Jim wanted to enter the Hold'em tournament, we dined in the Lido and off to the Casino we went. We peeked in at the "Let Us Entertain You" show, which was basically the same as last November, so we didn't stay. In the Casino we met several dealers & supervisors who we knew from the last cruise, and it made it so much more personable at the tables. I won a nice pile of chips, so now I am playing with THEIR money!
DAY 2 - At Sea: We had an awesome Meet 'n' Greet... I generally arrive about 30 minutes early to see that everything is set up properly, but let me tell you... Ivan the Beverage Manager (assisted by Sous Chef Jonathan) had absolutely everything under control, and Executive Chef Thomas Schumann stopped by to make certain the arrangements were to his liking. I don't know exactly who to 'blame' for this, but this was by far the most elaborately designed event I have ever hosted. Rather than a simple table with a coffee urn, tea bags and a tray of cookies, we were treated to a beautifully presented array of beverages, pastries (both sweet and sugar-free), fruit kabobs, and both white and dark chocolate fountains. In addition, we had nearly unlimited trays of Mimosas and Bloody Marys served by our bartender Ronald, and servers Oscar and Ann.
Out of the 88 cruisers on our CruiseCritic Roll Call, we easily had 70 attend the event. I have never hosted a 'standing room only' M&G, and I must say it was VERY enjoyable. We were joined by Jessica Schumann the Hotel Manager, Shane Michaels the Cruise Director, Annie Sy the Guest Relations Manager, Ivan the Beverage Manager, the Housekeeping Manager, and Renee the Onboard Events Manager. We had a nice Grab Bag exchange and went 45 minutes over the allotted time, If there hadn't been other events scheduled, we'd still be there.
Having failed at the Blackjack tournament, we retired to our cabin for one of many-to-come naps.
Because this cruise started out like no other, we shook it up a little by enjoying our Formal Night Dinner in the Lido. Sous Chef Jonathan offered us delicious lamb chops and a dessert of Black Forest Cake.
We migrated to the Casino where I left Jim at the Hold'em table while I tore up the Craps table.
DAY 3 - At Sea: We ordered room service breakfast for 9:30 - 10:00. I awoke before that time, so I went to the Neptune for some delicious Latte and scored some smoked salmon & fixin's while I was there. As I struggled with a tray FULL of goodies, room service arrived at the same time. So, we had LOTS of breakfast. As soon as we finished, it was time to get ready for the Suite Luncheon in the Pinnacle.
They have changed to a seated, somewhat fixed menu rather than the elaborate buffet served in the past. The menu consisted of Mushroom Cappuccino; Blue Cheese crusted Beef Tenderloin with rosemary sauce; scalloped potatoes and baby vegetables; Grilled Tuna with a sesame soy lakbi on a bed of sauteed chinese vegetables; Spinach Quiche with goat cheese and sundried tomato; Chef's Tiramisu. We asked to be seated in Mario's section, and, as usual, his service was excellent.
After an unsuccessful attempt at the Hold'em table, we hung out in our cabin, napping and catching up on preseason baseball. We dined in the Lido again so we could get out in time for the comedy show with Jeff Nease. I have seen his show before, but he had a lot of new material and was hilarious, just as the Explorer said. Every seat was filled, and we did not mind at all standing in one little crowded spot for nearly an hour. REALLY FUNNY SHOW!
The Casino was right next door... the poker table was hot but dice were cold as ice, so I retired to this beautiful cabin to write to my CC friends. Tomorrow we'll probably stay aboard while the rest of us visit Sint Maarten.
DAY 4 - St. Martin: Had a spa day today - I enjoyed a 'Ladies Night' special - scalp massage; back, neck & shoulder massage; foot & ankle massage; express facial, collagen eye treatment, full body exfoliation and access to Thermal Suite & Hydro Pool for $99. Jim had a half-body & scalp massage for $75, but forgot his swim suit, so couldn't use the Thermal Suite. I get to use his credit later in the week.
We had to skip the VIP cocktail party because of the timing with Martin Brock's Illusion Show and Jim's Hold'em game. We dined in the Lido again, and I must say that the diners in the section with the white tablecloths got much more attention from the stewards than those of us who could only find tables in the other section. When we finally got someone to clean up a spill, he promised to replace the item, then disappeared. How I loooooooooong to dine in the Vista Dining Room. Jim may simply have to skip one night at the poker table.
We sat through Martin Brock's magic show, which was boring and a total waste of time. Tonight was the Cool Caribbean Nights Party in the Casino, with drink specials and a drawing for something - after I won enough at the craps table I gave my ticket to Jim and came home.
DAY 5 - St. Lucia: I went ashore to the little shopping area at the pier (don't remember which pier, sorry) and found the same port stuff I've seen at other ports, just with a different island name on it. I did find a beautiful silver necklace, but it was $390 marked down to $215 and they wouldn't take $150 for it, so I decided I didn't like it that much after all. Now I'm sorry I didn't buy it.
We watched the scenic cruising toward Soufriere and the youths who dive for dollars. Captain Scott warned us not to throw anything to them, for fear they would be caught up in the intake, thrusters or azipods. Nobody told the children, though, because there were easily 8 boats full of them buzzing the ship.
We finally dined in the Main Dining Room - shared an 8-top with two other couples (one from our CC Roll Call) and had a fine meal. I had some lovely chilled Coconut Nutmeg soup and the Prime Rib with baked potato and skipped dessert. The movie "The Help" was showing in the Vista Lounge, so off we went to the Casino for the next 6 hours. This is why we sleep all day.
DAY 6 - Dominica: We had fully intended to take a tour of this island, as we have never seen it before. We didn't wake up until noon, lunched in the Lido, then the rain came, and I couldn't even get out to look for a new lanyard pin.
We dined in the Lido again, and had the most wonderful short ribs, fish, meat loaf, mashed potato and perfectly cooked baby carrots. As I left the Bistro line with my second helping of fish and carrots, I ran into Chef Thomas Schumann and complimented him on the fine dinner we were enjoying, He said, "but there is not much on your plate", and laughed when I told him it was my second time through the line.
We should have gone to the Variety Show, but instead the Casino took back much of the money I won there, so I came back home to watch "Dirty Dancing" on the DVD. Jim is still at the Hold'em table, so I guess I'll see him sometime tomorrow.
DAY 7 - St. Thomas: I awoke from a dream about filling out forms with numbers, and I needed to make a deadline of some kind, but didn't know what. After rummaging through my accumulation of papers I found the Express Luggage Form that was due today at noon. If you have never tried this service, you should. For $19 pp, under certain circumstances, you can leave your bags outside your cabin door at night and not have to deal with them until you get off your last plane. It's bad enough that 'they' make you leave 'their' ship, but that backbreaking struggle with your children, carryons, cases of liquor and finding a porter to locate your luggage in the vast expanse of warehouse, paying the duty guys, waiting in line for customs, finding a cab/shuttle, standing in line OUTSIDE IN 90 DEGREE HEAT at the airport is more than I can stand anymore. So, I turned in my form on time and all will be well with my world come Debarkation Day.
I enjoyed my traditional lox 'n' bagel breakfast in the Neptune before I went ashore in Crown Bay for awhile, but found nothing to my liking. Back on the ship, however, I found the Lido pool nearly empty and easily scored a primo lounger right by the pool. After three hours of broiling, swimming and chatting with some of my Casino buddies, I found my husband, grabbed a sandwich (thank you, Jonathan, for the avocado slices) and watched the Lido 'Buccaneers' set up for the SailAway Party. As the ship left the pier, We heard a booming crashing noise. On the starboard side one of the cranes loading cargo containers failed and the load dropped, spilling its contents all over the dock. Fortunately, our ship was not involved.
We dined in the Vista Dining Room again at a table for two (no wait). The Red Wine Braised Brisket with mashed potatoes, snow peas, carrots and asparagus was DIVINE! I had the Peppercorn Crusted Swai Fillet (fish) with buttery fingerling potatoes and baby vegetables. The Cappuccino Bomb was outstanding!
Next stop... the Casino! Yes, even though it slapped me in the face yesterday, I can be forgiving. I only made a few dollars, but had fun doing it!
DAY 8 - At Sea: It seems the closer we get to the end of the cruise, the earlier I awake. My eyes opened at 5:00, and, unable to force myself back to sleep, I started to get my morning together. I couldn't find the letter that said what the Pinnacle breakfast hours were, so I went down there looking for a sign (none) and went down to the Front Desk to find out I had to wait another 2 hours. I could have grabbed some pastries, but then would have had to go home for another nap, which would defeat the purpose of waking early. I poured some coffee and fooled with my iPad for awhile, went back to the cabin, and finally went back to the Pinnacle for my first (in 31 cruises) breakfast in the elegant Pinnacle Grill. At 7:45 there was already a group in the Pinnacle Bar awaiting opening, and it wasn't too long before we were let in. I asked for one of Mario's tables (we knew him from our November Noordam), and sat alone at a table for two near the window, overlooking an ocean that was as smooth as glass. I ordered the Eggs Royale (I believe) which was a split english muffin, smoked salmon and two perfectly poached eggs, smothered in hollandaise sauce. I also had a taste of the Cinnamon French Toast, which was thick and fluffy with a lovely hot syrup. Many of the other diners were in groups of four, and seemed to be 'regulars' there, being familiar with the menu and servers. It was well worth the wait to get in.
At 12:15 we attended the Mariner Awards Ceremony with Captain Scott, Hotel Manager Jessica Schumann and Cruise Director Shane Michaels. A small group of Mariners were awarded Copper, Silver and Gold medallions, but I don't remember any Star pins awarded. From there we were escorted to the Vista Dining Room for a special luncheon honoring all Mariners. Chef Schumann created a delicious selection of appetizers, entrees and dessert... the fish may have been the best of the whole cruise.
Jim went down to WIN the Texas Hold'em tournament while I worked on my tan in the Lido Pool. After a couple of hours of broiling, we attended the $100,000 Bingo Game. This was the first and ONLY Bingo game for us this cruise. DJ Reggie led the most annoying game I've ever attended. The sound was turned up way too high, sound effects blasted after every number called, and he had everyone with one number to go stand up, which while appropriate in the coverall game, takes all the fun out of the shorter games. I couldn't wait 'til it was over.
Following a short nap (for me) and a couple hours of iPad Chuzzle (for Jim) we went to our formal dinner at the Lido. I have been more than a little disappointed in having to dine in the Lido just so Jim can get his favorite seat at the Hold'em table. I really prefer the MDR, where you can get a cold appetizer and warm entree. Getting it all at one time (before the buffet closes) makes for a cold dinner. While we were serving ourselves, I ran into Sous Chef Jonathan, and asked where was the Creme Brulee? He said it was only in the MDR, and he went to get us some. He really takes his job seriously, making certain everything is properly prepared and presented.
After a crazy uppy-downy hour at the dice table, I remembered Jonathan had mentioned the 3-story Dessert Extravaganza to be held in the Atrium at 10:00, so at 10:45, afraid it would be over, I went in search of the touted Marzipan. It was a beautiful, elegant display, with guests in formal attire. I asked Chef Schumann where I could find the delicate pastry, and he directed me to deck 3. Not finding any, I went to the Main Desk to rent a movie to watch while I pack, and there he was again! When I told him I couldn't find any, he went back upstairs (or wherever) and made me my own special plate of the delicate Marzipan. I am quite impressed with the Culinary Department. I have rarely experienced such culinary artists take such pride in their work, which is evidenced in the quality and presentation in every venue.
I am now about to enjoy my lovely marzipan, "50 First Dates" and a chilled Perrier. The heck with packing.
DAY 9 - Half Moon Cay: We awoke to a beautiful morning, but since we were unsuccessful at reserving a clamshell, decided not to leave the ship. We did spend several hours at the Lido Pool and took our customary nap. Franz made an appointment for the Future Cruise Consultant to meet with me in the Neptune Lounge to buy four cruise deposits. Somebody please tell me why, after being on the ship for eight days, I had not yet done this... amazing.
The last day of a cruise is hectic... checking out the photo gallery one last time, returning DVDs, delivering tips to our special attendants, one last cruise through the gift shop, and verifying our bill. Sometime in the afternoon our cabin steward placed the luggage pads on the bed (Here's your hat, what's your hurry?).
We dined in the Lido again because we're really getting used to getting in and out in a hurry. I ran into Jonathan, the sous chef, and mentioned there was no Baked Brie in the Bistro. A few minutes later, unable to get the desired appetizer, he returned with two huge wedges of brie... it turned out to be my dessert and breakfast tomorrow.
Back at the cabin, Jim set aside the stuff he needed for the next morning, and LEFT ME to pack everything while he went to - you guessed it - the Hold'em Table. I was able to watch Shane Michaels' debarkation talk (and the cast and crew's rendition of "Love in Any Language") three times while I packed. Packing done, luggage tags attached, customs form completed, passports and boarding passes collected, luggage photos taken (in case they're lost), I was finally able to enjoy a little casino action myself. All the regulars were at the dice table until about 2:00. The poker game broke up and they shut down my table last. I have to thank the Casino staff and dealers for making my gaming so enjoyable. I'll name everybody later.
DEBARKATION DAY: We opted for Luggage Direct service, where you leave your bags outside the cabin the night before, and you don't see it 'til you get off your last airplane. As we had to be off the ship by 8:00, we ordered room service for 6:30 - 7:00. At 6:00 I went to the Neptune Lounge for my usual Lox 'n' Bagel and Latte. At 7:30 we called Room Service to check on it and were told it was lost, and they sent coffee and croissants. Just before 8:00 we went to the gangway - no line and no crowd - showed our passport & customs declaration, jumped in a cab and were at the airport by 8:30. Breakfast at the airport is horrible, so eat before you leave the ship.
Wrap-Up: This has been a remarkable cruise, and I have to give most of the credit to Hotel Manager Jessica Schumann. On Embarkation Day, when I met with Ms. Schumann to discuss my Meet 'n' Greet, she was most accommodating to my requests, and with the help of Executive Chef Thomas Schumann and Sous Chef Jonathan, surprised me with the most elaborate presentation I've ever seen. Our CruiseCritic guests were very impressed and we had a most successful event.
Special thanks go to:
Captain John Scott for finding us the clearest skies and calmest seas. Jim called it "Lake Caribbean".
Hotel Manager Jessica Schumann for her close involvement with our CC event, and other special occasions. Throughout the cruise she was visible and accessible, interacting with the passengers, answering questions and offering advice.
Executive Chef Thomas Schumann for his varied menu, nicely prepared and beautifully presented. He was often seen in the Lido ensuring his preparation and presentation was perfect. The three-story Chocolate Extravaganza in the Atrium was gorgeous!
Sous Chef Jonathan for his tireless efforts to design and present the most beautiful arrays of delicious offerings. He was also very visable in the Lido and Atrium, and visited with guests during lunch and dinner hours.
Neptune Lounge Concierge Franz, for his attention to detail and religious follow-up to requests. He and Essay were very helpful to me with invitations, reservations, and in so many other ways. They both did everything they could to make our cruise comfortable and memorable.
Cruise Director Shane Michaels for his great onboard activities and funny introductions. He was very visable about the ship and had an interesting morning TV show, which I unfortunately missed because I sleep too much on cruises. Sorry I missed them.
Beverage Manager Ivan Braganza for his assistance at our M&G.
Mark and Romanik in the Casino and Lido Pool for their prompt attention.
Alex, Michaela, Anton, Stephan, Szabi, Izabela, Marco, and three or four more Casino Managers, Supervisors and Dealers who made our gaming experience, win or lose, totally enjoyable! We also met some very nice players and I picked up a couple of new ways to bet at dice.
The Noordam is in wonderful shape; cabins are generous in size and comfortably appointed, public areas in very good condition, beautiful art and flowers everywhere, and a crew working 24/7 cleaning and polishing to keep it that way.
See you in November, Noordam!