9 DAY SOUTHERN CARIBBEAN CRUISE ON HAL NOORDAM, March 26 thru April 4, 2012 - The ms Noordam is a lovely ship but the fact is that it caters to an older clientel. I'd estimate age 65+ with many cruisers in their late 70's and beyond. While watching the very entertaining "Marriage Game", one couple said they were married "67 years in July". You do the math. Please don't get me wrong -- I love elders and hope to be one some day BUT crusing with a large number of elders presents some challenges.
Embarking, disembarking, tendering all takes additional time as quite a few patrons are using wheelchairs and walkers or just moving slowly. Excursions take a little additional time with them getting on and off buses and other transportation. The same goes for trying to get anywhere on the ship as the halls will bottleneck with large groups slowly making their way to the dining room, lounge, etc. If you wish to take in a movie, show, any sort of entertainment, plan on being there at least one-half hour before the event begins as the older-set likes to arrive very early to pick out their seats and get situated. With regard to entertainment, it seemed as though most of it was geared to the tastes of the older patrons. Opera and classical always playing in the Ledo Buffet. One entertainer performed songs mostly 30-40 years old, all at a slower tempo than I ever remembered hearing them. Plenty of opportunities for Ballroom Dancing and Bridge playing. And plan on most activities ending around 11:00 PM as the seniors are certainly in bed by that time and the ship pretty much closes down. There isn't much extended "night-life" on the Noordam.
Know these things going in and you'll do fine. As I'm in my mid-50's, I decided to pretend that I was cruising with my mother. Once I adopted that mind-set, I was able to figure out how to handle situations and things went much smoother for me. In fact, the older cruisers were delightful to talk to and I truly enjoyed their company.
On the up side . . . you could usually find room in the hot tubs and swimming pools and the ship was wonderfully quiet.
The Noordam is a bit like a floating art-gallery and museum. I spent one of our at-sea days exploring the numerous exhibits of fine art, museum-quality antiques, and statuary. The ship is warmly appointed and has the feel of an old-world hotel.
This was my third cruise and my first with HAL. I'm no expert but I do have some points for comparison with respect as to how the cruise and staff operated. I will say that I was mostly pleased but did find some room for improvement.
The stateroom was the smallest I've ever been in and all prior cruises have been in similar balcony rooms. The narrow walking space between the end of the bed and the wall made it difficult to get around the bed in the dark and more than once there was tripping, kicking of the trash can, and general falling about in trying to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night because of it. The bathroom was generous and included a bathtub. Clothes hanging space was sufficient but there were few drawers and very little counter space. The couch was more like a love seat. A very small love seat. Our balcony was the largest of any I've experienced -- about the same width but several feet deeper in size.
The stateroom had few electrical outlets and half of what was there were European. Bring your adaptor! Two persons in a room = two cell phones and two camera batteries that needed daily re-charging. Not to mention using electrical items such as the hair dryer. We constantly had to take turns charging items and sharing the outlets and spent a lot of time making sure that no one woke up the next morning with a dead camera battery.
Our room steward was mostly invisible. As was our ice. One day I returned from our excursion to find that the room hadn't been touched. It was well after 2:00 PM and the steward asked if I'd had lunch yet in the hope that I'd go for lunch so he could do the room. So much for wanting lunch IN the room that day, I had no choice but to get my very tired self to the Ledo to eat.
We ate the first dinner in the dining room and then did not return due to slow service, incorrect service, and improperly cooked dishes. There was an ongoing issue with the kitchen knowing what "medium rare" was. We chose to eat at the Ledo buffet where we could first see the food before requesting it. The Ledo buffet was more formal than buffet's I'd experienced before and it felt like a nice dining room instead of a cafeteria. Short of there never being any Ranch dressing, I was very pleased with the Ledo buffet dining.
I was disappointed in the entertainment and only took in one show, a Las Vegas type review. While the performers seemed talented enough, the production was over-worked and disjointed. One of my favorite numbers was a wonderful percussion set that included tribal costumes and body paint. A portion of the stage then rose up from beneath the floor with a woman in a primitive print tribal dress and I thought we'd be hearing a rhythmic tribal-type song from her. She then broke into "What a Wonderful World". Certainly a nice enough song but totally disconnected from the tribal percussion, the body paint, and her costuming.
Another set included ZZ Top's popular song "Legs". One would think that the dancers would show some . . . legs . . . during this set. The dancers came out in what appeared to be very hot [as in temperature] looking velour jumpsuits covering them from head to toe. The jumpsuits had seen better days and the dancer wearing the dark blue jumpsuit had two large white spots on her rear where the velour was worn away from her sitting down. I was in the back of the theater and it was still very obvious that many of the costumes were worn and needed attention. Regarding other entertainment, the comedian was very funny but the magician was unimpressive.
My favorite place to "hang" was the piano bar. The pianist had a wide ranging set that included everything from Lady Gaga to Tom Jones to Broadway show tunes. The atmosphere in the piano bar was very friendly and the waiters there knew me by name within a few days. The piano bar, the sports bar, the casino and the nightclub are all situated near each other. The sports bar seemed mostly emply in spite of March Madness. The nightclub seemed mostly empty, as well. I went in for one evening of karoake that ended too soon as it was fun. The casino isn't my thing but there were plenty of empty machines sitting around every time I walked through it.
Big Plus -- The Culinary Arts Center!! Loved it! Went in for one of their demonstrations and they included recipe cards for all that attended. I then signed up for a small group lesson and we spent several hours with one of the chefs making shrimp scampi with couscous, bruschetta and a salad of white beans, tuna, artichoke hearts and sweet peppers. Yes, there was an additional fee for this class but it was well worth it as we also got wine and a cooking apron to take home.
Wine -- if you're into wine, you'll love this cruise as there were several wine tasting events. I don't drink wine [I love it but the nitrates don't love me] but I observed them setting up the events and they looked impressive.
Movies -- Yes, the Queens Lounge -- which is also the Culinary Arts Center -- is turned into a movie theater daily and includes popcorn. The movies are current releases and I finally got to see J. Edgar.
Technology -- There is a media center and they hold daily classes. My friend took a class on how to turn her pictures into a slide show with music and she made a wonderful video with her vacation pictures when she got home. There was also a class on how to use your digital camera where you bring your camera to the class and they will demonstrate its features. I thought this a wonderful opportunity for those who are unfamiliar with current technology. On another technology note, HAL itself is rather "low-tech" as you can't order excursions or check your onboard bill from your room TV as you can with other cruise lines.
Dessert Night -- Oh, my! It was beautiful and encompassed three levels of the rarely used but lovely atrium. The desserts -- including many, many chocolate items -- were works of art. You have the opportunity to take pictures BUT please get there early should you wish to do so. I arrived at the appointed time to take photos but the atrium was already crowded with the older set. It takes them a bit longer to get each photo as it took extra time for them to focus their camera, get their telephoto just right, check with their companion to see if the photo was okay or if they needed to shoot again, etc. I finally gave up on photos and snagged one of the more impressive looking chocolate creations to sneak back to my room. Sad news . . . it looked better than it tasted.
The Atrium -- it was three levels, stunningly beautiful, underused, and terrifying. Small as atrium's go, I never saw anyone simply sitting there. Honestly, the bar there was even empty. The bottom level is situated near the HAL desk and you would find people there checking on excurions and ship matters but never anyone just sitting back and enjoying the atrium. The atrium staircase scared me to death. It was glass! While beautiful to look at, it was hard to differentiate one step from the other and I feared that if I fell I would not only break my hip but would also slice myself into 1,000 pieces. I took many pictures of the steps but avoided using them like the plague. I can't imagine how my older shipmates felt when trying to navigate them.
Room Service -- We always "ordered in" for breakfast via the card put on your doorknob at night. Be aware that morning room service is not only on time, but many times arrives early. We would check that we wanted it delivered between 6:30 -- 7:00 AM and there would be a knock-knock on the door at 6:15 AM. Not a bad thing but it did make for us scrambling around for our robes and falling over things to get to the door a few times. During the day and evening, room service was always prompt and arrived in the amount of time they said.
Room Movies -- You can borrow DVD's from the HAL desk to view in your room. A list of the movies is provided in your room information. We enjoyed several movies during the down-time on our sea days. Combined with a room-service delivered tray of cheese and crackers and chocolate chip cookies with milk, it was a real treat!
Pinnacle Restaurant -- Wonderful experience. The food and service was upscale and much better prepared than what we received in the dining room. I would certainly recommend it for a special evening.
Excursions -- There is something for everyone in the excurion offerings, including "accessible" excursions for those who may have mobility issues. Each excursion that we took was as described, was well executed, and much enjoyed. HAL offers bottled water -- to be billed to your stateroom -- when you leave the ship to go on an excursion. Should the excursion include swimming, they also offer a complimentary towel to be returned.
In short [too late now, I know . . . ], it was a wonderful cruise. There is room for improvement but there's always room for improvement with every cruise line. We had a great time and I would certainly consider crusing with HAL again.