We took the 11-day South Caribbean Wayfarer Cruise on Holland America Noordam from November 5 to 16. This was our second cruise on Holland America, and we love the vista-class ships. Not too small, but not so big that you lose the "personal touch" from the ship staff.
We chose this cruise because we wanted to go to Barbados and because, like the Zuiderdam, the Noordam has the hydropool and thermal suite, which we feel is the best kept secret in cruising. No crowded hottub outside, just a large hot pool mostly to yourself, because most people don't know it's there and don't pay for it. Very relaxing!! We did the online pre-boarding, so embarqation went smoothly and quickly.
Although we don't need it, our travel agent ended up getting us into a handicapped varandah room instead of the regular verandah. This gave us a slightly larger room and a HUGE verandah that angled toward the front of the ship as well as running straight down the side of the ship. Ronald and Danang, the room stewards were fantastic and friendly, greeting us by name the first time they saw us.
We took two ship excursions this trip. First was the Turtle snorkling encounter in Barbados. Awesome!! Saw out first turtle before we were in the water. Had 4-5 turtles total come by to visit. After the snorkeling, they take you to the beach by the Sandy Lane resort hotel, were you can, swim, ride their banana boat, walk the beach or relax. We had great fun collecting beach glass in the shallow water to add to our shell collection. On the way back to the dock, you get rum punch or soft drinks.
The second was the waterfall and botanical gardens tour on Dominica. Also a very pleasant tour of this "nature" island (in other words, take a tour because there's little else to do here). Although 4-5 people had planned to possibly go in the waterfall pool to swim, everyone else chickened out. They missed a very refreshing dip and those that didn't walk down to the waterfall pool also missed the 2 fresh water mountain crabs.
On St. Thomas we took our own excursion to Coki Beach to swim with the fish. Caught a taxi and payed $20 each round trip, which is cheaper than any ship excursion we could have taken. Unfortunately, HAL doesn't have a beach trip there, so you have to do this one on your own. It is very safe to do so though. Coki is a state park and there are nice facilities and people who will get your cab when you're ready to return to the ship. We were there by about 8:30 and had the beach to ourselves (and the iguanas)for about 35 minutes. Take a couple rolls from the morning breakfast buffet with you. walk to the rocks at the left end of the beach, go out in knee-deep water and break a piece of roll off and drop it in the water. Within 30 seconds, you're surrounded by 6 different kinds of colorful fish that stay as long as you keep feeding them. Don't forget your underwater camera!
The shipboard entertainment, 3 comedians, a concert pianist and the ship crew shows were great. We had a table for 8 at dinner we shared with 3 other wonderful couples. They were all "double-digit" cruisers having between 30 plus to 70 plus cruises, so we learned a few things from them as well as enjoying their company and the wonderful food.
The only downside to the cruise was that there seems to be some "wear and tear" on the Noordam. Perhaps part of that was that it had just finished it's transatlantic repositioning cruise, so maintenance on the exterior hadn't been done. But part of it is that, the fabric in the Vista Longe and other areas of the ship seems to be faded, worn, fraying and in general need of refreshing. Despite this, I'd still recommend this cruise on the Noordam.