We just got off the Noordam on Friday, December 7. Wish we were still on it since as I am writing this it is only 8 degrees here! On the trip was myself (64) DW (65)and DD (34). We also traveled with our friends who we have known for over 40 years and have cruised many times with.
We had a very scary start to our vacation. On Saturday morning as I was getting things together I noticed we were missing one passport, my DW's! We pulled the house apart looking for it, I knew we had it because I used it when we did the pre-registration but it was nowhere to be found. I called HAL and they told me since it was a close looped cruise (leaving and returning to the same port) we could use a birth certificate and picture ID as long as the names matched -- that's a problem, we weren't married when she was born! Now I had to locate our marriage certificate too. Finally located all the info we needed and had a nice stiff drink!
We left on Sunday morning for Fort Lauderdale. Had a good trip, picked up our car and we were off to Weston. We always stay in Weston, it is a nice relaxing area with great shops and great restaurants. That night we ate in one of our favorites Tarantella. Great little Italian restaurant. After dinner we went to Publix to pick up a few last minute things and then back to the Residence Inn to relax and watch some football. Next morning we got up and ate breakfast -- it was part of the hotel services -- put the tags on the luggage and then took off for the port. Dropped my DW and DD off at the port while I returned the car to Hertz. Got back to the port and went to check in. WOW in our 41 cruises this was the fastest check in we have ever had. We started check in at around 11:30 and was on the ship by 11:45. We had them bring us to our room to drop off our carry-ons. The room was great. It was 6004, a handicapped room on the upper veranda. Of other handicapped rooms we have had, this was one of the best as far as being able to get around with the wheelchair, walker, etc. There was a pole in the middle of the room that we had to keep on maneuvering around but that was ok, we got used to it after a while. Otherwise we could not have asked for more. Our friends were in 6003 which was just like ours except on the other side of the ship. They too thought it was a great room since he uses a power wheelchair which is larger than the normal wheelchair.
We then went to the Lido to get the first of many meals. Of course we were in stage orange so everything had to be served to you. Not a problem, we had been on HAL many times before so were used to the procedure. Some people were upset, personally I would rather be safe than sorry. We found a place on the back deck, ate lunch and waited for our friends to arrive. They were driving down from Orlando. While we were sitting in the Lido I saw a couple that looked very familiar. I went over to them and sure enough they were a couple that we had met on two other cruises, Tom and Alice. Strange we never talk inbetween but this is the 3rd cruise in 4 years that we have been on together. We always say we are going to exchange emails and forget. Tom and Alice if you read this send me an email and I will send you the group picture. Our friends arrived, ate and then it was time for the muster drill. Different from the last time we had one, they now call names and wait for answers. I remember back a few years ago this is how they did it and I don't see anything wrong with it. The drill is important and people need to know what to do. We don't need another disaster. After the drill we headed up to the Lido for Sail Away.
Before we left the Lido I asked one of the waiters for 6 cans of soda to bring to the room since I had bought 2 soda cards. Before we left I had asked on the boards if the Noordam was service cans or fountain drinks and Candy who was on the Noordam the week before we left graciously answered it was cans. We don't drink fountain drinks and plus we had a couple of bottles of liquor purchased from HAL delivered to our rooms. We were then informed you could only get fountain drinks! We were the first cruise on the Noordam to change over -- are we lucky or what! Went down to the front desk and told them we had no use for these cards. They were very nice and gave us credit for them. I know why they changed to fountain drinks, they make more money which I don't have a problem with. What I do have a problem with is they just changed things without any notice. They could say as of such in such date we will no longer accept the soda card for canned drinks. We would have picked up soda for the room at Publix when we stopped the night before. As it was, we made due until we got to our first Island.
It got quite windy after we left port and that seemed to be the theme of the cruise. We had a balcony room but were only able to use it a couple of times in the evenings when we like to sit out and enjoy the sea because of the wind -- this was not a breeze, it was wind. Oh well could have been worse, it could have been raining!
We had reservations at the Pinnacle for 8:00 that evening. We met our friends for cocktails at 7:00 at the Pinnacle bar. We usually eat in the Pinnacle the first night and the last night and then usually one night in between. As usual it was wonderful, the service, the food, the drinks, everything. One shock I did have is that they no longer have the French Onion soup on the menu. I always loved their onion soup and was so looking forward to it. Tried one of their other soups, but did not care for it. I had shrimp cocktail, the veal chop which was out of this world, creamed spinach, baked potato, and volcano for dessert. Almost had to roll me out I was so full! The rest of the party had Filets or fish. Everyone was very pleased with their meals. We did not finish dinner until 10:15 but by no means felt the service was slow. We were just enjoying ourselves. We left there and off to the casino. We don't do shows, after 41 cruises they are all about the same to us. Well the casino was only about half full. Had some luck, not much but at least I didn't lose. Around midnight we headed for bed. Couldn't sleep so DD and I headed for the night club. Empty except for 2 other people. Ended up in the sports bar.
The next morning we met our friends in the Lido for breakfast at 9:00. We got this server who was just wonderful, Johann. We had him every morning, he even saved a table for us since he knew we would be there at 9:00. He brought us everything we could want and took the best care of us. We tipped him at the end of the cruise which is the first time we have ever tipped anyone in the Lido. If you are on the ship, look for him, he is one of the nicest, happiest people you will ever meet.
The next couple of days we were at sea so it was nice and relaxing. I had gone to the restaurant and made reservations for us. Since we had 2 people in wheelchairs we wanted a table close to the door. We ended up at table 141 at 8:00 for all the nights except for the nights we were in the Pinnacle and one night we ate in the Lido. The dining room was never more than half full every night. In fact our waiter only had our table of 5. I don't think the ship was full as nothing really seemed crowded. You could always find a lounger by the pool in the sun no matter what time you went out. The food in the dining room was good, not great but good. The outstanding meal I had was the rack of lamb which they had twice. The second time I asked for a double portion of the lamb, it was really delicious. A couple of notes about the dining room menu. Shrimp cocktail and cheese cake are no longer on the "always available" menu. Big letdown for the my DD as she loves the cheesecake. The sirloin strip steak on the always available was just OK. Really kind of tough. Their fish selection is really limited, once again a downer for my DD as she usually has fish almost every night. Service was good, can't complain, however nothing above normal, not your usual interaction that you have with the waiter. I think there was a language barrier here.
On Thursday we arrived in St. Maarten. Beautiful weather. After we arrived, Allure of the Seas pulled in next to us. That is one big ship, too big for me. I don't think I would enjoy sailing with 6,000 of my closest friends! I did talk to some that were on there and they said the service was good and there was rarely any lines. We left St Maarten at 3:00. Really hated that we left so early. They started putting up the Christmas decorations! We are so happy. We thought since we were going a week earlier than usual we would miss them.
The next day we were in St Lucia. We really love that Island, it is so pretty. Our DD did the zip lining through the rain forest. I was supposed to go with her but changed my mind the day before. She was very disappointed when she came back. She has done this many time and we did it together in Costa Rica, and she really felt this was a rip off for what they charged. They also never mentioned the major hike up and down to get to the zip lining. The distance between the posts were short and you could not get any speed. They also took you in groups of 6 and everyone had to complete each section together. Different from others where once you reached the platform you could go on. I told her to talk to the excursion desk but she didn't. After hearing this I was glad I cancelled. Once again we left here at 3:00 and cruised past the Pitons. The Captain opened the front of the ship so people could get a great view. They also had a narrator on board. (now if they only served Panama rolls it would have been perfect!) As we anchored in Soufriere to pick up passengers who were on tours, we saw some small boats coming toward the ship. Figured they were locals coming out to say hello as they do in many of these islands. Well they got right next to the ship and then started yelling "will dive for the American dollar". This really evoked mixed emotions. We felt bad that these young people felt they had to risk their lives for a dollar. On the other hand they were within feet of the ship and they all had cans of gas in their converted row boats, a real danger to the ship. The cruise director came on and asked people not to throw anything over board as the divers could get sucked into the engines and get hurt or killed. After that some of them got kind of nasty. I sat there wondering where was the shore police? We never did see one and they were there until we sailed away. That experience tainted our love of this Island. We ate in the Dining room this night and then off to the casino again. Met some other people who were on a cruise with us last year who are from Canada. Can't believe we are meeting so many people from previous cruises.
The next day we were in Barbados, another beautiful country. There was a notice on our Explorer that Camouflage clothes and smoking in public were against the law. This must be new as we have been there before and never heard of this. We went off on our own. Wanted to do the caves but waited too long and it was sold out. Had a good time and left here at 5:00. Ate in the Lido because Nebraska was playing in the Big 10 championship game. Went to the sports bar, they were showing the Florida game. Should have taken that as a sign. Seems Nebraska left all their players at home! Wisconsin pounced us. Oh well maybe next year.
The next morning we were in Martinique and I guess the question I would have is why? It was Sunday and everything is closed there on Sunday except for this small store by the port. But wait we were there from 8:00 to 5:00 -- once again I ask why? We could have spent more time in the other ports or had a sea day. At 5:00 we set sail for Mount Pelee. Once again the captain opened up the front deck and had a narrator. By the time we got to Mount Pelee it was dark. Hummmm think we could have left earlier and seen it in the light? It was not a totally lost day, we ate in the Pinnacle that night and had their Steak Dianne. All I can say is it was some of the best I have ever had. Once again the service was fantastic.
The next morning we were at Dominica. We were there from 7:00 to 3:00. Once again I would ask why? There is really nothing here except for a little straw market by the port. Could have combined Dominica and Martinique into one day and still had time left over and made the extra day a sea day.
The following day we were in St. Thomas. We docked at Crown Center along with Oasis of the Seas. Got kind of crowded there once they got there. Crown Center is very nice. Clean and new. The only thing I was disappointed with was there was no internet hot spot even though they have signs for one. I spent a lot of my time on the phone. We have a house for sale and we had gotten an offer on it while we were sailing so spent a lot of the day with offer/counter offer activity. Good news is the house is now sold! If I knew all I had to do was go to St Thomas to sell the house I would have gone there months ago! Ate in the dining room and then to the casino and sports bar. Still keeping ahead of my DW's losses but she is catching up. All the Christmas decorations are up and they are beautiful. The ship is so festive.
The following day was a sea day. We love sea days, they are so relaxing. We almost did not take this cruise because it was so port intensive, but we had done the others that have a lot of sea days and didn't want to do a B2B since we lose a day in Florida but still wanted a minimum of a 10 day cruise.
Oh no our last day on the ship! We were at Half Moon Cay. Water was kind of rough but the tenders were running. Some people could not understand why it was taking so long even though it was explained that safety was the first priority. Get with it people it is not all about you. After we left the island we ran into a storm with high winds. Our Veranda furniture had slid to the rail and when you looked out the sliding glass door all you saw was water. Our friends on the other side looked out and all they saw was sky! The Captain came on and said we may have notice we were listing on the port side. He was going to fill the ballisters on the starboard side and that would straighten the ship our but would take approximately 30 minutes. It worked! It was a little scary there for a while.
The next morning we were in Fort Lauderdale and on our way home. Hated to leave the ship and the crew, they are so wonderful. One good thing about this cruise is it came home on a Friday which gave us the weekend to recover before we had to go back to work.
A couple of observations:
- It was really annoying to be sitting out on deck and being constantly and I mean like every couple of minutes if you wanted a drink. It reminded me of being on Carnival which is one of the reasons we don't go on them. Are the waiters now on commission?
- Drinks -- Drinks are now $8.00 including service charge. I don't mind paying that for a good drink. The problem was we had a very hard time getting a good drink. They were either made wrong or tasted terrible. I finally had to resort to my Absolute Gimlet. I have always enjoyed the special drinks on HAL but not on this ship. We tried all the bars, no two drinks tasted the same.
- We got friendly with many of the staff on board and a number of them said that they don't like the automatic tipping as they think it has really affected the service level. They say the employees don't care as much since they will get their share anyway. These comments came from employees that had a number of contracts under their belt and was unsolicited, although I couldn't agree more.
- We really like HAL and not sure we can get the kind of service we get on them anyplace else (Princess would be our second choice) however each time we go on them we notice that they are becoming "Carnivalized" more and more.
Hope you enjoyed this review, if you have any questions let me know.