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Noordam Cruise Review by Cindy: Noordam Southern Caribbean -- November 26 - December 7, 2012


Cindy
12 Reviews
Member Since 2000
11,362 Posts

Member Rating

Cabin 5.0
Dining 5.0
Embarkation 5.0
Enrichment Activities 5.0
Entertainment 4.0
Family & Children Not Rated
Fitness & Recreation 4.0
Public Rooms 5.0
Rates 4.0
Service 4.0
Shore Excursions 4.0
Value for Money 5.0

Compare Prices on Noordam Southern Caribbean Cruises

Noordam Southern Caribbean -- November 26 - December 7, 2012

Sail Date: November 2012
Destination: Southern Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)

About us -- We're a couple in our early 50's, and this was our 16th cruise, but our first on HAL. Our previous cruises have been on Princess (4), Royal Caribbean (6), and Carnival (5). In addition to being our first HAL cruise, this trip was notable for several reasons...it was our 25th Anniversary, our first cruise longer than 7 nights, and our first time to visit 5 of the 7 ports.

So how did we end up on the Noordam? It was actually a long and winding road! Our cruise planning started in December of 2011, when I made the final decision to retire from my job as an elementary school principal after 30 years in education. Lots of travel opportunities opened up for us since I would no longer be tied to a school calendar for travel!

We knew we wanted a "smaller" (by our standards) ship, and we wanted to go somewhere we hadn't been. We decided on the Panama Canal (more on that bucket-list item later), determined we wanted a round-trip instead of a trans-canal, and More started looking at Holland America and Princess since both had itineraries we were interested in. We almost ended up on Princess, but we hadn't cruised with them since 2007, and when I spoke with my mom she told me how disappointed she and her travel companions were with the food and the passenger load on their first (and only!) Princess cruise. In addition, I thought HAL's itinerary was better. Finally, while I was in the process of researching options I stumbled across IRL_Joanie's fantastic cabin website and I was sold -- nothing was going to keep me from a fantastic aft-wrap SC...on the Zuiderdam...to the Panama Canal!

Lo and behold right after we booked reports of plumbing and air conditioning problems on the Zuiderdam surfaced. I've been around Cruise Critic long enough and read enough scathing reviews to know to take what I read with a grain of salt, but I decided to keep a wary eye on things and withhold judgment/not make a rash decision. The reports persisted, and in March when we got back from our last ? Spring Break cruise with 3,700 of our closest friends (1,000 of them children!), I decided it was time to look around. Back to Princess? No, they didn't have the aft-wrap suite I was lusting after. Royal Caribbean? Nope, they didn't have what I wanted either. Carnival? That wouldn't work...remember I'm trying to avoid a crowded ship. Change ships and itineraries on HAL? Possibly. We didn't want to give up the Panama Canal, but looked around for our dates and decided to book the Noordam as a back-up and keep two cruises until the preponderance of evidence was in.

In April, the "life-systems" reports from the Zuiderdam trans-canal were not good. Despite the fact that everyone said the food and service were phenomenal, we just couldn't see risking paying for a suite and possibly finding ourselves in the tropics with marginal air conditioning and balky plumbing. While there are no guarantees at sea and mechanical problems can happen anytime/anywhere, we decided the chance of problems was greater on the Zuiderdam than the Noordam. Reluctantly we cancelled the Zuiderdam and from that point forward it was full speed ahead planning for the Southern Caribbean.

Pre-Cruise -- We flew from Houston to Fort Lauderdale on Southwest two days before our cruise. SWA was also something new for us, but since we're missing Continental terribly we decided to give Southwest a try. We had a very uneventful flight, and "bags fly free" saved us $120.00 each way. Every penny counts!

We stayed at the Hilton Marina, in a Tower Room overlooking the pool, marina, and Intercoastal. I actually preferred this view and requested it as opposed to a view of the port which would have included all the bridge traffic on 17th Street. We enjoyed ogling the HUGE yachts docked right alongside the hotel. We found out later one of the biggest, 7 Seas, is Stephen Spielberg's yacht. Another one, Cakewalk, cost $200,000,000, and is the biggest private yacht ever built. Both of them looked like they could easily accommodate 100 people. Maybe for my next cruise!

The night we arrived we had dinner at the China Grill at the hotel. The food was excellent but the service stunk...so much so that these great tippers only left 10%. We loved our drinks and meal, and if the service had been better it would have been a great start to the trip, but I have a hard time with poor service at a pricy restaurant. We got lots of apologies, but I would have gladly traded the apologies for shorter waits and hot food.

On Sunday I got up early (as usual), grabbed my camera, paid $4.95 for a cup of coffee, and went out to watch the ships arrive. I decided I didn't want to share space with a homeless guy sleeping in one of the gazebos, and found a cozy, quiet spot away from the snoring to ship watch. It really was quite a treat for a ship-junkie to watch the brilliantly lit ships appear with the sun barely lightening the sky behind them.

Later on Sunday we went to lunch at Duffy's, then made a quick trip to Total Wine and Publix before it was time for more ship watching. We walked up to the top of the bridge to watch the ships leave. While we were up there the bridge went up three times. I was perfectly fine sitting out on the viewing platform watching the road rise above my head, but Jim didn't like it one bit! He took exception to thousands of pounds of concrete and metal looming overhead, and each time the announcement was made that the bridge would be opening he retreated to "safety" for the duration. Anyway, back to the ships...one after another they slid out of their berths and disappeared behind the condos on their way out to sea. Ruby Princess left first, followed by the Westerdam, Nieuw Amsterdam, and Carnival Freedom...it was quite a sight. Unfortunately the good people of Fort Lauderdale haven't installed public restrooms at the top of the bridge, and we had to head back to the hotel before the Allure of the Seas left.

Sunday evening was spent having dinner at Kelly's Landing with 20 people from our CC Roll Call group. Unfortunately the restaurant is quite small and they weren't able to seat all of us together, so we were scattered all over the place. Still, it was a very enjoyable evening, and it was a treat to put faces and real names to many of the people I had been communicating with for months! It's always nice to get on a ship and already know people. This was a trip where Cruise Critic really paid off, and we had a great time with people from our Roll Call both before and during the cruise.

True to form, on Monday I woke up early, paid through the nose for my caffeine fix, and went outside to watch the Noordam arrive. We called for a Bellhop at 9:45, and much to our surprise one arrived right away. You see, we had seen the hotel lobby on Sunday when there were 5 ships in port. It was absolute chaos and wall-to-wall people! The check-out lines were endless and the stacks of luggage occupied almost every square inch of floor space. Since the Noordam was the only ship in Ft. Lauderdale on Monday there was no delay whatsoever at the hotel. We ended up getting to the terminal around 10:30 because we were ready to go and there really wasn't any reason to hang around the hotel. After all, we had a ship to catch!

From this point on I'm just going to give you my impressions of different areas and comparisons to the other lines we've cruised with. As you can probably tell by now, I like to write and I tend to be rather wordy. If I posted my entire blow-by-blow account you would probably lose interest quickly, but if by chance you want to know what I ate at each meal, just ask...I have that information too!

Embarkation --
Check in and boarding was a breeze. It couldn't have been any easier. As we entered the terminal we were given a clip-on tag with an "S" on it, which entitled us to priority boarding. Everyone sat in one area, where cookies, lemonade, coffee, and water were available while we waited to board. On Royal Caribbean, there is a separate suite lounge to await boarding, and on Carnival you are seated in a side section of the waiting area to board first.

My favorite part of embarkation on HAL? Cabins are available as soon as you board! I can't tell you how nice it was to not have to trudge around the ship with heavy carry-ons, tripping over everyone's luggage until 1:00 or 1:30. For cabin availability alone I give HAL's embarkation higher marks than RCL or CCL. My experience on Princess was that cabins were available for passengers to drop off their carry-ons upon boarding, but that the cabin might or might not be ready for occupancy. Since it's been more than 5 years since we were on a PCL ship that might have changed.

The Ship --
We had long since forgotten how pleasant it is to be on a ship with only 1,900 people...that hasn't happened since Sea Princess in 2000 and Rhapsody in 2002. Nothing is crowded, there's PLENTY of space, and the days have a nice traditional cruising rhythm to them. We loved the size of the ship and the easy to navigate layout...no annoying deck changes or dead-ends to work around like you find on many Princess and Carnival ships. The smaller size of the Noordam allowed us to meet people and then run into them again and again, which was lots of fun. The funny thing is, to many seasoned HAL cruisers, this ship is too big, but for us, it was a delightful change of pace to not be cruising with 3,700 other people!

We found the Noordam to be understatedly elegant, with a lack of glitz and glitter, but many beautiful and appealing spaces. There was ample seating in all the public areas and lounges. We thought the Explorations Cafe/Library area was gorgeous...the prettiest spot we've seen on any ship. Too bad we didn't discover it earlier...but that would have meant prying ourselves off our balcony! The Noordam's wrap-around Promenade deck is lined with cushioned teak recliners, and the whole ship has a notable lack of cheap plastic furniture, even in the pool areas and on balconies. Everything seemed to be spotlessly clean and impeccably maintained...the ONLY thing I noticed was that the outdoor cushions were a bit faded, but that certainly didn't diminish my positive impressions of the ship.

It's just my opinion, but after 11 nights on the Noordam I think HAL seems to know who its market is and it doesn't try to be something it's not. I see HAL as a traditional cruiseline that caters to adults with interesting and longer itineraries, good food, and varied forms of entertainment. It's not a particularly family oriented cruise line, and we only saw a handful of children on our sailing. While I'm sure there are more on 7-night cruises, there are no rock walls, slides, ice rinks, or cartoon characters to keep them entertained. The daytime activities lean towards educational/enrichment lectures, card games, food, wine, and cooking offerings, and things such as jigsaw puzzles, trivia, or just curling up in a quiet nook with a good book.

I have to mention the Christmas decorations. The transformation started on December 1st, and within two days the Noordam was filled with breathtakingly beautiful trees, garlands, and lights. Our only other holiday season cruise was on the older, smaller Carnival Ecstasy, and the decorations on that ship were sparse and limited to the atrium. On the Noordam, every available space was decorated, including the dining room, the entire Lido Deck, and all the lounges and corridors on the public decks.

Our Cabin & HAL's "Suite Life" --
Over the years we've become like the Jeffersons...movin' on up! Our first two cruises were in balcony cabins on Princess and Royal Caribbean, then we moved to Mini-Suites (PCL) and Junior Suites (RCL), and our last few cruises have been in Ocean and Grand Suites on Carnival and an Owner's Suite on Royal Caribbean.

From what I could see, the balcony cabins on HAL are quite a bit bigger than those on Princess and slightly bigger than a "D" balcony on RCL. Balcony depth on the Noordam seemed to be fairly comparable to RCL and much greater than CCL. On many Princess ships it's a mixed bag...some of the regular balconies are quite shallow, there's a deck with huge balconies that are half covered, or you can pay for the privilege of a mini-suite with a decent sized balcony...with no covering.

Thanks to IRL_Joanie, we were in 5191, an aft corner SC. We found the cabin itself to be of adequate size with more than ample storage, but we thought the finishings in our OS on the Mariner of the Seas were much nicer (all granite counter tops, marble floor, glass shower). I would say our SC was roughly half the size of our RCL Owner's Suite, which weighed in at a whopping 630 square feet of interior space and had a full dining table, sectional sofa, and a curtain to partition off the bedroom from the living area. Nevertheless, 5191 had plenty of room for the two of us. The bathroom had a jetted tub and a separate shower, there was a nice "Princess Area" for hair and make-up, and our very comfortable bed was the size of a Caribbean Island with 9 pillows to choose from! Our suite also had tons of electrical outlets, which I thought was nice since I seem to travel with enough equipment to open a Best Buy!

Our balcony was what distinguished this cabin from any other we've had. In addition to the glorious view and the gorgeous sunrises/sunsets, we had space to host a "Scenic Cruising" party for our CC Roll Call, and about 16 people fit comfortably on the balcony. Our balcony had two large chairs with ottomans, a round dining height table with four chairs, and a small occasional table. All the chairs were imitation wicker and had cushions...so much more comfortable than sitting on plastic mesh! My one disappointment was that the chaise lounges I had seen in all the photos were no longer there. We could have requested loungers, but they would have been of the mesh variety without cushions, so we didn't bother.

Suite perks are what really differentiate one line's offerings from another. Discounting Carnival, because their suites come with VIP embarkation and disembarkation as the only perk other than some extra real estate, I found there were some things I liked about HAL's perks and some things I prefer on Royal Caribbean. While the Neptune Lounge on the Noordam is nicer and more spacious than the Concierge Lounge on the Mariner, we spent a lot more time in the Mariner's lounge due to the nightly cocktail hour. We enjoyed the camaraderie in the lounge on RCL, and didn't find ourselves visiting the Neptune as often...possibly because it wasn't convenient to our cabin.

I thought the variety of food and snacks throughout the day on the Noordam was much better than on Royal Caribbean, and the coffee machine was FABULOUS, but not having it available until 7:00 meant that I drank Lido sludge most of the trip. Additionally, having two concierges (the most delightful ladies on the seas!) staffing the Neptune Lounge meant that suite passengers seldom if ever had to look elsewhere for anything they needed. Funnily enough, we weren't aware of everything they would do for us, and we're pretty self-sufficient and undemanding most of the time. When my husband's room card somehow got deactivated we headed down to Guest Services for a replacement. One of the concierges, Christine, happened to be at the desk, and she accused us of cheating on her!

On HAL, I thought the included laundry, pressing, and dry cleaning service was a huge benefit! We hadn't had that available before, and I was severely overpacked when you consider the laundry benefit. On Royal Caribbean, suites get complimentary pressing for the first formal night only...big advantage to HAL.

HAL doesn't have the nightly happy hour, but there were a couple suite events that were very nice...a Welcome Aboard cocktail party on the first night, and a wonderful suite luncheon in the Pinnacle on our last sea day. We found the Noordam to be very generous in the food department, and had we wished we could have had appetizers or high tea delivered to our cabin every afternoon. We didn't use that service, and we certainly didn't need any more food, but they did provide hot and cold appetizers for our party, and brought all the glassware and ice buckets we needed to entertain. That is definitely better service than on the Mariner, when we had quite an uphill battle to get some snacks delivered for a Cabin Crawl...even though the hosts were staying in the Royal Suite and an Owner's Suite!

Both lines offer suite guests the option of having breakfast in their specialty restaurant. We loved this perk on both cruise lines. The main difference is that in Noordam's Pinnacle Grill you order off the regular breakfast menu -- the Pinnacle and the MDR share galley space. On the Mariner, Chops is independent of the dining room galley and there is no breakfast menu...you just tell them what you want and they prepare it for you.

The only other real difference I saw was that on Royal Caribbean there is reserved seating set aside at the main pool, in the theatre, and in Studio B (the ice rink). While this wasn't necessary on the Noordam, it was a big convenience and a help on the Mariner during Spring Break with 3,700 passengers.

Food --
Food is certainly subjective, and I know many seasoned HAL cruisers have been disappointed recently with the changes in menus and quality the last few years. However, we loved the food, and thought it ranked up there with the best we've had on a cruise. I guess it's all a matter of what you're accustomed to!

We thought the menus had quite a few more choices than we're used to, and we liked almost everything we had during the cruise. The soups were exceptional, and I wanted to bring the Noordam's cookie baker home with me! Something I liked was the choice of a protein salad each night at dinner. I also thought the vegetarian choices were interesting and tasty. Even though I'm a carnivore, I greatly enjoyed some of them!

We ate breakfasts (when we had time) in the Pinnacle Grill, and we thought HAL's breakfast menu was also quite a bit more varied than the one that's offered on CCL or RCL. We celebrated our anniversary with dinner in the Pinnacle, and had an exquisite meal with impeccable service. We also enjoyed the food at the Master Chef's Dinner in the Pinnacle, although we thought the event was a bit too drawn out and lacking in special touches.

We appreciated having the dining room open for lunch most days with a menu that changed (something RCL and CCL have done away with), and although we're not buffet people, we found even the food in the Lido to be tasty and varied. I liked the hot food choices and didn't find having it plated to order to be a problem at all.

Service --
Although it improved during the cruise, our dinner service was just mediocre. We're used to more personal service than we received, where the wait staff addresses us by name and learns our habits on night one. We probably should have tried to remedy the problems after the first meal, but we didn't and it went on for several days. Once we addressed the situation things improved somewhat, but our service was never top-notch.

A couple examples...one of our table mates was left handed. Even though the wait staff knew this, they never got her service correct when it came to the handle on her coffee cup or the side she was served from. Her husband liked a certain type of bread in the basket. He had to ask for it every night. A couple times we had to send beef entrees back because we ordered medium rare and we were served pieces that were well done. Any of these minor issues by themselves are easily overlooked, but when the same little things keep happening and aren't corrected it gets a little tiresome.

The biggest problem for me was the pacing and very slow speed of the service. We were among the last leaving the dining room every night and were unable to make most of the shows before they started. When we mentioned it to our waiter he said we should have told him if we wanted to be able to make a 10:00 show. I think part of the problem was our location in the back of the dining room, as far from the galley as we could be, but that still doesn't make it acceptable. Even the photographers ignored our section, coming to our table on only one of the three formal nights. We enjoyed our table mates, and it would have been nice to have the option to purchase a table picture, but one was never taken. It just seemed like we were in kind of an overlooked corner of the dining room with MANY empty tables/spots, and we didn't get the same level of service as those in the front/full part of the dining room.

As for the wine service, I didn't think there were nearly enough wine stewards to ensure good and prompt service. The wine steward in the Pinnacle told us they've been reduced from 15 stewards to 9, so that's a loss of three on each level of the dining room and it showed. Quite frequently, we ended up having to pour our own wine...if we hadn't, we wouldn't have been able to enjoy our wine with our meal. Again, once we complained the wine service improved somewhat, but my husband and I still often found ourselves reaching for the bottle if we wanted wine with our entree.

I know this all probably sounds whiny and petty, but the dining experience on a cruise is a big deal to us. We thought the food was great, and the menus had a nice variety of choices, but the service didn't meet our expectations. That stands out to me, because it was a mis-match for everything else about our cruise. Our cabin steward was wonderful, the concierge service was incredible, and service elsewhere on the ship was top-notch!

Fellow Passengers --
We weren't sure what to expect on the Noordam, because to hear some people talk HAL ships are floating nursing homes. That certainly wasn't our experience! I would say the largest group of passengers fell in the 55-75 age group, but there were plenty who appeared to be a lot younger than that, and a good sized contingent of octogenarians. Yes, it was a much older passenger load than any of our previous cruises, but we expected that since it was our first time to be able to cruise when schools were in session. Not once in 11 days did I have to listen to pounding feet funning up and down the hallways, nor did I have to navigate a pack of teenagers who had commandeered the staircase...that's a good thing! We also found the passengers on the Noordam to be quite a bit more diverse in nationality than our cruises from Galveston that tend to be filled with Americans from Texas and the surrounding states.

Ports and Excursions --
All the ports on this cruise except St. Maarten and St. Thomas were new to us, and we loved them! The islands were beautiful...very mountainous and lush. We took an excursion on each island because we wanted to make sure we maximized our time and got to see the sights. All the excursions we took were HAL tours with the exception of St. Lucia. I won't go into a lot of detail, but if you have questions about a specific tour, feel free to ask.

St. Maarten -- Rhino Riders...a fun way to see the island from the water, with a 30 minute snorkeling stop.

St. Lucia -- Spencer Ambrose tour with our CC Roll Call. This was an awesome excursion, and we got to see the whole island. We worked our way down to Soufriere by van, stopping at a banana plantation, 2 fishing villages, the waterfall, and the volcano. We travelled back to Castries by motorboat and saw the coastline as well as many homes of the rich and famous!

Barbados -- Barbados in Focus was a photography tour with island photographer Ronnie Carrington. This is a great way to see this stunningly beautiful island even if you don't have a camera in your hand! My husband loved the tour, and he hates taking pictures. We learned a lot about Barbados and photography on this tour.

Martinique -- Panoramic Martinique took us to the mini replica of the Sacred Heart Basilica, through the rainforest, and to the town of St. Pierre which was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Pelee in 1902. Unfortunately, because we were there on a Sunday, almost everything was closed and we couldn't go in the cathedral lest we disturb the worship service.

Dominica -- The Whale and Dolphin Safari was a boat ride off the coast looking for wildlife. We saw plenty of dolphins, but alas no whales. This tour departed from a pier right next to the ship. We would like to go back to Dominica and see the interior of the island.

St. Thomas -- Champagne Catamaran Sail and Snorkel to St. John. We hadn't been to St. John, and we thought it would be a good idea to get away from St. Thomas since there were 7 ships in port the day we were there. This excursion was good, but it would have been a LOT better if there wasn't a very long (30+ minute) transfer to the marina on an open air bus. The transfer made our four hour excursion last more than 5 hours.

Half Moon Cay -- We had scheduled the Aquatrax Adventure, but we cancelled it several days in advance when we realized that 6 ports in 6 days were going to leave us in need of some R&R! Since that was our last day on board, we wanted to relax and treat it more like a sea day. We did visit the island for lunch, and understand why many refer to Half Moon Cay as the best private island in the industry.

All Good Things Must Come to an End, a.k.a. Disembarkation --
What an amazing disembarkation! Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and all the Port of Galveston Customs/Immigration folks should be required to visit and study the systems HAL and the port have in place. We left our balcony at 8:00 and were AT THE AIRPORT at 8:30! First of all, HAL actually enforces their disembarkation procedures. They're not nasty, they're not rude, they just politely inform anyone who's trying to get off before their tag is called that it's not their turn and they need to step aside! They also have a system where they have staff stationed inside the ship to funnel people into an orderly line instead of allowing passengers to storm the gangway from every direction. How pleasant! Well, at least as pleasant as getting off a ship can be! We were met by a porter (plentiful!), found our bags immediately, breezed through one of the numerous CBP lines, and were in a taxi so fast it made my head spin. The only problem we had was we were at the airport so quickly we had a three hour wait for our flight! Well, that and a slightly overweight bag, but I moved a couple shoes and the guy let it go!

Final thoughts:
Things we loved --
- The little touches, like the cold towels/lemonade/water at the gangway when we returned to the ship in port, the mints as we left the dining room, the "note" from the captain with our turn-down chocolates, the dinner bells. The Mariner's luncheon, the suite luncheon, and the suite cocktail party were all very nicely done...I thought the attention to detail was lovely.
- Our balcony! The view was incredible. Our cabin was more than big enough, with ample (and then some) storage. We noticed more vibration in the back than we're accustomed to, but I didn't think there was a lot more movement, even when it was windy.
- The Neptune lounge and the WONDERFUL concierges, Christine and Charmaine. My only issue with the lounge was that they didn't open until 7:00, and I was ready for coffee about 6:00!
- Laundry service -- prompt, and everything was returned in a cute little basket wrapped in tissue paper! ? We came home with far less laundry after this 11-night than any of our shorter cruises.
- The Microsoft workshops were wonderful. I finally learned something about editing my photos. Since I took about 2,500, that's a good thing!
- Our Cruise Critic Roll Call group was great. It was nice having a dinner the night before we sailed, and having so many familiar faces when we got on the ship. We had fun with everybody whenever we saw them.
- Beverage cards -- we loved the convenience! Between the three bottles of wine we purchased, all our corkage fees, and the various drinks, we used $490 of the $500 we had available. It sure made a difference in our final bill, as did bringing six bottles of wine on board with us. I would use these cards again for convenience, even though there is no longer a discount. It was really nice to not have to wade through a mountain of receipts to check our on-board account. Note: the beverage cards can be used for canned soft drinks, while the soda card is only good for fountain drinks.
- Announcements were few and far between. I usually tune them out, but I found the captain's daily messages to be interesting and informative. I also liked the layout of the Explorer...it was easy to find what I was interested in, and I didn't have to wade through a bunch of ads to find information.
- The casino smiled upon me several times this cruise. There's just something about me, a ship, and a Wheel of Fortune machine!

Things we were disappointed with --
- We were very excited for the Master Chef's Dinner, but we were a bit let down by the actual event. We expected more fanfare and personal touches, but in the end the event was a very long dinner with delicious food and wine, but no mementos. I preferred the Chef's Table on Carnival, which had delicious food, wine (but not wine pairings), a trip to the galley, an introduction of each course from the chef (not a waiter reading from a script), place cards, personalized menus, a group photograph, and a cookbook. I did like the wines better at this dinner...they were paired with the food instead of just being a choice of a red or a white, and the food presentation was exquisite on Rosenthal china.
- Martinique on a Sunday is probably not a great choice, since nothing is open and there are few tours. Our tour, Panoramic Martinique, was fine, but I would have much preferred the one that we booked first, Martinique by Land and Sea, which was cancelled by the tour operator. This was a beautiful island and I would have enjoyed seeing the coastline and Mt. Pelee from the water. Unfortunately, by the time our "scenic-cruising" reached that end of the island it was dark.
- We had booked our tours ahead of time. Nowhere in the description of our Champagne Catamaran Sail & Snorkel to St. John did I see the information that it was a 30+ minute bus ride each way to get to the marina. This made a 4 hour excursion over 5 hours long, and the (lack of) organization getting us back was inexcusable. We stood in the sun for well over 15 minutes while bus after bus passed us by. Once our bus finally arrived, people in the back of the line pushed their way to the front and we barely got on the first bus back to port.
- Scheduling of entertainment for late dining needs some improvement. I just don't think shows should start at 10:00 if they can't get late seating diners out of there in time to make the show. The situation wasn't helped by our slow service, and on two nights the dining room opened 15 minutes late which put us even further behind. One of the late opening nights was the last formal night and the Chocolate Extravaganza. We just barely made it to the atrium in time to take pictures of all the food, and making it to a 10:00 show was out of the question.

This & That --
- Something unusual happened to me on the last sea day...for the first time in 16 cruises, I felt queasy. I don't take anything for motion sickness, and I've never felt sick at all on any of our cruises, even in heavy seas. I think it was a result of spending 2 hours on the computer with the screen and my body moving around. A ginger capsule and a cat nap took care of the problem, but I had about an hour there where I wondered if I was going to enjoy my last sea day!
- Leaving Half Moon Cay we got caught in a squall and the wind hitting the side of the ship was crazy. I was doing some packing, and I felt like I was mountain climbing! Sure enough, the captain came on and apologized for the listing which was caused by the very high winds, and said they were moving water in the ballast tanks to correct the situation. In truth, it was probably only about 10 degrees -- maybe 15 maximum, but it sure was eerie looking at the horizon and the balcony railing which should be parallel and seeing them form an angle!!! The list was corrected by 6:00 -- or corrected enough that I could stand up in the shower and it would drain!
- We had great weather for the entire trip...the couple times it rained it was either over very quickly or it was late at night. I just read a review of the Zuiderdam cruise we originally booked, and they had very heavy rains for five days, including the canal where all shore excursions were cancelled. Maybe I was lucky that I developed plumbing and A/C paranoia and changed ships!
- I save everything, and I have all the Explorers and dinner menus from our cruise. If you have questions, feel free to ask! Less


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Cabin review: Noordam Deluxe Verandah Suite Upper Promenade 5191

We were in 5191, an aft corner SC. We found the cabin itself to be of adequate size with more than ample storage, but we thought the finishings in our OS on the Mariner of the Seas were much nicer (all granite counter tops, marble floor, glass shower). I would say our SC was roughly half the size of our RCL Owner's Suite, which weighed in at a whopping 630 square feet of interior space and had a full dining table, sectional sofa, and a curtain to partition off the bedroom from the living area. Nevertheless, 5191 had plenty of room for the two of us. The bathroom had a jetted tub and a separate shower, there was a nice "Princess Area" for hair and make-up, and our very comfortable bed was the size of a Caribbean Island with 9 pillows to choose from! Our suite also had tons of electrical outlets, which I thought was nice since I seem to travel with enough equipment to open a Best Buy! Our balcony was what distinguished this cabin from any other we've had. In addition to the glorious view and the gorgeous sunrises/sunsets, we had space to host a "Scenic Cruising" party for our CC Roll Call, and about 16 people fit comfortably on the balcony. Our balcony had two large chairs with ottomans, a round dining height table with four chairs, and a small occasional table. All the chairs were imitation wicker and had cushions...so much more comfortable than sitting on plastic mesh! My one disappointment was that the chaise lounges I had seen in all the photos were no longer there. We could have requested loungers, but they would have been of the mesh variety without cushions, so we didn't bother.

Port and Shore Excursions


Photography Tour

(5.5)
Barbados in Focus was a photography tour with island photographer Ronnie Carrington. This is a great way to see this stunningly beautiful island even if you don't have a camera in your hand! My husband loved the tour, and he hates taking pictures. We learned a lot about Barbados and photography on this tour.

Whale & Dolphin Watching

(5)
The Whale and Dolphin Safari was a boat ride off the coast looking for wildlife. We saw plenty of dolphins, but alas no whales. This tour departed from a pier right next to the ship. We would like to go back to Dominica and see the interior of the island.

We had scheduled the Aquatrax Adventure, but we cancelled it several days in advance when we realized that 6 ports in 6 days were going to leave us in need of some R&R! Since that was our last day on board, we wanted to relax and treat it more like a sea day. We did visit the island for lunch, and understand why many refer to Half Moon Cay as the best private island in the industry.

Panoramic Martinique took us to the mini replica of the Sacred Heart Basilica, through the rainforest, and to the town of St. Pierre which was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Pelee in 1902. Unfortunately, because we were there on a Sunday, almost everything was closed and we couldn't go in the cathedral lest we disturb the worship service. Martinique on a Sunday is probably not a great choice, since in addition to almost everything being closed there are few tours. Our tour, Panoramic Martinique, was fine, but I would have much preferred the one that we booked first, Martinique by Land and Sea, which was cancelled by the tour operator. This was a beautiful island and I would have enjoyed seeing the coastline and Mt. Pelee from the water. Unfortunately, by the time our "scenic-cruising" reached that end of the island it was dark.

We took a Spencer Ambrose tour with our CC Roll Call. This was an awesome excursion, and we got to see the whole island. We worked our way down to Soufriere by van, stopping at a banana plantation, 2 fishing villages, the waterfall, and the volcano. We travelled back to Castries by motorboat and saw the coastline as well as many homes of the rich and famous!

Rhino Riders were a fun way to see the island from the water, with a 30 minute snorkeling stop.

Catamaran Tour

(3)
We took the Champagne Catamaran Sail and Snorkel to St. John. We hadn't been to St. John, and we thought it would be a good idea to get away from St. Thomas since there were 7 ships in port the day we were there. This excursion was good, but it would have been a LOT better if there wasn't a very long (30+ minute) transfer to the marina on an open air bus. The transfer made our four hour excursion last more than 5 hours, and and the (lack of) organization getting us back to port was inexcusable. We stood in the sun for well over 15 minutes while bus after bus passed us by.

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