Noordam 21 day Christmas, New Years Caribbean cruise
Getting to the ship
We flew from San Francisco to Ft Lauderdale on JetBlue nonstop overnight getting into Ft Lauderdale at around 7:30am the day before the cruise. We like the overnight flight because it allows for a full day of hanging out on the beach and getting a good night's sleep the day before the cruise. We usually stay at the Extended Stay hotel on the 17th st. Causeway because they have four things we like, 1. they have free airport pickup, 2. they have a free shuttle to the ships the hotel is 1 block for the port, 3. they have a kitchen in the room, and 4. it's close enough to the beach that we can easily walk there. There are also plenty of stores and restaurants nearby.
The ship is in great shape! Most everything was clean and shiny. I had an obstructed ocean view cabin on deck 4. The great thing about these cabins on deck 4 is the window is floor to ceiling so you get lots of light and this particular cabin has the backend of a smaller lifeboat in front of the window of which I could see over the top and the back so my view was good, I could see lots of the water as well as any land we were going by. On deck 1 the ocean view cabin are not obstructed and the window is the usual square window which was about a quarter the size of ours. I usually always get an obstructed ocean view cabin in between lifeboats and the view is always good and the price was right, in fact the price was great since this was both a Christmas day and new year's day cruise and it was the regular price. I compared it to the Emerald Princess 20 day cruise that had similar ports and dates and it was $1,000.00 more per person! All the cruise lines usually jack up the price during the holidays so I was surprised to see this one at the regular price!
My cabin was always clean and well maintained, one thing that seemed a bit strange was that the room steward wasn't filling up the soap dispenser in the shower. I ended up calling the front desk twice to get some more soap. When I saw him he said he was having a hard time getting soap as they were low on it. If that's the real reason then management isn't doing their job! The other thing that was a bit out of the ordinary was that we had come back from an excursion at 2:30pm and our room hadn't been made up. One thing different about HA and Princess is that HA doesn't have any big carts in the hallways, the room attendants work in pairs and carry around small handheld containers with supplies rather than a whole cart that blocks half of the isle on Princess ships. Throughout the entire ship in all of the passenger hallways there are black and white photos of various HA ships from past to present, along with pictures of the insides of ships, some ports and shipyards, along with lots of paintings of Venice. It was always a pleasure to walk down any of the corridors and view the pictures, I frequently went of different decks to get to my cabin so I could look at all of the photos. You get a great feeling for what HA is all about. The public rooms are great; We saw all of the shows in the main theater and never had a problem finding a great seat. The ship is set up to feel more like a small ship. Compared to either the Coral or the Island Princess which are similar in size the Noordams public rooms are smaller as is the atrium. The promenade deck is nice and wide similar to that of the Queen Mary 2.
Since I have food allergies I ate both breakfast and lunch at the Lido buffet every day. For breakfast I usually have fruit and hot cereal of which there is always an abundant supply of. The fruit was always fresh, ripe and delicious. For lunch I made a huge salad of which there was a great salad bar always full of a variety of veggies to choose from. The hot food was plentiful and good. The food in the buffet is as good as Princess. The Lido buffet area gets very crowded at breakfast and lunch time and a line forms that moves quite slowly. Part of the slow line problem is they need to put another staff member on the line to help everyone get their food faster and they need to expand the hot food area, there is a lot of wasted space on the counter. (Princess has remodeled their buffet and they have taken the toast, bread and dessert area and put it in the eating area making it much easier and quicker getting your food). The isle space is too small to handle all the people so there is a lot of bumping going on. I'd like to talk to the designer and find out how they came up with this floor plan.
The other problem was the service in the buffet indoor and outdoor seating. The main thing I noticed is the lack of staff. Princess has quite a bit more staff keeping the tables clean at all times and they always make sure I have some lemonade. I usually ate both breakfast and lunch out on the back deck and had to find my own silverware numerous times while staff members were standing around talking to themselves or trying to sell me a "bar" drink. I took a cruise on the Eurodam 3 years ago and found the same problem on that ship as well. I had read about this on cruise critic for the Eurodam 3 years ago and it's still happening on the Noordam as well. I asked one of the "bar" waiters for some lemonade and they said I had to get it myself, on Princess they always got me some lemonade no matter who I asked. It also took a while to clear the tables They are very good about asking you if you want some drinks from the bar, that was never a problem. I think with a bit more training the staff would be able to provide the "Signature of Excellence" service HA boasts about. I would think the management would want the whole ship to shine brightly.
For dinner we always ate in the main dining room at the earlier seating. The Rembrandt dining room is nicely done although the isles are a bit cramped. All the dinners were great every night. I order a special salad, sauteed vegetables and a yam for each night, while choosing between the various fish, lamb steak and chicken items. For dessert I either had a bowl of berries, or they made me an Apple Tart Tatin. One of the great things about cruising is that you can get almost anything you want when it comes to food, if you ask they will make it for you. The service in the dining room varied, we started downstairs and found the service was hit or miss. Downstairs is the "as you wish dinning" area. On the third day we went upstairs to the traditional seating and had great service from day one, a much better experience. Downstairs the first waiter we had was very slow in getting the food to the table. The second waiter was better although the times varied as to how long it took to get our food. The waiter said the kitchen was slow at times and that was the reason for the delay. Upstairs was always a pleasure, our head waiter was exceptional at getting us everything we wanted and on time.
The terrace grill is great with a nice selection of hamburgers, turkey burgers, lamb burgers, and salmon burgers along with hot dogs and fries. The problem with the Terrace Grill is that the opening to it is too small and they put a huge display of the food in the middle of it so it's hard to see and talk to the servers and cooks making the food. I especially enjoy the lamb burgers and had one every day without the bun. What I noticed was the staff needs some more English lessons and the display needs to removed. Almost no one ever looked at the displays to make their choices, they looked at the sign board or knew what they wanted before making their order. The staff behind the counter would consistently get the order wrong or have to ask again and again what everyone wanted, some passengers were very frustrated with this back and forth confusion. The solution is to get rid of the displays and have the staff take some more English lessons, all very doable at little or no cost to HAL and with a big benefit. I was there every day at lunchtime for 21 days and I saw the same thing going on every day.
The HAL dancers did a good job with their shows and the, singers, pianists, comedians and magicians were all fabulous! We saw all of the shows. The theater is great from just about any seat. The other entertainment throughout the ship was great as well.
Spa and Gym
We used the gym about 15 times - We lift weights and there were no real problems waiting for the machines or the dumbells. The equipment was enough for us to do maintenance workouts. We was there at 3-5pm and there was never any waiting for equipment. Everything was clean and worked! The spa area is mostly a "pay for it" item. If you want to use a locker they are in the pay zone and the "complimentary" sauna is tiny! In the mornings we walked the Promenade deck for an hour everyday and never use the elevators. We only gained 1 pounds on this entire trip.
I booked all my tours through HA before getting on the ship for peace of mind regarding schedules and getting back to the ship on time. If it's a HA tour, they'll wait for you if it's late getting back to the ship. We were usually always right on schedule, arriving spot on time at every port. We took snorkel trips at most of the islands and they were always fun. All in all the process was organized and smooth. All the tours were right on time and everyone was very helpful in making sure we all had a great time.
The Captain was great at giving a 12:55pm update on our progress. He also informed us as to our course when heading out of each port. The weather was good for most of the trip, calm and warm, mostly sunny, with some rain in Bonaire.. On deck 9 you can get out on the front of the ship and see everything up close and personal, it's a great place for viewing coming into ports as well as leaving.
On the mornings of disembarkation I usually get up eat breakfast and find a nice lounge chair either on top deck if it's nice or down on the promenade deck and wait there for my color code to be called thus avoiding the congestion at get off time. HA has a color system of which you get a tag for you bag and when your color and number is called you are able to disembark, ours was brown number 1. The disembarkation was smooth and peaceful with little crowding, we found our bags in the terminal and off we went!.
I would hope the management at HA does some more training with their staff to bring the level of service up to "Signature Class". The ship is great and with a little shining up it will be a winner.