Background -- We are 4 Canadians in their mid 50's. We are not committed to any one cruise line. We pick each cruise based on itinerary, price and then preferably a ship that is not too old.
Pre-cruise -- We had stayed at the Hampton Inn for the last 2 cruises but prices had gone up enough to warrant looking into a new hotel. We decided to try the Sleep Inn Dania on 5th & Sheridan and were quite comfortable there. They include breakfast (eggs, sausage, waffles, etc). Admittedly, it is not near the port but they do have a free shuttle from the airport (as long as you don't arrive at midnight) and a shuttle to the port for $10. The hotel was clean and that's all we really require. There is a Publix (with 2 wine aisles) across the street as well as a few small restaurants. If you are in reasonable walking condition, you can walk to the beach (about Â½ hr taking it slow and stopping for pictures). From there you can pick up a water taxi and tour around. We were very happy that we flew in 2 days early rather than the day before as our friends got caught in a re-routing nightmare and arrived in Fort Lauderdale only hours before the cruise sailed.
Embarkation -- Easy, kudos to the very friendly staff at the check in counter. We only have 5 cruises under our belt but I think this is the first cruise that we didn't have anyone meeting us at the end of the gangway to welcome us to the ship (except for someone from the spa giving out phamplets). This is just an observation, certainly did not affect our cruise.
Cabin -- We were on the 4th floor (4032) and had a metal verandah opposed to the glass ones. This means that when you are sitting down, you can't see the water. While we appreciated the extra footage and it certainly was private, I think we will return to the glass fronts should we book another verandah. Our cabin was clean; beds were comfortable; and we found our stateroom attendants unobtrusive while keeping the room spotless and we always had ice if we required it. I enjoyed having the luxury of a bathtub although the drain didn't seem to be able to hold any water for long. The showers had good water pressure. We did notice the lack of carts and dirty dish trays in the hallways -- a nice touch.
A thank you here to cruise critic member "Gma Pajama" and the staff of the Noordam for organizing a well attended meet and greet with delicious goodies in the Crows Nest.
Dining -- MDR - We had requested a table for 8 and were sat with 4 other Canadians. We spent many enjoyable dinners and after dinner drinks with them. Although I had read some questionable reviews about the food in the dining room, we had no complaints with the food or service. I tried the steak once from the everyday menu and found it very tender and quite enough for two! Again, thanks to Deddy and Adi for their attentive service and for the plates of chocolate we were treated to a few times. Lido Buffet - The Lido had a good variety of choices and again, no complaints. We did not try any of the specialty restaurants as we were happy with the Main Dining Room and the Lido. The Lido staff was very helpful and attentive, probably the best we've seen on any ship.
Entertainment -- We enjoyed most shows but thought that the pianist "Brett Cave" was the best. (Ever!) The solo guitarist David that played in the Crow's Nest in the evenings was enjoyable as well. We were not wild about the Noordam Dancers shows. I guess we were comparing it to the Cirque type entertainment on the Celebrity Equinox last year and it just didn't measure up in our humble opinion.
Activities -- While we saw many things we would have enjoyed doing, this was a pretty laid back cruise for us and we spent a lot of time relaxing on deck, on the verandah, in the bars, and just wandering around.
Grand Turk: cancelled due to high winds -- this was not a disappointment to us as we had done this port before and we do love our "sea" days.
Half Moon Cay -- Water was stunning, beach was the most perfect powdery sand. Buffet was decent. We were so happy that we were able to get off here.
Samana -- We had a zip lining tour planned here. Unfortunately, since we arrived early, they sent off a group that had gotten off the ship early and we didn't have a group large enough to take. Book a tour here if you plan to get off the ship.
Curacao -- What a beautiful port! The colors of the buildings were beautiful and we enjoyed strolling around the port. We also took a tour with Irie Tours which was interesting with a brief stop at a beach. Thanks to the Irie Tours office which allowed us to access their internet for free while waiting for the bus to depart.
Bonaire -- By far, this was our favorite port. We did the snorkeling tour with Woodwind in the morning and wandered around the port in the afternoon. The Woodwind staff was very patient with this beginner who is very leary around ocean waves. The reef is truly magical here and we saw thousands of fish. This is the least commercialized port and we enjoyed talking with the local vendors selling their own products rather than the usual mass marketed "treasures" with the islands name stamped on it.
Aruba -- A very commercialized island but still enjoyable. We picked up a 2 hour bus tour here at the last minute ( a large air conditioned bus; not our favorite tour -- too many people -- less personal). At the end we had a quick lunch at Iguana Joes and walked up and down the strip, checking out the stores.
Disembarkment -- Easy, easy, easy. Cabs were plentiful. I only wish ships offered the quick luggage service for Canadian bound flights but I'm sure that is a customs prerequisite, not HAL's.
Con's -- smoking in the casino which kept us out of it, a consistently draining bathtub, a slight sewer odor for a few days in our corridor and worst of all - they made us leave the ship after only 10 days of pampering!
Pro's -- GREAT service and great ports. Special thanks to DJ Jazzy who kept the Northern Lights Lounge open late for 4 Canadians who wanted to dance one night. The Noordam is a very pretty ship.
Would we sail HAL again? Yes - if the itinerary and price are right. We've never had a "bad" cruise and only wish we weren't so landlocked so we could enjoy more of them.