Just returned from an 11 night Ancient Mystery tour on MS Noordam (2nd time on board the same ship). Fabulous itinerary made even better by the changes, due to recent disruptions in Egypt, from Port Said & Alexandria to Ashdod & Haifa in Israel ' even more of a bonus that HAL gave us $100 pp. as compensation.
Primarily we always chose a cruise based on itinerary / ports of call & Holland America Line excel in this area. The fact you can chose your length of stay i.e. 11 days, 22 days or even 33 days (for the lucky few), is also good as is the fact that the cruises don't loop ' you start in one port & end in another so can get further (although aware for some that embarking & disembarking in differing ports may be an issue). Secondly it comes down to cruise line ' chose a line as you would when choosing a resort & hotel ' they all differ greatly, even within a line it can depend on the individual ship, time of year travelling & even itinerary. Most cruise lines will be busy in school holiday & have kids on board ' some more than others. There are pros & cons with every cruise line.
The MS Noordam is understated but elegant. She isn't the newest ship out there nowadays - 2006 - which is far from old but in ship terms she is showing some small signs of 'wear & tear'. However she is kept it pristine condition (unlike Thomson ships) & constantly cleaned.
Compared to numbers of board there is more than enough public space for each individual & the ship never felt over crowded ' even on days at sea. There was never an issue with regard to sun loungers & getting seats at the shows (as I've experienced on other lines).
Service is excellent particularly in the Vista dining room (Adhi our waiter went out of his way to create origami animals every evening for our son) & food is very good ' well presented & a good choice. Quality of ingredients is superior on HAL compared to other lines we've previously used, as are basics such as coffee in the main vista lounge & fruit juices (not so great in the Lido).
Minimal public announcements - it was a relief not to have constant PA announcements telling us what was going on & flogging over-priced shore excursions, photos & DVD's as some lines do. The daily port of call / event guide was sufficient for this ' you just had to read it.
Shows were enjoyable, again as per the whole ship, understated in style' a comedian, a magician & some 'Broadway' style shows performed by the Noordam singers & dancers which were all good '. If full on 'Vegas' style cheesy shows are your thing you possibly won't agree.
Stateroom (we were in Veranda stateroom 5158) was good ' always kept immaculately clean & tidy by the stateroom attendant. Bed had good quality sheets & was so comfortable it was hard to get out in the morning! Room was quiete - no noise from any other part of the ship. No complaints about the stateroom ' not sure how it differs to other categories. Balcony bigger than that on other ships ' enough room for 3 to sit on it & watch the world go by.
The ship is however reasonable quiet & restrained so if full on fun & partying & pool games are your thing this may not be the line / ship for you. There is enough to do if excursions are you main focus followed by good food & wine, a show & a drink in one of the many bars on board. There is a night club on board & Karaoke on some evenings but we never used these as we were travelling with a 12 year old.
Our only disappointment with HAL was with regard to Turkish Visa's as we were disembarking in Istanbul ' we felt HAL used scare tactics & felt pressured into buying over-priced visas they persisted in arranging at $45 pp. for UK residents when it costs $15 pp. ('10) in port? We had looked into this prior to departure & weren't fooled by HAL but they still caused unnecessary stress & wasted too much of our time whilst we checked facts with home & online to make sure & by queuing on several occasions to sort with guest services. We bought ours Turkish Visa (only needed if disembarking here) for '10 in Kusadsi port & could have done the same before disembarking in Istanbul. I fail to see that HAL did not know this? It was even worse for fellow US passengers ' HAL were trying to charge $85 for something that cost $20 in port! It left a bit of a bitter taste after all the good things they'd strived to do.