We’ve recently returned from a 10-night cruise on the Noordam and it was wonderful. We’re a multigenerational family of four - I’m in my 40s, my daughter is 6, and my parents are seniors. My daughter and I have cruised with HAL four times in the last three years and each trip seems to get better.
Embarkation was pretty good. While we had to wait for an hour in the cruise terminal, we were kept informed as to why (the ship had just entered US waters from a transatlantic crossing and US customs was doing a thorough job). When we boarded about 1pm, the cabins were all ready.
The itinerary on this trip is great, and it’s actually the second time we’ve done this particular cruise. Our favourite port is Samana, which may come as a surprise to some who have read reviews of this Dominican Republic port. The key is to do your research, book an excursion, and go with an open mind. We booked a trip to ‘La Playita’ beach with Tours with Terry and it was the best day of the trip. The beach was incredible and not at all busy. The views are the same as at Playa Rincon, but it’s much easier to get to. A delicious lunch was included and our guide was very friendly and helpful.
Half Moon Cay is wonderful. The beach is one of the best you’ll find anywhere and even with two ships there on the same day, there’s still so much room that it never feels crowded.
The beach and pool at Grand Turk is very busy when there are two ships docked, so we opted for a catamaran & snorkel excursion booked through HAL. It was a nice half-day but definitely overpriced.
The stop in Curacao is enjoyable as the ship doesn’t leave until late at night. You’ve got time to do an excursion, look around the port, come back for dinner, and then go back into town of an evening. We went on a beach excursion, which was great for snorkelling but because of the rocky bottom, not so great for those who wanted more of a beach break.
Bonaire is a quaint stop and several years ago, we had taken the water taxi to no-name beach on Klein Bonaire. We booked the excursion again through HAL and on the pier, the group was informed that the water taxi wasn’t functioning. Instead, we were taken to a beach resort which offered amazing snorkelling but also a steep drop-off and a rocky bottom completely unsuitable for children. As my daughter and I had booked a beach break, the excursion substitution wasn’t a good fit for us. I expressed my concern back on the ship and was given a full refund. The tour excursion staff were both friendly & understanding and I appreciated the way they handled the situation.
In Aruba, we took a taxi to Eagle Beach (cost - $14). The beach was fantastic and it was much cheaper than booking another excursion. We were able to rent chairs and an umbrella right in front of the Radisson Hotel.
Having been on the Noordam before, we knew what to expect. As cruise ships go, it’s aging a bit but was in fairly good condition (although a troublesome sewage smell occasionally lingers in the corridors). The room stewards were both the hardest working and friendliest we’ve ever encountered. They knew our names from day one and our room was made up by 9:30am each day. Very prompt. The quality of service you’ll find on HAL is definitely what sets this cruise line apart from others. The crew, from the Philippines and Indonesia, is quite simply the best in the industry. They go above and beyond to make you happy. No-one ever walks by without saying hello and their friendliness is genuine. There may have been service cut-backs but it doesn’t show.
Another reason why the crew is amazing is that they are so good with children. A waiter drew my daughter a very special picture one night in the dining room. Another server in the Lido was so kind to her each night, bringing her special desserts or taking her in hand to the ice cream bar to fix her something special. She got extra-special towel animals each night too. I see that I’ve used the word ‘special’ four times in this paragraph alone and that’s exactly how this crew made my daughter feel - special. I’ve not found this on other cruise lines with more international crews, and on Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, I would go as far as to say that they’ve been downright rude. Not on HAL.
The food was quite good and some meals were better than others. We ate in the dining room several times and service was definitely quicker than on previous cruises. Our preference is the casual dining offered in the Lido Restaurant - it’s buffet style and you can get almost everything offered in the dining room, just at your own pace. Our only issue was the non-stop playing of the same opera CD night after night after night (and this hasn’t changed since our cruise last November). There’s only so many times you can hear “Time to say goodbye” each night without wanting to jump overboard...
Most of the entertainment was great. There was a comedian, a ventriloquist, an amazing singer (Tricia Kelly), and a not-so-hot singer. Two of the ship’s own shows received standing ovations (deservedly) while one was dreadful. The sets and costumes were amazing, although the lead singers were not that strong. There was something for all ages and the quality of the entertainment was far superior to what we found on a much larger Celebrity Solstice-class ship in the spring.
As I mentioned earlier, I was travelling with a 6 year old and some might wonder if this is a good option for kids. My opinion is - absolutely! We keep coming back to HAL in part because of Club HAL. There are good facilities for all ages and lots for kids to do. Activities on some cruises are better than others (I think it depends on the individual counsellors) but there’s a warmth and friendliness which is comforting. If you’re cruising during the school year, then don’t expect there to be a lot of children but that’s part of the appeal for us. The kids who are there receive very personal attention from the counsellors who get to know them quite well. On this cruise, there were on average about six kids at all times in Club HAL and my daughter enjoyed it so much that she was there morning, noon, and night. I would also note that we took a seven-day HAL cruise several years ago and there were about 400 children on board. It’s always going to be less on longer, non-holiday, cruises.
The majority of fellow passengers are definitely older but there was also a good mix of families and younger couples. It doesn’t really matter to me who else is on board - I’m not there to make friends but to spend some quality time with my family. I also admire the many seniors on board - they haven’t let their mobility issues stop them from cruising. It’s easy to make fun but you know what? They’re young at heart and I hope I’m still taking cruises when I’m retired and no longer in top physical condition!
If you’re looking for parties and loud music, hundreds of kids, or the latest nautical bells and whistles, then HAL probably isn’t for you. But if however you’re looking for a relaxing family vacation, with some trips to some wonderful ports and looked after by an amazing crew, then give HAL a try.