We began our cruise from Civitavecchia, Italy on October 31st, 2013. Yes, it was Halloween. We had enjoyed beautiful weather in Rome for five days prior to embarkation. The temperatures ranged between 23 and 26C every day with beautiful sunshine. We never experienced one drop of rain until our last port of call at the Azores. More about that later.
We had arranged for a transfer with RomeCabs to pick us up at our apartment, the Crown Orsetto on the Piazza Navona. We then proceeded to the next pickup point where we had arranged for another couple from CruiceCritic to share the ride to the cruiseport.
This was the easiest and most efficient embarkation we have ever experienced. It took only about 10 minutes to walk into the terminal where we filled out our health form, went straight to counter where they checked us in with our passports, took our picture and we were whistled over to the photographer and then out the door to the awaiting magnificent ship. We walked straight up the gangway where we were greeted with the smiling faces of the crew and one says, “Welcome home”! That was so exciting. So we presented our ship card to be scanned and there we were- onboard! No lineups, no congestion. Quick and easy. This was about 1:00 pm.
We went up to the fifth level to our cabin which was ready for us. We immediately met our cabin steward. The cabin was clean and lovely with a verandah. It was nice to chat with our cabin steward who asked us if everything was OK or if we needed anything. That was a nice touch as we had not had that consideration on other cruises. He was in no hurry to leave and we chatted about the cruise and our cabin. I said we had no complaints and that everything seemed in order. There were two stewards but we didn’t meet his partner until the next day. They always had fresh ice in our bucket every day and kept the cabin clean.
Sailaway was at 5:00 p.m. after muster drill at 4:00 which went very smoothly. Everyone seemed to take it quite seriously and no life jackets are worn any longer for the drill.
That night being Halloween a few passengers dressed up with costumes. I also had dressed up a little. It was fun and people that night went to the Monster Ball in the Queen’s Lounge.
I found the Noordam to be on par with Eurodam but in our opinion we liked the Eurodam a touch better. I missed the Tamarind restaurant and Silk Den.
Most of the flower arrangements on the Noordam were very small and not impressive. I’m not sure if HAL has cut back on flowers on all their ships but this ship had the least we have seen on other HAL cruises. Thankfully they still had the lovely orchids in the Lido buffet dining area and in the public washrooms.
We were very happy with our verandah cabin on the 5th level. There was ample room and storage. We had a mini fridge which was stocked but of course we didn’t use these items as you are charged. The bathroom had a tub and shower which was very clean with toiletries.
The beds are so comfortable. I love their bedding and their beds. The only think lacking was the sound on the TV. The speakers were shot. I put this in my survey for HAL. It’s time to upgrade their TV’s.
We ordered room service for breakfast a few times and it was always right on time and food was hot. The trays were very nicely arranged with a small vase of flowers.
Our cabin stewards were always friendly and did remember our names every time we saw them.
We opted for open dining on this cruise. We usually take the late seating but felt that it’s just too late for us as then we miss most of the shows because we are too tired. We enjoyed open seating. Sometimes we sat at a table of six or eight and sometimes we sat alone for privacy.
The food was great. Service was excellent of course. The servers work so hard to bring you your food in a timely manner. The down side to open seating is that you don’t connect with any particular server. The only entre I found a bit lacking was the surf and turf. The meat was not up to par and a bit stringy or chewy. It wasn’t the best beef I’ve had in the past. Desserts were delicious. I especially love their Tiramisu. Yummmm. My husband always chose the chocolate brownie stack or something like that.
PINNACLE GRILL - $25.00 each
I can’t say enough about this place for fine dining experience. It was absolutely lovely and food was delicious!! Very rich though. Service is wonderful and the atmosphere as well.
We made our reservations for our first formal night. We did this the afternoon we boarded the ship so we had a good selection of times. Our meal consisted of lobster bisque, ceaser salad prepared at our table, lobster tail, whipped potatoes, creamed spinach. SOOOO good. I had the Crème Brulee for dessert. Absolutely delicious. My DH had a magnificent shrimp cocktail. Salmon – a huge portion. We rolled out of there.
We noted that there were no longer the days of the week floor mats in the elevators! I’m not sure if this has been discontinued on every ship or just this one. I don’t care but it was noteworthy.
Note that age demographic was quite elderly. We are “baby boomers” and felt like the babies on the ship which was great mind you. But I felt like we were on a floating retirement home. There were scooters, walkers, wheelchairs, etc. I know that is great that they can travel at that age but I think we will be trying a different cruiseline next time. One man celebrated his 100th birthday onboard. We’re not ready for the retirement home yet….I think we saw a total of TWO young children the whole time on the ship. I felt sorry for them.
Other people have stated on trip reviews that they were bored on a TA. How in the world can anyone be bored on a ship? There are tons of activities all day long to do. I wanted to be in four places at once.
There are lots of activities every day onboard. I went to computer workshops quite often and these were always full to overflowing. Very informative. We played Team Trivia Challenge which was fun. The days were packed with things to do if you wished or you can lounge by the pools and hot tubs or on the promenade deck among many other things. There were seminars, casino, card games, bingo, dancing lessons, pools and hot tubs, movies, etc.
There were less Happy Hours than we have experienced in the past. There was a Happy Hour at the Ocean Bar at 4:00 p.m. and at 10:00 p.m. in Crow’s Nest. We find that those times were not convenient. We did eventually enjoy Happy Hour in the Ocean Bar but never made it to the Crow’s Nest at that late time.
We liked the drinks prepared onboard but 15% was added as a gratuity. Happy hour now consists of one drink at regular price and the second for a dollar plus gratuity. I found their mixed drinks to be consistently delicious. I especially love the Mojito and the gin martinis.
There were no great sales for internet as the cruise progressed. There were some specials for the spa but still pricey.
We enjoyed the Mexican buffet at the Lido poolside and the burgers. Quite often there would be live entertainment here – Greg, the guitar player. Very nice.
REMEMBRANCE DAY and a MEMORIAL SERVICE
Remembrance day/Veterans’ Day occurred while we were sailing and it was VERY nice that the Captain had a minute of silence at 11:00 a.m. followed by the reading of “ In Flanders Fields” over the P.A. That was very appreciated and a good thing to do.
There was also a Memorial service held in the theatre the morning of Nov. 14th for the Filippino crew and staff due to the terrible storm disaster in the Philippines this week. The minister said a few comforting words and prayer as well as the Captain. It was very emotional and touching.
Passengers were invited to watch from the balcony. There were a few guests near me who were crying.
A fund was also set up so that you could donate to help the victims of the devastating typhoon.
We found the HAL singers and dancers to be amazing! The shows were great especially the new production called DROOM. WOW!! The costumes were beautiful.
Craig and the HAL Cats were really good as well as Nicky and the HAL Cats. Glen – solo guitarist. Piano bar – Lee.
Adagio – We were not impressed with them this time. Their sets were too short and they seemed rather lack lustre or unenthused. No personality. Every time we sat down to listen, they would leave within about five minutes for a break.
We especially loved the award winning classic pianist, Tomono Kawamura. Her talent is unbelieveable!! Magnificent piano playing.
We also really enjoyed the singer Toni Warne from England. Her singing is amazing. She sang a medley of Barbara Streisand songs as well as some songs sung by Celine Dion. She had a powerful voice not unlike Barbara Streisand! She was excellent. The ship was really rolling that night due to heavy swells on the ocean but she managed to keep her balance as best she could.
WEATHER and PORTS OF CALL:
The weather in the Mediterranean was absolutely beautiful from Rome right over to the Azores.
Our first stop was at Alicante, Spain. We absolutely love Alicante and all the stops in Spain. We find the prices to be much better here than in Rome as well. We left the ship early in the morning to make our way to the castle Castel Santa Barbara since we had missed going up to this castle the last time we were here. So we knew where we were going and walked along the beach boardwalk to the walkway over the big street. We approached the doors that are made into the side of the cliff. A sign indicated that it didn’t open until 10:00 a.m. Be mindful of this. It was 9:00 a.m. when we arrived there so we had to go back up the street to find a restaurant for a coffee and maybe I could hook up to WiFi.
We found a McDonald’s but the WiFi did NOT work. This was very frustrating. BUT they did serve BEER!! LOL. So my hubby came back with TWO cervezas. Hmmmm. Oh well, we are on vacation. We put in time and then went back to the castle entrance only to find a lineup!! Sigh. At 10:00 we were admitted where we paid the entrance fee. It was 2.50 euros each. We then proceeded down a long corridor into the mountain. OK….don’t feel claustrophobic…..where we made our way to elevators. The people were clumped up here waiting for the one elevator to take people up and down. OK…..don’t feel claustrophobic here…….gulp. Everthing is stainless steel and well lit. No, you are not in the dark. LOL. The lift is about 900 ft and took only about 30 seconds.
Finally it was our turn and up we went. This place is AMAZING!! The views from up here are stunning!! The castle is stunning – you can explore the stonework and the original cavernous rooms, etc. Some of it has been turned into a museum with different artifacts on display. We wandered around and took lots of pics. There was a little outside food and drink place where we sat and had a couple of cold beers. There were a few vendors as well. We tried to visualize the way it would have been a thousand years ago.
After awhile we headed back down and wandered into the old part of Alicante making our way to the lovely little traffic-free streets. So much to see and so little time. We sat on the steps at a small bar and enjoyed a beer with the locals. It was great.
Nov. 3 – Malaga, Spain
The weather couldn’t have been better. Warm and sunny. We were off the ship first thing in the morning. Wandered over to Roman ruins near the base of the castle where they have uncovered an ancient amphitheatre at its base. We went over to Cathedral de Malaga…WOW!! This cathedral is beautiful. It is massive with magnificent carvings in marble. The choir area is breathtaking with intricately carved solid wood. Words can’t do it justice. We participated in the Mass that morning. It was quite a moving experience.
We really enjoy Malaga to wander the quaint streets lined with orange trees. The park area is beautiful too with walkways lined with palms and tropicals.
Nov. 4 – Cadiz, Spain
This dock is located right in town. At 10:00 am we were off the ship and wandering in a beautiful tropical tree garden. Some of the trees are magnificent and huge. They looked like Magnolia tree leaves but not sure if that is what they are. If so, when they bloom it would be awesome. We had no particular plans here for a tour as we just wanted to explore on our own. We followed the sea wall. Lovely walkway and stumbled upon the botanical gardens. There were tall fully sculpted cedar trees here that were the most gorgeous I have ever seen. They had to be at least 40 ft. tall but fully pruned and so thick with foliage you couldn’t push your finger through it. There were also fountains everywhere with flowering bougainvillea and Angel Trumpet trees. The pathways meander through the tall palms and gardens. So lovely. Parrots sing in the treetops.
We walked out to the castle/fort on a causeway of stone over low tide. That was beautiful but alas the fort wasn’t open because it was a Monday. This walkway is very intriguing as all the stones below the causeway were exposed due to the low tide. Everything seemed original.
We found our way to an open air market which is the oldest market in Spain! Mercado Central. We stopped and I had a Sangria. Lovely. There are many local vendors selling produce, meats, cheeses and OLIVES to name a few!! OK…..these are the BEST olives I have ever tasted in my life!! They are delicious. There were pails and large containers of different kinds that are marinated in different ways with garlic, etc. We bought a small container to take back to our cabin to eat with rolls and Spanish wine!! Ahhhhhh…..heavenly. The prices are good and no tax!!
We enjoyed wandering the narrow streets and tasting the local flavours, enjoying the ambiance. We each bought giant cream puffs for one euro each!! Absolutely delicious.
Back onboard by 3:45. Sailaway was about 5:00 pm. Now we were heading to the Azores. The sea is still very calm. We stayed on our verandah to watch the sunset and enjoyed our olives from Cadiz and rolls that Ken had gone to get at the Lido buffet along with our Spanish wine and cheeses. Yummy.
HAL provided a BBQ at the Lido pool area with all Mediterranean dishes – olives, couscous, avocado and chicken, shish kabobs, steak, lamb, fried feta cheese, etc. It was very good. Live music.
Two days at sea and arrive at the Azores.
Nov. 7th – Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores
Raining and cloudy, cool. The first rain we have experienced on our trip.
We had arranged a tour through the Cruise Critic people on the Roll Call. Three vans awaited us after disembarking. We were in one van of 7 with a guide. (Carlos from Adventure Tours). Our guide was awesome. He explained everything to us and was obviously very proud of his island. We had to decide if we wanted to go up into the mountains since it was very misty and foggy up there but we all decided that yes we should go anyway.
This island is lovely and verdant!! Up in the mountains it was as lush as Hawaii with beautiful tall fern trees and palms and lush foliage. Some of the roadways are lined solid with wild hydrangea and azaleas. The blooms were past their prime at this time of year but the guide was telling us how gorgeous it is when they are in full bloom. One can only imagine. It would be breathtaking. Some flower heads were the size of basketballs.
Our guide took us to a tiny little lake called Canary Lake in the hills and woods that is surrounded with azaleas. We walked down the path a bit so he could show us the magnificent moss that grows everywhere. We pushed against the moss wall beside the road and my hand sunk in about TWO FEET – solid moss!!! They obviously have a temperate and wet climate and it was still lightly raining. Unfortunately because of the mist we could not see and experience the magnificent views. Our guide felt so bad and was very apologetic but there was nothing to be done. That’s the weather. He was so disappointed that we were missing the fabulous views of the lakes in the volcanic craters.
We drove through agricultural areas of dairy cows in the fields – very picturesque with green fields of all shades surrounded with ancient rock hedgerows covered in moss. It looked like something you would probably see in Ireland. There were little rainbows popping up from the rain and the sun that was finally starting to shine. So lovely.
We went to the hot springs. This place is fantastic. We saw the most gorgeous fern trees! It was raining and misty but so worth the visit to see this beautiful spot. This area is a lush tropical rainforest. There were also hydrangea bushes around the parking lot that were taller than 6 feet with huge flower heads. I would love to come here when they are blooming and at their peak. The flowers are so thick that you can’t see the greenery during their peak time according to Carlos.
We stopped at a quaint town called Ribeira Grande where Carlos took us to a small liquour store to sample different flavoured brandy. We bought Passion Fruit brandy liqueur. It is fabulous. It was 12 euros for a litre. In fact, as I write this, I’m having a drink of it right now. Heavy in the suitcase but worth it. Takes me back.
Drove back to the town of Ponta Delgada but didn’t have time to walk around. Our guide took us to a supermarket where we could buy wine or whatever we needed. The prices seemed very low. We bought some of their local tea as this is the only area in Europe to grow tea.
Carlos drove us around town pointing out different areas of interest. It seemed like a lovely quaint town with cobblestone streets and many stores. We then had to go back to the ship.
We were very impressed with the Azores and would love to go back.
Friday, Nov. 8th – At sea and beginning our TA.
The next days we spent enjoying the activities of the ship – Team Trivia challenge, computer workshops, cooking demonstrations, flower arranging, spa treatments, etc.
We averaged about 15 kts and about 400 n.m. per day. Ocean was relatively calm except for one thunderstorm the night of the dessert extravaganza. This storm was awesome with blinding lightning, rain and thunder. The captain changed our course a little to avoid the worst of it. I didn’t really notice the ship rolling more though so there must not have been strong winds.
The ocean changed by the day – sometimes larger swells than other days and sometimes more choppy. The weather was mostly cloudy and rainy. As we travelled it became warmer and nicer. By Tuesday, Nov. 12th it was 75 F at 8:25 in the morning and the sun was shining.
We have travelled 3748 n.m. from Azores at 15.6 kts. 5420 feet deep at this point in time.
Nov. 12 the ship was really rocking due to high winds. We are nearing Florida and the ship was really rolling all night.
We never did see any ocean life such as whales blowing or anything jumping other than a few flying fish.
Nov. 15th – Ft. Lauderdale
Received our accounts – gulp. Surprising how things add up. $11.00 pp per day for tips are added on as well. Arrived right on time. Docked at 6:00 a.m. We had been moving our clocks back an hour while crossing the ocean. That was neat to gain an hour almost every day or two.
Our luggage had been taken away in the night as all big suitcases have to be put out in the hallway by 2:00 a.m.
Disembarkation went fairly smoothly except for a backlog of people in the terminal at Immigration/Customs. We waited about ¾ of an hour in line in the terminal to get through.
I had purchased the direct transfer by HAL to the airport. Big mistake !! $20.00 each and we waited and waited for the coach to fill with passengers. Come to find out we could have just jumped in a taxi for $16.00 total and been to the airport in 10 or 15 minutes!! Live and learn.
Everything went smoothly at the airport. Flight on time to Detroit. Arrived in only 2 hours after lifting off in Ft. Lauderdale. We made amazing time. From Detroit we were picked up by my son-in-law and driven home to Ontario.
Can hardly wait for our next cruise!! We were bumped up to Mariner 3 on this cruise.