This was our 8th cruise in 6 years. We cruise either HAL or Princess because we love their ships, itineraries, crews, and value. We chose this cruise because it visited 2 Eastern Caribbean ports we'd not seen before, San Juan and Grand Turk. We'd also not cruised the Noordam before, although it's identical to two other HAL ships we've had the pleasure of sailing.
Noordam is meticulously maintained. Everything was spotless and appeared to have been recently painted. There were maintenance techs working on various small projects every day. They were never in anyone's way and they worked hard not to inconvenience anyone or interfere with any activities or pedestrian flow. They were also friendly and courteous. Because it was so close to Christmas, the ship was decorated to the hilt. The decorations were obviously Christmas but there were no Santas or Christian-themed items; just trees and wreaths covered in beautiful ornaments, lighted swags, and an enormous village made of cookies and gumdrops.
As always, the food in the MDR was very good. Not "outstanding," but very good. We also ate in the Pinnacle Grille and enjoyed it immensely. I think that was the best NY Strip I've ever had! The Lido buffets were excellent. We especially enjoyed the cooked-to-order pasta, the hard ice cream, and the asian selections. HAL does the buffet much better than Princes, in our opinion, and it's also easier to navigate. We had only one minor complaint, and that was there were no waitstaffers serving water, tea, or coffee. Every time you needed a refill you had to go to a drink station to get it.
While there were no notices advising us that there was evidence of any Norovirus onboard, for the first two days and evenings we weren't allowed to serve ourselves at the buffets and there were no salt & pepper shakers or utensils on the tables. We assume they were just playing it safe. On the 3rd day, everything returned to normal. To be honest, we didn't mind being served at all, and it likely saves money for HAL. Too often, passengers take way more food than they can eat when they serve themselves.
We had been fortunate to get an upgrade opportunity, so we upgraded from the second-lowest verandah tier to a Signature Suite for just $150 pp. At that price, it's definitely worth it! The cabin is a third again as big as the standard verandah; the balcony is, too. And I loved having the double vanity sinks! My DH isn't the neatest guy in the world, so it was wonderful having my own clean sink and vanity area.
Our cabin number was 8087 on the navigation deck. We strongly recommend that location. It's between the mid-ship elevators and the rear stairways. That made it very convenient to get to everything except the Vista Lounge, yet we were under the Lido restaurant (which is carpeted) so it was still very quiet. The Lido deck is wider than the Nav deck, so we had a large overhang over our balcony, which gave us lots of welcome shade. We had two cabin stewards, Ichsan and Jeff. They were very attentive, polite, and unobtrusive. When we first checked in, we asked them for extra soap and towels, and those were delivered immediately. There was an umbrella in the closet if we needed one, a nice touch we hadn't expected. There were more than enough hangars, and we tend to overpack.
Entertainment was a little spotty, but we enjoyed what there was and the "Dancing with the Stars at Sea" is fun to watch.
All in all, this cruise lived up to our expectations of HAL. It continues to be an excellent mainstream line.