We are a couple in our late 30’s/early40’s who sail about once a year (and have sailed most lines) and travelled on this cruise with our 3 year old (her third HAL cruise – she hasn’t sailed any other line). We live in New Jersey and sailed out of Fort Lauderdale.
We had a rocky start to this cruise owing to our daughter being sick (that would be two car seats covered in vomit the first on her way home from school and the second on the way to the airport), arriving late to the airport (due to vomit) to realize we had left our passports at home. Luckily we were flying in the evening before embarkation and my husband was able to standby a later flight, go home wash the second car seat and get our passports. What is funny is that we didn’t even really forget the passports – we never even thought to take them in all our packing – just dumb I know. We had booked a flight the night prior to embarkation as insurance against the weather it also worked as insurance against stupidity.
We stayed in the Holiday Inn Express Convention Center/Cruiseport – free transit from the airport to the hotel. When my daughter and I landed about 930pm it took quite a while for the transport to make it through the airport traffic, which was horrible. We arrived at the hotel about 1015 and received a nice goody bag of water, pretzels and cookies. When my husband arrived at 1am the driver had gone home for the night so the hotel told him to just take a cab and they paid the cabfare. Breakfast in the morning was quite a nice variety but very crowded. We ended up sharing a table with others who would also be on the Noordam though we never saw them again. After breakfast my daughter and I walked to the Total Wine and picked up our internet order –we returned one bottle as the neck was too tall to fit nicely in the box and picked up a replacement bottle that fit better so the box could be closed. We didn’t need to stop anywhere else as we couldn’t come up with anything we had forgotten.
We checked out of the hotel a few minutes of 11 and asked for a cab, 10 minutes and $15 later we were at the ship. We handed over our suitcases and case of wine to the porter and walked into the hall.
Our last cruise out of Fort Lauderdale embarkation was a long lined nightmare –it was the first cruise out for the season. This was the polar opposite. We waited in line about 3 minutes, went got our photo taken, got the armband for our daughter and were done. This was about 11:20. At about 11:45 they started to board. Embarkation took about 4 minutes waiting for the photographers, a quick no thank you and we were on the boat. We were in our room - 4119 obstructed ocean view by noon.
I loved our obstructed view room – we have always sailed verandah before but they were sold out by the time we booked and we couldn’t afford a suite…We had the aft of a life boat and were the last obstructed view room in the line of lifeboats and with the floor to ceiling window half was unobstructed, also at the two tender ports “our” lifeboat was used to tender and we had a full unobstructed view. I would absolutely book this room in the future. The one downside to the oceanview room with three people is that the couch comes closer to the entrance than the bed (as opposed to the balcony room when it is the bed then the couch). When the couch is unfolded and made up into a bed there are about 3 inches of clearance between the foot of the couch and the desk making it nearly impossible to get into the room and to then get up and use the bathroom at night. Luckily our daughter is still small so after the first night we had them not unfold the couch and they just made up the couch as a bed.
The Noordam is a beautiful ship – dark interiors and seemingly “fancy” – a bit dressier than the other ships we have been on.
We walked to the Mariner luncheon and were seated by ourselves which was very nice. In fact this whole cruise we ate just the 2 or three of us and never shared a table – the availability of small tables was great and the longest we ever waited to be seated was about 3 minutes. The dining room staff were lovely but service in general was very slow. Some nights I just couldn’t face waiting that long for dinner so we ate in the Lido. The Lido staff on this ship (Indah, Aerin, Anit and mangers Anton and Erasmo) were outstanding and we specifically sat in certain people’s sections due to the lovely nature of our relationship. The food was the usual – plentiful, nicely served, but not outstanding. The desserts our first night were inedible and I remember the ice cream being different (creamier? more flavorful?) they also didn’t have as much variety of flavors as in the past. The egg salad on the sandwich bar tasted funny to me (maybe the dutch mayo?) The Terrace Grill taco bar became my lunchtime favorite as I could get the chicken fajitas and make a nice grilled chicken salad out of it. In the dining room they had dinner salads with a warm protein every night which were new and I ordered a lot and liked. Our one issue was we tend to eat on the later side (usually 830 or 9 at home till we get home from work and make dinner) and usually the lido stopped serving dinner by 830 and one had to wait until 1030 for late night snack. My husband stated he was tired of pizza (the pizza and pasta being always available).
The entertainment staff on this cruise were lovely. The cruise director Mario is on his first contract as cruise director and is doing a nice job. The show host Jeremy was young and fun. We played pub quiz nightly with Jeremy in addition to the daily general trivia with Mario. There was also occasional food/chocolate trivia with Kiersten the culinary host. The evening shows were the HAL usual, we live just outside New York City and my husband works in entertainment so we are totally jaded, and find the HAL productions fairly awful. Comedian, and ventriloquist were fine but not great. Piano Bar Singer Olga was good and we had a lot of people sailing who were accomplished musicians and sang/played and it was quite nice (two sisters form Montana, one of the members of the Beatles group on board etc). BB King band was nice. The Adagio strings are just a piano and a violin now, they the Hal Cats and the guitarist were all also fine. Hannah the shopping guide let our daughter “win” color changing hair clips the first night which she has worn daily since.
I always do the spa pass allowing me access to the thlassotherapy pool, the steam room and my absolutely favorite heated ceramic loungers. They stopped putting aromatherapy into the steam rooms after the first three days and frequently not all the steam rooms were working. The second day of the cruise it was extremely crowded but it thinned after that. My husband used the elliptical in the gym daily and had no complaints. I walk round and round the promenade deck. We both used a self bribery scheme where we didn’t get our wine for the day until we worked out.
This was the first cruise we have been on where my daughter was old enough for Club Hal and luckily she loved it there! There were 17 kids of the right age and there were never more than 12 in Club Hal. Due to the paucity of kids they combined the 3-7 in the 8-11 room so 3-11 were all together. As 8 of the kids were all one sibling/cousin group this was very nice. The group spoke mixed languages and my daughter only speaks English but this did not seem to deter her at all. Club Hal was open 9am -1130am, 1pm – 4pm and 7-10pm sea days and early in the morning until 4pm port days then 7-10pm. My daughter went almost the whole time they were open sea days, every evening and twice from 230/3 until four on port days so pretty much she always wanted to be in what she called camp/school.
Library was nice, plenty of new books for a 10 day cruise –obviously if one was on board for longer the selection could get thin but it was fine for me (and I’m an avid reader). I also borrowed the ipad nano for the art tour which I always like as I had forgotten to download it from home before I left. We didn’t use the ship’s Internet so I cannot comment on it.
The explore four deal: We had 2 $50 drink cards waiting for us in our room when we arrived – and had fun using them so nice bonus but we definitely drank more cocktails than we otherwise would have. On the afternoon of embarkation a note arrived with our pinnacle grill night being the 3rd night on board at 8pm which was perfect for us.
The Ports: I had chosen this cruise because I really wanted to go to the ABC islands and thought that getting 10 days off was a pipe dream (I usually cannot get more than a week) but it magically worked out and was great –I love the little bit longer cruise. We did not book any tours through HAL (price, and we hate being in a large group and herded to souvenir places).
Half Moon Cay is beautiful, very fine sand and Club Hal can operate on the beach as it is owned by HAL. I dropped the kid off and then had time to walk to the end of the beach and back (about a 75min walk) before picking her up making me feel as though I had done my exercise for the day!
Grand Turk –we never left the cruise port area – the pool is very nice, the beach a bit rocky and hard packed.
Samana Dominican Republic –we booked a tour through Tour Samana with Terry and it was frankly awful. Probably one of the worst independent tours I’ve ever done – I’ll post a separate review on the ports page. One of my close friends who is from DR laughed hysterically as I told her the story and said we should have just walked to the beach in the middle of town and sat at one of the café’s on the beach – yes we should have!
Bonaire – is absolutely lovely, nice laid back vibe, we did a tour with Bonaire Vista Tours which was the antithesis of our Samana tour. I would love to go back but there are no sandy beaches – is it all coral – great snorkeling and diving.
Curacao – We had a tour booked with Irie tours but couldn’t find them - tuned out later we had been on the wrong side of the advertisement sign. We decided to just go walk and poke around and picked up a tour just after crossing the pontoon bridge called Casper tours that was the exact same tour (O.K. different beach) at $10pp less than the Irie tour! So worked out well.
Aruba –Beautiful white sand beach. I walked the wrong way off the ship to our planned beach place (So much for the printed Google map – I swear we were going to be docked elsewhere…) and we ended up on Tamarind beach (about a mile and a half walk from the ship) at an all inclusive. They very nicely invited us to use their loungers and pool for free and when my husband tried to buy drinks from the bar he couldn’t as they were an all inclusive with no cash! We took a cab back to the ship.
Two lovely sea days and we docked back in Fort Lauderdale. We did expedited disembarkation which started a bit later than expected but made the customs line bearable. We then took a cab (through a super disorganized taxi line system where two ships were sharing a line and the port sheriff were making it confusing having two lines instead of one) to the airport. We had booked a 1229 flight home in case the ship didn’t dock as it should. We were at the airport at 8am. We asked if we could standby on the 855am flight and United has a new system where they have figured out how to get even more money out of you and charge $75 to standby –it was free as recently as May – not sure when that changed. We paid the $225 (there are three of us) as we were there, there were seats on the plane and I was to supposed be at work by 5 which would have been very close on the originally scheduled flight.
This cruise was great. My few quibbles – yes things were a bit worn on the ship, the couch in our room never folded back up right so it “popped” up, general trivia and name that tune were only a half an hour apart making it difficult to do both, and Lido dinner being over too early, are definitely small, first world problems. There was one serious problem while we sailed, a power outage the first night we were on board – I found out later it had been caused by changing the fuel filter in Fort Lauderdale causing a clog to get past the filter which automatically shut down the whole system. We were playing pub trivia and then in the main dining room and everything continued just fine. The captain spoke about three times during the incident (including telling us not to worry we were in deep water!) and I felt as though the crew handled the emergency very well.
We initially came to HAL due to the wine policy (we enjoy bringing our own wine on board and consuming it on our balcony by ourselves - yes I know we didn’t have a balcony on this sailing). Since the policy is changing we are looking into other lines to try (We keep thinking we should do Disney as the kid would love it, I am also attracted to the pretty Cunard ships and we enjoyed Princess in the past and you can bring your own wine on them just paying the corkage upfront). Last year we sailed the Nieuw Amsterdam and found the crew really off putting (starting with a strongly worded not nice letter from the captain to all parents telling us to keep out children in line) and weren’t to enthusiastic to sail HAL again. But I really wanted to do this itinerary and it was the last chance to bring on our wine and luckily this cruise completely restored our love of HAL. The crew were so lovely all the time, chatty and engaging and just plain nice. We got a letter from the captain to parents on this cruise too, asking us to make sure our kids were washing their hands properly and not spreading bugs – in a pleasant tone and nicely put. The mood of the ship comes from the captain down and I think that was quite obvious in our two different experiences. So while we want to try other lines and are annoyed about the wine I expect we’ll be back on HAL at some point especially the Noordam.