I traveled as a guest of two veteran cruisers. This was my second cruise with a high school classmate/college fraternity brother pal and his wife. (She being the very soul of kindness and patience.) We had traveled almost exactly a year ago on the Emerald Princess and I was not sure anything could ever meet that standard.
I wasn't encouraged when I boarded the ship. Boarding was fairly painless but we sort of had to find our own way around whereas there was a Princess staff member every few feet pointing us the right direction the year before. It was a tad confusing but we're smart people and we managed it. And I believe that is the main point of a Holland America Cruise vis a vis a Princess Cruise. There is a sense that if you don't know you're way around on a cruise ship, you don't belong there. Similar to - if you have to ask how much...you can't afford it. This is not to say first-timers shouldn't go on HAL - on the contrary, they should.
The longer I was on the ship, the more I appreciated that Holland America doesn't treat you like you're mentally challenged, they treat you like they expect you to be - a cosmopolitan traveler. There is no patronizing or condescension. It was very refreshing to have simple, impeccable service from a professional staff that knows what it's doing. There is one exception...but later.
Now don't get me wrong, the staff on the Noordam is very attractive. But here again was a marked difference from the Emerald Princess. It felt as if the staff on the Princess were required to submit resume pics before they were even interviewed. I have never seen such a gorgeous collection of people - all beautiful and within a certain age range, for the most part. I'm not complaining, mind you, it falls square into the fantasy that one always has about cruising.
On the Noordam there was, though, a much quieter, more refined general appearance. It soon became apparent that we were in very good hands and instead or feeling intimidated, one felt secure in the knowledge that these folks were here to take care of you, not knock you cross-eyed with their dazzling smiles. It was their attention to detail (Knowing your name literally the second time you appear!), the perfect coffee (Jerry), the perfect frou frou drink (Dindo and Cesar), the perfect cocktailer/singer (Sid), the perfect waiter (Manzir), the perfect steward (Yuli) and not least, the perfect maitre d' (Peter). Their attention to detail, charming smiles and heartfelt concern for one's happiness - now that was dazzling. I'm still dazzled and a little misty thinking about the staff at the Ocean Bar. It was a close as one will ever get, in a short ten days, to feeling like you're in an episode of "Cheers."
As for the above hinted-at exception. This is not a criticism of anyone on the ship (I don't think) but of whoever designs the shows for the astonishingly-equipped theater. The three shows we saw were frantically choreographed, weirdly stitched together medleys of banal pop songs that can have a certain appeal, I guess, but get really mind-numbing after about ten minutes. It starts to take on a nightmarish quality, especially when you see some poor dancer come within centimeters of falling into a yawning orchestra pit that keeps floating up and down like a behemoth yoyo. Somebody needs to tell whoever is creating and staging these shows that less is more.
The exception would be the music. Using recorded music to save on musicians is a non-starter. And if one insists on doing it, at least get the mix right. The performers, I must say, were gallant to a fault and were certainly doing their best. Some fine singers and very snappy dancers...I hope they make it through their cruises without any broken limbs.
I took the art tour on the Noordam. I recommend it. Again, where the Princess dazzled, the Noordam grows on you. The subtlety of the interior design becomes more and more impressive with each passing day. It isn't long before you realize that you are living in a truly elegant, maybe perfect (?) space. The understatement is the statement. The beauty of this ship is in the detail and the detail is always full of surprises. There's no doubt that even a thirty day cruise would continue to reveal some new nook or cranny, some previously unnoticed object. The tiling on the floor, the work on the ceiling, the fascinating mix of light fixtures never failed to amaze.
Regarding the lighting, though, I had one thought about the impressive Waterford chandelier in the main atrium. Why one would want to cheapen Waterford crystal with garish pink/purple LED lighting is a curiosity. About half way through the cruise, they turned it off. The chandelier, in pure white light, was magnificent. Note to lighting/interior design person - leave it that way. It's lovely on its own. It need not look like a disco ball.
Well, friends. That's about it. The cabin was lovely, plenty of room for the three of us (it didn't feel like a crowd) and the wrap around deck was a spoiler for me. I could never possibly go on another cruise without that deck! The chances are I will, though. All my best to Dindo, Cesar and Sid...bye bye, you are missed.