Background Information We are a family of three (two adults and one 5 year old daughter). Last year, we took our first cruise on RCL's Adventure of the Seas. While we loved many aspects of this cruise, the food was so horrible that I refused to cruise with them again. We decided to find another cruise line this year that offered a good children's program and hopefully) better food. Pre-Cruise We arrived a day early and stayed at the Westin Diplomat Country Club. I got a great deal on Hotwire for this hotel and would highly recommend it. It's a beautiful property with a great spa and pool area. Also, within walking distance is a huge shopping center with many restaurants and other services.
Embarkation We arrived to the port about 1:30. I found the porters at dockside to be a little too forward. The porter actually held out his hand and ASKED for his tip and he still wasn't done unloading our luggage! Hello, we're from New Jersey we understand the whole tipping thing, but at least wait until you're done completing your service first! The embarkation was somewhat less smooth than our embarkation on the RCL line. It seemed more haphazard but maybe it's a difference in the ports.
Our Cabin The cabin I chose for this cruise was an obstructed-view room. Last year, I wanted a balcony, but to be honest, they make me nervous (especially with a child), so this time I chose a room without a balcony. Our cabin was really nice and our view was fine. The bed was quite comfortable. I only saw two minor problems. First, they had too much stuff in the closets (e.g. life jackets, shelves, etc.) that took up space in all the closets. Therefore, my gowns had to be sort of folded at the bottom. Also, I think they could have offered more wall hooks to hang stuff up on.
Service Overall the service was excellent. Our room stewards were fantastic. They also got our room fixed up at a good time and did a wonderful job. We had multiple problems with some of the bartenders (mostly in the pool area). Many of them had difficulty making certain cocktails and need extra training. For example, they put club soda in a margarita (huh?). When we would say something, they would suddenly act like they didn't understand English. This got frustrating after a while. We loved the Pinnacle Bar and felt that they did a great job.
We also had a problem with the dining room service (Anytime Dining). Our first night, my husband and I (we fed our daughter earlier in the Lido) sat at a table of eight. I would not have minded, however, the woman who was seated next to me was sick and coughed and hacked all through dinner service. I thought she should have either eaten room service or waited for a table for two. The next day, I decided that I would rather eat at a table for two rather than take my chances with other sickly people, so I called reservations and got a reservation for two for 8:00. However, when we arrived, we were told that our reservations were not in the system and they had no tables for two available. I asked to see the manager and he tried to explain that we should have received a yellow card in our room and since we had no idea what he was talking about I "must not have called" and he couldn't do anything more for me. Way to totally tick me off. I told him he better find a way to fix this problem and not to call me a liar and he went off to see if he could find me a table. My husband and I decided in the meantime to eat in the Pinnacle Grill rather than fight with the dining room manager. The dining room manager finally came back and said he had found us a table, but we told him to keep it, as we were done with arguing. However, he did take the initiative in making sure that we had a table for two every evening reserved for us the rest of the cruise, so he redeemed himself!
Dining The food in the main dining room was far, far better than what we had on RCL. We also ate at the Pinnacle Grill on four nights and it was really good. I had a very tender lobster tail and many great steaks at the Grill. My husband was a little disappointed at the tableside Caesar salad. He said that true tableside is when they mash the anchovies around the bowl, put in the raw egg, etc. They did not do this. They either brought out a completed salad or just put the salad in a bowl at your table if you asked for it tableside. Service in both dining rooms by the waiters was very good. They were all very friendly and never messed up our orders.
I was a little disappointed in the Lido. Service there was iffy and it seemed like many of the drink servers avoided diners like the plague. I would have liked something other than iced tea or water with my lunch... Also, the coffee makers on one side of the Lido were out of service the entire cruise. There weren't many dinner choices for kids. We fed our daughter there at dinner time so that she could get back to the kid's program quickly. I thought that the food choices for breakfast and lunch were very good, though, and liked that they put warmers over your plate. Also, I thought the set-up was very good and the lines moved quickly.
Kid's Program My daughter just absolutely LOVED the kid's club. They did a fabulous job! My daughter just couldn't wait to go every day and every night. The program had so many fun things planned and the coordinators were awesome. There were about ten kids in my daughter's age range on this cruise (4-6 year olds). HAL is doing a great job with this program.
Entertainment I'm not the type who is into shows or disco's, so I can't comment on them. We went to the casino a bunch of times and had a really good time. I heard the disco was empty but all the shows looked like they were packed. The library was fantastic (and the librarians were so nice and helpful, too). I had no problem connecting to the internet and there were tons of books and movies to be had. It is also very tastefully decorated and quite a comfortable spot. The lido pool was really nice and the water was warm. I also like hanging out on the other decks. Loungers were very comfortable and there were usually plenty of towels. Some chair hogging went on but many times I think that people just forgot to take their towels and put them in the discarded towel area.
People We met some really fantastic people on this cruise, especially at our Cruise Critic Meet and Greet party. HAL provided cocktails and a lot of people showed up. It was so much fun! I thought that demographically, many people were seniors, but there were also quite a few families onboard, too. Also, EVERYONE we met was very nice and friendly.
Ship The Noordam is a beautiful ship. It is very elegant, clean and understated. The main rooms are very nice and the shops were very well-stocked. Captain Mateboer gave a really informative and fun talk. I highly recommend going to it if you have the time.
Disembarkation Wow, this went really smoothly. They had a silent disembarkation and we stayed in our room until our time came up. We had paid extra to have our bags taken to the airport, but we still had to claim them in the warehouse area. There were plenty of baggage porters, though, and the process was very quick and easy.
Would I cruise again on this line? YES, YES, YES! Why did I choose HAL over other lines? Well, Disney is TOO kid oriented and RCL's food was bland and inedible. Celebrity and Princess look like neat ships, but I thought that HAL's ships were the most elegant. I also loved the itinerary and that it was a ten day cruise instead of a seven day cruise.