Tom and I booked the cruise fourteen months before departure on July 28th, 2009. We were celebrating a special anniversary and the cruise was to be the centerpiece of the longest holiday we have ever taken. A lot of times when you have such a long time to look forward to something, the reality does not live up to the anticipation. Our cruise on board the Noordam was everything and more than we had hoped for.
We flew into Rome on the 21st of July and rented a car for the week prior to the cruise. We got the car as soon as we landed and immeditely left for Venice. Because of accidents and road construction, the trip was MUCH longer than anticipated. I would take a train from the airport to Venice next time. We stayed at a small villa called Quatro Fontane on the Lido. It's a lovely place! Augusto, who is now 80 and still working there, remembered us from 10 years ago.
We stayed in Venice for two nights and then toured Tuscany for a few days. Tuscany is like a Walt Disney production....there is a photo op at every turn. It was our first time there and we can't wait to go back.
We spent Sunday afternoon and evening touring Rome. We stayed at the Inter -Continental hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps. The room was beautifully decorated and overlooked a lovely courtyard where meals were served. The Champagne breakfast was expensive but a special treat.
Monday afternoon we left for the port. We planned to take the train after dropping off the rental car at the airport. Unless you are travelling with very little luggage , don't do it! It's a very long walk with lots of stairs. We ended up getting a car and driver. If we had known in advance how hard it was, we would have booked HAL's transport or a shuttle service.
The night before the cruise, we stayed at the Hotel Triano which had received very good reviews. It was a bit of a disappointment. We found it to be a very basic 2 star hotel. We asked the people at the front desk to recommend a restaurant where we could have seafood and sit outside. Everyone staying at the hotel was directed to an Italian restaurant called "AQUA". It was fine....just not what we had asked for. I wish we had stayed in Rome for the additional night. It's only 1 1/2 hours to the port from Rome and the accomodation was SO much better!
We got to the Noordam about 10:30. With perfect precision on HAL's part, we were on board in half an hour. We had an excellent lunch in the Vista Dining room thanks to a good tip from a former passenger. Virtually everyone ate at the Lido buffet restaurant when coming on board.
We got the all clear to go to our cabins about 2:00 P.M. It was like Christmas when we opened the door to our room. Bottles of wine, Champagne, cards for the Pinnacle Dining Room and a HAL shirt for Tom were displayed on the bed and table. I had ordered these items before boarding on HAL's website.. What a wonderful way to start the cruise!! I wish now that I had ordered more because the wine was quite a savings compared to buying it on the ship. If the wine comes from HAL there isn't a corkage fee.
The next day we went to a Cruise Critic "Meet and Greet" in the Crow's Nest. It was arranged by Swalm 22, a fellow Cruise Critic member. It was a great way to meet some very nice people. I think that Jan(Swalm 22) and his wife Jenny will be forever friends. They are from Holland and we spent a lot of fun time getting to know them.
In advance of the cruise, we booked four nights at the Pinnacle Grill. We only went for two. We found the food in the Vista Dining room to be as good. The Pinnacle Dining Room gives you more ambiance which is part of the extra cost. The service is also very professional. Try to book in the back room of the Grill. It's more quiet and the atmosphere is so nice.
We had a table for two on the rail in the Vista Dining Room. We loved it. It was fun to meet people from all over and talk to them over breakfast and lunch...then for dinner we could enjoy each other at our own private table.
The food was spectacular. Every meal that was served to us could have been on a page in Food and Wine magazine. We took a tour of the kitchen and it was immaculate. Everything is prepared in small batches which is why the taste and presentation is so good. There are over 100 people working in the kitchen. It's amazing to think that all of them have to be graduates of a culinary arts school.
I took a cooking class which was so much fun. Jerome, the head chef of the Pinnacle Grill conducted it. Afterwards we were served the meal we cooked in the Pinnicle Grill, complete with wine. I thought this experience was a great value. I'll defiantely do it again on the next cruise.
Our favorite place to be at night was in the Piano Lounge. Jimmy Maddox was one of the highlights of our trip. He is so talented on the keyboard. One night he gave a Scott Joplin rendition that was better than anything we've ever heard. Jimmy knows how to engage the crowd so everyone has a great time. I was the "La La" girl a couple of nights. I must say that I'm glad that our six kids weren't there to see! Beyond Jimmy's talents he is a VERY nice person!!!!
We spent a couple of late evenings in the Crow's Nest listening to Jenny and the HALcats. They were also talented and enjoyable to dance to. The Crow's Nest will definitely give you more of a "Night Club" kind of feel.
We can't say enough about the staff. To a person, they were always smiling, polite and helpful. They all work so hard and are completely deserving of their tips and more. There are a couple of wonderful crew members that we are keeping in touch with.
The nightly entertainment was OK. We didn't go to the Casino. Amanda the social director was a lot of fun and very friendly. We did a few trivia events with her and really enjoyed them.
The cruise offered many exotic ports of call. Take advantage of Tom(in the Green shirt). He is an expert on every port. We spent a lot of time listening to him on the T.V. His knowledge really helped us to enjoy what we were seeing. We did three tours with HAL. All of them were very good and we were glad that we picked them to go on. Stopping at a different port almost every day was great. HOwever, it got a bit tiring trying to keep all the ports straight..."If it's Tues. we must be in....."
The best compliment that we could pay to both HAL and the captain and crew of the Noordam is that we have already booked the same cruise with them for next year. Almost every Port of Call had two or three different excursions that we would have like to go on. Now we'll have that chance!
As I said at the beginning of this review, Tom and I are now spoiled. I don't think we would even want to try another cruise line in the future. We could not recommend HAL or the Noordam more highly.