We ended up driving to the port and parked at Park N' Go, a very nice service, recommendable. Embarkation was very fast and painless in Ft. Lauderdale, enough said.
First, Holland America's Noordam is an absolutely beautiful ship, a little nicer than the RCI Majesty and much nicer than our 3 NCL ships we've sailed on, which says a lot. The elevators all had a pretty steel embossed designs on the doors, the ships inside trim and colors all had a subdued elegance to them everywhere, we loved the glass outward facing elevators, and the beautiful glass atrium with Xmas decorations everywhere. Speaking of elevators, they're all FAST on the Noordam. It is easy to understand why some had sailed on this elegant ship many times. Public restrooms with rolled towels for drying your hands, sophisticated. We were always given a cool, damp towel when returning to the ship and offered a drink, double sophisticated. The dining rooms are also elegant, fine china, plus the Lido buffet area is comfortable and nicely arranged too with plenty of seating, take notice NCL, seats for everyone is a requirement. Nice outside deck chaise lounge chairs were in high demand everywhere. There are recliners and other comfy chairs in the Crows Nest forward on deck 10. I think that some of the people slept in those recliners and had to be pried out with crow bars when we docked back in Florida.
Our inside room was smaller sized (154sq ft?), but it excelled in closet space, easily swallowing our "local resident, everything goes wardrobes", and luggage all fit nicely under the comfy beds. HAL robes were nice, DW loved it, I never used mine, but amazingly it actually did fit me. Some passengers decided they'd not wear clothes and just wear robes everywhere instead, very tacky people who all looked like they were a few bricks short of a full load. I found I don't really like the inside cabins because it is so dark, and we tended to lose track of sleeping time, making it harder to get up for wake-up calls in the dark. We were both really glad I got the 2 little 0.3W LED nightlights at Home Depot before we left, $6 well spent. I personally found myself wanting to look out the window MANY times, especially when I got up. The LCD TVs were great and I turned on the TV when we woke up, then changed to the webcam channel showing the forward view for my "morning look out the window", rear view webcam was never very good it seemed. At least the webcam channel always had some nice Sinatra or similar music. Kudos to the international ESPN channel for showing 3 NFL games on Sunday, Monday night, and Thursday's game on the ship's TV. We watched a lot of NFL games onboard, yeah baby. Maybe Captian Hans is a NFL fan and demanded it piped in.
We both agreed that the food is also much better overall than NCL, perhaps even better than RCCL, however the Royal Majesty had a nice Asian station with Asian style breakfasts not found on any of our other cruise ships to date. HAL's attempt at an Asian station at the Lido earned a double thumbs down rating from us. The only saving grace was they at least had some hot Sambal sauce available there, which we used on other foods. We also requested the Sambal sauce at dinner on some evenings. Still, the best Asian food to date was at the now retired NCL Majesty's excellent stir fry noodle station, who'd a thunk it!! As mentioned, the Noordam excels for having tons of comfortable seating around the Lido buffet area, so there is no table hogging or over crowding like the darn NCL Garden Cafes, making eating there MUCH more enjoyable. I loved the regular eggs benedict and ate it every single morning, didn't try the other 8 variations. The 3 formal night's menus featured a half lobster and steak, king crab legs or prime rib, and a large lobster tail with a small fillet mignon for the final event. DW and I drooled like to Pavolvian mutts on those formal nights while getting dressed. HAL chefs were good at making really tasty, tender steaks. There only a few minor food criticisms I can make. On the day we boarded there had been a very late food inspection and it messed up all dining for the evening. We tried to eat in the Italian restaurant a couple times but couldn't get in, didn't try the surcharged Pinnacle. Also one lunch in the Lido had some sort of beef rolled around veggies that was leather tough but I gnawed through mine and ate the one DW rejected. I got 3 tiny silver dollar pork cutlets on the first evening and wanted to say "where's dinner?". Oh well, I survived. I am not a coffee drinker, but many said they loved the Dutch coffee on the Noordam, including DW.
The cruise director said they serve an average of 12,000 meals per day for 1900 passengers and crew, hinting that some passengers are pigs and eat more than 3 meals per day, yup. Three was always plenty for us, walked after every meal as usual, and lost weight on the cruise as usual. We took a tour of the kitchen and found it was not as big as expected and I am amazed they can crank out that much food there.
Most of the staff are Indonesian, and they worked very hard. Our two cabin stewards Tono and Made were the best to date. They always seemed to be nearby in the hallways, and loved to say hi. They were always "excellent" except one day when they responded "very good". I joked with them and said, "ah ha, you are not excellent today, you must be having a bad day!!!". They saved me when I went back to the room to get DW vitamins during dinner, only to realize I'd left my keys in my shorts in the room. No problem. Tono to the rescue!!! I gladly left these two guys an extra tip. Some of the waiters didn't seem friendly (except Heri, a tall young guy who we could only get one night). Or "normal" waiter Hendra was very good at his job, and offering recommendations, but not very talkative or friendly. Heidi from NCL is still the champion waiter, she could find time to have fun with passengers and still be an extremely good waiter. We really missed our little Heidi on this trip.
We talked with Captain Hans, very nice guy, during his "autographing session". We asked about sea conditions in the Caribbean since it seemed rough going down, somewhat less coming back. He said was was rougher than normal down and about normal coming back. He said seas are flatter during the summer, but there is the hurricane risk.
DW actually got seasick the second night, woke me to go fetch some meds, so off I went. The onboard clinic had closed and I was standing there looking dumb, half asleep, and trying to figure out plan B. Luckily a nice crew member dressed in a tuxedo recognized a husband in distress and got me a hand-full of the meds. Thankfully the meds killed the sea sickness immediately and DW was fine afterwards, plus happy with her stash of medication. I went to ask about the medication the next day and evidently she wasn't the only one sick, it was standing room only in the medical office.
There were 2 exceptions to the good crew. One black eye crew rating I gave was to the cruise consultant Jayne. We went to her future cruise talk, but missed the first part of it, so I went to her desk in the evening to inquire about onboard deals and she said she was closing for the night, asked me to return later, fair enough. I went back several times and she was always busy. I scratched my head wondering what passengers could talk to about for an hour at a time, but I finally got to speak with her. I explained that this was my first HAL cruise and I wanted to know about the perks of either prebooking or depositing onboard. I explained that NCL always gives an immediate OBC with a future deposit and was excited to find out what HAL did because I loved the ship. She went off on me like I was a criminal, "that would be stupid for us to give you credit now because you'd just cancel the credit card payment for the next cruise, blah, blah, blah". Holy cow woman, all I wanted to know was what the onboard deal was since we got daily fliers mentioning it!! I told her I had no intention of cheating anyone, never did get a straight answer, gave up, and left. The other bad experience was in the dining room. We dined as walk-ins, without an assigned time, and for the most part it worked extremely well, even when requesting a table for 2. We didn't wait for more than 10 minutes any night. However one night they seated us upstairs in the "reserved" section upstairs at 6:30pm. We had not even finished our main course, but were asked what we wanted for desert, which was immediately brought, and for the grand finally Donny, the head Maitre D', kicked us out, "Sir we can not have any early diners remaining when the 8pm passengers are seated, you'll have to leave now", ok off to the Lido to finish desert and drinks. Amazingly, we heard about a guy SCREAMING at the host, demanding to be seated on the upper level. He can have it, no more upstairs dining for us.
We were going to just walk around the Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, got to their incredible BBQ pavilion, and it started raining so we headed back for the ship. A smart move, it poured later.
On Tortola we took a Speedy's ferry over to Virgin Gorda to see the Baths National Park, it was somewhat rough but DW survived. On the way down to the water we saw a woman from the ship heading out in distress with her husband. Her leg was all black (later talked to her onboard in a wheel chair and she was ok) and 100 ft farther down the trail met another woman with her head and face pretty bashed up. Others were helping her out, and she looked to be in shock. I'd bet she ended up in the hospital. They both said big waves had pounded them against the huge rocks at the Baths and I told DW we were NOT getting in the water to risk it. We saw the baths and still walked through some of the "caves", took some nice pictures, looked around, and left.
We couldn't find out much about Martinique before the cruise except it is a French Island, so we took a tour from the ship, all in dollars instead of dealing with Euros. The gardens we visited were fantastic featuring about 10 tame hummingbirds buzzing around the feeders they'd hung, also some banaquits, and even a lizard with a sweet tooth. DW took some great pictures. They can keep the St. Pierre stop except the scenery was nice along the coast. We had a German guy as a guide and he made fun of how lazy the French are. He said since they are socialist, they still make money even if they don't work at all, however he joked that everyone has a new car, I believe it too from what I saw. He also said they go to work about 9am-11am stop for siesta for 2-4 hours then might work a little more and call it a day. Our listed lunch never materialized, we were starving when we got back on the ship, saved by the Lido buffet.
I am almost embarrassed to say on Barbados and St. Lucia I booked some inexpensive excursions myself online, but they both turned out to be fantastic private tours. Many passengers complained bitterly about how much they hated the expensive ship tours at twice the cost of our excursions. In Barbados we went with Scenic Barbados Tours and got an older guy named Marson (pronounced Martian, as in Mars). We were only supposed to be taken to a wildlife park, garden, and a church, but ended up going to about 10 places because he wanted to take us to places he'd want to visit himself instead of just the tour. Barbados is one of the more "polished" islands, weather was absolutely perfect, so we have some nice pictures. As Marson stated, St. Lucia is actually a more naturally beautiful tropical island, but there is a lot more poverty there, and he was dead right. The ship crew was giving presents to 90 kids living in an orphanage the day we were in St. Lucia. DW loved the St. Lucia Serinity private tour with Super Dave because he had some local home made food for us to try in the car, local beer too for me to try. We also stopped for bananas, coconuts ect, and lunch at the Beacon restaurant for a local style buffet, very nice. Snacks were all similar to stuff that DW loved at home in Thailand, except the Piton beer, so she was a very happy camper. We both loved the local style chicken with hot sauce but they thought we were nuts with the amount of yummy hot sauce we use "be careful, its very hot".....can we have more? Banana ketchup? It was good.
In St. Maarten we hopped on an all day water taxi to take us from the Noordam downtown. Philipsburg is a really, really nice place. We walked straight off the ferry a couple blocks and got on a local bus (van) with a Philipsburg-Marigot sign in the front window, and headed to Marigot!! We got to sit in the same traffic jams as the expensive tour busses for a lot less. We just kind of walked to get a feel for the French side and looked around, but it was fun. DW needed a restroom stop so we headed in the new mall in Marigot. The attendant had a sign that it cost $1 to use the bathroom, DW growled, paid and went in. She came out with a strange look on her face and asked for the camera, HUH? She said it was the nicest restroom she'd ever seen and wanted to photograph it. The things some tourists photograph!! The attendant got a good laugh at us. We walked the boardwalk twice looking for the SailorJack's infamous Mama Chang's Bamboo Bar never found it nor had locals never heard of it. We settled for two fruit smoothies at another establishment and moved on.
Surprisingly there were more younger people onboard than the average HAL age 70 we'd read about, also about 45 kids from what we heard and they always seemed to be having fun with their supervisor. We are happy to report that passengers as a whole were mostly civilized on this ship, with a few glaring exceptions. We had the usual couples arguing bitterly, most with that strong NYC accent. I can never figure out why these people seem to like to fight like cats and dogs. One table had a woman, her husband, and another woman. The husband and other woman were embroiled in a 15 minute heated argument before they thankfully all left. The real stars were the couple who came down while we were waiting for dinner. Guys, when your wife falls on the floor, please have the coutesy to help her up instead of just kicking her shoes at her and telling her to get up. A double thumbs down to the pigs sitting next to us who demanded 2 big lobster tails with a steak, only finishing one lobster tail and sending the other to the garbage disposal. On a positive finish, we met a nice couple named Lucky and Jackie, found out they live a couple blocks from us. Now who couldn't like a nice old guy named Lucky!!