We flew to Fort Lauderdale the day before the cruise and stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, 180 SW 18th Avenue, Dania, FL under the "cruise package" rate. This was a very nice hotel and the cruise package worked well for us. We would stay there again. In the morning was a very good breakfast and they shuttled us to the ship, all included in the package. We made our initial reservations for the cruise pretty late and all that was available to book was a Category N inside guarantee. I kept checking back to see if any other cabin categories had opened up with no luck. Finally, the morning of the cruise, while waiting for the hotel shuttle to the ship, I called HAL directly. 2 balconies had opened up, one we later learned due to a last-minute cancellation. We paid to upgrade to a balcony. The rate to upgrade was fair and was well-worth it over the course of the next 10 days. We both used our balcony alot.
When we checked in at the ship a couple of hours later, there was a delay in embarkation, since we had upgraded so close to departure, apparently our paperwork had to be re-done by headquarters in Seattle, so we had to sit and wait for a long time before we could check-in and finally embark. We didn't mind because it was worth it to us to have a balcony and the staff at check-in were friendly.
Since we were Mariners (sailed on HAL once before), upon embarkation, we were shown to the dining room for a "Welcome Back" Mariners luncheon. (Non-Mariners were shown to the Lido buffet for lunch.) After lunch, we went to our cabin and settled in. The cabin we had was fine. Noordam was an average ship. We have been on more beautiful ships, such as Celebrity Solstice, that was a lot nicer ship, and had curved cabins. The worst thing about Noordam was the Lido buffet. It was poorly designed and very spread out and congested at busy times. There were no obvious lines which resulted in people unknowlingly cutting in front of others. All the trays had been removed, resulting in multiple trips back and forth to the buffet. They also have taken out the self-serve stations, so you have to wait while they dish up the food for you. This takes alot longer. Many times the seating area was full and we had a hard time finding a place to sit. When we sailed HAL before (Oosterdam), staff carried trays back to the tables for you. They did not do this on Noordam. We missed it! I ended up getting so frustrated with the congested breakfast buffet and long lines in the morning that I started to order room service every morning, which worked out much better, except you couldn't order eggs benedict. Lido had 8 varieties of eggs benedict, cooked to order, if you wanted to wait long enough to get it, it was good.
Overall, the ship was darker in colors and the carpet was worn in some areas. It seemed outdated, however, it was very clean, it was just a dark decor. I later learned Noordam is scheduled for a dry-dock for updates in a few months. She needs it! (book a sailing after dry-dock).
The best parts about our cruise were the dining in the Vista Dining room, Canaletto, and Pinnacle Grill and the overall service onboard the ship. Dining and service are where HAL shines and she did on Noordam. Food in the Vista Dining room was good and the service was excellent. Food was best on formal nights and on the last night, when they had a special farewell party for us. We ate in Canaletto one night. The service and food were very good. Our best dining experiences were in the Pinnacle Grill where we had dinner twice. It was the most excellent food and service. Our dining experiences each time lasted 2 1/2 to 3 hours. It was well worth the extra cost.
Another area of the cruise that was very pleasing for us was the activities onboard ship. Noordam had many parties, such as Sailaway party on deck, BBQ Bon Voyage dinner on deck, wine and cheese under the stars, pool party with food and music, dessert extravaganza (WOW). Every party was first class. Everything was decorated beautifully with plenty of delicious food. Well-done and impressive. We happened to be onboard during the Super Bowl. They had a great Super Bowl party!! We were also very impressed with the BBQ they had for us on Half Moon Cay, lots of variety and the food was very fresh and tasty. We tried to go to as many as the activities onboard the ship as we could and we loved them all. If you like exceptional dining and service on a mainstream line, HAL is a great choice.
A couple of notes: --we signed up for the wine tasting for $15 per person. This was a joke and a waste of money. It was the worst wine-tasting we have ever been to. While there, they tried to get us to sign-up for another wine-tasting for $35 per person that was supposed to be more authentic. If you are going to do a wine-tasting, do the $35 per person one, not the other, cheaper one. --Afternoon Tea daily was excellent and well-worth it. Great opportunity to make camadrie with fellow passengers. Wait staff wore white gloves and it was well-done. --In Explorations Cafe,(Internet/Library room), there was a coffee bar with selections of small tea sandwiches and sweets. Even though it was not advertised, if you ordered a drink, the sandwiches/sweets were complimentary. Drinks, like a latte, were reasonably priced (around $2), and then he would give you a small plate of the sandwiches or sweets complimentary, if you asked for it.
The service onboard Noordam was excellent. They had the Indonesian/Filipino crew, that is exclusive to HAL. Having sailed several other lines, I would say that it is worth it to sail HAL just to experience the crew. They are the best at sea! Quiet and reserved, they operate at a slower pace, which is perfect for the mostly Mariner clientele. Speaking of the clientele, they were primarily seniors. The ship was sold out, at around 2,000 passengers. There were 13 kids on board. Not too much fun for them. Don't miss the Filipino crew show. They are a proud people and they serve HAL excellently.
One area of the sailing that was disappointing for us was the entertainment. We have experienced far better shows and entertainment on other lines. If you are looking for great entertainment, look for another line. For the price-point of what we paid, HAL offered a lot for the money and was a good value. it's not luxury. Having sailed Crystal twice, and even Celebriaty Solstice, it was not as nice of a cruise compared to those, but luxury costs alot more. For the price-point of this cruise, it was well-worth the money we spent. Beware of the onboard account, since they nickle and dime you for everything (unlike Crystal). Our onboard account for 10 days was $1200.00, including shore excursions. However, that was not including the paid upgrade for the balcony. Like I said, it was worth-it, just be prepared.