This was a very enjoyable cruise and much to our surprise and delight we came back with a definite feeling that HAL would be a contender for our future cruise dollars. That is until on our return we saw a magazine article about HAL and how they treated a customer when something went terribly wrong. We only encountered minor problems mostly through poor communication. We had problems with the HAL website when checking in and their response was totally lacking and unhelpful. Also when making a reservation (prior to sailing) at the Pinnacle Grill they charged us upfront and the reservation wasn’t even guaranteed! At embarkation too, it would have been nice to know that we could have boarded earlier on in the day. On the cruise it was in the way that they dealt with customer communication for room service and the open dining room reservation system that caused us concern. It has always been our experience that how a company deals with things that go wrong is the best measure of that company and HAL falls short in that regard. With the problems that we had with customer communication we would not want to go with HAL in the future.
The ship had no wow factor it just had the feeling of a comfortable old ship! The captain and officers should get a lot of kudos because the customer contact staff on the Noordam were without exception the happiest/most helpful/hard working crew we have encountered to date.
EMBARKATION: We walked into the embarkation hall at around 2PM to find a vast array of agents waiting to help us with not another passenger in sight!! (It turned out that embarkation actually started at 11AM not the 1PM as we had been told). We were on the ship in minutes and our cabin was ready and the stewards (two of them) waiting to greet us.
DISEMBARKATION: The disembarkation process was also very easy - the lack of continuous announcements starting in the early hours of the morning was especially appreciated. However, one thing that did not work for us was the breakfast that we had ordered from room service. Every day we ordered breakfast in our cabin and every day it was delivered within the requested time frame except for the last morning - the appointed time frame expired at 9AM and we called room service who said they would chase it for us - it never arrived and room service never called back. Our appointed time to disembark was 9:45 and from about 8:30 on our cabin steward was getting steadily more strident in his demands that we leave our cabin by 9AM. We explained that we were waiting for breakfast and that our disembarkation time was 9:45 but that did not assuage his demands. Nobody told us that we could not wait in our cabin until disembarkation - so we did!
DINING: We tried the Italian, Vista, Pinnacle Grill restaurants and the Lido buffet and found the food quality to be very good. The Italian restaurant keeps the same menu throughout the trip so it gets a little difficult to go more than a couple of times! However, the restaurant is much smaller than any of the others and it was a lot more comfortable eating here. The Pinnacle Grill is a nice place to eat with quite a large choice on the menu. Although it was impossible for us to sit at any of the tables by the window on a table for 2 the restaurant does have a nice selection of tables for 2! We ate at the Pinnacle Grill on 2 occasions and we would have eaten there again but we could not obtain a reservation at our desired time - the strange thing was that every time we passed by the restaurant at, or near, our desired time it was half empty!? In the Lido buffet the choices were good but there were no trays provided so you had to arrange to eat only one course at a time and get the drinks on a separate trip too! HAL really needs to work on their communication with the customer! One irritant in this regard was that we did not know that for the open seating at the Vista restaurant that we could/should have made a reservation. We happened to pass the dining reservation desk (by pure chance!) and then when we enquired we were informed that we could make reservations for up to 4 days ahead, however there were no reservations available at all for the next 4 nights - great huh!!! We were finally able to get a dining reservation for the first night (Friday) at 5:15pm (not a good time for us) and in the Italian restaurant for the Saturday and Sunday nights. We then asked the telephone concierge to make reservations for us for the rest of the cruise and she did a good job. Unfortunately, while she reserved the time and table that we requested for each night, we were never able to get the table and were always given a table in the noisiest part of the restaurant. We eventually got so annoyed with this that we told the assistant dining room manager exactly what we thought of their reservation system, from that point on we got the reserved table!!? The Vista reservation system and the communication of how to use the system definitely needs work - it's a shambles! The coffee in all restaurants was really, really bad!!! The mark-up on wine was somewhat excessive – we have got used to exorbitant mark-ups but a wine we can buy locally at $10 cost us $60 on the ship!
PUBLIC AREAS: The public areas seem really small in comparison to other boats we have been on - in particular the shopping area is really small and thus the area allocated to pharmaceuticals is tiny (almost non-existent!) - a problem if someone needs some over the counter supplies.
CABIN: The cabin was well designed with plenty of storage space and the cabin was very quiet during the cruise. The cabin did however have one major design flaw and that is that the air conditioning vent outlet is right above the heads of the passengers when in bed - not a good idea! The balcony was very nice with chairs and a table provided.
SPA: The spa was used multiple times. The whirlpool was really nice and for a daily charge it was worth it! The changing rooms were nice and a locker was provided with a robe and slippers to use inside it. The massage therapist was wonderful, and yes, it was expensive but worth every minute of the expense! As the cruise progresses the spa facility offers more packages at a reduced rate – it certainly pays to wait towards the end if you don’t mind limited time choices.
PORTS OF CALL / SHORE EXCURSIONS: The first port was Half Moon Cay -- we had booked a shore excursion snorkel trip for 1pm -- which required that a tender be taken to the shore. Upon arriving at the pier we were informed that the trip had been canceled. Why oh why could HAL not have told us prior to going to all the trouble of getting ready and tendering to shore??!!
The second port of call was Grand Turk. We just wandered around the port area here.
The third port of call was Samana, Dominican Republic. HAL shore excursion department had left a letter in our cabin about how the roads were very rough and undeveloped and that if we had any questions to contact them. This was a really good example of how to communicate with customers!!! We were able to cancel our excursions without any problem.
The fourth port of call was Willemstad, Curacao. We just wandered around the port area and the downtown area. The weather was hot and humid.
The fifth port of call was Kralenijk, in Bonaire. We took two shore excursions here. The first one was around the island and it was very interesting to see the island but there was really only desert to see. The second one was a snorkel trip and that was really fantastic the water here is so clear that you can see the fish even when the ship is docked in the harbor.
The last port of call was Oranjestad, Aruba. We wandered around the port and town area. The weather was hot and humid.