My wife and I renewed acquaintences with Noordam this April, taking the repo cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona with a couple of ports along the way. We remembered the Noordam as being a very good ship and quite comfortable. However, along the way, there has been some serious upgrading. The ship is now exceptional!
Staff of all levels were unfailingly helpful and uniformly friendly - not the "I have to say good morning to you" friendliness that we've seen on some other lines, but a genuine smile that brightens your whole day. This was true even for the young officers manning the Front Office desk, whose job seems to be principally hearing complaints. Boarding was absolutely painless and the new (at least to us) HAL policy of not requiring life jackets to be worn at boat drill made that part of the program a lot easier.
Food in the main dining room was terrific. The first formal night (of 3) featured a surf and turf that would rival many 4 star restaurants. And the variety of offerings was such that we never got bored. The restaurant staff were friendly, professional and very good at what they do. The Lido cafe seemed to be a little off this time around - the selections were not very inspiring and they all seemed to be a little tired. However, for grabbing lunch when you're not in the mood for the full Dining Room deal it's fine - you certainly will never starve to death on HAL!
The bars continue the wonderful HAL tradition of trotting our hot appetizers around 6:30 at no change, and it's hard to beat a pre-dinner cocktail (or two) in the Crow's Nest.
The not so good:
On the negative side, I have the distinct impression that they're cutting corners with the size of the shot. I tried several mixed drinks and in none of the could you taste the liquor at all. I think the might be able to do a little better for $6.00 plus/drink.
Movies - HAL (at least on the Noordam) has the strangest schedule for showing movies - it changes from day to day, and never seems to make much sense. One day the feature will be at 1:00, 5:00, 7:00, etc., while the next the only showing may be at 10:00PM. Perhaps the most irritating was the showing of Shutter Island (which I really wanted to see) which was only offered for one showing starting at 5:30PM. Not available for those at first sitting for dinner at all, and since this was on a formal night, didn't leave enough time to get ready for the second sitting either. This is just a strange use of resources which seems to follow no rhyme or reason. Also - personal complaint - the free popcorn is horrible. It tastes like is was made in 1952 (although it is obviously freshly made). Either there's a problem with the corn itself or it's the fact that they use no butter, oil, salt, or anything else.
Finally, another personal complaint. I know the days of the wonderful HAL packet containing tickets, luggage tags, etc. are long gone, but the idea of the paper luggage tags you get to print out on your own computer and then attach by whatever means you can think up is a bad one. We did it and of course the tags got lost in the transfer from shore to ship, necessitating the running around looking at 'unidentified luggage' that evening. Fortunately the bags made it aboard OK but this is a cost-savings that really works to the detriment of the passenger. Hopefully HAL will re-think this policy.
Shore excursions in Spain - While the ship's tours mechanically are fine, the quality of the guides was abysmal. Out of four tours, only one spoke decent English - the other three had such a poor command of English as to be almost entirely unintelligible to all the passengers on the tour. I don't know what the problem is with getting decent bilingual guides in Spain, but HAL obviously has one. Be prepared for this if you sign up for one of the ship's tours.
Bottom line - the Noordam is a remarkable ship, and HAL has it running at a standard of excellence which is pretty unusual in this day and age. We have been fans of HAL for a number of years, and this latest cruise only reaffirms that.