November 13th 2010 Embarkation day: We were forced to leave our home much earlier than expected due to a zero visibility warning because of fog. We arrived safely at Detroit Metro with time to spare & eagerly anticipating the boarding of our flight & thankful our baggage weighed in at 49.6 lbs & 49 lbs. We need to book direct flights unfortunately not being able to fly in a day early due to Deb's vacation day allowance & maximizing cruise ship time. Flight on time & successful! Arrived 10:37 am Ft. Lauderdale Florida. We took a cab from the airport to the cruise terminal, which is so close that you can see the cruise ships while taking off & landing at the airport. 2 or 3 miles I believe. The cab rates are $9.95 each way per person. Excitedly we arrived at the cruise terminal for Ms. Noordam. I must mention that this is a large cruise terminal with many ships & that Royal's Oasis of the Seas is outrageously HUGE! HAL has embarkation & disembarkation down to a science & we were also told that now when you board their ships, YOUR ROOM WILL BE READY! Upon boarding we went to the dining room for our welcome back Mariner society lunch provided to past cruisers of HAL. We then went to our room & unpacked our already there luggage. The Ms. Noordam is absolutely gorgeous! Our room was smaller than on Ms. Zaandam & had only one chair & a VERY SMALL table, however we were pleasantly surprised to have a refrigerator that we did not have on Ms. Zaandam. The inside room we had, 7131 was not conducive to entertaining guests. The room however is very pleasantly decorated & proved to be very comfy & had a great working thermostat performing perfectly on both sides of the spectrum. Our cabin stewards Bah & Mahammud are OUTSTANDING & very accommodating & friendly as well! Deb & I are very outgoing people & always seem to have the opportunity of meeting many officers & personal on the ships we have cruised. We enjoyed hanging out with & befriending many that are just exceptional people! We would like to take this time to mention them in hopes that you will make an attempt to meet them & tell them hello for us if you are going to cruise the Ms. Noordam. Leanna Delavin, Front desk supervisor whom we were so pleasantly blessed with again from our cruise on Ms. Zaandam. Leanna is a super sweet young lady that goes to all ends of the spectrum to please you. Leanna, WE LOVE YOU! Thank You for everything! Ben Pablo Head Cellar Master. Ben is a very kind & helpful man that went way out of his way to make sure that we were well cared for. Thank you Mr. Ben Pablo for everything! Glenn Cohen our cruise director. Not only does Glenn have a great announcing voice, he was always asking single ladies of all ages to dance or chatting with guests to find out if he could do anything to make your cruising experience better. Glenn always was smiling & knew your name. DJ Dave Shay our ship DJ & trivia master. Dave provides a lot of fun for all ages with trivia on everything & anything....except 80's Hair Band trivia...LOL! Like to see that soon Dave. :) Mr. James Deering our Hotel Manager. We feel that Mr. Deering is the epitome of Class & professionalism. Not only did he make sure that we had THE BEST CRUISE CRITIC M & G POSSIBLE, he always wanted to know the negatives as well as the positives, & he sincerely values ALL opinions of ALL cruisers in order to improve the sailing experience of ALL cruisers! Mr. Deering, we now know why you are so famous & well known in the cruising industry, Thank You! Richard our events coordinating manager whom helped with the set up of our cruise critic M & G. Richard, & Events Coordinator's now on all of HAL's ships, have been appointed to handle Cruise Critic M & G 's as special functions, as they are learning just how important we members are to the cruising community. We were assured by Mr. Deering & Richard that they read & pay attention to ALL of our reviews! We were Richard's first M & G upon which he did a marvelous job! Every officer that was invited showed up for our M & G!!! Nine total including Captain Scott & cruise director Glenn Cohen. Captain Scott our Captain. Not only did Capt. Scott get us in & out of all of our ports safely & provide us with an enjoyable cruise, but also did a wonderful humanitarian gesture in St. Lucia two weeks before we boarded Ms. Noordam that we would like to mention. Captain Scott & the engineering team uniquely figured out how to pump fresh water OFF of the ship to provide the residents of St. Lucia with drinkable water after the hurricane & heavy rain disasters. Captain Scott also invited the homeless & children of St. Lucia on board to eat & to play in the children's center & pool providing everything down to ice cream & desert! You are the man Captain Scott & God Bless you! Sudiarty our assistant dining room manager. Sudiarty is a VERY kind loving man that will greet each & everyone of you to cruise with him. From his Good Morning Chad & Deb, did you sleep well, to his always smiling face, waves across the dining room & hugs or hand shakes, Sudi is just plain awesome & inspiring! Kris (Steel), Josh, & the HAL Cats. If you are fortunate enough to catch this version of the band by January, you are in for a real treat of talent that surpasses most all cruise bands. Spectacular job guys!! Standing room only!!
Bars: Being partiers we figure that some will appreciate this info. Cocktails $6.75 + 15% gratuity. Wine...not sure. Draft beer 2 for $4.50 + 15% gratuity daily. Bloody Mary's w/ huge shrimp garnish Daily special 10 am - 2 pm 2 FOR 1!!! YAYYYY!! Unlimited Beer $9.95 + 15% gratuity during "tailgate party" & special sporting events. Happy Hours Daily: 2 FOR 1....normally 1 hour a day in the Crow's Nest around 6pm & then in the Northern Lights Dance Club at 10:30pm. Pinnacle Bar had a special on Martinni's daily.
*We must mention the different beverage cards available* $90 got you a $100 worth of goods!!! Best thing about these cards is if you don't use it all, they refund you what you didn't spend!!!!! Win Win situation!!! We went through 10 cards in 20 nights!
Food: We rated the food as we did because we did not want to bring down the main dining rooms rating. We are referring to the Lido buffet's food for all 20 nights. The Lido food in our opinion is average at very best & that is being kind. The selection however is very pleasant as always with HAL. The quality on Ms. Noordam's Lido buffet leaves a lot to be desired such as dry pizza & very bland taste quality. As the trip went on even the juice started to seem "watered down." I must say though that they have a very nice Sushi bar, which I am a huge fan of.
The first ten days in the main dining room had quite a few great tasty dinners, but not what we got used to on Ms. Zaandam. However the last ten days were superior & outstanding!!! Deb & I were one of three couples invited to a special question & answer session with Mr. James Deering that covered what all of our expectations were & how they were met by the crew of Ms. Noordam or how the crew could do better. I definitely attribute being invited to this special event to being a Cruise Critic member. I of course made the same opinionated comment about the food & was enlightened that they had relieved the Chef from the first ten days with a new Chef....alas the reason for such a WONDERFUL difference. Mr. Deering informed me of his interest in investigating the Lido's food quality & I assure you that he will fix that problem very soon. We ate in the pinnacle Grill once for lunch, which was fantastic, & twice for dinner. Our first dinner experience was somewhat deterred from being wonderful by an intoxicated tough guy. The very elegant Pinnacle manager, being a sincere woman, totally understood why we did not eat much & graciously removed the additional charge from our portfolio. Our second dinner was a lovely experience & a must at least once for the moderate cost of $20.00 per person.
Service: The service is excellent on Ms. Noordam other than maybe "I'm having a bad day attitude" occasionally. That was a very rare occurrence & we have to be understanding of that nature because of all of the rudeness & blatant meanness that the employees are required to deal with at all times. However, there was still that "last morning" attitude from most of the crew. How I enjoy seeing rude "last morning" attitude individuals choke when they realize you are doing the B2B at sail away. :)
Ship info: Ms. Noordam is gorgeous. Our Ms. Noordam Caribbean cruise had a much younger average age than our experience on Ms. Zaandam. The ship is of good size & stature. The decorations are exquisite including the gorgeous color changing & rotating center piece in the atrium. Every room on the ship is easily accessible & easy to find.
Ship Activities: We participated in the Steel Drum lessons with Kris (Steel) which are wonderful & very fun! Steel drums are the instruments that make that beautiful & harmonious caribbean sounding music. We also participated in some of the Trivia challenges with DJ Dave Shay. We never won but came very close at times being within a half of a point. We heard that drinks are the prize. The "Pub Crawl" participants always appeared to be having a real good time! The "Pub Crawl" obviously named for some that must crawl back to their stateroom after completion of this event. The activity is purchased for a minimal amount & the participants are given coupons for several different shots(different one at each bar) at each of the pubs, bars & lounges on the ship. Deb participated in a facial & the spa. Deb definitely recommends the facial & Thermal Lounge chairs. The Spa whirlpool looks very inviting but according to Deb is no better than the Lido hot tubs. Just more spacious. Deb tips her hat to Danielle whom made her facial so wonderful & unforgettable.
Entertainment: Deb & I are not your average "let's make the show" kind of people, so please keep this in mind reading this very short attribute. The HAL Cats & Natalie were/are outstanding. The group will be separated in January when they will be "Rotated" to other ships. Rotated is the word used & explained to me by Mr. Bill Prince The entertainment director & V.P. in Seattle. I wrote to Mr. Prince asking him to consider not "Rotating" this incredibly talented group....they are that good. Mr Prince informed me that they hire individual musicians instead of groups. He informed me that by rotating musicians & vacations, tend to keep the talented longer. That is understandable if you know anything about bands, band members & attitudes.
Special Guest musicians were talented & interesting.
The HAL group of performers were ok, they got our attention for one show. We must say though that the sets & stage are absolutely breathtaking! Tons of $$$ in equipment & just the stage itself!
Comedians were ok. We would like to see "late night" comedians that perform "adult comedy." I think HAL is afraid of insulting their normal elderly aged cruisers.
Port & Shore Excursions: Deb & I did not participate in any shore excursions as we did many in Hawaii. We arranged our own this time hitting the beach & Scuba Diving.
Summary: Deb & I had a magnificent time with HAL & Ms. Noordam for this cruise. We met fantastic & wonderful people & Cruise Critic members. The Staff on Ms. Noordam are wonderful & just what we are used to when sailing HAL. BOTTOM LINE RATING: TWO THUMBS UP!! THANK YOU STAFF & HAL! The itinerary on this 20 Collector cruise is magnificent! We are scheduled to cruise Ms. Noordam again March 2012.
Our First & Last Port was Half Moon Cay, Holland America's private island also known as San Salvador island. This little land mass of beautiful trees & sand is exquisite, very likely to be the best beach we saw on our whole trip!! The beach is soft white & extends endlessly into the crystal clear water. There were many choices in activities inc. Horseback riding, Para-sailing, Jet skiing, sailboats, paddle boats for two, kayaking, bike riding on a nature trail, Sting ray encounter, live music, Cabana's(which we had) & found are not necessary to enjoy this beautiful beach, but was very nice to have ice continuously delivered for making adult beverages, & a VERY IMPRESSIVE children's water park with slides, water cannons, trampoline out in the water, & but of course, a friendly shark protruding out of the water for the children to play on. Lunch was provided at no additional charge. Food consisted of Hamburgers, hot dogs, fish, barbecue pork, corn on the cob, chips, traditional picnic sides & deserts. Being beach lover's & conservative, the Noordam could have anchored here for 10 days & offered a $200.00 discount for fuel conservancy & we would have loved it! Half Moon Cay is the bomb!!!!! :) Tendered Port.
Port 2 Grand Turk & Caicos: This Port is separated from the town & definitely owned by the cruise line. Margaritaville is here & has a Beautiful & huge pool along with a surfing pool. When you get off of the ship, you are forced to walk through multiple shops to get to the beach. The beach is decent but is rocky in places & rocky in the water in places. The water was outstandingly clear & had a few signs of marine life. Very nice free umbrella's & chairs for free. However the view is obscured by the ships position on the docks & we felt that all beauty of the horizon & the beach were robbed by this ship positioning. There was another option to go to the left side of the pier, but we do not remember any chairs or umbrella's here & it was a further walk & much less inviting of a beach although ships wouldn't ruin your view. The picture's of this port portray the ships being a much further distance from the beach. We rate Grand Turk as a 4. I plan to dive next visit which I feel will be a better choice. It is very nice that it costs you nothing to get to this beach.
Port 3 Samana Dominican Republic: Quaint poor town. Not much of a beach to mention unless you pay to go to "Bacardi" island. This is the island that Bacardi used for their Rum commercials. We were apprehensive at first about this port hearing from a CC member that it was full of beggars. Everyone turned out to be very nice & helpful to us. Many beautiful Palm trees here & a mountainous landscape. We felt that the enjoyment of this port be "chalked up to" a cultural experience. We chose to walk around in the town here & shop for some Soda for our adult beverages on the ship. We rate Samana a 3. Tendered Port.
Port 4 Bonaire: Beautiful island with tons of marine life. Corals are mostly bleached at this time but are on the mend. We went to a resort beach offered at the pier. Taxi's were affordable..$3.00 per person each way. By early afternoon it began to pour & within an hour & a half the streets were flooded with a foot of water. We ended are day on the beach by 1 pm due to weather. We rate Bonaire 4.5. The beach was ok but the snorkeling & diving are spectacular. Pink Flamingo's are gorgeous here.
Port 5 Curacao: Really neat town & shopping. They have the neatest floating & movable bridge connecting the city over the ship canal. One side is more commercial & one side is more local. Rainy & overcast skies & the threat of yet more bad weather kept us away from the beach & we decided to window shop & have some ice cold beers here. Really neat city. I am sure that the marine life & beaches are incredible here as well being that the ABC islands are so close together. The market showed a huge variety of fish as well. We rate Curacao as a 5. The city is colorful & wonderful & we had a lot of fun for not even hitting the beach.
Port 6 Aruba: This is a very neat & clean hospitable town. We enjoyed walking & shopping for the first half & Eagle beach for the second half of the day. Ride the Bus for transportation! It cost $1.30 each way to the Hotel/Beach section per person each way! We definitely would consider an extended vacation stay in Aruba. Alcohol is VERY expensive here though in comparison to most all other ports. Don't plan on "stocking up" here! The Locals are very friendly here. Eagle beach is incredible offering a VERY beautiful beach with gorgeous water & free tables, Umbrella's & chairs. No cost for this beach. We rate Aruba as a 5.
Port 7 St. Maarten: Always beautiful. Offers nice beach very close on the Dutch side. Every other visit (5) I have remained on the Dutch beach just to the left of the cruise dock & about a mile away. This time, Deb & I opted for the French side at a beautiful & optional nude beach known as Orient Beach. Deb & I with not so perfect bodies decided to stay optionally clothed. Beware though that at any point on this beach, you will experience nudity. I managed to upset Deb many times....."looking!" One irritating thing we must mention about this beach is that every few minutes you are constantly asked to buy something by people who continuously walk from one end to the other on the beach. They NEVER remember that you said no the first time let alone the 100th! A little advice....stay in the water! Very safe beach! Taxi cost from pier was $9.00 per person each way. No cost for this beach. We rate St. Maarten as a 5. The French beaches are gorgeous!
Port 8 St. Lucia: What a gorgeous island with beautiful landscape!!! The Scuba diving here is exceptional!! The corals are some of the most exquisite & colorful I have ever seen!! I dove Superman's flight & the Devil's Hole. These sites are at the base of the Piton's. The Piton's are breath taking & picturesque! Deb went out on the same boat with me & got to snorkel on the beach right below where the Bachelor was filmed at the hotel he stayed at! Wow $1800.00 per night to stay there! You should be able to imagine the beauty of this area known as Soufriere. Don't miss this beautiful area! I also recommend diving or snorkeling with Irwin at the dive shop right outside the terminal doors & to the right. He is a black man & runs an incredible operation at very affordable prices. His boats are fast & get you there & back quickly & comfortably. 2 tank dives with equipment & the boat ride are only $110 & the snorkeling with equipment & boat ride was $45!!! Check into how much $$$ it costs you just to get to Soufriere & then double it to get you back to Castries! HAL only picks you up in Soufriere if you are on one of THEIR excursions. We rate St. Lucia a 5++++++++++++!!!!!!!! Remember that this rating is with your head above & below the water. We will definitely do an extended stay in St. Lucia at a hotel.
Port 9 Barbados: Another beautiful island but not quite as St. Lucia. Diving here & snorkeling are very good here as well though. Coral not as colorful here but very abundant. I must say TURTLES, TURTLES, TURTLES!! We used the dive shop in front of the Hilton. We have to say the best part of our day were these INCREDIBLE fish sandwiches & fish cakes we had up in the parking lot from the beach next to the dive shop. BEST fish sandwich we will EVER have. Get this....Sandwich + fish cakes + Barbados brewed beer = $5.00!!! Look for the little shack in the parking lot behind the yellow life guard station. We rate Barbados as a 5. We are definitely going back for fish sandwiches & hope to find the little old black lady still cooking them!
Port 10 Martinique: We may have had an unlikely situation happen to us here but have the feeling that this is a high crime port. It was also a very short stay, leaving at 12:30pm. We watched the passengers come & go quickly for a short time realizing very quickly why. There is a small & inviting looking beach to the left of the ships bow while in port. It is a very short walking distance as well. Deb & I decided to walk over to it & see what kind of snorkeling this beach had to offer. None. We also experienced two men that tried to relieve us of our snorkeling & dive gear after we had decided there was nothing to see so we would just enjoy the water leaving our bag on the beach. We both agreed to be safe instead of sorry & head quickly back to the ship as well. We rate Martinique as a 2. It was pretty & clean & we may have just been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Never the less, please be cautious here as our opinions seemed to be shared by most.
Port 11 St. Thomas: Again always beautiful! Also decided to finally see the French side as well. Deb snorkeled in the morning & I dove two tanks here as well. Diving & snorkeling is very good here too. In the afternoon we headed to Meagan's Bay Beach rated in the top 10 by National Geographic Magazine. It is gorgeous. $4.00 per person admission fee to enter the beach area. $9.00 per person taxi fare each way from the cruise terminal/pier area. Don't miss the many huge Iguana's on the rocks around the pier! Exciting! HAL has a pier that we shared with Cunard's Queen Mary 2. It is a different pier than I was used to cruising with Carnival. We rate St. Thomas as a 5. St. Thomas has everything to offer & does it all well. Meagan's Bay is Spectacular.