Overview- We cruised on HAL in 2008, on the Westerdam, and booked the Noordam for 2011. (We are also planning on the Nieuw Amsterdam for 2013.) We thoroughly enjoy HAL. We are two sisters from Maine who have traveled together to many destinations, often with my daughter. We are excursion and beach people, so the Noordam itinerary was perfect for our desires.
This Noordam itinerary was: St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Lucia, Barbados, Martinique, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay.
St. Maarten/St. Martin- We took the HAL excursion to Orient Beach, after a morning of shopping in Phillipsburg. We enjoyed the sun and beach, but the water was too rough for us- so we sunbathed and walked the beach. Enjoyed Phillipsburg and seeing the real countryside from the bus.
St. Lucia- Took the HAL Island Splendor tour here- went to lovely old home- St. Marks where we appreciated the views and tamarind punch. Then off to a wood More
carving studio which was different- but lots of stuff for sale-kind of commercial. Then to Marigot Bay for photo ops and finally to Anse le Raye which was not a good stop, with very aggressive vendors. We had a good guide- Michelle- learned a great deal from her-find St. Lucia interesting with much natural beauty- but very narrow and winding roads.
Barbados- Had toured Barbados before, so went to Harbour Lights on Carlisle Bay. Great beach and swimming. (Harbour Lights beach facility needs some renovations!) Enjoy Barbados very much- most aspects.
Martinique- A gem in the Caribbean, IMO. Had read mixed reviews, but had very positive experience here. Took the HAL St. Pierre and Balata Gardens tour. Great guide, Yves- good bus, good roads. Traveled from Fort-de-France to St. Pierre to Volcanic Museum (near Mt. Pelee), through the Rain Forest to Balata Gardens which are exceptionally beautiful, then to Balata Church, and back to the ship. Friendly people, especially if you say some French phrases to them.
St. Thomas- Six cruise ships in for the day did not deter us from returning to Magen's Bay Beach for another excellent swim. Yes, it was crowded, but the swimming and beach were fine- we had a fun guide- Gomez- went to a lookout over city- nice vendors. St. Thomas still a favorite. We did not go in to town to shop this time due to the crowds.
Half Moon Cay- Our third time at this gorgeous island in the Bahamas. Good swimming, beach, BBQ- everything.
Noordam- We are very fond of the Noordam and Westerdam. Had an Oceanview on the Main Deck- comfortable, very clean, excellent steward. Only improvement for us would be fitted bed pads with fitted bottom sheets. Maybe they don't use these- but it would be an improvement. Overall very clean and well designed ship except for a bit of a crowded dining room.
Dining- Except for the dining room being a bit crowded in the way the furniture is placed- the Noordam dining is excellent, in our opinion. We did Any Time dining, met many interesting folks, had very good to excellent meals, and look forward to another HAL cruise, in part due to the very fine cuisine.
Had Guava Chicken, Lobster & Filet, Shrimp Provencal, Jerk Chicken with Rice to name a few dinners. Enjoyed the Lido for breakfast and lunch with a few lunches in the dining room. Still think the HAL Lido is the better than those on other lines. Had a good BBQ on St. Lucia night, while cruising near the Pitons. Attended Mariner Embarkation lunch and a second Mariner lunch.
Activities- Went frequently to the Explorations Library/Internet Rooms- used the computers, read, relaxed, browsed books, and viewed the sea from comfortable chairs.
Spent much time at the Sea View Pool-sunning, relaxing, visiting.
Went to a Wine Tasting- highly recommend Frank from Frankfort, who led the activity.
Attended one lounge show- Ballroom Blitz- very good- except a bit loud. Turn down volume, maybe?
Listened to Gary T'To on the guitar often. Went to Pinnacle Bar most evenings for a glass of wine before dinner.
My sister won in the casino several times- she had fun with that.
Staff and Crew of Noordam exceptional. Wonderful Captain- John Scott. What more can I say- the Noordam has to be one of the best ships on the sea!!!!
Embarkation and Debarkation too slow & warm, but organized. Improvements could be made with this process.
Pre Cruise- Stayed at Holiday Inn Express Convention Center. Had stayed there before, but not impressed with new management- so Embassy Suites for us next year. Less