The Noordam is an attractive ship in the size range that we prefer (60 to 100 thousand tons) and sports the features that we particularly like about Vista Class ships - a proper walkaround promenade deck, a classic forward observation lounge and abundant oudoor and lido space. These ships never feel crowded. (We gathered from several disgruntled parties whom we met on board our cruise that HAL has messed with this in their two latest ships Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam where lido and open deck space has been converted to private Cabanas giving the ships a crowded feeling but I cannot speak from personal experience. Too bad if true.)
Our main attraction to this cruise was the itinerary which offered a six day crossing to the Azores (7+ days at sea is too much in my opinion), my favorite Spanish ports Cadiz, Valencia and Barcelona (2 full days) and our preferred destination of Rome. And the price was great.
The interior decor is fairly attractive and comfortable with a few missteps from the loony designer Joe Farcus who I gather will no longer have a hand in future HAL interiors. Yay! The Pinnacle Bar had the ugliest furniture I have ever seen on ship without the redeeming virtue ugly furniture sometimes has. It wasn't even comfortable. Consequently it was usually empty and the crowds migrated to the Ocean Bar, Sports Bar and the Crowsnest. Even the often underused Vista Bar became the center for the LGBT crowd and hosted a busy and lively pre dinner gathering each night to which anyone was welcome. The trio in the Ocean Bar was good and well attended. The Sports Bar hosted the smokers on-board. The Piano Bar wasn't as busy as they usually are probably because the pianist wasn't very good. The Casino also was often quiet perhaps because of the sheer length of the cruise. As seems the case on most HAL ships the nightclub/disco was usually deserted. Explorations, a multi purpose room with library, internet, games, maps comfy seats and a good coffee bar was easily the most popular place on board, always busy from early to late and just a nice place to be. It needs to be expanded in future designs. Mercifully the so called "art gallery" and its so called "art" was gone, the space to be converted into a new but undisclosed feature. I thought the shops were OK but dedicated shoppers on board complained that they were too small. The theaters on Vista ships are comfy and well designed and most seats have good sightlines. The Adagio Strings (quartet) were very good but young musicians who tended to giggle and chat amongst themselves and get distracted. Excellent music though if a) you could find them and b) they paid attention to what they were doing. Show lounge entertainment was routine cruise ship stuff although a quartet of opera singers and accompanying concert pianist turned out to be a hit (and surprised the HAL staff I think). HAL was never known for top notch entertainment. In the end though, this is a great ship to find a comfortable deck chair (they are better than most lines), blanket thoughtfully provided if necessary, open a good book and in between reading solve the problems of the world and answer the mysteries of life as the ocean glides majestically by. Or just snooze.
The dining room operation was very crisp and well run although like on every ship your particular experience will depend on the waiter you get. Ours was fantastic and the overall experience was therefore a treat. During open seat lunches and breakfasts I endured a couple (not many) of less competent waiters so its a bit of the luck of the draw. I prefer having the same waiter so I opt for fixed 2nd seating. I have never tried anytime dining but I didn't hear any complaining about it either. Holland America food is good. Not great but good. A tad bland and after 16 days the lack of kitchen pizzazz became a little wearing. Steaks arrive to the doneness ordered and lobster tails were not overcooked. A wonder. My most serious complaint would be that hot soups were never hot and cold soups were never cold. Ditto breakfast juice - always tepid until the end when they started putting ice cubes in it. Should be an east problem for HAL to fix. Finally, stews and braises seemed to be a weak point, somewhat chewy and stringy rather than tender and succulent. The Lido buffet is fairly well laid out, offers good choice and seems to be increasing the number of items made to order. The Canaletto, a section of the Lido dressed up with white linens and candles, offers Italian fare of varying quality served by Indonesians dressed as Venetian Boatmen. A change from the ordinary on a long cruise and popular. No extra charge but reservations required and hard to get. Had an excellent meal in the Pinnacle Grill the specialty steakhouse on board. $20 dollar surcharge and worth it. 1998 Chateau Petrus available at $3300.00 a bottle. Didn't try it. Wanted to.
Service throughout the ship is friendly and agreeable. HAL hasn't launched a new ship for a little while which is a good thing. They were coming down the ways so fast that the ability of HAL to properly train new staff was out stripped by the number of positions to fill. Our last cruise was bedevilled by young crewmembers who tried hard but had little idea of what to do or how to do it. The crew on the Noordam however is now settled in, experienced and works like a well oiled machine. I had no complains with staff in any department.
My inside cabin had a very comfortable bed, excellent linens, lots of hanging space, lots of hot water with good pressure and the two best cabin stewards I have ever had in over 40 years of going to sea. Nuff said.
I will review ports elsewhere. Suffice to say that we arrived and left on time except from Almeria where an accident with a tender (they dropped it, bounced it off the starboard railings and dumped it upsidedown into the sea.) It was during a test and no passengers were ever in danger and no crew were hurt. We left the damaged tender behind so six obstructed view cabins got commanding sea views as a surprise bonus. This made us 2 ours late into Valencia but we stayed later to make it up.
HAL did not make clear that one of the shuttle buses at Civitavecchia went to the train station (as opposed to the port entrance) causing a number of passengers, some elderly, to haul baggage on a 3 block hike to the station. Not good.
The internet service on the Noordam is unacceptably slow and most of your money will be wasted waiting for connections. It is provided by an outside company whose rep blithely told us that the service would be better if HAL paid for a better connection. Hmmmm. People were really annoyed and feeling ripped off.
I conclusion, this was a very good cruise at a great price and I recommend HAL and the Noordam for those seeking a quite well run operation with a minimum of annoying announcements and high pressure sales pumps. Even the ships photographers weren't too annoying. My fellow passengers were mainly in the 50 to 70 bracket, as am I, and the product is geared to us.
Which brings me to my final question. Given this demographic why is there no golf on board but instead an unused basketball court? Hmmm....
I would sail HAL and the Noordam again.