As a traveller, I would like to know what to expect if I signed up for this Cruise next year, day by day. Hence the following format. This was our day-by-day experience on the Holland-America Noordam this past month:
THE SHIP: THE NOORDAM: clean, roomy, beautiful. Staff very helpful, friendly and happy. Cabin ready for us and perfect, thanks to our ever-attendant cabin stewards SANDRI & YUDI.(We took a Superior Verandah Balcony cabin on the Navigation (8th) deck, on the Starboard side, so we could see the Mediterranean Coast for the first half of the journey.) Pillow-topper mattresses and pillows with three varieties of softness per person, were a treat. Plenty of closet space, plenty of desk space. Signed up for Internet, and used it from the cabin: just propped open the cabin door to get a good signal. (My #1 complaint: I had to spend $100 for 250 minutes of relatively SLOW internet access. In this "day and age" I feel internet should be free.) Our bath had Jacuzzi-type jets, shower had great showerhead, and we had two sinks: lots of room. Cabin had flat screen LG-brand TV, and DVD player (we brought some of our own DVDs, but it totally was unnecessary, as the ship had a readily-available library of over 900 DVDs, current and all-time favorites, at no cost.
The Culinary Arts Center, sponsored by Food & Wine Magazine, was a treat. Would you like to learn the finer points of making a Steak Diane or Chocolate Mousse? The Center is the place to go, with classes once or twice a day, every day. Some classes are free, some have a nominal cost, usually including a wine refresher.
My wife and I, being in our early-mid-sixties, felt relatively young for this transatlantic crowd, by about ten years. This was not a problem, as this was a relaxed, fun-loving, sophisticated, well-dressed, intelligent group. (As, it seems, are most Holland-America passengers, in our experience.) We got on well with everyone we met. About half the passengers were American, one-third Canadian, balance German, British, Dutch, and other.
Our experience with the crew was typical Holland-America: perfect! We were SO impressed with every crew member with whom we came in contact: happy, helpful, always with a smile and a hello. It doesn't get better than this.
Pre-dinner (we had the 8pm seating), we enjoyed the ambiance and jazz trio in the Ocean Bar, and the perfect attention of our cocktail waitress ANNE. The entire experience was very sophisticated and relaxing. (#2 complaint (AND THERE ARE ONLY TWO): martinis, our drink of choice, should be served in MARTINI glasses, not those Marguerita/fruit cocktail type glasses.) We recommend buying the $100 drink card, good for all drinks, at a cost of $90, saving 10%. We also bought the Navigator five-bottle wine package before boarding, saving money on the wine we had at dinner most evenings.
We can't really comment on the other entertainment on the ship, as we did not really participate, other than attending Internet and photography classes, the Culinary Arts Center, as mentioned elsewhere herein, and a few bingo games. We really enjoyed sitting in the Explorations Cafe, with internet, books, magazines, games, comfortable chairs, coffee bar. In our opinion, this section of the ship should be expanded, as it is easily the busiest part of the ship, day and night. Never enough chairs. The Crow's Nest on the top deck in the bow, was by comparison, relatively empty. We also enjoyed sitting on deck or on our balcony, just enjoying the coastline during the first week and the sea air during the second.
The meals bear over-the-top comments as well: the soups were hot if they were supposed to be hot, cool if they were supposed to be cool, the entrees were always perfectly prepared and at the right temperature, the vegetables were never overdone, the meat was never tough or chewy, the ice cream or frozen yoghurt or sorbet was never melting upon arrival, and the portions were perfectly sized. We never felt the need to send anything back or change our order. The Vista dining room staff was exceptional, always checking to make sure we had everything we needed. Gold Stars to ZEE, LARRY, CHEPPY ANDY, ANDAN, ELMER, VERN, and BINEEN. A perfect event, each time. For variation, we went to the Lido Buffet for a great omelet and cereals at breakfast, a nice sandwich or sushi or hamburger at lunch. Again, very helpful staff, always clearing empty plates, bringing hot coffee, etc. We also dined in the Canaletto once. The Canaletto is a dressed-up, closed-off section of the Lido, where they provide an Italian menu and linen table service. Very nicely done. No extra charge for this variation, to break up the routine a bit. We also had dinner one night at the Pinnacle Grill for a few extra bucks, and this is always worth it on Holland-America. A lovely evening.
DAY ONE: The embarkation process was smooth and uneventful, albeit the "hike" from the ROME airport to the PORT at CIVITAVECCHIA is not a lot of fun after flying across the Atlantic. (Not Holland-America's fault). It was about an hour's bus ride from the airport, and we never even saw Rome. We purchased transfers via Holland-America from Airport to Port. This is recommended.
Day Two: MONACO. Tender to Monaco Pier(five minutes). Ultra-chic, clean, nary a stray leaf on the ground, much less any sort of trash. Best way to see Monaco is the omnipresent HOP ON -â€" HOP OFF double-decker open top bus(17 Euros for a day pass, and you can get the ticket when you get on the bus). You can board right at the port drop-off, they come by every 15 minutes, and have earphones with five or six different languages to choose from. Got off to walk around the Casino and Hotel de Paris (Stop 5), and the Palace grounds (Stop 7). Walk through the Hermitage Hotel (we vow to stay there for a day or three next time through this part of the world).
No graffiti!! (A problem in so many parts of the world today). Monaco is like a real-life DisneyWorld. Even the police force is beautiful, with great uniforms. Car buffs: visit the Automobile Club of Monaco to buy some great monogrammed items from clothing to wallets. You can get a genuine Ferrari hat or shirt here too in Monaco, home of perhaps the most famous of the Grand Prix Formula One races.
Day Three: BARCELONA. $5 bus shuttle to Columbus Circle area of city from the ship's dock. Too far to walk, and not a great area to walk through anyway. We didn't feel a need to take any "tours", since the main street, La Rambla, is a beautiful boulevard with many varied stores. Visit the open air market halfway up the Boulevard on the left. You can buy dried, packaged Morrel mushrooms (15 Euros for a 50 gram bag) to take home, also Iberico Belota ham, best in the world. (Acorn-fed Spanish ham). At the end of La Rambla, at Place de Catalunya, turn right to Portal de l'Angel: a great shopping street, back down to Columbus monument and the bus back to the ship. On the way down Portal de l'Angel, take some side trips on the narrow alleys to get a real feeling for this beautiful city. Great shopping, great stores (loved STRADIVARIUS, which is a woman's clothing store, now in many European cities. Not in USA yet!) Also liked Zara and Mango. Sample the TAPAS: great little "snack" dishes. Grilled calamari! Local beer is great: Cruzcampo. Barcelona is a GREAT city: vibrant, alive, unique, young, thriving!
Day Four: CARTAGENA. Beautiful port. Easy to see why it was fought over for centuries, going back to Hannibal. The city is on its way to becoming a great tourist destination, with fine pedestrian-only boulevards, ancient Roman Ruins everywhere. Walk around to the right from the ship, up Gisbert and around to the left up to the Cartagena Castle. Continue walking across the top, past the Roman amphitheater, to the main shopping area, Calle Mayor, another beautiful pedestrian-only shopping boulevard.
Day Five: MALAGA. $3.50 bus shuttle from ship to city (5 minutes). Clean city, wonderful weather. Main shopping area is straight ahead from shuttle bus, about two blocks. Another beautiful, crowded, pedestrian-only shopping boulevard. (NOTE: shopping at every stop was generally 9am to 1 or 1:30 pm, then 4pm on. Since the ship usually left around 5pm, the only shopping time was before 1 or 1:30 pm.) We took the HOP ON -â€" HOP OFF bus, just to the left of where shuttle bus dropped us off. This one was $22 for a day pass. We got off at the top of the hill behind the city, walked down around Alcazaba and the old ramparts, to Hop On -â€" Hop Off stop 12, and continued around the city back to our starting point. The entire route takes about 90 minutes, but we felt the Alcazaba area was the only area worth walking around. There were four cruise ships in port, so the streets were overwhelmed. Hop On -â€" Hop Off best was to see the area. You can get a bus ticket at the bus stop: no need to get in advance.
Day Six: Cadiz (pronounced "Cadeeth") and Sevilla. We went on internet prior to cruise to book a TOP DAY TOUR of Sevilla. There were eleven of us, all from the ship, on a minivan: plenty of room. (Other passengers booked similar tours through the ship and had the same itinerary, in groups of 50 and for many more dollars.) Our guide JAVIER was excellent, as was the "Sevilla Expert", LOLA, who joined us after we got to Sevilla from Cadiz (this was a 1 Â½ hour road trip, with one stop for refreshments, on the way). Left at 9am, back to the ship at 5pm. Had 1 Â½ hours of free time to wander in Sevilla after the three-hour tour. Stopped for Tapas and a beer. Sevilla is a beautiful old historic city. Good Guides are a necessity. Didn't have to stand in long lines if you were in an organized group like ours. Worth the price right there ($114/person). Read up on your Spanish and Seville history before you go, to add to your enjoyment of this enchanting city.
Day Seven: PORTIMAO. Tendered in to port from ship (20 minutes). Wasn't worth the effort. Dirty, old, not geared from large groups of people. If you do anything here, take a tour OUT of the city!
Day Eight: LISBON. Even though we docked by the city, it wasn't worth getting off the ship. Dirty, graffiti everywhere. A real shame.
Day Nine: at Sea.
Day Ten: MADEIRA. The highlight of the trip. Signed up on line, pre-voyage, with STRAWBERRY WORLD, for a tour to Nun's Valley on this beautiful Island paradise, somewhat reminiscent of Hawaii, albeit with somewhat less greenery on the mountainsides. Our tour with SERGIO in an eight-passenger minivan was excellent. In addition to the two of us, there was another English-speaking couple from Nottingham, England, and two other couples from Germany. Sergio moved back and forth between English and German flawlessly. We were impressed. Nun's Valley, actually the entire 32-mile long / 14-mile wide island of Madeira, is exceptional. Every flowering plant imaginable, from orchids to Protea, from Hibiscus to Sycamore trees, from Norfolk Pine to Frangipani, draped the steep hillsides and cliffs of this volcanic paradise. Our tour covered the highlights of Madeira in about four hours, with a stop for chestnut liquor and chestnut pudding in Nun's Valley. We then were dropped off in town, where we wandered for several hours, thoroughly enjoying ourselves, spending too much money on clothing, accessories, and Madeira Wine. This is a spot we could easily return to for a week or more. Perfect weather, beautiful sights, lovely people.
Day Eleven through Seventeen: At Sea, crossing the Atlantic. Very relaxing. Always plenty to do on the ship, or nothing at all if so desired.
This is a genuine bargain: a great value. We would do it again, and certainly with Holland-America.