This cruise on the Noordam was my 22nd cruise and 1st with Holland America. I chose this cruise specifically for the itinerary and for the ship, which was very-well reviewed in two cruise guides. My husband and I are scuba divers and we loved that this cruise would take us to many great diving destinations. I was somewhat concerned that we would be the youngest people on the ship (I am 47 and my husband is 41) and that would be awkward for us. However, my fears were totally unfounded. We had a great time and want to share our experience for others who may be considering this line, this ship or itinerary.
We flew into Ft. Lauderdale the same day that our cruise departed and arrived at the ship around 3:15 pm for a 5:00 pm departure. We flew Jet Blue from Richmond, VA and were very pleased with the airline, the service and the flight itself. When we got to the terminal, it was empty and we sailed through our check-in. We boarded, went to our cabin, freshened up and took a quick stroll before the muster drill. The muster drill went as they all do, no one listening and people refusing to move an inch for passengers trying to fit into their assigned section. After the drill, we went to the Lido Grill to get a snack. We then went to our cabin verandah to watch the ship depart from port and to unpack. We purchased the unlimited laundry package and immediately sent much of our clothing to be pressed. We then went to explore the ship and get our bearings as to where the casino, shopping, dining rooms, etc. were. I liked the understated elegance of the ship. Although some areas did get a little too close to the New Orleans bordello style of decorating that many lines seem to emulate, the Noordam's interior spaces were usually pleasing to the eye and not
garish or overdone.
The first night, all of my husband's trousers, dress shirts and jackets were being pressed, so we went to the Lido for dinner. This buffet style restaurant had good food and an amazing variety of offerings. It was not gourmet dining, but was completely acceptable. We purchased soda and beverage cards ahead of time, so we found it easy to get bar service.
Later that evening, we went to the casino to play the tables. We started with 3 Card Poker and I proceeded to do nicely, getting my first Straight Flush of the cruise that night. We loved the casino staff and dealers and the fun we had with them the first night continued through out the cruise. We also met some great people with whom we would end up spending a lot of our cruise.
The next day, we went to the private island of Holland America (which I understand they share with other lines under the CCL umbrella)! But on that day, we were the only ship there. The day started out cloudy with drizzle, as often happens in the Caribbean, but the sun soon came out. The island was surrounded by absolutely gorgeous turquoise water and white Sand beaches. There was a little shopping village which was not very impressive, but the beaches were great. We took our snorkeling gear and jumped in the water. The sea life was very minimal, but we enjoyed being in the water. We found quite a few sand dollars which we gave to some of the children on the beach. I found two beer cans underwater and proceeded to carry them to the trashcan. To my surprise, something moved against my hand, and looking down at the can, I found a tiny octopus glaring at me, annoyed that I was trying to throw away his place of residence! I quickly escorted my new buddy back to the water, with his beer can home, but he climbed out and swam away as I gently placed him back in the water. That was really cool! The island BBQ was okay, but nothing to write home about. We enjoyed our day relaxing at the beach, saw some friends from the casino and hung out with them. We headed back to the ship by tender and got ready for our first formal night.
That evening, we got all dressed up and went to the dining room. I had brought 6 bottles of wine aboard with us, so we took one of those with us for dinner. The wine steward promptly corked and recanted the wine for us with no fuss. Dinner was nice, again not exceptional but good, with formal service, varied selections and an attentive waitstaff. We requested open dining, so we sat at a table with 4 lovely seniors from Florida.
That evening, we returned to the casino and I was dealt yet another Straight Flush AND 3 Of a kind! We had a great time!
The next day we went to the Turks and Caicos and my husband and I went diving. I found the dive shop on the Internet, and while they had good reviews, we found them to be disorganized and not safety conscious. We enjoyed the dive and saw some great sea-life, including spear fishing of several lion fish. We would not dive with Grand Turk Diving again.
After our dive, the dive shop dropped us off on the beach right near where our cruise ship was docked. After stowing our gear and a quick shower, we went to Margaritaville for drink and a snack. The food was only mediocre, but we picked up the requisite t-shirts for friends and family members. We liked the island and would like to return for more diving and exploring. We returned to the ship, rested awhile, went to dinner and this time, we had a table to ourselves. The food was again good, and we took one of our wines to drink. We went to the casino, and I got not one, but two Straight Flushes at the three card poker table!
The next day, we went to La Samana, Dominican Republic. We did not dive, but chose to hang out with some friends from the ship. We disembarked the tender and booked an island tour. The tour was disappointing. I have been to the DR many times, but the people have become bitter and entitled, nagging the crap out of you for money, completely ruining any chance of fun for you. I will not soon waste my time going to the DR again. We boarded the ship early in the afternoon, glad to be back on board. We booked an evening at The Pinnacle Grill, so after a late lunch, we rested,
watched a movie and got ready for dinner. We met our friends at Happy Hour and enjoyed cocktails and appetizers with them before dinner.
Our dinner at the Pinnacle Grill Was wonderful. I brought a wonderful bottle of wine to drink and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner. My husband had Onion soup gratinee', I an amazing goat cheese salad, he a huge steak and I had lobster, with asparagus and fabulous potatoes, chocolate souffle and creme brulée, wonderful bread, Amuse Bouche, delicious petit-fours, aromatic and rich coffee. We could barely move when finished. If you are considering this as an add-on to your cruise, do it! On our next Holland Cruise, we may choose to dine there every evening!
After dinner, off to the casino, as usual, but Lady Luck was nowhere to be found. My husband switched to blackjack and I continued with poker. We still had a great evening!
The next day we spent at sea, relaxing, playing team trivia, sitting by the pool and just enjoying the unbelievably blue water as it went by, watching the flying fish skim the water, escaping the bow by sailing off of the ship's pressure waves. Dinner in the formal dining room again, this time, sitting next to all of our friends and at a table with a lovely Dutch couple from Canada onboard to celebrate their 63rd anniversary. Back to the casino, no big wins, but another night of fun!
Our next port of call was Curacao, where we left the ship early for a dive trip. Our dive operator sent a truck for us and we went straightaway to the dive shop, located near the Marriott and Hilton hotels. We boarded our dive boat and headed around the island for about one hour to our dive location. We had a great first dive and after our surface interval, the boat dropped us off near the dive shop for an unguided second dive. We surfaced and walked up on the beach at the dive shop. A nice fellow diver offered to give us a ride into town, which we gratefully accepted. He was staying at the nearby Marriott, an upscale and beautiful resort that we definitely will visit on our return to Curacao. We enjoyed our ride back to the cruise terminal, over the very high bridge that dominates the skyline of Willemstad. We promised to buy our friend a drink after we cleaned up, so we agreed upon a meeting place and time and headed back to the ship for a shower and quick snack. Getting back off the ship, we instantly fell in love with the beautiful and colorful Willemstad. We walked through the shops and boutiques near the Renaissance Hotel and into the lovely old fort, also filled with shops, bars and cafes. We met our friend and a few others at the bar called The Sopranos and enjoyed hearing about everyone's day. After awhile, we bade our friends farewell and briefly explored the area. As we were staying late, we decided to eat at a local restaurant for a change of pace. A lovely couple from Pittsburgh that we met while diving were staying at the Renaissance and said that the restaurant was very good. So, we ate dinner there. After our Latino/Caribbean feast, we waddled back on board shortly before it was time to depart Curacao. We will definitely return to this paradise! Casino and then to bed!
Bonaire, a diver's dream, was the next island we visited. We departed the ship early in the morning, took a taxi and headed out the the dive shop, run by a laid back guy from the Netherlands named Bart. What a great guy! His shop is right on the edge of the water, where you suit up, walk off the beach and dive into an underwater zoo unlike anything I have ever seen. Fabulous corals (so much purple!) and such an abundance and variety of sea life! After our first dive with Bart, we lunched at the beach bar next store, where we tried biterballen which was a local Dutch appetizer and a sausage like thing, both of which were awful, but hey, we tried it! After lunch, we suited up for an unguided dive with just the two of us and had a wonderful time. We hated to leave this underwater dreamland, but we had to get back to the ship, before it took off without us. That night, we dined on board ship, with our friends at the Italian restaurant, Canaletto. The service was horrible and I developed a head cold, which precluded my tasting anything. After dinner, I went to bed early, desperately hoping to feel better, so as not to miss the dive in Aruba.
Unfortunately, the next morning, my head and ears were a mess, so we had to cancel our dive. I slept in and after a late breakfast, we went ashore to sample Aruba. We wandered around, shopped and ate sushi for lunch. We talked to some deep sea fishing boat captains about trips for wahoo and marlin on our next visit. This port is very much tourist oriented, but it was still quite charming nonetheless, with an endless variety of things to do and see. Interestingly, by the end of the day, I was able to breathe much easier and began to feel better. We went onboard late afternoon and I took a nap and my husband went to have a cigar. That evening, we had dinner reservations at the Evening at Le Cirque in the Pinnacle Grille. I forgot to bring wine, so based on a suggestion by the sommelier, we tried Chateau St. Michele Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. It was amazing and one of my new Favs. We both enjoyed our meal so much...I had one of the best soups I have ever eaten, a butternut squash pureed soup with sun-dried tomato concasse, with creme Fraiche. My lamb chops were the BEST I have ever eaten, perfectly cooked, moist, tender and flavorful. My husband had an incredible blueberry soup, and a pork chop cooked to utter perfection. Absolutely scrumptious! Again, we would highly recommend this to anyone! I skipped the casino and went to bed again early, hoping my cold would completely go away. Hubby went to the casino and played with our friends.
The next day, we were at sea all day, headed north toward the USA. We slept in, had a leisurely breakfast and went to the pool. We lazed around, talked to our friends, ate lunch and then we went for a couple's massage. The Noordam has a lovely spa and gym for anyone who wants those services. We checked in to the spa, wearing our stateroom robes, as everyone on the ship does. And were ushered into the relaxation room. This room has lounges upon which you recline, listen to spa music(this one played a lot of Japanese meditation rhythms) and sipped cranberry juice while we awaited our massage therapists. They came to escort us into our couples massage room and when we got settled, we had a wonderful massage. The only part I hated was after the massage, the high pressure sales pitch started, trying to get you to purchase all of their products. I immediately told them to stop and they obliged, thankfully! We then booked another couples massage for the next day.
Another formal night and cocktails and dinner with friends. We bought our tablemates a cake for their anniversary and they seemed genuinely touched. Off to the casino and then to bed.
The next day was somewhat a repeat of the prior day, but at 10:30 am, we were invited to a bloody Mary party in a beautiful suite, by some of our new Friends, a lovely older couple from Connecticut who were veteran cruisers. They were gracious hosts and it was a lovely time together, as we all exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers. Later, we for our massages, I booked a hot stone massage and my husband a deep tissue massage. Utterly relaxed, we went to dinner, drank our last bottle of wine and kissed our table mates goodbye. We went to the casino, and I got my last Straight Flush of the cruise. What a way to end the evening and the cruise! We kissed everyone goodbye and went to bed for one final night.
The next morning, we got room service and disembarkation went very smoothly, with not much of a wait at all.
We had a great time! Why? Because we love meeting new people and are genuinely interested in them. We researched everything about our trip...there were no big surprises and many times we were touched by the kindness of a fellow traveler or the thoughtfulness of a crew member. We don't expect everything to be like it is in the USA...that is WHY we travel. We also understand that every moment we are blessed to be on a cruise is a moment to be cherished.
Special things...a cool towel and drink always awaits you at the end of the gangway before getting on board, fresh flowers everywhere, clean, clean, clean ship, hardly any bratty kids and no out of sight parents, no hairy legs contests, no limbo dancing, a great mix of Europeans (guten schlafen), Brits, Canadians and Americans, wonderful staff (a shout out to the beautiful cocktail waitresses Jackie and Danielle, Bartender Ronald, cabin steward Widi and casino team, Evgeny, Sleeve-ester, the polish assassin, the Ninja, Dracula, and so many more, whose names I can't recall now), a cigar bar where my husband could relax, a stateroom that was always spotless, fantastic coffee, speedy room service, great laundry and pressing service, flaky pan au chocolates every morning......
Things that I did not like...sometimes bar service in the Lido was slow. It was sometimes difficult finding a lounge by the pool. They did not have Ginger Beer in the bar for our favorite drink, Dark and Stormys. The spa relaxation room was under a deck where chairs were constantly being scraped across the floor...not very relaxing. The high pressure sales pitch in the spa.
Just book it. Do it now. You won't regret it.