Here is the itinerary: Half Moon Cay, Samana DR, Grand Turk, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao. December 22 to Jan 2, 2011. We're a couple in our early 40's with one child who like to go and do rather than veg out with a book on cruises.
Here are the positive points that we found from our 2011 Holiday cruise with Holland America's Noordam:
1. the weather was great: sunny every day, only one day of rain on Aruba: one of those tropical downpours for about 20 min., then warm again. It was not scorching hot like the tropics in July or August, yet we were in shorts and tank tops the entire time. Warm enough for swimming, too.
2. The special dining Canalletto (included, not pay extra) had great food, great service, and the maitre d was really friendly and helpful. Once we found that place on day 2, we ditched the formal dining and ate either at the buffet or Canalletto every night.
3. the pool wasn't too cold and was fresh rather than salt water
4. the excursions we did were fun for adults and kids (daughter = 8 yrs. old)and worth the money: Bonaire (glassbottom boat), Curacao (island country tour), Aruba (submarine: the best by far! great!!).
5. Half Moon Cay, the company's private island was clean, well-laid out, and fun for adults and kids: a child's waterpark section, with slides into the ocean, floating mats that you could swim out to and were free to sit on. The beach was spotless, sand a fine powder, and you could wade out pretty far in clear water with no junk/shells/etc. on the bottom. I don't usually like beach days, but this one was fun and user friendly.
6. onboard the Noordam, there were plenty of handy restrooms and they never smelled like urine, as some public restrooms on some ships we've experienced.
7. our stateroom was cleaned very well and often by a friendly stateroom attendant, and we had everything we needed in a timely fashion.
8. in general, the ship was clean and we often saw crew cleaning, including on deck, at the buffet, everywhere. We never saw anything that I would call dirty.
9. at the buffet, for all three meals, for the entire cruise, there were always several choices to eat. The food was good, even sometimes delicious, but I wouldn't rave about it. I will write another review to discuss the negative points.
Here are the negative points we noticed during our cruise:
1. The bar/drink service onboard was lousy. There were two problems: either you just couldn't get served, meaning no one ever approached us for a drink, or once you did get to place an order, it took 10 to 15 minutes (trust me, we timed it) to get a drink in your hand. We were astonished throughout the cruise, daytime, afternoons, evenings, bars, casino, pool deck, show, you name it, we were eternally frustrated that we couldn't get a drink onboard this ship. We noticed that at the Crow's Nest, the best place to get a drink, although the service was still extremely slow, people were ordering 2 drinks at a time. Yes, there were ``buy one get one for a dollar`` specials, but that didn't explain it. We saw the same ``2 drinks at a time`` action at other bars too.
2. There was scant table service at the breakfast buffet, unless you happened to be disabled/walker/scooter bound. I have to admit that the staff waited on those guests hand and foot, but for those of us who are used to being brought our coffee, water, juice, etc. in the mornings, we were left waiting because mostly it just didn't happen. We have been on other ships that within a day or two, the servers know you and automatically bring you what you want, but brother, don't expect that on this ship! Again, bad or no service was noticed.
3. Some problems on the pool deck. There are two pools: one in the middle for kids, and the sign says that, and one at the back for adults only. We have a child, so we spent almost every afternoon at the pool, but even though the weather was sunny and warm, the top was always closed, or just cracked, which means no sun and no breeze. We figured out that the older guests who were sitting right under the top didn't want direct sunlight, but in our opinion, this is a kids pool, so if someone doesn't want sun, they can move! It made it stuffy, loud from the echos, and it seemed like the municipal pool instead of an open pool on a cruiseship in beautiful weather. What I have described was a daily occurance, not a one shot deal. There were a few spas/whirlpools at the kids pool, and some older adults seemed grumpy when kids had the nerve to get in the kids pool spas. Can you imagine! We watched this closely and saw that the interaction between elder passengers and kids didn't seem to harmonize too well, and no, it wasn't because the kids were being pests or brats.
Problem two: no band, darnit! When sitting on a pool deck, one wants to hear the steel drums or tropical music, but alas, there was almost none of that. Not even a radio was played. Of course, there was no service either, so no one came around to ask if you wanted a drink. And pool games on deck for the kids? Not on your life. None. There were, thankfully, several pingpong tables, but that's not a ''pool game'' or water game. We decided to see what everyone was doing on the adults pool deck, and wow, there was music and pool games a couple times that we stopped by. Not sure why there was a difference, but it sucked for us.
4. I'd say, in a nutshell, that this ship is not for younger families, even though they have a kids club and even though it was a holiday cruise. In general, things on the ship were for older passengers and those with mobility issues, not for active 40 somethings with an 8 year old. Things were...pedestrian. I wish I had known that not only the Noordam, but Holland in general, is that way, because we would never have taken this cruise. Despite reading the boards on Cruise Critic, talking with friends and family, and using a travel agent, no one warned us. I'm not saying that the entire thing was a disaster, and I'm not being ungrateful, but we'll never take HAL again.