HAL's ms Noordam - November 11, 2011
Our day-before flying day was not without incident. First, an equipment change, then the new plane had a door-closing issue, which was thankfully resolved quickly. When our first flight finally landed, our second flight was already in the air. From past experience I knew NOT to stand in that endless line of frustrated passengers and simply scanned my boarding pass in a nearby kiosk to get my newly assigned flight. We now had 90 minutes or so, and stopped by TGI Fridays to split an excellent cheeseburger. We were told to be at the gate by 6:00 and were already on the right concourse. At 5:45 we arrived at the gate to find we had a gate change. For those of you familiar with Hartsfield (Atlanta) airport, it's no easy task to get from B29 to E1. My guess is it's about 6 miles and involves two very steep escalators, a train ride and lots of duckin' & dodgin' (and NO people movers). Finally at our gate, we find our plane to have just arrived from Europe and needed various undescribed inspections which take longer than normal... sure, then why be at the gate over an hour too early?
Day 1 - Embarkation Day
Finally landing in Ft. Lauderdale, we checked in to the La Quinta Hollywood and took the shuttle (yes, at 10:30 pm - bless you, Keith!) to the Oakwood Mall where we usually dine at Red Lobster. It was closed, so we went next door to TGI Fridays and found the food to be awful. You can't win 'em all. The hotel was clean and very comfortable, and offered a continental breakfast. The shuttle service ran at about 10:00 am, so we went back to sleep for a couple of hours and left at noon. We checked in at the pier in a flash, and were in our cabin by 12:30. We lunched on roast beef, mashed potatoes, grilled salmon, jasmine rice, pate & brie, and, of course, our traditional bread pudding, which I must say could have used a little more sugar. Our luggage was all delivered by the time we finished lunch, so we unpacked and Jim took a nap while I ran around like a crazy lady with last-minute party arrangements. After the safety drill, I headed to the spa for the Treatment Raffle. They gave away treatments for fitness, body image, hair, acupuncture and massage. I then donned my ZuiderPrincess crown and an armful of Mardi Gras beads and went to the SailAway party, where I caught up with some members of our CC group. A light drizzle broke up our little party, and I went 'home' where we dressed for the Suite Cocktail Party followed by dinner in the Vista Dining Room.
We have table 77, a table for two on the rail on deck 3. Being the first day, the service was a little slow, but we expect the service to improve as they find their rhythm. My fish filet with cilantro-tomato salsa was superb, and Jim's veal with artichoke mushroom ragout & mascarpone polenta was wonderful. We tried the red velvet cake, but were not impressed.
While I went to the introductory show, Jim broke in the Hold'em table. Later I hit the dice table, and they were having a special 11-11-11 drawing. While I played, each time I hit an 11 I got a ticket. By the time of the drawing, at 11:11 pm, I had hit 11 elevens, for each of which I got a ticket. I didn't win the drawing, but did get a free drink ticket for the 11 elevens.
That brings me back to my cabin where I am sleepily typing this review, all the time watching an Israeli jewelry promotion out of the corner of my eye. Gotta hit the shops tomorrow!
Day 2 - Half Moon Cay
This morning I threw open the curtains to a drizzly, overcast view of Half Moon Cay. With every intention of enjoying my clamshell on this lovely island, I finished my invitation business, grabbed a lox 'n' bagel breakfast and joined my love when room service was delivered (on time and exactly as ordered). Not knowing if the rain would stop or if the skies would clear, the famous HAL Signature Bedding won me over, and I ended up sleeping until lunchtime. The Main Dining Room being closed, we dined in the Lido again and had some very nice tilapia over rice and smoked spiral ham. Dessert offered some very yummy cinnamon apple cheesecake and cappucino mousse. I must mention that I am so please they made the dessert portions smaller to prevent the awful waste we've experienced in the past. We can now 'sample' the offerings and if we don't like them, there's not an entire plateful of discarded food.
Somehow I managed to sleep again until Bingo time. They've unfortunately changed the cards. Now instead of buying a card pack (4 sheets with 3 cards each for $25) they offer a MaxPack - 4 sheets with 6 cards each for $35. So now, if there are 2 of you and you each want your own cards, you pay $50. If you share a MaxPack for $35, only one person can hold the card, and the numbers are called too fast to keep up. Several times we had to ask the caller to slow down. I won't play again.
Formal dinner was very, very good. We dined on jumbo shrimp cocktails, pate brioche, spiced shrimp with polenta, lobster thermador and steak, tiramisu and cheesecake. Excellent!
There was action at my dice table, so I joined in the fun, and after an hour or two, left with my pockets very full, having had a LOT of fun! I left Jim at the Hold'em table and came 'home' to tell y'all all about my day.
Tomorrow is the CruiseCritic Meet 'n' Greet, where we hope to have a wonderful introductions to officers and staff and eat lotsa goodies and drink lotsa cocktails! More tomorrow...
Day 3 - Grand Turk
When I first entered the Crow's Nest to check on our Meet 'n' Greet arrangements, I was totally amazed by the beautiful presentation of our refreshments. Hotel Manager Mark Pells alloted us HALF the Crow's Nest, and provided Bloody Marys, Guava Mimosas garnished with kiwi, the usual coffee, tea, cookies, and a lovely arrangement of fresh fruit for do-it-yourself fruit kabobs and a CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN! We easily had 60 guests, and were joined by some of HAL's Facebook Roll Call cruisers. Since it was almost time to dock, Captain Scott only had time for a short greeting, and Mark Pells gave us a little overview of our wonderful activities to come. We were also joined by Cruise Director Drew, Spa Manager Milica, and Jessica from the Culinary Department. Ed (Asst. Beverage Manager) was ably assisted by Mark Aguillar (Explorer's Lounge), Jay (Crow's Nest) and M. Paigan from Food Services. Our bartender Fernando (Crow's Nest) was fabulous, keeping up with the high demand for alcohol! Many guests commented that this was the best M&G they'd ever attended, and I must certainly give all the credit to the wonderful Onboard Events Staff, as well as my Concierges for pulling it all off.
The rest of my day paled in comparison. It was drizzly again, so we passed on going ashore, and lunched in the Lido, tried to win the golf chipping contest, and retired to our stateroom to tolerate Sunday afternoon football (meaning: I napped).
We didn't like anything on the MDR menu, so ate in the Lido where there were more options. After a short trip to the dice table, I left Jim at the Hold'em table and retired to type and post.
Day 4 - Dominican Republic
Today was a really lazy day. We didn't feel like going ashore, so had a light breakfast, a nap, and went to the Spa for indulgences. Spa Manager Milica suggested exactly the treatments we needed and we had time for a light lunch before our appointments. Jim had a 60 minute head-to-toe massage therapy treatment (Renata), and I had an 90 minute Exotic Lime and Ginger Salt Scrub (total body exfoliation), scalp massage, facial (Miglena Dishlieva) and haircut (Angela).
We enjoyed a lovely cocktail party where we were able to catch up with our CruiseCritic group about our (non-) adventures ashore. So far, we're all having a great time! After dinner I fully intended to see Kenny James' show, but you have to walk through the Casino to get to the Showroom, and I never made it past the dice table. We closed the Casino around 2:30 am and ordered Room Service's famous club sandwich.
Day 5 - At Sea
After a very late night in the Casino, we started our day around noon, when we grabbed a bite in the Lido and Jim started his usual sea-day activities unsuccessfully playing in the slots, blackjack and 2 Hold'em tournaments. I waited for him at the 3 Card Poker table where I won a Club 21 hat, shirt, and coupons for tournament entries and free drinks in the Sports Lounge. At least one of us won something.
After dinner I attended the "Ballroom Blitz" show with the HAL Singers and Dancers. The singing and dancing were very good, but there was no scenery except for a few projections on screens and 3 chairs.
After a short trip to the Lido for dessert (skipped earlier) Jim and I took our casino winnings back to the cabin so he can check his scores and I can write a little about our day.
Day 6 - Curacao
SUNSHINE! We docked at the Mega Cruiseship Pier which for me is too far to walk to anything, and it was really hot out there, so after a Lido lunch we laid out by the pool for a couple of hours. Tonight is the Barbeque Party at the aft pool, so early this morning they moved out all the loungers and put up tables & chairs, which forced us to the midships pool. Believe it or not, there were LOTS of chairs available, and are actually more comfortable than those on the aft pool. Anyway, at first sign of sunburn we headed inside to get ready for Bingo, which we missed, and dinner in the MDR. We each had the delicious Prime Rib and skipped dessert. Instead of a show in the Vista Lounge, there was a movie, followed by the Indonesian Crew Show, which we've seen many times.
So, off to the Casino we went... Jim to seat #3 and me to the 3-card poker table. Lady Luck was not on my side either there or at the dice table, so I came back 'home' to write a little. After I post this, I hope to find some sweets for Jim (the Lido is closed by the time he closes the Casino). Remind me not to gamble unless I've taken my customary afternoon nap.
Day 7 - Bonaire
We woke up to another beautiful morning! Jim managed to throw his back out (no doubt doing something silly like putting on his socks), so I shipped him off to the Spa where Miglena fixed his lower back.
We docked at the North Pier, which is too far to walk and too close to taxi, so I ventured out into the area right off the pier which offered arts & crafts from local artists and China. It was very hot and I welcomed the cool towel and lemonade offered at the gangway.
I forced myself to take that afternoon nap so I could maybe have better luck at the dice table. Dinner in the MDR was interesting... Jim had a spiced shrimp dish and I had the salmon, which were both perfect. I chose the German Chocolate cake for dessert, but it was so sweet I couldn't finish it.
The show tonight was the Noordam Singers & Dancers in "Simply Broadway". I loved the live performances of the show tunes, but again there were no sets... just 4 mics and a trunk. It may be due to the injury of the lead singer... I'll try to find out.
Anyway, the nap didn't help my luck that much, except I didn't lose as much tonight as last night, and I'm no longer gambling with house money. There was a nice spread of hot and cold snacks, but difficult to eat standing up at the craps table. Oh well, up to the Lido I go for some sweet stuff for when my man closes the casino in a couple of hours.
Day 8 - Aruba
At 7:30 am it was 86 degrees out there. I don't know what possessed me to don that go-to BLACK dress to go to town, but I did. By the time I went ashore it was easily 90+ degrees, and I really should have turned back. In previous cruises there was a straight path to the main shopping drag. Now closed, we were forced to walk an extra 1/2 mile around construction and past local vendors to get to the diamond district. I got as far as the Royal Plaza, stopped in at a few 'guaranteed stores', and headed back to the ship.
We took a little nap before heading to the midships pool (plenty of loungers) and spent 90 minutes working on that tan. After a shower we hit the Vista Lounge for what was (not) to be a $70,000 jackpot Bingo. Jim actually got down to one number on the coverall, but a guy behind him won... bummer. Off to get ready for a very special dinner at Le Cirque.
Not. First of all, I recommend that gentlemen wear a jacket, if not jacket and tie. Second, read the menu before you book this dinner. That said, we attempted to enjoy this dinner (which was a gift, and non-refundable). Jim did not like anything on the menu. I took the waiter aside and told him there was nothing on the menu to our liking, and could we arrange an alternative meal? It turns out that Mario from Romania remembered us from our last Noordam cruise, and recommended the Chateaubriand for Jim. He also arranged a baked potato and carrots (not on the menu, but served perfectly) and we were now satifsied the meal would go well. The gentleman in the dark jacket frequently stared at me during the meal and was rather off-putting, but I ignored it. The Chateaubriand was MOUTHWATERING, and was a generous enough cut that I could set aside my undercooked cod resting on a sea of unidentifiable sauce with scallions, and enjoy the delicious, perfectly cooked beef with my loving husband who sometimes indulges me ad infinitum. We were then rewarded with an wonderful creme brulee, the repice for which was found at the bottom of the ramekin. The only difference I noticed, besides the menu, were the dishes. There was the whimsical Le Cirque charger and bread plate at the beginning, and the dessert plate at the end. Everything else was the same. Note to self: don't drink the regular coffee. It will result in an absolutely sleepless night.
Very sleepy from this early meal, I retired to the cabin to watch 'Three Men and a Baby" on TV. Sleep didn't come until about 3 am.
Day 9 - At Sea
Although I intended to bake in the sun all day, we ended up in the Casino unsuccessfully entering the Blackjack and Hold'em tournaments. While I was waiting for Jim, and still in my bathing suit, I discovered a new love for 3-Card Poker. Several hours later I returned to find Jim asleep, so I joined him. So much for the sun!
After dinner I was so tired I skipped the show and watched some inane movie in my cabin and retired.
Day 10 - At Sea
The last [sniffle] day of a cruise is really hectic. I had a list of photos I wanted to take, more in the photo gallery to buy/discard, tips to distribute, goodbye hugs to enjoy, cruises to buy - the pressure is insane!
No loungers being available midships, we basked in the sun at the Seaview Pool for a couple of hours before the $100,000 Bingo and Cruise Lottery (neither of which we won).
I visited the Future Cruise consultant and bought four deposits for open bookings. For those of us who cruise HAL frequently, this is a no-brainer. Deposits are reduced to $100 pp (charged to a credit card), and you get onboard cabin credit based on the category of stateroom you eventually choose. There happened to be no line, and I was in and out in less than 10 minutes.
Dinner in the MDR was the Master Chef's Dinner, which we have experienced a few times already (enjoyed the food, but not the parade), so we dined in the Lido. The menu is essentially the same as the MDR, but has more choices in the salad department. Tables were set with tablecloths, dinner served on Lido tableware, and generally went faster because there is no wait between courses. I did have a hard time getting a waiter to remove dirty dishes (I need them GONE as soon as I'm finished).
A shortened dinner time left us able to see the comedian Max Dolcelli. We had looked forward to this all week, but the 'outrageous' comedy was really kinda lame. I guess we've heard all the typical cruise jokes and really hoped for something different.
Jim took his usual place, seat #3 at the Hold'em table, and I threw dice for awhile. As I was packing (easily a 2-hour ordeal) Jim called from the Casino saying, "Dice are hot", so I dropped everything and ran to the Casino, assuming my usual place to the right of the croupier. After my lucky streak was over I walked away with about $900 and resumed my packing chores.
We grabbed a light breakfast snack at the Neptune and left a tip for our Concierges. We experimented with Luggage Direct this time... I will never do it any other way again! It's only good for flights on certain airlines departing no later than 11:30. We received our boarding passes and special luggage tags yesterday. I placed the luggage outside by 1:00 am and didn't see it again until we got home. We were first off at 8:00, scooted through customs and were at the airport before 9:00. If seats had been available, we could easily have made a 10:00 standby flight, but had to wait until our 11:30 flight. I'd rather have breakfast and sit around the airport a little longer than wrestle with luggage in the warehouse, drag it to a cab, stand in line outside in the heat at FLL and suffer 3 more rounds of tips. Our flight connections were on time and we made it back in time to pick up our now-skinny beagle at Puppy Overnight Camp.
This cruise, even with adjustments due to changes of itinerary from Europe, new crew getting their rhythm down, and stuff I forgot to do, has been one of the best. Our cabin service was as expected, DR service polite and correctly served (although I still want my plates cleared asap), food the proper temperature and nicely presented, although slightly delayed between courses. Our Pinnacle dinner was the Le Cirque experience, and we did not care for the menu. Our server, Mario, saved the meal for us by arranging side dishes off the menu. The Supervisor, however, was rather surly and sneered at me at one point. He never came to the table, and really should have done whatever was necessary to keep us from leaving before ordering.
Our Spa experiences were outstanding. We spoke to the Spa Manager, Milica, about our various aches, pains & well-being concerns, and she arranged the perfect treatments for us.
In the Casino, we were treated like treasured guests instead of cash machines. We quickly came to know most of the dealers, supervisors and the Manager, and had much fun - even on those nights that Lady Luck was on a break. We'd like to see a LIVE Hold'em table again.
Bingo - since they changed to the MaxiCard, it cost us $15 more each time to play. Not good.
Entertainment was OK, but not as good as it used to be. In the past there was a comedian, vocalist and magician who each gave 2 shows. We got 3 production shows, a vocalist, gypsy violinists, acrobat and comedian with 1 show each, and a movie.
Special thanks to:
Hotel Manager Mark Pells
Spa Manager Milica
Casino Manager Dorel Matiut
Casino Supervisor Alexander
Club 21 Host Julia
Concierges Arvee & Rhia
Our next cruise will be 3/26/2012 on our beloved Noordam.