Updated January 8, 2020
Holland America's Noordam has returned for another summer in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Ideal for those seeking a classic cruising experience, the ship has a peaceful atmosphere and plenty of space to spread around. But it’s far from sleepy, with lots of live music and socialising to balance out the restful moments.
Tip 1: Enjoy the aft pool deck.
On Deck 9 at the back of the ship is an expansive, wooden deck with a pool, spa and the Seaview Bar. Head up here for the sail-away party when your cruise departs and then come back when the crowd is gone. Modern ship pool areas are often cluttered and noisy but Noordam’s is refreshingly spacious and serene throughout the rest of the cruise.
Tip 2: Don’t miss Stryker in the Piano Bar.
Stryker was the highlight of our cruise. A talented pianist and singer, who is wickedly funny (if you don’t mind jokes about Noordam’s mature demographic), this natural entertainer performs every evening from around 9pm until “two, three, sometimes four past 12”, he quips. A couple of sessions are ‘open mic’ so passengers take over the microphone, while others nights have singalong themes such as show tunes or country music. The best seats are perched around the piano so you can really appreciate Stryker’s caustic humour and powerful voice.
Tip 3: Mix and mingle whether you're a couple or single
Sailing solo, we found it was easy to meet people, particularly during happy hour in the Crows Nest and by requesting to join a table for dinner in the Vista Dining Room. Special events are held for solo travellers, including a well-attended afternoon tea, and LGBT travellers. At nights, the meet-ups in bars were not always hosted so don’t be shy to say hello to other people on their own – they’re probably waiting for you to turn up too! Check the timetable of activities in the ‘On Location’ program delivered to your cabin each evening. There are also rooms to join fellow players for bridge, Scrabble or solving a jigsaw puzzle.
Tip 4: Get the blues at B.B. Kings.
Next door to the piano bar, so you can switch between the two, is B.B. Kings Blues Club. A six-piece band, with two alternating singers, perform an impressive three times a night. On our cruise, the band and the audience took a few days to warm up but the later shows were higher energy. The venue has lots of seating (maybe too much, it seems to deter people from dancing) and is also good for solo travellers to sit up at the bar and chat with the friendly bartenders and fellow passengers.
Tip 5: Discover the specialty dining
Noordam has only two alternative restaurants, which aren’t so easy to find; in fact, some passengers didn’t know they existed, even after a week on the ship. Canaletto is located within the Lido buffet and serves excellent Italian cuisine with ocean views for US$15 per person. The waitresses are particularly delightful and the sommelier knows his wine. We recommend the seafood soup and eggplant entrée, the ravioli and the veal; we wish we’d had more time to try everything. The Pinnacle Grill steakhouse, which also serves seafood, is open for lunch on sea days (US$10) and dinner (US$35). Specialties include the crab cakes followed by a filet mignon topped with a lobster tail. This elegant venue is great for a special occasion too.
Tip 6: Get happier at the Crows Nest
Two happy hours, from 4pm and 9pm, offer drinkers a cheap deal: buy one, get another for US$2. This big, welcoming bar spanning the Observation Deck has floor to ceiling windows, efficient staff and music. If you want to chat, grab a stool around the bar.
Tip 7: Look for a nook with a book.
Noordam has lots of cosy spaces to relax such as the Explorations Café, which has free snacks (with purchase of a coffee) and a library, setting the tone for a quiet ambience. Take a wander to choose a comfy chair to read in, a table to play a board game, or a leather recliner for a nap.
Tip 8: Learn with BBC Earth and America’s Test Kitchen
Holland America's former Culinary Arts Center is now branded as America’s Test Kitchen, which doesn’t make sense to Australian passengers but they can still appreciate the US TV show’s customised videos and the onboard chef's live instruction on themes such as chili or chocolate, with take-home recipe cards. It’s held at set times during the day (not every day) in the blues club venue, which is also used for screening BBC Earth’s exceptionally good documentaries. Other educational classes include Microsoft workshops so you can come home a little more tech-savvy.