We have previously cruised with Holland America, and like them overall. Their mid-size ships are better (in my opinion) than the larger ships with sooo many people. The clientele is generally adults and families. We had previously traveled ... Read More
We have previously cruised with Holland America, and like them overall. Their mid-size ships are better (in my opinion) than the larger ships with sooo many people. The clientele is generally adults and families. We had previously traveled to Alaska with HAL; we went back because the scenery is awesome and we wanted to do Denali this time.
The Noordam has mostly balconies, and does not have the Lanai suites that are on some HAL ships. Though you don't spend lots of time in your room, it is nice to be able to step out on the balcony and enjoy the scenery from there. Hotel service is outstanding as is so typical on cruises: rooms made up twice daily including evening turndown, plus fun towel animals. Our stewards were awesome. We had a suite and it included a whirlpool tub and two sinks. I was blown away (in a good way) to find this on a ship.
There are multiple food choices. I am partial to eating in the main dining room. On vacation, I don't want to have to collect my food in a cafeteria line; I would rather be served. Service at dinner was super. We had a fixed seating with the same two servers, and they got to know our tastes and preferences. Breakfast was still nice, but we didn't feel the service was as good. They came by immediately after you were seated and brought juice, coffee, water, and pastries, but sometimes it slowed down after that. Still, in a dining room, you're not looking for "fast food." We did breakfast in our room once, because we had an early tour. They were right on time and the order was accurate. Food tasted good though the toast was not hot.
I don't know if this is something that just the Noordam did or if they have changed it across the line, but I loved how they handled tour meetings. In the past, we have had to go to a lounge, get stickers, and wait. On this trip, the meeting point was on shore, and it was up to us to get ourselves off the ship and find the person with the sign for our tour. This was definitely preferable to the other way. It gave us flexibility to get off earlier if we wanted to walk around before a tour, and/or buy a coffee, or whatever.
The cruise line offered ample tour options in each port. We like the assurance that the ship will wait if we're late, so we generally book with the ship unless we want to sightsee on our own. Probably our highlight excursion on this trip was the whale-watching in Juneau. The company with whom they have contracted (Gasteau Guiding) uses boats that are specially designed for whale watching, and there are only about 20 people on board. They guarantee you will see a whale. We saw multiple whales; it was truly amazing. We had little interaction with the EXC tours staff because we booked our tours online in advance. All of our tickets were delivered to our stateroom, so there was no standing in line, which was great.
On excursions, I would also highly recommend the hop on/hop off bus with luggage transfer for Vancouver if your flight arrangements permit. We had wanted to see Vancouver, and were afraid we would have to spend a night. But the flight that HAL arranged was a "red eye" that didn't leave until 11:00 p.m., so we had all day in Vancouver. They provided us special luggage tags on board for checking our bags with the hop on/hop off people, and those people were in the cruise terminal as we exited. It was a fairly smooth process to leave our bags with them and get started on the bus. Then we had all day to see Vancouver, hopping off and back on whenever we wanted. The ticket includes both the park route and the city route. When we were finished, we hopped on the "Sky Train" (ticket included in the excursion) and headed for the airport. At the airport, we picked up our luggage from the hop on/hop off people (pick up point a little tricky to find but worked out ok) and then checked in for our flight.
The hotel where they put us in Anchorage prior to Denali had great staff but needs an update. The hotel staff were awesome but the contracted tour people in Anchorage (who handle transfer to the train and optional excursions) were not real helpful. We paid for a transfer from the airport to the hotel and they ended up putting us in a cab with a voucher. In hindsight, we would have paid far less to just get a cab ourselves.
We also did a pre-trip to Denali, which I definitely recommend if you have the time and $. The train trip up is amazing - on a special Holland America train car with upper deck seating for all and restaurant on lower deck. There is a guide and a bartender who serves, in addition to adult beverages, coffees and other items. They run a tab, and during the last hour of the trip, bring you your bill and you settle with your credit card. Very convenient and efficient!
The ship had a variety of activities. The asst. cruise director, Johann, was particularly visible as he ran trivia games and deejay-ed in the evening. The string group, now called "Lincoln Center," was very good and very popular - you had to arrive early to get a seat for their performances. The main stage shows were varied, with two Broadway-type shows on our 7-day cruise, plus a comedian, a magician, and a BBC Earth film of Alaska with musical accompaniment (this was GREAT!). We felt that music was too loud for the mainstage shows & probably damaged our hearing but the performers were good. The cruise director himself did not seem to be very present on the ship, at least to us. (Maybe we just didn't go to the right places to see him?) He did work to minimize announcements, which I appreciate.
Embarkation at Seward was amazing. Maybe there were more crowded times, but we basically walked right up to an agent, who had everything ready, and we were on the ship within about 5 minutes. Disembarkation at Vancouver was also efficient. I love that they let you stay in your cabin now until you disembark, which made it more comfortable. Re-embarkation at that various ports was also pretty efficient and smooth, unlike another cruise line we have traveled on that has larger ships but just one magnetometer, so it takes forever to get back on the ship!
It appears the Noordam was last re-fitted/upgraded in 2006, and there were some signs of wear, but the crew was also continually painting, repair, etc. to keep it in ship shape.
Overall, we are satisfied and happy with this Holland America Cruise.Every ship can have little problems, but overall, things went well and we definitely plan to sail with them again. Read Less