Spring Break - Southern Caribbean 2012: Noordam Cruise Review by Moosevilleco

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Spring Break - Southern Caribbean 2012

Sail Date: March 2012
Destination: Southern Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
This was our first cruise with HAL. We were excited to see how they differed from the Carnival Cruises we had taken before. The Cruise Critic message boards provided a lot of good information and we really enjoyed being on the roll call for months in advance as we prepared for the cruise.

We flew in from Denver the night before departure and stayed at the Courtyard Marriott on the Ft. Lauderdale beach. This was a great location down from Port Everglades and allowed us to walk to the beach the morning before the cruise as well as sit out on Las Olas Boulevard to see the sights the night before. Embarkation was really easy. We waited about 45 minutes and were on about noon if my memory is good.

We thoroughly enjoyed this cruise and Holland America. Some reviews warned parents with kids away from HAL. While it is true that the average age group is on the older side, my kids still had plenty to do on the ship and really liked it. I have two very active athletic More boys who managed to entertain themselves quite well. They do not like participating in the cruise line kid clubs, whether on Carnival or HAL. They really liked the swimming pool on the Lido Deck. They thought it was much larger than the Carnival pools and because there were less kids - the pool and associated hot tubs were less crowded. The Noordam staff typically closed the pool dome at night which transformed the pool from an outdoor cruise ship feel - to more of a fancy hotel inside pool ambiance. They also really liked the Ship Flicks movie collection and their ability to check out DVD's for the room. There is also an arcade that had about the same number of games as those found on the Carnival ships. They used the basketball court a few times, but thought it was too windy at times. They did miss not having a putt putt golf course that is found on most ships.

From the grown-up perspective, I thought the food was really good. While I like the food on Carnival just fine, I did think this was a step up. Probably my favorite meal was at the Canaletto Restaurant. I had the veal and it was outstanding. I also enjoyed having the "no charge" cappuccino in the main dining room each night. My Dad did miss the 24 hr. self-serve ice cream he is used to on the Carnival ships, but the ice cream HAL had was really good! We also really enjoyed the outdoor BBQ that the staff did for us the night we sailed around the Pitons of St. Lucia. The food was fantastic and the decorations and view of the Pitons made the night very special.

We were also lucky enough to participate in the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet. Candy Brock, a definite HAL veteran, hosted this event. It was apparently the largest one HAL had done, and was attended by several crew members. HAL provided a chocolate soda fountain and many fruits and desserts. We also had a grab bag exchange and we ended up with some great jams and tea from England. I did find it easier to get to know the crew on this sized ship as opposed to the larger Carnival ones we were on previously.

The ship itself is really spectacular. I love the glass elevators as well as the artwork found throughout the ship. There is always something to look at and study. My primary negative comment for the ship was the cabin layout. On the Carnival ships, I was used to having a queen bed as well as an upper and lower that turned into bunk beds for the kids (same room). HAL's set-up is not so great. The upper comes down over the queen bed and you only have about a foot until you hit your head. We turned around and put our feet under this to avoid the head bumps. Unfortunately, I had to unmake/remake the bed most nights as we were confusing the cabin stewards. Also, once the lower couch kid bed was down and made - you are blocked from the balcony unless you want to crawl over the bed. Very tight quarters - Carnival was much better on this account.

We did see one of the Broadway type shows as well as a comedian, Jeff Nease, who was quite good! Also, on the afternoon that we sailed around St. Lucia, the Captain opened up the bow of the ship while we went from Castries to Soufriere, and we were able to go out and have drinks and take pictures.

Speaking of drinks, I thought they were OK. For me, I was more used to a lot of frozen concoctions that Carnival served, while these were more basic drinks - not so much the frozen type.

My husband and I did use the thermal suite and really liked it. I would highly recommend this activity. It is like a really fancy large hot tub that smells great. You also get to use the steam-rooms and the tiled, heated chairs that overlook the ocean. Really nice. We had a couples massage the last night of the cruise and enjoyed this as well.

I will review the ports in the next section, but I will say they were all great! This cruise went to St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. Dominica was our favorite and I can say we did not get to spend enough time in St. Lucia or St. Maarten to really get to see that much. If you haven't been to Dominica and like true rain forests, then put it on your list. But more detail in the next section.... Less

Published 06/22/12

Cabin review: VA5055 Deluxe Ocean-View Verandah Stateroom

As noted before, this was not the best cabin. See my review for notes on the sleeping arrangements for four - problems with the upper coming down over the main bed, as well as trying to get to your balcony when the lower couch is made up. The other problem with this cabin was the balcony. For some reason, the splash back is tremendous. Our balcony looked like it had been sprayed down most of the time. We still used it a lot. It does have the plastic, not the metal, which is good. And there is plenty of room, but you have to deal with water! It is nice to have a full tub/shower combo which is easier to use than the really small showers you usually get, and the Elemis products are nice.

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Port and Shore Excursions

Ti Tou Gorge

Dominica was our favorite island and we have been to 11 now. (Tortola is my 2nd favorite). Dominica is a beautiful island and the least developed of all the Caribbean islands. Donaldson from Nature Isle Explorers is a great young man. He and his lifelong buddy Alvin do a great job showing off their island. I cannot say enough good things about these guys. We started out at Champagne Reef which is absolutely beautiful, but a fairly difficult area to snorkel without good equipment and a life preserver. There really are lots of bubbles coming up from the ocean floor, but you will be in VERY deep water. We then went to Ti Tou Gorge. This is another cool experience, but the water is very cold (67 degrees) and it is a little challenging. Swimming out with the current is much easier than swimming in and the rocks on the bottom are difficult to maneuver as you start out. If you can do this, you should, and then go back and watch Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and you will see Orlando Bloom in the exact same spot you were in! We also saw some large crabs in this area that made for some great pictures! We ended up this trip at Trafalgar Falls. This hike through the rain-forest is amazing. The rain forest canopy goes up forever and you can climb down into natural hot springs while it is raining on you! Donaldson was great in making sure we could all do this safely and he carried a back pack to protect your electronic equipment from the rain. We were able to get some great pictures deep inside the rain-forest this way. I would love to go back and it was the highlight of the trip for my boys!

Half Moon Cay is another great family beach. We rented some of the floats and walked the beach. We really enjoyed talking with Marlin, one of HAL's staff members, who was working the "I Wish I Could Stay Here Forever" bar. He had worked for HAL for over 20 years and had a lot of great stories. Captain Morgan's bar is cool too. I loved the large stained glass picture of Mr. Morgan. We thought the BBQ was really good and it was nice to have an island stop where you could use your ship card for souvenirs and drinks and have free lunch!

St. Lucia is a beautiful island - probably one of the best. We had a great tour guide that I would highly recommend - Andre with A-Touring Service. He is not as well known as some of the major names, but is more reasonable and provides great service! When we arrived, Andre told us there had been a mudslide, and we were unable to get to some of our planned destinations, such as Anse Chastanet or Jalousie Beach, unless we wanted to go by boat. He did take the time to find us a vendor that would take us by boat if we wanted. He did not want us to be disappointed. We decided to stay with Andre and trust his judgement on where he could take us. We saw most of Castries and several overlooks that were beautiful. Andre took us to Marigot Bay and to a banana plantation. We spent a lot of time in Anse La Raye Beach which was beautiful, but the waters were really rough! We lost 2 snorkel masks here! I found the people to be really friendly but there are many salesmen in St. Lucia! We bought a lot of souvenirs here, but I must say, my favorite of the whole trip came from the beach at Anse La Raye. I bought a bird feeder made from coconuts - that looks like a flying bird - from a local on the beach. It is hanging from my front porch and a great reminder of the trip! We also sampled coconut candy and banana ketchup and banana BBQ sauce in St. Lucia that was really good! We ended up this trip driving back to Castries as Andre sang us 3 Caribbean songs. He has a great voice!
Read 1136 St. Lucia Reviews

We had never been to St. Maarten and used Bernard's Tours for this trip. Our driver was named Sugar and he was very entertaining. We enjoyed the stop at the Sea Urchin Man (Calvin) and were able to hold the live sea urchins he was pulling out of the ocean. We did not have much time at Orient Beach (the regular side) or in Marigot. We did stop and have some pastries at Sarafina's in Marigot and it was the best eclair I have ever had. We spent the most time at Maho Beach watching the planes fly over. This was a really cool experience and your kids will never forget it! I was surprised at how many planes actually come over in an hour! We shopped briefly on the way back to the port. There are a few shops as you walk up to the dock. I did get some great jerk seasoning, honey and a beautiful hand-painted Christmas ornament from one vendor and we did try the famous Guavaberry frozon drink as we headed for the ship. The Guavaberry is good - but fairly potent! I would like to go back to St. Maarten when we had more time. There is just too much on this island to see in 6 hours.

We had been to St. Thomas before. Since we went to Magen's Bay and Coki Beach last time, we tried Sapphire Beach this time. It is a spectacular beach. There are many shades of blue - hence the name. This is a good beach for kids and easy to swim in. We were able to snorkel here - good calm waters and we saw some sea urchins and fish as well. We looked for a sea turtle but never ran across one. I think I enjoyed all 3 of these beaches equally.
Read 4002 St. Thomas Reviews

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