Background: We are a party of 5 - 68, 67, 49, 44, 13. The seniors in our group have been on 20+ cruises and the three of us have been on 10+. We've all sailed Carnival, HAL, Princess, Celebrity, Costa, RCCL & NCL.
First let me start by saying this ship lists passenger total to approximately 1900 people. Our sailing had 2200 with over 500 kids.
Embarkation: This was a smooth and organized process. Considering we were sailing Spring Break - things went rather quickly. We were assigned a number when we entered the terminal, when our number was called we went thru security and then got on the express line (we registered online).
Ship: The Noordam is beautifully decorated, lots of wood, fantastic art work, dEcor elegant - not loud. Nice size shipping holding approx 1900 passengers. Layout was great - easy to find your way around.
Cabin - Our cabin was nice. Not great but, nice. While storage was adequate - the layout was awkward. There were several areas where they could have put in some shelving or cabinets. The bed in the triple was a pullout sofa. It was very comfortable (more so than most) but, you couldn't get to the balcony or open the refrigerator door once the bed was opened. We like the 3rd that drops from the ceiling like Princess & Celebrity - especially when your third passenger is a teenager! Our room steward, Gede, was terrific.
Room Service - fantastic - quick service. The choices were plenty (best we've seen at sea) but, the eggs needed some work. There were many choices of snacks, meals and breakfast items. It was always delivered on time and w/ a smile.
Pool - The mid ship pool had some amazing chairs. Not the plastic type - these were wood with thick cushions and a pleasant change. While the pools were very nice, the mid pool (for kids & adults) was in a domed area. The dome was opened a crack one day and closed for two others. Unfortunately, HAL allows smoking in that area on both sides of the ship whether the dome is opened or closed. That's wrong. The aft pool was "adults only." However, whether or not kids were allowed depended on the guard on watch at the time. We explained our dghtr could not swim in the mid pool because she is an asthmatic and the smoking filled the entire area. We were told she should feel free to use the aft shower. The mid pool was overrun with unsupervised children. They were running, diving, screaming, bringing glasses into the water, kicking people and even jumped on top of some younger children that were being held by their parents. It was ridiculous. Security showed up a few times after people complained, chased them and moments later they were back with a vengeance.
Activities - HAL was a bit quiet for us. The ship was filled with kids but, not too many activities for adults - a few trivia games & pool games once in a while that lasted 10 mins. We prefer a more active cruise.
Entertainment - the headliners were very good and entertaining. However, the HAL singers/dancers were so-so at best. Our least favorite of all the cruise lines.
Dining Room/Food - The dining room was well decorated. The choices, quality & presentation of food was excellent. The desserts (including the light and sugar free selections were fabulous). However, because our cruise was overbooked - many parties were seated at tables too small for their group. We sat 5 at a table appropriate for 4. Those on either end of the table had their plates hanging off the edge. The first night we entered the dining room to find my parents stuck on 2 folding chairs! Needless to say, that was the only night they sat there. That is unacceptable. Our waiter and asst were fantastic & worked very hard. The table to the left of us housed 8 boys under the age of 9. Their parents dined clear across the room and once they sat never looked back. These kids were carrying on, screaming, fighting, etc. I spoke to the maitre'd after the second night and told him I am shocked HAL would allow such a thing. If the parents don't want to be bothered supervising their own children, they should have left them home. We never saw them again. However, the table to the right was made up of 8 kids under 10 w/ a teenager watching them. Their behavior was appalling. Their chairs were in the walkway, they were under the table, running around the room, mixing potions with the liquids, playing with their food, etc. HAL did nothing to put a stop to this behavior and it continued the entire 11 days! The maitre'd and assistants never came to the table to introduce themselves or ask how things were going. They were too busy fielding complaints about the unruly behavior in the dining room. We missed that.
HAL Teen Program - it was ok. My daughter is 13 and the activities were held very late. Because HAL overbooked the 8-12 y/o group, they needed the teen loft to house the overflow. Therefore, activities for the teens ran from 10:00 til 2:00 a.m. There were 1 or 2 activities during the day for teens but, that's it. Daughter was a little disappointed in comparison to some of our other cruises. HAL allowed kids not in the program to take over deck 10, they were holding elevators open w/ sticks, throwing dinner rolls, breaking glass, chewed gum thrown on carpets and garbage left all over. Nothing was said to them because "they were not enrolled in the kids program" as per HAL Counselors. (Obviously, there was no cut off on how many children were allowed to sail in each age group).
Shore Excursion Desk - we didn't use them. We booked our own tours.
Front Desk - was efficient.
Greenhouse Spa - Very relaxing, one of the nicest spas I've seen at sea, tile beds, relaxation room, etc. Very upscale. My hot stone massage and scrub were excellent.
Ports - the ports of call were terrific. St. Maarten, St. Thomas, San Juan and my two favorites, Dominica & Barbados were excellent. Beautiful beaches, plenty of shopping and great sites to see in Dominica!
Disembarkation - very smooth. Kudos to HAL - first cruise line we've sailed with that provided room service the last day and allowed you to wait in your room until your color/number was called for disembarkation. Super smooth!
Overall, HAL did a very good job with the food and service. I was disappointed that we were not able to experience the outstanding service we had heard so much about. I understand HAL is trying to become more "family friendly" and I respect that. However, make a plan before opening your door to 500+ kids. I have NEVER seen such poor behavior from kids at sea in my life. We've sailed Princess & Celebrity when school is out before and never witnessed such a thing. It was too many kids for them to handle and it showed. HAL should have stepped up to the plate and held these parents accountable for their children's rude, obnoxious and destructive behavior. They chose not to. For me, the obnoxious behavior that HAL allowed puts a big blemish on their reputation. While I may sail HAL again for a great deal - I certainly won't seek them out.