Here goes: my review of our trip on MS Noordam March 21st - March 31st, 2007 departing New York, Eastern Caribbean. Sure that lots and lots of reviews already exist on both ship and route but I was so thrilled I feel the need to share, so bear with me (I have a feeling that this review might get a bit long) ;o)
If you take nothing else from this review here's the best tip I have to offer: get involved in Cruise Critics, write on the boards and go to the meet and greet. If one has not yet been organized for your trip, organize it - it just might save your cruise - it certainly made ours!!!
I went on this cruise with my mother. For both of us it was our first cruise ever. We're 30-something and 60-something, both from Germany. Being "aliens" made our embarkation procedure very easy. We arrived by taxi at the pier, were met by a porter who took our suitcases from us curbside and we could just walk right through security and check in. There are two lines for check in - one for Americans and one for foreigners. There were only three people in front of us in the line for foreigners, so that we were on board within half an hour of arriving at the pier.
At check in we had quite the surprise waiting for us: a further upgrade!!! We had initially booked a mini-suite of the smallest category and had already been upgraded. Upon check in we were assigned suite 7088 (SS category) and were about to start arguing that we had been upgraded and to insist upon our original cabin assignment when we checked the deck plan and were thrilled to discover that we had received a further upgrade!!! Thank you HAL!!!
We got to the suite and adored it. Actually, we loved it so much that we decided that we might just not leave our suite all cruise! Most spacious with an actual dressing room (incl. a place to sit and do your makeup and lots and lots of closet space!), two wonderful beds with down comforters and wonderfully soft linens, Egyptian cotton towels, sitting area, fresh flowers and fruits. A huge balcony which allows you to look right down the side of the ship or simply sit and stare at the ocean. And best of all: you can lie on your bed and have a wonderful view of the ocean!!! The choice of colors the interior decorator opted for (orange / purple) may take a little getting used to but we were not ones to criticize.
Having the suite allowed us such wonderful extras as free dry cleaning and laundry (came home with all clean clothes - even got our winter jackets laundered!), use of the Neptune Lounge, which always offered fresh coffee specialties and snacks throughout the day as well as breakfast in the Pinnacle Grill (hated the Lido - eternally long lines of people with over laden trays). Not to mention champagne reception with the captain on our first day at sea as well as a farewell luncheon with him on the last day. If you are considering spending the extra buck and are asking yourself if it's worth it, here's my humble opinion - yes, yes, yes. We loved every minute of it!!!
Leaving New York we enjoyed a wonderful view from the Crow's Nest. Statue of Liberty comes up on the starboard side (which I finally managed to learn is the right side of the ship as opposed to the port side of the ship (note to self: never call it a boat!) on the left). Too cold to watch outside and much better drinks inside. Had a bit of time to explore the ship before dinner - she's magnificent!!!
Seating for dinner on the other hand was quite the disappointment. We had been expecting older guests at our table and I generally don't have a problem with this but we were stuck with an ancient table who were either not very talkative at all or kept repeating the same stories over and over already on the first evening. It would have been rude to talk amongst ourselves in German (would certainly have had more fun!) so we considered changing tables the next night. (On an aside: the food on board was great - no complaints here).
Lucky for us we had signed up for the Cruise Critics Meet and Greet on the first day at sea and met the most wonderful people. Apparently we were not the only ones stuck with unacceptable dinner company and Steven managed to set up a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful table for eight for us that same night (if you're reading this, Steven: THANK YOU !!!). From the second day forward we had the most fun - cocktails, whale watching, formal shuffle board, champagne bingo, cocktail party, more champagne etc. So fun to walk around the ship, stopping to chat with people we had met on the board for the rest of the cruise. MISS YOU GUYS!!!
Grand Turk - really not that much to see. Did the Iguana Hop on Hop Off Tour. They point out every garage and gas station. Only attractions are the jail (which inmates used to leave at night to buy alcohol and then return to their cell) and the lighthouse (kind of cute with a nice opportunity to take a walk on the coast). Unless you are interested in visiting both the lighthouse and the jail (entry fee of USD 7 each) I don't think the tour is such a great deal. Walked around the shops a bit. Not really worth stopping for anything. Great view of the boat from shore - wonderful picture opportunity if you're into photography. Loved the beach - swimming with a view of your boat. You won't find a closer beach on any of the islands! Liked the fact that the island was not yet as commercialized as the other islands we visited.
Tortola – booked a tour with a private charter (www.patouche.com) which took 16 of us out to The Baths on a high speed catamaran which is designed for 50 people. Plenty of room, wonderful people and great rum punch! We were dropped off offshore and snorkeled in. Wonderful opportunity to snorkel between the rock formations. Saw some very interesting fish. Then were led on a guided tour through the rock formations on the beach and had some time left to swim / snorkel back to the boat. Had an amazing time!!! (Aside: HAL tour takes you to the beach as well and lets you walk around on your own from what I hear. I liked our version better!!!).
St. Maarten – from what I had gathered on the boards, the best shopping is in St. Maarten and I can only agree. Very leisure day of relaxation and shopping.
St. Thomas – slight rain did not stop us from going to Emerald Beach which we had all to ourselves all morning. We figured we would get wet anyways so we did not care about the weather. Had so much fun! Pics of me in the water with an umbrella *lol*. Wonderful little cocktail bar right on the beach - rain was the perfect excuse to spend the rest of the day there! Later stopped in town to have a look. Quaint little streets. But better shopping in St. Maarten.
Puerto Rico – as we a rather short stop here and I really wanted to visit the rain forest, we opted for a HAL organized excursion. I was most pleasantly surprised to find that we were taken to the rain forest in small buses of approx 20 people. The drive to the rain forest is approx one hour – depending on traffic – the whole excursion lasts about 5 hours. We had three stops – one at the view tower, one at a waterfall and one at a short walkway. Very much enjoyed the excursion. Unfortunately this tour does not leave any time for visiting the old town. Guess we’ll just have to come back!
Time just flew by on this cruise. Had planned to do so much more on board but spent a surprising amount of time simply watching the water (quite often with cocktail in hand). Our vacation was wonderful and I was amazed how utterly relaxing such a cruise can be. It’s certain to not have been our last cruise!