We sailed on the beautiful Noordam 10/20/07 out of NY, 11 days to the southern Caribbean. It was just my SO and myself. Embarkation for us was a breeze, probably because we arrived at the pier somewhat late. We arrived at about 2:55PM, parking at the pier, and were in our cabin at 3:40. This was our first cruise with HAL, having sailed previously with Carnival & Celebrity and I think HAL has a better embarkation system...for example taking your picture at the check-in spot rather than shuffling you off to a different photo line. It was really a pleasure.
Our cabin, 8030, a balcony cabin on the Navigation deck, was smaller than I had anticipated. While closet space was adequate, there were no drawers except 2 small drawers within each night table. Thank goodness that someone told me about the extra drawers under the bed and storage space in the stool by the dresser, which made an excellent hamper! (Thank you Rhody Don!!) Otherwise the cabin was lovely with nice artwork and an extremely comfortable bed.
I booked this cruise in mid-May and we had no other choice for dining except "as You Wish Dining", something that we've never experienced before....but it worked out very nicely. On 7 of the nights we arrived at the dining room (Vista 2) and upon checking in with the Maitre'd, was asked if we minded joining a larger table...which we actually preferred. We were then escorted to various tables of either of 6 or 8 & enjoyed the company of fellow cruisers, getting the opportunity to meet & enjoy more people. On only one of those seven nights was the table a complete waste, with no one except us really talking or engaging the others in conversation. The food in the Vista was consistently good, but nothing remarkable. I've had better on Celebrity. On one evening we were asked to join a couple at traditional late seating (Vista 3)...a couple we had met via the ship's roll call here, and had a delightful dinner. On the remaining 2 nights we ate at the Pinnacle Grill, the ship's high-end restaurant. For the regular dining experience it was $30/pp and well worth it. The Pinnacle Grill is so beautiful, decorated in a semi-Asian theme with beautiful walls, ceilings & works of art. The menu is what you would expect from a 4 or 5 star restaurant. The food didn't disappoint. Our 2nd night at the Pinnacle we bought into the Sommelier's dinner ($65/pp) and I highly recommend this to cruisers out there who enjoy fine wines. The cellar master, a wonderfully witty and impressive fellow named Ovidiu, reigned over a magnificent pairing menu consisting of 6 courses. It was a wonderful meal & quite a fulfilling experience....complete with a saber-opening of a champagne bottle. Bring your cameras!
For breakfast we ate in the restaurant once, which was OK, and at the Lido Buffet the remainder of the time. I think the Lido Buffet was terrific, offering everything you could possibly want for breakfast & then some. Smiling crew were always there offering to carry your tray to a table. We often didn't eat lunch, being either off the ship or still full from breakfast, but a few times I grabbed a hamburger & fries or tacos next to the mid-ship pool. That was pretty good also.
The Public Rooms were all lovely, and very very comfortable. The Vista Lounge, the show room, was extremely comfortable, and the view to the stage seemed uninterrupted by columns, etc. The Queen's Lounge, also known as the Culinary Arts Center, is a very comfortable room. They show movies here in the evening. My SO took a culinary course with Chef John on our first sea day & he enjoyed it very very much. In addition to one-on-one attention doing the food preparation & cooking, the class of 12 enjoyed their 3-course lunch & were given chef's aprons and chef's hats as a remembrance.
I really can't comment on the entertainment first hand, but was told by friends that many of the shows were wonderful.
Every aspect of the service was excellent throughout the ship. From our cabin Steward (Harry) who hugged us on the last morning & asked us to come back because we were now "family", right on through to the dining room personnel and those serving at the bars and pools. Very very nice people, always with a smile and a "good morning" or "good evening" ma'am.
We went ashore on our own in St.Thomas (Sapphire Beach) & St.Maarten (just wandering, shopping, eating in town), but in Tortola, Dominica & Barbados went with HAL excursions. In Tortola we went to the Baths in Virgin Gorda. They were visually outstanding, but there wasn't enough time to really enjoy them. After an hour down at the beach we had to leave. In Dominica the pier area is so typically Caribbean, it's really gorgeous. We took the RainForest & Emerald Pool tour. It would have been much appreciated if HAL told us we could swim at the Emerald Pool...because neither of us wore bathing suits, but there WAS swimming in the pool. Another place where HAL slipped up was in Barbados. We were in the pier bus, which took us from the ship to the terminal building (probably a 10-15 min walk but we were lazy!), when a fellow passenger got on & the bus driver told him HE MUST GET OFF & GO CHANGE HIS CLOTHES!!!! He had been wearing a Noordam tee shirt and a pair of army-fatigue knee-length shorts & an army-fatigue baseball cap. The driver explained that a year or so ago some people, dressed in army-fatigues, stopped some tourists. The tourists, thinking these persons were official Barbados persons, did stop...and were robbed. So thereafter no one, except the police or military, is allowed to wear fatigue-type garments in Barbados. I felt sorry for this man & his wife. I saw them that evening & he reported that they didn't bother going out after that, since they had already missed their tour. What a shame.
All in all, we enjoyed this ship, this cruise, very very much. If I had one criticism it would be that there didn't seem to be enough activity late in the evening or on sea days. People who were repeat HAL cruisers told us that this was an aberration from their previous cruise experience with HAL. I'm sorry that HAL has moved this cruise out of NY next year...I expect we'll book on this ship again, but now it'll probably take longer to do so...because I prefer to cruise out of NY/NJ.