This was our 17th cruise and our second on HAL. We did the 10-night on Noordam last December. Most of our previous cruises were on RCCL and Celebrity.
Once we made it through the impossible traffic approaching the Lincoln Tunnel and driving cross town to 12 Ave., getting to the pier was easy. We dropped off the luggage and my wife went to park the car. Last year the parking was on the same pier as embarkation. Unfortunately this year it was on the next pier, which meant a very long cold walk for my wife. As suite guests, check-in was a breeze. We were escorted through the security checkpoint and we were a bit uncomfortable as we were "jumped ahead" of people waiting in line. No one in line seemed too upset so we didn't feel all that bad! Despite what I read on the message boards, if you register your credit card on-line, they do not have to swipe it and you don't even have to sign anything. You just present your boarding pass and your passports, they take your picture, hand you your sea pass and you are on your way. Once on board, we went straight to our cabin, which was ready and our steward was there in a flash to introduce himself.
Captain Hans Mateboer seems nice enough, but he is certainly not the people person that John Scott is. Last year we saw Captain Scott around the ship mingling with the passengers almost every day. I don't think we saw Captain Mateboer more than twice other than the organized events. This was the last Noordam cruise for Hotel Manager Stan Cuppens who is going to be the first Hotel Manager for the Eurodam. I had a nice conversation with him at our M&G and another at the Q&A session on the last day. He is very professional and interesting to talk to. I really don't have an opinion about Cruise Director Trevor Millar. He was just a typical CD....overly enthusiastic and mechanical which made him seem insincere. But I could say the same about most CD's I have encountered. Chief Officer Chris Norman sat at our table at the Mariners Luncheon along with two other couples. We had a very informative conversation and he discussed the fuel situation which is the driving force behind HAL's decision pull Noordam from NYC. He also shared some very interesting cruise stories. Beverage Manager Marc Spijkerboer arranged a second CC get together at the end of the cruise. I gave him the list of cabin numbers I had (about 40 out of our 67) and he sent invitations. What really impressed me was that he seemed enthusiastic about doing it.
The concierges in the Neptune Lounge, Mila & Vanessa were wonderful as always. Both knew our names after our first visit. Mila was the only member of the entire crew who we recognized from our cruise last year.
Our cabin steward Adit, our Vista steward Dadan, his assistant Disan, and the wine steward Anya were all terrific, as was every crew member we encountered.
The food was excellent in the Vista. I particularly enjoyed the sirloin steaks which were tender and cooked perfectly, the lobster tails which were a good size and delicious (I ordered surf, surf, & turf....could have done without the tiny filet), and the escargot which was exceptional. The food was always served hot and exactly as ordered. The food quality and selection was very good in the Lido (breakfasts and lunches) though it was very crowded at times. We found we were able to avoid this problem by eating a bit earlier or later. At the last minute we decided to try the Pinnacle again even though I was unimpressed last year. This time the food was great and the service was far better than last year. We really enjoyed it. We also had breakfast a few times in the PG and it was very nice and relaxing with great service. This turned out to be a great suite perk which we did not take advantage of last year.
While we were eating dinner one night in the Vista Dining Room, the fire alarm sounded. No one really reacted. All the servers just went about their business. Within a minute the chimes sounded indicating an announcement. Never in my life have I seen a room full of passengers become instantaneously silent. The captain announced that there was a report of a fire in the Lido and fire crews were on their way. A short time later he came on again and announced that the fire was minor and had been extinguished. We found out later that the fire was in some cardboard boxes and had been extinguished by the Lido staff before the fire crew arrived. It was very comforting to know that this emergency was handled so quickly and efficiently.
As much as everyone raves about the aft corner suites (we were in SC 5191), I think I prefer the SB/SA's midship. Yes, the huge verandah was wonderful, but the cabin itself was significantly smaller than the SB we were in last year and the location made for some long walks. I guess it's just a matter of personal taste, but I will take the extra space and central location over the huge corner verandah.
Because of our late (3 PM) arrival on Tortola we did not book an excursion. We just walked through town and IMHO the town stinks, both figuratively and literally. The stench of sewage was everywhere. On St. Thomas we were docked at Crown Bay. More shops are gradually opening, but it will never be like Havensight. We took a cab into town and had lunch at our favorite restaurant Mason Amalia. On Dominica we did the Rain Forest and Emerald Pool tour. The Emerald Pool was beautiful, but the rain forest lived up to its name. As soon as we hit the trail, the sky opened up and we were drenched. Our next stop was for a drink and "entertainment". Some local singers/dancers performed and some from the tour were called to the stage to participate. I could have done without this stop, especially since our next stop was supposed to be the Botanical Garden, but because we were running late, we just drove through it. We were so late they had to hold the ship for us. On Barbados we did the Concorde Experience. The newly opened exhibit was great. We were able to walk through this amazing plane and then view a multimedia show projected on the side of the plane. The next stop was the historic St. John's Church. It was very interesting and there were some fantastic views. We only spent 15 minutes there though because we had to get to the Rum Shop. What a dive! They give you one drink and try to get you to buy lunch. We spent 40 boring minutes there. 15 minutes at a beautiful historic church and 40 minutes at a seedy rum shop! What's wrong with this picture? On St. Maarten we were signed up for the Beach Rendezvous. When we met up with the tour guide she told us that conditions at Orient Beach were extremely windy and we were given the option of canceling for a full refund. Well our experience is that it is always windy at Orient Beach, so if they are saying it is very windy, then it must be too windy! So we passed on this excursion and spent the day shopping with a stop for lunch. San Juan was the usual useless stop, arriving at 7AM and having to be back on board at 12:30. We had to compete at the gate to the pier with throngs of Carnival passengers with their carry-ons boarding a ship for a cruise originating in San Juan.
Entertainment & Events:
We managed to miss almost all of the entertainment on board. Unfortunately we were unable to avoid the string quartet because they were playing in the Explorer Lounge and we often had to pass by. To be blunt, they were just awful. In addition to be very mechanical and uninspired, there were times when they were totally out of tune. The HALCats were about the same as last year. Not bad but not great. I much prefer the calypso bands on RCCL & Celebrity.
The Mariner luncheon (our first) was very nice. Because of the large number of Mariners, we were split into two seatings in the upper level of the Vista Dining Room. We were assigned to the first seating (11 AM), which was somewhat early. Having officers sit at some of the large tables was a nice touch.
The suite luncheon was very nice also. This year it was in the Crows Nest. This was much better than last year when it was in the Pinnacle, which seemed very crowded. The only down side was that the "entertainment" was provided by the aforementioned string quartet. It was painful.
A lot of people from our CC roll call have been thanking me for doing a good job in organizing our meet & greet. In reality, all I did was send a few e-mails and print some name tags. The real credit goes to the 65 others on the roll call who kept the thread going with their contributions and for showing up in such numbers at the meet & greet and CTBob who set up a web site where he posted pictures we sent him of ourselves and the ports we were going to visit. I think we really felt like we knew each other before we ever boarded the ship. If you missed my previous post, we had 67 on the roll call and more than 60 showed up for the M&G. In addition, two from the roll call were traveling with 66 others from their community and more than 60 of them showed up too so we had a total of more than 120 people. We also had a second get together on the last sea day thanks to one of our CC members who requested it and to Marc the Beverage Manager who graciously arranged it. We had hot hors d'oeuvres and an open bar at both gatherings. That appears to be the new standard fare for CC meet & greets, at least on Noordam. No more coffee and cookies!
Disembarkation was also very easy. The luggage is in small enough groups that it was not difficult to find ours. I had to walk to the street end of the pier to grab a porter. The customs agents just collected our declaration forms....they didn't even look at them. Last year the porter took us all the way to the car and helped us load. This year, because the parking was on a different pier, he only took us as far as the roadway which connects the piers. I waited with the luggage while my wife took the long walk to get the car. Leaving NYC was much easier than coming in and we were home in PA before noon.
To be honest, I had prepared myself for a letdown. Our cruise on Noordam last year was so good, there was no way this one could match it. Well I was wrong. I am amazed at how HAL manages to maintain such a high level of service, which does not seem to depend on who the officers or crew members are. It was another wonderful cruise on a wonderful ship with a wonderful crew and a whole bunch of new friends.