CABIN 10019 -- Small balcony (room for two angled chairs and a miniature cocktail table). Room itself was very small, but there was plenty of storage space for two people, including two spacious drawers under the bed we didn't even need to use. Likewise, all of our luggage fit neatly under the bed after we unpacked.
In spite of the cozy room, I didn't feel closed in. I have serious claustrophobia and had no problem with the room or the bathroom facility at all.
Noordam is a beautiful ship that is showing some signs of wear (it was commissioned in 2006), but is well maintained by an attentive and friendly staff. At meals and in passageways, crew members smiled and greeted passengers without fail. Only complaint about staff is that many do not speak English well and there was some culture/language communication problems at times.
Food was above average in the dining room and beyond description in the Pinnacle Grill (more on that later). Only one dining room evening meal was below expectations of your neighborhood Denney's. Most were far better with a variety of gourmet offerings for each course. Salmon was on menu every night but final night, which was trout. Second gala night we had "surf and turf" which was a very generous sized fillet Mignon and a lobster tail, perfectly prepared and well presented. Although drink orders were offered, we stuck with the complimentary water and iced tea at meals and had our own beverages in the room or during "happy hours" where beverages were $2.00 for second drink. We discovered that you have to buy the same drink as your second one AT THE SAME TIME, meaning be sure to ask for no ice (or a canned beverage) if you don't want Coke flavored water for your $2.00 drink.
Bar service was excellent in the Crow's Nest, not so much in the Northern Lights lounge where we went for a music trivia contest. The Explorer's Cafe service is very slow during some parts of the day, prompt during others. It's worth a try. While not as good as Starbucks, Pete's or SBC, the drinks are yummy and hot. Very hot. We considered a beverage package, but opted to visit the Safeway Store in Seward to bring our own soda, cream and a small bottle of wine on-board. No problems getting through security with that. Hard liquor is not allowed, but reasonable amounts of soda, juices and wine (750 ml) are permitted. For our next cruise, we may do some math on the beverage plan. It may be worth the extra money to save a trip to the supermarket to bring our own beverages onto the ship.
Pinnacle Grill is $35 per person extra and well worth the cost. I made a reservation before the cruise to be at Pinnacle when we were cruising through Glacier Bay on our anniversary. From the opening "shot" of mushroom latte to the amazing surf and turf dinner (four serving size choices included and a jaw dropping 32 oz fillet available for an extra fee), every food item was prepared to standards way above anything we have experienced before. The area is very quiet, in spite of a very large family with several kids at a table nearby. Waiters were not bothersome, but were on hand right away to refill drinks or bring the next course. If you've been thinking about cruising, choose HAL if only for the opportunity to dine at this amazing restaurant.
Choose your cabin wisely. We were on the Starboard side of a south bound cruise. In other words, when the Captain came on to announce some cool feature or landmark, we had to find an open space on the other side of the ship or in the Crow's Nest. While we're on the subject of choosing a cabin, we found our 10th deck forward cabin to be one of the best kept secrets. Tucked out of the way, just steps away from the Crows nest and a short elevator ride to the Greenhouse Spa on the Lido deck, this quiet area truly was a retreat from the hustle and bustle of port day passageway traffic. Although as far forward as one can be berthed on a ship, there was relatively little motion until the last night. That made up for the week of restfulness.
Sleep is hard to find on a ship, but the bed and bedding are among the best we've slept on. Two full beds joined together to make a queen bed on a stable foundation meant motion from the other person almost un-noticeable. Unfortunately, the pillows were either to "foam rubbery" or too "squishy". If you have room to pack your favorite pillow, it might make this the best night sleep you've had in a long time.
Enrichment activities included among other things, the Windows Workshop. Of little interest to us since we have Macs. But descriptions seemed interesting, particularly those that are platform independent like using OneDrive.
Also available were several presentations from America's Test Kitchens, one of my favorite foodie magazines/programs. The demonstrations were great and came with recipe cards and handouts featuring various techniques. They are not interactive as you might expect in a live performance. That may be the way they're done, or it might be because there was an outbreak of Norovirus during this cruise.
Entertainment is HAL's Achilles Heel. What little entertainment they have is poorly done in venues that were not designed for unobstructed viewing or for musical performance.
The GOOD: An excellent mashup between the ship's band performing and BBC Earth's wildlife shows was the entertainment highlight for us. Alexander Great's magic show was a close second. I also enjoyed Adagio's performances in the Exploration's Cafe, though I only heard them as I was passing through. Noordam's musicians are top notch. Take the time to enjoy their performances while you're aboard.
The BAD: The signature auditorium on the Noordam is the Vista Lounge. At least a third of the auditorium (and almost all of the upper deck 'balcony" area) is obstructed by columns or the ceiling of the upper deck. Two nights, we could see the bottom two thirds of the backdrop. The third night, we sat in the floor area in chairs that must have been reupholstered leftovers from GITMO. Uncomfortable, these chairs had cushions that did not stay put.
The UGLY: The cast's performance of "Ever After" is anything but what the title implies... A collection of popular music from the 80s and 90s played as the singers and dancers re-enacted several fairy tales... most at one time. Imagine Snow White and Alice in Wonderland on stage at the same time in full volume. Choreography was large stage performed on a small stage.
"Ever After" is only a little worse than a high school musical. I'll give them an A+ for the multimedia backdrop. As far as performance that was poor goes (as described above), the problem was not so much a lack of skill and talent of the cast. Done in a theater designed for such a performance, and with only one -- at the most two closely related concepts, it might be an award winning show. For the seemingly thrown together quality, it gets the "UGLY" award for this cruise.
The Greenhouse Spa is very expensive. However, we splurged and spent money that might have gone to an excursion or two to get their hydrotherapy and thermal lounge package. It is $249 for two people for the full cruise. Normally, it's a great place to "spa away" the muscle tension and stress in a relaxing and quiet space. Quiet, relaxing Earth music plays sometimes (volume and presence is controlled from the women's changing room for some reason). Only one day did we have disruptive people -- a pair of young ladies who were asked to be quiet by an elderly lady who stepped up to enforce the rules that the staff didn't seem interested in monitoring.
The thermal loungers are very hot (hotter than water in your friendly neighborhood hot tub). They're not for everyone, but I found them helpful after putting the "luxurious bathrobe" and a large towel down. Signage asks people to limit their use to 20 minutes (in both pool and thermoloungers) and that should be more than enough. Don't be surprised if you find people sleeping on the loungers. They're not breaking the rules on purpose... these things are just that relaxing.
The Greenhouse also offers a wide range of spa treatments for both men and women, from cleansing facials to mani-pedi's. TIP: Get your mani-pedi and facial before the cruise. You'll still have money left over for your kid's college education. But if you can afford it, these folks seem to know how to pamper with style.
Public rooms, except for Northern Lights and the Vista Lounge are very nice. Some include prints of famous Dutch Masters' work, statuary and my favorite, wooden carvings at the main dining room.
Not only are public rooms well appointed, the staff works tirelessly to keep them clean. This is especially true should your cruise face an outbreak of Norovirus as occurred this time. Crew members -- even the Cruise Director himself -- took on the task of "super-sanitizing" the ship's public spaces and passageways in addition to their normal duties. Other than the Lido, where a careless plate grab from an infected passenger could spread the virus, I felt very safe on board.
I've seen little mention on Cruise Critic of the "secret" places one can go for peace and quiet. There are many of those on the Noordam. My favorites were the Explorations Cafe, library and the Crow's Nest. Yes, they can get busy at certain times of the day, but for the most part it's relaxing and quiet... and a nice seat with a great view can almost always be found.
Embarkation and disembarkation were both well organized on the ship end. However, disembarkation took a long time and once through the HAL portion, customs became very crowded, confusing and disorganized. They do not sanitize those spaces like they do the ship itself, and one of us got sick as a result.
It's a good idea to wait in your stateroom until your disembarkation group is called. While they let people gather in public rooms to wait for their call, you're bound to find a lot of people anxious to get on to their next destination and with that comes impatience. I was concerned about a tight connection to the airport, but following HAL's process, we got there in plenty of time.
1. If you are a U.S. citizen, you'll actually clear customs twice. Once for Canada and again at the airport before boarding.
2. Try to have as little carry on luggage as possible as you'll be asked for your passport, boarding pass and a customs receipt several times throughout.
3. If you have a medical device (such as a CPAP, H-Wave or similar "large electronic device"), remove it from your carryon and run it through the scanner separately. Canada's TSA will make you do that anyway :-)
4. When clearing U.S. customs in Vancouver, have a traveling companion who can watch your luggage while you go through the process. A "convenient" kiosk setup is not convenient when you're trying to manage so much luggage and "ability" gear that you don't have a free hand to tinker with the machines, which can be stubborn if the pages on your passport are a little curled.
Which reminds me... The "Handicapped" signs show a wheelchair, which is a universal symbol for mobility impaired. People with a cane, braces or a walker can also use the "Handicapped" line. Which may have made item #4 above a moot point for me.
Value for money? Tough call. We booked through a popular online booking engine that offered discounts only to MasterCard holders and was not cooperative in resolving problems. They would refer us to HAL to deal with an issue and HAL would insist that they could not help because we booked with a Travel Agent. The months leading up to the cruise were a hassle, mostly because of this "go ask your mom -- go ask your dad" challenge.
It was worth the hassle in the end. But is it worth it economically? Here's a way to compare if you've never taken a cruise:
A decent hotel was about $285 per night while we were in transit. Most included Tom Bodett's clean comfortable room with NO amenities. One included the free breakfast that's worth every penny. Add to that meals at around $50 per day while we were in transit -- just average chain restaurant meals not including breakfast. That puts us up to $2,345 if we did that for seven days. That's half what you'd typically pay for the Alaska cruise for two people plus the Pinnacle Grill and views of the Alaska wilderness you can't get any other way.
I'd be reluctant to spend that much for the room we had. But if a human travel agent can monitor my booking and get us a good deal on a suite, it would be tempting.
Cozy with a nice view of ocean. PLENTY of storage space and hangers enough for two. Nice firm bed with no motion.
The views are breathtaking no matter which side of the ship you're on. Great views from deck and from Crows nest. Pictures from our Starboard balcony included in our review.
Wish we had taken an excursion at this port. The tourist stores were great (yes, I actually said that). A lot of offerings from local artisans as well as the usual made in China touristy stuff.
This is the place to get off if you want to learn more about First People's history and culture -- and some interesting totem pole facts.
Taxi to Safeway for only a few dollars to pick up beverages.
Haines is a lovely little town. And the only one the Captain spoke highly of. We disembarked to walk about and pick up a few munchies.