Holland America, where have you gone?: Noordam Cruise Review by liter

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Holland America, where have you gone?

Sail Date: January 2010
Destination: Southern Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
There wasn't any question, Holland was our first choice. We have cruised with other lines, such as Norwegian, and have raced down the gangplank without ever looking back. Holland America was, to our way of thinking, a guarantee for a pampered and care-free cruise. We don't ask for too much but we do expect to be treated like welcome and respected guests. Lord knows, we pay enough for that courtesy. This was not the case aboard the Noordam. After a few days aboard, we began to call her, NO DAM, and we'll tell you why. Never, in our experience, has a Holland America crew been so content using the word NO, excepting at those times that you'd expect them to. Upon discussing our cruise options with a Holland salesperson, we requested a "bargain" priced balcony stateroom. We were advised that for a few hundred dollars more we'd stand a good chance for an upgrade. It sounded attractive so we allowed our reservation to remain open, without a guaranteed cabin. It was to be assigned upon More boarding.

After foolishly arriving at the port too early, we spent two hours in a gymnasium type setting awaiting embarkation. Hot chocolate was served liberally as we waited but coffee was out of the question. Finally we were ushered aboard. Please understand, Holland was not at fault for our foolish early arrival. We were then directed to our newly assigned cabin on the eighth, Navigation deck. Cabin 8013 was 13 cabins back from the bow of the ship. It was a bit bouncy up there and being right below the buffet lunchroom and pool we were serenaded with scraping chairs and tables, day and night. We have never regarded the height of the deck as a badge of honor but rather have always selected our cabin to be mid-ship. The walk is so much more convenient from a central location to, for example, the dining room which is all the way aft. Since we booked months in advance of the cruise, and had we taken the identical, lower priced stateroom, we'd have reserved a centrally located room, albeit on a lower deck. Again, our mistake, but this time with a nudge from Holland who was more than happy to charge more and then assign us to an unpopular cabin which resides directly below the buffet dining and pool area. We were serenaded by scraping chairs and tables, day and night.

This was our anniversary cruise and the only reason that we were aboard that ship at that time was to celebrate our anniversary. To enjoy that special day we had booked a reservation in the specialty, cost extra, Pinnicle Grill. And again, we made the reservation to be on the day of our anniversary, booked months in advance of the cruise. Upon boarding, we were given confirmation of that reservation. Several days into the cruise, upon returning to the ship from an exhausting shore excursion, we found a note from the manager of the Pinnicle. He informed us that the reservation for our anniversary (which was the following evening) had been cancelled and we were being ordered to report to the Pinnicle Grill, two hours from the time that we had returned to the ship. Since there was no apology or compensation for this capricious change, we assumed that this meant that if we didn't report for dinner as directed, we'd forfeit the forty dollars that we'd spent for this special dinner. We went to ship's services where a very cordial representative showed concern. We appreciate the efforts he made to resurrect our reservation for the following evening, ON our anniversary. What we discovered, as we entered the Pinnicle and were greeted by the very disgruntled manager was, disheartening to say the least. We were seated in a quiet corner of the empty restaurant as the manager explained that they had cancelled 20 confirmed reservations so that instead of serving dinners (at $20 per head) Holland America had instead decided to clear the room in order to hold a wine-tasting event, or better put, an opportunity to sell overpriced bottles of wine. Some forty or more guests had been given an unexpected boot in order to make room for an income opportunity. As it turned out, there were only seven guests attracted to this event. We sat. like lepers, in our corner of the otherwise empty restaurant. We were the only guests served dinner that evening. And the flowers I had ordered to be placed on the table, as an anniversary gift for my wife, were delivered to our cabin because our reservation had been cancelled. Perhaps, under other circumstances there would have been some honor, being the only dinner guest, but in this case it was understandably embarrassing. We spent the rest of the cruise, looking over our shoulders, wondering what would they pull next? The pinnicle decision had been so blatant and yet so poorly conceived, we knew we were aboard the "ship of fools." 

Earlier we mentioned the "NO DAM" experience. We had been provided with a gift, from the travel agency of two coupon booklets that provided for a total of 40 signature drinks to be enjoyed during the cruise. Unfortunately, Holland had sold these coupons without telling anyone what "Signature drinks" were. Even the ship's office could not provide a comprehensive explanation as to what "Signature drink" meant. Every time we'd order, even the simplest of drinks we were told NO, as this wasn't a Signature drink. When we'd ask what constituted a signature drink, different bartenders would give varying answers. We had to learn which bar to go to in order to get the drinks that we desired. Occasionally they'd bill our room an additional fifty cents if that bartender didn't subscribe to what the last barkeep had assured us of. So much for $100. worth of coupons. We are not big drinkers but enjoy a few cocktails while on vacation. These coupons were so frustrating, on a ten day cruise, we had only 10 cocktails, and gave the other coupon book to strangers. It was not the end of the world, but it was aggravating.

Now at times, when you'd expect the crew to say no, they were much too shy. Blue jeans, in violation of the main dining dress code, children in the adult only pool, helter skelter colliding lines in the buffet, lounge chairs and tables that were reserved, sometimes all day, with a towel or newspaper placed upon them. In the buffet, both a crew member and I watched a woman take a tray to the food line. With so many plates, it made good sense to me. When I tried to secure one, the crew member then told me NO, I was not entitled to use a tray. When you'd expect crew-persons to intercede it was only then that they forgot the word no! Having said this, our cruise aboard the Oosterdam, one year ago was a pleasure and without any of these problems. We therefore must conclude that it wasn't Holland America that was so much at fault but rather a very poorly run Holland America ship. It is also safe to say that if it weren't for the Pinnicle debacle the smaller annoyances would not have been quite so noticeable.

Incidentally, since they failed to tell us in the store, aboard the Noordam, the customs inspector had to inform us that we were not allowed to bring five cartons of cigarets back into the States. The custom official pointed out that, had we purchased the ciggs in the U.S. Virgin Islands, at the same price as the ship, five cartons would then have been permissible. It is a shame when profit outweighs service. Less

Published 02/25/10
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Cabin review: VB8013 Deluxe Ocean-View Verandah Stateroom

Our balcony cabin, 8013 was of sufficient size and offered ample closet and dresser space. The first day my wife noticed a sharp piece of metal protruding from under the bottom corner of our cabin door. This was the corner of the door that would first come in contact with your toe when opening it. Our cabin steward kicked the "knife" back under the door and while we doubt that it was a permanent fix it was never to be seen by us again. As always, the balcony was the most relaxing refuge aboard ship. We don't know if it is normal on this ship but we'd run from the bathroom upon flushing. The suction of the toilet resulted in an ear piercing POP! We aren't quite sure if the bed was as comfortable as it seemed or if we were simply exhausted from the seemingly many miles that we had to hike. It seemed every destination was all of the way aft. Stateroom 13 indicates how close it is to the front of the ship. FYI The ship's office, the excursion desk, dining room, theater, and adult only pool are all at the very rear of the ship. Aside from the children's area, and a couple curiously placed bars, we cannot think of much else, other than the ship's bridge, that was in the vicinity of our cabin. If you stayed at a resort you would not want for every destination to be a block or more away. As mentioned previously, always reserve a cabin at mid-ship. You'll notice, what's more, the majority of suites are also in the middle.

Read All Deluxe Ocean-View Verandah Stateroom (VB) Reviews >>

Port and Shore Excursions

We do not have the words to describe the color of the water around Barbados. Amazing is not descriptive but must suffice. We toured the island and wound up at a lovely hotel beach, far from the ship. A small reef, about 200 feet out into the water kept our swim smooth and relaxing. The tour guide did his best to keep us informed as we drove all the back roads, to and from the ship. I know that George Washington vacationed in Barbados, but we only got to see the hotel that boasts, "Tiger Woods slept here."

Read 1223 Barbados Reviews

What a wonderful Island. The vegetation is so thick and lush, I doubt that you'd find a more green island paradise. "Pirates of the Caribbean" was filmed here. We opted to visit a waterfall and "Emerald Pool." It is a relatively long hike through the rainforest but we found the vegetation to so interesting that we were at the waterfall before we knew it. Not having learned from the stingray encounter, I hopped into the pool and approached the falls. The water, even for a snow-bird like myself was freezing. The experience (not the cold) is one that neither of us will forget, it is paradise.

Read 669 Dominica Reviews

Fort de France was an interesting shopping opportunity. We walked the bustling, narrow streets and poked our heads into countless shops. Unlike merchants in the U.S., we concluded that it must be considered impolite for clerks to approach shoppers. They were more than willing to be friendly and polite but seemed reluctant to speak unless spoken to. How refreshing, we thought, as we were able to peruse the wares of each shop, feeling no pressure whatsoever. Following a few hours and yes, a few dollars of shopping, we wandered down the coast to the fort. It looked menacing, facing the harbor. We learned later that it's purpose was not to guard the harbor form pirates, but rather was built to protect the citizens from local hostile indians. We could not enter as this is still an active fort with the local military still residing there.

Here we opted for a snorkeling excursion. It may have been the best of many such excursions that we have enjoyed. The captain of the boat had us howling with laughter all the way to the diving site. I say it might have been the best as I didn't get to enjoy the water for very long. I had overestimated my physical capabilities. Having had robotic heart surgery, only one month earlier, I found that I was not ready yet. to snorkel. I mention this only that I wish to properly thank the young professionals who operate the boat. They quickly recognized that I was having difficulty catching my breath. Immediately, one young man helped me back to the boat and quickly provided oxygen. Once recovered, and being no threat to return to the water, they treated me to a few rum drinks. Not being a medical professional, I do believe that the rum was a far better cure than the oxygen, but then I was too loopy to make a rational comparison. Carol continued to snorkel and reported to me that the wealth of colorful fish had her mesmerized.

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