This was our 10th cruise, but 1st on a HAL ship. My wife and me are both mid 40s and live in Bern, Switzerland. A lot of comments are very subjective and relate to our personal preferences, so please do not feel offended if you see things completely different.
We travelled to Rome FCO and took a hotel near Termini one night pre cruise. Leonardo express train easily takes you there for just 14 EUR. From Termini we took a train to Civitavecchia, walked about 10 minutes to the port entrance and took the free shuttle bus to the ship. If you are able to carry your luggage for 10 to 15 minutes at each end a quick, easy and cheap way to get there.
Embarkation was the best we had so far in our 10 cruises. They are extremely well organised, took our papers, gave us our room cards and in less than 10 minutes we were on board.
Deluxe Verandah Suite 8095 was the biggest and probably nicest cabin we had so far. We had some other junior suites and balcony cabins before, all of them were much smaller. The bath is also quite big, with two sinks, a bathtub and a separate shower. This looked handsome first, but as the shower is extremely small and has a curtain not reaching to the ground we preferred to shower in the bathtub later on. Our cabin stewards did a wonderful job, always there when we needed them and invisible at all other times. There was some noise from the Lido restaurant above us, but it did not disturb us much.
The food on the Noordam was very tasty and did probably beat most if not all we had on the former cruises. Especially the desserts were extremely nice. Now comes the negative thing about dining. We are no big fans of eating in the main restaurant and did so only twice. Service was good there. We prefer using the buffets, and these are one of the weak things on the Noordam. First two days everything is being served, no self service at all. This is for health reasons, and I very well understand them doing this. But after this period still most of all buffet items are being served and put on your dish by a staff member. This works quite poor and inefficient and leads to long waiting times. The buffet staff also works in a not very time efficient way which increases the problems. They are nice and friendly, but if HAL would train them better things could go much smoother.
Drink service is also kind of a problem, especially at dinner time. They have only two people serving the whole buffet restaurant which is simply not enough. One side of the Lido is blocked at dinner times for officers and staff, so paying passengers have trouble finding a good table, while the other side is empty at most times but cannot be used. Very annoying and not a good idea I think.
The pizza and pasta buffet is the weakest point when it comes to taste and quality, none of the pizzas and pastas tasted even came close to anything good. But as mentioned, otherwise the food is really very good. We have been also to the Pinnacle grill, where you have to pay 20 USD extra. Food and service was very good, but the food was not so much different from what they serve anywhere else for free.
The most negative aspect of the whole cruise is the entertainment on board. I have seen some reviews where guests mentioned that, but I never thought this would influence the whole cruise for us in a such negative way. It is probably because on our other cruises with other cruise lines entertainment always was simply there, we felt to have a choice and always found something we liked. Maybe not every day, but most of the time. Not so on the Noordam !
The whole entertainment seem to be made for a totally different target group than us. There are nearly every night the production shows with the ships singers and dancers, playing music from ancient times, boring b to c level musical songs and so forth. One evening they had a mediocre juggler, one evening another singer playing also songs for my dad or grandpa. That was it. No, they had a guitar girl playing old fashioned songs, a piano player playing the usual piano music, a string quartet playing classics. And a DJ playing some modern stuff, usually starting no earlier than 10 pm.
No chance of any bar on board with nice modern music. No comedians. No artists. No nothing. Oh yes, you could play Bingo....which I even did one day out of poor desperation. I never expected how much missing entertainment can influence the total feeling of a cruise. Because most things were really very good, the food, the people, the cabin, the ports of call. But the entertainment will for sure stop us from going with HAL soon again. Maybe in 10 or 15 years, when we feel old enough for that ? And I by no means got the feeling that the guest structure is much different from Princess, RCI or Norwegian where we felt much more comfortable. Strange...
A quick comment on the Internet on board. It is expensive as usual, 55 USD for 110 minutes if you book the first day on board. It is slow and a bit unreliable as well, sometimes counting connection minutes without really connecting, what is quite a shame at that price. But for some email and weather reports it is enough. Most ports of call have Internet cafes or free wifi in cafes and restaurants, there did most stuff which took a bit more time or bandwidth. Everything worked OK with an IPad from the cabin.
We did not book a single excursion from the ship as we feel they are overpriced and most often too crowded compared to individual tours.
In Dubrovnik we just walked off the ship and took a public bus (1a or 1b) right outside the port area, that cost just 10 Kuna, about a dollar and a half. You have to get Kuna, but there is an ATM and a currency exchange at the same place where you can buy bus tickets. Bus ends at the Pile city gate where you can enter the city. And enjoy the walk around the city walls (many steps!) for 70 Kuna. You can wait in line to pay with credit card or skip the line and pay cash in Kuna. The cable car for 80 Kuna is also very well worth the trip for the excellent view from high above the city. Had to pay for wifi here, but not very much.
In Corfu we started with a small disaster. We had chosen to reserve a rental car from Budget. After a quite long walk to their office we met the most unfriendly people we have ever seen in such a business. They had no car for us, tried to force us to sign a rental contract first and then they would "try" to get a car for us. We refused and after they could not get any car after 30 minutes we left.
So we walked into the city and visited the old fortress, some shops and restaurants and still had a nice day. There is a public bus going directly between the cruise port and the center for just 1.50 EUR, I think it was line 16. If you start from the cruise port it is easy to find, just outside in the big parking area. It is going to Spilia or something like that, this is the place in the center where you find it when you want to go back also. Tickets sold in the bus. Free wifi in many restaurants here as well.
In Katakolon we had reserved a car with the local agency and everything worked perfect. There is also an Avis, both just a few steps from where the ships dock. Drove to Olympia and had a nice visit there, walked a bit up and down the port area of Katakolon as well with nice shops and restaurants, but quite small. Free wifi in most restaurants and bars if you are interested.
Next day was Santorini, where we booked an individual tour with some other guests (Hi Bob!)
Visited Oia and Thera, both very beautiful. Free wifi in not so many bars I guess but we found one.
In Kusadasi we have booked an individual tour with Ephesus shuttle, just for the two of us with a private guide and driver for just 52.50 USD per person. I can just highly recommend them. Very friendly, very informative, in fact a bit too much for us, as our guide was an archaeologist (Shihan?) and gave us more background on Ephesus, the terrace houses and the Artemis temple then we could ever remember. But he did a brilliant job.
Walked a bit around through the shops in the port afterwards and easily found free wifi spots.
In Piraeus we had reserved a car with Budget again and saw how different things can work in the same company. Very friendly guy in the office, got the car smoothly with no problems at all. Although we had not found any info about how to get from the Piraeus cruise terminal to the Metro station it is quite easy. You do not have to walk there as most people and the cruise lines say. Just after leaving the port gate, at the same place where the hop off- hop on buses start, just cross the road and take bus 843, which takes you for 1.20 Eur to the Metro. Ticket must be bought at a kiosk before, but they are close to every bus stop.
With our rental car we drove to Mycaene and had a very nice visit there. Beautiful landscape, interesting archaeological stuff. Roundtrip is 250 km, so it takes you at least 5 hours. On the way back we had a quick stop in Korinth.
Back in Piraeus we tried to find wifi everywhere, with no success, no matter if paid or not. Only time on the whole trip. In the port area there seems to be a test run of wifi, had free access even from our balcony, but the connection was extremely slow and unreliable.
Last stop was Messina. Had booked a private tour with Astone tours. Our guide was Marios brother Ignazio. This was a brilliant tour to Taormina and Castelmola and Ignazio was a perfect guide, he even brought sweets from a local pasticcheria for us. Highly recommended if you want a more familiar atmosphere than on a big ship tour.
Disembarkation again was smooth and quick. Our group got called on time, we could leave immediately, got our luggage with no waiting time.
We again took the train from Civitavecchia to Rome Termini, where we deposited our luggage, for 4 EUR per bag for 5 hours. Then took the Leonardo Express to FCO for our flight back.
A quick resume: It was a nice cruise, especially because of a nice cabin, good food and nice ports of call. But we probably will not go with HAL again very soon due to their different understanding in dining (buffet) service and especially entertainment.
Another quick negative notice: We got charged for a bottle of water from our mini bar, which we did not consume. That was on day 5 of the cruise. I visited the front desk every single day and although they always promised they were not able to remove the charge until the final statement. I really don't care about 4 USD but this is just poor service, HAL!
Good location, but most often no view to the dock (as usual on starboard side). Some noise from Lido buffet above, but not very disturbing. Connected with cabin 8097, but no noise heard from our neighbours.