I’m torn. I wanted so much to be able to praise my recent cruise on the NOORDAM. In the past, I’ve had several wonderful experiences with HAL, and I was hoping this would just add to the list. Sadly, that’s not the case. Don’t get ... Read More
I’m torn. I wanted so much to be able to praise my recent cruise on the NOORDAM. In the past, I’ve had several wonderful experiences with HAL, and I was hoping this would just add to the list. Sadly, that’s not the case. Don’t get me wrong: I had a nice time. But, for me, it just wasn’t up to the standard that I’ve come to expect from HAL. Maybe it was because it was a short three night cruise, I’m not sure.
When I arrived at the Vancouver airport, I found the HAL rep who directed me to where the bus would be for the ride to the pier. He said the bus would be there in thirty minutes. Fifty minutes later, there was still no bus, so I found him and asked him what the deal was. He went off on me, rambling on about whose fault it is that the bus wasn’t there, and that people don’t go on line and put in their flight info, so they have no idea when to pick people up. In mid-sentence, I stopped him in his tracks and said, “Forget it, I’ll take a cab. I’m not about to stand here and listen to you berate me about why there’s no bus.” The cab cost 35 dollars, Canadian, and took about 40 minutes.
Check in at the pier took another 45 minutes. Once on board, I ran into some of the other folks who were waiting for the bus at the airport; they said it didn’t arrive for another hour after I left. Ridiculous.
Cabin – I had a category VC balcony room, cabin VC6046 to be exact, and it was very nice. Although the room was small, the king bed was very comfortable, and there was plenty of storage space. There was a fold-out sleeper sofa that had seen better days…the material was faded, wrinkled and the arms were worn. Which brings me to another bone of contention. This room had a king bed, a sofa, a makeup table, a stool for the makeup table, an oval coffee table, and an extra side chair. No wonder the room seemed so small. I put the side chair on top of the sofa to make more room, and it was still tight. I was traveling as a single; I can only imagine if there had been more people in the room with me. The bathroom had a small tub, and everything was in good repair. The balcony was of a nice size, and there was no obstruction whatsoever.
The Ship – NOORDAM is a nice-looking ship. Her exterior lines are appealing, and she’s a very manageable size. That being said, her interior layout is a mess. It looks like they just slapped anything anywhere they could. Walking through the ship is like walking through a funhouse…curves, turns, hallways, dead ends, etc. The décor is tired and, while pleasant, there’s no wow factor at all. Perhaps that’s the way HAL passengers wanted things years ago, but those people are falling to the wayside, and the line needs to keep up. Don’t get me wrong: she’s very pretty inside….but nothing sticks out as being memorable. The fittings are also getting shabby; time for new carpet, furniture, etc. I can only hope that HAL is planning a major refit to bring her up to speed.
The atrium is small, and there’s never much going on…..even in the few bars that surround it. It’s not a center hub for activities – in fact, nowhere on board is there a place that serves as ‘activity central’. On Main Deck, the atrium is flanked by the front office, shore excursions desk and future cruise sales. Even that seemed like a ghost town.
The view from The Crow’s Nest is breathtaking, and it’s a very pretty, open room. In fact, it’s one of the few rooms on the ship that doesn’t feel cluttered or closed in.
Her outer decks are all discombobulated. Forward on the Observation Deck is The Retreat (HAL’s version of Princess’ Sanctuary and Carnival’s Serenity). There are private cabanas that can be rented. Problem is many of the cabanas overlook the sliding metal and glass dome that covers the lido pool one deck below on Lido Deck. Why would anyone want to spend money to look at that? Also, there are no outdoor staircases in the area of the main pool leading to the deck above…people have to walk inside to get up there. Crazy. I will say that I absolutely LOVED the wraparound promenade…IMO, it’s the ship’s best outdoor feature. Nice and wide, plenty of real teak deck chairs, and, best all, no going inside to cut across to the other side. I was pleased to see several open decks that offer forward-facing views over the bow, but was totally disappointed when I found everyone one of them closed off to passengers. I finally went out anyway. I waved up to the guys on the bridge, and they waved back, so I guess it was okay.
Dining – For the most part, everything was good. The food in the main dining room was just fine, and the lido restaurant offered a lot of variety. The problem (for me anyway) is the main dining room’s layout; another total mess. Walking through it, having to wind through tables that seem to be just plopped down anywhere, is ridiculous. The Lido Restaurant is even worse. Lines everywhere, super crowded, and very hectic. Another area I hope they revamp when it comes time for a refit. Unfortunately, because it was such a short cruise, I didn’t have the opportunity to try Canaletto or the Pinnacle Grill. I did enjoy the taco stand out by the pool….lots of choices, and usually very fresh.
Service – Here’s where I was reminded of my past HAL cruises. Service throughout the ship, and on deck, was excellent. It was never pushy or intrusive, they were always smiling, and they couldn’t do enough to make you happy. I’ve always thought that HAL’s crew is its biggest asset, and, while I wasn’t elated by the ship, I can find no fault in the service whatsoever.
Entertainment – Here’s where everything really goes south. Well, maybe not everything, but almost everything. First, I’ll say that the live band that played in the B.B. King Lounge was incredible. Great musicians, good song selection, lot of energy…just fantastic. Unfortunately, that’s where the good entertainment ended. The cast of the production shows had absolutely no soul or mojo to them at all. Everything was just so homogenized and sterile. They were also sharp and/or flat a good part of the time. The last evening they had a pianist in the main show lounge, and while this guy could play, he was cheesy to the point of being insulting. He rambled on and on about where he was from, what he majored in, his life story, etc. Who cares? Just play the piano. After suffering through three of his tunes, we left. From there we stopped by the piano bar. What a hilarious mistake. This guy couldn’t sing his way out of a paper bag, and he had an attitude.
I know that HAL isn’t known for strong entertainment, but all this was just sad.
Seattle & Victoria – So, HAL doesn’t dock in downtown Seattle. While it’s sort of a pain, they do provide free shuttle service to downtown, dropping and picking people up close to the market. The market itself is wonderful, and good for, maybe, two hours at the most. In addition to the market, a group of us did a basic tour of Seattle, which was very nice. As far as stuff to see and do right by where the ship docks, there’s nothing. And I mean nothing. That being said, the ship nut in me appreciated the fact that I could walk around the pier area and take photos without being harassed by security.
Victoria is a lovely city, and the ships dock about a 25 minute walk from the downtown area, which is very nice. Of course the big draw is Butchart Gardens, but it takes about 45 minutes to get there by taxi or bus….and there’s no free shuttle service. A taxi costs 55 dollars, Canadian, each way, and admission into the gardens is 31 dollars per person. They also offered afternoon tea at the gardens for an additional 30 dollars. Ouch! I found four other people who wanted to share a taxi, so that took some of the sting out of the cost. The HAL excursion was about $79 usd per person, so, in the end, that might be the way to go. The gardens are incredible; I’ve never seen anything like it on this side of the Atlantic. However, I can look at flowers for only so long, so about 90 minutes was enough of that.
The area around the ship in Victoria was sort of cool in that there’s a finger pier with a light house at the end of it, and you can walk out and get some great photos. The DISNEY MAGIC and an NCL ship were also in port, and I could walk right up to the front of it them and take photos.
Conclusion – I realize I had many negative things to say about this trip, but, in the long run, I did have a nice time. I’m just not in any hurry to go back on HAL again anytime soon. Once the new ship comes out, or if I have the opportunity to go on one of their newer ships, like EURODAM or NIEUW AMSTERDAM, I might feel differently. I also understand that, being a short cruise, this might not be the best trip to base that decision on…at this point, I simply reporting my experience. Read Less