97 Holland America Noordam Senior Cruise Reviews

We got our 100-day medallions on that cruise. We were celebrating my wife's 75th birthday. The food was inferior to all of our other cruises. The meals in the Lido buffet were inferior (mostly funky foreign dishes). Nobody knows how ... Read More
We got our 100-day medallions on that cruise. We were celebrating my wife's 75th birthday. The food was inferior to all of our other cruises. The meals in the Lido buffet were inferior (mostly funky foreign dishes). Nobody knows how to cook short ribs even though they were served three different times and never were they short ribs. The turkey was liked pressed meat. Never got escargot; a favorite for years. Steaks were hard as nails and filets were below par. I could go on and on! The only good meals were in the Pinnacle Grill where we ate twice. Breakfast was the only reliable good meal as well as the hot dogs and hamburgers at the outside grill for lunch. VERY DISSAPOINTING. But the final straw was when the cruise excursion group cheated us out of more than $100 buy not giving us the same opportunity as others to cancel an excursion when we arrived late in port. When we disembarked, we were told to wait off on the side until 3:00 pm. Apparently shortly thereafter, they were informing people that they had an option to cancel. At 3:00 pm, the 12-14 of us who were not informed showed up for an excursion that missed a few places because it had to be cut short because of darkness. We got back in total darkness at the time the ship was scheduled to depart. We were running for the gang plank and my wife who has COPD was almost falling down and crying. She was so upset that we skipped dinner. I confronted the excursion manager the next day he provide a small rebate after a heated discussion. I then attempted to contact the hotel manager at the front desk and the feedback the next day was that he would not see me and that the excursion manager had already handled it! That's not the way to treat Mariners. Read Less
Sail Date November 2013
We are a couple of seasoned seniors who have cruised on several different lines. We drive from our home and use the ParkNGo service for getting to the ship. This is our 4th on HAL and we like the "older" crowd. Service on the ... Read More
We are a couple of seasoned seniors who have cruised on several different lines. We drive from our home and use the ParkNGo service for getting to the ship. This is our 4th on HAL and we like the "older" crowd. Service on the Noordam is excellent. We had a rocky start due to the high wind and seas but it settled down the second day. Our cabin was 6074 with fantastic A/C and a wonderful veranda. We have traveled in this type of cabin before and like the space and large bathroom. After 2 days our cabin steward finally got the message, we want ice at 4PM for cocktails, from them on things were fantastic. The first night dining was horrible, the table mates were loud, opinionated, and I really had trouble believing their "stories". We were at the back of the ship by a window and the vibrations was too much. This is Main Seating at 8pm. The next day I called and asked to be moved closer to the front which was quickly done. From that point on we had great table mates and excellent service. I am sorry to say no escargot, don't know why. The only bad note was the wine steward, never came around, was rude to another couple at our table and just seemed not to care about selling wine. Of the 4 couples, 3 brought their own wine glasses into the dining room each night. The ports we visited were great except in Barbados it was a holiday so all shopping was closed as well as Martinique (we would not get off there anyway). Our Concorde tour in Barbados was fantastic for retired airlines folks. If you are ever there don't miss this tour even the ride to the airport was nice with the guide telling us about the history of the island and things we passed along the way. We did stop at a local bar for free rum punch, beer, sodas or water. It was open air and had a lovely view. The Trolly Train in Dominica was just what we wanted, to see the town not the country side. We did not see any of the shows, I enjoy the casino of which I "bought" another slot machine. The payoffs are very few but we are on a cruise and this is just for fun. The casino staff is great and make friends quickly, those tips help. I enjoyed the blackjack and roulette, 3 card poker did not pay off at all. Embarkation was a breeze, disembarkation was crowded. I can not stand in line and our porter talked to a HAL lady who let us go to the head of the line, sorry we butted ahead. If I had know this was the way it was going I would have gotten a wheel chair. We then sailed through custom, immigration, etc. out for a very long walk to get our van back to ParkNGo. It was a fantastic cruise with us enjoying the veranda more than usual and booking another cruise on board to take advantage of those perks.   Read Less
Sail Date November 2013
Noordam – October 20/13 Mediterranean and Tran-Atlantic cruise We love cruising and we particularly love cruising on Holland America ships. We'd had a lovely long cruise in the spring and did not plan on this holiday but the magic ... Read More
Noordam – October 20/13 Mediterranean and Tran-Atlantic cruise We love cruising and we particularly love cruising on Holland America ships. We'd had a lovely long cruise in the spring and did not plan on this holiday but the magic word 'Sale' appeared and we could not resist. We have taken more than a dozen trans-Atlantic cruises in the past so there had to be new (to us) ports of call to tempt us. This cruise fitted that requirement. One of the biggest expenses for us in the airfare. I spend many hours researching flights on line and finally determined the most economical way for us to get from eastern Canada to Greece was to fly from Halifax on Icelandair to London, spend a night in London and then fly to Athens on BA the following day. Instead of paying out $3500 per person to Air Canada - it cost us $800 per person and we flew in a lot more comfort! We spent our London night in the Premier Inn on the Bath Road at Heathrow. We have stayed there many times and it is always a favourite of ours. Our second night was at the Savoy Hotel in Piraeus. The hotel itself was reasonably comfortable - nothing special. The food in the dining room was very good - huge (far more than one could eat) servings and very reasonable prices. On October 20th we boarded the Noordam. We have previously cruised on the Noordam and find it a nice mid-sized ship. We prefer the smaller ships however this size is still very nice - not one of those behemoths where you get lost, still a size to get to know and recognize staff during your vacation. Embarkation was smooth and we thoroughly enjoyed our Mariner luncheon before re-acquainting ourselves with the ship. HAL ships have wonderful libraries and our first stop was to pick out some books to enjoy. I mentioned 'sale' earlier. Usually we cruise in an inside stateroom as it is more economical and we are really only in our cabin to sleep and change clothing. This time, however, the price of a balcony was so good that we booked it. And then received an upgrade to an even nicer balcony. We were thoroughly spoiled!! Our cabin was large, very comfortable with a nice sitting area inside and another couple of chairs and tables on the balcony. Dave spent many happy hours reading on the balcony. And I thoroughly enjoy being able to step outside and get a breath of fresh sea air whenever I like. The cabin bathroom was a revelation - there was even a bathtub. After cruises where you felt like you should just soap the walls and then turn around in the shower - it was a treat to have so much room. We definitely loved our accommodations - lots of storage room for all our things and lots of comfort for us. This cruise was very port-intensive at the start so other than playing a lot of trivia, we did not get very involved in other ship activities until the sea-days part of the cruise. We opted for traditional dining and had a nice table for two and were thoroughly spoiled by our waiters and wine stewards (two lovely ladies). Meals are always excellent on HAL ships. We feel they have the best meals of any line. We adore spices and look forward to Asian lunches in the Lido, There is always so much variety that no matter how long the cruise - one always has lots of choices. Quite frankly - my idea of heaven would be about 6 months on a HAL ship - however I would doubtless need a whole new wardrobe as it is very difficult to exercise will power all the time. We especially appreciate the fact there there are a variety of safe sugar free desserts for my diabetic husband to enjoy. The Rijsttafel luncheon on longer cruises is a real treat for the both of us. I appreciate the fact that rather than hiding their recipes - HAL has available for sale several wonderful cookbooks with recipes that have become favourites. It is nice to make a particular dish when back home and bring back memories of enjoying it on a cruise. We had the ship as our "hotel' for the night before sailing away from Piraeus. I really enjoy this - usually we have sail away a few hours after boarding. Somehow this seemed so much more relaxed and it was a treat to watch the sail away from our balcony. The weather was perfect - sunny and comfortably warm. Ports of Call Our first port of call was Kusadasi. We had not been here before and most of the folks going on tours headed off to visit Ephesus. We have been to Ephesus twice and chose instead to wander about and explore the city on our own. We had a wonderful time exploring the market, bargaining for our purchases and enjoying the sights and sounds. We walked up to the Caravanserai. It is a beautiful stone building and is now a hotel with some shops around the interior square. One can just picture many years ago and travellers on camels arriving there – the camels sitting down in the square and their owners in the many rooms resting after their travels. So many wonderful streets to stroll and shops to explore and then a stop at a sidewalk cafe for Raki for two and turkish coffee for Dave. Our next port of call was Rhodes. It was lovely getting off the ship and walking around the harbour to enter one of the gates to this ancient walled city. We love history and have read a great deal about the history of the Crusades and Rhodes figured heavily in any mention of that era. We visited the Archaeological museum - as much for the wonderful art treasures on display there as for the building itself. This building was originally the hospital run by the Knights Hospitalers who cared for ill pilgrims and injured and ill knights. It is a marvelous place - bigger than modern day hospitals in small towns - spread out over a large area with a variety of levels. There are wonderful courtyards with flowers and herbs and fishponds to sooth the spirit as well as the physical ills. Next we headed up the Street of the Knights towards the palace - stopping on the way to visit an interesting (and free) costume museum. It was a little gem - do not miss it. The Palace was the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitalers. After the Turkish empire attacked and battles the Knights - they earned such respect that they were allowed to leave Rhodes with all their weapons and they left and settled in Malta. There they became the Knights Templar and their focus was on amassing wealth instead of ministering to the ill. We found it very easy to explore Rhodes on foot and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. Our next stop was Haifa. We decided to take advantage of a ship tour and it was excellent. Our guide Sharon was wonderful. She had a degree in History and in English Literature and her knowledge of history really added to the enjoyment of the tour. First we were driven up Mount Carmel to the church of Stella Maris – the church of the Carmelite nuns. Next we visited the Bahai Gardens. They stretch down the mountainside with a beautiful golden shrine half way down and the gardens were absolutely beautiful. Then we were off to Akko which is the modern name of Acre – of fame in the Crusades. The Turks who over-ran the country and drove the Crusaders out of it – wanted no reminders and buried the fortress at Acre under tons of rubble. We visited the excavated buildings and went through one of the Knights escape tunnels from the fortress to the harbour. It was all fascinating. We visited a shop that made beautiful items in copper and silver. This was the 5th generation creating such beautiful items – the family originally from Iran. We brought some wonderful souvenirs back from that shop. We had a walk through a suq and then a lovely drive back to Haifa and the ship. It was an excellent tour and our guide Sharon was a fount of knowledge. We highly recommend that tour. Limasol in Cyprus was our next port of call. We did not book any tours and actually had a rest day as had done so much walking the day before in Haifa. This is not a port that offers a lot to do – it was a port that the ship visited after the Egypt ports were cancelled due to the political situation in Egypt. Our next port of call was Katakolon – which is actually called Katakolo by the local people. We had a most interesting visit there. There are three main streets and walking along the middle one we came to a lovely little Greek Orthodox church that had been destroyed in WWII and had been totally rebuilt by one man (who was there in the church at that time). It was a labour of love that has taken many years – and well worth a visit. We walked along towards a little park and there purchased tickets for €6 each for a ride on the train up in the hills. This was a 30 minute ride that took up up through a little village , to visit a winery, and then to stop at a big hotel that had access to a beach for swimming. If we ever go back there I will get that train first thing in the morning and enjoy some beach time as the train goes back and forth while ships are in port. One can get off at the winery (which we did – to sample and purchase some wine) and at the beach and get later trains back. This is a small town but we noticed lots of signs advertising Guest Houses and Hotels. A lot of tourists visit here because of the lovely climate and peace and quiet. Many visitors head off to Olympus and there are cars and scooters and mopeds and scooters to rent and a bus that goes there regularly. Messina was our next port of call and we were just there for a few hours in the afternoon. We wandered around the streets a bit but because we just arrived there at noon – it was much like a ghost town as everything was closed between noon and four. Sensible in the heat of summer but I would have thought having stores open for a ship load of tourists in the autumn might have benefited the economy a bit. We heard there was a tour bus – not a HOHO but it would have given a bit more insight into the town but could not find a location for it. Tourism does not appear to be a priority there. Naples was next and we had wonderful weather there for our tour of the city. Last time we were here Dave visited Pompeii and Herculaneum while our travelling companions had a tour of the Amalfi coast. This time we wanted to see more of the city so chose a HOHO bus and were delighted with our choice. There is so much to see in the city but be prepared to do is slowly as traffic in Naples is unbelievable. There are two HOHO routes – the red and the blue. We took the red line tour which is advertised as a one hour tour if you are staying on the bus rather than getting off at each stop. It took well over two hours because of the traffic. The tour was enlivened by good commentary, wonderful Neapolitan music and the frequent wailing of ambulances trying to get through traffic. I do not think anyone would ever die of old age in Naples – they would die of traffic – trying to get through the cars and buses to hospital. There are so many lovely churches and interesting museums in Naples – one really needs a week there and all we could spare on this visit was one day. Any before leaving the HOHO we asked about the wonderful music and the guide had CDs available for sale – a lovely souvenir of our day there. Citavecchia was our next port of call. We were in port from 7 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. This was the end of the first cruise for many, with more people joining the ship for the Trans-Atlantic crossing. Had we been in port longer – we might have taken the train up to Rome for the day. Having been to Rome several times before (even spending a week before embarking on one cruise) we decided that there really would not be enough time to enjoy the city as the train there and back takes a good hour or more each way. We opted for a ship day. Alicante was our next port of call. The last time we visited Alicante there was a huge rainstorm and we did not get to see a lot. We skipped the busy shuttle and walked through the port to the stop for the HOHO bus. This time it was sunny with a marvellous 27 degrees and fortunately a nice breeze while the bus is moving. We were just in port until 2:30 in the afternoon so had to be very selective about what to do. We decided to enjoy the sights of the city but stay on the bus until we reached the castle of Santa Barbara. This was a fortress built by the Moors on the top of a hill. It was renamed after the Spanish drove the Moors out of Spain. It is a wonderful place to visit and the views from the castle over the city and the water are simply magnificent. Thank goodness for digital photography as I would have run out of old fashioned film if I had been using that kind of camera. We only got to scratch the surface – would need a lot more time than we had available to explore all of the castle. There are other lovely spots in the city to explore but time was so limited. We came back to the port stop and then decided to walk about for a half hour – enjoying the lovely streets with the patterned tiles that look like waves, and the many stalls and vendors of local products before we headed back. There is a beautiful old sailing ship in the harbour that has been turned into a restaurant , local markets to explore and a casino for the gamblers. This is a city I want to visit again as so much more to see and not enough time to see it all. Malaga was our next port of call. More sunshine and hot temperatures greeted us and we headed for the HOHO bus here. Because we had been on the HOHO in Naples – our tickets were discounted here! The trip here is an 80 minute route with about 15 different stops – a wonderful way to really get to see Malaga. So many people go from this port to visit Granada. Having visited Granada twice on previous cruises we wanted to see more of Malaga and this bus tour was definitely the way to explore it. There is everything from a Moorish castle to cathedrals, museums, lovely gardens, a roman amphitheatre – so much to see and enjoy. Malaga was the home town of Picasso – so the Picasso Museum is a must for fans of the artist. Cadiz was the last mainland port of call on this cruise. Some folks opted to visit Seville but we love Cadiz. It is one of the easiest cities to walk around as different walking routes are painted on the pavement. . We love strolling the streets – finding new and interesting spots on each visit. This trip we discovered the Church of San Francisco which looks tiny on the outside but is big and amazing inside. There was a lovely little restaurant on that same square where we had lunch. Shrimp tortillas are a speciality of Cadiz and they are delicious! Those along with potatas bravas and some local wine – heaven... We always head over to Cathedral Square and explore the little side streets and visit the market. After all our walking we decided to head up to the Cathedral stop and catch the HoHo back to the ship. The hop-on hop-off bus here is wonderful and despite having taken it on other visits here, we could not resist taking it again here. Two sea days after leaving Cadiz we stopped at our last port of call Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores (or Acores as the locals call it). Ponta is a lovely place to visit and most people opted to go ashore – either to explore the city or take a tour. Because we had been there at least 10 times in the past we decided to take advantage of a quiet day on ship. Having covered the ports of call - which are secondary in my opinion - here is my view of the ship. The ship itself was immaculately clean and that was evidenced by the fact that there were no signs of illness on board other than colds. No gastric problems. That takes a lot of work to avoid on a ship as passengers are not always honest about health issues when boarding - bring Norvo type diseases on and spread them. Not this time though. No matter where one was on the ship - there was staff industriously cleaning and polishing. The entertainment on board ship was very good. The production shows were thoroughly enjoyable and we went to them despite having seen these new shows on the Ryndam in the spring. This ship is larger and has a larger cast so it gave these productions a different look. The guest entertainers were good - something for everyone there. Our favourite performers were Graffiti Classic – billed as 16 strings, 8 dancing feet and 4 voices. And they were a riot – great music and wonderful musical comedy. We actually enjoyed it so much we went to both the early and the late show and purchased their CDs. We enjoyed guest lecturers, and thoroughly enjoyed all our trivia matches hosted by Jeremy Hales of the cruise director staff. The music on ship was excellent, the HAL Cats, and the group in the Ocean Bar played wonderful music for ballroom dancing. There was a wide variety of music from guitar to piano bar to classical to dance groups. I enjoyed a few trips to the spa for the wonderful massages. It is the Holland America crew that make the cruise for us. The service is outstanding – far superior to any on shore. Our waiters and wine stewards quickly learn our likes and dislikes, our cabin stewards manage to restore order to chaos several times a day and everyone we meet on ship is pleasant and helpful. We thoroughly enjoyed the Rijsttafel luncheons, the afternoon teas and all of the lovely meals. We had fun at the Black and White Officers Ball, and all the crew was always adept at making us feel welcome and wanted in their home (as we are guests in the crew's home). Because we have sailed with HAL ships several times (we were awarded our bronze Mariner medals on this cruise) we often run into crew members that we have met on other sailings. Once again we renewed acquaintances as well as making new friends. The only downside of our whole cruise was the arrival in Fort Lauderdale. This was in no way the fault of the ship. We were delayed in leaving by almost an hour and as we moved off the ship found we were in long hot and uncomfortable lines because the authorities at Fort Lauderdale had insufficient staff to promptly process the passengers leaving the ship. They certainly would have been aware of the size of the ship and the number of passengers likely to be disembarking as well as any crew heading home on holiday. We were totally disgusted by the lack of preparation and organization by the emigration staff. We finally arrived at the airport an hour and a half later than the proper check-in time and were just lucky not to miss our flight. We thoroughly enjoyed this cruise, enjoyed the ports of call, loved the crew and the ship and just wish we could be back on the Noordam when it heads back to Europe in March. Read Less
Sail Date October 2013
As usual the service, was exemplary. We have sailed previously on Zaandam, Zuiderdam, and the maiden season of Niew Amsterdam. So, we felt right at home almost immediately when we boarded Noordam at Barcelona. The Collector Cruise was ... Read More
As usual the service, was exemplary. We have sailed previously on Zaandam, Zuiderdam, and the maiden season of Niew Amsterdam. So, we felt right at home almost immediately when we boarded Noordam at Barcelona. The Collector Cruise was also a new experience for us but the connection between the two cruises was handled seamlessly, with no interruption in our itinerary. We booked our own air, but used HAL's airport transfer service, which was hassle free and timely. We did notice the slower service in the Vista Dining room mentioned in another review, and the somewhat smaller portions. However, there was still more food in a meal than we could comfortably consume. We did our best. Also the Dessert Extravaganza was considerably less extensive than we recall from previous cruises, and there was limited table seating available for sitting and enjoying all those delicious concoctions. Also as mentioned in other reviews, the Holland America attention to client comfort and safety is still a priority. We experienced two days of Gale Force winds on our cruise which caused us to by pass stops at Katakolon and Santorini in Greece. We were surprised and pleased by the coordinated effort between the ship and Seattle HQ to orchestrate overnight a stop at Heraklion, Crete. Crete is the central site of the Minoan Civilization and the Archaeological Museum is an amazing must see. Our early morning (3:00 AM) airport transfer was all taken care of. All we had to do was show up at the boarding ramp at the appointed time. The continental breakfast provided was an unexpected treat though it would have been even better if there had been cream for the coffee on the tray. LOL Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
I had planned this cruise for many months and love the Holland America line. This was my second cruise (first was Niew Amsterdam Caribbean cruise) with this line, and I highly recommend. Their service and excellent cuisine is very good. ... Read More
I had planned this cruise for many months and love the Holland America line. This was my second cruise (first was Niew Amsterdam Caribbean cruise) with this line, and I highly recommend. Their service and excellent cuisine is very good. There were several special GOURMET barbeques on deck where the chefs created Mediterranean cuisine on the grill--it was exceptional! There are daily digital workshops given twice a day, tea service, etc--all at no additional cost. They had a "Dancing with the Stars" competition which was different. Daily movies, behind the scenes tours never left you with a lack of activities. I felt their tours, which I took 3, were well run and worth the price. I did go with a group on a private taxi in Monte Carlo which worked out great, if you meet some others on the cruise who want to go together for the day in a port. My room stewards were always cheerful and very helpful with any requests. There was always fresh fruit and ice each day, which they asked when I arrived if I would like. The wait staff in the dining and other food venues were always quick and efficient. There was a food 'scare' when we first came onto the ship and the other passengers who'd been on the ship (it was a 30 day start to finish cruise)all had to leave while the crew thoroughly cleaned the ship. I don't know how they were able to do it so quickly, but they did. The crew continued to clean into the night. Their health and safety standards are excellent. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
Review of Noordam cruise Feb 8, 2013 Overall 5 stars Cabin 5 stars MDR 2 stars Entertainment 5 stars to Brett Cave, singer pianist and Rich Purpura, comedian and "mind reader" Embark/disembark - best ever. Quick, courteous, ... Read More
Review of Noordam cruise Feb 8, 2013 Overall 5 stars Cabin 5 stars MDR 2 stars Entertainment 5 stars to Brett Cave, singer pianist and Rich Purpura, comedian and "mind reader" Embark/disembark - best ever. Quick, courteous, efficient and very nice for someone with limited mobility. Pre-Flight hotel: Sleep Inn BWI - very hard to find. Taxi from airport upon return, $23 with tip - better than trying to get hotwl van. No Breakfast, although it was advertised that there would be continental breakfast. Sheraton Ft L Beach. Not worth the money. $150 through Priceline. Next time will choose cheaper hotel closer to port with breakfast. Meals overpriced. Taxis in FT L plentiful, ditto BWI AirTran - check other prices. Too many add-ons, esp $25 per bag for luggage. We did like direct flights from BWI Cruise Critic roll call - very helpful. 5 star party aboard ship. Sunset cruise in Curacao set up by Kampusa very nice. One of the nicest roll calls I've ever had! Superior verandah cabin excellent! Lots of room, great balcony. Would do it again if we could afford to. Stewards very good, not perfect, but obliging. MDR - ok for breakfast and lunch. One dinner - not very good and much too long. MDR understaffed. Lido fine, but pick your times. Chairs in both Lido and MDR very comfortable. Condition of ship very clean, though a little shabbiness, especially in the Crow's Nest was observed. Not a problem for me - I like comfort and cleanliness over glitz any day! Tendering a bad choice for someone with mobility issues. HMC over crowded, could not get clamshell, not enough chairs for two ships in port. BBQ crowded and lackluster. Glad shore excursion on Samana was cancelled for lack of interest - tenders were bouncing around terribly - did not go ashore. The Pinnacle menu is excellent. Good choices, great service! Would go again at least twice. Ate in Pinnacle three times for dinner, once for lunch, and once for Le Cirque. Le Cirque food was bland - not as good as regular Pinnacle menu. Would not book Le Cirque again. Canaletto - service excellent, ambience very quiet. Ate there twice, once would have been more than enough. Lido evening buffet has excellent Italian choices. Disappointed in Canaletto menu - no veal or chicken marsala. An up charge for meatballs and spaghetti is not worth it. Drinks - most are way too big and watered down. Could not find a decent gin martini- but Manhattans straight up were great. Library excellent! Lots of computer terminals - no problem checking in with airline. FLL airport. Could not check bags until 3 hours before flight. Good reason for using ship's luggage direct and/or Ft Lauderdale tours. Overall staff and crew were 5 stars. Daily Mass with priest aboard....wonderful. Bottle of liquor in stateroom - reasonably priced. Laundry efficient and not unreasonably priced. Would take fewer clothes next time and not do formal. Yes, I know that sounds like heresy, but we really do not enjoy the longish dinners in the MDR anyway and would be perfectly happy on formal night to eat in the Lido - or on our balcony. Having three banks of elevators, forward, aft and midship was very convenient and most times we did not have to wait long. I loved the decor! Elegant without glitz! This voyage on this ship contrasts very favorably with our previous voyage on Celebrity's Silhouette. Even though we are Celebrity Captain's Club elite, and the perks are much better than HAL, we would not book a Celebrity cruise again on an "S" class ship, and we would definitely book on HAL again! I hope soon! Read Less
Sail Date February 2013
We took the 11-day South Caribbean Wayfarer Cruise on Holland America Noordam from November 5 to 16. This was our eighth cruise on Holland America, and we enjoy the size of the ships, the friendliness and attention, and the wonderful ... Read More
We took the 11-day South Caribbean Wayfarer Cruise on Holland America Noordam from November 5 to 16. This was our eighth cruise on Holland America, and we enjoy the size of the ships, the friendliness and attention, and the wonderful cuisine and service. We flew nonstop from Kansas City to Ft. Lauderdale via SW Airlines, arriving the day before the cruise. We took a taxi to the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six Hotel. I would highly recommend the Hyatt for a pre-cruise hotel. They were very friendly and the room was quite large with a wonderful bathroom. We had a first floor room with a small patio overlooking the garden and pool area. The weather was beautiful and we had a late lunch at the Orchid's Pool Bar and Grill. I had the Pier Shrimp Salad and my husband had the Cheese Burger. Both were excellent! We ate dinner on the hotel property by the pier -- Grille 66 & Bar. Luckily, the weather was warm and mild, so we could eat outside once again. We had the special which was the Mixed Sea Grill -- absolutely fantastic. My husband also had the Key Lime Pie. We experienced great service and highly recommend it. The next morning, after an excellent breakfast buffet in the Mariner's Cafe, we took a cab to the pier, arriving around 10:15 a.m. Check-in went very smoothly and we were soon on the Noordam. Our rooms were ready and our luggage arrived around 4:45 p.m., so we were able to change for dinner held in the Main Dining Room. Meantime, we ate at the Mariner's Luncheon; reserved our table for the 5:15 p.m. seating in the Vista Dining Room; signed up for Internet minutes in the Exploration's Cafe; signed up for the Navigator's Wine Package; attended the emergency drill; and then read. After dinner, we listened to the Adagio Strings in the Explorer's Lounge. This was part of our daily routine as we enjoy their music immensely. The young group of two women and two men was from Moldova. I cannot say enough about this quartet -- they were absolutely outstanding. The members were Vadim Buinovski -- leader and violin; Daria Buinovski -- violin; Serghei Racenco -- viola; and Irina Solpan -- cello. Our day-to-day schedule was very routine. My husband and I do not do many excursions as the cruise ship is our destination. We cruise to enjoy the relaxation, cuisine, and entertainment. We like to read, attend the lectures and demonstrations, walk on the deck, go to wine tastings, play trivia, meet new people, dine, go to the shows, and watch the ocean. A short review of the ship follows: EMBARKATION: Went very smoothly. STATEROOM: We were in a large outside partially-obstructed-view room on upper promenade deck 4. Luckily, we had a good view of the ocean between the lifeboats. We are seldom in the cabin, so just having a window was nice. There was plenty of closet space and two small cabinets, with locks, beside the bed. There was also a safe in the closet. The small bathroom had a shower-tub combination. The beds were very comfortable with nice linens and the towels were nice and large. We did not experience any plumbing problems and the a/c worked perfectly. We very seldom saw our cabin stewards -- Mohammad and Rul, and they did a fantastic job. They had 30 rooms to clean each day (twice a day), plus their other duties. Cannot say enough good things about them. DINING: When we boarded the ship, we went directly to the Explorer's Lounge to make reservations for the same table each night in the MDR (open seating). This allows us to sit at the same table each evening and get to know our waiters and wine steward. It is very comparable to fixed seating which always seems to be closed when we make our reservations. Our excellent dining room stewards were Daeno and Arie and the wine steward was George. Every meal in the MDR was wonderful. We so enjoy trying different items and my husband always looks forward to the chilled soups. Contrary to many comments on Cruise Critic our service was beyond outstanding. As noted on the Cruise Critic boards, the passengers seem to be "dressing down" more and more. My opinion is that they should eat in the Lido if they prefer casual wear. It doesn't bother me a lot, and I am assuming these passengers would dress the same way if they were going out to an upscale restaurant in a large city. A pleasant surprise was that on formal nights, there were at least 40% of the men in tuxedos -- something we did not see on our last cruise (Alaska). We ate two lunches in the Pinnacle Grill which were very enjoyable. The food was wonderful and the service very good. We chose to eat breakfast in The Lido since we are early risers and the MDR did not open until 7:30 a.m. Personally, I do not care for The Lido, but the food was good, so I can tolerate breakfasts. ENTERTAINMENT: As I stated before, the Adagio Strings were outstanding. They also performed two concerts in the Queen's Lounge playing "From Bach to the Beatles" which drew standing ovations. We also enjoyed several shows in the Vista Lounge. Jeff Burghart, an impressionist-comedian; Barnaby -- a juggler, singer, and comedian; and Frank King, a comedian, were all outstanding. David Schofield, a British concert pianist was very talented; the Divas of Motown were talented; and the Noordam singers and dancers were very good. EXCURSIONS: Ports visited were: Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Castries, St. Lucia; Bridgetown, Barbados; Fort-de-France, Martinque; Roseau, Dominica; St. Thomas; and Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. Other passengers reported the tours on the islands were very beautiful and fun, but since we did not do any excursions, we just enjoyed the quiet, peaceful Noordam. STAFF: The captain of the Noordam was Captain Robert Jan Kan, who did an excellent job keeping us informed of the weather conditions, etc. He was also easy to understand. Shane Michaels was the Cruise Director and he was the best we have had on our eight cruises. We played Team Trivia each day with him as the host, and he did an excellent job. Party Planner Sydney also did an excellent job coordinating the many Food & Entertaining Programs throughout the week which I attended. We also attended the Navigator's Wine Tasting and had a most enjoyable time. DISEMBARKATION: We were the second group to leave the ship as we used the Signature Express Baggage Service, so we didn't see our luggage until we arrived back in Kansas City. It was very convenient not to lug suitcases around at the airport as we had quite a long wait for our non-stop SW flight. We had a wonderful cruise on the Noordam and are looking forward to many more with Holland America. Read Less
Sail Date November 2012
This was a 21-day cruise that started in Civitavecchia, Italy and ended in Fort Lauderdale, FL. It combined two HAL cruises: a 7-day cruise with stops in Livorno (Florence, Pisa), Monaco, Barcelona, Caligari (Sardinia), Sicily (Palermo), ... Read More
This was a 21-day cruise that started in Civitavecchia, Italy and ended in Fort Lauderdale, FL. It combined two HAL cruises: a 7-day cruise with stops in Livorno (Florence, Pisa), Monaco, Barcelona, Caligari (Sardinia), Sicily (Palermo), and then back to Civitavecchia followed by a 14-day cruise that stopped at Alicante, Malaga, Cadiz, and Madeira before heading on a 7-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. What attracted us were (1) the cost savings -- HAL gives you a discount when you combine two cruises together like that; in addition, the 2nd part of it was a repositioning cruise, which also saves money; (2) the itinerary; and (3) the mix of interesting ports with lots of at sea days. We flew out early so that we could spend three nights in Rome before our cruise. We booked our airline and hotel (Visconti Palace in Rome) through HAL. This worked out extremely well. I don't think that we could have gotten a better deal on airfare, and the Visconti Palace turned out to be an excellent choice: great location (you can walk from there to the Vatican or to the Spanish Steps or the Pantheon, etc.) and a surprisingly fine buffet breakfast each morning. There was a HAL rep onsite at the hotel. The transfers from airport to hotel and from hotel to the Noordam went very smoothly. It made schlepping luggage much less of a problem than it would have been if we had made our own arrangements. For most of the ports, we wandered about on our own and enjoyed ourselves and found something interesting in all of them. Owing to a US State Department advisory, HAL cancelled the stop in Tunisia. That was a big disappointment, since I had been looking forward to seeing Carthage. (Those of you who studied Latin in school and remember their Cicero will understand my desire to see what all the fuss was about.) HAL substituted Sardinia. We did use HAL tours for the following ports: 1. Livorno: Transfer to Florence HAL has a somewhat pricey bus trip that takes you from the ship to Florence. The guide on board did a great job of pointing out sights to us, though it was primarily a way to get from the ship to Florence and back. Before we left, we had ordered tickets online for the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. That turns out to have been a wise move: it is virtually impossible to get in if you don't have an advanced reservation. We spent most of our time in the Uffizi. 2. Malaga: Excursion to Granada and The Alhambra This is a region that boasts 320 days of sunny weather per year. We, however, managed to arrive on one of the 45 rainy days. And, boy, was it rainy! It was a cold and constant rain all day long, which complicated the Alhambra tour, since much of it is outdoors. That said, the Alhambra was still spectacular and well worth the very l-o-n-g journey (2+ hours travel each way). It was one of the most visually exciting places I saw on this cruise. 3. Cadiz: Panoramic Cadiz & Jerez with Sherry Tasting Not bad. We had a good tour guide on the bus, and the sherry tasting was instructive -- and fun! 4. Funchal (Madeira): Panoramic Island Landscapes Great tour guide on the bus. She was knowledgeable and clearly enjoyed what she was doing. Unfortunately, the day became progressively cloudier and foggier, and that affected the views from the tops of those very steep mountains. I will add that enjoying this tour does require that you have a high tolerance for being on a bus that wends its way through narrow, winding, mountain roads with some hairpin curves. Kudos to the intrepid bus driver! As for the cruise: the Noordam is a beautiful ship with interesting artwork and sculpture throughout the ship. Although we spent three weeks onboard, I was still discovering artwork up to the last day of the cruise. As we noticed on previous HAL cruises, staff are constantly cleaning it, and the result is that it was spotless. We were in a Deluxe Veranda Suite. On balance, we have always felt that it is worth the extra cost, but it's a close call, and certainly the folks we met who were in other veranda rooms seems very pleased with the accommodations. Some comments and observations: The friendliness, cheerfulness, and helpfulness of the staff are a BIG plus. This was true everywhere we went on board from stateroom to dining venues to lounges. Even the crew who were vacuuming the stairwells when I walked down to the Explorations Cafe (aka "library") at 6:30 a.m. always gave me a cheerful "good morning." While I realize that HAL's customer service training has something to do with this, I don't think it can explain it entirely. You can fake enthusiasm, at least not day in and day out. The sense you get everywhere is that there is a high level of staff morale on board this ship -- this despite the fact that most of the crew are either Filipino or Indonesian, work long hours, and are on long contracts that keep them away from their homes and families for many months of the year. Our stewards (Andi and RaH) were always quick to service our stateroom, and knew us by name after the first day. Christine and Maryann in the Neptune Lounge were terrific. The Neptune is one of the perks of booking a Deluxe Veranda Suite, and they are the quintessentially helpful concierges who can handle just about any problem or issue that might arise. We had the same good service in the Vista Dining Room. We got to know our servers (Putu and Eke) and wine steward well, and we have nothing but high praise for the three of them, as well as for Muji, who was made the table assignments. Since we are not buffet fans, we rarely ate in the Lido, though the few times we did use it we were happy with it. Except for three nights at the Pinnacle Grill (one of which was the special Cirque meal), we dined in the Vista. We also had several lunches there. We took some meals in our room -- breakfast always arrived on time, and if you order during the lunch hour, you can order your lunch off of the Vista Dining Room menu, which is generally a much more interesting selection than the standard room service menu. We liked the food! We found it imaginative and well-presented. We especially liked the soups. The cold fruit-soups were among the most delicious I've tasted, and HAL chefs know how to create a great stock for their hot soups that was never greasy nor overly salty. There were nights where I skipped an appetizer or salad and settled for two different soups, instead, before I headed onto the main course. Desserts were well-presented, but I am such an ice cream enthusiast, that I am probably not the best judge of these: most nights, I settled for some variant of ice cream and chocolate syrup. That said, I've noticed that no matter whether it is a luxury, premium, or mass market cruise ship, the Cruise Critic reviews seem to show the widest divergence on the subject of food. Yes, there were people we met on board who complained about the food, though it was hard to pin down why they disliked something that we found so enjoyable. I think it is fair to say that HAL dinner menus try to be more international than many Americans are used to, and they try to include a few items that are aimed at "foodies" along with items that are more mainstream if not downright comfort food. Vista Dining Room menus, therefore, included everything from duck pate with caviar to meatloaf with gravy. I think that most can generally find what they want, but, of course, it will never compete with a five-star restaurant in a major world city nor will it ever satisfy the folks who are frustrated with the international focus of many of their menus. I mentioned dining at the Pinnacle. The steaks we had were excellent -- exactly what you'd expect at a fine steakhouse. Their onion soup was big disappointment to me, but I suppose that's not primarily why one dines at a steakhouse. The Cirque was also very good and probably worth the extra money we paid for it. We are not a good source of information concerning the entertainment on board. The few times we went to the Vista Lounge showroom what we saw was fair-to-OK, but since didn't see all that many shows, it is probably unfair to pass judgments. The Adagio String Quartet, however, is another matter. Noordam's version of it included classical musicians from Moldova, and they were wonderful. They held forth each night in the Explorer's Lounge (where they offer free chocolates and the encouragement to buy a cognac or a liqueur). They developed quite a following, and the attendance kept growing each night to the point where it started to get a bit crowded. They also did a few special performances in the Queen's Lounge. What a deliciously civilized experience! I hope that this group appears on future HAL cruises. The days included lectures (on subjects such as astronomy and the explorations of the New World), and the card room and game rooms and the Explorer's Cafe were well attended. I would have liked more lecture options. In short, this is a cruise that would appeal to people who enjoy reading, good conversation, meeting interesting people (most retirees), dancing, eating good food, and the magic of watching the ocean as one crosses the Atlantic. Those who want lots of physical activity and lots of parties will be disappointed. The passengers were mostly people 60 and over, but there were some younger couples. Very few children, but then you don't expect to see school-aged children on a cruise in October. A few final observations: HAL ships all have a wonderful teak promenade deck. Three laps around the deck equals one mile. Lots of us took advantage of this. The ship's business office was willing to exchange dollars for euros at the day's official rate of exchange. That is much cheaper than using the ATM machines in port to get euros, where there is always an additional transaction fee. One big question before we cruised was what the weather and the sea would be like on a transatlantic crossing in late October. The weather was typically in the 70's and occasionally low 80's -- very comfortable, in other words, though rather breezy. On most days, we were able to sit on our veranda. I'm told, however, that sometimes the temperature can get colder than that. On two of the days, there were significant waves (20-foot high, I believe), mainly due to some distant remnants of Hurricane Sandy. We never felt queasy, but we did have to be careful walking around the ship since things were rather rocky. On several occasions they closed off access to the outside decks as a safety measure. When we booked this cruise, we opted for a port-side stateroom. Since we were heading west across the Atlantic, our veranda faced south/southeast, which meant that it had more exposure to the sun. When we were in port, it made very little difference. In some cases, the view from the port-side was actually better than the starboard view. In others, it made no difference because the cruise terminal was in an industrialized area where the only "view" was of cargo containers. I appreciate the fact that HAL is a cruise line that doesn't keep bombarding you with intrusive public address announcements. It's nice to be treated like an adult. Every day, they put a bulletin of events and notices in every stateroom. Once a day the captain and cruise directors would come on to update us on the progress of the cruise and to highlight a few things. Even then, the announcements were in the public areas and hallways. One's stateroom was generally a sanctuary free from public address announcements. Several websites warned folks about being on the lookout for pickpockets at some of the ports we were visiting. For the first time, I tried using a money belt (I wound up getting Rick Steeves' Money Belt from Amazon), and I found it very convenient for safely holding euros and credit cards. Complaints? 1. The folks at the Spa did not seem to exude the same level of friendliness and warmth that we felt from others on board. They Spa is run as a concession, and that may have something to do with this perception. Still, we enjoyed using it. I used the thermal suite, and my wife and I both had messages. 2. Since many new people were boarding the ship after the first 7 days, we had to go through a second lifeboat drill, even though we had been through one just a week earlier. That's not the end of the world, and to HAL's credit, they do take attendance, but it seemed odd that they couldn't find a way to require it only of those who were new to the ship. 3. Like many others who have posted reviews on Cruise Critic, we, too, were put off by the stench of cigarette smoke as one walked through the Casino. Since it is midship on Deck 2, it is hard to avoid walking through there when you are on Deck 2. There were some non-smoking tables in the Casino, by the way, but I don't think that helps much. HAL bans smoking in the staterooms, but allows it on one's veranda. That, too, can be unpleasant. I wish that HAL would ban smoking on the verandas. In sum, this was a wonderful, professionally run cruise on a beautiful ship. While we were on board, we booked another cruise on the Noordam. I supposed that's probably the most ringing endorsement one can offer . . . . Read Less
Sail Date October 2012
We greatly enjoyed this cruise; the food was good and everything was well organised. At no time did we feel that we were sharing the ship with 2,000 other passengers. Plenty of quiet places to sit and no shortage of sun-beds. Our cabin ... Read More
We greatly enjoyed this cruise; the food was good and everything was well organised. At no time did we feel that we were sharing the ship with 2,000 other passengers. Plenty of quiet places to sit and no shortage of sun-beds. Our cabin (sorry - stateroom) was a good size and the bed super-comfortable. There were queues in the self-service restaurant but this was a place best avoided anyway. The waiter-service restaurant was open for every meal, so why wait in a queue when someone with a smile will get it for you? When I say "A very American cruise" I mean it as a compliment as well as a slight criticism. Everything worked well thanks to good management. Patti, the Cruise Director, was indefatigable but also slightly wearing. I longed for a more laid back approach with fewer superlatives. I thought that the interior design of the ship was spectacular but, in places, garish and slightly tasteless. Nice paintings but plaster and polystyrene statues in niches? The standard of entertainment was mixed. The Song and Dance Troupe were very professional and the hydraulic platforms on the stage in the Vista Lounge (the theatre) were used to good effect. But why did this talented team only put on two full song and dance shows in ten days? The sound was far too loud during the Cuban pianist's act and he was truly awful anyway. The English comedian and the acrobatic duo were OK. The string trio could not play in tune. Holland America shore excursions are very expensive, so avoid the hard sell from Patti and avoid them. Other reviewers have described how alternatives may be found. And the $11 per passenger per day service charge is very steep by European standards. We did not see it mentioned in any pre-cruise literature and we were not told that there was any option but to pay it. Patti as much as admitted that the crew rely on this service charge to supplement their wages. This is an unsatisfactory situation. Drinks were very expensive and I was irked by the insistence that I have no alcohol in my stateroom except that provide in the mini bar by Holland America. On the last evening of the cruise, the waiters were required to dance around waving napkins before placing them in our laps. They also sang half-heartedly. I felt that this was demeaning for them and added nothing to the diners' enjoyment. Perhaps Holland America Line are not trying to cater for European travellers. There were very few of us on board. Our American, Australian and Canadian companions were great but, at times, a little noisy and exclusive. It is a cliche for the British to say that it was not possible to get a decent cup of tea, but it was true! Having re-read the above, I realise that it is quite critical. That is not the overall impression I want to give. Let me finish where I started - we greatly enjoyed the cruise. Read Less
Sail Date September 2011
Forgive the length of this diatribe, but we have to tell someone! Background First time Kiwi cruisers not originally contemplating cruising as a preferred form of travel but decided to opt for this one as it allowed the ... Read More
Forgive the length of this diatribe, but we have to tell someone! Background First time Kiwi cruisers not originally contemplating cruising as a preferred form of travel but decided to opt for this one as it allowed the opportunity onshore at ports in several different countries. Obviously for us "down under" the major handicap is the distance to travel to get to the ship but with a good airline (Emirates) and a stopover in Dubai it made things a little easier. We booked through a local travel agent and were transferred from Fiumicino airport to our Rome hotel, the Quirinale, as part of the package very efficiently and the hotel was just fine. Stateroom Next day transfer to the ship went as planned and the embarkation was very efficiently handled and it was all very exciting. We had a cabin with balcony, (a surprise for the good lady!) and this was well worth while. Very pleased with the cabin (stateroom). Plenty of storeage space, excellent beds, good shower over bath, lighting, dEcor, amenities (inc fridge) Happy with forward, starboard position on the Rotterdam deck. Cabin crew very good (Made & Gede) as were the majority of the ship's crew. Tucker Most reviewers talk a lot about the food, which of course is important and most have different opinions and experiences. We thought that in the main the quality and choices were good and as good as we had expected from our research. Sure we had different experiences at each of the restaurants, for example we went twice to the Pinnacle Grill with the first visit just great. Lot of interaction with the waitress and we enjoyed the fare. My wife still drools over the table side prepared Caesar salad she had. The next visit though was a let down with a great looking steak pretty hard to chew and the lobster tail offered in place of very poor. But other courses were fine. Must take issue with a reviewer who thought the menu wasn't much different than other restaurants, just not correct. The Canaletto Italian style restaurant was also pretty good for a change and although the menu didn't vary we enjoyed the 2/3 times we went there. The Misto de Mare (seafood/pasta) was very good. The Vista restaurant, the main dining area, we found just fine for breakfast if you weren't in a hurry and lunch if you came back off shore. Had dinner once there and we shared a table with two other couples which is fine if you want to socialise. The meal from memory was quite adequate. The Lido restaurant which is the more casual buffet style one open longer hours than the others was the most popular. We thought again the quality and variety of food quite adequate. On the first night the steak offered was just beaut. The problem with the venue has been documented in other reviews in that on shore days it is a real bun fight to get a table for breakfast and quite often the same for an evening meal as well. To get a window seat was quite impossible unless you arrive early evening and we are sure some people must camp in those seats from lunch time! And when they cordon off a large section for the crew, and there are tables not being used there, well it isn't a good look. We went and sat there one night out of desperation and they said that was fine but you didn't get table service but that was fine to. There was also the Terrace Grill open for lunch. All in all there was adequate variety and apart from the above room service was a good option for breakfast prior to going ashore, and evening meals if you wished to relax away from the maddening crowds after a days outing. The service for this was spot on. Activities A wide variety of activities on board and a comment here about the guy who ran the ship, the Cruise Director Drew Smith who was very good at his job from introducing the shows, conducting an interview with the Captain, presenting the early morning T V show or fronting the line dancing! For an Aussie, he was pretty damn good! Our comments re the shows echo others in that the performers were loud and not that expert, Vivienne and the HALCats were a pretty good band, she had a good strong versatile voice and the string quartet playing modern classics were excellent. You can't please everyone and the majority of folk on board were 60+ so who do you cater mainly cater for? We thought the activities and entertainment were many and varied and even included a couple of good comedians. On Shore In regard to shore excursions we, in the main "did our own thing" or went on private tours with another couple or a small group. The HAL excursions are expensive and you are with a group of 40 folk or so being guided around and travelling in a large bus which is not to everyone's liking. Having said that we did go on two HAL excursions, a pre cruise booked one to the villages of Cinque Terre and a last minute decision to join a short one in Tunisia. The guides on both were very good it should be said. However on the former tour after viewing three of the five villages our return journey consisted of a 20 min wait for the 20 min train trip to La Spezia where we reboarded our coach for the 1 ½ hour drive to Livorno without any commentary or comfort stops. The Tunisia tour luckily was only for four hours and our original decision to stay on board may have been the best option. Otherwise "doing our own thing" was quite successful. Will mention here the following. Very good private tour in Athens arranged though Nikos Loukas of Private Greece Tours (nikosloukas1@gmail.com) with the commendable guide Alex. Highly recommended. Also in Palermo we discovered quite by chance Alessandra, a very bright lady who speaks very good English and she looked after us well taking us to Monreale and other places of interest. (sicilyintrip@libero.it) Last but not least a private tour from Naples to Pompeii, down the Amorfi coast to Positano and Sorrento. Organised through AP Tours (info@aptours.it) handsome Vittorio looked after us for a great day only ruined by the shipping company (see below). This is a tour you must take and private car is best as you get to Pompeii before the crowds and being in a smaller vehicle you can navigate the narrow streets particularly in Positano which is just magical! Now going back to our shore trip in Naples, a bit of a gripe in regard to our departure time which may relate to 'Gratuities' below in an oblique way! The itinerary stated that we departed the port at 6.00 p.m. but in fact we were asked to be back on board at 4.30 p.m. for a 5.00 p.m. departure. This impacted on our day's excursion which was a shame as a lovely day it was for our last of the cruise. We steamed for our final port at just over 13 knots. The captain told me that if you steamed for a day at 11 knots instead of 17 knots you could save USD70,000. Average speed over the second 10 days of the cruise was just over 12 knots. Good savings made perhaps and if so (see gratuities) could the crew benefit that way? Actually if you have a look at the Ship's Log departure times from ports we in several instances left earlier than scheduled on the itinerary. Skippers in for a bonus perhaps, he said cynically! Tips (Gratuities) A brief note about gratuities as we see an Aussie gentleman pontificating about why he reckons they should be paid without question. For the uninitiated on HAL accounts USD11 per person per day is added to your shipboard account at the end of a cruise to be divided up amongst crew members as a gratuity to supplement their wages. At the end of a cruise you have the right to adjust the amount you wish to contribute either up or down. On our cruise(s) totalling 20 days there was an average of 1950 guests. So doing the maths USD429,000 could be available to say 600 crew (officers, entertainers, retail outlet folk wouldn't be in the mix I guess) so that equates to USD715 per crew member. We think what you pay or don't pay is up to the individual and his or hers personal particular circumstances. Some folk prefer to tip one to one. We noted that the Cruise Director made an appeal to passengers to dig deep for the crew who we all agreed do a great job. The cynic could suggest that the shipping line pay them a little more and avoid all this scenario. Another point here, and this is peculiar to Kiwis perhaps, is the cost of travelling further than anyone to the destination. Also at the time of the trip the NZD was only buying USD.75c. The AUD was on a par or stronger than the USD. So some folk have it a bit better off and there is a case for others to look closer at expenses. We thought the majority of the crew were just great, many of them, particularly the staff serving in the Lido being under a lot of pressure and had to put up with some demanding people. They deserved a bit extra on the side we reckoned. Tips (helpful?) Mainly for first time cruisers. Most things, particularly internet, laundry, drinks, photos and HAL excursions are expensive. So do your homework. If you have to be involved with the internet take your laptop or iPad and/or find an internet cafe ashore. Alcohol. Well you can take wine on board for use in your stateroom but there is no bother in wandering up to the Lido with a glass of wine in your hand. If you purchase a wine package it may be a good idea to have all the bottles delivered to your stateroom and then take it to the restaurant, with proof that it is a ship's package, as we only got one of our selection as that particular wine ran out. Very annoying. We also found that if we took a few cans or bottles of beer back to the ship for private consumption the crew didn't clap us in irons. If you like an early morning hot drink the way you like it take a little immersion heater. We found the coffee on board not to our liking. Had some great coffee ashore though. An extra little clothes line is handy (there is one installed over the bath) if you are washing out your own smalls and shirts. They dry quick (don't hang them out on your balcony in view of the rest of the world!) A length of rope as others have mentioned if you want to hold your balcony door open now and then for some fresh air. You don't have to get involved with formal nights if you don't wish to, enjoy the Lido Restaurant or have a rest with room service (it's free!) All in all it was a marvellous experience and any negatives were certainly outweighed by the positives. We would certainly travel Holland America again. Read Less
Sail Date May 2011
Noordam Cruise March 28-April 7, 2011Overview- We cruised on HAL in 2008, on the Westerdam, and booked the Noordam for 2011. (We are also planning on the Nieuw Amsterdam for 2013.) We thoroughly enjoy HAL. We are two sisters from ... Read More
Noordam Cruise March 28-April 7, 2011Overview- We cruised on HAL in 2008, on the Westerdam, and booked the Noordam for 2011. (We are also planning on the Nieuw Amsterdam for 2013.) We thoroughly enjoy HAL. We are two sisters from Maine who have traveled together to many destinations, often with my daughter. We are excursion and beach people, so the Noordam itinerary was perfect for our desires.This Noordam itinerary was: St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Lucia, Barbados, Martinique, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay.St. Maarten/St. Martin- We took the HAL excursion to Orient Beach, after a morning of shopping in Phillipsburg. We enjoyed the sun and beach, but the water was too rough for us- so we sunbathed and walked the beach. Enjoyed Phillipsburg and seeing the real countryside from the bus.St. Lucia- Took the HAL Island Splendor tour here- went to lovely old home- St. Marks where we appreciated the views and tamarind punch. Then off to a wood carving studio which was different- but lots of stuff for sale-kind of commercial. Then to Marigot Bay for photo ops and finally to Anse le Raye which was not a good stop, with very aggressive vendors. We had a good guide- Michelle- learned a great deal from her-find St. Lucia interesting with much natural beauty- but very narrow and winding roads.Barbados- Had toured Barbados before, so went to Harbour Lights on Carlisle Bay. Great beach and swimming. (Harbour Lights beach facility needs some renovations!) Enjoy Barbados very much- most aspects.Martinique- A gem in the Caribbean, IMO. Had read mixed reviews, but had very positive experience here. Took the HAL St. Pierre and Balata Gardens tour. Great guide, Yves- good bus, good roads. Traveled from Fort-de-France to St. Pierre to Volcanic Museum (near Mt. Pelee), through the Rain Forest to Balata Gardens which are exceptionally beautiful, then to Balata Church, and back to the ship. Friendly people, especially if you say some French phrases to them.St. Thomas- Six cruise ships in for the day did not deter us from returning to Magen's Bay Beach for another excellent swim. Yes, it was crowded, but the swimming and beach were fine- we had a fun guide- Gomez- went to a lookout over city- nice vendors. St. Thomas still a favorite. We did not go in to town to shop this time due to the crowds.Half Moon Cay- Our third time at this gorgeous island in the Bahamas. Good swimming, beach, BBQ- everything.Noordam- We are very fond of the Noordam and Westerdam. Had an Oceanview on the Main Deck- comfortable, very clean, excellent steward. Only improvement for us would be fitted bed pads with fitted bottom sheets. Maybe they don't use these- but it would be an improvement. Overall very clean and well designed ship except for a bit of a crowded dining room.Dining- Except for the dining room being a bit crowded in the way the furniture is placed- the Noordam dining is excellent, in our opinion. We did Any Time dining, met many interesting folks, had very good to excellent meals, and look forward to another HAL cruise, in part due to the very fine cuisine.Had Guava Chicken, Lobster & Filet, Shrimp Provencal, Jerk Chicken with Rice to name a few dinners. Enjoyed the Lido for breakfast and lunch with a few lunches in the dining room. Still think the HAL Lido is the better than those on other lines. Had a good BBQ on St. Lucia night, while cruising near the Pitons. Attended Mariner Embarkation lunch and a second Mariner lunch.Activities- Went frequently to the Explorations Library/Internet Rooms- used the computers, read, relaxed, browsed books, and viewed the sea from comfortable chairs.Spent much time at the Sea View Pool-sunning, relaxing, visiting.Went to a Wine Tasting- highly recommend Frank from Frankfort, who led the activity.Attended one lounge show- Ballroom Blitz- very good- except a bit loud. Turn down volume, maybe?Listened to Gary T'To on the guitar often. Went to Pinnacle Bar most evenings for a glass of wine before dinner. My sister won in the casino several times- she had fun with that.Staff and Crew of Noordam exceptional. Wonderful Captain- John Scott. What more can I say- the Noordam has to be one of the best ships on the sea!!!!Embarkation and Debarkation too slow & warm, but organized. Improvements could be made with this process.Pre Cruise- Stayed at Holiday Inn Express Convention Center. Had stayed there before, but not impressed with new management- so Embassy Suites for us next year. Read Less
Sail Date March 2011
BACKGROUND Married couple in our late 50's. This was our 7th cruise. We have cruised on Celebrity (3), Holland America (2), Princess (1) & Carnival (1). Our preference is Celebrity. We picked HAL this time because it had the ... Read More
BACKGROUND Married couple in our late 50's. This was our 7th cruise. We have cruised on Celebrity (3), Holland America (2), Princess (1) & Carnival (1). Our preference is Celebrity. We picked HAL this time because it had the itinerary we liked. HAL OVERVIEW Holland America is geared toward an older crowd. You will see a lot more canes/walkers & wheelchairs than on Celebrity, Princess or Carnival. They tend to start the day a little later so if you like to have a early breakfast or get a good spot at the pool you will have really good luck. The older crowd also means fewer kids on board. One drawback is they move a lot slower around the ship. EMBARKATION We made our own flight and hotel arrangements and flew into Fort Lauderdale a day before our cruise. We always like to do this because if you fly in the same day as you sail it makes for a really long day and you just seem to tire out pretty early that evening. Coming in the day before lets you get a good nights sleep and you feel pretty good on sail day. We stayed at the Hampton Inn Cruiseport. They have a courtesy shuttle that will pick you up at the airport and take you to the ship the next day. Be sure to sign up for the cruise ship shuttle when you check in. They also will take to a few nearby restaurants to eat. We arrived at the cruise terminal around 11:30am. It was crowded and took a good hour from the time we got off the shuttle to the time we stepped on board. The rooms were available about 1:00pm. STATEROOM We booked a Superior Veranda Suite on Navigation Deck 8. Good closet space with plenty of hangers. Lots of shelf space. A couch and 2 chairs, a desk to do makeup/hair and another desk where you could read/write/etc. The bathroom had a double sink, a whirlpool tub with shower along with a separate shower. The veranda had a table with 2 chairs along with 2 other chairs with ottomans. We were very pleased with the size and layout of the room. DINING ROOM We did open dining and usually went down when the doors first open. The first couple of nights we shared a table with other couples. The rest of the nights we ended up dining at a table for 2. The food was good but not awesome. The selection and presentation was also good. PINNACLE GRILL We dined 3 nights in the Pinnacle Grill. There is a $20pp up charge to dine here. We had made reservations for 2 nights prior to the ship sailing and ended up dining once again on the last night of the voyage. The food and service at the Pinnacle Grill in my opinion are worth the up charge. It is some really fine dining. However, one of the nights we had a reservation on was also a night they were doing something special. It was called "A Night at Le Cirque". It was already being done on some of the other ships and this was the very first night to be done on the Noordam. It was a $39pp up charge instead of the normal $20 for the Pinnacle. The premise was that the restaurant would be turned into the famous "Le Cirque" in New York. It was not. The only thing different that night was the menu. And the selection was not as good as what the regular Pinnacle Grill menu served. We paid the additional $19pp up charge because we thought it would be a fun experience. I really feel like we got ripped off. Shame on you Holland America for not delivering. SHOWS The shows were okay. If you've been on a cruise before you know what the shows are like. They did have a couple of real good feature performers but also some we had seen on previous cruises. If this is your first time cruising you should enjoy the shows. THE SHIP The Noordam has been in service since 2006. Although clean and well kept it did look worn in a number of areas. The biggest thing I noticed is the carpets could use replacing. The public areas not so much but the carpet in our stateroom looked really worn. The only other real bothersome item is that one of the halves of the pool roof enclosure was not working. That side of the pool area got really hot and stuffy during the day. Hopefully they were able to repair it before the next sailing. The roof enclosure is one of the nice things about the HAL ships. If the weather turns inclement they just close the roof and the pool stays enjoyable. DISEMBARKATION Everyone seems to be doing the scheduled disembarkation times which really makes things work smooth. You just show up at the appointed time and you get off the ship and through customs in no time. We used the airline baggage service for the first time on this trip. For $19pp they get your boarding passes for you, take your luggage from the ship to the airport and get it checked through to your final destination. After you set your luggage outside your stateroom the last night of the cruise you don't see it again (unless you get pulled by Customs) until you claim it at your final destination. HALF MOON CAY This is Hal's private island in the Bahamas. It is really beautiful with a fantastic beach. We rented a clamshell cover which I highly recommend. They have a number of other activities you can do while there. If more than one ship is there be sure to eat lunch early as it will get real crowded. OVERALL HAL is a good cruise line. If you are okay with the older slower crowd you will have an enjoyable time. We would cruise HAL again. GRAND TURK: Our first visit to this port. We both like Grand Turk. A very small island (approx 3-1/2 wide x7 miles long). The cruise dock area has a lot of shops, a Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville and the whole area is really clean. There is a nice beach right next to the dock. The island is still recovering from previous hurricane damage but they are making progress. Took the Conch World tour which was interesting, enjoyed the drive around the island. SAMANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Our first visit to this port. This is old time Caribbean. Very poor but a beautiful island. Lots of locals hounding you to buy their wares. A lot of people will not like this port but if you are a traveler in the true sense it a place you'll want to see. We did not take an excursion on this island. BONAIRE: Our second visit to this port. Beautiful clear water. You can see fish swimming all along the waterfront. Did not take any excursions but will likely do the next time we're here. Some good shopping. CURACAO: Our second visit to this port. One of our favorite ports. Part of the reason for this cruise selection was that we were in port at Curacao from morning until 11:00pm that night. The harbor front area is really beautiful at night. Great shopping. We took an excursion the first time we came here but decided to just walk around this time. We ashore early in the morning for several hours and then came back to the ship to eat lunch and rest. We went back out later in the day, ate dinner in town and sat around the harbor until about 9:30pm. It was wonderful. ARUBA: This was our 3rd visit to this port. Another one our our favorites. No excursions this time. Good shopping and just walking around. One of those places I wouldn't mine just flying to and spending a week. Read Less
Sail Date December 2010
After a wonderful cruise to Alaska on the Rotterdam, this was a huge disappointment. Rotterdam felt gracious and elegant. Many issues on this voyage of the Noordam made the trip less that wonderful. The cruise staff -- front line workers ... Read More
After a wonderful cruise to Alaska on the Rotterdam, this was a huge disappointment. Rotterdam felt gracious and elegant. Many issues on this voyage of the Noordam made the trip less that wonderful. The cruise staff -- front line workers -- gracious and kind and wonderful. The management -- opposite. Workers seem overworked and on duty constantly and scurrying around with lots of pressure. The dining room felt stressful with armloads of trays being carried out and people rushing around and noise and less than peaceful. The entertainment is..OLD. After one night...we could take it no more. Dull and dated but then perhaps that is what the target market is...and we do not fit the profile. And being told by the dining staff and the entertainment staff how to evaluate them on the final evaluation -- "give us 9's" -- seems strange. The climate and mood on the ships was completely different. We will not do Holland America again. This was too boring and not stimulating for us. Port stays were cut short and we saw the Pittons on St. Lucia in the dark! We went on the cruise to see "as promised". Read Less
Sail Date November 2010
We're Copper 3-star Mariners in our 60s and this was our second Noordam. We've sailed Zuiderdam (11 times, our fave), the old Noordam, old Westerdam, Zaandam, Maasdam, several on RCI, Celebrity & Princess... 27 all day. The ... Read More
We're Copper 3-star Mariners in our 60s and this was our second Noordam. We've sailed Zuiderdam (11 times, our fave), the old Noordam, old Westerdam, Zaandam, Maasdam, several on RCI, Celebrity & Princess... 27 all day. The ship is our destination, and on HAL we always experience the finest in service and accommodations... that's why we keep coming back.Pre-Cruise:We drove to Jacksonville and flew Southwest to Ft. Lauderdale, where we stayed at LaQuinta in a very nice smoking King with a view of the intercoastal waterway. It's right next door to a shopping center, but it's too far (for us) to walk there. We took a cab there and had dinner at Red Lobster. In the morning we were treated to a nice breakfast buffet, and went to pack for the free shuttle to the pier. I found that my glasses had broken and we had to skip the shuttle & take a taxi next door to Pearle Vision where they fixed my glasses for no charge. A quick trip to the pier started the check-in phase which went very smoothly.Embarkation:Once we got in the suite line, we found there were agents assisting both the suite pax and the handicapped. The 20 minutes in line was annoying, but we were able to board the ship immediately after, so it wasn't too bad. Our suite was right outside the Neptune Lounge, so we stashed our carryons and went to the Vista Dining Room for a lovely Mariners' lunch.The Noordam is a beautiful ship... lovely flower arrangements everywhere, polished glass and brass, and comfortably furnished common areas with bright but pleasant color schemes. We love the Explorations Cafe, Crow's Nest, and our favorite Oak Room.Officers & Staff:Captain John ScottHotel Manager James DeeringCriuse Director Glenn CoenenBeverage Manager Mark MaelingCabin:Our cabin (7053, a typical SA suite) was across from the Neptune Lounge, which was extremely convenient as we are both diabetics and are in need of frequent snacks. All upholstery, carpeting and tiling were in very good condition. Our stewards were very attentive, considering we sleep very late and it's hard to find a time to clean. We always had plenty of ice, fresh towels and amenities.I am always amazed at the level of service we receive on HAL ships, but it seems as if the officers, staff and crew of the Noordam take service to the next level. In all areas and at all levels we received prompt, polite and professional attention.As the ship itself is our destination, we rarely go into town. Unfortunately, we got up too late to visit Half Moon Cay. We figured that if we were last off the ship, and with two ships in port, there wouldn't be any loungers close to the dock, so we stayed aboard. Jim and I visited Grand Turk for an hour or so, on a quest for something that doesn't exist. I found some nice shopping in Bonaire and walked over to the hotel shopping area in Curacao. Unfortunately we had rain for nearly the entire cruise. The rest of the cruise was spent in the spa, pool and casino. Casino was a little disappointing. Several "regulars" at the Hold'em table were actually casino owners/managers and had played in the WSOP. There were several 'tournaments', but even though they were advertised, they did not have the play moderated, announced nor the prizes 'awarded'. It should have received the same attention as the Blackjack or Slots Tourneys.We were assigned a table for four (but set for only two), by the window on the upper level of the Vista Dining Room. We dined there every night, forgoing the Pinnacle, as we had enjoyed the very same menu many times before. Selections were varied, but a bit more limited than those in the past. Day 1 - Embarkation at Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale, FloridaQueens Lounge - Welcome Aboard Bash with Natalie & the HalCatsOcean Bar - Great American Songbook with the NeptunesPiano Bar - Buddy MitchellExplorer's Lounge - Adagio StringsCrow's Nest - vocalist/Guitarist Zach WinninghamNorthern Lights Disco - DJ DaveVista Lounge - Let Us Entertain You - CD introduces the Noordam Singers &s DancersDay 2 - Half Moon CayQueens Lounge - 50s & 60s NightOcean Bar - Latin FavoritesPiano Bar - Buddy MitchellExplorer's Lounge - Adagio StringsCrow's Nest - Pub Trivia & Zach on GuitarNorthern Lights Disco - Broadway Name That Tune & All Request NightVista Lounge - Captain Scott's Welcome Toast, followed by the Noordam singers & dancers in Ballroom BlitzDay 3 - Grand TurkQueens Lounge - The Disco BallOcean Bar - Easy Dance Class - Quick StepPiano Bar - Golden Oldies NightExplorer's Lounge - Adagio StringsCrow's Nest - Pub Trivia & Zach on GuitarNorthern Lights Disco - 50s & 60s Name that Tune & Music MixVista Lounge - comedian Milt AbelDay 4 - Samana, Dominican RepublicQueens Lounge - Tropical RhythmsOcean Bar - Easy Cha Cha classPiano Bar - MargaritavilleExplorer's Lounge - Adagio StringsCrow's Nest - Pub Trivia & Zach on GuitarNorthern Lights Disco - 80s Name that Tune & Island BeatsVista Lounge - Noordam singers & dancers in If Walls Could RockDay 5 - At SeaQueens Lounge - movie "Salt"Ocean Bar - Easy Dance Class - WaltzPiano Bar - Buddy MitchellExplorer's Lounge - Adagio StringsCrow's Nest - Pub Trivia, Zach on Guitar & Merengue ClassNorthern Lights Disco - Motown Name That Tune & 60s & 70s HourVista Lounge - the Music of Mark DonoghueDay 6 - BonaireQueens Lounge - Liars ClubOcean Bar - Easy Dance Class - FoxtrotPiano Bar - Name that TuneExplorer's Lounge - Adagio StringsCrow's Nest - Pub Trivia & Zach on GuitarNorthern Lights Disco - Music MixVista Lounge - Noordam Singers and Dancers in Simply BroadwayDay 7 - CuracaoPool PartyQueens Lounge - Battle of the Sexes & Caribbean Shirt Express bingoOcean Bar - Music & Dancing with The NeptunesPiano Bar - Open Mic NightExplorer's Lounge - Adagio StringsCrow's Nest - Pub Trivia, Zach on Guitar & Easy Dance Classes - Jive & TangoNorthern Lights Disco - Top 40 NightVista Lounge - Filipino Crew ShowDay 8 - ArubaQueens Lounge - KaraokeOcean Bar - The NeptunesPiano Bar - Country Name that TuneExplorer's Lounge - Adagio StringsCrow's Nest - Pub Trivia, Zach on Guitar & Easy Dance Class - RhumbaNorthern Lights Disco - All Request NightVista Lounge - Arias & Broadway melodies by Fiona Jessica WilsonDay 9 - At SeaNear gale - rough seas - partly cloudyQueens Lounge - The Marriage Game & Sing with the HALCatsOcean Bar - The NeptunesPiano Bar - 70s Name that TuneExplorer's Lounge - Adagio StringsCrow's Nest - Pub Trivia & Zach on GuitarNorthern Lights Disco - Music MixVista Lounge - Noordam Singers & Dancers in "That's Vegas"Day 10 - At SeaStrong breeze - rather rough seas - cloudy - roll back clocks one hourQueens Lounge - Bye Bye BoogieOcean Bar - The NeptunesPiano Bar - Farewell Sing-a-LongExplorer's Lounge - Adagio StringsCrow's Nest - Pub Trivia & Zach on GuitarNorthern Lights Disco - Name that TV Tune & Rock It 'Til We Dock ItVista Lounge - Action comedy of Scotty CavanaughDebarkation:Debarkation is done on the honor system, but there IS NO HONOR on debarkation day. Passengers may stay in their cabins or public venues until their specifically assigned time (based on their flight times and/or requests) to proceed to the gangway. We were scheduled for 8:15 - 8:30, and we couldn't get out of the elevator because the area was PACKED with passengers waiting for their time to go. There was no one checking colors or asking anyone to leave the area. I have been disappointed with this system since it started, and it hasn't gotten any better. Unfortunately, it's too late to complain on the comment card, so it doesn't get any better.Once we left the gangway, a ship representative stopped us and told us that "luckily" we were selected for expedited service, and by following her we could cut 30 minutes off our transfer time. She waited with us while our porter loaded up our bags, and directed us to a short line leading to some cubicles. After 20 minutes in this line, we found several Customs Agents with calculators and a list of passengers who had made sizable purchases while onboard. After 20 minutes or so they collected their excess duty and we were able to leave. The other line seemed to go MUCH faster. Lesson learned? If you have an early flight, don't buy anything pricey in the gift shop.That said, we are very much looking forward to "Holland America Line's new Stateroom Direct Service". All Holland America Line ships will have guests' staterooms ready for them as early as 11:30am, allowing embarking guests to settle comfortably and quickly in their staterooms as soon as they board. This will require intense cooperation from all members of the crew, and I have no doubt they will be able to give us a much more pleasant embarkation experience. I'm not certain how they'll be able to let departing passengers linger in their cabins and still open up our cabins at 11:30ish for new cruisers. If anybody can do it, HAL can. Finally:The Noordam has now joined the Zuiderdam as our favorite ship(s). There's something about her that just makes it a good 'fit'. The officers, staff and crew were professional, courteous and accommodating in every way. The only two things I'd suggest are increased hotspots throughout the ship and a return to the old debarkation process.Candy the ZuiderPrincess (and Sir James) Read Less
Sail Date November 2010
Nice cruise. The port is a bit of a distance from Rome but only about an hour from the airport. We checked into our room and the boarding process went very smoothly. By the time we had a bite of late lunch our bags were in our room. We ... Read More
Nice cruise. The port is a bit of a distance from Rome but only about an hour from the airport. We checked into our room and the boarding process went very smoothly. By the time we had a bite of late lunch our bags were in our room. We were in a balcony stateroom and were a bit disappointed that the side window had a bunch or cracks in it so the view was not real good. The door area and windows below the rail were also so dirty you did not have a view from the room through them. The cabin guys cleaned the door and a couple days later the rail windows were cleaned. I did writh HAL about it and the gave me 200 pp room credit on our next cruise. The staff and I mean staff,everyone from the painter to the cabin guys were the most friendly and hospitiable I have ever seen. I can not tell you how great they all were. Never a frown or a head down anyplace. The whole 10 days were nothing but smiles and hellos. Great Great staff. The ship is OK nothing special and the entertainment was very weak. No lets make that very very weak. If you going for the entertainment don't go on this one. Food was pretty decent and we ate at the Pinnicle which was very good. One night was a special dinner night they do once a cruise. The extra charge was 39 pp and while nice I would pass on this one also unless you like the fancy stuff and not much of it. One of the biggest problems with the itenerary is getting to the sights. Florence bus was over $100.00 each and several other ports were 5 to 6.00 per person per direction to get , in some cases a very short distance. Barcelona was 5.00 each way pp and the public bus was 3 euro round trip. Lots of passengers not happy with the charge. We teamed up with 2 other couples and did Pizza and Lucca by taxi Simon Magro Taxi No 4 +39.340.55.11.537 phone number. The van type taxi was 40 Euro each for about6 hours and was one of our best trips. This as far less than the ship tours and people that did the ship tour complained about the distance they had to walk to get to Pizza and into Lucca. The taxi went and parked almost right next to were we were going. Nice driver and great service with explinations along the way. We ended up doing either a buggy or taxi tour two more times and they were all great. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate the buggy tour was 120 Euro and we ended up paying 50 with tip. Sorrento and Pompei was also another taxi tour. We actually waited outside ship and tried to get another couple to split the cost. When all seemed hopeless another couple from Austrailia joined us and we all had a great time. We did a couple inexpensive 49 to 54.00 Panoramic ship tours that were also quite nice for the price. We did Tunisia on a ship tour and the guide stopped at a coffee shop and for some shopping , I am sure he gets a cut as they were not on the itenerary but it was very nice and he was a great guide. If you can figure out public transportation it may also be a good way to go. Hop on Hop off busses are good if it is not to crowded. Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
In October, my husband and I took the 10-day "Europe Mediterranean" on the Noordam. The Good We really enjoyed the night before debriefing about the ports of call that was presented by members of the cruise line both ... Read More
In October, my husband and I took the 10-day "Europe Mediterranean" on the Noordam. The Good We really enjoyed the night before debriefing about the ports of call that was presented by members of the cruise line both in person and on television. These individuals were very professional and informative in their presentation, and we thought that the debriefing was a nice touch. We are senior citizens with limited walking means, and found the ship not only clean but extremely accessible. Staff on-board the ship were extremely friendly and constantly attentive. The nightly entertainment was of high quality, as were the many concerts. Food was of very satisfactory quality, selection, and serving display. The stateroom was very comfortable and clean, all amenities were satisfactory. Departure and arrival times were always accurate, with the exception of the captain's careful decision to avoid a stop in Monaco due to very high winds. Additionally, online booking and telephone representatives were very friendly and informative. The Bad Complaints are limited with the exception of a few points. Internet access was constantly very slow, and when you are paying by the minute for internet usage, this often resulted in numerous minutes spent waiting for things to load. Also, food options between lunch and dinner were extremely limited with the exception of pizza. It would be nice to have a little variety during these times. Conclusion Overall, we had a fantastic 50th anniversary celebration on board the Noordam. We have travelled with numerous other cruise lines in the past, including Holland American Line, and must say that our experience with this company always stands out above the competition. Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
My wife and I and and another couple left May 4, 2010. Did all paper-work on HAL website. Print only first page for back-up in case they loose you in system. Embarkation was painless. Took our carry-ons and went straight to Lido to a great ... Read More
My wife and I and and another couple left May 4, 2010. Did all paper-work on HAL website. Print only first page for back-up in case they loose you in system. Embarkation was painless. Took our carry-ons and went straight to Lido to a great lunch. This is our 20th cruise for me and my wife, mainly on RCL, Holland and Princess. I found Holland to have the best food of any ship we have been on, with Carnival coming in dead last. Princess, Carnival, and RCL ships are beautiful, outside and inside especially the atrium. Holland is lacking in some respect to inside appointments. Food makes-up for any short comings. The kiss-of-death for Princess is the Lido deck where most people eat. IT WAS DESIGNED AND LAID OUT BY A DRUNK SAILOR!!!! There is no flow, absolute nightmare. Found a mix of all ages on HAL, as a rule-of-thumb it will average 50-60, not true on this cruise. Entertainment in the main lounge is so-so, seen a lot better. The main draw is the Piano Bar with Jim Fischer, he is great! HAL too me does not gouge, nickel and dime you as much as others. Excursions are very pricey as are all cruises lines. We mainly cruise for the relaxation, dinning, duty free shopping, and a beautiful beach. The itinerary was Half Moon Cay Bahamas (HAL private isle) beautiful, Turks and Caicos Bahamas, fair shopping but beautiful beach where you dock. Samana, Dominican Republic which is a total waste of time, horrible, never again. Day at sea was wonderful. Bonaire, supposedly a divers paradise, and that is it. Won't go there again. Curacao, beautiful one of my favorites been there many times, great everthing. Aruba is so-so, went on a snorkel excursion to Palm Island $79 plus all you can drink and eat, worth your time. Over-all it was a great cruise, good food!!! Read Less
Sail Date May 2010
Holland America ms Noordam Southern Caribbean April 4-14, 2010 This was the 27th cruise for Jim and I, having cruised on Seawind, RCI x 5, Celebrity, NCL, Princess, Carnival, and HAL's Westerdam x 2 (old), Noordam (old), Zaandam, ... Read More
Holland America ms Noordam Southern Caribbean April 4-14, 2010 This was the 27th cruise for Jim and I, having cruised on Seawind, RCI x 5, Celebrity, NCL, Princess, Carnival, and HAL's Westerdam x 2 (old), Noordam (old), Zaandam, Maasdam, and our beloved Zuiderdam x 11. We are in our 60s and for us our destination is the ship itself. Many times we say we'll leave the ship to explore a new port, but we often don't. We generally eat, sleep, eat, gamble, sleep, eat, gamble, repeat. This adequately describes our Noordam cruise, as we did not leave the ship. Avoiding the stress of missed connections when flying in on Embarkation Day, we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale a day before and stayed at the Hilton Marina on 17th. We had a nice stay last year, but this year we found it cold and impersonal. They have changed the check-in procedure so that more people get tips. Now after you tip your driver, you tip someone to take your bags to another porter who gets a tip to take them to your room. We had a mini-suite with a view of the Marina and pool from the balcony. The access door lock was broken, and after several attempts to fix it, the Manager offered us drink coupons to enjoy while Maintenance did some noisy work. We don't drink, so we had some fruit juice and gave the other coupons away to someone who could actually enjoy them. We asked for a different room, but apparently the hotel was full, and this was the best they could do. I booked a smoking room, but at check-in they said it was a smoke-free hotel, but would send an ashtray to our room. Actually, we asked FOUR different people for an ashtray and got four promises, but no ashtray. We had to appropriate one from the pool area. Although the suite had a lovely spa shower, what we needed was a soak, and we're not hot-tub people, so this was a drawback. In the morning we splurged for the Sunday Buffet, which was the highlight of our stay. After two more unnecessary tips, we were outta there, never to return. Embarkation was a breeze! We arrived at Pier 19 at about 12:30, seeing maybe 300 cruisers in the serpentine line to check in. We proceeded to the Suite Line for our Stateroom Keycard and Deck Plans, and 15 minutes later we were aboard the Noordam. We went straight to the Neptune Lounge and had some snacks before making our way to our cabin. Located just forward of the aft elevators, Suite 7085 on the Rotterdam Deck was a huge (510 total square feet); a generous room, spacious veranda with two chairs and ottomans and a little dining table and 4 small chairs... plenty for two. The bathroom had a Jacuzzi tub, separate shower and double sink with two corner medicine cabinets and storage shelf below. A variety of Elemis products was provided, and refilled daily as we used or stashed them. There was also an umbrella, laundry basket (service is free in full suites) and 2 fluffy cotton robes and slippers. The dressing room had a built-in dressing table with 3 drawers, hair dryer and lighted magnifying makeup mirror (1X/5X), 3 closets with mirrored doors and a safe (3 more closets are in the hall by the door). In the sitting area were a large couch, two occasional chairs and coffee table, desk with flat screen TV, cooler with loaded minibar and CD/DVD player, binoculars, 2 telephones with voice mail and wake-up service, and a wall of mirrors behind the bed, making the room look much larger. True to HAL's Signature of Excellence program, the bedding and linens are undeniably top of the line! This explained why we slept so much! Among the usual Daily Program (tear-offs are back!), gift cards, invitations and brochures we found a bottle of Fre Champagne and a beautiful arrangement of roses from the Hotel Manager, Mark Pells. Later in the cruise, as the roses began to nod a little (you can't water them with the desalinated water), they were replaced with an even more beautiful arrangement of roses and lilies. Our luggage began to arrive shortly after we did, and we were nearly unpacked by the time the safety drill began. HAL has thankfully switched over to a non-lifejacket drill, eliminating the safety hazard from people dragging the jacket straps up and down the stairs. During the drill there is a detailed demonstration of how to wear the jacket, and a similar demo is run on TV throughout the cruise. After the drill I donned my ZuiderPrincess crown and made the rounds of the various bars in search of my CruiseCritic group. That evening we attended a cocktail party in the Neptune Lounge where we met Captain John Scott, Hotel Manager Mark Pells, and other officers and staff. We enjoyed lovely hors d'oeuvres and juice (champagne for others) and wandered down to the Vista Dining Room for our first of many dinners. We were confirmed for As You Wish dining, but were assigned a late seating, upper level table for six by an aft window. The first night we were the only diners, so we invited a couple who were also sitting alone at a big table to join us. Frank and Marilyn from Texas were a delightful couple who shared our love of cruising and general laid-back cruising style. As no one else ever showed up at our table, and except for occasional trips to the Pinnacle, Frank and Marilyn became our permanent table mates. We found the service to be excellent and the food very good. I wonder, though, with so many cruisers complaining they could not get traditional seating, why were there so many empty - completely empty - tables? For the entire cruise? The Lido Bistro is the place we eat breakfast and lunch, and I must rave about the food selections! For breakfast try the made-to-order omelets or various types of Eggs Benedict, waffles, hot meats, Lox 'n' Bagels and so much more. For lunch there are many choices between salads, sandwiches, hot dishes, Asian and pizza & pasta. We also tried the burgers, hot dogs and tacos at the Terrace Grill, which were just OK. We did try the Lido Bistro for dinner one night. We arrived 15 minutes before closing, and had to get all of our courses at one time. By the time we got to the main course, it was cold. If we eat there again, it will be early enough to be served properly. Canaletto is a new dining venue for HAL... a small area of the Lido accommodates 40-50 diners and offers Italian cuisine. There is no surcharge for this dinner, but reservations are strongly suggested. We purchased a 10-day pass to the Thermal Suite and HydroPool, $199 for both of us. We should have just bought daily passes, because we only used it twice. Jim bought a 10-20-30 discount package and had two massages (Nora), but when it came time for his facial he wasn't feeling well, so they let me take his facial (Monique) at the 30% discount. After I told her what Elemis products I already use, and the facial was finished, my Esthetist kindly calculated how much I needed to spend to treat my face properly for the next six months. I thought $1,834 would almost pay for a 7-night cruise, so I declined, buying only one cream which I was running out of anyway. A few days later, as I desperately needed a haircut, Salon Manager Milica (from Serbia) created a masterpiece. Much like her sister Zuidy, the Noordam is really quite comfortable and well maintained. While the deck plans are essentially the same, there are a few exceptions. The Explorations Cafe is still located on deck 3, and the Oak Room is still intact near the Crow's Nest. As mentioned earlier, our daily activities focused on rest and relaxation, but there was plenty to do! Night Life - Music, whether the dancing or listening sort, was offered in the Explorer's Lounge (Adagio Strings), Crow's Nest (Gary T'To, Kat & the HALCats), Northern Lights Nightclub (DJ Troy), Ocean Bar (The Neptunes), and the Piano Bar (Lee Strubeck). Main Showroom - CD Mike Connachan hosted a number of stage productions nicely performed by the Noordam Singers & Dancers; "Opening Night", "If Walls Could Rock", "Ballroom Blitz", "Simply Broadway", and "That's Vegas". Sax Sensation Craig Richard, comedians Mark Eddie and Kevin Jordan, and vocalist Tony Cherry not only performed individually, but reprized their acts on the final evening. Movies - The Queen's Lounge offered (complete with complimentary popcorn) "Up in the Air", "The Blind Side", "All About Steve", "The Young Victoria", "Old Dogs", "The Spy Next Door", Sherlock Holmes", "Nine", Pirate Radio" and in the Vista Lounge, "Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus". Casino - I love the energy of the casino... the smoke, noise, shuffling of cards, cheering when the dealer says, "Winner, winner - chicken dinner!" One thing I miss is the sound of coins being released into a paper tub. Now that HAL is making the transition to electronic everything, some of the room's cachet is gone. Even the poker table is electronic, and has been banished to a dark corner of the Sports Bar... so sad. The Casino seemed to be underutilized until the evening show let out. Daytime found few players and many tables closed. They did, however, offer the usual tournament fare; Texas Hold'Em, Blackjack, Slots, and had a festive Caribbean Night where they provided prizes. Shopping - The Signature Shops offered a reasonable variety of gift items, cruise wear and logo items, cigarettes, alcohol and cosmetics. They offered the usual Liquor Tasting, Watch Extravaganza, $10 Deck Sale, Swarovski Crystal, Taste of the Caribbean (rum and rum cakes), Venetian and Roman glass in sterling silver jewelry, Rock Candy (custom designed glass and leather jewelry), World Amber Event (including a 'spot the fake' contest), Caribbean Topaz Raffle, Watch Sets, Sea Glass ornaments, and the famous Deck Sale. Art Auction - This has thankfully been taken over by British American Auctions, who quietly hold their auctions without inundating passengers with fliers and announcements. I haven't talked to anyone who may have attended, so we'll have to see what other reviewers say about that. Greenhouse Spa - A great variety of indulgences and therapies are offered by Steiner, and the Salon offers services for hair (Salon Manager Milica is a true artiste!), nails and waxing. For $199 we bought a couple's pass to the HydroPool and Thermal Suite, but didn't use it enough. The HydroPool has the typical Jacuzzi jets, only much more powerful, and a metal kind of rack that you can lie on and the whole thing vibrates... so relaxing! In the Thermal Suite, I head for the Eucalyptus Steam, which really clears your head while it forces all those nasty 'toxins' out of your body. Follow that with a nap on the heated tile chaises and you're in heaven. Culinary Arts Center - This is the primary function of the Queen's Lounge, and I must say it's about time they found something outstanding for this formerly nearly vacant venue. You'll find lots of demonstrations (some of them hands-on) of food preparation and serving (including some items from the Pinnacle Grill), wine tasting, mixology, napkin folding, flower arranging, and fun stuff like cooking trivia and a Celebrity Cook-Off... there's something new every day. Digital Workshop - New to HAL, this program will take you through your digital photography adventure from taking the actual photo to editing, enhancing, emailing, posting it on the web or burning a disk. Considering Jim and I didn't DO anything, this ten days on the Noordam was a wonderful experience. We found the officers (particularly Hotel Manager Mark Pells and Captain John Scott), staff (especially Cruise Director Mike Connachan and his lovely wife, Future Cruise Consultant Leah) and Beverage Manager Hans Becker, who meticulously coordinated our CruiseCritic Meet 'n' Greet. The public areas were gleaming, and the floral arrangements we found throughout the ship were gorgeous. We found the food and service in the Vista Dining Room to be excellent and enjoyed the comfortable seating and prompt attention to our requests. I'd absolutely recommend the Noordam for anyone desiring a laid-back, relaxing cruise with plenty of adventures as options. Because of their consistency of service and understated luxury, Holland America Line is our cruise line of choice. Read Less
Sail Date April 2010
Let me begin by saying that my husband & I are seasoned cruisers. We have sailed everything from Carnival to Crystal & this was our 15th cruise. We cruised with 4 other couples. We are all seniors (50-70). We like HAL because it ... Read More
Let me begin by saying that my husband & I are seasoned cruisers. We have sailed everything from Carnival to Crystal & this was our 15th cruise. We cruised with 4 other couples. We are all seniors (50-70). We like HAL because it mainly caters to us and they are very sensitive to passengers who are physically challeneged. Embarkation was easy thanks to the Express Documentation we filled out on the internet. We simply printed out our Express tickets and showed our passports to HAL personnel and went up the gangplank. We immediately went to the Lido deck & ate some lunch. I went into shock as there were no food trays & everything was served in very modest portions to passengers by waitstaff. This resulted in long lines & having to run back and forth from the table to fetch drinks, sides and anything that necessitated more than 2 hands. We were dismayed & frustrated as when we finally sat down, our food had cooled considerably. Many passengers echoed the same sentiments & they opted to go to the dining room for breakfast, lunch & dinner instead. Our cabin steward, Ricard, and the rest of the waitstaff were Indonesian & they were terrific. Ricard was like a stealth cabinboy in that we never saw him but every request we made was fulfilled & our room was always clean. We enjoyed his towel creations at night. The staff worked very, very hard to please the passengers, and they were ALWAYS very polite and helpful. CASINO: I found the video poker machines to be very tight. They hardly gave back any winnings & never once did I hear a slot machine go off. I did okay on roulette and my husband won the Texas Hold'em tournament. Again the dealers were very nice and big HELLO to Ramona. ENTERTAIMENT: The two standouts were Kuba, a vibraphone maestro and Barnaby, a comedian who had everybody laughing so hard, our bellies ached. The others were rather run-of-the-mill and the Noordam singers were just average. SPA: The prices were astronomical but I had a gift certificate so I got a special. As the cruise progresses, they offer specials on various services so try not to book right away. Also for a price a GREEN HOUSE card can be purchased which gives access to a wonderful whirlpool, 2 steamrooms and heated chaise lounges that are fabulous. It's worthwhile and very zen-like. EXCURSIONS: I went on two excursions & they both proved to be very good. The first was in St. Lucia where we traveled by bus up a mountain to enjoy tea and snacks at an old mansion.The view was breathtaking as we sipped tea on a wide balcony & overlooked the bay. St. Lucia was surprisingly poor & our tourguide, Ramsey, was very informative on it's history. The second was a bicycle ride through Half Moon Cay. The tour was filled to capacity as we biked down roads to see a horse ranch,a stingray farm and some backwoods that are ordinarily never experienced. For those of you who are not athletic,the island is tiny & we rode for a very,very short time.Anyone can do this. One woman in our group was in her eighties & she did just fine.Again,we got a thorough lecture of the island's history. It was just right and my favorite excursion. DINING: I give the food a solid GOOD, but in the interest of cutting costs, we found the portions to be measly. Our waiter was very attentive & he worked very hard to please. The sommelier, Arnold, was the best. We ate at the Pinnacle Grill once & although the food was very good, I was surprised the waiters weren't more professional. One waiter dropped a tray of silverware behind me & I jumped 5 feet off my seat and then they messed up one order. A man in our party expressed his dissatisfaction with the modest portions, so we did not return. As I said before, the removal of foodtrays at the Lido in an attempt to prevent passengers from wasting food drew many critisms from people. For us, it was an unnecessary inconvenience. ACTIVITIES: There was always something to do on the ship & the social director, Mike, was very upbeat. They featured talent contests, newlywed games, trivia games, bingo, poolside games, art history lectures, etc. Also there were first-run movies on the cabin TV's which were good. I attended mass most mornings and Father Kazimir is an elderly priest with a great sense of humor. He was a pleasure to get to know. SUMMATION: I must concur with the others who have said that for the money, HAL is probably the best cruise on the high seas. There were many more canes, walkers and scooters than children on board so I wouldn't recommend it for families. Also, I must re-emphasize that there were lines for food,drinks,getting on & off the tenders, so pack your patience and bring a comfortable pair of shoes for all that walking you'll be doing between your table and the food buffets. I suggest that if HAL wants to cut costs, they should eliminate the little bathroom lotions/shampoos and instead reinstate smaller food trays in order to make mealtimes a more efficient, less stressful experience. Another idea would be to just offer them at lunchtime since that's when most people eat at the Lido anyway. Read Less
Sail Date March 2010
We flew to Fort Lauderdale the day before the cruise and stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, 180 SW 18th Avenue, Dania, FL under the "cruise package" rate. This was a very nice hotel and the cruise package worked well for us. We ... Read More
We flew to Fort Lauderdale the day before the cruise and stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, 180 SW 18th Avenue, Dania, FL under the "cruise package" rate. This was a very nice hotel and the cruise package worked well for us. We would stay there again. In the morning was a very good breakfast and they shuttled us to the ship, all included in the package. We made our initial reservations for the cruise pretty late and all that was available to book was a Category N inside guarantee. I kept checking back to see if any other cabin categories had opened up with no luck. Finally, the morning of the cruise, while waiting for the hotel shuttle to the ship, I called HAL directly. 2 balconies had opened up, one we later learned due to a last-minute cancellation. We paid to upgrade to a balcony. The rate to upgrade was fair and was well-worth it over the course of the next 10 days. We both used our balcony alot. When we checked in at the ship a couple of hours later, there was a delay in embarkation, since we had upgraded so close to departure, apparently our paperwork had to be re-done by headquarters in Seattle, so we had to sit and wait for a long time before we could check-in and finally embark. We didn't mind because it was worth it to us to have a balcony and the staff at check-in were friendly. Since we were Mariners (sailed on HAL once before), upon embarkation, we were shown to the dining room for a "Welcome Back" Mariners luncheon. (Non-Mariners were shown to the Lido buffet for lunch.) After lunch, we went to our cabin and settled in. The cabin we had was fine. Noordam was an average ship. We have been on more beautiful ships, such as Celebrity Solstice, that was a lot nicer ship, and had curved cabins. The worst thing about Noordam was the Lido buffet. It was poorly designed and very spread out and congested at busy times. There were no obvious lines which resulted in people unknowlingly cutting in front of others. All the trays had been removed, resulting in multiple trips back and forth to the buffet. They also have taken out the self-serve stations, so you have to wait while they dish up the food for you. This takes alot longer. Many times the seating area was full and we had a hard time finding a place to sit. When we sailed HAL before (Oosterdam), staff carried trays back to the tables for you. They did not do this on Noordam. We missed it! I ended up getting so frustrated with the congested breakfast buffet and long lines in the morning that I started to order room service every morning, which worked out much better, except you couldn't order eggs benedict. Lido had 8 varieties of eggs benedict, cooked to order, if you wanted to wait long enough to get it, it was good. Overall, the ship was darker in colors and the carpet was worn in some areas. It seemed outdated, however, it was very clean, it was just a dark decor. I later learned Noordam is scheduled for a dry-dock for updates in a few months. She needs it! (book a sailing after dry-dock). The best parts about our cruise were the dining in the Vista Dining room, Canaletto, and Pinnacle Grill and the overall service onboard the ship. Dining and service are where HAL shines and she did on Noordam. Food in the Vista Dining room was good and the service was excellent. Food was best on formal nights and on the last night, when they had a special farewell party for us. We ate in Canaletto one night. The service and food were very good. Our best dining experiences were in the Pinnacle Grill where we had dinner twice. It was the most excellent food and service. Our dining experiences each time lasted 2 1/2 to 3 hours. It was well worth the extra cost. Another area of the cruise that was very pleasing for us was the activities onboard ship. Noordam had many parties, such as Sailaway party on deck, BBQ Bon Voyage dinner on deck, wine and cheese under the stars, pool party with food and music, dessert extravaganza (WOW). Every party was first class. Everything was decorated beautifully with plenty of delicious food. Well-done and impressive. We happened to be onboard during the Super Bowl. They had a great Super Bowl party!! We were also very impressed with the BBQ they had for us on Half Moon Cay, lots of variety and the food was very fresh and tasty. We tried to go to as many as the activities onboard the ship as we could and we loved them all. If you like exceptional dining and service on a mainstream line, HAL is a great choice. A couple of notes: --we signed up for the wine tasting for $15 per person. This was a joke and a waste of money. It was the worst wine-tasting we have ever been to. While there, they tried to get us to sign-up for another wine-tasting for $35 per person that was supposed to be more authentic. If you are going to do a wine-tasting, do the $35 per person one, not the other, cheaper one. --Afternoon Tea daily was excellent and well-worth it. Great opportunity to make camadrie with fellow passengers. Wait staff wore white gloves and it was well-done. --In Explorations Cafe,(Internet/Library room), there was a coffee bar with selections of small tea sandwiches and sweets. Even though it was not advertised, if you ordered a drink, the sandwiches/sweets were complimentary. Drinks, like a latte, were reasonably priced (around $2), and then he would give you a small plate of the sandwiches or sweets complimentary, if you asked for it. The service onboard Noordam was excellent. They had the Indonesian/Filipino crew, that is exclusive to HAL. Having sailed several other lines, I would say that it is worth it to sail HAL just to experience the crew. They are the best at sea! Quiet and reserved, they operate at a slower pace, which is perfect for the mostly Mariner clientele. Speaking of the clientele, they were primarily seniors. The ship was sold out, at around 2,000 passengers. There were 13 kids on board. Not too much fun for them. Don't miss the Filipino crew show. They are a proud people and they serve HAL excellently. One area of the sailing that was disappointing for us was the entertainment. We have experienced far better shows and entertainment on other lines. If you are looking for great entertainment, look for another line. For the price-point of what we paid, HAL offered a lot for the money and was a good value. it's not luxury. Having sailed Crystal twice, and even Celebriaty Solstice, it was not as nice of a cruise compared to those, but luxury costs alot more. For the price-point of this cruise, it was well-worth the money we spent. Beware of the onboard account, since they nickle and dime you for everything (unlike Crystal). Our onboard account for 10 days was $1200.00, including shore excursions. However, that was not including the paid upgrade for the balcony. Like I said, it was worth-it, just be prepared. Read Less
Sail Date February 2010
This was our second cruise on HAL. The moms liked our first cruise so much (Alaska Inside Passage) so much that I decided to try something a little more adventurous for our second cruise. So after 5 nights touring Rome on our own, we ... Read More
This was our second cruise on HAL. The moms liked our first cruise so much (Alaska Inside Passage) so much that I decided to try something a little more adventurous for our second cruise. So after 5 nights touring Rome on our own, we continued our adventure around the Western Med. I apologize for the lateness of this review; hopefully it will help anyone who is planning a similar itinerary for this coming October! Ship: Noordam was a lovely ship; gracious and genteel staff as always (a plus for me because anything that the moms, who are in their 80's, needed were quickly attended to by HAL's wonderful attendants. We had access to the Concierge Lounge -- another plus if you think you might need a bit of extra assistance. For us, booking the larger cabin was well worth the extra $. Cabin: The moms and I travel very well together so we all got along splendidly even though the idea of 3 women in one cabin might terrify some...! I slept on the sofa bed and found it very comfortable. The moms love HAL's great beds/linens. The only time the cabin was "tight" was when the sofa bed was open. I brought along a night-light in case anyone had to get up in the middle of the night, there would be no stubbed toes... When you book a Deluxe Verandah Suite, not only do you get the balcony (a great place to drink wine, play cards and watch the ever-changing scenery) but you also get both a shower and a tub. This was also a great safety feature for the moms -- showering on a slightly moving ship when you are any age, but especially when you are 80+, can be a neat trick. We had no mishaps and the moms felt perfectly steady the entire cruise. Ship Features: We had "late dining" so we didn't have to rush when getting back from a day in port. Worked out fine. Dinner companions were great; fun meeting people from all over. Food was consistently good; and typical of the professional and congenial HAL dining room staff -- ask them once for something and they have it waiting for you every night thereafter (Mom likes cranberry & tonic water with a lemon & lime; only had to ask for it the first night!) We usually ate breakfast in the Lido and had a light supper in the Lido one night when we'd had a late lunch in port and just weren't hungry enough to appreciate a dining room experience. Even though the offerings were mainly pasta and pizza that night, the cook happily fixed a sandwich for Mom just the way she liked it. We enjoyed cocktails (and BINGO!) in the Crow's Nest (ah, those recliners!), and also enjoyed the tour of the Noordam kitchen --I love watching how they create art from watermelon, pineapples, etc.! We had manicures, pedicures and hair appointments in the Greenhouse Spa one night before one of the "formal" dinners -- a little overpriced but a nice treat. Had our photos taken all over the ship at any time they were being taken -- and bought 'em all. Like I said, my goal was to create a memory for the moms that would last for the rest of their lives! Had lunch in the Pinnacle one day while we were "at sea." This was a lovely, relaxing experience -- so quiet and so special! Well worth the upcharge. Loved the coffee bar because no one makes coffee like a real Starbucks barrista and I would occasionally crave a Decaf Vanilla Latte...! The shows were fun; we did not see all of them but liked the singing/dancing "variety show" -- also took the tour backstage and met the kids who work so hard to entertain the guests. They were all great. Before you read my Port reviews, note that this Review format only allows me to review 6 ports but we actually stopped at 7 -- so i will tell you about our last port, Naples, here: Through my contact at Customized Italy (who helped me with the Rome part of our trip -- www.customizeditaly.com), I booked a car/driver who met us at the port and drove us to Sorrento for breakfast -- the best italian pastries and coffee ever, with a spectacular view of the sea -- and Vesuvius in the background! After touring the back roads and narrow streets of Sorrento, we boarded a hydrofoil for a quick trip to the Isle of Capri (the moms had always wanted to see Capri!) We were met in Capri by a taxi driver who was a friend of our limo driver/guide. He showed us all of Capri and Anacapri (while the moms channeled Jackie Kennedy...), including some amazing Roman ruins and gardens. And of course, the famous Faragolini rock formation. We ate lunch overlooking the harbor, and then caught the hydrofoil back to Naples. It was a long day and the moms were tired, but we had a great time! Read Less
Sail Date October 2009
Holland America's NOORDAM in the Southern Caribbean: A REVIEW and PORT GUIDE My wife and I are recently retired, in our 60's, and have cruised 21 times. We are not in the travel business and are not cruise experts, so I ... Read More
Holland America's NOORDAM in the Southern Caribbean: A REVIEW and PORT GUIDE My wife and I are recently retired, in our 60's, and have cruised 21 times. We are not in the travel business and are not cruise experts, so I apologize in advance for any errors or omissions in this review. Extensive photos of the Noordam and of some of the ports on our cruise are available on the internet at www.picasaweb.google.com/efschlenk . Click on the index photo for thumbnails of all the Noordam photos, then click on the slideshow option or click on individual thumbnails to enlarge them. There are far too many photos to include in this review, but they will give you an idea of what to expect on this beautiful ship. I shall begin this review with some general observations about the Noordam, then some details of our particular cruise experience, and then conclude with our suggestions for independent sightseeing at each of the ports we visited. I will highlight some topics in ALL CAPS so that you can skip to any areas of particular interest. THE SHIP This cruise, our third in 2008, was a 10 day Southern Caribbean itinerary in November on HAL's Noordam, the newest of HAL's four Vista class ships named after the points of the compass. This was one of the most enjoyable cruises we have experienced so far on any cruise line, and it was certainly the best value, in part due to a last minute cabin upgrade. We have enjoyed the ambience on previous HAL cruise ships. On the Noordam everything seemed even better, from the dEcor to the entertainment options to the dining. The service remains topnotch. More about all that later. At 82,000 tons and a full complement of 1,918 guests, the Noordam is an ideal size for us small enough to avoid the hassles of some mega-ships, but large enough to offer a variety of activities and venues, especially on days at sea. As a premium cruise line, HAL offers more of the larger verandah suites (three mid-ship decks worth) than mainstream cruise lines, so the ship seems less crowded (has a higher space ratio) than most. The Noordam's DECOR is more elegant and subdued than on the Zuiderdam, the first of the Vista class ships. The Noordam's public areas and staterooms should please cruisers wanting a refined and upscale, but still informal, experience. Again, visit the photo link given above to understand what I am talking about. One special aspect of HAL cruises is their fresh flower arrangements in public areas. These can be quite impressive. On this cruise we learned that a sub-contractor had two full-time staff creating and replenishing these arrangements every day. Even the dining tables in the Lido Buffet had orchids. Again, see the photo link above for examples. Innovations on the Noordam include an expansion of the LIBRARY and INTERNET center into a beautiful lounge area (Explorations Cafe) with comfortable leather chairs and an excellent collection of current books and magazines. Here one can also get loaner Ipods for a self-guided tour of the ship's surprisingly extensive ART COLLECTION, which ranges from classical to whimsical. Some of the art is even mounted on the ceilings, and we would have missed it were it not for this tour. Unfortunately the INTERNET SERVICE is as slow (satellite dependent) and unjustifiably expensive (75 US cents per minute, with some concessions when purchasing bulk usage) as on most other cruise lines. Some cruise lines have offered free internet access to their repeat cruisers (five or more cruises), but not HAL. We always have been able to find fast and reasonable (less than 10 US cents per minute) internet service in each of the Caribbean ports. Usually these are near the cruise piers, and locals are happy to direct you to them. Unfortunately several of the computerized MUSIC LISTENING STATIONS in this area were non-functional, and most of the remainder had poor headsets with only one earphone, so one hears one's favorites (the music menu is enormous) in one ear and ambient noise in the other ear, which makes no sense. Other cruise lines have opted out of this service, perhaps because it is difficult to maintain. The one operable dual headset I found was top quality and was a joy to use. The music listening chairs are so comfortable (the famous Eames chair) that library book readers sometimes fill them. Near the Explorations Cafe are meeting rooms for private groups and for informal Q&A SESSIONS WITH THE SHIP'S OFFICERS. We had never attended any of these before (the concept was new to us), but we found them very informative and entertaining. In one session the hotel manager answered questions from the audience. In one response he informed us that cabin stewards work in pairs for health reasons one does the "clean jobs" and the other does the potentially "dirty" ones, so that there is no cross-contamination. In general, the HYGIENE AND SAFETY STANDARDS (gels, hand wash signage, waiter service at buffet lines, etc.) on this cruise were the best we have seen on any cruise line. At another Q&A session the Noordam's chief ENVIRONMENTAL OFFICER showed us a video then answered questions about how regulations are met to keep the ship and the surrounding seas clean. With crew members, this ship is a city of about 3,000 people, and the environmental and waste management issues are impressive. We never realized, for example, that with a faltering world-wide economy recycling has become almost impossible because no one is willing to accept the recyclables for processing their market value is now too low to make it worthwhile economically. We highly recommend attending these OFFICERS Q&A SESSIONS. We found them the best part of the educational and enrichment programs onboard. There is also a professional lecturer onboard, but we attended only one of her lectures, on Caribbean marine life. Also new on the Noordam is the CULINARY ARTS CENTER, a small stage venue with a kitchen and closed circuit TV. During demonstrations the TV cameraman is a whiz at displaying close-ups of the chef's working area. The only negative, to our taste, was the use of non-culinary "sidekicks" to ask silly questions and otherwise interrupt the chef's instructions. The chefs are as talented as any on broadcast TV, and should be left alone to present their recipes and techniques. This area is also called the QUEENS LOUNGE and is used as a small stage venue for such activities as movies, lectures, and talent shows. The KARAOKE contests which took place here (the finals were in the large Vista theater) were absolutely a scream. We highly recommend seeing one or more of these friendly contests, especially the finals. Also on Deck 3 are the shopping center and photo gallery. SHOPPING is a major activity for many cruisers, and they seemed to enjoy the various sales available onboard during this cruise. In contrast, we are definitely not shoppers. My wife and I travel with one carry-on and no checked baggage wherever we go in the world, even on cruises like this. Yes, it can be done quite easily since three outfits (one formal, two casual), plus shorts, swim wear, and snorkel gear are all we need. Airline and other connections are so unreliable nowadays that this habit has come to our rescue many times. During the last year alone we have had seven missed connections, canceled flights, or involuntary re-routes out of a total of nine vacations. Having our airline carry-ons with us at all times has been a lifesaver. In any case, HAL supports shopping addicts (Emptor, ergo sum?) by providing a SHOPPING CONSULTANT, shopping lectures, and excellent maps for each port of call on this cruise. Fortunately, the maps also include good background information and sightseeing suggestions for non-shoppers. The PHOTO GALLERY is near the main dining room and provides an entertaining stop when one goes to dinner. As on most cruise ships, the photo prices are quite high, so we have rarely taken advantage of this service. Relatively few passengers on our cruise seemed interested in formal sittings. Watching formal night photo sessions, however, can be good entertainment, especially when one views the results the next day. The CROW'S NEST observation lounge is located on the top deck forward, and provides a nice retreat with forward facing recliners and huge windows to watch the scenery as one approaches ports. This area is also used for various meetings and activities, including the daily TEAM TRIVIA challenge. This is a low-key contest where everyone wins a prize ("Dam dollars" which can be traded for small prizes at the end of the cruise) just for showing up. When done with good humor, as on HAL, this activity can be great fun and is a nice way to meet new friends (we joined a new team each session that we attended). Just below the Crow's nest is the GYM AND SPA facility. Unfortunately, as on most cruise ships, 10% of the people (those who pay for spa services) get 90% of the space. The other 90% of the people are crowded into the 10% of the space where free exercise equipment is available. This equipment is very popular, even among older cruisers. The major problem we have with almost all shipboard gyms is the noise. The exercise classes, with their over-amped music, are held in the gym area. Since gym rats who want music have their own tunes (Ipods, Walkmen, and the gym's personal TVs), the booming music during classes and throughout the day is intrusive as bad as second hand smoke. Only ear plugs and early work-outs (0600) provide reasonable quiet in these gyms. HAL is better than most in this regard, but could be even better. In spite of the noise, the SPA STAFF are friendly, and cruisers seemed to appreciate their services. In addition to the usual spa and salon services, there is a daily charge for the hydrotherapy pool. The sauna is free and is conveniently located near the swimming pool. There are two freshwater SWIMMING POOLS with adjacent HOT TUBS, one mid-ship with a retractable roof, and the other aft. Both are better for soaking than for lap swims, but both are enjoyable. Mid-mornings are especially nice since there is no music or entertainment poolside, which makes this a great time for quiet relaxing. Unfortunately HAL cruisers, like most others, can be POOL PIGS. They "reserve" pool chairs by placing open towels and personal debris on them, then wander off for an hour or two of other activities before returning to use the chairs. One morning when I was up early I saw this behavior even before the overnight safety nets had been removed from the pools. Another time I saw only one occupied chair in a front row of fifteen chairs that all had used towels or personal debris. The pool was empty at the time. The HAL pool staff are too polite to correct this situation, but should be trained to do so. One feature of HAL ships enjoyed by all active cruisers is their full wrap-around promenade decks. These are especially appreciated by those with inside cabins. Traditional wooden deck chairs are available on this promenade, and they were well-used on our cruise. For those who enjoy walking this circuit, HAL went one step further by sponsoring a 5K "Walk for the Cure". For a $15 donation passengers received a cancer awareness T-shirt and wristband. The remaining (tax-deductible) proceeds went to support cancer research. In addition to the options listed above, ENTERTAINMENT comes in many varieties to satisfy a wide variety of tastes. The main (Vista) show lounge has good acoustics and sightlines, and HAL fortunately does not over-amplify its shows. The shows are loud, but not painfully so. Unfortunately, HAL amplifies some shows, like the piano recitals, which should not be. The SINGERS AND DANCERS on our cruise did a fine job. We usually do not enjoy Broadway style production numbers, so we are not the best critics, but we were impressed with the young talent and the high production values (costumes, technical support, etc.) that we saw here. A Q&A session with the cast was available one afternoon, and it proved to be fun and informative. We did not catch the lounge acts on our cruise and did not hear any comments, good or bad, about them. There is a small but very good DANCE BAND that plays every evening in the Ocean Bar adjacent to the atrium. This provides music to several decks, but leaves little space for a dance floor, which is in the smoking area next to the bar. We enjoyed an occasional dance here anyway, usually before dinner. Once they removed some furniture obstructing the dance floor, the dance floor was rarely crowded. There are two good pianists who play in the piano lounge (nostalgic classics and name-those-tunes, I believe), the Ocean Bar (dancing), and the Crow's Nest (relaxing). In addition, there was a classically trained pianist from Las Vegas who gave two concerts incorporating popular classics (Chopin) with works he composed himself. Near the main dining room in the Explorers' Lounge was a talented string quartet (from Hungary I believe) which played light classics in a near marathon all evening (I admire their stamina). This provided the wonderful option to listen to fine music while waiting for dinner companions or enjoying an after dinner drink. For late night revelers, the Crow's Nest provided dance options, as did the Northern Lights night club. As I mentioned earlier, the Noordam is large enough to offer entertainment options for almost every taste. OUR CRUISE We booked a STANDARD VERANDAH (balcony) cabin several months in advance, for the bargain rate of $110 US per person, per day (pppd) including port charges, taxes, and shipboard credits. Only HAL's $11 pppd charge for tips was extra. This represents an exceptional value, perhaps because November is relatively low season for Caribbean cruises, especially in the current economic downturn. We met quite a few Britons and Canadians on this cruise who said that they were glad they booked before the recent drop in their currencies (against the dollar, which is the cruise line currency), and would not have booked the cruise after the devaluation. An unexpected bonus came shortly before our cruise two upgrade offers that our Pavlus Travel agent received from HAL. First, for an additional $500 pp, we could upgrade to a category SA, SB, or SC DELUXE VERANDAH SUITE. These cabins are twice as wide as standard verandah cabins, and have about 500 square feet of space including the verandah. We did not need that much space and declined this offer. A few days later we were offered an upgrade to a category SS, SY, or SZ SUPERIOR VERANDAH SUITE for an additional $98 pp. These are one and a half times as wide as standard verandah cabins, and have about 400 square feet of space. They include double sinks, double showers, and a whirlpool bath tub. They also include a comfortable sitting area with a couch and two chairs inside, and both dining and lounging areas outside on the verandah. Of course, we accepted this offer in a heartbeat. This cabin proved to be one of the nicest we have ever had about as large as the suites we have experienced on small luxury ships, but at a third of the price. Our suite on the Noordam was so enjoyable that we spent much of our time just enjoying our unexpected private luxury. Because AIRLINES can be unreliable, especially in winter, we booked our own flights, flew to Ft. Lauderdale a day in advance, rented a car for local sightseeing, and spent a night in a motel. We stayed at a modest but nicely renovated motel, America's Best Inn, just off Highway 1 halfway between the FLL airport and cruise port. The rooms are small (about the size of a standard cruise cabin) but efficient, with a refrigerator, microwave, iron, coffee maker, and LCD TV. Each room has one queen bed, and baths have showers rather than tubs. A continental breakfast is included in the rate. At $55 per night plus tax for two, we found this a great bargain. The immediate area does not have walking access to shops or restaurants, but even with taxi rides this is a far cheaper pre-cruise option than most hotels in the area. To get an idea whether this option fits your style, check the internet for reviews and further information. While in Ft. Lauderdale, we avoided the main beach (parking $10 according to the signs) and visited two very nice state parks instead. Hugh Taylor Birch SP is north of town on the beach and near the Galleria Mall. John U. Lloyd SP is south of town directly across from Port Everglades, with a huge beach and excellent views across the waterway of the Noordam. For children the south end of this park also offers great views of incoming and departing FLL jets. In years past we have enjoyed the all day water taxi service in Ft. Lauderdale, which offers great views of the city, elegant homes, and large yachts. This time we had only two half-days, so we skipped this option. EMBARKATION was a breeze. We dropped off our rental car near the cruise port rather than the airport (check with your rental company if they offer this option), and then we took their free (plus tip) shuttle to the ship. TAXIS can be a problem between the airport and cruise port. If you arrive at or leave from the cruise port by taxi, make sure that your driver uses the most direct route between FLL and the cruise port usually the west entrance on 24th St., just off Highway 1. Some taxi drivers will take a roundabout route or use the north entrance (off 17th St.) to pad their fares. For example, when we disembarked this cruise, our taxi driver pretended not to know the direct route back to the airport and tried several times to turn north, even though there were huge signs to the airport all along 24th St. He also "forgot" that we had bags in his trunk, even though he picked us up at the cruise ship. (Having learned our lesson in Buenos Aires, one of us always remains inside the cab until the bags are unloaded from a cab's trunk). Our direct route taxi fare for two without excess baggage between FLL and the cruise port was $11.30 plus tip (we did not short the driver in spite of his disingenuous behavior). When we arrived at the cruise port, we had to wait only a few minutes until a CHECK-IN agent was available to imprint our credit cards and give us our key cards. We had pre-printed our boarding passes on HAL's web site, as had most passengers. There was an express line for category SC suites and above. Our SY suite did not qualify, but the regular lines moved so quickly that it made no difference. An embarkation LUNCH was available at the Lido buffet, and hand baggage could be checked until 1:30 pm, when the cabins were ready for occupancy. This is a pleasant contrast with some small luxury ships, which charge an extra $150 per person for early boarding and lunch on embarkation day. Our cabin has been described above. It was located mid-ship on the port side, which turned out to be the "port" side at most stops on this cruise. It gave us pleasant views over the islands and harbors while we were docked, and added drama to the arrivals and departures. This itinerary featured four (of ten) days at sea, which we thoroughly enjoyed. My wife is a late sleeper and enjoys room service breakfast on the verandah. I am an early riser, so I took advantage of the quiet time at the gym, had a light breakfast at the Lido buffet, then joined her for a second breakfast when she woke up. We usually ate in the Vista (main) dining room at lunch and dinner. Because we enjoy the OPEN SEATING on small luxury ships, we opted for this new option on the Noordam. On previous HAL cruises we have always enjoyed our fixed seating tablemates, but this gave us a chance to meet new people and hear new stories every day. There was never a wait for the open seating option at lunch, and at dinner the line was short and moved quickly. Those who want a specific dining time or a particular table size can make reservations, but we never bothered to do this. The FINE DINING in the Vista dining room was the highlight of our cruise. The imaginative menus, the artistic presentations, and the generally excellent preparation of quality ingredients was the best we had ever had on a premium or mainstream cruise, and it often was equal to what we have experienced on luxury cruises. In our opinion, the Noordam is second to none in fine dining. We were a bit worried at first, because the sesame encrusted snapper on the first night was tough and over-cooked, and the rack of lamb on the second night was not available rare. After that, however, the fish were cooked to perfection and the meats were rare when we wanted them to be. The appetizers were often so tempting that sometimes we chose two and skipped the soup or salad course. The soups were inventive, usually two hot and savory and one chilled and sweet. The salads featured a nice variety of fresh and tender greens, with no iceberg lettuce or other fillers. If one did not find a main course one wanted, the off-menu salmon or strip steak were always good alternatives. Vegetarian options were always available, but we did not try them. The desserts, as usual, were delightful, and were served in portions small enough that sampling more than one never left one feeling guilty. The Vista dining room did such a fine job, in fact, that we never sampled the Pinnacle Grill, the ALTERNATIVE RESTAURANT (surcharged $10 pp at lunch when open, $20 pp at dinner). We have enjoyed the Pinnacle Grill on other HAL ships. On this cruise we thought we might request rare rack of lamb at the Pinnacle since it was not available at the Vista, but only lamb chops were available and no substitutions were allowed. This is the one advantage of luxury ships the smaller kitchens allow greater flexibility. The LIDO BUFFET was a pleasure each time we sampled it, usually at breakfast or when the Vista dining room was closed. We generally skipped the main buffet lines, which other passengers said were good, and chose made-to-order items from the smaller specialty stations such as waffles, omelets, pasta, Asian stir-fry, deli sandwiches, or salad bars. One impressive aspect of the Lido buffet is that most foods are served by stewards, and all self-service silverware is refreshed frequently, minimizing the health risks of shared utensils. In addition to this, we always use the hand gels or washrooms between buffet line and table when cruising. Although we did not try it on this cruise, several friends recommended the dinner service at the Lido. The tables are covered in linen and meals are served by stewards, as in the main dining room. We have found this a nice quiet option on other ships. On the Noordam the two deck Vista dining room has a relatively small atrium, so it was never too noisy to converse we never felt the need to find a quieter dinner venue. DINING SERVICE, even with our open seating option, was always smooth, efficient, and very professional. Fixed seating has some advantages if one has particular drink or other preferences, but having a different waiter and assistant waiter each night was a pleasure for us they all were well trained and responsive to our requests. CABIN SERVICE was also top notch. Our cabin stewards were rarely visible, but somehow they always managed to clean and refresh the cabin and bathroom whenever we were gone. They provided additional entertainment each evening by folding towels into amusing animal shapes, which were waiting on our bed with chocolates after dinner each night. ROOM SERVICE also did a good job. One can order from the regular restaurant menu at dinner time (we did not). Hot foods are never as hot when delivered as when served in a dining room, but we enjoyed our room service breakfasts. CONCIERGE SERVICE was available by phone in our suite category, and is available in person in the Neptune lounge on deck seven for higher category suites. The phone concierge always responded promptly and answered my few questions well. As mentioned above, HAL has now instituted an AUTOMATIC TIPPING policy, in which $11 pppd is charged to one's shipboard account. Of this, I was told that 35% goes to cabin stewards, 35% to dining stewards, and the remaining 30% to the workers "behind the scenes" who add to one's cruise enjoyment. Any amounts given directly to crew members are supposed to be turned into these pools. I was also told, however, that amounts above the automatic charges could be kept by individual crew members. We usually tip more than the standard amount, so we added $5 pppd in the form of direct cash to the room stewards and our maitre d', and a supplement to the charges on our shipboard account for the open seating dining stewards. DISEMBARKATION was also a breeze. HAL has instituted new policies allowing those with little baggage, which they can carry off the ship themselves, to receive priority disembarkation. The ship was cleared a little before 0800, and priority disembarkation occurred about 30 minutes after this. Airline schedules to our regional airport have been pruned back so much that we had only one option for our homebound flight, and it departed in the afternoon. Those passengers, like us, in no rush are allowed to remain in their cabins until last call, which occurs between 0930 and 1000. Instead of constant announcements, disembarking passengers are simply given a 15 minute time window in which they are to report to the gangway and leave the ship. These new policies make for a wonderfully smooth and quiet disembarkation process. IN SUMMARY, this was one of the best quality, most enjoyable, and most reasonably priced cruises we have ever had the pleasure of taking. We definitely will put HAL at the top of our list when we plan our next cruise. Unfortunately, the January 2009 HAL cruise that we just tried to reserve on our return home is already sold out! PORTS OF CALL Our cruise called at Aruba, Curacao, Dominica, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay before returning to Ft. Lauderdale. We almost always prefer to explore ports of call independently rather than book excursions in advance. Most ports offer nice alternatives to the ship sponsored tours, and most Caribbean ports offer good and inexpensive public transportation. That being said, this was the first cruise where we had less than optimal luck ashore. We were glad we had a suite as a fallback option. In ARUBA we simply walk across the street from the cruise port to the local bus station. Buses leave every 15 minute and travel northbound along the west coast to the hotel district (the Marriott is the main destination). A few buses each hour continue farther to Malmok, which is a convenient area for offshore snorkeling. There are a few pocket sized beaches with shade umbrellas nearby. From the Malmok bus terminus one can walk 10 minutes farther north along the coast to Arashi Beach, which is one of the nicest on the island for frolicking in the water. We have even met several Marriott guests who drive to Arashi, preferring it to the hotel beaches along the way. Hurricane Omar in 2008 has taken a good deal of sand away, but Arashi still has more than enough left. A new parking lot is being built there, which means this beach may become more crowded in the future. When returning to the ship it is worthwhile walking the ten minutes back to the Malmok bus stop. There is Arashi bus service, but it is unpredictable. We think some drivers running behind schedule do not go to the Arashi end of their route. The cost of a perfect beach day? About $2.50 US round trip on the public bus. Before boarding the ship, stop at the internet shop one block south the of the cruise port entrance. It is about 10 cents US per minute for rapid and reliable connections. The storefront is visible, and locals can also direct you. On our cruise it rained until early afternoon, so our beach stay was limited to two hours. In CURACAO the main attraction is the quaint and colorful waterfront. This is a photographers dream (again, see the photo link given at the beginning of this review). If one gets off the ship soon after docking, one can walk through the old fort, cross the floating bridge (retractable), and watch the floating market before it becomes crowded. Unfortunately, Curacao beaches are not readily accessible by public bus. Friends on our cruise took a taxi to Thiel Bay (about $30) and said the snorkeling there was good, with sea snakes and other unusual sights. One local recommended a small beach called Sonesta, which is a shorter taxi ride from town. We opted for a bus ride to the far end of the island (West Point route or Lagun and Knip Bay route). Either route costs about $3 US and takes an hour each way. We were told that beaches are available within walking distance of the ends of these routes, but one has to leave town early (0900 for West Point or 0830 for Knip Bay) to have beach time before returning, since buses leave only once every two or three hours. The bus yard is just a few blocks from the cruise port (due west of the floating bridge). There is a booth for bus tickets, which accepts US cash and gives change in local currency (bring singles). Because we had spent most of our morning in town, we opted to stay on the bus at mid-day and just sightsee, to make certain we made it back to the boat in time. Our driver was great fun she had the most elegant manicure we have ever seen, but she drove the huge bus like a Formula One. In DOMINICA we usually take the minibus to the southern end of the island at Scotts Head. This costs about $2 US and takes about 30 minutes. Minibuses leave every 15 minutes or so (when full) from an area about two blocks inland from the cruise port. Scotts Head offers very nice offshore snorkeling, with clear water and a good drop-off. The snorkel point is a short walk beyond the minibus stop, in the bay at the base of the hill. After snorkeling, a walk on the trail to the top of the hill gives beautiful views back to the ship in the far distance. Unfortunately, this was the first time we were on Dominica on a Sunday, and everything, including buses, was shut down. Some taxi drivers were willing to take us to Scotts Head and wait there for us, but they wanted from $60 to $150 for this service, and since we had done this often enough before, we were not willing to pay so much. We enjoyed our suite instead. In ST. THOMAS we docked at the Crown Point yacht harbor rather than the usual Havensight pier and mall area. This made us very happy because it is walking distance to our favorite USVI option the 1030 ferry from Tickles restaurant to Water Island. A short walk on Water Island brings one to the usually quiet and serene Honeymoon Beach. The ferry costs $10 US pp round trip less than a roundtrip taxi ride almost anywhere else on the island. Unfortunately, this beach has recently been discovered by local tour companies. What used to be an empty stretch of sand as long as a football field now has one or two tour groups visiting each day. It is still beautiful, but no longer offers a great advantage over popular Magens Bay. For those interested in shopping, taxis have set prices and cost only a dollar or two more than they would from Havensight into town or to beaches. On HALF MOON CAY, HAL's private island, a new larger tender service moves hundreds of people at a time between the ship and the private beach. The downside is that if one is traveling against the flow (early or late) one has to wait as the entire group passes through security. This means that some transfers can take more than 30 minutes, so plan accordingly. The beach is one of the nicest in the Caribbean, with unbelievably fine white sand and good tree shade. It is not necessary to rent a cabana or shade shell, which are at the crowded near end of the beach anyway. A (free) beach barbecue and various (surcharged) activities including horseback riding are available here. Snorkeling is not very good off shore because this beach is largely sandy with no coral, so plan on just enjoying the sun and surf while here. A short walk along the shoreline will take you away from the crowds. Because I was worried about sand and security, I did not take my camera ashore except on Curacao (our first time there) and Half Moon Cay. Again, photos are available at www.picasaweb.google.com/efschlenk . Happy cruising! Read Less
Sail Date November 2008
Noordam Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.3
Dining 4.0 4.0
Entertainment 4.0 3.5
Public Rooms 4.0 4.4
Fitness Recreation 3.0 3.8
Family 2.0 3.8
Shore Excursion 3.0 3.6
Enrichment 4.0 3.6
Service 4.0 4.3
Value For Money 3.0 3.9
Rates 4.0 4.3

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