The Vista Lounge (Decks 1 through 3, forward) showcases a resident cast performing the usual song-and-dance numbers that are a staple of cruise ship entertainment. Enormous, dynamic LED screens that make backdrops astoundingly clear and almost three-dimensional give production shows added zing. Guest performers include comedians and musical acts. The lounge is a comfortable venue with plush, roomy seats and excellent sightlines from the main floor and the balconies.
As on many cruises, a number of activities on the daily roster are really sales opportunities (acupuncture consultations, gaming lessons and the ubiquitous art action). Expect the typical array of shipboard diversions: team trivia contests, bingo, and instruction on folding towels into animal shapes. If you don't want to learn how to make your own towel animal menagerie, never fear -- a different critter will be waiting on your bed each night.
HAL has partnered with Food & Wine magazine in offering cooking shows on most days. It's not hands-on instruction, but passengers can watch a live demonstration in a show kitchen and take home recipe cards. Demos take place in the Culinary Arts Center on Deck 2 and often have a destination theme, such as lamingtons on Australia and New Zealand sailings.
One of the more entertaining activities -- whether you're a participant or spectator -- is HAL's Dancing with the Stars at Sea program. Volunteers get instruction in various dances and compete for a shot at the championship on the final night of the cruise. Top competitors can go on to win a free cruise.
The Explorations Cafe has a fairly extensive library, including lots of large-print editions and an impressive selection of guide books. Comfy armchairs and foot stools and a view of the Promenade Deck make it a nice place to hang out. Backgammon, chess, jigsaw puzzles and board games also are on loan. Regular social games of bridge, Yahtzee, backgammon, chess and the like take place here or in the nearby Stuyvesant Room and are listed in On Location, the daily activities program.
On Alaska cruises, a National Park Service ranger boards the ship at Glacier Bay to talk about the flora, fauna and geology of the region. Commentary is also provided on Australia and New Zealand sailings as the ship travels through Milford Sound. Waiters circulate on deck distributing hot pea soup during scenic cruising in Alaska and New Zealand, another HAL tradition. On New Zealand sailings there are also Maori-themed activities, including a traditional welcome and the chance to play old-style Maori games that were originally used to improve the hand-eye coordination needed for hand-to-hand battle.
The Culinary Arts Center, aka the Queen's Lounge, screens movies on some afternoons.
B.B. King's Blues Club on Deck 2 (a multi-use space that also serves as the Queen's Lounge and the Culinary Arts Center by day), gets a groove on when the B.B. King's Blues Club All-Star Band takes the stage, three times nightly on most evenings, to belt out high-energy funk, soul, rock 'n' roll and blues. It's the most dynamic entertainment onboard and a good spot for a lively, late-night drink. The club closes around midnight.
The casino has the usual table games (poker, blackjack, craps and roulette), plus 126 slot machines. Most nights, it's a busy, noisy place.
Noordam Bars and Lounges
Passengers seem more inclined to settle in with a good book than dance until dawn in the disco. Small, intimate lounges scattered throughout the ship tend to encourage quiet contemplation and reading rather than late-night revelry.
Atrium Bar (Deck 1, midship): The small bar near the front desk is open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. It hosts events such as mixology classes and cocktail sampling (for a fee).
Piano Bar (Deck, 2, midship): One of the most popular -- and liveliest -- venues on our sailing, the piano bar drew a crowd of loyal regulars who gathered around the baby grand to unleash their inner crooners. It's open from 7.30 p.m. until late.
Explorer's Lounge (Deck 2, aft): Adagio, a violin-piano duo, performs classical music to pre- and after-dinner audiences four times each night.
Queen's Lounge/B.B. King's Blues Club (Deck 2, midship): The B.B. King's Blues Club All-Star Band performs three shows most nights. During the day, the space hosts more-staid events like cooking demonstrations and religious services.
Sports Bar (Deck 2, midship): The small bar just off the casino is divided into two distinct areas and open early until late. It's surprisingly quiet, considering the TV screens are tuned to sports.
Northern Lights (Deck 2, midship): The dance venue was never particularly busy on our sailing. The two-room space, one with banquettes and the other dominated by a dance floor, has happy-hour pricing from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Ocean Bar (Deck 3 midship): The space surrounds the ship's atrium on its upper level. On Alaska sailings, the house band performs ballroom and other music for pre-dinner cocktails and dancing, however this venue was fairly quiet on our Australia and New Zealand cruise. Happy hour is from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Sea View Bar (Deck 9, aft): The outdoor bar is next to the Sea View Pool at the rear of the ship and is open early until late.
Lido Bar (Deck 9, poolside): The popular poolside bar hosts beer tastings (for a fee) and is open from early until 9 p.m.
Crow's Nest (Deck 10, forward): The best spot for a panoramic view, the large room is packed during happy hour (from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.). It's a popular gathering place for cruisers traveling in groups. You might need to arrive early to get a seat during happy hour, unless bingo is on, in which case it will be noticeably quieter.
Noordam Outside Recreation
Noordam has two pools, both on Deck 9. The largest, the Lido Pool, with its centerpiece leaping-dolphins sculpture, has a retractable roof that makes it a popular spot in cool-weather venues. It has three adjoining hot tubs. The Sea View Pool is at the ship's rear and is surrounded by a shallow area that makes it a good bet for small children. Deck chairs here offer nice sea views. The pool also has two, small elevated hot tubs. Covered areas have dining tables and are a particularly nice spot for lunch.
Deck 11 is equipped with an outdoor sports court for basketball and volleyball. Several Ping-Pong tables are on Deck 9 near the Lido Pool, and shuffleboard is on Deck 10, aft.
Lounge chairs on the Promenade (Deck 3) face an outdoor walkway that circles the ship. And on Deck 10, the observation deck at the ship's rear is a quiet place to enjoy the view.
Deck 11 has private cabanas for rent. However, now the ship no longer sails in the Caribbean, and whether these stay onboard remains to be seen. The cabanas did not appear to be used at all during our Australia and New Zealand cruise, despite some pleasantly warm weather. For those who do want to rent a cabana, these cost US$45 on port days, US$75 on sea days and US$299 for a seven-day package. Cabanas are equipped with two loungers, a table and chairs. Amenities in the area, which is exclusive to cabana renters, include light breakfast and healthy lunch options, a fruit basket, chilled water, a glass of sparkling wine, bathrobes, ice cream and chocolate-dipped strawberries in the afternoon, mineral-water misters and a 20 percent spa discount on port days.
The business of cruising -- settling accounts, booking shore excursions and future cruises, etc. -- takes place near the atrium on Deck 1. A medical center is one deck below on Deck A. Its hours are 8 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. There's a fee for most services.
On Deck 2 is the art gallery, scene of art appreciation seminars and seemingly nonstop art auctions.
Explorations Cafe (Deck 3, midship) occupies two adjoining rooms with computers that enable free access to the New York Times. Internet rates are 75 cents per minute, with a one-time US$3.95 activation fee. Discounted packages are available, starting at US$55 for 100 minutes.
Deck 3 also houses the photo gallery, where you can peruse the results of the voracious ship photographers' labors (and make a purchase, if you like). The passenger photo competition on our Australia and New Zealand cruise generated an enthusiastic response and some good shots on display for judging. The Shopping Arcade is here, too, featuring high-end jewelry purveyor Merabella and other venues selling watches, designer bags, some clothing and sundries.
There's no self-service laundry, but dry-cleaning and laundry services are available for a fee.