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Holland America Line: Noordam

Fodorite Reviews

Average Rating
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Jan 17, 2017

SYDNEY TO VANCOUVER

MS NOORDAM 8 APRIL 2016 TRANSPACIFIC VOYAGE FROM SYDNEY TO VANCOUVER via Noumea, Tade (Loyalty Islands), Mystery Island (Vanuatu), Lautoka (Fiji), Dravuni Island (Fiji), Pago Pago (American Samoa), Honolulu (Hawaii), Victoria (British Columbia) and finally Vancouver some 24 days later. The ship was built in 2006 and is in reasonably good shape with evidence of some refurbishment having the impact of showing up those areas not being

updated. It seems to be quite a hotchpotch of design and doesn't seem to blend together all that well. It is not unpleasant but one wonders if it could have been a lot better. Its sister ship the Oosterdam by comparison seems to be a far more elegant ship. We chose verandah stateroom 7138 at the rear of the ship which has a double depth balcony. A good size with full bath (but not overly generous vanity space) and all in pretty good order. The lack of any real desk space was a bit of a drawback if you wished to use your laptop etc., although there were plenty of spots elsewhere throughout the ship. There are any number of pleasant bars throughout the ship with cocktails/ drinks around $US7 (plus 15% surcharge). Entertainment is provided in a number of these venues as well. There is also free coffees/teas available in the Lido area. If you are after a better quality coffee then the Explorations Cafe is the place for around $US3 (plus 15%) which includes a small cake or biscuit. This cafe area is another example on this ship of very poorly designed floorspace with it becoming a monumental challenge to take your full cup of coffee through the most tightly arranged seats. The idea of locating it within the library is hard to fathom. The library shelves are spread across two rooms with large comfortable chairs located up against the shelves making it difficult to actually view or access the books. Partly the reason for this no doubt is to accommodate as many computer screens in between as possible (and generate maximum revenue) but it does little if anything to provide a pleasant library or cafe experience. Food services aboard Noordam are provided at a number of locations. The Lido Buffet is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner until 8pm and serves a reasonably good range of product. The Main Dining Room permits "As You Wish" dining where you can vary the time you eat or you can go the "Fixed Seating" arrangement which is either 6pm or 8pm. The meals in the Dining Room were good and on occasion very good but never excellent. The continuing cost cutting within this industry is being reflected in any number of areas of the ship's operation and you have to think that it will eventually have a negative impact on future sales. We had previously sailed on the Oosterdam and dined in the Pinnacle Grill which was an experience to remember. For that reason we booked a night at the Pinnacle Grill on Noordam for US$58 (plus 15%). Any hope of having a similar experience on Noordam was quickly abandoned on entering the restaurant itself which was a first class disappointment decorwise which seemed to fit in with the rest of the ship sadly. Oosterdam's Pinnacle Grill was quite stunning and made you feel as though you were in a high class restaurant and its food and service was just as impressive. For some unfathomable reason there seemed to be no real effort on Noordam to make this a special experience in respect of the decor or the food. Certainly not worth the surcharge !!! Entertainment was provided in a number of bars and lounges and was generally of a good standard. The feature acts in the main Vista Lounge were certainly of the better category. A jazz band proved popular in the BB King Lounge. The Vista Lounge was rather poorly decorated for a main public room with rather dated fabric on the back of the chairs and the sound system seemed somewhat out of kilter in terms of balance and volume. It nevertheless provided a number of good nights entertainment. The ship has two swimming pools one of which has a retractable roof - both are heated to 30 degrees Centigrade and are well maintained with plenty of deck chairs, towels etc., as well as co-located bars. If you really want to get away from it all you can always go the Observation Deck where there are also deckchairs. For those who prefer the shade there are the old style sleeper lounges on the Promenade Deck - good spot to take in the fresh air and read a good book before dozing off !!! At a number of ports we had to utilise the ship's tender boats which were very stable compared to some we have travelled in the past and were most efficiently and courteously managed. Had occasion to use the ship's medical unit due to us both picking up a rather severe chest infection on board after leaving Pago Pago. They provided excellent, caring service and after the initial consultation rang a number of times to check up on us - most impressed !!! The one thing that stands out on this ship is the CREW AND THE LEVEL OF SERVICE . They are quietly efficient and keen to assist and go out of their way - the best feature of the cruise. Our stateroom stewards Dadang and Kurnia were just so professional, friendly and obliging with nothing being too much despite the huge workload. The same applies to our two dining room stewards Sep and Mohammed to whom nothing was a problem and always service with a smile. Not to be outdone was Widi on the toaster machine who has the most engaging personality and is always so courteous and helpful. Whilst these are the individuals we have had the most contact with all the staff seem to be of similar mould and provide a very pleasant ambience in which to travel. OVERALL : The ship seems to lend itself to some major makeover in terms of some cohesion and functionality in design. A few attractive touches are more than overawed by the remainder. The food appears to have declined in range and quality which was for so long the hallmark on Holland America. The Pinnacle Grill needs a complete rethink to offer anywhere near the experience available on the Oosterdam. Entertainment was good to great only hampered by the Vista sound system. Its greatest strength is its crew who are some of the best at sea and that can count for a considerable amount on a long voyage. IMPROVE THE MENU, THE DECOR AND THE LAYOUT and it could be as good as Oosterdam. In its present state it would rate 4 stars.

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Jul 1, 2014

Departing Barcelona

After arriving in Barcelona and getting ready for an 11 night cruise, we are off to a very rough start. Food was fair. Seems to be bland and unseasoned so as to not affect the stomachs of the primarily more senior clientele. The stateroom, a small but otherwise clean Deluxe Verandah would have been fine if the air conditioning had been working. The cabin stewards assigned to our stateroom aren't quite at the level of their contemporaries

on the Amsterdam. The Barcelona highlights tour that we took today allowed us to see a beautiful city. Unfortunately, the tour guide kept very frenetic pace in very hard to understand English. If we had to do it all over again, we would have done the hop on, hop off city sightseeing tour bus. Ship: Holland America's ms Noordam Sailing from Barcelona, Spain on July 1, 2014 - 11 Nights. How to open the show on a very, very poor performance. Yesterday we boarded the ms Noordam in Barcelona, and are scheduled to spend the first full day after boarding still in port in Barcelona. As past mariners as part of the Holland America program, we have come to expect a consistent quality of service no matter what ship we choose to cruise on, but perhaps we have been spoiled since first sailing on the ms Amsterdam last year. Unfortunately, apparently all crews are clearly not trained to or operate at the same standards. When we first arrived into our Deluxe Verandah stateroom (4123), we thought that the room seemed hot. After adjusting the air conditioning as low as it could go and attempting to call the guest services lines and experiencing 20+ minute hold times, we decided to go to the front desk to ask them to assist. We were told that they would open a service ticket and that no one would even need to come to our room. A long time later, Mary Grace from the front desk came to our stateroom with a digital thermometer and decided that the minimal output from our air conditioning unit was putting out air at 74 degrees Fahrenheit (23.5 C), stated that it wasn't working correctly, and that it would be fixed. She suggested that we open the door to the Verandah. For air conditioning to work, it should clearly be coming out cooler than the intended room temperature. After over 24 hours in port, they still have not repaired the air conditioning. When we spoke with Alex at the front desk after this 24 hour delay, we were told that he saw that a service ticket had been opened, but that he also saw that nothing had been done. Not only had nothing been done, but Alex at the Front Desk really seemed totally apathetic and non-caring as he told us to go back to our room and wait for them to call. Alex told us that it would be another hour waiting in the room for something to happen as he would have to speak to his supervisor, who would then have to speak to their supervisor, who would then speak to the assistant facility manager. Apparently the desk staff is not empowered to meet guest's needs, which is another cause for concern when booking a cruise with this vessel. As we get back to the room to wait for the service that may or may not come, we find out that our scheduled stop in Marseilles has been cancelled due to a labor issue and we are going to be redirected to an alternate/back up port. Ironically there was a taxi strike in Barcelona yesterday that affected arrivals to the ship, but strangely enough we heard nothing from Holland America to tell us to expect these taxi issues affecting arrivals. Would it have been that hard to contact the passengers via their preferred communications channels with a simple message? Is this the Noordam's idea of customer service? I'm sure others have had perfectly enjoyable cruises on the Noordam, however, so far, we are not impressed in the least. I understand that issues happen with labor disputes and with the ship's infrastructure, but a caring crew would attempt to accommodate and address these issues. Oh well I guess we are in the market for another Holland America ship that does seem to care, and barring that, we will then find another cruise line that understands that good enough“ isn't.

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By Sue_CR

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May 31, 2014

Western Mediterranean

I took an 11-day (5/18-5/29) cruise on Noordam of Holland America that was scheduled to stop at Tunis, Tunisia, the only port I hadn't been. It was at sea on 5/20. I left my iPhone on the hand dryer in the handicapped bathroom outside the ship gym. 40 minutes later, it was gone. Yes, my own FAULT for being forgetful!!! My daughter (a first-year college student) was going to travel alone in China, learning the language.

I have all the apps and info on the phone to stay in touch with her (I speak Chinese), and to make sure she is safe in the country. The ship staff, other than searching my stateroom, told me to wait until it was turned in. At my repeated requests, the cruise director mentioned once on his daily TV chat "if you lose something, go to the front desk. If you find something, return to the front desk." Most people, including myself, didn't hear this. With extreme worry and stress, I developed an acute infection, and begged for some sort of public message-a desperate plea (a half-page flyer) at my own expense and work for the return of the phone. Whoever got it may not know how much the phone meant to me; and the phone maybe totally useless for him/her. I felt the need to let the person know. It might just be a kid who picked the phone up. But the hotel director criticized me for being accusatory when I said the ship could do more to help. And the security head told me that 'your daughter will be ok'. I requested to see the captain but was told he couldn't see me. I understand that a cruise ship could not make an announcement for everyone who loses something. But should an exception be made when a smart phone, with so much info on it, was missing at a public area? No security camera was available. My daughter is still struggling in China. The phone is on airplane mode. Captain announced the cancellation to Tunis only the night before the ship was supposed to visit there.

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Mar 6, 2013

SOUTHERN CARIBBEAN

Dinning room seating: Negative When we booked initially, we were unable to get first seating (5:45) and were wait listed. Our travel agent suggested we try back on the day the final portion of the fare was due, which we did. We were able to obtain first seating (and it was reflected on the web site.) When we did the original submission of our documents to check in, 1st seating was displayed. About five days before sailing we went to print

more luggage tags and noticed we had been re-assigned to open seating for dinner. We called Holland America Line and were told there was nothing they could do and we would have to call our travel agent, which we did. After spending close to an hour on the phone with our travel agent, we were able to again have 1st seating in the dinning room. (And again, we checked the next day to be sure it was on our reservation on the web site and it was.) When we came to board and were issued our ID cards, printed on the face of the card was open seating for dining. We immediately brought this to the attention of the agent that was checking us in. She, rather curtly said there was nothing she could do and we would have to handle it ‘ship board’ by talking with the dinning room manager. (In the past we have had to do this to get early seating and it always involves a “gratuity” of around $50.00 and since we worked at getting first seating before the cruise we had no intention giving anyone a gratuity for this again.) At my insistence, the manager on duty came over and I explained the problem. He also said there was nothing he could do and the only way to fix it was to do it on board. I was surprised that a member of management was not empowered to resolve issues of this nature in a better way. He said my only alternative would be to call the 800 customer service number, which he provided. I did so ASAP right there and then (I think to the manager’s surprise) I talked with a gentleman who claimed he was in the President’s office. He also said that we should just go and talk with the dinning room manager. I again explained that fixing it with the dinning room manager would involve cash payments and about 1-2 hours of time. I pressed him with “if you are in the president’s office, you mean you can’t solve a simple customer’s issue like dinning room seating?” he then put me on hold to “check something” and after a few minutes he came back and said that we should check with “Annie”, the guest relation’s manager on the ship and she would resolve our issue. I thanked him, boarded the ship, and went straight to the front desk/purser’s office and asked for Annie. After a 10-15 minute wait, Annie came out and introduced herself. We explained our issue and she called the Dinning room, and after some discussion, we were granted 1st seating and had our ID cards re-issued, but not before Annie informed us that it was not the ship’s fault that we did not have 1st seating. In all of this, we managed to miss the Mariner’s Lunch in the dining room. We were the 7th, 8th and 9th people at a table for eight, so it was crowded, but our dinner companions were great and we all enjoyed each other’s company each night at dinner (there were always empty tables in the dinning room and we heard from many others that they also wanted early seating and could not get it, but this has been an ongoing issue, since anytime dining was introduced and a different matter all together.) In all of this, the overall attitude that we encountered, both on the phone before the cruise, at check in and on board was: It’s not my fault There is nothing I can do about it It’s not my issue Where I was expecting the attitude of “How can I fix/resolve your problem.” Which to me would be a signature of excellence. Good, not great Good The Spa/Gym staff were excellent, especially Saundra the leader of the morning Stretch and exercise class!! (and having these two sessions each morning from 7:00-7:30 and 7:30-8:00 as free classes was GREAT) The dinning room food was excellent as was the dinning room staff. The Lido food was also good. The dancers were wonderful, both on stage and in the dance classes (In the past we know the dance classes can be hit or miss, but Jason, and all the others did a wonderful job of teaching jibe, Tango, Waltz and Foxtrot!!!) Below is a copy of the email sent to Holland America Line after our latest cruise. Below you will also find the response we received two weeks after sending this note to them. Hello: We were very disappointed with our most recent voyage on the Noordam. There were some very good points about the ship as well, but the overall impression I/we had with the Noordam and Holland America was negative. I would like to start with the GOOD – Ray and Vincent at the front desk/Purser’s desk were excellent, providing as much assistance as possible with a smile. The Ship it self was clean and in good repair and well handled, both in our cabin and the public areas. The Spa/Gym staff were excellent, especially Saundra the leader of the morning Stretch and exercise class!! (and having these two sessions each morning from 7:00-7:30 and 7:30-8:00 as free classes was GREAT) The dinning room food was excellent as was the dinning room staff. The Lido food was also good. The dancers were wonderful, both on stage and in the dance classes (In the past we know the dance classes can be hit or miss, but Jason, and all the others did a wonderful job of teaching jibe, Tango, Waltz and Foxtrot!!!) The Assistant Dinning room manager was pleasant and for the 1st time I can remember in a long time, turned away inappropriately dressed would be dinners (shorts and t-shirts on “smart casual” nights and gentlemen without jackets on “formal night”) in accordance with published standards and policy – Bravo! However, our vacation was overshadowed by several events starting even before we boarded: The first being our dinning room seating. When we booked initially, we were unable to get first seating (5:45) and were wait listed. Our travel agent suggested we try back on the day the final portion of the fare was due, which we did. We were able to obtain first seating (and it was reflected on the web site.) When we did the original submission of our documents to check in, 1st seating was displayed. About five days before sailing we went to print more luggage tags and noticed we had been re-assigned to open seating for dinner. We called Holland America Line and were told there was nothing they could do and we would have to call our travel agent, which we did. After spending close to an hour on the phone with our travel agent, we were able to again have 1st seating in the dinning room. (And again, we checked the next day to be sure it was on our reservation on the web site and it was.) When we came to board and were issued our ID cards, printed on the face of the card was open seating for dining. We immediately brought this to the attention of the agent that was checking us in. She, rather curtly said there was nothing she could do and we would have to handle it ‘ship board’ by talking with the dinning room manager. (In the past we have had to do this to get early seating and it always involves a “gratuity” of around $50.00 and since we worked at getting first seating before the cruise we had no intention giving anyone a gratuity for this again.) At my insistence, the manager on duty came over and I explained the problem. He also said there was nothing he could do and the only way to fix it was to do it on board. I was surprised that a member of management was not empowered to resolve issues of this nature in a better way. He said my only alternative would be to call the 800 customer service number, which he provided. I did so ASAP right there and then (I think to the manager’s surprise) I talked with a gentleman who claimed he was in the President’s office. He also said that we should just go and talk with the dinning room manager. I again explained that fixing it with the dinning room manager would involve cash payments and about 1-2 hours of time. I pressed him with “if you are in the president’s office, you mean you can’t solve a simple customer’s issue like dinning room seating?” he then put me on hold to “check something” and after a few minutes he came back and said that we should check with “Annie”, the guest relation’s manager on the ship and she would resolve our issue. I thanked him, boarded the ship, and went straight to the front desk/purser’s office and asked for Annie. After a 10-15 minute wait, Annie came out and introduced herself. We explained our issue and she called the Dinning room, and after some discussion, we were granted 1st seating and had our ID cards re-issued, but not before Annie informed us that it was not the ship’s fault that we did not have 1st seating. In all of this, we managed to miss the Mariner’s Lunch in the dining room. We were the 7th, 8th and 9th people at a table for eight, so it was crowded, but our dinner companions were great and we all enjoyed each other’s company each night at dinner (there were always empty tables in the dinning room and we heard from many others that they also wanted early seating and could not get it, but this has been an ongoing issue, since anytime dining was introduced and a different matter all together.) In all of this, the overall attitude that we encountered, both on the phone before the cruise, at check in and on board was: It’s not my fault There is nothing I can do about it It’s not my issue Where I was expecting the attitude of “How can I fix/resolve your problem.” Which to me would be a signature of excellence. The 1st night of the cruise, we received to notes about the deep sea fishing excursion we booked for a member of our group. One of the notes said the boat was out of commission and the other said here is your ticket for the excursion. Neither were date/time stamped so we did not know which to believe. We called and were not able to reach the excursion’s desk (they were closed) We went down to the front desk to ask. They did not have a clue on which was correct, had no information other than the schedule for the next day with a mark next to the deep sea fishing and said there was no way to contact the excursion people to ask. (Where they were very nice and trying to be helpful, apparently they were not empowered to call/page/locate the excursion people to get an answer to our question) They suggested that we plan on the excursion, just in case it was “on”, which we did and the it was (thank god we did plan) We also noticed that there were several people signed up for Deep Sea Fishing that did not show up at the boat, and we wondered if they had the same issues we did. Again we had the attitude of “there is nothing I can do/that I am allowed to do, to resolve the issue.” One night we ordered an in-room movie to be delivered. After the phone hold wait of 3-4 minutes they came on the line, took our order and said the movie would be there in 10-15 minutes, even though we offered to pick it up. After waiting over an hour for the movie, we called again (same 3-4 minute hold) they were surprised that we did not have the movie, then put us on hold trying to find out what happened, then we were told they thought the movie had been delivered asking us to be sure (we checked the outside bin, even though we were in the room the whole time, it was not there) then waited while they tried to figure out what happened. We never got the movie. The times and locations of the ship board activities were poorly thought out – nothing scheduled then several things scheduled at the same time. Locations and times of things like team trivia, and shipboard movies were greatly varied, even thought it was always well attended (when we could locate it) The quantity of the activities was very low. The late night Dessert event was held in the atrium, which was way too small. It was cramped, on three levels, and the A/C could not keep up – we left quickly, without sampling much (We almost felt like the venue was chosen so people would leave quickly without partaking in the dessert buffet. The movies around the pool on the Lido deck could not be heard/understood, ruining the movie. This is a BAD place to present movies and we declined to view any other movies on the pool deck. When we mentioned it to the Cruise Director, he said he knew and there was nothing that could be done. (Notice the theme of “not my fault, nothing I can do...”) The following items are just notes/comments about other things we think you should be aware of that normally we would not bother to write about, but since I am already writing, I am including them as well: The Cruise Director, (Sean Michaels?) was the poorest dressed Cruise Director I can remember, who told very old, poor jokes to an audience that clearly, after the first couple of times he spoke, didn’t what to hear them. I may be an old fogey, but on formal night, I would expect the Cruise Director to be turned out in a well fitting Tuxedo, complete with bow tie, cummerbund/vest studs and cuff links. This was not the case and it was noticed by many of the guests. In the past, participation in trivia, game shows... yielded some nice mementos of the trip. This time, either they were not given or they were so poor as to be not wanted – who really wants another pin... We can remember the days of the Dam Dollars and ending up with a “dam ships” sweat shirt, hat or t-shirt and we miss them. Room service was prompt in the morning, delivering our wake up coffee. However, it took them forever to retrieve the tray (sometimes as late as 4:00 pm, even though we called early to to have them picked up) We honored the request not to put them in the hallways, but we were tempted to several times because of the delay in getting them. Calling anyone on the ship’s telephone resulted in always being put on hold for 1-5 minutes, regardless of who we were trying to reach. The tenders on half moon cay were some of the worst boat handlers I have ever encountered. They struck both the dock and the ship very hard, jarring the passengers and alarming some of them. The weather was not particularly rough or windy, just poor drivers (When the Ship’s tenders were used at Samana, they were smooth and gentle, in worse conditions...) Where this did not affect our enjoyment much, I thought I would note this for you, since they are outside contractors and you need to know the quality (or lack there of) of the contractors. This was my 3rd cruise on a Holland America ship in the past five years and each one has been a step down in customer service from the one before. This is an alarming trend and feel that as a loyal customer, I need to make you aware of them. If this trend continues, Holland America will no longer be my cruise line of choice. Response from Holland two weeks later: Thank you for your email to Holland America Line’s Guest Relations Department. We are committed to providing our guests with the highest level of service, and appreciate the effort it takes to write to us. Please be assured that we respond to all correspondence in the date order it is received. At times it can take several weeks to properly investigate and research some issues to provide a proper response. We appreciate this opportunity to review your correspondence and thank you for your patience. You will be hearing from us soon. If you find it necessary to contact us in the meantime, please refer to your booking number. Kind regards, Office of the President Holland America Line

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Dec 18, 2012

Mediterranean Adventure

Having had just over a year contemplating what my wife and I experienced last year on our first (and possibly last) cruise, I would have to say that I would have never have booked a 20 day cruise, without first having experienced a much shorter cruise first, if I could do it over. The food experience varied quite a bit. The Lido deck dining was below par, with basically the same menu, day in, day out. It was bland fare, and they attempted

to make the foods seem more exotic than they were in actuality. Sweet sauces abounded. Breakfast buffet was the same every day, and the buffet opened too late if you were planning a shore excursion, so we ended up scrounging what we could, so that we would not be totally hungry during the day trips. Lunches on the Lido deck were also the same. On arrival back from one morning trip, we arrived back at the ship to find the buffets closing down ( this was at about 13:00 hours, ship's time ). Many other morning tours arrived back at the same time. You can imagine that there was a small mutiny brewing, if they had not reopened the buffets. Believe it or not, you could not get a pain old hamburger, or fish and chips during this cruise, except through room service. If you do use room service, please be prepared for disappointment. Limited food selection; you wait a long time to get it; and when you do, at least for the hamburgers, anyway, they are cold on arrival, and not completely cooked through properly. I will address it more fully later, but my wife and I, with at least a quarter of the crew and passengers, got sick midway through the voyage. I noticed that sick food preparers and handlers were still on duty, while hacking and sneezing into the food. We did, however, enjoy the Vista dining experience in the evening. Staff were attentive, fun to talk to, and the food was good. The only negative thing I can say about this was that it was a 10-day meal rotation, with the second half of our twenty-day cruise being repeated. The best of all the dining was the Pinnacle Grill, to which we signed up for, although it is $20/person extra. We went twice during our 20-day cruise, and really enjoyed the experience.< br /> We were not impressed with our stateroom at all. Initially, prior to boarding the vessel, we were assigned a room on a lower deck. On boarding, we were told we were getting a better stateroom on the Navigator deck (specifically room 8088 ). The room was large enough for us, but the carpets, furniture, complimentary robes, deck chairs had obviously seen better days. As my wife had worked in the service industry previously, she pointed out many deficiencies in the cleanliness of the room, many of which I recognized immediately as well. Dried/sticky food on the coffee table, spilled milk on the desk, heavy fingerprints from the previous occupants on the sliding verandah doors. No fruit in the basket, no flowers welcoming us to our room, just a bland motel room on the high seas. I didn't really care about the flowers/fruit, but that was how it was portrayed in the brochures and videos, so if I am paying for it, I expect to get it. Don't BS me. Since our room was on the Navigator deck, we were just below the Lido deck, until about 03:00 hours in the morning, there was the "thump, thump, bang" of feet and carts. Needless to say, we were kept awake during this time. Next morning, I went to the front desk and complained about this. They assured me that this could not have been the case, but would instruct staff to be quieter from now on. This of course did not happen, and we were subject to this the entire trip. My guess is that the previous occupants could not stand the room and had made more of a fuss than we did, so got a quieter room ( our initial room?) and we traded "up" to the noisy room. Pure speculation, of course. Amazingly enough, we got a $600 refund from Holland America, as they considered "us to have been very patient with them" ( their words, not mine ), about this matter. So maybe we were in the right? In regard to the room cleanliness, I sent off an email to my travel agent, in Calgary, Canada. The results were almost immediate. We had the room stewards, and even guest appearances from ship's officers, in the room inspecting ( officers ) and or cleaning (stewards) that evening. It appears that the squeaky does get the grease, sometimes, anyway. As we had booked many of the shore excursions, necessitating getting up early, we did not stay up to watch the evening shows. We spent most of our evening hours on the verandah. The weather was beautiful and warm. As other reviewers have mentioned, shore excursions from Holland America have a built in insurance that the ship will not sail until everyone is on board. If you go on your own, and you are late getting back to the ship, it will have sailed without you. Be prepared for not just crowding, but "OVERCROWDING". While several tours are booked at each port, invariably one or two tours are the most popular, so EVERYONE books those ones. Once at the location, the "OVERCROWDING" sets in, as the other 2-5 cruise ships will also be in port, disgorging their complement of sightseers, to the exact same sites. This does not even include the locals or travellers arriving by other transportation. Additionally, be prepared to share illnesses. When on the air-conditioned buses, you will be exposed to everyone else's little bugs. Bring your own cold/flu medications (Nyquil, ibuprofen, cough lozenges, Imodium etc..........) because these will be hard to come by in Europe, unless of course you speak the language. Also be prepared to expend anywhere from 2-6 Euros per 500ml bottle of water. The cruise line and tourist trade have really found a lucrative way of parting you from your cash for this indispensable item, especially in warm weather. Upon reflection, it might have been better to select shore excursions that were not so popular. At least there would have been a little more breathing room. Even though I probably would not take another cruise ( at least in Europe ), based on my previous comments, and other reasons, I have gained some valuable insight as to where I would like to focus my attention. We thoroughly enjoyed Santorini and Korfu, and would like to visit them again, as a "destination" trip, rather than a cruise, and spend more time exploring in depth. Also, our shore excursion to the Temple of Neptune outside of Athens was fantastic. Ours was the only bus there for around 2 hours.

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Nov 29, 2012

Rome

Having had just over a year contemplating what my wife and I experienced last year on our first (and possibly last) cruise, I would have to say that I would have never have booked a 20 day cruise, without first having experienced a much shorter cruise first. The food experience varied quite a bit. The Lido deck dining was below par, with basically the same menu, day in, day out. It was bland fare, and they attempted to make the foods

seem more exotic than they were in actuality. Sweet sauces abounded. Breakfast buffet was the same every day, and the buffet opened to late if you were planning a shore excursion, so we ended up scrounging what we could, so that we would not be totally hungry during the day trips. Lunches on the Lido deck were also the same. On arrival back from one morning trip, we arrived back at the ship, to find the buffets closing down ( this was at about 13:00 hours, ship's time ). Many other morning tours arrived back at the same time. You can imagine that there was a small mutiny brewing, if they had not reopened the buffets. Believe it or not, you could not get a pain old hamburger, or fish and chips during this cruise, except through room service. If you do use room service, please be prepared for disappointment. Limited food selection; you wait a long time to get it; and when you do, at least for the hamburgers, anyway, they are cold on arrival, and not completely cooked through properly. I will address it more fully later, but my wife and I, with at least a quarter of the crew and passengers, got sick midway through the voyage. I noticed that sick food preparers and handlers were still on duty, while hacking and sneezing into the food. We did, however, enjoy the Vista dining experience in the evening. Staff were attentive, fun to talk to, and the food was good. The only negative thing I can say about this was that it was a 10 day meal rotation, with the second half of our twenty day cruise being repeated. The best of all the dining was the Pinnacle Grill, to which we signed up for, although it is $20/person extra. We went twice during our 20 day cruise, and really enjoyed the experience. We were not impressed with our stateroom at all. Initially, prior to boarding the vessel, we were assigned a room on a lower deck. On boarding, we were told we were getting a better stateroom on the Navigator deck (specifically room 8088 ). The room was large enough for us, but the carpets, furniture, complimentary robes, deck chairs had obviously seen better days. As my wife had worked in the service industry previously, she pointed out many deficiencies in the cleanliness of the room, many of which I recognized immediately as well. Dried/sticky food on the coffee table, spilled milk on the desk, heavy fingerprints from the previous occupants on the sliding verandah doors. No fruit in the basket, no flowers welcoming us to our room, just a bland motel room on the high seas. I didn't really care about the flowers/fruit, but that was how it was portrayed in the brochures and videos, so if I am paying for it, I expect to get it. Don't BS me. Since our room was on the Navigator deck, we were just below the Lido deck. Until about 03:00 hours in the morning, there was the "thump, thump, bang" of feet and carts. Needless to say, we were kept awake during this time. Next morning, I went to the front desk and complained about this. They assured me that this could not have been the case, but would instruct staff to be more quiet from now on. This of course did not happen, and we were subject to this the entire trip. My guess is that the previous occupants could not stand the room and had made more of a fuss than we did, so got a quieter room ( our initial room?) and we traded "up") to the noisy room. Pure speculation, of course. Amazingly enough, we got a $600 refund from Holland America, as they considered "us to have been very patient with them" ( their words, not mine ), about this matter. In regard to the room cleanliness, I sent off an email to my travel agent, in Calgary, Canada. The results were almost immediate. We had the room stewards, and even guest appearances from ship's officers, in the room inspecting ( officers ) and or cleaning (stewards) that evening. It appears that the squeaky does get the grease, sometimes, anyway. As we had booked many of the shore excursions, necessitating getting up early, we did not stay up to watch the evening shows. We spent most of our evening hours on the verandah. The weather was beautiful and warm. As other reviewers have mentioned, shore excursions from Holland America have a built in insurance that the ship will not sail until everyone is on board. If you go on your own, and you are late getting back to the ship, it will have sailed without you. Be prepared for not just crowding, but "OVERCROWDING". While several tours are booked at each port, invariably one or two tours are the most popular, so EVERYONE books those ones. Once at the location, the "OVERCROWDING" sets in, as the other 2-5 cruise ships will also be in port, disgorging their complement of sightseers. This does not even include the locals or travelers arriving by other transportation. Additionally, be prepared to share illnesses. When on the airconditioned buses, you will be exposed to everyone else's little bugs. Bring your own cold/flu medications (Nyquil, ibuprofun, cough lozenges, immodium etc..........) because these will be hard to come by in europe. Also, be prepared to expend anywhere from 2-6 Euros per 500ml bottle of water. The cruise line and tourist trade have really found a lucrative way of parting you from your cash for this indispensable item. Upon reflection, it might have been better to select shore excursions that were not so popular. At least there would have been a little more breathing room. Even though I probably would not take another cruise ( at least in europe ), based on my previous comments, and other reasons, I have gained some valuable insight as to where I would like to focus my attention.

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Nov 29, 2012

Rome

Having had just over a year contemplating what my wife and I experienced last year on our first (and possibly last) cruise, I would have to say that I would have never have booked a 20 day cruise, without first having experienced a much shorter cruise first. The food experience varied quite a bit. The Lido deck dining was below par, with basically the same menu, day in, day out. It was bland fare, and they attempted to make the foods

seem more exotic than they were in actuality. Sweet sauces abounded. Breakfast buffet was the same every day, and the buffet opened to late if you were planning a shore excursion, so we ended up scrounging what we could, so that we would not be totally hungry during the day trips. Lunches on the Lido deck were also the same. On arrival back from one morning trip, we arrived back at the ship, to find the buffets closing down ( this was at about 13:00 hours, ship's time ). Many other morning tours arrived back at the same time. You can imagine that there was a small mutiny brewing, if they had not reopened the buffets. Believe it or not, you could not get a pain old hamburger, or fish and chips during this cruise, except through room service. If you do use room service, please be prepared for disappointment. Limited food selection; you wait a long time to get it; and when you do, at least for the hamburgers, anyway, they are cold on arrival, and not completely cooked through properly. I will address it more fully later, but my wife and I, with at least a quarter of the crew and passengers, got sick midway through the voyage. I noticed that sick food preparers and handlers were still on duty, while hacking and sneezing into the food. We did, however, enjoy the Vista dining experience in the evening. Staff were attentive, fun to talk to, and the food was good. The only negative thing I can say about this was that it was a 10 day meal rotation, with the second half of our twenty day cruise being repeated. The best of all the dining was the Pinnacle Grill, to which we signed up for, although it is $20/person extra. We went twice during our 20 day cruise, and really enjoyed the experience. We were not impressed with our stateroom at all. Initially, prior to boarding the vessel, we were assigned a room on a lower deck. On boarding, we were told we were getting a better stateroom on the Navigator deck (specifically room 8088 ). The room was large enough for us, but the carpets, furniture, complimentary robes, deck chairs had obviously seen better days. As my wife had worked in the service industry previously, she pointed out many deficiencies in the cleanliness of the room, many of which I recognized immediately as well. Dried/sticky food on the coffee table, spilled milk on the desk, heavy fingerprints from the previous occupants on the sliding verandah doors. No fruit in the basket, no flowers welcoming us to our room, just a bland motel room on the high seas. I didn't really care about the flowers/fruit, but that was how it was portrayed in the brochures and videos, so if I am paying for it, I expect to get it. Don't BS me. Since our room was on the Navigator deck, we were just below the Lido deck. Until about 03:00 hours in the morning, there was the "thump, thump, bang" of feet and carts. Needless to say, we were kept awake during this time. Next morning, I went to the front desk and complained about this. They assured me that this could not have been the case, but would instruct staff to be more quiet from now on. This of course did not happen, and we were subject to this the entire trip. My guess is that the previous occupants could not stand the room and had made more of a fuss than we did, so got a quieter room ( our initial room?) and we traded "up") to the noisy room. Pure speculation, of course. Amazingly enough, we got a $600 refund from Holland America, as they considered "us to have been very patient with them" ( their words, not mine ), about this matter. In regard to the room cleanliness, I sent off an email to my travel agent, in Calgary, Canada. The results were almost immediate. We had the room stewards, and even guest appearances from ship's officers, in the room inspecting ( officers ) and or cleaning (stewards) that evening. It appears that the squeaky does get the grease, sometimes, anyway. As we had booked many of the shore excursions, necessitating getting up early, we did not stay up to watch the evening shows. We spent most of our evening hours on the verandah. The weather was beautiful and warm. As other reviewers have mentioned, shore excursions from Holland America have a built in insurance that the ship will not sail until everyone is on board. If you go on your own, and you are late getting back to the ship, it will have sailed without you. Be prepared for not just crowding, but "OVERCROWDING". While several tours are booked at each port, invariably one or two tours are the most popular, so EVERYONE books those ones. Once at the location, the "OVERCROWDING" sets in, as the other 2-5 cruise ships will also be in port, disgorging their complement of sightseers. This does not even include the locals or travelers arriving by other transportation. Additionally, be prepared to share illnesses. When on the airconditioned buses, you will be exposed to everyone else's little bugs. Bring your own cold/flu medications (Nyquil, ibuprofun, cough lozenges, immodium etc..........) because these will be hard to come by in europe. Also, be prepared to expend anywhere from 2-6 Euros per 500ml bottle of water. The cruise line and tourist trade have really found a lucrative way of parting you from your cash for this indispensable item. Upon reflection, it might have been better to select shore excursions that were not so popular. At least there would have been a little more breathing room. Even though I probably would not take another cruise ( at least in europe ), based on my previous comments, and other reasons, I have gained some valuable insight as to where I would like to focus my attention.

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Mar 24, 2012

Transatlantic

With 20 cruises in the past 8 years on a few different cruise lines and several different ships, we find the Noordam to be the ship that most often meets or exceeds our expectations. This was our sixth cruise on Noordam, and our first transatlantic voyage. It had its moments of excitement, but all in all was a comfortable, entertaining and educational cruise. While the passenger consist seems to be predominantly seniors, the ship has activities especially

for teens and young children, and plenty of activities for young adults as well. Of course, the activities appealing to seniors are almost unlimited. The food in the main dining room was excellent in preparation, presentation and taste. Each evening featured a diversified menu with only a few specific entrees repeated over the 17 days of the cruise. Breakfast and lunch in the dining room was also very well prepared, a wide range of choices, and very good. The food in the Lido buffet had good points and a few not so good, but overall a fine choice for each meal at breakfast, lunch or supper. Of the different cruise lines we've sailed, Holland America's ships have individually and collectively had the best food. Our verandah stateroom was well fitted, very clean and comfortable. While we would have liked having somewhat more space, the size was adequate and did not feel claustrophobic. Our cabin steward was very attentive and checked often to see if any touch-up was necessary and all amenities replenished.. The verandah was clean and the chairs were very comfortable, very conducive to just sitting there and reading or watching the sea. While we do not participate in most activities, it was pleasant to note the wide variety available during the day and evening, and they appeared to be well attended. Excursions are always a matter of individual preference, whether to participate or not. The cost of excursions offered and managed by the ship's staff is generally high, and far in excess of what similar excursions cost when booked on shore directly with local vendors. The catch, however, is that the ship will wait for passengers on ship-booked excursions delayed by weather, traffic, or mechanical problems, while they will leave without anyone getting back to the pier late from a locally booked tour or even just wandering about on one's own agenda. So it is a balance of cost vs. convenience. A really great crossing and interesting ports of call. The cruise was a bit long - 17 days - but enough points of interest and certainly comfort to make it fun the whole time.

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Mar 24, 2012

Transatlantic

We have cruised on Noordam six times since its launch, and total of fourteen cruises with Holland America. From our perspective, everything was top-notch - cabin, food, service, entertainment, amenities, ports of call, and general condition of the ships. The only complaints are the cost of alcohol beverages and wine, which are grossly overpriced on all the lines with which we have cruised, so I would not single out HAL for that, and the cost of Internet

access, which is excessive even in recognition of the special circumstances for access by satellite. But alcoholic beverages and Internet access are optional and thus not forced on passengers who object to the cost. Excellent preparation, presentation and taste. Choices across all categories of entree every meal in dining room. Lido buffet is generally very good. Breakfast in dining room is comparable to that of a fine hotel, with clean table linens, variety of food choices, and the excellent service for which HAL is noted. Also would like to mention that although this was a 17-day cruise, the dining room menu never repeated (although some specific entrees did show up more than once). We cruise with balcony staterooms so we can enjoy the calm environment while sitting outside. The staterooms have always been of adequate size (upgraded a few times to a suite) and have been very clean, well appointed, and well serviced. We don't participate in most activities, but find that there is enough variety to entertain most people of all age groups. Those in which we do participate have always been fun and/or educational. Almost every excursion offered by the cruise line can be taken at lower cost with vendors at each port of call. However, the lower cost must be balanced against the risk of delays for any reason (bus breaks down, roads force slower travel, etc.) that can result in the ship leaving without you. The ship will always waiit for passengers on the ship's tours in the event of delays, but are not required to (and usually will not) wait for those who are on their own or on a non-sponsored excursion and fail to get back on time. This transatlantic cruise was our first "crossing" and we can't wait to do it again. The only drawback is that in one direction or the other, a long flight is involved. We did see some ports in Europe we had not seen on previous cruises there, and enjoyed them. The cruise was very smooth, although the first night out we encountered thunderstorms at sea that produced some spectacular lightning shows!

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Feb 26, 2012

southern caribe

The worst cruise ship I've ever been on The total ship needs a complete overhaul from the carpeting to the costumes the entertainers wore to the waiters. Old is and worn out can` describe the condition of this ship. The food was the only part of the cruse that was good , A breakout of viral flue occurred a couple of days into the cruse. The problem was after the announcement by the captain of a couple and then the next day 3 then four more the number

was never clear But observing the staff after the breakout I did not observe any crew member using the convenient hand sanitizing placed around the ship or observe and crew members wearing gloves except for crew member who actually served food. not the waiters at the tables or the persons serving drinks. I found this troubling since the majority of the gusts on ship were elderly and would have been gravely effected by a intestinal virus. The entertainment was lower then expectations considering the price of the 11 days cruise. The entertainment during the day was almost none existent except on the Lido deck which had a one person drum and electronic player. during the evening hours the shows consisted of the a group of singers and dancers, comedian and , a couple who played Irish songs, these were all separate acts on different days. I found this typical for most cruises not Broadway. The casino was small and from my observations no winners here, it could of been the lack of players. The Movies were good but wish they didn't interfere with the Early dinner guests. Departing the ship on the February 24 2012 was a nightmare. We selected a early departure, which for those who never were on a cruise you walk off with your bags. This is us alley for people who live in the state of Fl like my self. But because the Holland American Line was charging for bag transfers I bag 50.00 dollars and a 3 bag deal of 100.00 dollars. We were assigned to leave the ship at 7:30 to 8:00 am we left our cabin the go to the 2nd deck and when we arrived there was between 100 and 2 hundred people lined up. I was dumbfounded to find no crew members supervising this large group who were crowed with baggage and later found the price of the transfers was there choice to carry the bags off rather then pay to have there bags delivered the airlines directly. After waiting on line a mad dash of people started running down the halls for the elevators and lifting there bags up to the 3rd fl which was the new dismemberment point. The reason I learned was the ship had positioned itself away from the waste removal hoses and had to be repositioned. "Nightmare" My recommendations simply there are so many cuisse lines why pick this lower class one. The great surprise was the food, I found the food was first rate and the service was good. The only complaint was the Lido buffet was closed at 9pm which was after the first show. This could of been open, instead it opened one hour after the last show, at 11 pm. This might of made sense if the majority of the guests were below 40 not over 70. 11 pm was as empty a condemned building. Our first bad experience was entering our cabin which was on the Navigation deck on the port or left side of the ship. My wife and I had a room that was 20' by 10' the room was dark even though we had a Balcony cabin. I was shocked to see the dingy stained carpeting and more of a surprise to see how old the bathroom was. This was by far the worst room I had ever seen in my more then 20 years cursing. After we unpacked I decided to enter the bathroom for a shower and after leaving the shower to dry off the towel had hair on it from a previous guest. After calling the attendant he brought new towels . The veranda was small and rusted metal everywhere, looked like no maintence had been performed for quite awhile. One piece of advice as far as what to do on this ship. DO NOT BRING TEENS OR CHILDREN. They will drive you crazy there is nothing except for a basketball court on the crows nest above the Lido deck. The entertainment is typical cuise line. The excursions where typical we decided to take a couple. In short I found the food good, the service in the dining area good the show lounge comfort good. getting around the ship good. On the Negative side, rooms dingy dirty halls carpeting dingy worn, bad or no supervision for room stewards. No supervision for general crew on self hygiene. Bad preparations on dismemberment lack of proper communications. My overall recommendation would be to the Holland American Line 1. Take this ship off line for a complete over haul 2. Better trained supervisors 3. Pricing should reflect service

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Nov 26, 2011

Southern and Eastern Caribbean

Magnificent crew, ship and food. Of the other cruiselines I've been on, HAL has the best food I've had the pleasure to partake. Almost unbelievable how they can produce such mouth-watering food every meal while feeding thousands. The ports were great, time in ports just right, and staff always courteous and helpful. Don't remember seeing any of them have a down day. 5-star. Food was fabulous, every meal every time. I'm baffled how they can

feed thousands and have it world class each time. Did not have one appetizer to dessert that was not 5-star. 4-star. Stateroom was adequate, it was an inside room, and didn't have the bells nor whistles. Comfortable all around. 4.5-star. Something for everyone and very pleasurable. I had four grown kids with me so we played ping pong, swam, sunbathed, read, danced and danced and danced alot! Lots of dance lessons from the entertainers and lots of fun! 4.5-star. Definately scuba dive in Bonaire and Curacao if you're a diver! Phenominal opportunities, but pick the right dives. Kleine Bonaire and on Curacao, Directors Bay. World class! Snorkel/Beach trips to Kleine Bonaire also excellent. 5-star. 20 days of pure bliss, fantastic food, excellent ports, world class diving, and superb family time. Who could ask for more??

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Nov 1, 2011

Rome Civitavecchia

I am one of the attendee of Family Medicine Conference; a 10-Night Roman Empire Cruise Conference from Rome, Italy; conducted by CME Cruise Conference which was held on October 5 - 15, 2011. The Holland America ms Noordam is truly a magnificent and innovative cruise ship with a superb amenities and hospitable staffs. The staffs not only wear a smile always but ensure to proffer a personalized and best service. The cruise ship is always hygienic and

maintained and offers various recreations. THE CME Cruise has also commented extraordinary city tours wherein we were able to enjoy the attractions of the cities and was able to acquire loads of information in reference to it. about We highly recommend Holland America ms Noordam for its high class service and luxurious amenities as well as for offering us great days of our stay. We always received delightful dinner on time. Maintained and sanitary.

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By Rick_CR

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Sep 26, 2011

eastern med

Our room had a terrible sewage smell for much of the cruise. I reported it twice. The first time the steward notified engineering and engineering said it was the stewards problem. The smell was coming from the air conditioning duct. After that the oder went away for a day or so. Then it came back and I complained again to no avail. I spoke to someone on a different deck and they had the same problem but they didn't complain. I pity anyone with

that room. The smell made me sick. Beautiful ship except for the sewage smell.

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Sep 13, 2010

ROME TO rOME

I will never recommend somebody this ship. It was the worth experience in my life. Food in all you can eat buffet is like food in High School Cafeteria. The shore excursions are TOURIST TRAP. At Palma de Majorca they took us to pearl factory trying to sell. We did not come from NYC to visit pearl factory. Then we spent 40 minutes across the street on bullring, witch is place for public urinate. Nice. We spent 1hour and 20 minutes in cathedral where

other people spend 20 minuets and cost for public ticket only 4 euro. Out of 4 h we spent 1 ½ h in the bus and did not see Palma de Majorka. Shame!!!It was insult and abuse. And when you complain, they ignore you. It was like robbery. They spoiled our vacation. . Food in all you can eat buffet is like food in High School Cafeteria ok oK I will never recommend somebody this ship. It was the worth experience in my life. The shore excursions are TOURIST TRAP. At Palma de Majorca they took us to pearl factory trying to sell. We did not come from NYC to visit pearl factory. Then we spent 40 minutes across the street on bullring, witch is place for public urinate. Nice. We spent 1hour and 20 minutes in cathedral where other people spend 20 minuets and cost for public ticket only 4 euro. Out of 4 h we spent 1 ½ h in the bus and did not see Palma de Majorka. Shame!!!It was insult and abuse. And when you complain, they ignore you. It was like robbery. They spoiled our vacation. Very disappointed because of this shore excursion

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Sep 8, 2009

Eastern Mediterranean

Mediterranean cruise July 8-18 2009 Line: Holland America Ship: Noordam This was our second cruise; the first was with Carnival, Elation to the Mexican Riviera. If you want an extremely clean, well maintained ship that will pamper you to death, then this is the ship for you. Don't expect spectacular food, nightlife, or shows and you will not go away disappointed, but you will go away very relaxed and rested. Do not expect stellar

or lavish spreads on the Noordam. The service is fabulous but the food is just fair. The morning and lunch fare are pretty much the same every day. For dinner, there is some variety, but it is not special in any way. There are two other options for "better" food. One is the Pinnacle Grill, which will cost you an additional $20.00 per person. The other is the Conetello; this is an Italian restaurant tucked away in the corner of the Lido. The menu is the same every day, but it is a better quality of food. It is free, but you need to make reservations. The entrees in the Vista Dining room (the more or less formal place) are the same that are served in the Lido restaurant. You can eat in either place and get pretty much the same food. You can also scope out what they will be serving in the dining room by checking out the Lido and decide if you want to get dressed for dinner. We had a Veranda suite. We had actually booked a Veranda balcony and a week before the cruise, we were asked if we wanted to upgrade to a suite for $200 each. This was well worth the cost. The cabin and bath are very spacious and well appointed. We spent most of the time in the room on the balcony and I doubt if we would ever cruise again without having one. They are very private and furnished with wicker chairs and tables. We were on the upper Veranda deck and we often went to the Lido restaurant to bring food and drinks to the room. You could use room service for this, but we never did. We could get what we wanted when we wanted it and it was very little effort. Pack a length of sturdy line or rope (not string) about 15 feet or so. This sounds useless but we used quite a bit. First it was a clothes line to dry out the sweaty clothes from the day. We also wanted to hear the waves at night and the narration on the TV as we passed various sites. There is no way to do this with the self closing balcony door. With the rope you can tie the balcony door open and hear the narration and the waves at night. We could never just shut off the air-conditioning. It was on or the heat was on. This way we could keep the cabin very comfortable. The nightlife on this ship is pretty much non-existent. The disco lounge was pretty much empty the entire cruise. It seemed that the center of activity was the casino. We are not gamblers, so I can't comment on how good it is. The one shining star on board was the piano bar. The guy there was very entertaining and really identified with the crowd. The waiters in that place were especially nice as well. It was a real feel good place. In fact, it became a regular hangout for many of the passengers. However, after several days the shtick became somewhat repetitive. The Holland American Singers and Dancers left a lot to be desired. Went to a couple of their shows and found out they only knew one way to sing and the song had to fit their style or it was wedged into their style. This was especially true on the Vegas night show. On the positive site, the technical side of the show: effects, lighting and sound were fantastic. There was also a really good talent named Count Dimas. He put on quite a show and clearly stood out the best entertainer on the cruise. The various shipboard players were not bad, but not memorable. I kept feeling that this is where Holland America was cutting costs. I have to preface this by saying that I am not into structured, pointed or rushed activities. This was my opinion of the two excursions we took on this cruise. We took the best of Ephesus and the Best of Athens, on the recommendation of the travel agent. All the others we did on our own and I must say I enjoyed the self paced touring much better. On the best of Athens for instance, we went to a museum and got to spend one hour there. Our guide spent 15 minutes in front of some gold trappings talking the history of the jewelry, while the rest of a very impressive museum was ignored. Please remember that this is the nature of the beast and not a criticism of the excursion. I would like to have more basic transportation plans and avoid the dinner/guided tour stuff. Really irritating was the Best of Ephesus tour where at the end the guide takes you to a Turkish rug place and the owner gives a brief talk on how rugs are made and then the salesmen descend on you to sell you a rug. We did not pay to be subjected to high pressure salesman and Holland America needs to clean up their act on these activities. The port of Civitavecchia is about 35 miles from the heart of Rome. Airport transfers cost a fortune and you are stuck on a bus for an hour or more. We took a taxi to the Termini train station and took the train to the port. The fare for the train was 9 Euros each, which is considerably cheaper. They stop it at the port and there are handy taxis to take you to the ship. (You can usually share these with other cruisers and split the cost. Boarding and Disembarking This is handled very efficiently by Holland America, especially if you pre register online ahead of schedule. They really know what they are doing and if you just follow their lead you and your luggage will arrive on the ship with very little stress. Drinks on Board You can plan on spending at least $1000.00 on board if you are fairly conservative. Pictures and a glass of wine or even a coke really add up quickly, not to mention other sundries. You can buy a "bucket of beer" for $17.00 or $19.00 depending on what you want to drink. While this is not a great deal, you do save money if you are a beer drinker. There are no drink cards to buy to beer, however, there is for wine which I will explain in a bit. You can tell the waiter to just bring you one beer at a time and he will. If you do not drink all five (the number in a bucket), they will put the remainder in an ice bucket that you can take to your room. The cabin stewards will make sure they keep the beer on ice for you. For the wine drinkers they do have a wine card you can purchase for either 10 or 20 glasses of wine, (house wine only). Since a glass of house wine is $4.25, this is well worth it if you are a wine drinker. There is a minibar in the room and the prices are exactly the same as anywhere else on the ship. They even add the 15% service charge to the cost of the drink. Keep in mind that the only free drinks on board are water and iced tea. You cannot smuggle anything on board, because they x-ray everything you put on the ship. We found out that profitability of each cruise is greatly dependant on the beverage sales, so they watch it pretty closely. Laundry There are no self service laundry facilities on the Noordam. The charges are a bit steep for the basic laundry that you will need done on a 10 day trip, unless you bring a lot of luggage. The summer humidity and heat will make you go through clothes rather quickly, ergo that clothes line I mentioned earlier. However, there is a laundry deal as well. You can have a bag of laundry cleaned for $20.00. If you carefully roll things up, you can stuff quite a bit in that laundry bag. It comes back to you neatly folded and on hangers. Remember that it takes a couple days to turn it around, so get it in early. Service This is where Holland America and the Noordam shines. I can't imagine better service on any other cruise ship. No matter where you went or who you spoke with, you greeted with smiles and people going out of their way to serve you. We were especially impressed with their ability to remember your names. We were often greeted by name. I must say that the $11.00 per person per day that was added to your bill was very reasonable for the level of service you received. In fact, we actually sough out a few standouts and gave them something extra.

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Aug 11, 2009

roman empire Rome-Croatia-Corfu-Ephesus-Santorini-Athens-Messina-Rome

Noordam was truly a terrible experience. The worst thing was the children's pool. During our 10 days on the cruise it was only cleaned once and only after we complained to the ship's staff about the unsanitary conditions in the children's (and adults pool). The pool had a foul oder, had dirty muggy water, and was always overcroweded. There were always tons of kids of all ages with their parents in the pool (legal capacity of the pool is unknown).

In addition, it was unsafe when teenagers jumped in the water on the heads of toddlers. There were too many lounges around the pool that obstructed the whole area and made it impossible to move. The whole pool situation made the time at sea terrible. Our cabin(stateroom 8111) was tiny for the 3 of us, but the worst part was the bathroom. It had a foul smell from the toilet. Our 4 year-old toddler could not use it. I complained every day about it. The crew tried to fix it but thier attempts were unsuccessful. The staff never tried to relocate us into another room. The sheets on our beds had holes in them and were not changed until we asked for it. In addition, the utensils in the restorants were always unclean! I asked for clean utensilts on our embarcation day. They said that it was a blip with a dish washer and it will be better the next day. Every day for the next 10 days we had to use dirty utensils. So we just rewashed them before the use. They also told us that everything was old and scratched but not dirty. I was not happy with that answer. The food was not good on the lido deck. It was semi OK in the Vista lounge. Our cabin(stateroom 8111) was tiny for the 3 of us, but the worst part was the bathroom. It had a foul smell from the toilet. I complained every day about it. The crew tried to fix it but thier attempts were unsuccessful. The staff never tried to relocate us into another room. The sheets on our beds had holes in them and were not changed until we asked for it. OK for older couples, not for younger people. We enjoyed everything but the ship itself. Staff was nice.

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Jul 27, 2009

Rome-Croatia-Corfu-Ephesus-Santorini-Athens-Messina-Rome

This was the absolute best cruise of all for a family! The ports provided a buffet of sights for our grandsons and a real opportunity for them to see a brief, but comprehensive, view of the ruins. If, as we did, you are lucky to book Delux Verandah Suites, you will receive the assitance of a conceirge in the special lounge, as well as free laundry and dry cleaning. Let me repeat....free laundry and dry cleaning. In addition to free money exchange

and great food throughout the day and evening (including numerous types of coffees), the coneirge provided all manner of inforation with respect to the ship and the ports. I saw that some persons was upset by the HAL club, perhaps it was a problem of their child as our grandsons (including one with disabilities) believed it to be one of the highlights of their trip. Finally, having taken a number of cruises, and having stayed in fabulous hotels (i.e., Caneel Bay, Hotel Arts, The Boudlers, The Breakers, The Homestead, etc.), we would rank this particular cruise and ship as on a par with the best hotels we have enjoyed as guests. This is particulalry true because of the fabulous men and women who work on the ship. From the cafeteria workers to the coneirge emplyees; the room stewards to the dining room waiters were all dear, sweet, kind, competent and friendly staff wherever one might be on the ship. The food was fantastic! Even better for families, there was a children's menu and the staff urged us to let them care for our grandsons if we wanted to go to another restaurant one evening. The Delux Verandah Suite was great in every way. We were uniterested in onboard activities. Several of the excursions (e.g., Albania) were fantastic. We arranged other excursions on our own from the States as we had been to the ports of call previously. We have had 5 trips on Holland America and one trip on Princess. We have traveled to many destinations in Europe, South America, Africa and the Far East on our own. We never believed that we would enjoy a cruise. We must say, Holland America is fabulous in every respect. We would never again take a Princess cruise. On the Princess, the staff was surly, the ship appeared dirty, the food was marginal and even the verandah rooms were like a Motel 6.

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By josh_CR

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Jul 10, 2009

Roman Empire

The service was OK, our room was clean but the best thing was the meals. They were delicious, and much better than I expected. The room was excellent. It was clean and the hallway was very quiet. The entertainment was fun and there were many things to full up your time. The tours avaible in the cruise were quite expensive. As I always wanted to see ephesus(at Kusadas port). I researched online and saw many tours are available. I took

a private tour and had a better time for less money. When I saw other big groups from the cruise in the narrow streets of ephesus, I realised that I had made a good choice. After the tour we had enough time to walk Kusadas Bazaar. There were souvenier shops everywhere. Overall, it was a perfect experience!

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Apr 9, 2009

Eastern Med

HAL is terrible at handling any problems that arise. We had multiple problems. Most of them small, but a couple of them major and they simply have no ability or willingness to fix problems. It's ridiculous. Food was pretty good. Rooms were good. New ship at the time. Nothing too exciting. Stay away from HAL in general. They are an average cruise line when things go as planned. If something goes wrong ... LOOK OUT! Don't expect them

to do anything to help you. Very frustrating. Lost luggage. What little communication we did receive from them regarding the lost luggage was inconsistent (and outright LIES in a few instances). After non-stop complaining for 3 months we were offered future cruise credits.

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Nov 10, 2007

Southern Caribbean

EMBARKATION: We went to the pier and took an elevator to the embarkation area, we were given a number and sat down until we heard our number called.  (about ¾ of an hour)  We then proceeded to the check in area and were on board 10 minutes later.  LIDO LUNCH:  We were told that lunch was being served in the Lido area, and it was very crowded at 12:30pm…every seat was taken.  So, we just took a tour of the ship and at 1pm were

able to go to our room.  Once we dropped off a few things in our room we went back up to the Lido where seats were now available.  This area does have a problem with the flow of people traffic.  The buffet has something for everyone, and if you can’t find something to satisfy your pallet, you probably didn’t go through every station. CABIN:  This was the 2nd time aboard the Noordam, last March we had a balcony (prices were very good then)  We booked in May, and the prices were just too high for our wallets, so we booked a guarantee ocean view in hopes prices for balconies came down. (they never did, just kept going up!)  We booked at Cat H and were pleasantly surprised to get a Cat C room 1072 on the main deck.  Nice room and in a great location, just a few steps to the Atrium.  The first night we heard awakening sounds from above our room.  (no cabins above us, just storage to the nightclub.  It sounded like a cart kept rolling back and forth, then it would stop and roll back again.  I told someone at the front desk and they came to our cabin and listened for the noise too.  They made a few calls and the problem was fixed. ENTERTAINMENT:  Very good!  We were pleasantly surprised that 90% of the shows were very entertaining.  We loved the talent show too.  (done American Idol style, and the judges were hysterical!) The Vista showroom was packed on the last night of the talent show.  Well done! CASINO:  Kind of small compared to the other ships we’ve been on, and did pretty well the 2nd night on the machines.  They had 2 blackjack and 2 slot machine tournaments during our 11 day cruise, both with a $500 prize.  (it was fun, but I think it would be more exciting if they had 1st and 2nd prizes)  BINGO:  we only played the last day and this too was a one time prize…the winner took home $4,600!!!!!  That’s a lot of dough!!!!  (too bad they didn’t have a few games of bingo with $1,000 prizes, although if it were me who won that big prize I’m sure I’d feel differently. FOOD: Very good.  The Lido has a great variety of breakfast and lunch meals.  (breakfast: Belgium waffles, omelets, eggs any way you want them, pancakes, French toast, home fries, oatmeal, cream of wheat, assorted cereals….Lunch, several stations with delicious sandwiches (grilled to perfection if you like), salads, hot meals, Asian food, sushi, taco bar, hamburger/hot dogs…  We always ate lunch at the Lido and had dinner (2nd seating, table #34, upper level) at the Vista dining room.  Our wonderful waiters Wayan and Komang were the BEST!  Our wine steward Theresa was also very good and so sweet!  The Noordam has a wonderful staff, and we truly appreciated all that they did for us.  Favorite places on the ship:  Crows Nest Lounge.  No better place to be, sitting up front in one of those heavenly recliners as you sail away from any port, or just sitting up there while it’s docked and reading your favorite book, or listening to your favorite music.  I can fall asleep in those chairs within minutes (and I usually can’t fall asleep anywhere during the day)  Such beautiful views from all angles!  Also sitting in those comfy lounge chairs outside of the Crows Nest on the observation deck.  It never seems to be crowded there. PORTS:  Tortola – 3pm to 9pm.  With that time frame we decided to take a ships tour (Tortola’s Secrets $49 pp) Beautiful sights, but our bus driver didn’t like stopping and I was very disappointed at some photo shots I could have taken.  He was suppose to stop several times, but kept saying “we’ll stop soon”  He did stop 3 times, but it really wasn’t enough.  (one of the passengers said the tour should have been called Tortola’s Toilets because he stopped twice for passengers to use rest rooms)  I wrote a review and dropped it off at the Tour desk and they called me right away and offered 25% refund, I was happy with Noordam's response. Roseau, Dominica – 8am – 6pm.  We took a ships tour to the rain forest.  This was a nice tour and a pretty ride.  (just a 3 hr drive)  Barbados: 8am – 5pm  We took a taxi down town and did some shopping. There’s a nice place to walk before the ship terminal.  Pretty flowers and gardens along the Oceanside. St. Maarten -  11:am to 7:pm  We went to Orient Beach.  (If you walk up to the taxi terminal, you can get a taxi to Orient Beach for $6.00pp if you wait for a few other couples to go with you.)  This beach is beautiful.  (right side of the beach is Clothing Optional)  You can rent a padded lounge chair for $7.00pp.  Well worth it. San Juan – 7:am to 1:pm  Sunday (most shops didn’t open till 10 and 11am) We just took a nice walk up and down the center streets and did a bit of shopping. This was a very relaxing voyage for us.  I love being able to unwind those 2 ½ days at sea before you get to the ports.  Then, after doing 6 days of touring, I love having another 2 ½ days at sea to unwind before coming home!  My husband and I were very happy with this trip and we can be pretty picky people.  Yes it’s an older crowd (we’re in our late 50’s early 60’s) there is very little activity after midnight, but the activity before midnight is just fine with us, and I’m happy to be in bed by 1am.  Happy Sailing!  

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Feb 4, 2007

Eastern Caribbean

Overall Noordam is a great ship. Facilities are excellent from the dining rooms to the restrooms. Staff constantly cleaning the ship day and night, and I've never seen a ship so clean and well kept. This is not a city sized "Mega Ship," but I think the perfect size - not too large, not too small. I would travel anywhere in the world on this ship. My guess at the average age range of the passengers on this ship was between 55 and 70. At 55,

I was at the young end of the range, with a hand full in the 30s and 40s. Service: The staff and service on this ship are outstanding. That is one reason why a lot of older and less able passengers travel on many of Holland America ships, because they have exceptional service and understand the special needs of older passengers. However, my 39 year old wife and I were looking for a little more lively action. Regardless, the trip was great. Itinerary & Excursions: I thought this 10 day agenda was outstanding, a perfect set of ports, whether young or old. Grand Turk and St. Maarten were two of my favorite ports, but the others were good too, such as Tortola (British Virgin Islands), Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands, and San Juan, PR. These ports are loaded with excursion opportunities, and they are very good. For example, at Grand Turk, my wife and I took an Aqua-Boat and Snorkeling excursion, and it was fantastic. While jetting over the ocean on our two-person boat, we ran into two large whales about 50 yards from us, just awesome. The water was sky blue and beautiful. This is a small island, but I loved it. In Tortola, you can swim and play with the Dolphins among other great adventures. Had a terrific time in Saint Maarten, with an island tour in the morning, and an all-you-can-drink rum punch beach bash in the afternoon at Orient Beach. Orient Beach, on the French side of the island, was absolutely breathtaking, and I just never wanted to leave. Like the beaches in France, this is a clothing optional beach, particularly at one end, but you do get some nice cross-over to help the view. You can also go jet skiing and parasailing at Orient Beach. Can't wait to return to this paradise. On the other hand, St. Thomas is great for shopping and taking island tours. San Juan has a nice Tropical Rain Forest tour that was very interesting. Food: We are very picky and spoiled regarding food, but I rate Holland America very good, especially considering the amount people they are feeding. Desserts were their weak point, such as a Butterscotch Sundae with no Butterscotch. That really ticked me off. However, overall, no complaints with the main dining room. The informal/casual Lido dining room was buffet style, and "ok." The top rated and optional "Pinnacle Grill" dining was outstanding in both food and service. It costs extra to dine here, but Wow, what a dinner! Rooms: I had an ocean stateroom with a balcony. Absolutely no complaints about the cabin, it was great and had everything including a shower and tub, lots of closet space, hair dryer, TV, vanity/desk, sopha bed and chair, etc. My four large pieces of luggage fit under the bed with no problem and room for more. The bed was big and comfortable. Loved the cabin. Entertainment, Casino, Ship Store: The Casino was probably average size, not very large, but there was a lot of action going on there. Not enough slot machines, especially nickel and penny slot machines. They were the most used, but the fewest in number. Wish it was bigger, but had lots of fun. The entertainment they had was very good, but not enough of it in my opinion. Love the Piano Bar, and had some great nights there. However, this is not a swingers and party cruise for sure. The Ship store was a waste, with mostly tourist junk rather than practical goods, such as waterproof cameras, suntan lotion, and other needed items that were in short supply. Summary: I would recommend this beautiful ship to almost anyone because of its service, great staff, good food, and exceptional itinerary. However, I would not recommend it for singles, families with kids, or a younger crowd with lots of partying in mind age 15 to 40). That's a shame, because this is one good ship and Holland America proved they are a premium line with exceptional facilities, service, and itineraries.  

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Mar 15, 2006

Eastern Caribbean

A CRUISING EVOLUTION The Noordam is a brand new ship sailing from NYC that sets a standard of what is now available onboard. It is part of a cruise line that is consistently voted best overall cruise value. HOLLAND AMERICA DEBUTS ITS NEWEST SHIP I was invited aboard to preview Holland America’s Noordam while it was docked in Boston prior to its maiden voyage on February 22. The 1918 passenger Noordam represents North, the fourth

point of the compass of Vista class ships that include the Zuiderdam, Oosterdam, and Westerdam. It is the first of these ships to feature the Signature of Excellence enhancements, which Holland America describes as “spacious, elegant ships and accommodations; sophisticated five-star dining; gracious, unobtrusive service; extensive enrichment programs and activities, and compelling worldwide itineraries”. The Noordam evolved by incorporating guest feedback, innovative artistry, upscale amenities, and the latest technology into its traditional niche. She sparkles with style from the contemporary and dramatic to Holland America’s customary time-honored elegance, with ever-present artistic reminders of its Dutch heritage. What’s especially exciting for those of us in the Northeast is that Holland America is now offering Caribbean cruising, going as far south as Barbados, round-trip from NYC. The Noordam alternates between a 10 day Eastern Caribbean and 11 day Southern Caribbean itinerary winter, spring, and fall. Bus transportation to the pier is available from several major cities. Shore excursions are offered at a variety of activity levels--from leisurely bus tours to thrilling adventures. Want to snorkel, whale watch, learn to scuba dive, go tubing, sail by catamaran, or swim with dolphins? You can ride horses on the beach and into the ocean, go on a dune buggy safari in search of pink flamingos or humpback whales, dive to a shipwreck, or search for sea creatures in an Atlantis submarine. Explore the pathways of a tropical rain forest, kayak in a bioluminescent bay, have turtle encounter, take a Green Monkey tour, or just sit back and sample Mount Gay Rum at the distillery. MEDITERRANEAN The Noordam also sails on the other side of the Atlantic—with ten-day cruises of the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, round-trip from Rome. These can be combined for twenty glorious days, spanning the region from Spain to Turkey. Experience the treasures of Rome and Florence, the glamour of Monte Carlo, the catacombs and cathedrals of Sicily, the excitement of Barcelona, the beauty of the Greek Islands, and ponder the Da Vinci Code at the historic sites of the Knights of St. John in Malta. You can walk in the footsteps of St. Paul in ancient Ephesus, Turkey, enter the medieval world inside the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia, and bargain in the souks of La Goulette, Tunisia. TRANSATLANTIC In between, there are 16 day transatlantic voyages between NYC and Rome. Repositioning cruises offer great value and the extra sea days afford you the opportunity to relax and enjoy the features the ship—with the added benefit of avoiding jet-lag. In spring, you can visit the pink sandy beaches of Bermuda, search for whales and dolphin or drive to a volcano in the Azores, then sail on to the treasures of the Mediterranean—including Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Florence and Rome. In fall, the reverse itinerary is offered when the ship returns to New York. A Noordam Stateroom AMENITIES Holland America’s staterooms tend to be more spacious than other cruise lines. Eighty-five percent of the staterooms have ocean views, over two-thirds have private verandas, and there are more veranda suites than on any other Holland America ship. All staterooms in this “Signature of Excellence” ship have new enhancements to make you feel even more pampered--- plush-top beds, flat-panel TVs and DVD players, luxurious terry robes and towels, spa-grade toiletries, and premium showerheads. Vista Dining Room DINING The dual-level Vista dining room is stunning with great views of the sea, fresh floral arrangements, sparkling Rosenthal china and crisp linens. Musicians perform during the four assigned seating times of the five course dinner. Choices range from regional, continental, and traditional cuisine to vegetarian and low-carb. The reservations-only extra-cost elegant Pinnacle Grill features exceptional Pacific Northwest cuisine, fine wines, and Sterling Silver beef. Tables are set with Bulgari china, Riedel stemware, and fine Frette linens. We would be hard pressed to find a single favorite here, but the Dungeness crab cakes, filet mignon, warm Grand Marnier Chocolate Volcano Cake were superb! Service is impeccable—attentive to your every need but not overbearing. This is the place to celebrate, share a romantic evening, or get better acquainted with new-found friends over a leisurely meal. The Lido Restaurant The Lido Restaurant is more casual, with food stations to keep lines to a minimum. Our luncheon included fresh fruits, salads, roast beef, Wiener Schnitzel, and some scrumptious Key Lime Pie. Among the other selections were such Asian specialties as sushi, a pasta and pizza area, and a deli with sandwiches. The ice cream bar offers an assortment of toppings, and there’s a showcase of tempting desserts, cut small enough to make it easy to sample more than one. Some nights, perhaps after a busy day in port, you may want a more casual meal, or to dine at a different time. At dinner, there is waiter service in the Lido, and if you are hungry after a night of dancing, there’s the late-night buffet. Dessert Time in the Lido The Terrace Grill is the place for a quick snack or burger by the pool. Not to be missed is Holland America’s signature Royal Dutch High Tea, offered once each cruise, a demonstration of Old World elegance. One of the Shows on the Noordam ACTIVITIES There’s the full range of evening entertainment—the two-story Vista show lounge for major performances, a cabaret-style theater, piano bar with sing-alongs, sports bar with live telecasts, movie theater with recent releases and free popcorn, casino, golf simulator, and two night clubs, each with a DJ and dance floor—the glittering Northern Lights and Crow’s Nest, high atop the ship, surrounded by glass. Or you may simply enjoy a romantic moonlit stroll along the Promenade deck surrounded by gentle breezes and the fresh scent of the sea. Club HAL Playroom The ship is designed for multigenerational fun and varied interests. The expanded ClubHAL features three separate age-specific areas—children, tweens, and teens-- for children age 5 and up. The Loft—with music and videos, big screen TV, teen dances and pizza parties provides teens with their own zone. The Greenhouse Spa and Salon The luxurious Greenhouse Spa and Salon has been expanded for this ship. Heated Ceramic Lounges Corridors from the hydrotherapy pool lead to thermal suites, to heated ceramic loungers that overlook the sea, and to rooms for special treatments, like the couples massage, dry float, and steam and aromatics. Staying fit is rewarded with a sweeping view of the ocean. The fully-equipped exercise facility also offers such classes as Pilates and the services of a personal trainer. Talking Cooking with the Chef We all scooped up our recipe cards after sampling Warm Shrimp Salad with White Beans and Arugula and some Slow-Roasted Salmon with Cabbage, Bacon, and Dill prepared by renowned Chef Michael Schlow of the award-winning Radius, Via Matta and Great Bay restaurants in Boston. You, too, can learn from the pros in the new Culinary Arts Center, a state-of-the art show kitchen with plasma video screens for close-ups. In partnership with Food and Wine Magazine, top food and wine experts offers cooking demonstrations, tasting events, and classes for up to 15 participants. Explorations Café, described by Dan Grausz, HAL Senior Vice President, as a “luxury Barnes and Noble”, integrates an espresso and pastry bar, the largest library at sea, music listening stations with MP3 players and comfortable lounge chairs, and an Internet café, with a game room with jigsaw and crossword puzzles. Soon, you’ll be able to check out an iPod nano for a guided tour of the ship’s impressive art collection. Accommodations are made for those with special physical or dietary needs. Call Holland America or your travel agent for details. SUMMARY On a vacation like this, everything is in place for you to nourish your body, mind, and soul—in style. Holland America has created a fun and relaxing yet stimulating and enriching environment, with the ambience and amenities that put it a cut above the rest. Holland America’s thirteen ships embark on 500 cruises, with 80 itineraries to 280 ports of call in 63 countries and all 7 continents, on voyages that range from 2 to 108 days. Condé Nast Traveler and Travel and Leisure readers rate it the highest rated premium cruise line in the world.

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Sep 9, 2004

Classic Europe

BOOKING: Our first HAL cruise was aboard the Noordam (Rome to Barcelona cruise date: May, 2002). Because of the impeccable service, great ports and overall satisfaction with that cruise, it was not a hard decision to rebook on the Noordam. The booking was easily accomplished on the telephone, with a very helpful and polite booking agent. Because we have sailed HAL before, we routinely receive both e-mail and regular mail notifications

urging us to take another cruise with HAL. I asked the booking agent about the cabin class that we booked under. (We prefer to take a lower cabin, as the lower decks do not seem to rock as much as the upper decks in inclement and windy weather. We’re seldom in the cabin, anyway, so, as long as we have a porthole, we’re good.) I asked the booking agent about upgrade offers, mainly to just see what was offered. She told me that this offer would guarantee an upgrade. Fine. I didn’t ask what that amounted to. I did ask her what perks we got as members of the “Mariner’s Society”. I found out that the answer was, basically, nothing. I did tell the booking agent that we wanted a double bed. Most of my questions to the booking agent concerned the itinerary. I was assured that, yes, the cruise included a day of cruising in the Norwegian Fjords. We booked our cruise without air flights, as we wanted to spend some time in Copenhagen before the cruise and the fact that, being an airline employee, we are afforded free flights. We usually plan to go to our beginning port a few days early, as standby flying can, and does, often leave us stuck in an airport hoping to make the next flight. PRE CRUISE AND BOARDING: We spent a delightful 3 days in Copenhagen on our own. Not knowing the distance between the airport and port when we booked, we took the HAL airport /pier transfer option at approximately $40.00 each. What a disappointment when we later found that we could have taken a cab for approximately $6.00 (US) each! At any rate, boarding was relatively smooth. Although our luggage took a very long time to get to our cabin (which was supposed to have been upgraded), and we had twin beds instead of the double bed as promised, we considered this minor. . Shortly after arriving, I found, in between the built in dresser and one of the beds in our cabin, extensive medical records of a former occupant of our room. I began to wonder about the deep cleaning of the cabins in between cruises, as I realized that even a cursory inspection of the cabin would have located these private and confidential documents. As we could not unpack, we went to explore and take the medical records to the main office to ask that they be sent to the person to whom they belonged. As we got to the main office, we discovered a great line of angry passengers assembled there with varying complaints that their cabin was not as had been promised, was not acceptably clean, inferior furnishings and amenities, etc. We managed to drop the records off and make our exit. When we went to the Lido deck to see Copenhagen from the ship, it was interesting to see divers on the dock, diving beneath the ship. As the day wore on, it became obvious that repairs were being hastily made to the ship. As we looked forward to beginning our cruise, an announcement was made from the Captain that he had been “urgently requested” to remain in port overnight and leave on our cruise until the next day. Nothing about why. We left 22 hours late, on Saturday, the 11th of Sept. We were later told by some passengers that the reason we were delayed was because the Noordam had hit a sandbar on the way in to Copenhagen and damaged a prop. That was later confirmed when many passe ngers watched as a piece of the prop, approximately 4 ft in size, was hauled to the surface after being cut off the prop. GETTING STARTED: 22 hours late, we left Copenhagen and arrived in Oslo, Norway the next morning. Tours were available, however, because it was Sunday, very, very few establishments were open, leaving the only opportunity for souvenirs the pier side shops that offered typical tacky merchandise at inflated prices. ITENARARY: At Sea: Turbulent weather, high seas and winds. Many seasick passengers. Antwerp, Belgium Although we were supposed to go to Antwerp, Belgium, this was not to be. We encountered very rough seas and high winds. The next day, we were told that we would not be able to make port at Antwerp, but would instead go to Zeebrugge, Belgium. Shore excursions were hurriedly changed and chosen. We had planned our excursion to Brussels. The trip to Ghent was picturesque, but was a poor substitute for Brussels. LeHarve, France: We were up at 5:00 a.m. and in the Admiral’s Lounge, ready for our much anticipated trip to Paris. It was only then that we were informed that there would be no trips to Paris. We were told that we were 12 hours behind schedule and would not arrive in port to allow time for the longer shore excursions. We had encountered some bad whether, yes, but, seemed to “lose” the 12 hours after we had weathered the worst of the storms and winds. At that point, the Noordam became a vessel of approximately 1,200 absolutely livid passengers. There was a small number of passengers on board that had cruised for a very specific reason. They were elderly persons, some of whom had literally saved for this trip for a long period of time. They were on somewhat of a pilgrimage. They had fought on the beaches of Normandy, during the D Day invasion. They came to go back to pay their respects to their fallen brothers. They were told, as well, that they would not be going. The majority of the passengers on board had considered visiting Paris as one, maybe the most important, reason for booking this cruise, however the disappointment we all felt for ourselves paled as the story of these passenger’s loss circulated around the ship. Most passengers even decided that, as a group, we would agree to completely abort the next port, Vigo, Spain, and stay longer at LeHarve to allow these heroes to complete their mission. Someone went to the Captain, I am told, and asked if this might be accomplished. The answer was a resounding “NO”. (Seems that most requests to the staff ended with “NO”) This was hard to understand, as most of us understood that port changes are not at all completely unheard of, and apparently very easy to achieve. Maybe that only works when it is convenient to HAL. At any rate, it is my understanding that these persons did not get to make their trip. Because of the complete and total disgust at the treatment of these persons, not to mention the disappointment of other passengers and earlier problems with the cruise, many, many e-mails were generated from the ship to the administration of HAL. I did get an answer to mine – basically that my concerns were noted, however, due to the volume of complaints directly from the Noordam, they could not address the issues at that time. Despite the promise that they would “fully respond” to my concerns at a later time, I am still awaiting their response, 2 weeks after our return home. Our alternate shore excursion was a great disappointment. We went Honfleur, France. Although is a beautiful, quaint little town, we were taken there by the tour bus, unceremoniously dumped, and left for 2 ½ hours before the bus reappeared. Our tour guide was quite apologetic, however. He had been just as shocked as the passengers. He and the driver were at the pier at 6:00 a.m. to pick us up for the trip to Paris. There was no ship at the pier. The staff of HAL had simply not notified the tour providers of the interruption of the shore excursions. Our guide was prepared for a Paris tour. He knew virtually nothing about Honfleur. We, therefore, were transported, dumped and left to our own devices to see the sights. By this time, there were few happy people on board. Several couples told me personally that they planed to just leave the cruise and fly home when we reached Lisbon. I understand that some passengers actually did follow through with that plan. VIGO, SPAIN: We were told, by the Captain, that we would again be late to our next port, Vigo, Sprain. We, however, arrived on time. Strangely, since all of the complaints from the ship to HAL, the communication from the Captain to the passengers (almost non-existent up until this time) abruptly changed. For the rest of the cruise, we had reports and updates from the Captain several times a day. At this port, we saw a glimmer of change in the cruise. We had a great shore excursion to the beautiful Parador in Bayona (a 14th century castle renovated into a beautiful state owned hotel) overlooking the breathtakingly beautiful blue Ria de Vigo below and to the ruins of an Iron Lisbon was a very interesting and picturesque port. Not necessarily a place that I would visit again, but still, quite interesting and lovely. GIBRALTAR: One of the absolute highlights of the cruise. Beautiful and historical. Our tour guide was a history writer and was absolutely passionate with his love for and knowledge of his home. BARCELONA: This has never been a favorite city for me. It was, however, quite impressive to many other passengers. MONTE CARLO: If there is a fairy land on earth, this is it. We could not stop at Monte Carlo as planned, but anchored in the bay at Ville Franche’, France. This beautiful little paradise was an added bonus, despite being another deviation from our itinerary. Only about 30 minutes from Monte Carlo, this change resulted in a beautiful 30 minute ride to Monte Carlo along the beautiful French Rivera. Monte Carlo has an atmosphere and flavor that simply can’t be found anywhere else on earth. We have traveled extensively in the Mediterranean and have seen many beautiful sights. This place, however, somehow exudes such gentleness, pride and warmth that one could be happy there for a long, long time. The people of Monte Carlo still show a great respect and love for their deceased Princess, Grace, over 20 years after her untimely death. The absolute jewel in the crown of the Med. ROME, ITALY: What can be said about this Eternal City that has not already been said? Despite the terrible traffic, pick pockets, often perceived intensity of the Italian people, who could not want to visit this place over and over again? Each time there, we have discovered sights and learned facts about the Roman Empire that we didn’t know before. The city itself, coupled with the remarkable St. Peters’ Basilica and Vatican City make you understand that this is not a place to be seen in one day. This place must be visited solely and apart from any other place. This city must be explored, felt, respected and appreciated. One should spend more than a little time studying the Roman history to understand and appreciate the great significance and remarkable accomplishments of those ancient architects, artists, sculptors, and great minds of the day. This city literally makes history come alive. You are there, walking the same paths of those Emperors (whether good or bad as history might record), touching the same structures, imagining how incredible it must have been when the buildings were in tact and these ruins were a bustling center of civilization. I confess, I have a great passion for Rome. CONDITION OF THE NOORDAM: We chose this cruise because of the variety we felt the itinerary offered. Having cruised on the Noordam previously, we had no hesitation whatsoever about doing it again. This time, however, it had changed dramatically. The ship was not nearly as clean as two years ago. We got the impression that, because the Noordam had only 5 cruises left after ours, HAL had no real interest in what happened - whether to the ship or to the passengers. The windows were disgustingly dirty, laundry facilities were scarce (only 7 machines to serve 1200 passengers at times created hostility among passengers). To do a load of laundry was a time consuming commitment, as you had to literally stay in the cramped laundry facilities in order to claim your place in line and stay during the time your laundry was being done. Some passengers simply put their things in and left. When they weren’t back at the end of the cycle, their clothing was simply removed from the machine and piled on the top to allow the next person to use the facilities. On our next cruise, we will take advantage of the expensive but easier on board laundry service. The ship had a continual vibration for the entire duration of the ship, especially at the port side stern area. Some of the passengers said that the damaged prop was the problem. Public areas were adequate for a smaller ship and given the age of the Noordam, appropriate. The Admiral's Lounge continues to be a terrible place to try to watch entertainment, as there are only a few seats available that offer a decent view. Otherwise, you will be getting a view only of the back of the person's head in front of you. It was easy enough to find a quite place to read. Many times I sat alone on the upper promenade deck reading until late afternoon, when it seems most everyone tries to get their 5 laps for a daily mile. THE STAFF AND CREW: Staff really did not seem to have any feeling at all for the passengers, nor did they try to make amends for all of the problems on the cruise. The shore excursion staff seemed to discount the passenger’s disappointment and frustration at the terrible first week of the cruise, their response to one passenger that I overheard being something to the tune of: “Oh, this nothing. We had a terrible cruise about 2 weeks ago. Everything went wrong”. There was no apology from the Cruise Director and no real apology or explanation of all of the problems from the Captain. The Captain only insisted that all of the problems were totally weather related (the passengers, however, all agreed that most of the problems were more closely related to the fact that we were under way with an unbalanced prop, which we felt was a great hindrance to the ship maintaining the proper speed to achieve all of the ports.) He did, however, attempt to make a lame gesture at appeasement. Each passenger was offered a free glass of wine at dinner! Some of the passengers asked for a beer instead, but were told that that would not be allowed. Wine or nothing! The service staff, however, was very congenial, hard working and outgoing. Communication between the staff and passengers (especially the Captain) was almost non-existent until after all of the complaints were e-mailed to HAL. Most of the first week of the cruise, we were seldom informed of what body of water we were in, what land masses we were passing, etc. We had cleared the Dover Straits before we even knew we were there. After the complaints, there was an amazing change. The Captain and cruise director were on the PA system several times daily giving passengers updates. Just a shame that that must not be the normal procedure. It should not have taken complaints to the home office to make this change. FOOD: The food was unremarkable. Not nearly as good or inviting as any other cruise I have ever taken. We chose to eat in the formal dining room only 4 nights during this 14 day cruise. We had been assured that we would have the early seating, even though we were on the waiting list at the time we booked. That did not happen. For most meals, we ate from the line in the Lido. There was a lot or repetition of dishes, but the food was reasonably good, reasonably presented, faster, more casual and just easier. A 2 hour dinner each night is not our idea of relaxing. Lunch outside on the Lido, though was another adventure altogether. I have some serious reservations about the cleanliness of that little facility. The food was just not good. The most disturbing thing was that we and another passenger were served moldy bread. Maybe this was just the last straw for me. That was the end of my hamburger/hot dog meals on board. OTHER: As I mentioned, we are not terribly fond of the 2 hour meal each evening. Nor do we get excited about the “look at me” nights. When we travel, we go to relax. A tux and heavy sequined dress is just not what we want to do. Many passengers seemed to have the same attitude and skip those evenings in the dining room. Formal or semi formal dress being required to enter the dining room for no less than 3 nights was just a bit much. Thankfully, however, there was an alternative. I will not criticize too heavily, as I believe that this is a matter for each person to decide for themselves. CONCLUSION: Will we sail HAL again? Probably not. Although we encountered many frustrating problems, I understand that weather can play havoc with an itinerary. I do believe, however, that a great percentage of our problems were more attributable to problems with the ship than HAL was ready to accept or admit. My main reason for not planning to sail with HAL again is their unspeakable callous disregard for those passengers that sailed to return to the Normandy Beaches. These men were heroes. These men helped to secure the freedom of the very country we were in. Passengers on the ship were willing to give up the next port in order to allow these persons to return to pay their respects to those that they fought shoulder to shoulder with, but did not come home. I cannot imagine treating these persons in any such way. That is my main reason to choose another cruise line. The very least that HAL should do is to take those men and their wives back to Normandy at HAL’s expense. Most of the passengers thought, and each person that I have told of our experience has opined, that HAL owes ALL of the passengers some sort of concession in repayment of all for the problems. Even though I heartily agree that the passengers of this ship were treated shabbily by HAL, I would be most satisfied if HAL would do the right thing for that very small group of passengers that were disappointed the most. I would speculate that most of the other passengers will have the opportunity to sail again in the future, but I don’t know about this small group. Most of these persons were over the age of 80, some with walkers, some obviously becoming fragile. I do plan to write HAL and hope the other 1200 passengers do so as well. I hope that anyone reading this long, long review will understand our feelings and disappointment. I also hope that you will determine the places you want to visit and check to see if another cruise line can take you there.  

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Aug 20, 2004

Baltic Capitals

I have just returned from our first cruise holiday with Holland America on MS Noordam. We had such a fantastic time we are already planning our next cruise! We checked in a few minutes (it helps to do the immigration forms on the internet) minutes and less than five minutes later we had been welcomed on Board and were being taken to our cabin by our steward. The cabin was comfortable and my concern that we had an inside cabin was allayed

when we realised we had a TV with a forward camera on the bridge. Hence we could se outside at any time. The Noordam is an older ship and was middle sized. As it became our home for 10 days it proved friendly, extremely good service and just the ticket for this wonderful cruise to places that a few years ago would have been just impossible.. As we enjoyed the departure party on one of the decks we eased out of Copenhagen and out to sea towards Estonia. The first encounter with the dining room was excellent and we met our fellow travellers at Dinner and quickly found we got on well. The food is just sumptuous – I am already on my way to the gym!!! It is wall to wall lavish indulgence from the ice cream bar from heaven (?when else would I eat coconut ice cream with blackberries in brandy!!) to the late night jazz with coffee and chocolates. We stopped at Estonia in Tallinn and what a delightful place it was. It is very old and has many narrow cobbled streets lined with pastel coloured gabled houses full of interesting little shops selling Baltic amber, beautiful linens and every kind of Matrushka doll (those nestling ones). Before each Port there was an excellent talk on the culture, highlights, shopping and eating/drinking (in case we were hungry!) and we were given an information sheet and map. >From Tallinn we sailed to St Petersburg which was the highlight of the cruise. We sailed down the shallow channels with pilots guiding us. Russian immigration was courteous and efficient and those of us who had booked tours enjoyed ourselves. Yes the Hermitage was crowded and hot, and the tours were crammed with information and we were not able to wander at will unless we had paid quite a bit for a Russian Visa. However the Hermitage was wonderful, the buildings just magnificent and the history and culture – awesome. The Church of the Spilt Blood must be in every one of our photo albums as it was just beautiful. The evening show we went to was the Folklore Spectacular and was well worth the trip – just stunning. Singing and dancing with the full Cossack display included. We sailed onto Helsinki where is rained a great deal – so I went shopping (there is some serious shopping in this city) – Stockman’s and Mari Mekko are both great places to shop. There are also some great things to see such as the Sibelius tribute and the wonderful churches. The next day we arrived in Stockholm which was just superb. The old Town (Gamla Stan) is worth a visit and the glassware was just stunning. Many of us shipped lots home! This was a lovely city where we saw the changing of the Royal Guard at the palace tried the local delicacies and watched the world go by (as advised in the Port Lecture). Sailing through the archipelago was just fantastic We woke the next day to find it rather windy and the Captain decided we could not stop at Visby as it was not safe enough to tender us all ashore. While we got free champagne at dinner to compensate we in fact really enjoyed a day at sea – we needed the rest from the sightseeing. So it was just great raining the library, going to an Art auction, watching a movie with popcorn and generally doing nothing other than eat (did I mention the food on this trip?). Our last stop was Warnemunde and for many the opportunity to visit Berlin was fabulous. We chose to take the tour “A taste of Rostock” and what a treat. After a walki around the old Hanseatic Town (in the former East Germany) we visited a farmers market (large wedges of fresh strawberry cake and strawberry schnapps). We then went to a charcoal burner lodge in the forest where we heard traditional hunting horns welcome us and we had a tour of the traditional woodburning lodge. We then dined on Bratwurst and salad and beer from the griddle. After this we had a stroll in the forest looking at the wood sculptures. After this we headed back to the ship but stopped on the way at a small family brewery where we had a brief tour and then tried the beautiful sweet beer. We were each presented with a beer glass with the coat-of-arms of the Brauhaus. When we got back to the ship we strolled through the seaside town of Warnemunde and had a terrific afternoon on the beach. There was a beerfest in full swing when we got back on board complete with an Oompah band!. This was a fabulous trip that we enjoyed very much. Minor niggles were few but included: - Tickets that did not have the correct point of departure – ship left from a different port/pier! - We did not realise we would have to disembark before 9am and had a long and tedious wait at the airport of many hours (there were lots of passengers in the same situation - It would have been great to have hairdryers provided in every cabin - We hired tuxedo and evening dress but it was not really necessary as the majority of men wore lounge suits. Apart from this we had a great time and would recommend this cruise as excellent value for the money we paid. Crew and entertainment were great – and of course did I mention the food…….  

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Dec 7, 2003

Southern Caribbean

If you are from the warmer areas of the earth, you may like your cabin with temperatures in the high 80's ore 90's. Also, if you have taken a cruise in the past on Commodore Lines or on some other cut-rate cruise-line, you will love the MS Noordam. If you just moved from a third world or old soviet block country, you will feel at home. I take that back Russians wouldn't stand for the cabins because they are too much like prison! If

you purchase Liquor or Cigarettes off-shore, go quick to the front desk to verify your purchases because when you sail away, or when you get home, you can't fix the problems without a great big hassle! It may not be the fault of Holland America but their policy of not delivering goods directly to your cabin and holding them to the night before you pull into Tampa.

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Jul 30, 2003

Baltic Sea

I am a seasoned traveler who has been to two dozen countries throughout the world. I travel on business and pleasure and have been to Europe about 25 times. On this trip I took my oldest son who is 14. The Baltic cruise on the MS Noordam was my first cruise. This was a 10 day cruise. I picked Holland America Lines (HAL) because my parents took an Alaskan cruise with them in the mid-80s and only had good things to say. Overall, for my

cruise, I would have to say that I am very satisfied with all aspects of the cruise. I give it an A-. This assessment is affected by the modest sum that I paid (about $100 per day, per person). Had I paid two or three times that amount (as I am sure others did), I am not sure I would rate the cruise that highly. I booked online with HAL which was quite easy. Because I guaranteed my booking, I was upgraded 5 categories by the time I boarded the ship. The upgrades took me from the last passenger deck, Deck C, to Deck A. I do not believe that the room size was different between these decks but being on Deck A was more convenient to the main decks. We had an inside room which was perfectly fine. The room size was better the four star hotel that I stayed in the night before I boarded the ship. We were very pleased with the room (Room 437). Our favorite place on the ship was the Lido deck, off of the back of the ship. It was large, with nice views, and was very comfortable while at sea. Day 1: Copenhagen, Denmark We showed up at the port at 2pm for boarding and there was no ship. This was somewhat distressing. The ship was delayed due to engine problems. HAL arranged for a shuttle to take us back to town for the 3 hours that the ship was delayed. This was fine with us since it gave us additional time in Copenhagen. When it came time to board there were long lines and we were standing in the sun for most of that time. HAL should have had some drinks available at the dock for the people in line. The worst service that we received on the trip occurred here. I asked a HAL employee, twice, if he could get a pen for me to fill out some of the forms. Both times he told me to borrow one from the other passengers. Day 2: At sea - sailing for Tallin, Estonia The day was very foggy so the ship’s fog horn was used quite a bit. This added to the day for me however as it made it a little more adventurous. With the wide Upper Promenade Deck and the easy access to a deck chair, it was a great day to read a book from the Library or to talk to shipmates. Day 3: Tallin, Estonia What a great little city. The communists did not invest in a lot Tallin so the city center is much as it was 100 to 500 years ago. Our guide was a college kid learning how to guide as he went so he was a little disappointing when it came to facts and figures but gave us good insights into what the youth of Estonia thought about the recent past and of their own future. We had a wonderful sail-away party on the back deck with great music and wine. Throughout the cruise, the ship always seemed to have live music playing which was a nice touch. Day 4: St. Petersburg, Russia In Russia we found the best guides on the trip. They were very knowledgeable and engaging. We attended a folk dancing performance that night and it was spectacular. Being that this year is the 300th anniversary of the founding of the city, a lot of money has been put into restoring the main attractions and tourist sites. It was a big difference from my visit in 1984. There was also a trip to Moscow made available ($600 per person) but you would only have about 6 hours in the city. I have been to both cities and St. Petersburg is more interesting to me. The “been there done that” bragging rights on Red Square is really the only factor I would give Moscow over St. Petersburg. Day 5: St Petersburg, Russia On day 5, which was a Monday, the Hermitage Museum was supposed to be closed. I don’t know how, and I am not sure I want to know, but our Shore Excursion office managed to have it opened just for tours from the Noordam. The Hermitage, which after my first visit has been my favorite museum in the world, has up to 20,000 visitors a day during the summer. To have a private tour, which was joined by the curator, was a special highlight of the trip for me. Day 6: Helsinki, Finland More engine troubles so we arrived in Helsinki late. This was fine with me because I found that Helsinki is a clean and nice city but very boring. The shuttle into the city was $5 each person each way. Since we arrived very late to the city I, and others, expected HAL to waive the fee but they did not. Day 7: Stockholm, Sweden This city has a wonderful “Old City”. Tallin’s old city was older but was in the process of being restored so there was still a lot of decay. Sweden’s Old City was pristine. The alley-ways and streets are a photographers dream. Sailing through the archipelago which surrounds Stockholm took three hours and I wish it took more as it was delightful. Day 8: Visby, Sweden Visby is on a large island, called Gotland, in the middle of the Baltic Sea. By this time we were “toured out” and wanted to explore on our own. The ship was anchored in the harbor and we took Tenders into the dock which was fun. Visby was an unexpected highlight for me as the city was even more interesting than Stockholm’s old city and the views from the shoreline were memorable. Day 9: Warnemunde, Germany We started the day off by taking the train to Rostock which was okay. Arriving back in Warnemunde we found that it was ship-week, and all the tall ships were in port. Had it not been for the tall ships, this stop would have been almost as boring as Helsinki. The sail away that night was attended by thousands of people who were at the docks for the tall ships. With all of the people cheering and all of the ships trying to out-do each other with their fog horns, it was quite a send-off. Day 10: Arhus, Denmark We went to two museums while in Arhus and found it a pleasant last stop. The next day we landed in Copenhagen and left the ship at 8:30am. I have read reports on the Noordam which speak of vibration on the ship. The vibration is there, and is often noticeable, but it was really not a bother for us in the least. The passengers are generally older and many are retired. Some of the passengers would often advance themselves in line at the expense of others. They did not cut in line but were very aggressive in moving forward. This was very noticeable throughout the trip, especially when disembarking for excursions. The ironic part was that we were all going on the same set of buses. I did hear one lady complain that there was a heavy odor from cleaning fluids in her room. They offered her a fan but refused to upgrade or move her as far as I know. The biggest surprise for me was that soft drinks were extra ($1.95 each). There was plenty of free iced tea and we did buy a 14 pack of soft drink tickets for $20. Since this was the biggest “surprise”, I am quite happy.

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May 25, 2002

Nothbound European Capitals

Here is my review of my 14 day "dream vacation" on HAL MS. Noordam, May 26 - June 9, 2002 ... from Civitavecchia, Rome to Copenhagen, Denmark, with 10 shore stops in-between...did I tell you that this was my first cruise. I am well into my sixties, and I have traveled a great deal but this was to be an experience of my lifetime...and it came highly recommended. We had chosen HAL because we were told that HAL catered to an older set

of passengers and gratuities are not required. Now, that put my mind at ease immediately, not only would I not have teeny-weenies whooping it up all night...but I would not have to shell out another fortune in tips...both assumptions proved to be true. (let me say, tips are not required...but looked forward to and well deserved). My sister and I began our travels in early May, in Germany, with another couple and we worked our way down to Rome...where we were to board the MS. Noordam, on the 26th of May. We had seen enough of lugging luggage from train stations to hotels and were looking forward to 2 weeks of relaxation. We were not disappointed...did I tell you this was my first cruise? To my way of thinking, having had no prior thoughts, everything was so well planned, I was happy to just let HAL direct me to my next activity...Each day, we met the spectacular crew, always busy at attending to our needs or those of the ship...they seemed to work 25 hours a day and never lost their cheery disposition...there were daily shore excursion briefings for those of us who had no idea where we were...and they were very good...I enjoyed my quiet time in the library (which was way too small) while my sister entertained herself with a game of Rummy Cube with friends in the card room...and “friends”" you pick up all during the cruise...had HAL recruited Central Casting? There was plenty to eat, plenty on the menu to choose from, and nothing to complain about even when it did not meet my taste...I still had more than enough to eat and I certainly ate more than I should have eaten. But what the heck...I was on vacation...I went to the movies (something I rarely do at home) loved “Casablanca” (again) and a different “"Count of Monte Christo”...ate lots of freshly popped popcorn (another thing I haven't done in ages.)..Enjoyed my 5 laps around the deck (I needed that)...didn't go into the pool, didn't play pool or tennis or shuffle board...but could have...I saw most of the shows...some of them were good...relaxed in the Crow's Nest some nights and went dancing with my sister on other nights...and even got asked to dance by one of the HAL dancers employed for just that sort of thing...did I tell you I was having fun? Around the 4th day onboard, my sister, (with whom I shared cabin 506) told me that she had been bitten by bedbugs the night before...as stupid as I am...I was having too much fun to let one bedbug ruin my “dream Vacation”...so, I wrote a note to the cabin steward asking him to check the bed for bedbugs. And when we returned to our cabin that evening there were noxious fumigating fumes in the room. This necessitated that we leave our inside cabin door open to try to “air out” our cabin. We did not speak to the steward and other than the fumes, we had no message from him. That night my sister was not bitten again. And I wanted to forget the whole thing on my “dream Vacation”. But, on another occasion, about a week into the cruise, I overheard another passenger complaining at the front desk about bedbugs in her cabin. And on hearing her complain, I chimed in that we too had had a similar problem. I then made the front desk aware that this was not a singular incident and I told front desk that I thought that the problem had been taken care of. But it wasn't. Again my sister awoke with blisters on her arms and a bed bug sitting on her pillow. She called for a steward to come into the room but the little bug took off before it was spotted again. This time we went right to the front desk. We were told that they would fumigate our room and we would be welcome to sleep in another cabin if one was available. One was, at the other end of our deck, cabin 426, I believe. But we still spent the day (and as little time as possible) in our cabin 506. Too bad we were not offered to move ourselves into an upgrade...and not breathe in the fumigation for the rest of the cruise. We weren't. We were offered the card of HAL business office in the event we wanted to make a stink. Before the week was out, the couple traveling with us and sleeping in cabin 510, discovered bed bugs in their sleeping quarters...and not long after, another couple in the cabin next to theirs were savagely attacked...it was a week of the mighty bedbugs and the deck reeked with smell of the fumigating agent. It still stank on the day we arrived in Copenhagen. And we were told that they were preparing for another cruise that afternoon! Since I had nothing to compare it with, I was enjoying all that HAL had to offer on the Noordam aside from this unpleasant episode. I don't know what obligation HAL feels towards passengers but I feel very leery now of taking another cruise...believing that very little is done in the way of preventive measures in housekeeping...well, at least not on Holland American Lines.

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Feb 16, 2002

Southern Caribbean

The food was very good both in the restaurant and in the Lido. The service of the staff was excellent and friendly in the restaurants as well as in the bars. We enjoyed the stops on the islands of Aruba and Bonaire. With 6 other cruise-friends, we met during our transfer to Tampa on the airport of Memphis, we hired a taxi and went on Dominica to the National Park and to the beach of hotel Castaways. We visited the volcano

of Soufriere on the beautiful island of St. Lucia. On Barbados we were witness to a nice parade in Bridgetown. A very pleasant surprise, appreciated by all, was the invitation of the captain Mr. Jan Smit and the hotel-manager Mr. Jan Scheringa for a cozy meeting with the Dutch passengers in the Horne Pipe Club. This cruise there were 41 people from the Netherlands on board whereas mostly the number is about 12/14. We liked the shows of the Noordam cast more than the comedians, because the jokes are difficult to understand for us in English and several times I fell asleep. But they were certainly good, since the American and Canadian audience had great fun. Overall we again had a great cruise-experience in spite of the vibration of the ship. The ship can't be compared with the newest generation of cruise-ships, but she still is a real ship with a real wraparound teak deck. If you have any question, please feel free to email me.

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Feb 6, 2002

Western Caribbean

Well, first the ship was old and loud. The crew were very polite and friendly. The ports we visited were for the most part nice. The problem with this cruise is not the staff or even the "old" noisy ship. The problem is with Holland America itself. On our particular cruise, we were fogged in on our return to Tampa 5 hours out. We were delayed about 7 hours. instead of getting into port at 7:00am it was 2:00pm. Don't forget, you

still have to unload luggage and clear customs first. the ship crew had said the airlines have been notified and re-scheduling was in effect. In the mean time there was no food or water available after 12:00 noon. We did not get off the ship and out of customs until 6:00pm. The bus dropped us off at the Tampa airport and "left us on our own". We ALL had to make our own arrangements since the airport no longer had any more flights that night, my wife and I along with several others, spent the night on the floor of the airport. I had made arrangements for a different flight for the next day, however it was not direct and cost an extra $150.00We had no choice. After writing H.A.L. their solution to the problem was to give us "shipboard credit" on our next cruise, of which I tell you will NEVER happen again. If you really don't care if your cruise line will take care of you or not then go H.A.L. Other wise, shop around, there are too many cruise lines out there.

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Nov 30, -0001

Rome To Istanbul

Embarkation: B-      We arrived in Rome the evening before to get over the jet lag from the west coast and to make sure we gave ourselves some room incase of a flight cancellation (United is never on time out of SFO!). We stayed at the Sheraton Rome, which I had stayed before. It's a nice convention hotel on the outskirts of town between Rome and the airport. We had arranged for a car from the concierge and it was about

$20 more for two, in comparison to the HAL transfers, so it was well worth it.      We arrived at the ship in the port city around 1:00. The gangway was out so we boarded the ship and was directed to the card room for check in. No one was on the pier to take pictures and there was no fanfare for boarding. We were given our papers and directed (not escorted) to our cabin on Sun Deck.      The Cabin: A      We had cabin 006 on Sun Deck. The cabin was in great shape with new carpets and a fresh bathroom with a full size tub. The cabin was a great size, about 20% larger than the standard outside cabin on the Statendam class ships. We were just next door to the Crows Nest so it was convenient for that room. Our cabin steward was good, but I only met him once. The only draw back was that there is a bare metal sundeck above these cabins and you hear every deck chair being moved and stacked all day long.      Note: Peeked in to the Mini-Suites and they were totally gutted and redone in wonderful shades of gray and mint green. They are stunning and unlike any HAL cabin I've seen. The Ship: B The Noordam like her sister N. Amsterdam are the oldest ships in the HAL fleet and are either sold or up for sale. The Noordam just emerged from a freshening before the European season with new carpets and upholstery. The ship looked very clean and fresh. The carpets are similar to those on the newer ships.      Most of the public rooms are on two decks with a large lounge midship and the lido in the aft leading to one of the two pools. Our cruise was full and it showed in the larger public spaces. The Lido was re-configured so its better than it was, but the aft pool is crowded, as are many other parts of the ship. The Noordam has a lower passenger allocation for food and flowers (per one of our officers) than the newer ships (hence the $999 rates) and it shows. Very limited on the flowers throughout the ship.      The main show lounge is lovely at a lounge but horrible for shows. All, but a hand full of seats have site lines and most passengers had to stand. The casino is nice but a bit crowded on full sailings. The Horn Pipe club, or the disco was very dark and we were told they did not do too many renovations to this area so they just keep lowering the lights.      Now for the vibration. Anywhere you are you can feel it. When the ship is under way be sure to visit the liquor store. All the bottles rattle together so much that its funny. While lounging by the pool body parts vibrate, including those on many of the asleep passengers. It's like being on a vibrating bed in a cheap motel! The ship is like a big pager set on vibrate!      Also, I found it quite tacky to have "bug zappers" outside the lido by the pool. Who wants to hear bugs frying over hot lights when getting their food at the outdoor grill or laying by the pool.       The Food:      Some of the worst we ever had on HAL. Apparently they now get their desserts flown in from Cheescake Factory and some nights they hit our table still frozen in the middle. I asked our Head waiter and he confirmed that they now make very little of their desserts on board. What a shame. I am a big sweet tooth and passed up dessert many times.      Entrées were unmemorable, soups and salads just OK. I had asked our head waiter for plain iceberg lettuce with some oil and vinegar and was told they could not accommodate such a request. Is iceberg lettuce so exotic. In addition many nights our food arrived luke warm to room temperature but never hot.      The dinning room did do a nice transformation for the second formal night. It was a black and white them with white slipcovers on the chairs and black and white table linens. Nice touch. Our waiter was great as usual with the seasoned HAL crew      Bar Service      This is a subject that I never think about, not being a heavy drinker or ever thinking about the quality of a drink, but this is another example of the cheapness of this ship. Each night our group would meet in one of the various bars (usually the Crows Nest) for a cocktail before dinner. I am a Manhattan drinker and as anyone knows you put a cherry in the glass. Unfortunately there were none on the ship and with a port a day you would think they would go out and get some knowing they had passengers requesting them, but no. Finally in Athens I had to go to the local market and buy a jar and give it to the bar tender just to have a complete drink. Needless to say they couldn't find the cherries the next night. "When was the last time HAL?"…      The Crew      The European cruises saw 200 new crew board the Noordam and you could tell. Many of the Indonesian and Filipino could not speak English. In addition they were going through training on board so their last focus was on the passengers. There were some shinning stars in the Crows Nest Lounge and we had a wonderful waiter.      I would love to know if the front desk staff of this HAL ship went through classes on being surly. One front desk supervisor (Tracy Fox) was the most confrontational rude front desk person ever at sea. Example: A woman was getting out of the Navigation deck pool and the wooden step of the ladder broke sending her back into the pool. She yells for help and the bar tender and those helpful Steiner girls walk on by. A passenger got her out of the pool while another called the front desk to get the nurse. The woman was bleeding. Ms Fox told the passenger to have the woman to come down to the infirmary because they were busy. The passenger finally got her and the nurse up on deck with the woman being taken care of by passengers and she proceeds to tell some others by the pool that if the woman was not so overweight she would not have broken the step. The woman was not overweight and over hearing this had me thinking of trying another cruise line.      Otherwise we were told "No" so many time on board it became a joke. "Could I have an Ice Tea?.. No", "will there be photos taken as we get off the ship in Greece…No".  "Could we get a deck chair by the pool?"…"No".  Actually that last "no" is a funny one.  There were empty spaces between the deck chairs near the larger aft pool, so we had asked on of the deck personnel if they could get us a chair out of one of the stacks one deck up so we could sit with friends,  He said no, that the chairs were by deck and they had to stay that way.  We had to navigate the stairs with our own deck chairs.  Other passengers saw this and it became a "bucket brigade" of deck chairs so that people could sit by the pool.   A big Zero for HAL service in this case.      In the Greek ports the photographers could not take any photos off the ship. They said it was from the local government, so we had none of those port pictures that we love so much. Funny, Princess' Royal Princess, that we shared some ports with, had their photographers pier-side….Hmmm.      The Ports:      Rome: We took the train from the port city into the main terminal of Rome. It was easy and only $12 for the Eurostar train. We roamed around Rome and had lunch. Since we had been to Rome before it was nice to just hang out in the city and not be too concerned about all the sights. We had lunch at a great caf       Naples: We took a cab to Pompeii. It was a must see! The town is so interesting to walk through. Make sure to visit the Brothel, a must on any tour! We spent the afternoon in Naples enjoying the city and having lunch (are you noticing we ate as many meals as we could off the ship!)      Crete: We tour Knosos which was interesting. That's about it for Crete. The main city of Heraklion was nothing great      Santorini: A magical island. We took the donkeys up the hill, a bit smelly but so worth it for the view and experience. The city is perched on tope of these sheer cliffs, absolutely wonderful. Shopping is also great with lots of jewelry shops and great prices.      Athens: Go see the Acropolis then get back on the ship and lay by the pool      Mykonos: Another magical island and another great seaside lunch in the little Venice area. Don't forget to see those famous windmills      Kusadasi: Emphases is a must. Its like beings transported back in time. Get on stage in the amphitheater, it's a kick!      Istanbul: East meets west in this great ancient city. It was worth the trip for the sail into the Istanbul harbor. It was just  wonderful. Seeing all those mosques as we sailed in sure set the stage for the three days post cruise we spent in this city. We also had some of the best food of the trip      In Conclusion      We have always enjoyed HAL. This was number 13 for me and I celebrated 40,000 miles on the Statendam last year. I have to say this cruise was not up to the standards of the newer ships (we had such a wonderful cruise last year on the Statendam to/from Hawaii). The over ambiance of this ship suffers from a surly front desk, a training ground for new crew and that damn vibration. I know there are people out there that will say "it's a classic ship" so you have to put up with a bit more than you would in a newer ship. My response is that my vacation is too important to me and I want perfection (or close to) in things that do not have to solely do with the physical ship like food and service. Also HAL needs consistency in their product, even on their older ships. The Noordam fell short. Not that we did not have a memorable cruise, we did, due to the ports and the group we traveled with.      Will I sail on HAL again? Sure, we are off on the Ryndam (only the newer HAL ships from now on!) in October but our next long cruise we booked on Princess to Asia because we feel its time to look at some of the competition. After Princess in March maybe we will try Celebrity. Listen Up HAL it only takes one bad cruise to sour a passenger on your line. With all the competition out there keep your product consistent!       James Tagliani

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Nov 30, -0001

NOT FOUND

I am an over-55 widowed female. I have cruised before, but this was my first experience traveling solo. In order to trim expenses, I booked as a single in HAL’s share program wherein I would be paired with another single female to share a cabin or, if none were available, I’d have a cabin to myself but at a lower-than-single fare. This 16-day cruise was port intensive. Although many people take a cruise to rest, it was to be my opportunity

to visit several Mexican/Central American communities I may not otherwise see. HAL is reputed to have a broad base of "older" clients. Now I can confirm that, at least on this particular cruise, that statement is true. I attribute the preponderance of senior cruisers to the fact that our itinerary (the Panama Canal vs. a destination with more "fun stuff" to do; i.e., Caribbean islands), length of the cruise (over 7 days) and time of year (schools were in session) would not meet the younger cruisers’ criteria. I estimate that 80% of the passengers were between 60 and 85 years old. I have never, ever seen so many canes, walkers and wheelchairs in one place! I admire these folks who don’t let the infirmities of age disrupt their enjoyment of life. Although there were a few who early on established reputations as being cranky, most were carefree and enjoyable to be with. Cabin Share Program I have found very little written about cabin sharing, which should be done for one reason only: to trim expenses. Generally speaking, sharers are comfortable being alone and enjoy their travel freedom. They are "put off" by well-meaning people who feel compelled to include the single in their activities. There were a number of singles on this cruise. In fact, four of us were assigned to the same first-seating dinner table. I was fortunate in that I was paired with Betty, an active, enthusiastic 81 year old. Even though she has walked with a cane since her knee surgery, she was active throughout the cruise. Although we often found ourselves attending the same activity, we never planned ahead to meet there nor did we continue on together after the event was finished. But each morning we’d talk for a few minutes after awaking. And generally we’d talk again as we got ready for bed. I truly enjoyed my first share experience and won’t hesitate to share again if I am unable to recruit a friend as a travel companion. Pre- and Post-Cruise Transportation The flight from Ohio to Ft. Lauderdale was routine. The Noordam was scheduled to arrive in Ft. Lauderdale about 8:00 the morning of our afternoon sailing. Unfortunately she was 4 hours late. Before we could board, the ship had to clear customs, have baggage off-loaded, and passengers disbursed. The ship also had to be prepared for 1,200 or so new passengers. There was also a surprise health inspection which delayed boarding. Several hundred of us were "entertained" at a nearby hotel while the ship was readied. Shortly before 3:00, buses began shuttling us to the pier for processing. Then, like cattle, we milled around in the terminal. The upstairs waiting area was filled beyond capacity; so the overflow stood elbow to elbow, belly to butt waiting for permission to proceed to the second floor. I was finally in my cabin at 5:30. We began our cruise around 8:00 that evening. Thankfully, our arrival in San Francisco 16 days later was on time and, outside of the normal delay in disembarking until we were approved by customs, etc., uneventful. The shuttle to the airport and flight home were equally ho-hum.   The Ship The Noordam is 15 years old and her age occasionally shows. Many windows are no longer clear and some window trim is corroded. However, the décor was tasteful. Furniture and carpeting did not show wear. Pads on the deck chairs and lounges pool-side were new. Cabin curtains and bedspreads were fresh. The ship was clean and the crew was always working to maintain this shine. The Cabin Our cabin (#300, Main Deck) had twin beds, a chair, long vanity counter, two closets and sufficient drawer space. The bathroom was small but adequate. Our steward, as  I’ve grown to expect on HAL, changed our towels frequently. Iwa was efficient, polite and always cheerful. Our cabin was the first one forward, port side. It was very spacious. But as the days passed, I regretted this assignment. Right outside our door were two "staff only" doors. In a matter of hours I found that nearly every person to use those doors also allowed them to slam shut. Also, the ice machine for our corridor was across the hall from our cabin. Fortunately, silence fell in the hallway by midnight and lasted until 6 AM or so. Even the crew had to sleep! I have also gained first-hand experience regarding why midship cabins are preferred. We had two rough evenings at sea. Planning the route from one side of the cabin to the other (and timing the move) was a necessity as the Noordam pitched up and down. The exhilaration of feeling like I was on a roller coaster became the miserable actuality of seasickness. NOTE: The Noordam provided Meclizine at the front desk at no cost. Our cabin location also seemed to be immediately over a thruster. As I understand it, the thrusters maneuver the ship sideways, to move up to or away from dock. When in use, sleep is impossible. Conversation is difficult. I do not recall hearing excessive noise in the public areas of the ship. Vibration seemed to be continual, but it was not irritating, just a part of the cruise experience. Dining: Food, Service, Tablemates Menu choices were abundant and described in such a way that making a decision required thought. Presentation was interesting and the food was prepared to most of our table’s liking. (I confess that I overindulged in the rich food and desserts at dinner the first week and was reduced to eating clear broth, rice and dry toast by the end of the cruise.) Our wait staff supervisor, Johnny, was attentive without being intrusive. He frequently helped bus when clearing for the next course slowed. Our waiter, Permanen, and assistant waiter, Tamba, were capable and friendly. Poor Eddy, the wine steward, was pleasant enough, but he seemed somewhat befuddled. We had a mixed group at our table for ten: 3 couples, 3 single women, and a single man. We got along well, and conversation was always lively and enjoyable. I visited the Lido Restaurant or grille for midday "snacks." Food here, too, was tasty. Although several entrees were available, I usually had only a cup of soup and a few bites of the prepared salads. (Okay, I occasionally sampled a small dessert, too. They were "simply irresistible.") On-Board Activities and Entertainment Even when the entire day was spent at sea, there were more activities than a person could participate in. There was bingo, bridge, pool-side activities, demonstrations, and group games such as scattergories and trivia. Nightly entertainment in the Admiral’s Lounge during the cruise included five shows by the ship’s talented cast of singers/dancers. Yvette, the cruise director, and her staff occasionally treated us to short, humorous pre-show programs. Guest entertainers were Ian Finkel, Renato Pagiliari, Richie Minervini, Bruce Block, Ken and Casey, Peter Mezoian, Kirby St. Romain and Jan Downs. And, of course, as is the HAL custom, we were also entertained on two evenings by the Indonesian and Filipino staffs. Sight lines in the Admiral’s Lounge are much better than in some of HAL’s newer ships, and the seats, which were very comfortable, were always filled for the shows. Shore Excursions Since excursion options are presented in a booklet that comes with the cruise documents, it is possible to make selections before sailing and simply complete the excursion form on board once it’s available. Rarely was an activity sold out since the most popular venues had several time slots available. The Shore Excursion Presentation and Port Lectures that I attended were very informative. Port of Call 1 – Half Moon Cay This is HAL’s private island and passengers were tendered to the island to snorkel or enjoy the white sand beach. I stayed on board to admire the scenery from a deck chair. Port of Call 2 – Cartagena, Colombia The trip to La Popa (monastery) presents the best view of the city. The swarms of street vendors can be turned away with the firm but polite words, "No, gracias." A sense of humor will aid immeasurably in tolerating their persistence. Caveats: If you intend to purchase emeralds while in Cartegena, be sure to research costs at home before your cruise. Second, in some instances those T-shirts sold by the street vendors will shrink to the size of a teabag when washed. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but you get the point.) Panama Canal The Canal seemed so benign as we passed through it. I had read The Path Between the Seas by David G. McCullough so I was aware of the tremendous problems that were overcome to build the Canal. It is truly an engineering wonder. Port of Call 3 – Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala I selected the Tikal excursion. We were taken by school bus to the army’s airfield where we boarded a 737 for a one-hour flight followed by a one-hour bus ride to Tikal. This was the most memorable excursion of the cruise. Most ruins have been restored (and some left half-restored so the visitor can imagine what the area must have looked like before reclamation). If you have the stamina, climb Temple II, if for no other reason than to say you did! CAVEAT: The walk is published as 5K. Although it’s relatively flat ground, it is not a "walk in the park." We were fortunate to have a breeze. But the sun was directly overhead, and as midday approached, I was happy that our trek was about to end and not just beginning. Although long sleeves and trousers are suggested (insects), I was comfortable in shorts and a short-sleeved top. A hat  would also be beneficial. Need I mention sturdy walking shoes? There were no bugs. Port of Call 4 – Huatulco, Mexico This town is becoming a popular tourist resort because of its several secluded beaches. Since the seas were choppy and passengers had to be tendered ashore, I elected to stay on the ship and found a deck chair in which to take a nap. Port of Call 5 – Acapulco Acapulco is definitely a "get up and go" city. For me, one visit was enough. The day’s excursion began with a stop to see the cliff divers at La Quebrada. In order to entertain tourists outside the regular scheduled dive times, men are hired to perform. As a result there were at least 4 dives – 2 or 3 single divers, two divers together and finally, three together. Chairs were placed along the walls so that each of us had a seat and unobstructed view. We had a few minutes to shop for silver at a Taxco shop and then we headed out of town on a scenic drive. The bus stopped at Senor Frog’s for a view of the bay, refreshments and an(other) opportunity to buy souvenirs. Then we reboarded the bus to continue our drive and to stop for a short walk at the Princess Hotel before returning to the ship. Port of Call 6 – Zihuatanejo, Mexico Zihuatanejo is a sleepy fishing village. Tours to Ixtapa, a resort town being developed 5 miles up the road, were available, but I was more interested in seeing the "town square" I had read about. As expected, some fellows were shooting hoops. I also visited shops along the cobblestone walkway and then ambled to the flea market where I walked through an unbelievable number of stalls selling Mexican memorabilia. I gave bargaining a try, and I think the vendor and I both came away pleased. I enjoyed the day spent at a leisurely pace. Port of Call 7 – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Puerto Vallarta is a pretty, unpretentious town. I recall the typically narrow, one-way, cobblestone streets. Sidewalks are often elevated two to three feet to make walking possible on days torrential rains turn the streets into rivers. Today’s excursion included the Church of Guadeloupe; a drive out past Los Arcos, the rocks popular with snorklers; Mismaloya Beach vista; a stop for refreshments and a return to town. I was disgruntled that the tour included three stops for shopping, none of which was mentioned in the tour description.   Port of Call 8 – Cabo San Lucas This was a most beautiful, unspoiled location if you find beauty in desert scenery. The ship anchored in the Bay and tenders took passengers to shore. I took the "Land’s End" excursion which included a glass-bottom boat ride out to see the famous arch as well as to view colorful fish and visit the pelican rocks and sea lion colony. The rock formations are striking. We then shuttled to a new condo development where we had refreshments and were able to sit on terraces and look back across the bay. For those passengers who didn’t care to visit the town which is only a 10-minute walk from the tender dock, there was a large flea market at the pier. Weather Weather on this late-April cruise was sunny on all but one sea day when we had an afternoon rain. Seas were rough on two evenings. Air temperatures between Cartagena and Cabo San Lucas were in the 80’s and humidity was low. As we cruised north from Cabo toward San Francisco, winds picked up and the weather became quite chilly. I doubt many people spent much time in deck chairs! Summary Although many people would feel there were too many ports of call, it was that fact alone which lured me to this cruise at this time on this particular ship. Would I do this cruise again? Yes, for it met my expectations. Would I recommend HAL? Yes. The food is well prepared and generous in portions, standards of service remain high, several shore excursions are offered in each port, and the activities available on board are numerous and entertaining. Questions? Feel free to e-mail me at rpark@neo.rr.com   Kitty

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Nov 30, -0001

Rome - Lisbon

The cruise was fun. I went as a single and although the people were older, It was still fun and there were many people that were younger. I would suggest that you do not book shore excursions. They are boring! I met people and did my own thing and had a ball. The staff is awesome! (THE BEST) This cruise I would suggest for seniors/honeymoon/singles who want to get away from it all. I had the best time the mix of the different was FUN!!!

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Nov 30, -0001

Southern Carribean

This was my first Holland America cruise. We have always taken Carnival before. HAL is many times better for the cruising experience. I'm hooked. They take tremendous attention to detail. The crew was extremely friendly. EVERY person you passed said hello or good morning. There was a guy that cleaned the stairways consantly, they were always spotless. I even saw him with a brush, brushing out the footprints on the stairs carpeting! They also

had hand sanitizer stations everywhere. In a world of germs, that was very nice feature. After your day on shore, they had a welcome station that met you on the dock with water or lemonade, a rolled up cool towel, and a smile. That was very nice on some really warm days!! They also had "On deck for the cure," a 5K walk for Susan G Koman foundation. It was great to participate in such a worthy cause, and we got really cool shirts!! Their walking deck was great. It was on the third floor so you didn't have to walk around the smoke stack 300 times to go a mile! Also, the info on the Noordam is not correct. It is actually a large ship holding 1898 guests and 804 crew and is 81,769 gt. It is truely a great ship!!! The food was just as good as expected, maybe a little better. The first night we ate on the lido deck. We didn't want to get dressed up every night for the dining room. We all agreed that the food on the lido was not as good and went to the dining room from then on. We had open seating. I wasn't sure we would like this, but it turned out to be a very good way to do it. I you go beofre 6:30, you can get a great seat in the back by the window. We ended up getting the same table almost every night. They would let us book the next night when we were going in for that nights dinner. You can either make reservations, or just show up, but you might have to wait a little while. It is a great system. Our stateroom was good. We did the inside room due to money, but it had everything we needed. There was plenty of room and plenty of clothes hangers in the closet!! That never happens! They had lots of trivia activities. It was a lot of fun for a group. People would team up and get to meet others folks. In the piano bar there was musical trivia. That was a lot of fun. They offered ballroom dance classes, line dancing, scrapbooking, drink making, and of course bingo. For most of the activities, they gave us Dam Dollars. You save them up, and on the last day, you trade them in on souvioner items. We actually had enough for a Holland America hat and t-shirt!! The #1, don't miss excursion, was the horseback ride on Half Moon Cay. They said they would ride in the water, but we have been told that beofre in Progresso. The horses only got about ankle deep. On Half Moon Cay, they were serious! We did a regular ride for about 30 minutes, then they took us back to get into our swimsuits. We got on more horses, almost bareback. There was a small cusion with a handle. It wasn't very comfortable, but as soon as we hit the water I forgot all about that!! They took us in where we were waistdeep. The horse only had his head above water, and they had the horses running!! It was the most exhilarating experience I have ever had!!!! Also the bus tour, Dominica's Favorites, was very good. We got to see the lush rainforest, and several gorgous waterfalls. It is a great island!! In St Thomas, we took the St John Trunk Bay snorkeling tour. The ferry ride over was great and the beach is probably the prettiest we saw, but we just didn't see many fish while snorkeling. It may have just been a bad day, but we were a little disappointed with no fish. This was by FAR, the best crusie I have ever been on. All of our stops, with the exception of Grenada, we all thought were very beautiful, in their own unique ways. The Southern Carribean is just gorgeous!! Holland America was definatley the way to go. I really can't see myself ever going back to Carnival. It was a truly fantastic experience!

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Nov 30, -0001

Southern Caribbean

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 website, 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 excpet on Curacao (our first time there) and Half Moon Cay. Again, photos are available at www.picasaweb.google.com/efschlenk . Happy cruising!

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