Reviewed by Candy Brock
This was the 27th cruise for Jim and me, having cruised on Seawind, RCI x 5, Celebrity, NCL, Princess, Carnival, and HAL's Westerdam x 2 (old), Noordam (old), Zaandam, Maasdam, and our beloved Zuiderdam x 11. We are in our 60s and for us our destination is the ship itself. Many times we say we'll leave the ship to explore a new port, but we often don't. We generally eat, sleep, eat, gamble, sleep, eat, gamble, repeat. This adequately describes our Noordam cruise, as we did not leave the ship.
Avoiding the stress of missed connections when flying in on Embarkation Day, we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale a day before and stayed at the Hilton Marina on 17th. We had a nice stay last year, but this year we found it cold and impersonal. They have changed the check-in procedure so that more people get tips. Now after you tip your driver, you tip someone to take your bags to another porter who gets a tip to take them to your room. We had a mini-suite with a view of the Marina and pool from the balcony. The access door lock was broken, and after several attempts to fix it, the Manager offered us drink coupons to enjoy while Maintenance did some noisy work. We don't drink, so we had some fruit juice and gave the other coupons away to someone who could actually enjoy them. We asked for a different room, but apparently the hotel was full, and this was the best they could do. I booked a smoking room, but at check-in they said it was a smoke-free hotel, but would send an ashtray to our room. Actually, we asked FOUR different people for an ashtray and got four promises, but no ashtray. We had to appropriate one from the pool area. Although the suite had a lovely spa shower, what we needed was a soak, and we're not hot-tub people, so this was a drawback. In the morning we splurged for the Sunday Buffet, which was the highlight of our stay. After two more unnecessary tips, we were outta' there, never to return.
Embarkation was a breeze! We arrived at Pier 19 at about 12:30, seeing maybe 300 cruisers in the serpentine line to check in. We proceeded to the Suite Line for our stateroom keycard and deck plans, and 15 minutes later we were aboard the Noordam. We went straight to the Neptune Lounge and had some snacks before making our way to our cabin.
Located just forward of the aft elevators, Suite 7085 on the Rotterdam Deck was huge (510 total square feet); a generous room, spacious veranda with two chairs and ottomans and a little dining table and four small chairs… plenty for two. The bathroom had a Jacuzzi tub, separate shower and double sink with two corner medicine cabinets and storage shelf below. A variety of Elemis products was provided, and refilled daily as we used or stashed them. There was also an umbrella, laundry basket (service is free in full suites) and two fluffy cotton robes and slippers. The dressing room had a built-in dressing table with three drawers, hair dryer and lighted magnifying makeup mirror (1X/5X), three closets with mirrored doors and a safe (three more closets are in the hall by the door). In the sitting area were a large couch, two occasional chairs and coffee table, desk with flat screen TV, cooler with loaded minibar and CD/DVD player, binoculars, two telephones with voice mail and wake-up service, and a wall of mirrors behind the bed, making the room look much larger. True to HAL's Signature of Excellence program, the bedding and linens are undeniably top of the line! This explained why we slept so much!
Among the usual Daily Program (tear-offs are back!), gift cards, invitations and brochures, we found a bottle of Fre Champagne and a beautiful arrangement of roses from the Hotel Manager, Mark Pells. Later in the cruise, as the roses began to nod a little (you can't water them with the desalinated water), they were replaced with an even more beautiful arrangement of roses and lilies. Our luggage began to arrive shortly after we did, and we were nearly unpacked by the time the safety drill began. HAL has thankfully switched over to a non-lifejacket drill, eliminating the safety hazard from people dragging the jacket straps up and down the stairs. During the drill there is a detailed demonstration of how to wear the jacket, and a similar demo is run on TV throughout the cruise. After the drill, I donned my ZuiderPrincess crown and made the rounds of the various bars in search of my CruiseCritic group.
That evening we attended a cocktail party in the Neptune Lounge where we met Captain John Scott, Hotel Manager Mark Pells, and other officers and staff. We enjoyed lovely hors d'oeuvres and juice (champagne for others) and wandered down to the Vista Dining Room for our first of many dinners.
We were confirmed for 'As You Wish' dining, but were assigned a late seating, upper level table for six by an aft window. The first night we were the only diners, so we invited a couple who were also sitting alone at a big table to join us. Frank and Marilyn from Texas were a delightful couple who shared our love of cruising and general laid-back cruising style. As no one else ever showed up at our table, and except for occasional trips to the Pinnacle, Frank and Marilyn became our permanent tablemates. We found the service to be excellent and the food very good. I wonder, though, with so many cruisers complaining they could not get traditional seating, why were there so many empty - completely empty - tables? For the entire cruise?
The Lido Bistro is the place we eat breakfast and lunch. It is taking time for us to re-adjust to the lack of trays, but the upside is that it encouraged us to take smaller portions. The stewards were happy to get us drinks or forgotten items, but were a little slow removing the dirty dishes. I must rave about the food selections! For breakfast try the made-to-order omelets or various types of Eggs Benedict, waffles, hot meats, Lox 'n' Bagels and so much more. For lunch there are many choices between salads, sandwiches, hot dishes, Asian and pizza and pasta. We also tried the burgers, hot dogs and tacos at the Terrace Grill, which were just okay. We did try the Lido Bistro for dinner one night. We arrived 15 minutes before closing, and had to get all of our courses at one time. By the time we got to the main course, it was cold. If we eat there again, it will be early enough to be served properly.
Canaletto is a new dining venue for HAL... a small area of the Lido accommodates 40-50 diners and offers Italian cuisine. There is no surcharge for this dinner, but reservations are strongly suggested.
We purchased a 10-day pass to the Thermal Suite and HydroPool, $199 for both of us. We should have just bought daily passes, because we only used it twice. Jim bought a 10-20-30 discount package and had two massages (Nora), but when it came time for his facial he wasn't feeling well, so they let me take his facial (Monique) at the 30% discount. After I told her what Elemis products I already use, and the facial was finished, my esthetist kindly calculated how much I needed to spend to treat my face properly for the next six months. I thought $1,834 would almost pay for a 7-night cruise, so I declined, buying only one cream which I was running out of anyway. A few days later, as I desperately needed a haircut, Salon Manager Milica (from Serbia) created a masterpiece.
Much like her sister Zuidy, the Noordam is really quite comfortable and well maintained. While the deck plans are essentially the same, there are a few exceptions. The Explorations Cafe is still located on Deck 3, and the Oak Room is still intact near the Crow's Nest.
As mentioned earlier, our daily activities focused on rest and relaxation, but there was plenty to do!
Night Life - Music, whether the dancing or listening sort, was offered in the Explorer's Lounge (Adagio Strings), Crow's Nest (Gary T'To, Kat & the HALCats), Northern Lights Nightclub (DJ Troy), Ocean Bar (The Neptunes), and the Piano Bar (Lee Strubeck).
Main Showroom - CD Mike Connachan hosted a number of stage productions nicely performed by the Noordam Singers & Dancers: "Opening Night", "If Walls Could Rock", "Ballroom Blitz", "Simply Broadway", and "That's Vegas". Sax Sensation Craig Richard, comedians Mark Eddie and Kevin Jordan, and vocalist Tony Cherry not only performed individually, but reprised their acts on the final evening.
Movies - The Queen's Lounge offered (complete with complimentary popcorn) "Up in the Air", "The Blind Side", "All About Steve", "The Young Victoria", "Old Dogs", "The Spy Next Door", Sherlock Holmes", "Nine","Pirate Radio" and in the Vista Lounge, "Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus".
Casino - I love the energy of the casino... the smoke, noise, shuffling of cards, cheering when the dealer says, "Winner, winner - chicken dinner!" One thing I miss is the sound of coins being released into a paper tub. Now that HAL is making the transition to electronic everything, some of the room's cachet is gone. Even the poker table is electronic, and has been banished to a dark corner of the Sports Bar... so sad. The Casino seemed to be underutilized until the evening show let out. Daytime found few players and many tables closed. They did, however, offer the usual tournament fare: Texas Hold'Em, Blackjack, Slots, and had a festive Caribbean Night where they provided prizes.
Shopping - The Signature Shops offered a reasonable variety of gift items, cruise wear and logo items, cigarettes, alcohol and cosmetics. They offered the usual Liquor Tasting, Watch Extravaganza, $10 Deck Sale, Swarovski Crystal, Taste of the Caribbean (rum and rum cakes), Venetian and Roman glass in sterling silver jewelry, Rock Candy (custom designed glass and leather jewelry), World Amber Event (including a 'spot the fake' contest), Caribbean Topaz Raffle, Watch Sets, Sea Glass ornaments, and the famous Deck Sale.
Art Auction - This has thankfully been taken over by British American Auctions, who quietly hold their auctions without inundating passengers with flyers and announcements. I haven't talked to anyone who may have attended, so we'll have to see what other reviewers say about that.
Greenhouse Spa - A great variety of indulgences and therapies are offered by Steiner, and the Salon offers services for hair (Salon Manager Milica is a true artiste!), nails and waxing. For $199 we bought a couple's pass to the HydroPool and Thermal Suite, but didn't use it enough. The HydroPool has the typical Jacuzzi jets, only much more powerful, and a metal kind of rack that you can lie on and the whole thing vibrates... so relaxing! In the Thermal Suite, I head for the Eucalyptus Steam, which really clears your head while it forces all those nasty 'toxins' out of your body. Follow that with a nap on the heated tile chaises and you're in heaven.
Culinary Arts Center - This is the primary function of the Queen's Lounge, and I must say it's about time they found something outstanding for this formerly nearly vacant venue. You'll find lots of demonstrations (some of them hands-on) of food preparation and serving (including some items from the Pinnacle Grill), wine tasting, mixology, napkin folding, flower arranging, and fun stuff like cooking trivia and a Celebrity Cook-Off... there's something new every day.
Digital Workshop - New to HAL, this program will take you through your digital photography adventure from taking the actual photo to editing, enhancing, emailing, posting it on the web or burning a disk.
Considering Jim and I didn't DO anything, this ten days on the Noordam was a wonderful experience. We found the officers (particularly Hotel Manager Mark Pells and Captain John Scott), staff (especially Cruise Director Mike Connachan and his lovely wife, Future Cruise Consultant Leah) and Beverage Manager Hans Becker (who meticulously coordinated our CruiseCritic Meet 'n' Greet) to be personable, professional and available. The public areas were gleaming, and the floral arrangements we found throughout the ship were gorgeous. We found the food and service in the Vista Dining Room to be excellent and enjoyed the comfortable seating and prompt attention to our requests.
I'd absolutely recommend the Noordam for anyone desiring a laid-back, relaxing cruise with plenty of adventures as options. Because of their consistency of service and understated luxury, Holland America Line is our cruise line of choice.