Noordam Reviews

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23 User Reviews of Noordam Cruise Ship

Southern Caribbean
Publication Date: November 17, 2008

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 by clicking here: here. 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 décor 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 Café) 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 Café 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 and then answered questions about how regulations are met to keep the ship and the surrounding seas clean. With crew members, this ship is a city of about 3,000 people, and the environmental and waste management issues are impressive. We never realized, for example, that with a faltering world-wide economy recycling has become almost impossible because no one is willing to accept the recyclables for processing -- their market value is now too low to make it worthwhile economically.

We highly recommend attending these OFFICERS Q&A SESSIONS. We found them the best part of the educational and enrichment programs onboard. There is also a professional lecturer onboard, but we attended only one of her lectures, on Caribbean marine life.

Also new on the Noordam is the CULINARY ARTS CENTER, a small stage venue with a kitchen and closed circuit TV. During demonstrations the TV cameraman is a whiz at displaying close-ups of the chef's working area. The only negative, to our taste, was the use of non-culinary "sidekicks" to ask silly questions and otherwise interrupt the chef's instructions. The chefs are as talented as any on broadcast TV, and should be left alone to present their recipes and techniques.

This area is also called the QUEENS LOUNGE and is used as a small stage venue for such activities as movies, lectures, and talent shows. The KARAOKE contests which took place here (the finals were in the large Vista theater) were absolutely a scream. We highly recommend seeing one or more of these friendly contests, especially the finals.

Also on Deck 3 are the shopping center and photo gallery. SHOPPING is a major activity for many cruisers, and they seemed to enjoy the various sales available onboard during this cruise. In contrast, we are definitely not shoppers. My wife and I travel with one carry-on and no checked baggage wherever we go in the world, even on cruises like this. Yes, it can be done quite easily since three outfits (one formal, two casual), plus shorts, swim wear, and snorkel gear are all we need.

Airline and other connections are so unreliable nowadays that this habit has come to our rescue many times. During the last year alone we have had seven missed connections, canceled flights, or involuntary re-routes out of a total of nine vacations. Having our airline carry-ons with us at all times has been a lifesaver.

In any case, HAL supports shopping addicts (Emptor, ergo sum?) by providing a SHOPPING CONSULTANT, shopping lectures, and excellent maps for each port of call on this cruise. Fortunately, the maps also include good background information and sightseeing suggestions for non-shoppers.

The PHOTO GALLERY is near the main dining room and provides an entertaining stop when one goes to dinner. As on most cruise ships, the photo prices are quite high, so we have rarely taken advantage of this service. Relatively few passengers on our cruise seemed interested in formal sittings. Watching formal night photo sessions, however, can be good entertainment, especially when one views the results the next day.

The CROW'S NEST observation lounge is located on the top deck forward, and provides a nice retreat with forward facing recliners and huge windows to watch the scenery as one approaches ports. This area is also used for various meetings and activities, including the daily TEAM TRIVIA challenge. This is a low-key contest where everyone wins a prize ("Dam dollars" which can be traded for small prizes at the end of the cruise) just for showing up. When done with good humor, as on HAL, this activity can be great fun and is a nice way to meet new friends (we joined a new team each session that we attended).

Just below the Crow's nest is the GYM AND SPA facility. Unfortunately, as on most cruise ships, 10% of the people (those who pay for spa services) get 90% of the space. The other 90% of the people are crowded into the 10% of the space where free exercise equipment is available. This equipment is very popular, even among older cruisers.

The major problem we have with almost all shipboard gyms is the noise. The exercise classes, with their over-amped music, are held in the gym area. Since gym rats who want music have their own tunes (Ipods, Walkmen, and the gym's personal TVs), the booming music during classes and throughout the day is intrusive -- as bad as second hand smoke. Only ear plugs and early work-outs (0600) provide reasonable quiet in these gyms. HAL is better than most in this regard, but could be even better.

In spite of the noise, the SPA STAFF are friendly, and cruisers seemed to appreciate their services. In addition to the usual spa and salon services, there is a daily charge for the hydrotherapy pool. The sauna is free and is conveniently located near the swimming pool.

There are two freshwater SWIMMING POOLS with adjacent HOT TUBS, one mid-ship with a retractable roof, and the other aft. Both are better for soaking than for lap swims, but both are enjoyable. Mid-mornings are especially nice since there is no music or entertainment poolside, which makes this a great time for quiet relaxing.

Unfortunately HAL cruisers, like most others, can be POOL PIGS. They "reserve" pool chairs by placing open towels and personal debris on them, then wander off for an hour or two of other activities before returning to use the chairs. One morning when I was up early I saw this behavior even before the overnight safety nets had been removed from the pools. Another time I saw only one occupied chair in a front row of fifteen chairs that all had used towels or personal debris. The pool was empty at the time. The HAL pool staff are too polite to correct this situation, but should be trained to do so.

One feature of HAL ships enjoyed by all active cruisers is their full wrap-around promenade decks. These are especially appreciated by those with inside cabins. Traditional wooden deck chairs are available on this promenade, and they were well-used on our cruise. For those who enjoy walking this circuit, HAL went one step further by sponsoring a 5K "Walk for the Cure". For a $15 donation passengers received a cancer awareness T-shirt and wristband. The remaining (tax-deductible) proceeds went to support cancer research.

In addition to the options listed above, ENTERTAINMENT comes in many varieties to satisfy a wide variety of tastes. The main (Vista) show lounge has good acoustics and sightlines, and HAL fortunately does not over-amplify its shows. The shows are loud, but not painfully so. Unfortunately, HAL amplifies some shows, like the piano recitals, which should not be.

The SINGERS AND DANCERS on our cruise did a fine job. We usually do not enjoy Broadway style production numbers, so we are not the best critics, but we were impressed with the young talent and the high production values (costumes, technical support, etc.) that we saw here. A Q&A session with the cast was available one afternoon, and it proved to be fun and informative.

We did not catch the lounge acts on our cruise and did not hear any comments, good or bad, about them.

There is a small but very good DANCE BAND that plays every evening in the Ocean Bar adjacent to the atrium. This provides music to several decks, but leaves little space for a dance floor, which is in the smoking area next to the bar. We enjoyed an occasional dance here anyway, usually before dinner. Once they removed some furniture obstructing the dance floor, the dance floor was rarely crowded.

There are two good pianists who play in the piano lounge (nostalgic classics and name-those-tunes, I believe), the Ocean Bar (dancing), and the Crow's Nest (relaxing). In addition, there was a classically trained pianist from Las Vegas who gave two concerts incorporating popular classics (Chopin) with works he composed himself.

Near the main dining room in the Explorers' Lounge was a talented string quartet (from Hungary I believe) which played light classics in a near marathon all evening (I admire their stamina). This provided the wonderful option to listen to fine music while waiting for dinner companions or enjoying an after dinner drink.

For late night revelers, the Crow's Nest provided dance options, as did the Northern Lights night club. As I mentioned earlier, the Noordam is large enough to offer entertainment options for almost every taste.

OUR CRUISE We booked a STANDARD VERANDAH (balcony) cabin several months in advance, for the bargain rate of $110 US per person, per day (pppd) including port charges, taxes, and shipboard credits. Only HAL's $11 pppd charge for tips was extra.

This represents an exceptional value, perhaps because November is relatively low season for Caribbean cruises, especially in the current economic downturn. We met quite a few Britons and Canadians on this cruise who said that they were glad they booked before the recent drop in their currencies (against the dollar, which is the cruise line currency), and would not have booked the cruise after the devaluation.

An unexpected bonus came shortly before our cruise -- two upgrade offers that our Pavlus Travel agent received from HAL. First, for an additional $500 pp, we could upgrade to a category SA, SB, or SC DELUXE VERANDAH SUITE. These cabins are twice as wide as standard verandah cabins, and have about 500 square feet of space including the verandah. We did not need that much space and declined this offer.

A few days later we were offered an upgrade to a category SS, SY, or SZ SUPERIOR VERANDAH SUITE for an additional $98 pp. These are one and a half times as wide as standard verandah cabins, and have about 400 square feet of space. They include double sinks, double showers, and a whirlpool bath tub. They also include a comfortable sitting area with a couch and two chairs inside, and both dining and lounging areas outside on the verandah. Of course, we accepted this offer in a heartbeat.

This cabin proved to be one of the nicest we have ever had -- about as large as the suites we have experienced on small luxury ships, but at a third of the price. Our suite on the Noordam was so enjoyable that we spent much of our time just enjoying our unexpected private luxury.

Because AIRLINES can be unreliable, especially in winter, we booked our own flights, flew to Ft. Lauderdale a day in advance, rented a car for local sightseeing, and spent a night in a motel.

We stayed at a modest but nicely renovated motel, America's Best Inn, just off Highway 1 halfway between the FLL airport and cruise port. The rooms are small (about the size of a standard cruise cabin) but efficient, with a refrigerator, microwave, iron, coffee maker, and LCD TV. Each room has one queen bed, and baths have showers rather than tubs. A continental breakfast is included in the rate. At $55 per night plus tax for two, we found this a great bargain. The immediate area does not have walking access to shops or restaurants, but even with taxi rides this is a far cheaper pre-cruise option than most hotels in the area. To get an idea whether this option fits your style, check the internet for reviews and further information.

While in Ft. Lauderdale, we avoided the main beach (parking $10 according to the signs) and visited two very nice state parks instead. Hugh Taylor Birch SP is north of town on the beach and near the Galleria Mall. John U. Lloyd SP is south of town directly across from Port Everglades, with a huge beach and excellent views across the waterway of the Noordam. For children the south end of this park also offers great views of incoming and departing FLL jets.

In years past we have enjoyed the all day water taxi service in Ft. Lauderdale, which offers great views of the city, elegant homes, and large yachts. This time we had only two half-days, so we skipped this option.

EMBARKATION was a breeze. We dropped off our rental car near the cruise port rather than the airport (check with your rental company if they offer this option), and then we took their free (plus tip) shuttle to the ship.

TAXIS can be a problem between the airport and cruise port. If you arrive at or leave from the cruise port by taxi, make sure that your driver uses the most direct route between FLL and the cruise port -- usually the west entrance on 24th St., just off Highway 1.

Some taxi drivers will take a roundabout route or use the north entrance (off 17th St.) to pad their fares. For example, when we disembarked this cruise, our taxi driver pretended not to know the direct route back to the airport and tried several times to turn north, even though there were huge signs to the airport all along 24th St. He also "forgot" that we had bags in his trunk, even though he picked us up at the cruise ship. (Having learned our lesson in Buenos Aires, one of us always remains inside the cab until the bags are unloaded from a cab's trunk). Our direct route taxi fare for two without excess baggage between FLL and the cruise port was $11.30 plus tip (we did not short the driver in spite of his disingenuous behavior).

When we arrived at the cruise port, we had to wait only a few minutes until a CHECK-IN agent was available to imprint our credit cards and give us our key cards. We had pre-printed our boarding passes on HAL's web site, as had most passengers. There was an express line for category SC suites and above. Our SY suite did not qualify, but the regular lines moved so quickly that it made no difference.

An embarkation LUNCH was available at the Lido buffet, and hand baggage could be checked until 1:30 pm, when the cabins were ready for occupancy. This is a pleasant contrast with some small luxury ships, which charge an extra $150 per person for early boarding and lunch on embarkation day.

Our cabin has been described above. It was located mid-ship on the port side, which turned out to be the "port" side at most stops on this cruise. It gave us pleasant views over the islands and harbors while we were docked, and added drama to the arrivals and departures.

This itinerary featured four (of ten) days at sea, which we thoroughly enjoyed. My wife is a late sleeper and enjoys room service breakfast on the verandah. I am an early riser, so I took advantage of the quiet time at the gym, had a light breakfast at the Lido buffet, then joined her for a second breakfast when she woke up.

We usually ate in the Vista (main) dining room at lunch and dinner. Because we enjoy the OPEN SEATING on small luxury ships, we opted for this new option on the Noordam. On previous HAL cruises we have always enjoyed our fixed seating tablemates, but this gave us a chance to meet new people and hear new stories every day. There was never a wait for the open seating option at lunch, and at dinner the line was short and moved quickly. Those who want a specific dining time or a particular table size can make reservations, but we never bothered to do this.

The FINE DINING in the Vista dining room was the highlight of our cruise. The imaginative menus, the artistic presentations, and the generally excellent preparation of quality ingredients was the best we had ever had on a premium or mainstream cruise, and it often was equal to what we have experienced on luxury cruises. In our opinion, the Noordam is second to none in fine dining.

We were a bit worried at first, because the sesame encrusted snapper on the first night was tough and over-cooked, and the rack of lamb on the second night was not available rare. After that, however, the fish were cooked to perfection and the meats were rare when we wanted them to be.

The appetizers were often so tempting that sometimes we chose two and skipped the soup or salad course. The soups were inventive, usually two hot and savory and one chilled and sweet. The salads featured a nice variety of fresh and tender greens, with no iceberg lettuce or other fillers. If one did not find a main course one wanted, the off-menu salmon or strip steak were always good alternatives. Vegetarian options were always available, but we did not try them.

The desserts, as usual, were delightful, and were served in portions small enough that sampling more than one never left one feeling guilty.

The Vista dining room did such a fine job, in fact, that we never sampled the Pinnacle Grill, the ALTERNATIVE RESTAURANT (surcharged $10 pp at lunch when open, $20 pp at dinner). We have enjoyed the Pinnacle Grill on other HAL ships. On this cruise we thought we might request rare rack of lamb at the Pinnacle since it was not available at the Vista, but only lamb chops were available and no substitutions were allowed. This is the one advantage of luxury ships -- the smaller kitchens allow greater flexibility.

The LIDO BUFFET was a pleasure each time we sampled it, usually at breakfast or when the Vista dining room was closed. We generally skipped the main buffet lines, which other passengers said were good, and chose made-to-order items from the smaller specialty stations such as waffles, omelets, pasta, Asian stir-fry, deli sandwiches, or salad bars. One impressive aspect of the Lido buffet is that most foods are served by stewards, and all self-service silverware is refreshed frequently, minimizing the health risks of shared utensils. In addition to this, we always use the hand gels or washrooms between buffet line and table when cruising.

Although we did not try it on this cruise, several friends recommended the dinner service at the Lido. The tables are covered in linen and meals are served by stewards, as in the main dining room. We have found this a nice quiet option on other ships. On the Noordam the two deck Vista dining room has a relatively small atrium, so it was never too noisy to converse -- we never felt the need to find a quieter dinner venue.

DINING SERVICE, even with our open seating option, was always smooth, efficient, and very professional. Fixed seating has some advantages if one has particular drink or other preferences, but having a different waiter and assistant waiter each night was a pleasure for us -- they all were well trained and responsive to our requests.

CABIN SERVICE was also top notch. Our cabin stewards were rarely visible, but somehow they always managed to clean and refresh the cabin and bathroom whenever we were gone. They provided additional entertainment each evening by folding towels into amusing animal shapes, which were waiting on our bed with chocolates after dinner each night.

ROOM SERVICE also did a good job. One can order from the regular restaurant menu at dinner time (we did not). Hot foods are never as hot when delivered as when served in a dining room, but we enjoyed our room service breakfasts.

CONCIERGE SERVICE was available by phone in our suite category, and is available in person in the Neptune lounge on deck seven for higher category suites. The phone concierge always responded promptly and answered my few questions well.

As mentioned above, HAL has now instituted an AUTOMATIC TIPPING policy, in which $11 pppd is charged to one's shipboard account. Of this, I was told that 35% goes to cabin stewards, 35% to dining stewards, and the remaining 30% to the workers "behind the scenes" who add to one's cruise enjoyment. Any amounts given directly to crew members are supposed to be turned into these pools. I was also told, however, that amounts above the automatic charges could be kept by individual crew members.

We usually tip more than the standard amount, so we added $5 pppd in the form of direct cash to the room stewards and our maitre d', and a supplement to the charges on our shipboard account for the open seating dining stewards.

DISEMBARKATION was also a breeze. HAL has instituted new policies allowing those with little baggage, which they can carry off the ship themselves, to receive priority disembarkation. The ship was cleared a little before 0800, and priority disembarkation occurred about 30 minutes after this.

Airline schedules to our regional airport have been pruned back so much that we had only one option for our homebound flight, and it departed in the afternoon. Those passengers, like us, in no rush are allowed to remain in their cabins until last call, which occurs between 0930 and 1000.

Instead of constant announcements, disembarking passengers are simply given a 15 minute time window in which they are to report to the gangway and leave the ship. These new policies make for a wonderfully smooth and quiet disembarkation process.

IN SUMMARY, this was one of the best quality, most enjoyable, and most reasonably priced cruises we have ever had the pleasure of taking. We definitely will put HAL at the top of our list when we plan our next cruise. Unfortunately, the January 2009 HAL cruise that we just tried to reserve on our return home is already sold out!

PORTS OF CALL Our cruise called at Aruba, Curacao, Dominica, St. Thomas, and Half Moon Cay before returning to Ft. Lauderdale. We almost always prefer to explore ports of call independently rather than book excursions in advance. Most ports offer nice alternatives to the ship sponsored tours, and most Caribbean ports offer good and inexpensive public transportation.

That being said, this was the first cruise where we had less than optimal luck ashore. We were glad we had a suite as a fallback option.

In ARUBA we simply walk across the street from the cruise port to the local bus station. Buses leave every 15 minute and travel northbound along the west coast to the hotel district (the Marriott is the main destination). A few buses each hour continue farther to Malmok, which is a convenient area for offshore snorkeling. There are a few pocket sized beaches with shade umbrellas nearby.

From the Malmok bus terminus one can walk 10 minutes farther north along the coast to Arashi Beach, which is one of the nicest on the island for frolicking in the water. We have even met several Marriott guests who drive to Arashi, preferring it to the hotel beaches along the way. Hurricane Omar in 2008 has taken a good deal of sand away, but Arashi still has more than enough left. A new parking lot is being built there, which means this beach may become more crowded in the future.

When returning to the ship it is worthwhile walking the ten minutes back to the Malmok bus stop. There is Arashi bus service, but it is unpredictable. We think some drivers running behind schedule do not go to the Arashi end of their route. The cost of a perfect beach day? About $2.50 US round trip on the public bus.

Before boarding the ship, stop at the internet shop one block south 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 photographer's dream (again, see the photo link given at the beginning of this review). If one gets off the ship soon after docking, one can walk through the old fort, cross the floating bridge (retractable), and watch the floating market before it becomes crowded.

Unfortunately, Curacao beaches are not readily accessible by public bus. Friends on our cruise took a taxi to Thiel Bay (about $30) and said the snorkeling there was good, with sea snakes and other unusual sights. One local recommended a small beach called Sonesta, which is a shorter taxi ride from town.

We opted for a bus ride to the far end of the island (West Point route or Lagun and Knip Bay route). Either route costs about $3 US and takes an hour each way. We were told that beaches are available within walking distance of the ends of these routes, but one has to leave town early (0900 for West Point or 0830 for Knip Bay) to have beach time before returning, since buses leave only once every two or three hours.

The bus yard is just a few blocks from the cruise port (due west of the floating bridge). There is a booth for bus tickets, which accepts US cash and gives change in local currency (bring singles). Because we had spent most of our morning in town, we opted to stay on the bus at mid-day and just sightsee, to make certain we made it back to the boat in time. Our driver was great fun -- she had the most elegant manicure we have ever seen, but she drove the huge bus like a Formula One.

In DOMINICA we usually take the minibus to the southern end of the island at Scotts Head. This costs about $2 US and takes about 30 minutes. Minibuses leave every 15 minutes or so (when full) from an area about two blocks inland from the cruise port.

Scotts Head offers very nice offshore snorkeling, with clear water and a good drop-off. The snorkel point is a short walk beyond the minibus stop, in the bay at the base of the hill. After snorkeling, a walk on the trail to the top of the hill gives beautiful views back to the ship in the far distance.

Unfortunately, this was the first time we were on Dominica on a Sunday, and everything, including buses, was shut down. Some taxi drivers were willing to take us to Scotts Head and wait there for us, but they wanted from $60 to $150 for this service, and since we had done this often enough before, we were not willing to pay so much. We enjoyed our suite instead.

In ST. THOMAS we docked at the Crown Point yacht harbor rather than the usual Havensight pier and mall area. This made us very happy because it is walking distance to our favorite USVI option -- the 1030 ferry from Tickles restaurant to Water Island. A short walk on Water Island brings one to the usually quiet and serene Honeymoon Beach. The ferry costs $10 US pp round trip -- less than a roundtrip taxi ride almost anywhere else on the island.

Unfortunately, this beach has recently been discovered by local tour companies. What used to be an empty stretch of sand as long as a football field now has one or two tour groups visiting each day. It is still beautiful, but no longer offers a great advantage over popular Magens Bay.

For those interested in shopping, taxis have set prices and cost only a dollar or two more than they would from Havensight into town or to beaches.

On HALF MOON CAY, HAL's private island, a new larger tender service moves hundreds of people at a time between the ship and the private beach. The downside is that if one is traveling against the flow (early or late) one has to wait as the entire group passes through security. This means that some transfers can take more than 30 minutes, so plan accordingly.

The beach is one of the nicest in the Caribbean, with unbelievably fine white sand and good tree shade. It is not necessary to rent a cabana or shade shell, which are at the crowded near end of the beach anyway.

A (free) beach barbecue and various (surcharged) activities including horseback riding are available here. Snorkeling is not very good off shore because this beach is largely sandy with no coral, so plan on just enjoying the sun and surf while here. A short walk along the shoreline will take you away from the crowds.

Because I was worried about sand and security, I did not take my camera ashore except on Curacao (our first time there) and Half Moon Cay. Again, photos are available at http://www.picasaweb.google.com/efschlenk.

Happy cruising!

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Eastern and Western Mediterranean
Publication Date: May 29, 2008

My husband and I just returned from a twenty-day cruise aboard the Noordam (May 28-June 18, 2008). The cruise itinerary included a 10-day loop in both the Western and Eastern Mediterranean. This was our seventh cruise and the first aboard Holland America. Our most recent cruise was January 2008 aboard Carnival Conquest, and we looked forward to a quieter and more elegant journey on the Noordam. Overall we had a pleasant trip, although we did not feel that the experience was a significant improvement over previous journeys on other cruise lines. I am in my late fifties and my husband is sixty-two, so we concluded that HAL would be a great choice. However, we do not plan to travel aboard a large HAL ship in the future.

We stayed in a superior veranda suite (8073). Spacious and well organized, we were very comfortable in the room and on the balcony. If the side chairs near the sofa are moved slightly, there is plenty of walking space and easy access to the balcony. The only change I noticed from previous cabins was the ceiling appeared lower on this ship. The décor in the

cabin was pleasant, with warm colors and attractive artwork. This was is sharp contrast to the busy carpet and mismatched art in the hallways. Our floor had a very busy modern blue carpet, Polynesian wall panels in shiny blues and purple and floral wall art framed in bright red matting. The overall hallway décor was neither calming or attractive. My husband and I traveled with one large bag each and found that there was plenty of room under the bed for luggage storage. If you plan to travel with several large pieces of luggage you may find the closet space inadequate. The closets have adjustable shelves than will accommodate long and short hanging garments as well as folded items. Additional storage is located in bedside drawers, end tables and desks. We purchased the pricey suite amenities package ($636.00) because we wanted to have clothing washed and pressed each day (no self-laundry facilities on board and you may not iron in the stateroom). We didn't realize that we could purchase laundry facilities separately. The suite amenities package did include a variety of extras that we could have done without such as bar set-up, coffee cards, canapés etc. No one fully explained the amenities included; we asked the booking agent at HAL on two occasions prior to leaving. We were unsure of all the options available to us until we asked the staff at the front desk on day 11 of our trip.

Issues and Areas in Need of Improvement Food quality aboard the ship was unexceptional at best. The only exceptions were the pastries served in the dining room and the lido café. We ate in the Pinnacle Grill three nights (additional fee). If you plan to do this, avoid any of the menu items beyond grilled meats as we were very disappointed with the seafood entrees. Be sure and ask the wine steward about prices for wine at the Pinnacle Grill. The most modest bottle was in the 50 dollar range and the prices varied dramatically from wine served in the main dining room.

Food service was often slow in the Vista dining room. (A 2.5 hour dining window was not uncommon and on one occasion we were awaiting dessert at the 3 hour mark). The second ten days of the cruise the ship appeared more crowded. We were told this might have been due to cabins that contained three or four travelers (more kids). Reservations were then encouraged in the open seating portion of the dining room, although this didn't eliminate waiting or being asked to return to the dining room at a later time. We enjoyed dining with a variety of travelers, however conversation was awkward at a table for ten. Tables for six seemed to provide the most comfortable dining environment. Some large cruise ships provide a variety of dining locations (with the same menu). This seems to eliminate waiting and the unfortunate crowding that occurred in the narrow hallway outside the Vista dining room.

Casual dining was provided on the Lido deck (9). There are food service stations and the lines could be quite lengthy. We noticed lines at occasional breakfasts and lunches that exceeded 30 persons for omelets, waffles, and sandwiches -- perhaps individual menu items should be minimized in order to more efficiently feed the larger number of passengers. Passenger bottlenecks also occurred at the juice, drinks (water, tea) and the pasta lines. The Lido café seems to have been designed for self-service, however the current process has staff members impeding the effectiveness of the layout. We concluded that this was less an issue with poor service than a confusion regarding the small ship service model and the systems required for larger numbers of travelers.

Port Visits and Excursions The security staff was always professional and efficient. The port lecturer (Ian) was helpful during his office hours in the library/internet area and anytime we debarked from a visit. There were two additional lecturers on the cruise. The first ten days the lecturer provided scholarly talks on the history of the Mediterranean. I attended a very enjoyable lecture on piracy. The second portion of the trip was less inspiring. The talk I attended was very simplistic (female lecturer), with a power point presentation full of spelling and grammar errors. I wondered how these folks were selected by HAL. Apparently no one reviewed this presentation.

The shore excursions were efficient and reasonably priced. We enjoyed the journeys to Ephesus, Pompeii, Olympia and the interiors of Santorini and Sicily. If you do not have difficulty with mobility, most of the other sites were easy to negotiate on foot or with a taxi/bus.

Our Suggestions: Do not miss the old town of Dubrovnik and take the walk around the city wall. Take the bus in Malta and visit the Mdina and Rabat, and visit the Souk and the American WWII Cemetery in Tunis.

Onboard Facilities The layout of this ship did not seem to be designed to accommodate nearly 2000 passengers. The Crows Nest was one of the few areas on the ship that provided a comfortable amount of space. It has wonderful recliners with an ocean view and helpful bar service staff. We enjoyed the early shows and thought the Noordam singers exceptionally good. A number of events were scheduled in the culinary arts center. This facility is not large enough for ship-wide events. The lectures and shows scheduled often felt crowded by the overflow seating.

The very tiny atrium area that would comfortably seat only twenty was seldom used. Passengers appeared to avoid the area, possibly due to the garish reflective wall tiles (with blinking lights embedded) and the awkward glass stairway that was often closed. As a consequence, passengers tended to congregate in the library and Explorations café. The library was extensive and the staff very helpful. The coffee bar in the café was understaffed and very busy. We each had a (approx. $30) coffee card good for ten drinks. The wait for service was so long that we only used half that number. It might be wiser to purchase coffee individually.

On deck you will find a variety of areas to relax on lounge chairs. Only in the pool area are the deck chairs crowded together. The aft pool was designated for adults, but the "adults only" rule was seldom followed. Several people did ask for reminders about children splashing and using inflatable toys, but the issue continued. In addition, although there were two small (4 person) hot tubs in the adult pool area, only one was functioning and open during our trip.

Unlike other ships, the steam room required an additional twenty-dollar a day charge per person. We did not take advantage of this, although using the steam room is something we enjoy. We were not interested in paying an additional charges on top of the suite package of 636 dollars. There was a small (three person) dry sauna available to all travelers, however it was often full.

We anticipated a gracious voyage on HAL based upon cruise line reviews and the relative cost difference. Had the service been commensurate with the basic and additional costs, we would have been pleased. Unfortunately, the food, service and amenities did not warrant the additional spending. We did enjoy the ports of call and plan to cruise in the Mediterranean again, but we will look to an alternative cruise line for our next trip.

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Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: January 16, 2008

INTRODUCTION Itinerary: NY -- Sea -- Sea -- Grand Turk -- Tortola -- St. Maarteen -- St. Thomas -- San Juan -- Sea -- Sea -- NY

We are in our 50's, definite cruiseaholics having sailed over 50 cruises since 1984. We sail most of the cruiselines but this was our first Holland America cruise.

The Noordam was on Code Red status, indicating a norovirus outbreak on previous cruise. This entails various procedures during sailing such as no self service at buffets. A minor annoyance for passengers but a lot of additional work time for staff.

We had learned that our embarkation would be delayed until 4 p.m. as the vessel would undergo a total scrub down after previous disembarkation. Again a minor annoyance for passengers, major work load for staff.

Being armed with disembark delay information we decided to arrive at what would be our normal time, 12:30 pm and take our chances. We were driving to pier and using Pier long term parking which we have done in years past. Cost for parking was $180, reservations cannot be made but that has never been a problem.

Upon entering we were given a

color coded number tag to be called to proceed through metal detectors into check in area. We had #21 Green or some such but were called almost immediately to join security line. Once passed through security we entered check in. Those that have already completed the online check in (I highly recommend it) were passed into a separate line and we were in front of a desk almost immediately. Check in was completed in about a minute, so much for good news. We then proceeded to take a seat in one of the several hundred chairs set up in the boarding area. It was about 1:15 or so and boarding was indeed scheduled to commence at 4 pm we were told. Boarding would be done again using those color coded numbers to maintain an organized system. Having brought books to read and a laptop computer we were happy to settle in considering the circumstances. HAL was offering free shuttles to Times Square area and back for those that choose to go see some of the city while waiting. I do not believe there was any provision to check hand luggage in for those taking the ride but I could be wrong. We were all advised that we would receive an onboard credit of $15 per person in lieu of missing afternoon buffet. There was a pier snack bar at entrance of pier but that would necessitate re-doing security lines so we stayed put.

Boarding commenced early a little after 3 pm and was orderly. We were onboard before 4 pm. Although cabins were not yet ready we were allowed to proceed to ours and deposited our carry on bags. We then headed up to the FOOD! Although a busy area and slow since we were all being served, it wasn't too much of a problem. There is plenty of seating normally but with everyone arriving at the same time it took some hunting to find a place to park. The Noordam has lots of table seating in pool areas as well and being that the main pool has a retractable roof which was closed, it was also comfortable and available, making that much more room to be found.

All of this was followed later by mandatory muster station drill (they take attendance) which was indeed held outside in the NY cold. Not enjoyable but went fairly quickly considering, and then off we sailed a couple hours late. We were advised that the late sailing time would not interfere with our itinerary stops. (They have the strangest life jackets I have ever seen with some sort or wrap around belt system which takes some head scratching to figure out. Eventually managed to get it on correctly but it would pay to watch the in room channel on how to put it on if you have time. If not instructions were given once up at the muster station, of course we all had them on whatever way by then.) Off to the Crows Nest lounge forward and some cocktails to watch us sail off.

CABIN We booked Suite 6102 SY category. This proved to be perfect for us both in accommodation and location. Located on deck 6 mid-ship towards aft it was a good location for heading either up or down, up for buffets and pools deck 9, or down for dining, shops, casino, lounges or lobby areas, decks 2 and 3.

Suite had a good sized bathroom with Jacuzzi bathtub and shower in addition to a separate 2nd shower stall. Double sinks and cabinets with various Elemis shampoo, body soaps and such provided in nice small containers in a rack between sinks. Plenty of drawer space, two closets with hangars and small safe. Safe is electronic, punch in 4 numbers you select and hit lock. Punch in your four numbers and unlocks. Balcony was very generous space with two cushioned chairs and hassocks, two more chairs and table. Balcony can easily accommodate 4 people comfortably. Solid dividers between balconies and overhead roof make for a fairly private balcony area. There is also a dvd player and nice lcd Tv on a good sized table area. A couch, two chairs, and a table and also a mirror make up table type area. All still allowing adequate room to move about. The bed was a good sized Queen with six pillows of varying degrees hardness and a very comfortable mattress. We were very happy with the suite. The SY suite is one of the three category suites before upgrading to AB's or deluxe suites. We peeked into one of those and it appeared to be somewhat larger but not dramatically so and also had maybe a King bed. The main difference to our thinking was slightly better mid ship location and also access to a private key carded Neptune lounge for cocktails and snacks before meals. Although we have had access to similar lounges and love them, it was not worth the added cost to us since SY afforded great cabin space and decent location anyway.

FOOD and DINING We had decided to book the Noordam after being docked beside her during our October cruise onboard Crown Princess. Because we booked late we were assigned anytime dining, the newest fad at sea and one we do not prefer. The advantage is heading out to dine whenever you want instead of having a fixed seating. The disadvantage to us is not having same staff and dinner mates each evening. We definitely prefer traditional dining. Anytime dining is new on HAL but it was fairly well organized and for most part you were seated near arrival at door. There were two evenings, however, when we found a 30 minute wait and given a beeper to be called for seating. I hate getting Outback type beeper on a claimed luxury cruise but again my opinion. The two gentlemen that handle seating were, I must say, gracious, courteous, and very good at getting people seated. Like all the staff we met on HAL they were exceptional. At times, however, you could tell that dining staff are stressed beyond normal capacity trying to keep up. They too tried very hard to accommodate though so no complaints from us.

Food is another matter. I will try not to over comment since food assortment and quality is very specific to individual tastes. I must say that I was not impressed with the Chefs' skills or the menu items and neither was my wife. We found food to be over cooked and dried out. Soups and many items very over salted. Desserts to be tasteless and merely resemble similar items served us on other ships. There are several items that can be ordered any night such as a steak, that is always a nice feature in case nothing on the menu strikes your fancy. One evening I ordered chicken cordon bleu, for example, and found it to be a very dry, baked and breaded, piece of chicken with a dime sized dab of cheese and ham in the very middle. The filet mignon and lobster tail, well okay having both surf and turf as one item an applauded plus. But actually the filet mignon was but a tiny squared slice of thin meat. Again not impressed! Ordered bananas foster and received some bananas totally surrounded by some type of pureed thick goop that remotely reminded one of the taste this should have.

One evening we decided to dine at the added cost premium restaurant which I admittedly am not too fond of the concept on ships. To my way of thinking the regular included dining should be able to be surpassed without having to pay additional. However we were afforded a $15 per person coupon for lunch by out travel agent which we decided to apply towards the $30 per person fee for dinner. My wife ordered fish and King crab legs served on a plank. This was the first time I ever saw my wife not eat the dinner. The fish looked like it had been boiled and she was not happy. On the plus side her side of asparagus was the best she had ever tasted. I had the rib eye steak which was excellent. The two sides I ordered, creamed spinach and scalloped potatoes were however uneatable. Looked like they took a large spoon of scalloped potatoes, fashioned it into a cylinder shape then baked it into cardboard. The spinach, well I have no idea what they added to that, but it tasted like creamed spinach with cinnamon or something.

Again on the plus side after the entrée we were presented with petit fours which were fantastic. The crème broulet dessert was also exceptional. Service was good, ambiance nice enough but another party did come in their best jeans to impress. Acceptable I guess in specialty high end dining if you are paying. For us definitely not worth even the discounted added fee.

Lest you think all was lost for us. We found the afternoon buffet to be very good. Maybe they want everyone to eat there in future? Pizza and pasta station, Asian station with daily sushi, sandwich station that has already made and made to order options. Nice salad bar, daily carving items and such -- all were very good. Hamburger and hotdog station near door to pool area, hamburgers a bit thin but acceptable. Make your own taco and nacho station poolside was great as well. Still this goes down as the first cruise ever that I returned a pound lighter than when I sailed off. Enough said!

LOUNGES -- ENTERTAINMENT -- CASINO We found the entertainment somewhat subdued but satisfactory. There are many small intimate lounges onboard which most provided some type of musical entertainment. There is a Sports bar off the casino which is small but enjoyable if you are a smoker anyway, which I am. It is one of the three designated smoking areas I found. The others being the cigar room off the Crows Nest lounge and the pool bar and starboard side table at the aft pool area. Most other areas are non-smoking which is fine as long as smokers like myself have someplace to duck into for a fix.

The casino is smoking but few do as it is small and having the Sports bar to go to nearby is enough for most. You have to pass through Sports bar area and casino to get to the main show lounge which might annoy some for a moment bothered by smoke. But should be the only place it will intrude on non-smokers for but a minute.

The main shows were again satisfactory but nothing to rave about. One comedian was exceptional. Lee Bayless is a funny and talented guy and does clean humor and some other things I won't mention as to not spoil it. Another juggler/comedian was a good half hour act stretched out far too long to an hour act. Musical productions of singers and dancers good but standard fare.

INTERNET Both wireless and internet library terminals available. Standard rate is .75 a minute but 50 and 100 minute packages are available at lower rates. I chose the 250 minutes for $100. There is also a activation fee of $3.95. I did that because this is the first ship I have sailed that I could use my wireless IN CABIN. None of the going to a lounge or library. It was a MISTAKE. Easy enough to set up, get instruction sheet from internet café, good wireless connection. Trouble is, like on many ships, the transfer rate is S L O W ! You will need all those 250 minutes to get what you would probably get at home in 50 minutes. And even at .40 a minute, just not worth it. Better to use a download mail program such as Outlook, download and upload at .75 a minute and forget the plan and surfing the net. One good note -- the NY Times apparently sponsors their internet to some degree so NY Times online time is free if you click through to Times on enter screen.

ITINERARY We go more for ships so I never cover ports to any large degree, it would be unfair since I do not take advantage of all that I am sure is available. We like sea days and sailing from NY provides several of those. In January having a covered pool area is a definite plus for Noordam allowing for poolside activity before getting to warmer climate.

Grand Turk, beach or Jimmy Buffet's, most anything else not really worth trying to get to most tell me. Good part is beach, shopping, and Jimmy's immediately adjacent to dock. We elected to go to beach area. Many chairs, no charge, you can rent a two person cover tent thingee for $20. Snorkle equipment and such also readily available but I doubt snorkeling there provided many fish. I would ask. Best price for cigarettes in shop for trip, 5 cartons for $80.

Tortola, little by the pier except straw market, which is a good place for those t-shirts. A couple of new jewelry shops, high end, and way at end the older art and spice shop is nice for spices and such. Having been there before we elected to take a tour around the island which we enjoyed instead of just hanging in shops. We found a gentleman, Ebert Hughes, with a new white air conditioned enclosed van. As we were getting sporadic showers that was the way to go instead of open air. He gave us a nice 3 hour tour and beach stop for $20 a person. Naturally had to wait to get two other couples before we moved off to tour. The way of the islands everywhere.

St. Maarteen, again elected to take a tour, this time a ship's tour of both Dutch and French sides. Enjoyed that as well. It included a small zoo which, though small, was a nice little stop. I think it was $49 a person, nice large air-conditioned bus and informative tour guide, Kathy -- a woman who, after stopping on islands, decided to move to one from Dallas, Texas with her husband after her only child grew up. Wish I had moxy to really do something like that.

St. Thomas, been there, done that. We docked at newer ship berths so cab needed if you want to go to Haversight Mall that most know or to Paradise Point tram ride. Town is $4 person, Mall and tram $5 person. They will definitely squeeze you into those vans and open sided jitneys before they are moving.

(Note:) St. Thomas is the first US port after visiting a foreign port, St Maarteen, and requires reporting to immigration. EVERYONE must PHYSICALLY report to the US officials with passport, etc. in hand at the Queens lounge. Matters not if you are planning to get off ship, you must report and here's the real rub, it starts at 7 am! It was handled very orderly but nonetheless you will get up when called and report to the nice men in uniform and show them your papers!

San Juan, we docked at old San Juan but note you are there but for a few short hours. Walking and shopping old San Juan always nice but we like to go across street to the Sheraton Hotel which also houses a nice casino. We did a quick hour and a half in there and I was lucky enough to come away with three hundred more than I went in with.

DISEMBARKATION In NY was easy and orderly enough. Immigration having been performed on your St. Thomas port call, it is not required upon return to NY.

Disembark is done by calling color coded luggage tags. Your tag color IS checked at disembark and you are turned away if wrong! For those that always feel that they must sneak out early. Not this time. A terminal improvement in NY is that they now have elevator that also goes to parking level. This means you can bring your bags up to parking level (not necessarily all the way to your car, you might have to bring the car to the bags). The elevators are huge but service large crowds and three levels so pandemonium exists. Also note that upon getting your luggage a porter can be obtained only by having someone go up front and get into the line for porters.

One very big positive concerning disembarking procedure for us: HAL allows you to remain in your cabin until called and they also have in-cabin room service in the morning so you can have your coffee and such just like any other day of the cruise.

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Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: January 5, 2008

Departure of Holland America Lines Noordam from N.Y.C. Lengthy boarding -- unless you did not register on-line! A five star experience for older folks A virus at sea -- trumped by decisive action A problem in the casino. What about those health questionnaires?

Even if not motivated by a desire to look over the ship (I wasn't -- it was to be my second cruise on the Noordam), everyone wants to get off the pier and onto the boat. After all, lunch is waiting. Nevertheless, my wife and I found ourselves corralled with a mass of people who were moving toward the ship at glacial speed (boarding had started about an hour before). Buzzing past us all, however, was a very thin line, which was moving towards the ship at a brisk walk. Wondering if they might all have purchased sky suites, I inquired. The startling explanation was that those on the express line had not registered on-line (those of us in the corral had). It seems that significantly more check-in counters had been apportioned for the unregistered. Apparently, it is counter-productive to register on line.

The mid-size Noordam is my favorite ship.

It is richly appointed in an understated way; the passengers tend to be older, and fewer children can be found on board; there is no reggae band at the pool; chamber music is offered in the evening (in addition to the usual musical fare); bedding is extraordinary; meals are five star; and the vessel sails well -- minimal noise and vibration, good stabilizers; outstanding and well staffed library.

On the third day, we went to the breakfast buffet to discover that buffet self-service had been discontinued. Staff would serve you instead -- even coffee. It was shortly announced that the culprit was an intestinal virus -- capable of communicating by touch. Some thirty-five passengers and crew had been placed in isolation.

Dyspeptic passengers aren't having any fun -- not good for business. But a partially incapacitated crew is a significant safety issue; moreover, being in closer quarters, the crew is at greater risk of infection. Clearly, this was not lost on the Captain. People were continually advised to keep their hands well washed; hand shaking was discouraged; tissues were placed at the elevators so that people didn't have to touch the buttons; at our first port of call an additional doctor, together with supplementary cleaning staff, came on board; hand sanitizing lotions were ubiquitous, anything people could touch was being constantly cleaned; social directors and hairdressers were pressed into service to serve coffee and other beverages. Slowly, the morbidity rate fell. If my understanding is accurate, there were only a handful of sick people by the end of the voyage. The immediate and all-out initiative was both effective and impressive.

As neither my wife nor I got sick, the only sour note was in the casino. To be fair, it was a product of the exigent circumstance of the virus situation: When a slot machine allows for three quarters, my wife always plays three (significantly improves your odds). In fact, if you don't want to play three, you should find a slot that allows single quarter play -- you'll be better off odds wise. Well, she had sufficient credit and she pressed the "bet max" button (the "max" was three), thus winning a significant payoff (reserved solely for those who had played three coins) -- and the machine did not pay off. It seems the machine registered single quarter play instead of three coin play. It was politely explained that all the cleaning solution being applied to the machine (due to the virus containment initiative) was causing buttons to jam and/or not register -- in this case, the "bet max" button. I suggested that should be taken as a problem with their equipment; in turn, I was invited to understand that my wife should have checked the lights on the machine before she went ahead. Of course, the stand-off went to the casino.

To return to the virus: The speculation was that someone who had the virus boarded the boat in NYC. That had me thinking about the little "are you sick?" questionnaire that passengers are routinely presented with before boarding. It's all good, but it doesn't say much about the consequences of being sick. If they don't let you board is your fare refunded? Do you just get a credit? What if you've paid to kennel the dog, flown in from northwest Canada the night before, spent last night in a NYC hotel, and just took a taxi to the pier? Are you to be reimbursed for all that? What are the consequences of focusing attention upon yourself by simply presenting a question? It doesn't offer too much incentive to report sick, does it? Presumably, some people would risk collapsing on the pier before they'd say anything. After all, there's a mini-hospital on board.

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Alaska
Publication Date: July 8, 2007

We just got back from our cruise on the Noordam July 8th-15th, 2007. It was a very relaxed and wonderful cruise.

The only time I smelled cigarette smoke was walking by the Ocean Bar (and it was pungent) and going into the casino. The air was fairly good in the casino despite that, unless someone lit up right by you. I just try to hold my breath walking thru those areas and try not to go by there. My husband usually went to the casino without me after I went to bed. Smoking is the worst part of any cruise for me.

I loved the people on our cruise and the cruise personnel. They were wonderful. We had a Verandah and enjoyed it so much. Alaska is beautiful. One morning I woke up and opened my curtains to Juneau. Oh my gosh, it took my breath away. The green mountain with the little pictuesque town below. We took Captain Larry's Whale Quest, Orca's Enterprises, booked before the cruise (not a ship excursion). It was great. We saw lots of orcas, whales -- including a baby orca -- eagles and seals. One

thing we never saw were bears. The people in Alaska are so friendly.

It rained on us in Sitka. We went into the Luthern church waiting for the Caholic church to open. Oh my gosh, they gave us a very informative personal tour. Just wonderful and much better than the cathedral that was drab inside and not as friendly, except this one lady who looked like pictures of Russians with her round face, scarf and big smile on her face. We asked some question and she was happy to answer for us. I needed some personal things and found the drug store that had exactly what I needed. The only thing I collect are the ink pens for souvernirs and there were none with Sitka on them -- just Alaska. At one store this lady gave me her business pen that had Sika on it. Not fancy, but it was free.

The worse part of this whole trip, which was wonderful, was Victoria, Canada. We took the Butchart Garden tours booked thru the ship. No fireworks, no enchanting lighted gardens cause we left before it got dark and before the fireworks. The parking lot was packed with busses (big busses like ours, which was a greyhound). We walked in with a crowd of people and we couldn't get away from that crowd of people thru all the paths and all the stores. It was just packed with people. Very warm and miserable despite walking off the boat with a cool breeze blowing. There were two other large cruise ships in port besides the Noordam. The only openness in the Garden was where a group was playing on a stage and people were sitting on a lawn viewing area. This had the most room, but who had time to sit down (with no blanket - no one ever said you might need a blanket to sit on). We had 2-1/2 hours to see the gardens and get our souvenirs. Another tourist trap. We got a bottle of Coke and a bottle of water for $6 (we were so thirsty after going down the paths). $42 for 3 shot glasses, 3 junky-looking ink pens, and 2 keychains with a little fuzzy teddy bear on them. Junk for $42. Eeeek.

It was curious how that tour was not included in the dvd that showed about the cruise. Showed a lot of excursions, but not that one. Wonder why? Could it be they didn't want to show how awful it is? We got the dvd free since we booked 12 people at one time. I could have done without Victoria cause it marred my good feeling about the cruise and wonderful Alaska. We could see Seattle's lights when we left Victoria, so why the rush to leave? Why couldn't they have stayed in port long enough for us to see the fireworks and the enchantment of the lighted garden after dark? We met in the Vista Lounge for all the excursions at 6 pm. We stayed in port till 11:59. But it wasn't enough time. Not sure I wanted to be in that crowd any longer, but they could have left the ship later and got us there and let us stay when it was dark. Basically stay away from this excursion if you want to keep your wonderful feelings about the cruise.

We embarked and disembarked very smoothly. No herding around in crowds. Thumbs up to Noordam and Holland America for the wonderful organization of those. The suitcases were grouped by the color you disembarked with. Yet on this Victoria excursion we were herded around. The paths were so crowded, just constantly bumping into people and losing my husband and getting apart from the rest of our group.

I have learned a really hard lesson here, and that is to not book excursions thru the ship. I will be leery of excursions booked thru the cruise line in the future. Study these boards and find out what is good and book on your own, or go out and explore on your own; anything but the ship's excursion. Beware of Butchart Garden also. It's a terrible experience!

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Southern Caribbean
Publication Date: December 16, 2006

My wife and I recently (12/16-12/27) sailed on the Noordam to the Southern Caribbean. This was our third cruise with HAL, so we had a pretty good idea of what to expect. This was, I believe, our best cruise experience to date. We'll always have a soft spot for the Zaandam since it was our first, but our Noordam experience will be tough to top.

Our embarkation in New York went smoothly other than a little sense of unease when we could not immediately locate the Holland America representative at the Newark airport. They eventually showed up and we were put in a car for the ride to the port. The ship is beautifully appointed without being gaudy. We've sailed on the Oosterdam before and the Noordam is similar enough that we felt at home right away. We had originally booked a VF class stateroom and were pleasantly surprised to have been up-graded to a VB. I think they're essentially the same room, but the VB is a couple decks higher on the ship. The room was very nice, and had plenty of storage for empty luggage, etc. The closets were

spacious and had more hangers than we knew what to do with. We travel rather light and don't pack along formal ware for every day, but there would have been room and hangers enough if we did. The balcony, er, excuse me, verandah came equipped with two chairs and a little table, perfect for a morning cup of coffee or just taking in the scenery.

Our room steward, Nugie, was attentive, yet practically invisible. I don't know how the stewards know when the room is vacant and ready for servicing, but they do. It's uncanny. Our ice bucket was always full, the room clean, and the bed turned down nightly complete with towel origami critters no matter what our schedule. We didn't partake in many organized ship-board activities, but the ones we observed (poolside games, etc.) seemed to be well attended.

We were able to go ashore from the pier in every port we called on. This was much more convenient than tendering in. The food on board was excellent and practically non-stop. We did most of our dining in the Lido dining room, and were never disappointed. Not that we have anything against the Vista dining room, but as I hinted at earlier, we don't cruise to dress up and do enjoy the casual atmosphere and portion control that the Lido affords. We did, however, take the plunge into the Pinnacle experience for the fist time on this cruise. What a feed! It's worth every cent of the $30 service charge. I don't know anywhere ashore where such a dining experience can be had for that money. The filet is not to be missed. Cut with a fork tender and cooked to perfection. Don't miss it.

The bars on the ship are plentiful and different enough that each offers a different relaxing experience. We particularly enjoyed the Ocean Bar, both because of the many interesting and pleasant people we met there and because of the top notch bar tenders Joseph and Cesar. We also enjoyed the Sport Bar. It has the lovely quality of being the closest smoking area to the casino (which is non-smoking), has a nice casual ambiance and Edwin, the bar tender is excellent.

The casino is small, but nice. The dealers are mostly eastern Europeans and are understandably not as chatty as your typical Vegas dealer. As long as you're not looking for conversation they're fine by me. As I mentioned above, it is non-smoking, but even for a militant smoker like me that's O.K. I go to the casino to game and make a little in the process. If I want to smoke and drink I go to a smoking bar.

Our ports of call were Tortola, St. Thomas, Dominica, Barbados, St. Maarten and San Juan. Tortola is quaint but other than tour bus sight seeing tours not really much to do there. On a previous sailing I did go on a dive excursion here (the Rhone) that was pretty good, but not breath taking.

St. Thomas has great shopping with pretty decent prices. They've built a new shopping area adjacent to the cruise ship port. My advice is to high tail it out of there as quickly as possible and go to Charlotte Amalie proper.

Dominica is beautiful and not quite as "urban" as St. Thomas. I booked a dive there via the internet prior to sailing with ALDive. I could not have had a better experience. I was picked up pier-side and driven to the shop. After meeting the owner and staff, the dive master, a boat handler, and I hopped in a boat and headed for the dive site. It was a nice change from the often over crowded shore excursion variety. So the two of us dove a relatively recently scuttled wreck and "Champagne Reef". A very interesting dive location with never ending streams of volcanic gas bubbles seeping from the solid rock bottom. The bottom was actually so hot in places of high bubble activity that I couldn't keep my hand on the bottom. Rather like testing a hot skillet with the backs of one's fingers. Very cool.

We found Barbados to be a rather money hungry place. A lot of in-your-face taxi drivers and vendors. A taxi ride to a fairly close by beach=$20 to $25 each way! If you want a chair once you get there, cha-ching-another $5, please. Do the duty free shops at the pier and then run, don't walk, back to the ship.

St. Maarten (Phillipsburg) was by far our favorite port. The Dutch really do have this running an island thing down. Very clean with manicured landscaping. Not a pushy sales person or cab driver to be seen. Good deals in the shops. I picked up a designer white and yellow gold unique link bracelet there for I believe, half of what I would have paid for same in even St. Thomas. Now I know.

Old San Juan is nice, but we were there on a Sunday, and Christmas Eve to boot so it was pretty quiet. We had a short time ashore as we had to get headed back to New York.

I have only one gripe. As you may have gathered, I'm a pretty laid back guy. I'm not a kid-I'm 41. I've had a few years to become somewhat set in my ways, but I do play by the rules. I'm a smoker and as such I've been witness to the shrinking realm of smoker friendly places. I can respect that. I can respect that because there are still a few places in the public domain, some bars for example, where I can still enjoy a smoke. I'm not from NYC nor is the ship in NYC. With this in mind, imagine please, my annoyance when the Noordam "art" staff set up their "art" auction in the Ocean Bar, of all places. A bar with no less than seven conspicuous signs announcing to all that it is a designated smoking area. No sooner had the throng gathered for the bidding festivities when the first comments came about the smoke. I'm not alone at the bar, mind you. A pretty even mix of smoking and non-smoking patrons was miraculously coexisting before the auction. The comments from the gallery eventually incited the bar tender and several non-smoking bar patrons to remind the patrons d'art that they were in a designated smoking area. I eventually fled the scene, went to the front desk and filled out a "feedback" form explaining that with all the non-smoking areas of the ship, it might be wiser hold the auction in one of those. I have yet to hear a response. That's my only gripe, and things were back to normal as soon as the auction was over.

I'd do it all again. My wife and I both had a wonderful time. I hope this review has been helpful. If I can answer anyone's specific questions please let me know.

Dvrdude A.K.A Jim
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Southern Caribbean
Publication Date: November 4, 2006

This is just a brief summary of our great cruise vacation. We left upstate NY by Amtrak 2 days prior to our cruise. Saw Mama Mia, which was Great. Went to the Stage Deli for lunch, (awesome) and We took our tour of NY. NYC is expensive, but it's fun.

Embarkation went very smoothly at the terminal. Suite guests were called up first at around 11:30am for the usual documentation paperwork. We were escorted and in our room by 12pm and luggage was delivered within 45 minutes. Our suite was 7058,across from the Neptune Lounge which do offer added amenities and great service by the Concierge.

My wife & I have cruised 9 times and 4 of that with HAL. Our Room Attendant was excellent and it seemed that he "spit-shined" the room twice daily.

It did seem that our waiter and Bus Boy were stretched too thin taking care of tables at dinner, but they still did an excellent job and The food was great to excellent. This was the BEST Entertainment HAL has had on our cruising with them.

We certainly enjoyed every show.

Although we have been to most Islands

in the Caribbean, we still enjoyed shopping at our favorites, St.Thomas (port shopping) and Barbados.

We will crtainly cruise wih HAL again, but will also look at other cruise lines as long as the ships are not any larger then the Noordam.

Debarkation went very smoothly according to the time frame you select and had no trouble finding our luggage. A cab back to Penn Station and our train trip back home.

LarryK

cruisethewaves@webtv.net

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Eastern Caribbean
Publication Date: October 25, 2006

This was our fifth Holland America cruise -- merest trivia in comparison to the legions of Former Floaters who attended the "thanx for repeat business" mid-cruise gala.

We love the line. Reasonably quiet, formal, mature. Has a "kids" program, but doesn't exactly encourage the kids-and-family set. Lovely dinner service. User-friendly staff. Nice.

Noordam was a knock-out.

The staff were both competent (nobody screwed anything up) and ridiculously obsequious. All over the boat, everybody knew our names and our drinks and our dinner seating and our entertainment preferences, almost from embarkation.

Our room steward did the animal sculpture thing with our bath towels every night. Laundry (a bargain on HAL) was faster than promised. We searched for something to complain about; there just wasn't anything. (Ok, the corkage fee, which they don't exactly HAVE TO assess, they assessed every night {but not at lunch}{But even so, HAL lets you bring on your own wine!})

Superlative was the entertainment. This was our tenth cruise. We've never encountered cruise entertainers above the level of "decent community theater" performers. (We live an easy train ride from Broadway.) These folk were as good as it gets. I'd pay $50 for a

ticket to see them do their stuff in Poughkeepsie.

And the cruise left from Manhattan. If you're within 100 miles (or maybe 200) of this terminal, you have to realize what a Godsend it is. Parking is not just convenient; we could easily have hit our (recently parked) car with jelly beans from the Noordam's Lido deck. Upon return (exhausted, vacationed ... whatever) the porter-person didn't just collect our bags; he carted them all the way into the trunk of my car.

We got everything we paid for and a lot that we didn't expect from this cruise.

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Transatlantic Crossing
Publication Date: September 28, 2006

My wife and I looked forward to this cruise for a long time. We wanted to do some shopping in the ports of Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Valencia, Cadiz, the Azores, and Bermuda. Unfortunately, the cruise line had no recommended shops in any of the ports, in fact were really not even familiar with the ports so they information given to you was poor at best. An example came when we took a tour from the ship to the Lladro factory. We wanted to purchase one for an aniversary gift and have it sent home. However we were then told by the salesperson that your passport was required. We did not have uors as they are not required to leave and reenter the ship. As a result we were not able to make the purchase. Is this not the job of the port ambassador on the ship to know these things? Our port ambassador knew very little if anything about the ports, as you sensed when you tried to ask a question.

Another example came in Monte Carlo, after we asked this ambassador the best places to shop for jewelry. His

directions were so bad we never were able to do any shopping. We finally came to the conclusion that we were better off just doing our own thing and asking other passengers for recommendations. I know this is a repositioning cruise but they had done these ports before.

The cruise itself was a really great experience. The food was great and the service was great. We were however very disappionted in the Pinnacle Dining room. Usually whenever you go to the specialty dining rooms with a special fee, they are really special experience. On this cruise it was no better than the regular dining room, plus the attitude of the waiters left a lot to be desired.

Overall, we had a great time even with the problems we encountered. I would recommend the cruise to everyone but do your own research on ports.

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Transatlantic Crossing
Publication Date: April 15, 2006

I boarded this ship with great anticipation since I heard it was a new ship. It was the biggest disappointment of my cruise history. The food was very pedestrian (I had to send back many dinners). The entertainment was mediocre and the worst part of all was the fact that I had to ask the steward after 7 days to change my linens.

Another gentleman told me his linens had not been changed for the whole 16 day cruise (he marked his sheet and it was still there when the cruise was over). I also found the atrium on the lower deck too small and not conducive to spending much time there. I reported all of this to Holland America who offered me an upgrade on a future sailing. I would never sail on the Noordam again. Very disappointing !!!

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