CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews

Holland America Line Noordam by Gary Ruff Eastern Caribbean 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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