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.