|Ship: HAL ms Noordam
Dates: Saturday, March 21 ~ 28, 1998
Ports: Tampa, Grand Cayman,
Prior to embarkation: HAL booked our flights for $299 pp, but we drove another 150 miles and flew USAir for $87.50 pp. HAL gave us a full credit for the air fare when we got home (nice surprise). We flew the night before and stayed in the Airport Days Inn. We had to pay for the hotel and transfers but still saved over $300. Arrived at the port at about noon.
Embarkation: Check-in went very fast. As HAL alumni we expected priority boarding, but were given a regular boarding call number. Our friends arrived later and experienced the same thing...no apparent priorities, even with the badges and bag tags. Even so, the boarding procedure was fast and painless, and our luggage was already delivered.
Cabin: I knew I would be disappointed with our cabin from the beginning, so I did not expect much. It really was not a typical HAL cabin. It was a large outside cabin (category E), #459 on A-deck, amidships. It had one bed across the porthole and one along the side wall, but no little couch & coffee table. There were six large drawers (2 with locks), one night stand, a concealed dry bar compartment, two large closets, large counter area with an outlet and one chair. The bathroom was equipped with a decent shower and surprisingly roomy medicine chest and shelves. The mirror covered the whole wall above the sink and the lighting was very good. No hair dryer, one outlet. The TV ran Port and Shopping Talks, Cruise Travelogues, View from the Bridge, CNN and The Movie Channel.
Ship facilities: The spacious common areas, lounges and freshwater pool were very conveniently located on the Promenade deck; the casino one flight up, the dining room one flight down. Can't comment on the other pool, spa, beauty shop or ball courts. The entire ship is tastefully decorated with fine art and many fresh flowers. The Piet Hein and the panoramic Crow's Nest offered wonderful views.
Deck: Most of the outdoor activities like poolside games and horse races were held by the Lido deck pool, which wasn't large enough for a crowd. I had no trouble getting a deck chair due to the unpredictable intermittent sprinkles. There was a problem with soot one afternoon in port...no way to avoid that. The Upper Promenade deck had the wraparound promenade.
Theater: The Princess Theater showed "Out to Sea" (filmed partly on the Westerdam), "Mrs. Brown", "Red Corner", "L.A. Confidential", "Rainmaker",
Pools: The freshwater pool on the Lido deck was of adequate size, but too cold for me. I never got to the saltwater pool or whirlpool on the Navigation deck.
Steiner of London: Informative seminars, prizes and discounts were given daily for the Salon and Spa services.
Dining Room: The Amsterdam Dining Room was a little crowded but not stuffy. Our table was off in a corner near the private dining area. The traffic area seemed to go right through the center where the service areas are, and we bumped a few tray-carrying waiters while being seated. after that we used the other entrance. The tables were beautifully set and always had fresh flowers. The menus were varied and interesting, tasty and beautifully presented. Andrei arranged to serve us those jumbo jumbo shrimp cocktails one evening. I couldn't resist double appetizers and desserts (I guess I ordered an extra four pounds' worth).
Buffets: The food at the Lido Restaurant was plentiful and tasty (nice variety of beverages, and sodas available for purchase). We did not experience any long lines or hang-ups, and it was always easy to find a table, as the wait staff promptly cleared off vacated tables. There was a menu available at the end of the line, and they had the main dining room menu posted for comparison. We had trouble with some of the attendants' not being able to understand or speak English, and a few seemed to have and attitude problem. Jim asked for two hard-cooked eggs, which were on the menu. The attendant replied, "NO!". Then Jim asked for one hard-cooked egg, and was answered, "NO EGGS". Then he asked if the attendant would go get him some eggs, to which he replied, "NO EGGS FOR YOU...NEXT". I was next in line and pretended not to be with Jim. We call him the Egg Nazi (Can you tell we're big Seinfeld fans?).
Showroom: The Admiral's Lounge seemed to be roomy enough, but many of the first sitting guests showed up for the second sitting show, so it was a little crowded. The only bad seats were upstairs, along the wall in the Tasman Lounge (balcony area). This room was also used for the larger indoor activities like bingo, excursion talks, etc. We always got a pretty good seat, and did not see any seat-saving.
Shops: The Noordam has three boutiques, one for clothing, one for jewelry and one for sundries, small souvenirs, liquor and cigars. All were well-stocked and had tables of special merchandise and markdowns in the hall. Paula, the ship jewelry expert, gave a very informative talk about gemstones, and had some beautiful samples from the Oceaan Jewelry Boutique.
Casino: The casino was fully equipped, but not very busy this week. Numerous gambling contests were run to create interest, even a fleet-wide slots contest. I had a wonderful time at the craps table and met a terrific lady who taught me all there is to know about roulette (and getting the center chair is a big plus).
Entertainment: Cruise Director Dave Shermet and the Cruise Staff opened the ship's entertainment program with music, comedy and more about cruising. It was almost more like a talk than a show. The best act was Mark Merchant and his three buddies and a stool. Don't miss him. He is a most talented "Voice Manipulator with Multiple Personalities" whose carefully adjusted (for the young'ns) routine kept us in stiches the whole time. Comedy juggler David Deeble was funny, but I missed Doug Mattocks' Humor with Strings Attached. The Noordam cast did "Birth of the Blues" and "Broadway Bound" which I also missed but heard were good. In lieu of a show, one night there was a "Tropical Deck Party" with music, fun, games and dancing under the stars. Some of the less inhibited passengers got together a great group and gave us "The Rockin' Rolldies Lip Sync Show".
Excursions: The Noordam offered 29 tours from 1 to 10 hours in length, ranging from $24.00 to $429.00 per person. In Guatemala there were only 4 tours, and only 1 under $100.00. You can see the list on my excursions page. The bad news was that the first stop at Grand Cayman was cancelled due to bad weather, but the good news was...Three full days at sea.
Grand Cayman: Due to rough seas the Noordam was denied an anchorage and this port was skipped. I really missed the shop that has this beautiful jewelry that I wanted for our anniversary. Tell my husband if he asks.
Santo Tomas, Guatemala: Not a memorable port. As you step off the ship you walk past open trash bins as they are picked over by some of the inhabitants. You pass the armed guards, are approached by small children begging for dollars, and arrive at a small square where the locals sell craft items of limited variety. No water, food or phones are available. The excursions offered are very expensive, but on shore you can boat a short distance over to the Best Western Hotel for a change of pace. There is also some kind of hike offered, but I have no details.
Cozumel: Our Tulum trip was quite long, and when we arrived back at the Noordam we had dinner at the Lido and had about an hour or so to get into town and shop. I'd recommend eating in town next time. I did discover Los Cinco Soles, a variety shop that had truly cheap prices and wonderful goods. This is a port with wonderful things to do, and you'd need a couple of days in port to really see it all. It's worth going back for the snorkeling/diving alone!
Ship Activities: The usual shipboard activities were organized; Snowball Bingo (cash only), horseraces, golf tourney (Jim won again), shuffleboard, volleyball, ping pong (too wet on deck), pool games, Scattergories, Team Trivia (our team, The Smokers, did not do too well, but had great fun!), The Match Game, Not So Newlywed Game, Sherlock Holmes Musical Murder Mystery and more. There were also Excursion and Shopping talks, which I found informative (Debbie really knows her shops!) Captain Leo van Lanschot Hubrecht hosted a Welcome Aboard Champagne reception on the first night at sea (formal, of course). Ed Sheldrake, The Manila Quartet, and The Champagne Strings entertained us with music and Michael Deejayed the night away. After dinner we enjoyed Cognac & Cigars Under the Stars. You certainly can't do it all, but there's no excuse for being bored.
Staff: Generally the staff was courteous and always available. Some of the stewards/servers did not speak English very well, but I just heard Holland America has stepped up English language training for its Indonesian and Filipino staffs. Our Cruise Director, Dave Shermet, did a fine job, even though he was down with the flu for several days. His staff was very energetic and covered all the bases like troopers. Our cabin steward, Eddie, kept the cabin neat & clean always, and met every request promptly. In the dining room, Yan, our waiter and his assistant were very efficient and personable. Andrei, our charming dining room supervisor, spent a lot of time with us, and was very informative about HAL in general, the different ports and other things, and made a mean flambé. Rocky, the wine steward was funny. He was always smiling and had some interesting comment to make. (He is the first wine steward that did not turn his nose up at us because we drink non-alcoholic stuff...big tip!)
Motion: Even though we were haunted by El Niño, we had relatively calm seas. The stabilizers made the entire trip smooth and comfortable. The slightly perceptible motion was just enough to rock you to sleep at night The ferry ride from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen is where some people got sick.
Disembarkation: We left the cabin by 9:00 am and had plenty of time for breakfast in the Lido. Disembarkation numbers were issued according to flight time, and was organized in HAL's usually efficient way, and luggage was very easily found. Since we made our own air arrangements, we didn't have to wait for HAL's transfers or anything...just grabbed a cab and were outtathere.
Final Thoughts: Despite the little cabin, the missed port and
the awful port, HAL really did give us a nice cruise. Everything
else was as expected. We were pampered and spoiled by a wonderful
crew, and really did have a terrific time. Our next cruise will
be on the new Volendam if it's ready on time (I've already chosen the