Occupation:Real Estate Finance
Number of Cruises: 21
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: May 22, 2000
Itinerary: Rome To Istanbul
We arrived in Rome the evening before to get over the jet lag from the west coast and to make sure we gave ourselves some room incase of a flight cancellation (United is never on time out of SFO!). We stayed at the Sheraton Rome, which I had stayed before. It's a nice convention hotel on the outskirts of town between Rome and the airport. We had arranged for a car from the concierge and it was about $20 more for two, in comparison to the HAL transfers, so it was well worth it.
We arrived at the ship in the port city around 1:00. The gangway was out so we boarded the ship and was directed to the card room for check in. No one was on the pier to take pictures and there was no fanfare for boarding. We were given our papers and directed (not escorted) to our cabin on Sun Deck.
The Cabin: A
We had cabin 006 on Sun Deck. The cabin was in great shape with new carpets and a fresh bathroom with a full size tub. The cabin was a great size, about 20% larger than the standard outside cabin on the Statendam class ships. We were just next door to the Crows Nest so it was convenient for that room. Our cabin steward was good, but I only met him once. The only draw back was that there is a bare metal sundeck above these cabins and you hear every deck chair being moved and stacked all day long.
Note: Peeked in to the Mini-Suites and they were totally gutted and redone in wonderful shades of gray and mint green. They are stunning and unlike any HAL cabin I've seen.
The Ship: B
The Noordam like her sister N. Amsterdam are the oldest ships in the HAL fleet and are either sold or up for sale. The Noordam just emerged from a freshening before the European season with new carpets and upholstery. The ship looked very clean and fresh. The carpets are similar to those on the newer ships.
Most of the public rooms are on two decks with a large lounge midship and the lido in the aft leading to one of the two pools. Our cruise was full and it showed in the larger public spaces. The Lido was re-configured so its better than it was, but the aft pool is crowded, as are many other parts of the ship. The Noordam has a lower passenger allocation for food and flowers (per one of our officers) than the newer ships (hence the $999 rates) and it shows. Very limited on the flowers throughout the ship.
The main show lounge is lovely at a lounge but horrible for shows. All, but a hand full of seats have site lines and most passengers had to stand. The casino is nice but a bit crowded on full sailings. The Horn Pipe club, or the disco was very dark and we were told they did not do too many renovations to this area so they just keep lowering the lights.
Now for the vibration. Anywhere you are you can feel it. When the ship is under way be sure to visit the liquor store. All the bottles rattle together so much that its funny. While lounging by the pool body parts vibrate, including those on many of the asleep passengers. It's like being on a vibrating bed in a cheap motel! The ship is like a big pager set on vibrate!
Also, I found it quite tacky to have "bug zappers" outside the lido by the pool. Who wants to hear bugs frying over hot lights when getting their food at the outdoor grill or laying by the pool.
Some of the worst we ever had on HAL. Apparently they now get their desserts flown in from Cheescake Factory and some nights they hit our table still frozen in the middle. I asked our Head waiter and he confirmed that they now make very little of their desserts on board. What a shame. I am a big sweet tooth and passed up dessert many times.
Entrées were unmemorable, soups and salads just OK. I had asked our head waiter for plain iceberg lettuce with some oil and vinegar and was told they could not accommodate such a request. Is iceberg lettuce so exotic. In addition many nights our food arrived luke warm to room temperature but never hot.
The dinning room did do a nice transformation for the second formal night. It was a black and white them with white slipcovers on the chairs and black and white table linens. Nice touch. Our waiter was great as usual with the seasoned HAL crew
This is a subject that I never think about, not being a heavy drinker or ever thinking about the quality of a drink, but this is another example of the cheapness of this ship. Each night our group would meet in one of the various bars (usually the Crows Nest) for a cocktail before dinner. I am a Manhattan drinker and as anyone knows you put a cherry in the glass. Unfortunately there were none on the ship and with a port a day you would think they would go out and get some knowing they had passengers requesting them, but no. Finally in Athens I had to go to the local market and buy a jar and give it to the bar tender just to have a complete drink. Needless to say they couldn't find the cherries the next night. "When was the last time HAL?"…
The European cruises saw 200 new crew board the Noordam and you could tell. Many of the Indonesian and Filipino could not speak English. In addition they were going through training on board so their last focus was on the passengers. There were some shinning stars in the Crows Nest Lounge and we had a wonderful waiter.
I would love to know if the front desk staff of this HAL ship went through classes on being surly. One front desk supervisor (Tracy Fox) was the most confrontational rude front desk person ever at sea. Example: A woman was getting out of the Navigation deck pool and the wooden step of the ladder broke sending her back into the pool. She yells for help and the bar tender and those helpful Steiner girls walk on by. A passenger got her out of the pool while another called the front desk to get the nurse. The woman was bleeding. Ms Fox told the passenger to have the woman to come down to the infirmary because they were busy. The passenger finally got her and the nurse up on deck with the woman being taken care of by passengers and she proceeds to tell some others by the pool that if the woman was not so overweight she would not have broken the step. The woman was not overweight and over hearing this had me thinking of trying another cruise line.
Otherwise we were told "No" so many time on board it became a joke. "Could I have an Ice Tea?.. No", "will there be photos taken as we get off the ship in Greece…No". "Could we get a deck chair by the pool?"…"No". Actually that last "no" is a funny one. There were empty spaces between the deck chairs near the larger aft pool, so we had asked on of the deck personnel if they could get us a chair out of one of the stacks one deck up so we could sit with friends, He said no, that the chairs were by deck and they had to stay that way. We had to navigate the stairs with our own deck chairs. Other passengers saw this and it became a "bucket brigade" of deck chairs so that people could sit by the pool. A big Zero for HAL service in this case.
In the Greek ports the photographers could not take any photos off the ship. They said it was from the local government, so we had none of those port pictures that we love so much. Funny, Princess' Royal Princess, that we shared some ports with, had their photographers pier-side….Hmmm.
Rome: We took the train from the port city into the main terminal of Rome. It was easy and only $12 for the Eurostar train. We roamed around Rome and had lunch. Since we had been to Rome before it was nice to just hang out in the city and not be too concerned about all the sights. We had lunch at a great caf
Naples: We took a cab to Pompeii. It was a must see! The town is so interesting to walk through. Make sure to visit the Brothel, a must on any tour! We spent the afternoon in Naples enjoying the city and having lunch (are you noticing we ate as many meals as we could off the ship!)
Crete: We tour Knosos which was interesting. That's about it for Crete. The main city of Heraklion was nothing great
Santorini: A magical island. We took the donkeys up the hill, a bit smelly but so worth it for the view and experience. The city is perched on tope of these sheer cliffs, absolutely wonderful. Shopping is also great with lots of jewelry shops and great prices.
Athens: Go see the Acropolis then get back on the ship and lay by the pool
Mykonos: Another magical island and another great seaside lunch in the little Venice area. Don't forget to see those famous windmills
Kusadasi: Emphases is a must. Its like beings transported back in time. Get on stage in the amphitheater, it's a kick!
Istanbul: East meets west in this great ancient city. It was worth the trip for the sail into the Istanbul harbor. It was just wonderful. Seeing all those mosques as we sailed in sure set the stage for the three days post cruise we spent in this city. We also had some of the best food of the trip
We have always enjoyed HAL. This was number 13 for me and I celebrated 40,000 miles on the Statendam last year. I have to say this cruise was not up to the standards of the newer ships (we had such a wonderful cruise last year on the Statendam to/from Hawaii). The over ambiance of this ship suffers from a surly front desk, a training ground for new crew and that damn vibration. I know there are people out there that will say "it's a classic ship" so you have to put up with a bit more than you would in a newer ship. My response is that my vacation is too important to me and I want perfection (or close to) in things that do not have to solely do with the physical ship like food and service. Also HAL needs consistency in their product, even on their older ships. The Noordam fell short. Not that we did not have a memorable cruise, we did, due to the ports and the group we traveled with.
Will I sail on HAL again? Sure, we are off on the Ryndam (only the newer HAL ships from now on!) in October but our next long cruise we booked on Princess to Asia because we feel its time to look at some of the competition. After Princess in March maybe we will try Celebrity. Listen Up HAL it only takes one bad cruise to sour a passenger on your line. With all the competition out there keep your product consistent!