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Ray Niacaris

Age: 62

Occupation:Engineer

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Holland America

Ship: Noordam

Sailing Date: 2009-07-8

Itinerary: Eastern Mediterranean

Mediterranean cruise July 8-18 2009
Line: Holland America Ship: Noordam

This was our second cruise; the first was with Carnival, Elation to the Mexican Riviera.

If you want an extremely clean, well maintained ship that will pamper you to death, then this is the ship for you. Don't expect spectacular food, nightlife, or shows and you will not go away disappointed, but you will go away very relaxed and rested.

Do not expect stellar or lavish spreads on the Noordam. The service is fabulous but the food is just fair. The morning and lunch fare are pretty much the same every day. For dinner, there is some variety, but it is not special in any way. There are two other options for "better" food. One is the Pinnacle Grill, which will cost you an additional $20.00 per person. The other is the Conetello; this is an Italian restaurant tucked away in the corner of the Lido. The menu is the same every day, but it is a better quality of food. It is free, but you need to make reservations.

The entrees in the Vista Dining room (the more or less formal place) are the same that are served in the Lido restaurant. You can eat in either place and get pretty much the same food. You can also scope out what they will be serving in the dining room by checking out the Lido and decide if you want to get dressed for dinner.

We had a Veranda suite. We had actually booked a Veranda balcony and a week before the cruise, we were asked if we wanted to upgrade to a suite for $200 each. This was well worth the cost. The cabin and bath are very spacious and well appointed. We spent most of the time in the room on the balcony and I doubt if we would ever cruise again without having one. They are very private and furnished with wicker chairs and tables. We were on the upper Veranda deck and we often went to the Lido restaurant to bring food and drinks to the room. You could use room service for this, but we never did. We could get what we wanted when we wanted it and it was very little effort.

Pack a length of sturdy line or rope (not string) about 15 feet or so. This sounds useless but we used quite a bit. First it was a clothes line to dry out the sweaty clothes from the day. We also wanted to hear the waves at night and the narration on the TV as we passed various sites. There is no way to do this with the self closing balcony door. With the rope you can tie the balcony door open and hear the narration and the waves at night. We could never just shut off the air-conditioning. It was on or the heat was on. This way we could keep the cabin very comfortable.

The nightlife on this ship is pretty much non-existent. The disco lounge was pretty much empty the entire cruise. It seemed that the center of activity was the casino. We are not gamblers, so I can't comment on how good it is. The one shining star on board was the piano bar. The guy there was very entertaining and really identified with the crowd. The waiters in that place were especially nice as well. It was a real feel good place. In fact, it became a regular hangout for many of the passengers. However, after several days the shtick became somewhat repetitive.

The Holland American Singers and Dancers left a lot to be desired. Went to a couple of their shows and found out they only knew one way to sing and the song had to fit their style or it was wedged into their style. This was especially true on the Vegas night show. On the positive site, the technical side of the show: effects, lighting and sound were fantastic.
There was also a really good talent named Count Dimas. He put on quite a show and clearly stood out the best entertainer on the cruise. The various shipboard players were not bad, but not memorable. I kept feeling that this is where Holland America was cutting costs.

I have to preface this by saying that I am not into structured, pointed or rushed activities. This was my opinion of the two excursions we took on this cruise. We took the best of Ephesus and the Best of Athens, on the recommendation of the travel agent. All the others we did on our own and I must say I enjoyed the self paced touring much better. On the best of Athens for instance, we went to a museum and got to spend one hour there. Our guide spent 15 minutes in front of some gold trappings talking the history of the jewelry, while the rest of a very impressive museum was ignored. Please remember that this is the nature of the beast and not a criticism of the excursion. I would like to have more basic transportation plans and avoid the dinner/guided tour stuff. Really irritating was the Best of Ephesus tour where at the end the guide takes you to a Turkish rug place and the owner gives a brief talk on how rugs are made and then the salesmen descend on you to sell you a rug. We did not pay to be subjected to high pressure salesman and Holland America needs to clean up their act on these activities.

The port of Civitavecchia is about 35 miles from the heart of Rome. Airport transfers cost a fortune and you are stuck on a bus for an hour or more. We took a taxi to the Termini train station and took the train to the port. The fare for the train was 9 Euros each, which is considerably cheaper. They stop it at the port and there are handy taxis to take you to the ship. (You can usually share these with other cruisers and split the cost.

Boarding and Disembarking
This is handled very efficiently by Holland America, especially if you pre register online ahead of schedule. They really know what they are doing and if you just follow their lead you and your luggage will arrive on the ship with very little stress.

Drinks on Board
You can plan on spending at least $1000.00 on board if you are fairly conservative. Pictures and a glass of wine or even a coke really add up quickly, not to mention other sundries.

You can buy a "bucket of beer" for $17.00 or $19.00 depending on what you want to drink. While this is not a great deal, you do save money if you are a beer drinker. There are no drink cards to buy to beer, however, there is for wine which I will explain in a bit. You can tell the waiter to just bring you one beer at a time and he will. If you do not drink all five (the number in a bucket), they will put the remainder in an ice bucket that you can take to your room. The cabin stewards will make sure they keep the beer on ice for you. For the wine drinkers they do have a wine card you can purchase for either 10 or 20 glasses of wine, (house wine only). Since a glass of house wine is $4.25, this is well worth it if you are a wine drinker.

There is a minibar in the room and the prices are exactly the same as anywhere else on the ship. They even add the 15% service charge to the cost of the drink. Keep in mind that the only free drinks on board are water and iced tea. You cannot smuggle anything on board, because they x-ray everything you put on the ship. We found out that profitability of each cruise is greatly dependant on the beverage sales, so they watch it pretty closely.

Laundry
There are no self service laundry facilities on the Noordam. The charges are a bit steep for the basic laundry that you will need done on a 10 day trip, unless you bring a lot of luggage. The summer humidity and heat will make you go through clothes rather quickly, ergo that clothes line I mentioned earlier. However, there is a laundry deal as well. You can have a bag of laundry cleaned for $20.00. If you carefully roll things up, you can stuff quite a bit in that laundry bag. It comes back to you neatly folded and on hangers. Remember that it takes a couple days to turn it around, so get it in early.

Service
This is where Holland America and the Noordam shines. I can't imagine better service on any other cruise ship. No matter where you went or who you spoke with, you greeted with smiles and people going out of their way to serve you. We were especially impressed with their ability to remember your names. We were often greeted by name. I must say that the $11.00 per person per day that was added to your bill was very reasonable for the level of service you received. In fact, we actually sough out a few standouts and gave them something extra.

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