Noordam Cruise Review by Teacherprof
- Sail Date: June 2018
- Destination: Alaska
- Cabin Type: Signature Superior Verandah Suite
The Noordam has mostly balconies, and does not have the Lanai suites that are on some HAL ships. Though you don't spend lots of time in your room, it is nice to be able to step out on the balcony and enjoy the scenery from there. Hotel service is outstanding as is so typical on cruises: rooms made up twice daily including evening turndown, plus fun towel animals. Our stewards were awesome. We had a suite and it included a whirlpool tub and two sinks. I was blown away (in a good way) to find this on a ship.
There are multiple food choices. I am partial to eating in the main dining room. On vacation, I don't want to have to collect my food in a cafeteria line; I would rather be served. Service at dinner was super. We had a fixed seating with the same two servers, and they got to know our tastes and preferences. Breakfast was still nice, but we didn't feel the service was as good. They came by immediately after you were seated and brought juice, coffee, water, and pastries, but sometimes it slowed down after that. Still, in a dining room, you're not looking for "fast food." We did breakfast in our room once, because we had an early tour. They were right on time and the order was accurate. Food tasted good though the toast was not hot.
I don't know if this is something that just the Noordam did or if they have changed it across the line, but I loved how they handled tour meetings. In the past, we have had to go to a lounge, get stickers, and wait. On this trip, the meeting point was on shore, and it was up to us to get ourselves off the ship and find the person with the sign for our tour. This was definitely preferable to the other way. It gave us flexibility to get off earlier if we wanted to walk around before a tour, and/or buy a coffee, or whatever.
The cruise line offered ample tour options in each port. We like the assurance that the ship will wait if we're late, so we generally book with the ship unless we want to sightsee on our own. Probably our highlight excursion on this trip was the whale-watching in Juneau. The company with whom they have contracted (Gasteau Guiding) uses boats that are specially designed for whale watching, and there are only about 20 people on board. They guarantee you will see a whale. We saw multiple whales; it was truly amazing. We had little interaction with the EXC tours staff because we booked our tours online in advance. All of our tickets were delivered to our stateroom, so there was no standing in line, which was great.
On excursions, I would also highly recommend the hop on/hop off bus with luggage transfer for Vancouver if your flight arrangements permit. We had wanted to see Vancouver, and were afraid we would have to spend a night. But the flight that HAL arranged was a "red eye" that didn't leave until 11:00 p.m., so we had all day in Vancouver. They provided us special luggage tags on board for checking our bags with the hop on/hop off people, and those people were in the cruise terminal as we exited. It was a fairly smooth process to leave our bags with them and get started on the bus. Then we had all day to see Vancouver, hopping off and back on whenever we wanted. The ticket includes both the park route and the city route. When we were finished, we hopped on the "Sky Train" (ticket included in the excursion) and headed for the airport. At the airport, we picked up our luggage from the hop on/hop off people (pick up point a little tricky to find but worked out ok) and then checked in for our flight.
The hotel where they put us in Anchorage prior to Denali had great staff but needs an update. The hotel staff were awesome but the contracted tour people in Anchorage (who handle transfer to the train and optional excursions) were not real helpful. We paid for a transfer from the airport to the hotel and they ended up putting us in a cab with a voucher. In hindsight, we would have paid far less to just get a cab ourselves.
We also did a pre-trip to Denali, which I definitely recommend if you have the time and $. The train trip up is amazing - on a special Holland America train car with upper deck seating for all and restaurant on lower deck. There is a guide and a bartender who serves, in addition to adult beverages, coffees and other items. They run a tab, and during the last hour of the trip, bring you your bill and you settle with your credit card. Very convenient and efficient!
The ship had a variety of activities. The asst. cruise director, Johann, was particularly visible as he ran trivia games and deejay-ed in the evening. The string group, now called "Lincoln Center," was very good and very popular - you had to arrive early to get a seat for their performances. The main stage shows were varied, with two Broadway-type shows on our 7-day cruise, plus a comedian, a magician, and a BBC Earth film of Alaska with musical accompaniment (this was GREAT!). We felt that music was too loud for the mainstage shows & probably damaged our hearing but the performers were good. The cruise director himself did not seem to be very present on the ship, at least to us. (Maybe we just didn't go to the right places to see him?) He did work to minimize announcements, which I appreciate.
Embarkation at Seward was amazing. Maybe there were more crowded times, but we basically walked right up to an agent, who had everything ready, and we were on the ship within about 5 minutes. Disembarkation at Vancouver was also efficient. I love that they let you stay in your cabin now until you disembark, which made it more comfortable. Re-embarkation at that various ports was also pretty efficient and smooth, unlike another cruise line we have traveled on that has larger ships but just one magnetometer, so it takes forever to get back on the ship!
It appears the Noordam was last re-fitted/upgraded in 2006, and there were some signs of wear, but the crew was also continually painting, repair, etc. to keep it in ship shape.
Overall, we are satisfied and happy with this Holland America Cruise.Every ship can have little problems, but overall, things went well and we definitely plan to sail with them again.
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Port & Shore Excursion Reviews
Denali National Park and PreserveThe park itself is great - 5 stars. You will likely see wildlife and you might see Denali. (Only about 30% of visitors see it; the other 70% see clouds covering it.) You have to tour on a school-type bus because the park road is limited in size and in number of vehicles per day, in order to preserve it. The bus was crowded with not a lot of leg room and it was hard to take pictures through the school-bus windows, but what are you going to do? This tour was provided by the cruise line as part of our Denali package, called the "Wilderness Wildlife Tour" (Holland America). Departures are VERY early - ours was at 6:00 a.m. but some were even in the 5:00 hour.View All 8 Denali National Park and Preserve Cruise Port Reviews
I couldn't find a way to review this separately, so will include it here. The Gold Nugget Saloon show at the McKinley Chalet Resort is not so good. The cruise line pushed it, even promoting it on the train as "you have to eat anyway." Yeah, well, you can do better for dinner. There was soggy salad, salmon that smelled funny, barbecue that was cold, mashed potatoes that were fine, and an unmemorable vegetable, maybe green beans. The entertainers themselves were talented. The show's content, which purported to tell the story of Denali (which is why we booked it) was okay, but told with a kind of goofy storyline that included a flashback in time. Overall, it was not worth the money, and I don't recommend it.
View Cruise Critic's Denali National Park and Preserve Cruise Port Review
Glacier BayEveryone stays on the ship in Glacier Bay. The scenery is amazing! Be sure to take time to get outside - they even open the deck on the front of the ship for viewing.View All 718 Glacier Bay Cruise Port Reviews
View Cruise Critic's Glacier Bay Cruise Port Review
HainesThis tour takes a flat-bottom board through the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. They promise you'll see beautiful scenery but that's all they promise. We did see bald eagles, but sadly, nothing else. That was disappointing. On the road to/from the river, we did see grizzly bear cubs so that was a great sighting.View All 12,789 Haines Cruise Port Reviews
Be warned that, on the boats, they seat you on benches with 4 people to a bench. The board the boat by starting with the largest groups (to keep them together), down to the groups of twos. We ended up being the final 2 passengers, but as there had been 2 groups of 3, they wanted us to sit in separate rows. That did not start my trip off on a positive note and I expressed my disappointment in not being able to share the experience with my spouse by sitting together. So they made a man from one of the threesomes move. We got to sit together, but then I felt badly the entire time over separating him from his family. This seating experience ruined the trip for me. Take home message for readers: best to be in a group of 4, or push forward to be sure you're not last to be boarded. They will fill every last seat to make their money.
View Cruise Critic's Haines Cruise Port Review
JuneauThis trip was the highlight of our trip! Wow! First stop was heading out to view whales. They guarantee you'll see a whale; we saw multiple whales. It was truly amazing. The boat is limited to 20 people, and the windows open so that you can get excellent viewing and pictures. The guide is knowledgeable. It was a great trip.View All 12,789 Juneau Cruise Port Reviews
From there, we reboarded the bus, and the provided us with a nice snack (water, nuts, granola-type bars, chocolate) as we traveled to Mendenhall Glacier. We walked about a mile in the Tongass National Forest in a rain forest area, guided by our guide. This was very interesting. Then, we viewed the glacier from Mendenhall Lake. From there, it was a shorter walk back to our bus (different route) an dback to the ship. This was a great tour!
View Cruise Critic's Juneau Cruise Port Review
Totem Bight State ParkWe had previously visited this port, so were looking for something different to do. If it's your first visit to Ketchikan, you may want to choose something else.View All 103 Totem Bight State Park Reviews
It takes about 1/2 hour on the bus to travel to the park. On the way, the guide will point out parts of the town. You will likely see some wildlife - we saw bald eagles, and there is the chance to see more.
At the state park, you take a short walk to the totems. The guide explains the stories told by the totems; I found this fascinating. You also get to go into the authentic native-American clan house. There is walking required and it is a gravel and dirt trail.
From there, they take you to a gift shop for what feels like the obligatory shopping opportunity. They do serve you a cookie, probably to tempt you to buy more of them.
All in all, this was interesting and I felt like I learned more about totems, so was glad I took it.
VancouverThis was a great way to see Vancouver and get to the airport. You do need to have a later flight to make this work (our flight left in the evening).View All 12,789 Vancouver Cruise Port Reviews
The company provides special bag tags on the ship so your bags are tagged and ready to check. After you disembark and clear Canadian customs/immigration, representatives are there to take your bags and get you to the bus. You board the bus nearby and you're off. The ticket includes both the park and city routes, so you get a good overview of the city. And as a hop-on, hop-off bus, you can see what you want to see and then get back on. We did both routes and feel that we got a good overview of Vancouver.
When we were finished, we got on the Sky Train (public transportation, ticket was provided as part of this tour) and headed for the airport. At the airport, we went to the domestic terminal to pick up our bags, and then headed over to international to check in for our flight. If you have the time at the end, this is a great way to see Vancouver, get to the airport, and not have to lug around your bags all day!
View Cruise Critic's Vancouver Cruise Port Review