Just prior to my boarding her, ms Noordam felt similar to a tube of zit cream three days before prom: crushing pressure! Why? Because I would have just flown 16-hours with a 9-year-old child and a 6’4″ man stuffed into a plane seat appropriately sized for a toddler clocking in at 1% on the growth chart. And because it was my most expensive cruise ever at just under 20k. And because she’d be hosting two holidays (Christmas and New Year’s) and a milestone birthday (my son’s 10th) onboard. AND because she had to compete with the sweeping vistas and blue penguins and fur seals of my destination ports in New Zealand. I mean, imagine having to win over my affection against this:
So, would she prove worthy of 31 hours of total in-air travel time and 20k? Or would her greatest fears come true, that I’d dread sea days and step back onboard after a day at port in New Zealand only to wish I’d shacked up with a newer, flashier, bigger vessel. Read on to find out!
But first, here’s a complete ship tour:
ms Noordam Ship Tour
What I Loved about ms Noordam
Let’s start with what I loved about the Noordam…
Ship Size and Layout
ms Noordam and I have two things in common, our small stature and our outsized personalities. While that second one is somewhat subjective (be nice in the comments), there’s no doubt that ms Noordam is on the small side for a modern cruise ship and I’m on the small side for a full-grown adult woman (I, for one, find airplane seats quite spacious). And while there are some advantages to being a tiny human (I still get charged child prices at museums and amusement parks), there are advantages to smaller cruise ships too (even though every non-luxury cruise line is moving away from them). What, you ask? Fewer steps from one dining venue to another, for one. I am NOT on vacation to burn calories between my second breakfast and my mid-morning snack!
At 936 feet long and accommodating 1,972 guests, I found the Noordam to be the perfect size! She was also extremely easy to navigate even though it still took me 3 days to locate the Crow’s Nest and 16 (out of 16) to head down the correct hallway for my stateroom coming off the elevator.
Speaking of my stateroom…
This was my first time sailing in a suite. And while I’m back to my typical inside cabin for my next two cruises (coming up next month on the Discovery Princess and the Celebrity Solstice), it was fun to live like a Kardashian (I mean, not one of the super famous ones with a private yacht, but like a cousin who’s made a good living selling photos to the tabloids). I loved the suite life and you can read my full review of my Signature Suite here:
The Crow’s Nest, located on deck 10 forward offered the perfect spot to relax with a cocktail, some peanuts, and a book. At least that was always my plan. In action it looked more like half a cocktail and a two hour nap. Every 10 minutes or so someone would poke me to complain of my snoring and I’d awaken to gaze out at the gorgeous, sweeping (and hypnotic) ocean views only to return to merry (and loud, as I was repeatedly told) slumber. There’s a full bar in the Crow’s Nest, plentiful seating, board games, and puzzles.
For a complete tour of the Crow’s Nest, see my Instagram Reel HERE.
Outdoor Wraparound Promenade Deck
Here’s a tour of the Noordam’s outdoor promenade deck:
This is my favorite spot on older Holland America ships and I think it’s a shame they’ve been scaled back on the newer ships to make more room for revenue producing venues (I suspect that’s what’s going to happy with Lincoln Center Stage too…sigh). I love walking the deck while listening to an audio book (the walking prevents me from falling asleep, but the padded loungers along both the port and starboard sides make for another excellent nap spot). Venture out here for gorgeous aft views too!
See an Instagram Reel featuring the retractable roof on the Noordam HERE.
The main pool area on the Noordam features a retractable roof that comes in handy for temperature control or keeping rain out of your giant frozen cocktail. And it’s pretty cool to watch it open and close. Honestly, it was better than most of the entertainment in the main theater each night (more on that later).
See an Instagram Reel featuring the fresh flowers on the Noordam HERE.
Holland America is known for having beautiful fresh flowers onboard and I enjoyed them on the Noordam. We even had our own little vase of flowers in our stateroom, changed by our steward several times during our voyage.
Service and Crew
Even before the herculean challenges the cruise industry faced as it ramped back up post-pandemic, I was never one to tout cruises as having particularly stellar service (in terms of speed, not effort or friendliness) or food quality – the nature of modern cruising makes that challenging. As much as I love cruising and have clearly chosen it as my vacation of choice (not to mention my occupation), cruising requires lots of waiting and patience at times and the food is generally on par with your average chain restaurant at the mall.
But as far as service and food quality, ms Noordam was at the front of the pack with a few of my favorite chain restaurants (looking at you Olive Garden) huffing and puffing to keep up. In terms of service, everyone from the Captain, to our cruise director, to our room steward, to restaurant and bar staff, to the entertainment and excursions team, to the maintenance crew were professional, efficient, and kind. And should you not trust my standards for service, my in-laws, who were on the Noordam for a month-long transpacific voyage just a few weeks before us agreed that the service was the among the best they’d ever experienced onboard their dozens and dozens (and dozens – I’m starting to become resentful of the number of cruises they take in a year) of sailings.
More on the food…
Food on the Noordam
As a vegetarian, the food on the Noordam was among the very best I’ve had at sea. It’s not uncommon for there to be no vegetarian options at certain fast casual and specialty cruise restaurants (especially burger joints and steakhouses, understandably). However, at every restaurant on the Noordam there were great vegetarian options (note I said options and not one token item). My non-vegetarian readers should also take comfort in knowing that Mr. Cruise (who hasn’t eaten anything green since his boogers in 8th grade – I mean 1st grade) also enjoyed the food on the Noordam. While the food overall was excellent, here were some of the standouts for us:
Hard Ice Cream and Waffle Cones
My son is proof that you can survive for 16 days on ice cream alone. And I’ll admit to partaking of a few (dozen) cones each day myself. While there was soft serve and regular cake cones available, our favorite was the hard ice cream and complimentary waffle cones at the dessert stations in the buffet. There was a rotating flavor of the day (sometimes there were two different flavors in a day if they ran out of the first) in addition to chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. There was also sugar free ice cream available. The quality and flavors were excellent! There are also sauces and toppings available if you want to make a custom sundae.
I love bread pudding as much as I hate raisins, so when the two are combined into a single dessert, I feel like a surgeon desperately rooting around inside the chest of her patient for a lost wad of bloody gauze before she can close him up and finally start her weekend. And, to be honest, I’d rather eat a wad of bloody gauze than a raisin. But I LOVE the signature bread pudding on Holland America, so I suit up and dig around in my bowl until I find every last raisin and dispose of them on a separate plate which I scoot as far away from me on the table as possible with a look of disgust. Toddlers beware – I’m coming for all your signature moves!
But seriously, my whole family loved the bread pudding on the Noordam. Be sure to ask for some at the dessert stations (they keep it behind the counter and a lot of people miss it).
I’m telling you, the dessert stations at the buffet are THE PLACE to be on the Noordam (and I’m not even going to mention the pre-plated dessert selection available there or the cookies which are excellent as well)! And while the other entertainment on the Noordam wasn’t great, the crepes were the star of the show and worth a visit to the Lido after dinner each evening (skip the theater and head there instead). I rotated between Nutella and a simple butter and sugar creation with a side of vanilla ice cream. My son asked for “everything” in his and almost made me feel my age when I looked at it and said, “only a child would order that.”
Asian Station on the Buffet
While the overall quality of the food available at the buffet was high, the Asian station was a particular standout for us with Indian, Japanese, and Chinese selections available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I LOVE Indian food for breakfast and there were three different Indian dishes available every morning. The sushi was also a highlight. Extra Credit Pro Tip: There is vegetarian/vegan sushi available, you just have to ask for it.
If you like In-N-Out burger on land, you’ll love Dive-In on the Noordam. Just don’t accidentally ask for your fries “animal style,” because the crew member taking your order will just look at you with a blank look and say something disparaging in their head about Americans. #lessonlearned However, you can order your fries (or burger or dog) with special Dive-In sauce. Always ask for extra, because it’s so good it’s never enough.
Dive-In is especially great for vegetarians and vegans because, in addition to the two burgers on the menu that are already vegetarian, you can substitute a Beyond Burger Patty or Beyond Brat for any burger or dog. This makes Dive-In the most vegetarian/vegan friendly burger joint at sea. You can also ask for a gluten free bun or no bun.
Lunchtime Taco Bar on the Noordam
The lunchtime taco bar on HAL went away after Covid only to be revived only to be going away again on some ships. But our cruise took place in that sweet spot in between and it was outstanding. Soft and hard taco shells as well as homemade chips were available to fill or top with numerous high quality offerings. I affectionately referred to it as “cruise Qdoba.”
Because our drink package included specialty coffees (including spiked ones), I spent a lot of time at Explorations Cafe, located on deck 3 forward. And literally every time I told myself, “I’m just going for a small decaf almond milk latte,” I ended up with a large mocha with two shots of amaretto and a dessert. Every. Time. But the complimentary desserts and breakfast pastries available are too good to pass up. I mean, you can try, but you’ll just feel like a failure or find yourself ascribing ill intentions to non-sentient baked goods, “It’s the Dutch apple pie’s fault for looking at me like that!”
Considering what’s happened on other lines regarding room service over the past few years, my breath is bated waiting for an inevitable announcement from Holland America that the awesome room service situation is changing. Sorry for going all fatalist on you and maybe I’m wrong (I mean, it’s happened a time or two). We’ll see. But in the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy the extensive, complimentary room service offerings on HAL. Not only is there a dedicated room service menu available, you can also order any item from the main dining room as long as it’s open. I came back to our cabin on the Noordam one night to find Mr. Cruise watching basketball with a bowl of French onion soup, a giant steak, and an ice cream sundae. I was like, “are you sure you work hard enough to deserve all this luxury?” LOL.
I spent a lot of time at the Lido Bar pretending to parent my child. Because when he wasn’t eating ice cream, he was in the pool. I’m hoping there were some bathroom breaks in there at some point too, but I was too busy enjoying GIANT frozen cocktails and then taking many of my own bathroom breaks to keep track. I’m not sure if the drinks are actually larger than the average frozen cruise cocktail, but the glasses they serve them in will garner lots of likes on Instagram. They are a bit top heavy though, so pair them with flip flops and choppy seas at your own risk.
Besides being a tripping hazard, there are two other minor problems with giant frozen cocktails. First, brain freezes! And second, they’re super filling, meaning less room for buffet desserts. Solution? Martinis! I like martinis because you get a lot of buzz for your buck, they taste good (as long as you put chocolate in them and not olives), and they aren’t too filling. And my favorite place to get martinis on the Noordam? The Ocean Bar! I was onboard for 16 days and my goal was to try a new martini every day. Toward the end they started getting a bit out there (cantaloupe? French with a Midori base?), but you can’t go wrong with chocolate, espresso, a cosmo, or a lemon drop.
Lincoln Center Stage
While the format of HAL’s signature partnership with the Lincoln Center has changed (not for the better according to some, while others like the new format) and now takes place on the main stage for limited classical performances, our sailing would be the last one on the Noordam with the original format. I loved listening to beautiful, calming classical music in a small, intimate venue. RIP Lincoln Center Stage (You can go HERE to read about a group of cruisers who is very happy to see it go.).
Rolling Stone Lounge
While I grieved not having BB King’s Blues Club onboard (and was sad to hear the HAL ship we’re sailing on next will replace BB King’s with Rolling Stone), I could only stay sad for so long, because the lead singer of the Rolling Stone’s band was fabulous! Like, what is he doing on a cruise ship and not winning American Idol fabulous. Hopefully you’ll get the chance to hear him before he gets a recording deal and finds out what happens when you break a cruise contract.
I love catching a flick in the main theater on sea days and enjoyed the selection of movies offered on the Noordam. They weren’t all typical American box office hits you can now stream on approximately 45 different apps. No, they were thought provoking films from the countries we visited (Australia and New Zealand). And there was complimentary popcorn! And drink service!
Seven Worlds One Planet
A partnership with BBC Earth provides Holland America cruisers with theater screenings of BBC Earth programming as well as magnificent concert events that combine live orchestra music with dramatic footage from BBC Earth. On the Noordam, we were treated to Seven Worlds, One Planet accompanied by the Lincoln Center Stage performers. The film featured spectacular wildlife footage from each of the seven continents.
What I Didn’t Love about ms Noordam
In the spirit of an honest and balanced review, here are a few things I didn’t love about the Noordam…
Enrichment and Entertainment
While I’ve highlighted some of the entertainment I loved on the Noordam and it may sound like a lot, keep in mind that we were onboard for 16 days. And the entertainment offerings overall were a giant leap backward for mankind, I mean Holland America. The nightly entertainment in the main theater varied from okay production shows from the Step One Dance Company (six singers and dancers with a multi-media backdrop and no live musicians) to a truly awful comedian who was the talk of the ship that evening and the following day (and not in a good way). No offense to Carnival (a line I still sail from time to time), but it was Carnival-style entertainment (which many people love, but that has a different target demographic) on Holland America.
I was most disappointed that there was no naturalist onboard. New Zealand was a bucket list itinerary for us and much of the attraction was the unique wildlife, geology, and plant life of the area. But we had no naturalist to educate us on what we were seeing. It was hugely disappointing.
There was also no enrichment onboard. No interesting lectures presented by experts in a particular field or local cultural ambassadors. Nothing. Just typical cruise activities offered by the entertainment staff (some of which my son enjoyed, but most of which I’ve tired of after so many cruises – I mean how many times can I make an origami frog that looks like it got run over by a truck?).
No BB King’s Blues Club
We were also disappointed that the Noordam didn’t feature the BB King Blues Club – one of our favorite venues on Holland America ships. Even my 10 year-old loves it, no dragging, kicking, or screaming required.
But let’s not end on a sour note, because overall this cruise on the Noordam was our sweetest yet (I mean, didn’t you read about the ice cream…and crepes…and bread pudding…and giant frozen cocktails)! Between the itinerary, our signature suite, the food and drinks, the size and layout of the ship, the wide wraparound promenade deck, the pool and ice cream and kids club that meant I only saw my kid for 10 minutes total over 16 days, and the amazing crew, this cruise will be hard to top. But I’ll try. Lord knows, I’ll keep trying! And with that…
Homework (10 points): Have you sailed on the Noordam? Share your experience to the comments. Or if you’re booked on the Noordam (lucky!) ask any questions you have or share what you’re most looking forward to.
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