Noordam Caribbean Holiday Cruise

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In 2000, we had an outstanding Western Mediterranean cruise with Holland America.  It was for that reason we chose Holland America again for a 14 day Christmas-New Years Caribbean cruise aboard m/s Noordam.   For her winter schedule Noordam sails out of Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades, the second busiest cruise port in the world.  The busiest is Miami just 25 miles south of Fort Lauderdale.

We elected to arrive in Fort Lauderdale a day early to avoid any travel problems that could impact our cruise connection.  We were booked into the Marriott Marina which is located right on the Inland Waterway and almost within walking distance to the cruise terminals.  The Marriott caters to cruise passengers and it is usually booked solidly on weekends during the winter season.

The hotel courtesy shuttle dropped us at the terminal in the early afternoon.  Our luggage was whisked away by the dockside porters and we breezed through the security and check in process. A white gloved steward showed us to our cabin on the Sun Deck.   Our bags arrived within minutes.  The cabin was somewhat larger than we expected and did not feel the least crowded even with a queen size bed, dresser cabinets, a table, chairs and a fair size TV.  The tiled bath had a tub/shower, and room to move around.  There was more than enough closet and drawer space for our two week supply of clothing and other essentials.

A half-hour prior to our sailing time we had the mandatory lifeboat drill.  Everyone reported to their lifeboat station with their life jackets which are stored in their cabins.  The drill lasted just long enough to get life jackets on properly and have names checked off on the lifeboat manifest.

At about 5:30pm we cast off the docking lines and headed out the harbor channel to the open sea.  The Noordam was not the only ship leaving at that time.  There was a parade of at least eight other cruise ships in the channel all starting on their own separate itineraries. We were to cross paths with some of them at various ports of call along the way.

Our first full day was at sea covering the nearly 700 nautical miles to Georgetown, Cayman Islands.   That day was well spent getting comfortable and familiar with the ship.  The Noordam was the pride of the Holland America fleet when she was first put into service in 1984. Since then she has completed over 800 cruises and logged millions of miles.  This ship has been well maintained and cared for. The cabins and public rooms are nicely decorated. However the carpets, drapes and upholstery in some of the public rooms were somewhat worn.   Immediately after this cruise, Noordam was to enter dry dock for general refurbishment. The Noordam will not overwhelm you with glitz, rather, she has a character of restrained elegance bordering on plain.

On the morning of the day before Christmas we anchor in the harbor at Georgetown on Grand Cayman.   Including Noordam, there were a total of seven cruise ships representing Carnival, RCL, Disney, HAL, Celebrity and Costa.  The tender dock was a madhouse of confusion. This was just way too many people for this island to digest at one time.  The main business of Grand Cayman is banking. There are nearly 500 banks that provide offshore tax havens and other services.  There are excellent scuba facilities, a nice beach, a turtle farm and a place called "Hell".  Other than that, there's little else to see or do in the nine hours of port time.

Christmas Eve there was a special show in the Admiral's Lounge in which the Officers, Staff and Crew sang traditional Christmas songs from Indonesia, The Philippines, The Netherlands, Britain and The U.S.A.  The presentation and talent were outstanding.

The next two days were at sea covering the eight hundred nautical miles to Aruba. This was a time for unwinding and getting to know our fellow passengers. We were extremely fortunate in being assigned a dining table with two other delightful and interesting couples. I believe Holland America makes a great effort to match booking profiles when making table assignments.

Aruba, 8:00am (Atlantic Standard Time), Day 6.  We were docked just a short walk to downtown Oranjestad.  This island is geared up for tourism.  The beaches are among the best in the Caribbean.  There are hotels, condos, casinos and lots of things to see and do.  We tried our luck at the local casino's blackjack table and did somewhat better than in the ship's casino.

That night we enjoyed an excellent production show in the Admiral's Lounge. There is a different show each night. The ship has a house orchestra and seven resident singers and dancers. In addition there are guest entertainers, comedians, magicians, musicians, singers and lecturers who move from ship to ship within the Holland America fleet.

The next morning we awoke to find ourselves already docked in Bonaire, the "B" of the ABC Islands.   We were then at the southernmost point of our cruise, 12 degrees above the equator, and only a few miles from the Venezuelan coast.   Bonaire has an unspoiled reef system and the scuba diving from the shore is the world's best. The water is so clear that from the dock you can look fish straight in the eye. One end of the island is home to great flocks of flamingos.  The ship sponsored island tour is a "must" for a full appreciation of Bonaire. 

Day 8 was another at-sea day.  We were on our way to Barbados.   It was 83° and  the ship was running smoothly on a moderate sea.  All the chairs on all the decks were occupied.  The Upper Promenade Deck is an open-air full-360° deck.  Five laps around is a mile. At any one time there are forty or so passengers walking for exercise.  Everyone walks counterclockwise except for a few Brits.

During the night the Noordam threaded her way between Bequia and St. Vincent in the Grenadines and then at 7:30am, docked in Bridgetown, Barbados, the easternmost of all the Caribbean Islands. The volcanic soil supports a strong agricultural economy.   Sugarcane grows everywhere.   The world's first rum was distilled here in the the late 1600's.   Three hundred and fifty years of English rule have made Barbados the most British of anyplace in the Western Hemisphere.   They drive on the wrong side of the road and Cricket is the national sport.

Along with four friends we hired a van and driver for an overview tour of the island which took us ultimately to the eastern side of Barbados where the Atlantic rollers provide the best surfing in this part of the world.    Along the way we stopped at Harrison's Cave and took the tram tour deep into the cavern. Limestone stalagmites and stalactites were everywhere, and in the cave there is a spectacular forty foot waterfall which plunges into a large clear lake.

About 8:00am the next day (New Years Day) we docked alongside the cruise pier in Fort-de-France, Martinique,   "The France of the Caribbean".  It is noted for high prices and a disdain for anything or anybody not French.    Be that as it may, we were able to find a van driver who spoke understandable English and he agreed to take around the island for about half the cost of the ship-sponsored tour.  Outside the capital, we found the island to be beautifully green and lush.  Deeper into the highlands the palm trees were replaced by tropical rainforest with a canopy of giant bamboo and buttressed hardwoods.

In the city the traffic seemed more than the narrow streets could handle.    The only businesses open were fast food restaurants and stores catering to the tourists.   A magnificent statue of the Empress Josephine, who was born on Martinique, stands in the park next to Fort St. Louis.    Sadly, it has been vandalized.   Red paint has been splashed over it and the Empress's head is missing.    The locals blame this on a separatist revolutionary group now operating on the island.

The next day we arrived in harbor of Roadtown, Tortola, British Virgin Islands about Noon and started tender operations a short time later.   There was not a whole lot to do or see here in a half-day port stop and one wonders why we stopped at all.    It appears there are just not enough islands to go around for all the cruise ships operating in the Caribbean.    If all the larger ports have full berths and anchorage, the overflow has to go somewhere.    One of those "somewheres" is Tortola. 
That said, there are a couple really worthwhile places in Roadtown.   There's Pussers Company Store.   It's a bar, restaurant, clothing store and a nice place to hang out.   Right around the corner from Pussers is Sunny Caribee where they sell a huge variety of spices along with local crafts and artwork.

At 5:30pm we set off for St. Thomas.    It's only about 30 sailing miles from Roadtown to Charlotte Amalie. So we killed time by sailing the channel up and back before arriving at St. Thomas.     By early morning Noordam (34,000 gt) is docked behind The Carnival Victory (102,000 gt) and Celebrity's Millennium (91,000 gt).    From the top of the hills behind Charlotte Amalie you can see just how small Noordam appeared next to these monsters.


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During its storied history, the flags of seven nations and the skull & crossbones of a number of notable pirates have flown over St. Thomas. It has been a duty-free port since 1724 so it's no wonder the main thing for passengers to do in St. Thomas is SHOPPING.     Prices are better here. There's even a new shopping mall right at dockside for those who can't wait.

For those who can wait there is a variety of shore excursions available.   We chose the Island Tour-Coral World tour which took in all the traditional St. Thomas stuff including Mountain Top (home of the banana daiquiri), Megans Bay and Coral World,where you could don a diving helmet and join fish in their element.

By 9:00am the morning of Day 14, we rode the ship's tender in to Half Moon Cay.   Half Moon Cay is really Little San Salvador Island.   It lies just to the west of Cat Island.   Holland America has leased it from the Bahamas government and given it the commercial name.   It has good snorkeling reefs, a beautiful beach, and very very blue water.   Holland America added a breakwater and dock as well as bars, shops and convenience facilities on the island.   Snorkeling, parasailing, kayaking are available; but just occupying a beach chair here can be rewarding.

Just after 4:00pm the last load of passengers was tendered to the ship and we headed back to Fort Lauderdale where it all started five thousand miles and two very short weeks ago.   The last night aboard was taken up with packing, settling shipboard accounts and saying goodbye.   We had a final drink in the Crow's Nest with our friends and toasted to the possibility of another trip together.


The weather could hardly have been better.   We had lots of deck time and managed the beginnings of a tan. From Grand Cayman on until we were back into the Bahamas, the temperatures ranged from 80 to 85 degrees. The seas were generally moderate with only two days that could have been termed somewhat rough.  None of the passengers with whom we had contact complained of seasickness.

The apparent age demographic on this cruise would put about 80% of passengers in the over 60 group.   Another 10% were made up of small children and their bewildered parents.   Nightlife after 11:30pm aboard Noordam was limited to a few brave souls who fell asleep in the Crows Nest Lounge.

There is no alternative restaurant on Noordam, but the Amsterdam Dining Room fare was generally good to very good.   The Lido cafeteria offered a broad, high quality selection.  Service throughout the ship was outstanding, as it is on all Holland America ships.   The dining staff was prompt, attentive and eager to please.   Our room steward, Ipa, was available at all hours.   Our queen size bed was made twice a day and we always seemed to have fresh towels.   The beverage staff, especially in the Crow's Nest Lounge were amazing.   Davie, Carlo and Marino always greeted us by name, remembered our favorite drinks and made us feel very comfortable.

The Noordam entered service in 1984, an old ship by current standards.  She is Holland America's "economy" ship.    There are no private verandas,  outside glassed elevators or ten story atriums. That does not mean one cannot have an great cruise experience aboard Noordam. For the fare paid, those two weeks in the Caribbean over the Christmas and New Year's Holiday were an absolute bargain.

After Note: In November 2004, the Noordam made her final cruise under the Holland America flag. She was sold to the Thomson Cruise Line and now sails as the Celebration.  A new Noordam, a Vista class ship, has since entered into Holland America's service .

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