This four-part guest post is presented by Lew Toulmin, Ph.D., F.R.G.S. and Avid Cruiser.
The ABC islands of the southern Caribbean are often visited by cruise ships, but few ships visit all three – Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao – in one voyage.
When I discovered that Holland America Line’s Noordam was sailing to all three, and also to the remote Turks and Caicos and to the Bahamas and Dominican Republic, I had to go.
In today’s post, I will describe the ship and its attractions. In the next post, I will describe the ship’s food, and in the final two postings, I will cover the six islands visited on the voyage. I hope you’ll stay tuned.
Noordam was built in 2006 at the Fincantieri shipyard near Venice, Italy at a cost of $400 million. She is 935 feet long, 106 feet wide (just able to fit into the current Panama Canal locks), draws 26 feet, carries 1,848 passengers and 800 crew, has a gross tonnage of 81,769, and a maximum speed of 24 knots.
Noordam has a bulbous underwater bow to increase her waterline length and thus her speed by about 15 percent. Instead of old-style fixed propellers, she has two modern “azipods,” which can rotate 360 degrees and increase engine efficiency by about 6 percent. They also improve maneuverability dramatically. The azipods and the large, 7500-horsepower bow thrusters mean that the ship rarely needs help from tugs. All in all, this is a very efficient and “green” design.
The ship and her captain, Hans Mateboer, are well-remembered in nautical circles for spotting and rescuing 22 ship-wrecked Somali refugees who were drifting in life jackets off Kusadasi, Turkey in 2006, after their tiny, overloaded motorboat sank. The ship and crew were commended by her passengers (some of whom assisted in the rescue by spotting victims in the water), and were officially thanked by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for the valiant and competent action.
My wife Susan and I boarded Noordam in Ft. Lauderdale, and we immediately inspected the public spaces. We were struck by the rather traditional exterior, attractive interior décor, dramatic chandelier in the main atrium, and excellent sight lines in the large Vista Lounge theater.
Later we went on a backstage tour of the Vista Lounge. We were impressed with the professional setup of the theater, with complex lighting, effects, and a stage that has nine parts that can be rapidly lowered or raised.
Next we went to our cabin, number 6162, which I had been a bit worried about. It was located right at the stern, overlooking the wake. I was afraid that we would feel some engine vibration or some pitching motion, and I usually seek out a cabin near the middle of the ship to avoid these problems. But as we pulled away from Ft. Lauderdale in the sunset, we felt virtually no vibration, even at maximum revolutions. And later in the voyage, when we encountered 20-foot seas for a day, we felt little pitching or rolling. Modern ship stabilizers are a true wonder.
Our 10×20 foot cabin had a king-sized bed, three small closets, safe, small refrigerator, desk, flat screen TV, sitting area, en-suite bathroom with tub and shower, excellent view out the large glass double doors, and a substantial balcony. The walls were covered with an attractive golden cloth, and the lighting was well designed for relaxing in the cabin or reading in bed.
Our fellow passengers were a pleasant mixture of Americans (about 60 percent of the total), Canadians (26 percent), Dutch (8 percent) and other Europeans drawn by the unusual itinerary. There were a few children aboard, and they generally were quietly amused in the special children’s play area and teenagers’ lounge. This was a rare and delightful instance of children being not seen and not heard!
At every opportunity on board, we took the excellent computer classes offered by John Roberts of MicroSoft in the Digital Workshop training room. John offers free and informative classes in computer security, Windows 7, camera basics, buying a computer, introduction to “the cloud,” file sharing, social networking, and photo editing. We took all of the 45-minute classes, getting for free training what would have cost us more than $1,000 each ashore. Every HAL ship is now equipped with a Digital Workshop, a terrific resource. Be sure to come early, every session is packed.
Other offerings on board included swimming in the two pools, tai chi, dance classes, health assessments, bicycle spinning, full spa services, acupuncture, cooking demonstrations with master chef Thomas Schumann, champagne and wine tastings, bingo, casino gambling, Broadway-style shows (including the fabulous Polish violinist Michael Bakala), lectures on the history of rum in the Caribbean immediately followed by a meeting of “The Friends of Bill W.,”etc., etc. Plenty to do!
Our journey continues. Stay tuned for the next update.