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SailorJack

Our First Cruise on HAL (on the Noordam)...and Quite Frankly, Once was Enough

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Day 1 – Fort Lauderdale

This will be our first cruise on Holland America and, to be perfectly honest with you, we are really not quite sure about what to expect. For one thing, Holland America ships have really funny names. Maybe “funny” is the wrong word…”strange” may be more apropos. The name of the ship that we are booked on is the “Noordam.” This is not a word one uses everyday and you can’t find the word in any dictionary, but as best as I can figure, it is a Dutch word that is sort of idiomatic for “unsociable”…as in “it’s none of Noordam business.” Another unusual name that we have heard about on HAL is something called a “Hunky Dory” – of which we have no idea - except that it may be Dutch for “Lifeboat.” Obviously, sailing on a HAL ship will pose a language challenge, but as long as the menus have English translations we think we will be OK. Why did we select HAL? Based on the ports we wanted to visit and the timing, it was either the Noordam or the Oasis of the Seas. In the end, we liked the size of the Noordam…as opposed to the Oasis, which will be so big that it will probably be applying for statehood.

We were also a little curious about the people who regularly cruised on HAL ships, but more on that later.

Day 1 – Ft. Lauderdale

Our boarding process was delayed by about at hour as the crew had to do a deep cleaning as a result of a virus outbreak on the previous cruise, and, in turn, the deep cleaning process was held up as most of the crew that was to do the cleaning was being held at customs and immigration. Not an auspicious start, but the Noordam crew handled the delay very professionally and we were safely tucked away in our stateroom by 12:30.

Our stateroom had a delightful balcony that was on the starboard side of the ship and afforded us a bird’s eye view of the magnificent intercoastal waterway – which was alive with boats, personal watercraft, and yachts of every size and make – all cruising up and down the waterway on a glorious see and be seen Sunday afternoon. So as SailorJill stowed our gear, I made a tall rum and coke and adjourned to the balcony to enjoy the maritime parade.

I would like to think that HAL arranged the girl just for me, but I think I was just plain lucky – you know, being in the right place at the right time. I actually heard her boat coming before I could see it – with the strong, sensual salsa beat rising up from the water below. Then the boat emerged from the shadows and slowly sailed past our stateroom – and there she was. She was twenty-something, tanned with long blonde hair, and she was wearing a tiny red string bikini. And her legs – well, lets just say they reached all the way down to the ground (or the deck, in this case). She was holding onto one of the aluminum poles that supported the boat’s canopy and she was doing the most suggestive and exotic pole dance that I have ever witnessed. Well not actually “witnessed”, more like “heard about” – at least that is how I explained it all to SailorJill. Quite frankly, up until this moment in time I never knew that hips could actually move like that.

It may have been my imagination, but I sensed that the Noordam actually listed a few degrees to starboard as people gathered to watch the boat drift by. As I later mentioned to SailorJill, one can only imagine how mortified that poor girl would have been had she known that her private dance had been inadvertently witnessed by the crew and passengers of the Noordam, the Westerdam, and Carnival’s Victory!

In retrospect, I may have described the dance a little to vividly to SailorJill, because when I suggested that pole dance classes might be a fun way for her to exercise and drop a few pounds, I found myself unpacking my own bags while she sat on the balcony with a rum and coke. I’m sure that the few times she whooped and hollered at the brazen, steroid gulping, muscle-bound, exhibitionist, Speedo clad playboys sailing by was all in fun and had nothing to do with payback.

Later, after the dreaded and obligatory lifeboat drill, we went up to deck 10 and stumbled across a cruise critic group that was conducting something called a “Banner Wave.” The event, which was entirely new to us, was organized by a delightful lady I shall (to protect the innocent) refer to as “Lynda.” The objective was to unfurl a banner as we passed by a shore based webcam and shout tidings of great joy. At the appointed time, “Lynda” thrust a large plastic banner into our hands and instructed us to unfurl it and hang it over the side of the ship.

At first this seemed rather innocuous and we dangled the banner over the railing as instructed and waved wildly at the camera. Then, in one of those life-altering moments, a priest – a man of the cloth – walked up to us and inquired as to what message was on the sign. SailorJill and I stared at each other blankly. In our excitement to be a part of what we innocently assumed to be a hallowed HAL tradition neither one of us had taken the time to actually read the banner. I turned to ask “Lynda” about the banner, but she had apparently moved far enough down the side of the ship so as to maintain plausible deniability. I had no answer for the priest!

“My God,” I thought. What if the sign says something like “The Devil wears Prada,” or “For a real good time, call 1-800-Hot Babe,” or “Free the Guantanamo 200” – or worse! It was at that moment that someone mentioned that this being a major international seaport, perhaps the camera had facial recognition software.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said.

“You have nothing to worry about unless you are wanted for a serious felony” he responded.

“Define serious felony!”

I could only hope that “serious felony” did not include taking one of the ship’s shower curtains, writing some possibly scurrilous message on it and dangling it over the side of the ship in the middle of an active international waterway – because apparently that is exactly what we were doing. I couldn’t even drop the damning thing into the ocean as a sign on the railing clearly stated, “Throwing things overboard is strictly prohibited.” So there we stood – staring stupidly into a live webshot and holding onto what undoubtedly would come to be known as “peoples exhibit number one, your honor.” I just knew that when we returned to Florida Horatio Cain and whole CSI team would be there waiting to seize the banner, which by now was covered with my fingerprints, DNA, clothing fibers – and for all I knew, GSR.

As I stood there in the gathering darkness wondering how I get into these situations, the Noordam, like a receding evening ebb tide, slowly slipped out of the harbor and into the welcoming embrace of the warm Caribbean.

Eager to enjoy what few remaining days of freedom we may still have, we return the banner (still unread) to “Lynda” and return to our stateroom to prepare for dinner. One of the little idiosyncrasies we had discovered in our stateroom was the fact that our toilette suffered from Anti-flush Syndrome. When one pushed the button nothing happened. After each use, SailorJill would call the front desk, who in turn would call Engineering, who in turn would send up an Engineer to our hallway, who in turn would remove a plate in the wall and turn a small valve – and, in turn, we would be rewarded with a welcome swooosh.

As we were dressing for dinner, SailorJill said it was my turn to call. I started to object, but thought better of it and picked up the phone.

“Hello, this is room 1133.”

“You’ve used the toilette again!”

“I’m sorry.”

“We are working on the problem sir, and Engineering has suggested a possible solution until the problem can be fixed. They will send a technician up to your room at 8:00 AM, 1:00 PM and 8:00 PM. If you can time your use of the toilette for those times you won’t have to make anymore of these calls. This has happened before and they call this their “No rush to flush” program.”

However, I am happy to report that the problem was fixed later that night and we never had to implement “no rush to flush.” Which was just as well, as I didn’t have the nerve to explain it to SailorJill face-to-face. I had planned on going up to the Ocean Bar and explain it to her over the phone.

The other concern SailorJill had about our stateroom was the fact that it was directly opposite the elevators – fearing that the operation of the elevators would keep her awake. But as we returned from dinner and the show later that night we found that concern to be completely unfounded. The music from the Disco completely drowned out the noise from the elevators.

So our first exciting day ended not with a bang (although that may have been preferable), but to the strains of “

)” by Parliament.

Day 2 – Cruising the Caribbean

This is our first of three sea days that we will have on this cruise and, as there was not a cloud in the sky, SailorJill and I decide to spend a few hours before lunch working on our tans. As we were relaxing poolside, I was somewhat startled to realize that there must be an Ashram somewhere on the Noordam when I noticed a man and a woman wearing flowing white robes walk by and select two chaise lounges just in front of us. Without looking up from her book (Blood and Ice by Robert Masello, if you must know), SailorJill said, “There is no Ashram, Jack. Those are bathrobes provided by the ship.” OK, but who in their right mind walks around in public wearing a bathrobe? At first I thought they must be from Alabama, but then I noticed that they both had shoes and were carrying books (and on reflection, if they were from Alabama they would have probably been wearing their Snuggies). Well then, they must be French. I held my breath as they laid out their things on the chaise and took off their robes… but they were both wearing bathing suits. Ok, they weren’t French.

After adjusting their chaises, putting on their oversized sunglasses, and applying the appropriate amount of lotion, the lady turned to the gentleman and said:

“Biff, the sun is on the wrong side of the ship,”

“Clarise, darling, these were the only available chaises.”

“Well, Biff darling, I’m sure someone over there would be happy to trade with us.”

“I already asked several people to move and they wouldn’t do it”

“Well, then, have Bentley call the Captain. Tell him to turn the ship or something. This certainly will not do! I want to be in the sun.”

“Bentley is not with us on this trip. Remember, you let him go because he couldn’t get customer service to move out the couple who had reserved the Penthouse Suite so we could have it.”

Ok, mystery solved…they were from California.

As much as we are enjoying the ambiance around the pool, our Meet and Greet is scheduled for 12:00 o’clock, so we retire to our stateroom to shower and change. I’m wearing my new HAL polo shirt, khaki shorts and Sperry topsiders. SailorJill is wearing her hair down to her waist, a jeweled headband, a see-through veil, a beaded low-cut sequined bra, a hip hugging floor length organza skirt slit up to the hip on both sides, a tiny silver bell navel piercing, and jingly anklets and toe rings on her bare feet. Oops, sorry, that’s actually my newest screen saver. SailorJill is wearing shorts, sandals, and her “ My Daughter Married an Idiot” t-shirt – a gift from her mother on the occasion of our third wedding anniversary.

Needless to say, the meet and greet came as a complete surprise. Based on the people we met, Holland America Lines (HAL) cruisers are, well, lets be totally honest here… they aren’t your typical cruisers. Based on (now erroneous) previous perceptions, I had expected to find a sedate crowd; satisfied to sit on deck in their teak lounge chaises, wrapped in warm, wool blankets, and reading well worn, leather bound copies of Agatha Christie. What I actually found was an eclectic group of rather dynamic people who refer to themselves as HALraisers (some of whom, I suspect, were no strangers to HALucinogenics).

 

We found that HAL passengers are also well traveled and quite worldly in their outlook, but I also couldn’t help but notice that they appear to be both somewhat frugal and pious. A great number of them purchase guarantee cabins and then spend the ensuing months lighting candles and praying furiously to Saint Randomdam - the fickle patron saint of upgrades – for a bump to a higher category of stateroom. I don’t understand why otherwise rational people would do something this silly. (Quite frankly, for the amount of

money SailorJill and I spent on candles we probably could have just gone ahead and booked a suite – and maybe even saved a few bucks.)

We even met one couple that had prayed especially hard for an upgrade because their guarantee cabin was at the back end of the boat and they were concerned about noise keeping them up at night. “ I think the azipods are directly underneath our cabin,” they surmised. As I was completely unaware of what an azipod was, the best I could do was commiserate with them and express my hope that their situation would improve. Like us, they probably didn’t use the right kind of candles (we have since learned that scented ones work best).

Later, after dinner, we made our way up to the Vista Lounge to catch a production by the Noordam Singers and Dancers entitled “If Walls Could Rock.” While I don’t think I have ever written about a ship’s entertainment before, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on this evening’s show.

The production had a romantic storyline, the singing and vocals were way above average, the set designs were both innovative and imaginative, costumes were colorful and sassy, and the choreography was quite simply outstanding – bold and energetic. When all of this was put together the result was simply the best stage production I have seen on a cruise ship.

It was a perfect ending to our second day and we retired to our stateroom and eventually fell asleep to the driving beat of “Funky Town” by Lipps, Inc., which were drifting down from the Disco.

Day 3 – Still Cruising the Caribbean

One of the incentives my travel agent offered when I booked this cruise was a HAL coupon book. I have received these from other cruise lines and have never found one that I could actually use. They usually require that you spend a lot of money to get some small benefit like “Buy 20 drinks on a Sea Day and the 21st drink is half price!” But, in looking through the HAL coupon book, I was thunderstruck with what I had been missing all these years by cruising with other cruise lines. There, in the middle of what has to be the greatest coupon book in the world, was a coupon good for (be still my beating heart) a “Free Spanking with SeaSalt Body Rub”. As this was a sea day with no port call, and as I was in good need of a, ah, SeaSalt body rub, I clipped the coupon and presented it to the lady in the Spa. Not only was she cute, but she was wearing a uniform – not leather – but still a uniform! Cruising doesn’t get much better than this! Although this is my first HAL cruise, I figure that if I cash in my IRA I could have my 50-day pin by Christmas.

You can imagine, then, my profound dismay when it was pointed out that the coupon did not say “Free Spanking”, but “Free Spankie” – which is a type of ladies control top athletic short. As the entire Spa staff was now staring at me in various stages of disbelief, I felt a desperate need for a strategic retreat and a cold beer more than a body rub, so I mumbled something about remembering another appointment and headed for the Pinnacle Bar – where SailorJill expected to find me in the first place. I don’t know how I get myself into these situations, but add the Noordam Spa to the list of public rooms (along with the gallery shop on the Jewel of the Seas and the Disco on the Dream) in which discretion will keep me from ever entering again. Oh, well, I’m sure lots of other cruisers have found themselves in similar contretemps.

Day 4 – Philipsburg, St. Maarten

This is our first port-of-call and the day is glorious. Going ashore we find a tour guide and for $20 take a 3-hour tour of the island. St. Maartin is reminiscent of a Tale of Two Cities – or, in this case, a tale of two countries. The Dutch side of this island is bustling with new development and is the economic engine of the island. The French side, however, has a quiet malaise to it. On the surface it seemed alive with tourists, but walk a few blocks from the tourist district in Marigot (the capitol of the French side) and there are signs of deterioration everywhere.

The dichotomy of all of this was exemplified by our visit to the fabulous Orient Beach. Signs of great wealth were manifested by the fleets of expensive jet boats skimming across the turquoise waters, the laugher from people floating high above the water in parasails, and the rows of opulent condos lining the hills surrounding the beach.

On the other hand, signs of desperate poverty were amply illustrated by the number of girls on the beach who obviously could not even afford to buy both pieces of their bikinis. One can almost picture these poor girls taking what little money they had managed to scrape together and going to the bikini store just to find out that they could only afford the bottom half and that the top half would have to be put on lay-a-way!

I knew I was getting overly worked up over the injustice of it all when SailorJill said, “Jack, we are on the FRENCH side of the island.” I was on the verge of saying, “And your point is…?” when it dawned on me what she had just implied. These girls were deliberately not wearing the top part of their bikini! As I viewed the scene (from behind a nice pair of dark sunglasses) I could see that they were actually quite at ease with no covering over their, ah, pitons, and were not poor at all!

Maybe the French side was not that bad off after all.

After our tour we went back to Phillipsburg to relax and have a cold beverage before returning to the ship. As we walked down the boardwalk, a slow smile spread across SailorJill’s face as we passed Mama Chang’s Bamboo Bar. “No!” I said, “Absolutely not!” Not six months ago we had visited this establishment and the results had not been pretty.

On our Transatlantic cruise on the Vision of the Seas we had stopped in Philipsburg and while walking along the boardwalk had spotted Mama Chang’s sign advertising “Carib and Red Stripe Beer – 99¢.” But because of a previous misunderstanding with the manager of the Green Iguana (just down the boardwalk), I was going to check with Mama Chang on pricing before committing myself – which led to the following exchange:

“How much for a Carib beer, please”?

“Two dollah.”

“But your sign says 99 cents.”

“That outside price. In here, two dallah.”

“You mean if I step back onto the deck and place an order it’s 99 cents”?

“That right.”

Well that was a no-brainer. I took two steps backward and ordered two Carib’s - and a glass for SailorJill.

“No glass! You buy beer for 99 cent and expect me to pay someone to wash glass? No glass!”

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”

“You bet you no think. You too cheap to bring nice lady into bah and pay two dallah for beer in glass! Say, what you name”?

Before I could stop myself, I had blurted out the awful truth.

“Hah! I knew it! You Scottish! I bet you have first dallah you ever make. How nice lady get you to buy cruise”? Then answering her own question she yells, “Hah, you so cheap you prob’ly buy Guarantee cruise! You some cheap guy – no deserve nice lady.”

Not only could I not believe that this was happening, but there is no way I was going to come out of that looking good. Grabbing SailorJill’s hand we turned to flee, but found our way blocked by a street merchant who wanted to sell me a T-shirt that read “St. Maarten – the Friendly Island.”

Now, only six months later, SailorJill wants me to once again face Mama Chang. “Come on Jack, it will be fun to have a beer inside this time, besides, after six months nobody will remember us.” (In mystery novels this is known as “foreshadowing” – when the author hints at something terrible that will happen later in the book.)

Bowing to the inevitable, I escort SailorJill to a table inside Mama Chang’s Bamboo Bar. As we take a seat Mama Chang comes over to take our order. Peering at me over the top of her black horn-rimmed glasses, she asks, “What you want”? Casually glancing up, I speak to Mama Chang: “Two Carib’s, please.”

“You win lottery or maybe rob bank”?

“Huh”? I had a dreadful premonition about this.

“You got extra dollah this time to get nice lady beer in glass”?

“You remember me!” This just can’t be happening. I mean, it has been six months since we were last here! By now, the bar’s other patrons were turning to look. I think it was the “rob bank” that got their attention. I recognize several people from the ship and give them my best carefree wave.

“Hah! Remember nice lady who had to sit in hot sun to drink 99-cent beer out of can - you… you easy guy to forget.”

Before I could think of an appropriate response (or crawl under the table), Mama Chang broke out in a broad smile. “Hah! You leave big tip and next time I forget I ever see you.”

While I have no intention of ever coming back here again, I leave a HUGE tip – as a precaution.

Day 5 – Castries, St. Lucia

Early Morning

I have always been an early riser and for exercise I like to walk – a lot. I am usually on the walking track around 4:00 AM and walk till 7:00 – when SailorJill comes up on deck and we go for breakfast. It is a great time to walk – it is quiet, you have the entire deck to yourself and you can watch the ship wake up – first the security officers making their rounds, followed by the maintenance crew arriving to clean the pool and decks, then the first early risers hurrying to get that first cup of coffee, and then the early bird walkers coming up to greet the first rays of the warm morning sun.

I wouldn’t exactly say that I was a competitive walker, but I do take it rather personally when someone tries to pass me – which is why I kept a watchful eye out each morning around 5:15 for “Chinese Guy.” Deck 10 was mine from 4:00 to 5:00 and he obviously respected that – coming up on deck each day a little after 5:00.

He was of short physical stature, but in really great shape! He could do three laps to my two and his appearance each morning turned the deck into a scene from the Pit and Pendulum – where each swing around the deck brought him closer and closer to passing me. And every time he passed I had to fight the urge to stick my foot out and trip the guy.

Only my good sportsmanship and sense of fair play (and the presence of witnesses) held me back. There was little I could do but bear the ignominy of being repeatedly passed. But today, as I was completing my second lap around the deck, I looked up and my eyes sort of glazed over - as out of a red hazy mist stepped…Chinese Guy! It was 4:15 and he was breaking our unspoken covenant. I had to accept the challenge. As I pondered my strategy I heard his voice for the first time, “I follow in your footsteps,” he said. It took a second, but I realized that what he was trying to say was “I walk with you.” He was obviously making an effort to walk a little slower so, in the spirit of compromise, I made an effort to walk a little faster – whereupon he would speed up a little, forcing me to walk even faster.

This went on for a little over two interminable hours as he slowly ground me down – step by agonizing step. But, remarkably, despite some language challenges, we bonded during those two hours, exchanged e-mail addresses, and agreed to do some tours together. He actually turned out to be a nice guy, and by the end of the cruise he and his wife had become family friends!

But after two hours I was about to admit that he had won. I no longer had any feeling below my knees and the only way I knew my feet were still there was the fact that I was standing – more or less – somewhat upright. It was at that point that Chen said he had to go, but would see me tomorrow. (In mystery novels this is known as “foreshadowing” – when the author hints at something terrible that will happen later in the book.)

As I still had a half-hour to go, I continued to slowly stagger around the walking track – until I heard a faint clop…clop…clop. It was eerily similar to Poe’s tintinnabulation of the bells, bells, bells, and it was getting louder - CLOP…CLOP…CLOP. I turned to look behind me and was horrified to realize that I was about to be passed by a little old lady using a three-legged walker. I could just sit down and cry!

Day 5 (con’t) Ashore in Castries

This is our first visit to St. Lucia and we have been looking forward to visiting this island.

On our tour we discover a delightful island that is lush, green, and beautiful, and we are most impressed by the justifiably famous geographical landmark on St. Lucia - the Pitons – two closely set conical mountains that most closely resemble a very impressive pair of… ah, that is to say they look like a big set of, ah…well they appear to be two huge, ah … Look, just picture Madonna lying on her back during her “Blonde Ambition” days and you’ll get the idea. As we admire these stunning, ah, landmarks, I can’t help but wonder what Christopher Columbus, who had a tendency to name islands after female attributes (Virgin Gorda), would have named St. Lucia if he had sailed by.

It seemed almost fitting (almost) that our bedtime serenade from the Disco this evening was “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate.

Day 6 - Bridgetown, Barbados

In Barbados I suggested to SailorJill that we rent a Hobie and try our hand at sailing. She was a little nervous about trying as we had never sailed before…but how hard can it be. I mean, you raise the sail, sit in the back of the boat with that little wooden rudder thing and twist it in the direction you want to turn – after all, I pointed out, I am “Sailor” Jack. As this did not appear to calm her, I agreed to her suggestion that we at least ask for a little instruction before we take it out.

At the boat rental place, the rental agent, upon hearing that we were new at sailing, said a Hobie might be a little too much boat for us at this time and suggested that we try a little 14-foot daysailer instead. “Great,” I said, “I’m sure I can handle it, but SailorJill here would sure appreciate it if you could you give her a few pointers.”

“Sure thing – it is really quite simple. When you’re off the beach, turn the bow into the wind, pull the halyard to raise the sheet until the luff is tight and tie it off on the clam cleat. Then port your helm until you are heeling and keep the wind to the whether side until you are out of the marina. Once out in open water, run with a broad reach and when returning simply keep it close hauled. When tacking, watch the boom on your jibes and if the wind picks up simply reef the boat. If you start to heel more than 20 degrees, just break the main until you recover. Its so easy a caveman can do it!”

After considering his comments for a moment, I turned to SailorJill and said, “Perhaps you would be more comfortable going to the rum factory”?

So off to the rum factory it was, which actually turned out to be rather fun. One of the features of the tour was the ability to smell the rum at each of its distilling steps. Of course, the warning not to inhale too deeply was widely disregarded by all and, as a result, most of us were feeling really, really good before we ever reached the tasting room. The tour we signed up for was the “Cocktail Tour” which was the same as the regular tour - until the tours reached the tasting room. After we tasted a sampling of rums the amateurs on the regular tour were escorted out of the room and the remaining patrons turned to the serious business of making rum cocktails.

Under the supervision of a trained mixologist, couples were to compete to make the best (and strongest) cocktails using any one of the rums on display - and then we were to all try each cocktail and vote for the winner – upon which prizes would be awarded. At least that was what was supposed to happen. Whether it actually happened or not I haven’t a clue, as I have only a limited recollection of events after drinking the first cocktail, the Funky Monkey – a 74 proof cocktail. I assume I had a really good time because on the way back to the ship I noticed that my t-shirt was on backwards and I had a fuzzy stuffed monkey hanging around my neck. Upon repeated questioning, SailorJill would only smile and grip her camera a little tighter.

Day 7 – Fort-de-France, Martinique

Dinner

One of the benefits of taking a cruise is the opportunity to sample and experiment with unfamiliar cuisines. And the variety of menu items (and the quality as well!) on the Noordam certainly provided such moments. At dinner tonight I ordered something called “calamari” and found it to have a most unusual, but intriguing, texture. Dorothea (one of our tablemates from Vermont) took quick (and perverse) delight in telling me that calamari was actually squid! Thurston (no relation to Howell), who was a biology professor at Yale, and perhaps sensing some queasiness on my part, explained that calamari was a delicacy enjoyed among many Caribbean and Mediterranean cultures. “ It is a member of the cephalopod family – along with cuttlefish and octopus. And, based on my previous sailings on HAL, I think you will have the opportunity to sample a variety of all three dishes before the cruise is over. Unless I miss my bet,” he said, “the ship has an ample supply of these cephalopods stored down below.”

Eager to contribute to the conversation (and to prove that I was not quite as naive as it might appear), I turned to the group and announced, “ And I understand that there are some tasty azipods down below also.” From the blank stares I received, I could tell that they were as unfamiliar with azipods as was I. (Note to self: look up “azipod” when back in Atlanta)

Day 9 – Cruising the Caribbean

I don’t know anyone who goes on a cruise and does not spend some time in the gallery shops, and that is certainly true for us. SailorJill loves to shop and the galleries have all sorts of unexpected knickknacks for souvenirs. So today we made our obligatory swing through the shops and picked up our assortment of t-shirts and cruise mementos. As we were standing in line to pay I casually glanced at the selection of “impulse” purchase items that are always lined up at the register area. And there, unbelievably, among the key chains, chewing gums, and candy bars was a …Clearblue Easy Digital Pregnancy Test kit!

I mean, a pregnancy test kit as an impulse buy? (“Oh look, a pregnancy test kit! I think I’ll just pick one up!”) Ok, maybe on a Carnival ship during spring break, but on the Noordam? Has anyone at HAL looked at the ship’s demographics – or considered the product’s potential impact on an otherwise carefree cruise experience?

In a survey run by a well know online cruise site, a survey revealed that the five most dreaded announcements on a cruise ship were:

5. “The ship has run out of beer.”

4. “Report to your muster stations for life boat drill.”

3. “We are experiencing a severe outbreak of Norovirus.”

2. “We have just struck a really big iceberg.”

1. “Honey, I’m pregnant!”

As the gallery clerk was swiping our Seapass card, I mention the test kit to her. “I know,” she said, “we have been getting some really strange stock in lately. I think maybe the ship is going to have a Cougar cruise.” I glanced over at SailorJill, “You don’t want to know,” she said. (Note to self: Look up Cougar Cruise).

Day 10 - Half Moon Cay

We are at HAL’s private island – often cited as the best private island of any cruise line; and, as we stand on deck during our approach to the Cay, the view would certainly seem to back up that claim. The water is a clear sparkling aquamarine and the sandy beach is as white as freshly spun sugar.

Half Moon Cay is one of those ports that requires a tender to get ashore, and not surprisingly, these boats apparently have Dutch names. The one we took to the pier was called the Lluvme (and the one we had on the return was named Chekken). Anyway, after a brief wait we were able to board the Lluvme tender and take the short ride to the pier. Once ashore we found that there were several options as to where we could spread out our stuff and hang out for the day. We could select a simple reclining lounger at no charge, or we could upgrade to:

1. A “Clamshell Lounger”. The clamshell basically resembles a baby buggy on steroids. Not only does it provide a comfortable lounge while working on one’s tan, but by pulling the clamshell down, it converts into a portable oven - capable of baking both sleeping loungers and unleavened bread. It is relatively inexpensive and certainly far cheaper than using the Sauna in the ship’s Spa. People who spend a day in a clamshell have been known to go home and cancel their subscription to Weight Watchers.

2. A Cabana. Cabana, I think, is Spanish for “tiny three-walled hut”. They are designed, I believe, primarily for people who have suites onboard the ship, but who want to get a feel for what it might be like to cruise in a regular size stateroom. To make the experience even more realistic, the cost of renting the cabana for the day is approximately the same as the cost for a stateroom. The cabanas are, however, muy cool! In keeping with the carefree Latin flavor of the sunny Caribbean, each cabana has a really unique Spanish name, like Casa de la Playa (“Mauve” in English) and Hacienda de la Margarita (Terra Cotta” in English). Once home, your discussions regarding your cruise will sound so much more exotic when using the Spanish translation: e.g. “When visiting Half Moon Cay we spent an absolutely fabulous day in Hacienda de la Margarita.” So much better than saying “we spent a day in Mauve.”

3. And then there is La Cabana Grande – the Grand Cabana! Strategically situated on a rocky promontory overlooking the graceful curve of the bay, it was apparently built when the island’s budget was nearing depletion, as it has no walls; but it does feature some great amenities. For instance, if one just can’t get warm enough while spread out in a clamshell in 98-degree weather, one can climb into a hot tub that is roughly the size of my backyard pool. Or, you can just stretch out in a shaded hammock, gaze out over the Cay, and enjoy complimentary bar service, specialty foods, and dedicated butler service. To be honest, however, spending the day at Half Moon Cay in the Grand Cabana is really over the top and quite decadent. I can tell you one thing for certain; you won’t see me using the Grand Cabana. At least that’s what I was told the three times I tried to get in.

Fort Lauderdale

Our cruise has, regretfully, come to a close far too quickly. As we say goodbye to new acquaintances – many of whom already seem like old friends – we head for the shuttle to take us to the airport and the short hop up to Atlanta. As we sit in the airport lounge we take delight in reliving many of the great experiences we have had on this cruise. And while this was our first cruise on HAL, we both agreed, quite frankly, that once was enough…to convince us that we need to sail HAL more often. Heck, I think I may have even finally figured out what an Oosterdam is!

Edited by SailorJack

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OMG!!! I LOVE THIS REVIEW!!!

 

At first I was ready to start flaming you big time!! How dare someone start off with such blatant rudeness etc., BUT then I read a bit more and then more and OMG I am still laughing so hard!!!!

 

You are FANTASTIC at making the cruise come alive!!! I especially loved the part of being passed by the older lady and the Rum factory!!

 

OMG!! What a great review!!

 

I do have one question for you SailorJack, Are you the same gentleman who was so upset when you leardned via email, prior to sailing that the departure of the Noordam from FLL was to be delated?? IF SO, Please accept my FULL apologies for anything I might have said. You are a cruiser that I would dearly love to saik with, and have at the same dining table. You are Amazing!!

 

Joanie

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;)What a fun review to read! We are going on the same cruise in February, and are looking forward to it...especially now!

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what a way to start my day! great review; I am still laughing over your description of the clamshell! thanks for sharing.

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Excellent!! Thanks for a great start to my day. I especially liked this:

 

We are working on the problem sir, and Engineering has suggested a possible solution until the problem can be fixed. They will send a technician up to your room at 8:00 AM, 1:00 PM and 8:00 PM. If you can time your use of the toilette for those times you won’t have to make anymore of these calls. This has happened before and they call this their “No rush to flush” program.”

 

:D

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OMG!!! I LOVE THIS REVIEW!!!

 

At first I was ready to start flaming you big time!! How dare someone start off with such blatant rudeness etc., BUT then I read a bit more and then more and OMG I am still laughing so hard!!!!

 

You are FANTASTIC at making the cruise come alive!!! I especially loved the part of being passed by the older lady and the Rum factory!!

 

OMG!! What a great review!!

 

I do have one question for you SailorJack, Are you the same gentleman who was so upset when you leardned via email, prior to sailing that the departure of the Noordam from FLL was to be delated?? IF SO, Please accept my FULL apologies for anything I might have said. You are a cruiser that I would dearly love to saik with, and have at the same dining table. You are Amazing!!

 

Joanie

 

Thanks for your comments (and those from every one). This was my first review of a HAL cruise so I am glad that you found it of interest.

 

To answer your question - no, I was not the gentleman that was upset over the delayed departure. Like all of you, I have learned not to sweat the small stuff. My mantra has always been "The worst day on a cruise is better that the best day at work."

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That was a helluvaDAM read! Thank goodness I was wearing my Depends, as it was less of a problem when I peed myself from laughing so hard! Glad you enjoyed your cruise on the Noordam - HAL really does a DAMgood job! :D

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Luckily you gave yourself away in your very first paragraph as a very funny writer. But I admit -- you drew me in with your title and only then did you deliver what we too have learned. Pretty dam good ships.

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OMG!!! I LOVE THIS REVIEW!!!

 

At first I was ready to start flaming you big time!! How dare someone start off with such blatant rudeness etc., BUT then I read a bit more and then more and OMG I am still laughing so hard!!!!

 

Like Joannie said - I was ready to bitch you out... and then I started laughing. I have tears!! This was great. Thanks for your review!:D

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Hi Sailor Jack

 

Thanks for you're review, we are sailing on the Noordam in march.

I have yo correct you on Another unusual name that we have heard about on HAL is something called a “Hunky Dory” – of which we have no idea - except that it may be Dutch for “Lifeboat.” I live in Holland and speak dutch but in my language a Lifeboat is a "reddingsboot" and not a Hunky Dory that is not a dutch word at all.

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I loved every word of your review and was laughing hysterically at many of your statements.

I had clicked on your post because I couldn't imagine anyone saying that Once was enough on Hal. But your last part explained what I've also learned: that once is enough -- to convince one to sail again on HAL.

We are currently looking forward to our second HAL cruise.

Thanks again for a really good read.

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I really enjoy a writer with a sense of humor. Too many flamers on these threads looking to complain. We took Noordam for 20 days last Nov. and really enjoyed the ship. Best place was the Ocean Bar w/ Cesar and Dindo making great drinks and personalized souveniers for their regulars. One was a set of bistro table and chairs made from champagne corks and another was an origami display with our names on it. You bet they got a lot of extra tips from us and the other bar hounds. Of course, they allowed a limited amount of smoking around the bar and 3 sets of tables. We also had the flushing problem several times.

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TOO funny! Holland america should pay you!!!!!!!!!

Thanks for the candy. ( alot of snickers)

Edited by cheggy

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Hi Sailor Jack

 

Thanks for you're review, we are sailing on the Noordam in march.

I have yo correct you on Another unusual name that we have heard about on HAL is something called a “Hunky Dory” – of which we have no idea - except that it may be Dutch for “Lifeboat.” I live in Holland and speak dutch but in my language a Lifeboat is a "reddingsboot" and not a Hunky Dory that is not a dutch word at all.

 

Just a clarification as to WHO not what is a Hunky Dory:)

 

Hunky Dory is a HAL Crew Member. In our case he was a Lido Server/Steward on the Ms Oosterdam. He is one of those rare people who hears your name and sees you one time and he remembers you forever, by name and face!

 

From what I understand, their are several Hunky Dory's on the DAM ships.

 

Here is a thread that was specifically about him, to include a link to some photos of he and his family while they were on vacation in Switzerland. http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1069701

 

I LOVE HUNKY DORY!!!

 

Joanie

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