MS Noordam…Holland America Line

MS Noordam…Holland America Line

05/03/2024 0 By

By Roderick Eime

In all of New Zealand’s most popular cruise ports, one stands out for both its peculiar architectural style and distinctive beverages…Napier!

Gerhard Husheer was every bit the man about town. A wealthy German immigrant, industrialist, tobacco merchant and philanthropist, ‘Hush’ would love to scoot around the dusty streets of early 20th century Napier in his custom-built Pierce Arrow, that is until he petitioned the council to allow him to pave the road to and from his favourite ice cream parlour.

The larger-than-life, yet mysterious German, passed away in 1954 at the ripe old age of 90, leaving behind a legacy of high-living and sophistication. One enduring memorial to his presence is the exquisite Art Deco tobacco factory at Ahuriri, near Napier in the lush Hawke’s Bay region.

Built after the catastrophic earthquake of 1931, which all but destroyed the city, his monument to that most distinctive architectural style is still celebrated today in a city that has earned the moniker…The Art Deco Capital of the World.

As our tour group files into the ornate foyer of what is now The National Distillery Company in Ossian Street, the stemless goblets are already set out for us. We’re about to sample a few of the more than a dozen gins, vodkas, rums and whiskeys now produced in the historic premises.

“Our water has incredible purity,” says co-founder Blair Nicholl who along with Ricardo Reis, set up the Company in 2018. “We use ancient volcanic water sourced from an aquifer that lays under three active volcanoes of a heritage national park. the water is unique in rich mineral content.”

It must be true! The lads spirits do have a distinctive, rich flavour that separates them from run-of-the-mill mid-shelf products. For me, the NZ Native Gin using indigenous flaxseed is the standout tipple, either on its own or with a tincture of tonic.

It should then come as no surprise that Napier has become one of the most popular cruise ship ports in all of New Zealand. Even a simple stroll around the central shopping district is a delight as one enjoys the delights of this unique city, freeze-framed in the jazz era with its offices, shops and civic buildings all seemingly ready to burst into a rendition of the famous Charleston.

Just two nights out from our departure from Auckland, Napier is already a standout feature of our 12-night itinerary aboard Holland America’s 1,900-guest Noordam. And there’s tough competition from steamy Rotorua, seaside Timaru, regal Dunedin and the grandeur of Fiordland’s imperious vistas.

The balance of our itinerary took us to Tauranga, Timaru, Christchurch and Dunedin where an array of enriching shore excursions were offered. Unfortunately Fiordland was bypassed due to an impending storm, an occurrence I learn is not uncommon for cruises in southern extremes.

On our semi-circumnavigation of New Zealand, we’re in the company of ships from the likes of Celebrity, Azamara, Silversea, Princess and Seabourn among others, enjoying the peculiar pleasures of ancient and modern New Zealand. Such a presence underscores the popularity of New Zealand and reinforces its position as a destination punching way above its weight in the global cruising stakes.

In fact, as soon as Noordam returns us to Sydney, she sets sail on an encore performance with a full house of adoring cruise fans with at least the same enthusiasm as those in our company.

It will come as no surprise to learn that competition among operators in their respective cruise segments is red hot just a couple years out from the crippling Covid-19 hiatus. Right now. pent up demand may be filling virtually every vessel and yet even lines with such enviable reputations as Holland America Line (HAL) cannot afford to rest on their laurels which, in the case of HAL, stretch back some 150 years.

HAL’s Noordam is one of nine 290m Vista-class mid-sized cruise ships currently in service with the Carnival family lines, which also include Cunard, Carnival, P&O and Costa. Built by Italy’s famous Fincantieri shipyard, the design features economical diesel- electric Azipod propulsion, state-of- the-art pollution control and waste management as well as 11 passenger decks and a high proportion (85%) of cabins with ocean views. Two thirds of all cabins have balconies.

Her seakeeping was tested on our westward leg across the Tasman Sea where we skirted the perimeter of a strong low pressure system producing almost 10 metre swells. It was an amusing sight to see the mop-equipped deck staff in constant animation as the swimming pool (cum wave pool) disgorged its contents onto the deck. Even under these mildly trying conditions, food service and activities did not falter for a moment.

Speaking of food service, HAL are well known in the cruise industry for their superior culinary offerings and I can be a hard marker in this category.

The main dining rooms deliver a reliably consistent level of superior restaurant quality cuisine bolstered by a small but significant selection from world-renowned Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, HAL’s Global Fresh Fish Ambassador, whose mantra is focussed on supporting local fishers practicing sustainable harvesting.

Even at a premium of US$25 per plate, Morimoto’s creations are worth a sampling, especially the lobster tail with lemon foam, vegetables and his signature epice powder. Any of the wild caught Alaskan Halibut dishes are also a treat. Meat lovers are well catered for either in the dining room or the specialty Pinnacle Grill where prime cuts are the highlight, especially the Tomahawk, a 36oz bone-in rib eye sure to send your vegan cruise mates into apoplexy.

The casual Lido Deck buffets are also very popular where a surprising variety of cosmopolitan dishes are available as you please. I found myself returning to the Asian section where delicious meat and vegetable curries, papadams and sushi were always available.

One section of the Lido Deck is set aside for Canaletto, an Italian specialty restaurant where you can enjoy authentic Italian cuisine such as sausage paccheri, pesto Genovese and calamari trenette, all paired with matching Italian wines. The tiramisu, I can attest, is among the best I’ve ever had.

As something of a food waste demon, I was curious about how HAL, and indeed all cruise lines, minimise wastage in such a potentially gluttonous environment where 230kgs of chicken, one tonne of flour and 20kgs of coffee are consumed every day.

“We weigh all food waste daily,” Food & Beverage Manager, Melvyn Lobo told me. “We aim to stay below the 500g per person per day target set down by Carnival (HAL’s parent company) and we’re currently around 400g.”

All food waste is then loaded into special biogisters than efficiently convert all organic material into grey water for easy and environmentally- friendly disposal. Sort of like a septic tank for food without the smell or leftover nasties.

One of the most important components of cruising is entertainment, especially on the large ‘white fleet’ vessels where around half of any itinerary is ‘at sea’. To this end, HAL’s Noordam features an array of entertainment options. Sorry, no waterslides, ziplines or go karts, but rather more conventional options in line with the predoinently mature demographic.

Billboard Onboard is a dual piano lounge that is a clear hit with guests and often overflows into the distinctly less popular casino area, while World Stage, the largest theatre on board hosts a variety of performances each day including stage shows and schmick audio-visual presentations on local history and culture among other themes.

Rolling Stone Lounge (formerly BB Kings Blues Club) hosts live music and bands in a live jukebox format.

There’s a couple of tabel tennis tables and a Pickleball court as well as the swimming pool that can be quite fun on a rolling sea. While there is a supervised Kids Club for the 3-17 year olds, I would suggest if you are looking for a family cruise experience, you might be better off with another cruise line like Carnival or P&O.

Every cruise ship worth its salt has a spa and HAL offers Greenhouse Spa and Salon offering everything from a quick and simple style cut to a full facial and treatment. As with any ship, spa staff are skilled in upselling you, so be careful to keep a lid on your spending.

And to keep track of all your onboard activities and account, HAL has its own app, the Navigator, which will display your account in real time so you’re not always running to the Guest Services desk waving a clutch of dockets and queries. That said, my experience was not perfect. Technology being what it is will always throw you a curve ball, but thankfully I found there was always someone at the desk with a workaround when I felt snookered.

Yes, cruising is enjoying a rebound and as evidenced our sailing was almost 90% full. As long as you approach your cruise holiday with eyes and mind open, you can be assured a rewarding experience and HAL is perfectly placed to deliver.


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