Sailing with Holland America on Noordam to New Zealand provided a playground of possibilities for this cruise loving family.
Setting sail on a luxurious 14-night cruise down the East Coast of Australia and around New Zealand with Holland America proved a huge surprise to both me and the kids. The good ship Noordam is a little more grown up than our previous cruise experiences and I was a tad worried the kids might get bored on board. But despite its modest scale, a masterful blend of timeless style and modern facilities, plus a capacity of just under 2,000 passengers, meant we had plenty of space and never ran out of things to see do and enjoy.
From sun-soaked revelry by the pool and fun youth programs to top shelf entertainment and the dishiest of gourmet dining experiences, find out why the kids declared our Noordam adventure their best cruise yet…
Kids Activities on Noordam
The Club HAL program on Noordam is designed to keep kids entertained throughout the cruise. The program includes a variety of activities, such as arts and crafts, scavenger hunts, game shows, talent shows, cooking classes, sports tournaments and more. The activities are designed to be age-appropriate and engaging, encouraging kids to make new friends and learn new skills.
In addition to the kids’ club, Noordam also has a cool teen lounge, a swimming pool, and a basketball/tennis court, and shuffleboard which provides ample opportunities for family fun.
The ship’s naturalist program offers awesome educational opportunities covering topics from marine life to the environment, with scheduled activities such as stargazing, whale watching, and bird watching.
And by night when we weren’t be entertained by the many shows, we spend many a happy evenings in the Crows Nest, giggling over board games from a huge selection, and soaking up the ocean views.
Noordam offers some of the best culinary offerings we’ve enjoyed at sea, and a variety of options to cater to families, including kid-friendly menus and flexible dining times.
The main dining room has a separate menu for children. Plus the ship has casual dining options like the Lido Market, which offers a variety of international cuisines and snacks that will appease even the fussiest eaters. For more on Noordam’s sublime dining offerings read our complete review here.
Entertainment on Noordam
Of course, you can expect the usual shipboard diversions from trivia and bingo to dancing and towel folding workshops, but as night falls, the ship really comes to life with a series of world class entertainment options along the innovative Music Walk. The ingenious entertainment hub boasts a collection of live music venues that cater to a range of diverse tastes, even kids.
The Lincoln Centre Stage showcases world class classical performances that leave my kids surprisingly captivated, and they love the dual pianists at Billboard Onboard, and are always happy to join in the crowd in singalongs. But it was the Rolling Stone Rock Room’s talented seven-piece band and rock star vocalists who left my music loving duo enthralled night after night, my daughter fangirling over the super star lead vocalist and my son obsessing over the killer guitarist.
The heart of the ship’s entertainment, however, is World Stage, a grand theatre with a two-story panoramic screen that seamlessly merges music and technology. There’s a revolving program of toe tapping, eye-popping Broadway-style shows and music performances, and there’s also some top shelf comedy headliners, though these were a little on the mature side for my teen travel companions.
But the entertainment highlight was BBC Earth In Concert, which combines gobsmacking wildlife footage, set to a live orchestral performance. It’s an emotional and evocative experience and the kids declare they would watch it 100 times over if they could. During the day World stage turns into a mega movie theatre with a program of films appealing to a range of ages.
Noordam has a variety of staterooms and suites that are spacious and comfortable, providing families with the space they need to relax and enjoy their time on board. The ship has interior staterooms, ocean view staterooms, and balcony staterooms, as well as larger suites with separate living areas and balconies.
Our own stylish balcony stateroom is just right for the three of us. While it is by no stretch what I’d call enormous, there was enough space for two single beds that converted to a single queen-size bed, two bedside tables ,and a vanity with a lighted magnifying mirror and hair dryer. There are a few dual outlet power plugs (U.S and European plugs) and a solid WiFi service which keeps two device addicted kids and their parent (who is working remotely while on board) very happy indeed.
The bathroom has a bath and shower, and our sitting area a fold out sofa (which doubled as Raff’s bed), table and mini fridge. A private veranda gives us a few metres of extra space and we often sat out on it to soak up the sea breeze and uninterrupted views of our latest destination.
There is ample storage too. Our luggage fits under the bed perfectly, and we don’t even use all the available storage between the three of us over the course of our fourteen-day voyage.
Dividing its time between the home ports of Vancouver, Whittier (Alaska) and Sydney, Noordam offers a variety of itineraries that families will love. From intrepid explorations of Alaska’s inside Passage, through crystal fjords and massive ice shelves, ticking off sightings of awe-inspiring marine wildlife along the way. And the ship’s retractable glass roof above the pool makes it perfect no matter the temp, so kids can still splash away the day.
In October the ship crosses the Pacific, with stops in Hawaii and some of the most popular Pacific Island’s ports, before repositioning in Australia for an immersive season of Southern Australian, Tasmania and New Zealand explorations.
Our fantastic Australia & New Zealand itinerary takes us along the scenic east coast of Australia, with exciting stops in Melbourne and Tasmania. After that, it is off to New Zealand, where we are dazzled by Milford Sound and explored amazing destinations including Port Chalmers, Picton, Wellington, Napier, Tauranga, and hidden gem, Timaru, before reaching Auckland.
Noordam’s Shore Excursions team make exploring every port, and beyond, a great experience for kids. Pretty Port Chalmers leads us to our old friend, Dunedin. A former international whaling port sometimes referred to as the ‘Edinburgh of the South’, it’s artsy and alternative and holds a treasure trove of history and wildlife wonders.
Timaru offers access to stunning alpine lakes and the magnificent Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, a place filled with adventure for the whole family. Picton is like a postcard come to life, and our shore excursion sees us gliding through Queen Charlotte Sound by kayak, accompanied by friendly dolphins.
Sailing further north, we reach New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, a surprising city with a cable car, awesome views, a pretty working harbor, the fantastic Te Papa museum and an ice cream shop that has us swooning.
We are completely smitten with Napier’s restored Art Deco buildings and vintage vehicles which made it feel more like a 1930s movie set than living city.
The kids love digging through the vintage stores and checking out the vintage vehicles that lined the streets, while I love sampling some top drops from some of nearby Hawke’s Bays 100 wineries.
Tauranga, New Zealand’s largest port, is just a short drive to the sulfuric scent of Rotorua. Here, we explore a volcanic wonderland of bubbling geothermal mud pools, natural hot springs, and steaming waterfalls.
Then it is on to Auckland, a biblical rainstorm, and a fun day with family exploring the epic Wētā Workshop Unleashed, a chaotic 90-minute movie-making tour of interactive and immersive make-believe film sets, with cool critters, giants, a galactic robot, and more created by the team behind the special effects, props, and costumes of movies including The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and King Kong.
On-board Medical Services
While this might not be the first thing to spring to mind when booking a trip, for some parents Holland America’s state-of-the-art medical centre is a big plus. While it’s not a free service, no one in 2023 should leave home without adequate travel insurance, which should cover any expenses. Open 24/7, the centre carries much of the standard equipment found in a hospital emergency department and can accommodate most emergencies as well as routine medical procedures.
Along with an examination room, isolation bed, and an intensive care unit, the centre can conduct basic laboratory tests and X-rays, and is equipped with essential equipment such as a pacemaker, defibrillator, cardiac monitor, electrocardiogram machine and ventilator. While the extensive facilities and strong medical staffing is, I’m sure, partly down to the ship’s popularity among senior travelers, several families on board travelling with children who have congenital health issues told us that they will ONLY cruise with Holland America because of the superior medical services.