“Food Glorious food
We're anxious to try it
Three banquets a day
Our favourite diet
Just picture a great big steak
Fried, roasted, or stewed
Oh food! Magical food! Wonderful
food! Marvellous food!”
Oliver Twist had the right idea. If there is one thing we look forward to when cruising, it’s "three banquets a day".
And Holland America Line did not disappoint.
Here are 6 places we dined at during our recent 7-night cruise from Vancouver to Alaska aboard the Noordam.
1. 24-hour room service: Everything at your fingertips
Unlimited room service is included in the cruise price. We could sleep in and have a breakfast delivered, enjoy dinner on our private balcony, or just ring through for a glass of water and a cheese platter. Whatever whim struck our fancy. Any time of the day. No request was too big or small.
Delivery was always prompt and the room service manager always followed up with a phone call afterwards to ensure everything was correct and received as desired.
The variety on the room service menu was slightly on the scanty side compared to other cruises we’d been on. But if you ordered during regular dinner time (6pm – 10pm) you could also receive the full three-course menu in your room as well. However, like other aspects of Holland America’s cruises, they focus on quality over quantity.
2. Lido Restaurant: Grand buffet
Every cruise ship has one. The Lido Restaurant with gorgeous sea views and a near-constant flow of an abundance of food. Holland America’s buffet may not have been open 24 hours, however it ranked very highly on quality.
The Lido staff were consistently friendly and always willing to help us find a seat in the very crowded dining room.
My favourite part of the breakfast - freshly squeezed orange juice (included for free). My perfect start to the morning and full of vitamins. Amongst others, breakfast options included a cook-to-order omelette station, pancake station and my favourite: eggs benedict. Yes, I could enjoy eggs benedict just the way I liked!
During lunch one station regularly transformed showing off cuisine from around the world – Indian, Malaysian, Chinese, and more. Otherwise we hit up the sushi station, pizza and pasta, gourmet sandwiches and an extensive salad bar. Josh loved the on-demand pasta station and could get basil pesto linguine made just the way he liked - with extra garlic.
We rarely ate in the Lido for dinner, opting for fine dining at Vista, but we brought the kids there for dinner several times and the food was just as good as lunch time.
3. Vista Dining: Three-course fine dining
Mid and large sized cruise ships commonly feature a formal dining room where passengers indulge in three-course dining each evening. Holland America provides 2 options:
“As You Wish Dining” where a booking must be made each night at whatever time you like, or;
“Traditional Dining” a regular scheduled booking at either 5:45pm (early) or 8pm (late).
We chose the traditional dining schedule because it provided the same table and same wait staff each night. This allowed us to get to know our waiters, share stories and build a friendship. They were always prepared with the kids’ entrees the moment we walked in and were very entertaining. And since our kids are ravenous by the time 6pm comes around, we didn’t want to run the risk of no available tables or try to remember to call and book a table each evening.
One staff member in particular, Gede, made the kids’ day with a different origami animal every meal. They also enjoyed the colouring in and crayons at every meal. The colouring in sheet was the same each day, and it would have been nice to have some variety for the kids. But a minor detail.
Tables were elegantly decorated and the menu always held exciting variety and outstanding quality. The toughest job was choosing a dish each night - they all sounded mouth-watering. Fortunately, our waiters got to know our preferences and gave us very helpful recommendations.
Vista Dining is open breakfast, lunch and dinner. Fortunately, we made it to breakfast on our last morning, and the a la carte menu was lovely. The toughest part was waking up early enough since it closed around 9:15am.
Every evening the menu featured dishes inspired by a different chef from Holland America’s Culinary Council along with signature Holland America dishes.
Go on. Eat with your eyes, it’s easy.
4. Terrace Grill: Casual poolside dining
We've enjoyed poolside dining on previous cruises. This usually consisted of an extension to Lido. And while the Noordam's Lido restaurant extended outside the dining room with a fresh taco bar, we couldn't walk past the alluring scent wafting from Dive-In at the Terrace Grill.
This causal eatery had a small selection of gourmet hot dogs, hamburgers and battered chips (fries) smothered in a delicious secret sauce. We simply placed our order and received a buzzer. We could chill by the pool or in a hot tub until our buzzer sounded and then collected a tray full of heavenly goodness.
While the food usually took a while to freshly prepare (it was a pretty popular dining option after all), the quality was outstanding. Burgers were juicy and flavourful, fries were crispy and mouth-watering, and the secret sauce... well, let's just say I ordered an extra tub of secret sauce to smother on everything. Tastebud tap-dance, commence!
Best of all the pool area was covered by an insulated sliding glass roof that was open on the sunny days and closed during the occasional rainy moments.
5. Canaletto Restaurant: Italian indulgence
Named after the 18th century Venetian artist, the Canaletto restaurant is discretely situated inside a segregated area of the Lido restaurant. For me this detracted from the upmarket, yet unpretentious atmosphere of an otherwise outstanding restaurant.
Josh and I dropped our kids off at Club HAL one evening and enjoyed a rare date night. The white-gloved wait staff were exceptional at their job.
The Canaletto concept revolves around “spartire”, the Italian word for sharing. Josh and I enjoyed two entrees - salumi and Canaletto salad - and then shared two mains - rigatoni and ricotta ravioli. When the restaurant manager heard we had not ordered the new 4-meat lasagne dish he insisted we try that as well. How could we say no?
This is a speciality restaurant that will set you back an extra US$10 per person, which we found well deserved. The rich, authentic Italian cuisine could have convinced me we were back on the Amalfi Coast... if it weren’t for the stunning views of Alaska out our window.
6. Pinnacle Grill: With Australian Special Guest Chef
When we heard world-renowned Australian chef Mark Best was cooking one night, we were sold. And while Josh and I generally eat in restaurants already included in the cruise price, we couldn't resist a little piece of home when we were as far from home as we could possibly be. Oh, and because Mark runs one of the top 50 restaurants in the world.
Refined and luxurious, the Pinnacle Grill is the embodiment of exceptional cuisine. Sectioned off in it’s own niche of the ship, the atmosphere effortlessly exuded high end dining. And at an additional US$29 per person expectations were lofty.
Josh went all out for Chef Best’s menu of roast beef tenderloin with olive and eggplant. He claimed it was one of the best steaks that ever graced his tastebuds. While I could not resist the grilled Colorado lamb chops with spiced apple chutney and fresh mint sauce. Succulent, tender and juicy and perfectly matched with a side of asparagus - I could have kept eating for days if size (and hours) permitted.
We savoured the flavours during our leisurely meal and after 1.5 hours had only finished our mains. Unfortunately we had no more time since the kids club was closing. Thankfully the staff arranged to have our desserts sent to our stateroom at a prescribed time (once the kids were asleep, so we didn't have to share!).
If you are pining for red meat or yearning for seafood then make a reservation at The Pinnacle. It's the best place on the ship to celebrate a special occasion, or just treating yourself to the best of the best. The chefs will not disappoint and neither will the cocktail list.
Why Is The Food So Delicious?
What makes the food on Holland America's ships so delicious, fresh and inspiring? The secret is the Culinary Council, an ensemble of top-name chefs from around the world, which assemble the menus and enhance all aspects of the on-board culinary experience. Headed up by Master Chef Rudi Sodamin, council members include renowned international chefs Jonnie Boer, David Burke, Jacques Torres, Elizabeth Falkner and Mark Best.
Not only does this council include their signature dishes on the Vista dining menus, but they also enhance every dining experience from the Lido Restaurant to the Pinnacle Grill. No wonder dining on Holland America is a dream.
I Want To Cook Like That!
And if eating it is not enough, Holland America Line offers a Culinary Arts Centre where every day you can learn to cook just like a master chef.
We enjoyed Mark Best’s honeycomb and whipped crème fraiche. Even the kids learned a thing or two, and of course those taste tests went down a treat.
If cooking doesn't light your fire, the Culinary Arts Centre also highlights the equally important complement - drinking! Each cruise holds wine tasting and mixology classes (they were on my list but I never made it!).
Where The Magic Happens
We took a quick tour of one of the kitchens where every day thousands of dishes are prepared. The scale, organisation and dedication to the role of feeding cruise guests was impressive. I love cooking, and it's no small feat to feed a family of 4. But a ship full of hungry holiday makers is a whole different game. It takes 173 service staff plus 134 kitchen staff feed the 1900+ guests and 810 crew. This tour helped me further appreciate the dedicated team members who work so tirelessly as well as the food coming out of the galley each day.
Whatever type of food you fancy, it seems Holland America is vigilant in pleasing their guests. If you're a bit of foodie like me, you'll appreciate the extra quality found at every eatery on board. And the range of options from casual to ultra fine dining will only leave one problem... where to eat dinner tonight?