Dining On Holland America Line: The Real Story

Alaska By

“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!

Eggs benedict

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.

Gede made a balloon sword for Caius

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.

Dinner in Vista at sunset

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.  

Mixed green salad with raspberry vinaigrette
Broiled New York strip loin
Baked Alaska – seems appropriate
Swords away at the dinner table, please
Broccolini wrapped beef
Chocolate avalanche
Silky smooth crème brulee
Strawberry napoleon
Afternoon tea with cucumber sandwiches, cake and tea

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. 

Indoor pool area

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. 

Canaletto salad
4-meat lasagne, half serve
Ricotta ravioli, one of the best tasting pasta dishes ever
Chocolate torte

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.

Tomato broth with spicy lemongrass chicken
Mark Best’s Roast beef tenderloin with olive, eggplant
Grilled Colorado lamb chops
Side of veges
Mark Best’s Caramel ganache flax seed crips with blueberries

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. 

Cooking class with Mark Best, one of Australia’s top chefs

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!).

Learning to make chocolate fudge

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.

The Verdict?

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?

Reader Comments...

"I respond to every comment by direct private email. I look forward to your feedback" -

It is informative . Thanks for posting

Wholesale Toys Australia Oct 16th, 2015

We had to skip a port due to bad weather, so they watered down the orange juice (did they think we wouldn't notice?) The omelets are WAY overcooked, to the point they have a crust. It was obvious that the woman assigned to the omelet station did not like her job. The eggs for the eggs benedict are often cooked solid. In the Pinnacle Grill (extra fee) the crab cakes had no discernible crab. This is a "puff piece", not factual. "Why is the food so delicious?" Indeed. Why can't you just give us the facts?

Alfred Lippe May 30th, 2016

Thanks for writing Alfred. May I ask were you on the same cruise as us? Because every cruise has different staff, different food and clearly days where even the staff might be in a mood.
As you can see from our photos all the food we had was incredible. And as someone who sent back her Eggs Benedict twice yesterday at a hotel, as well as an overcooked omelette today I do say I know my eggs pretty well.
What I’m trying to say is you certainly may of had a different cruise with different food, but that doesn’t mean my experience was different. I wrote this from personal experience and presented my truth. It may not be yours. From the 6 cruises I have been on I can certainly understand how different even the same companies food scene can be. I hope you have better luck next time.

admin May 30th, 2016

I have to agree with the review the food was in my humble opinion wonderful on Holland America. Our first cruise we ate dinner a lot in the Lido because our kids were younger and fussy eaters, but in 6 days we head for a 14 day Alaskan Cruise and plan to eat dinner in the Dining Room this time.

I think that when something like weather happens and they have to skip a port you need to learn to roll with the punches. If you have ever seen how much food a ship goes thru in a day you would understand that missing a port can cause issues. I think that remembering that they put your safely first is more important than having to add water to the oj to make sure that they have enough for each passenger.

Over and above I think is Holland America's mission statement as you mentioned in your review no request is too big or too small. This is why we have selected to renew our vows with them on this cruise. Unfortunately we live in a society and time that everyone has this outrageous sense of entitlement. If things aren't perfect in their eyes 100% of the time then they case a shadow on the entire experience. Sometimes things just happen when on holidays and you need to just roll with the punches.

Robin Jul 26th, 2016

Brilliant piece. You have a wonderful piece. Also incredibly detailed pictures. I really liked you focus on children. We are going to Alaska holland America and looking forward to it.

Raj Apr 21st, 2017

i enjoyed reading. Incredibly well written and I love all the detailed pictures of your food! I love this post! Great work. I pinned some of your articles and I'll be back again to read more. Keep up the good work!

Jen Oblander Jun 15th, 2017

I just got off the Noordam - I like your photos. The cruise was from Sydney to Noumea and islands in Vanuatu. The food was excellent. The only thing I didn't like was that the dining room was closed on port days which overcrowded the buffet. There were no dining options at any of the stops so passengers would get tenders back for lunch and swarm it like locusts. It was near impossible to get a seat anywhere, even on the deck. People were eating as they walked, plates were being dropped on the floor due to collisions and it was just chaos.

I've been on several cruises and know the buffet can be crowded but this was mayhem and unacceptable. Had the dining room been open on port days there would not have been a problem. Also, staff were allowed to eat in the buffet (spa staff, Club Hal staff and officers) so they were occupying tables at the expense of paying passengers who couldn't get a seat, essentially elevating staff to a level higher than the customer.

Never before on any cruise I have been on have I seen staff eating in the buffet including on Holland America's Volandam. I wouldn't care if they ate when it was not busy but at peak times they should have to vacate their seats for passengers.

I reiterate, the food was excellent.

A Roper Jan 5th, 2018

Thank you for the lovely post. My husband and I will be boarding the ms Volendam in mid-August and I was very concerned about how the food would be. Rest assured, from what you had to say, I have nothing to fear! We look forward to our 7-day Alaska cruise as well.

Laurie Fancy May 22nd, 2018

3 years after your cruise, we just completed the south bound version of your cruise on the Noordam. The food in the Vista dining room for dinner was consistently good. The room service breakfast was consistently good.
The food on the Lido deck was boring and bland. The personnel throughout the Lido Restaurant were consistently the least helpful on the ship. ughwere the only
Your photos look like they were created for a promotional ad. The dinners in the Vista and Pinnacle were nicely presented but they were the only thing close to the photos in your article.
I ordered a fruit an cheese plate from room service to have with wine in our cabin as we set sail. The plate delivered was salad size with four triangles of cheese (perhaps 1 - 1 1/2 bites each), 2 red grapes on a sad bare stem, and 3/4 of one strawberry (I'm not exagerating). The crackers were a package of crushed saltines.
I had high tea our first day. The sandwiches were awful and artless. I love cucumber sandwiches but the cucumbers on the Noordam were thick slabs instead of the appropriate thin slivers. The scones were hard as rocks and no clotted cream and jam was offered. There were no cakes offered. There was no variety of tea flavors offered. No sugar or lemon was offered with the tea. Cream was offered. A table mate tried to ask for a second salmon sandwich after our initial service and was purposely ignored.
The deserts you pictured were lovely. The only acceptable desert we ate all week was a fruit crumble. The other deserts were bland with no presentation. Of course it's hard to make two bites of anything look indulgent. I saw no chocolate in the desert selections all week.
The Pinnacle Grill was a total waste of money. My filet was flavorless with the texture of a strip steak. My husband's lobster was overcooked and rubbery.
There was no worry of gaining weight on that cruise!

M Phillips Sep 3rd, 2018

I was gobsmacked - and tickled! - to see the picture of Gede. He is no doubt my favorite HAL crewmember ever (and we’re getting ready for our 12th HAL cruise).

Pearl Apr 1st, 2019

We and others were quite disappointed with the food on our Eurodam trip departing 08/24 from Seattle to Alaska. In an attempt to make good food, they lost the details and heat in the dining facilities. Many cold items - cold croissants, had to ask for butter, cold toast, Luke warm meals, tough dry chicken, expensive rib steaks with membrane layer not removed, 2/3 steak inedible, many waiters nice, polite but stumbling all over one another, right hand not knowing what the left doing, tried for polite constructive criticism and service got worse last two days. ALL service slow! We’re used to gorgeous buffets with tiers of beautiful items with greenery, flowers, etc and nothing but sterile Cafeteria style buffets, blah food on Eurodam. We appreciate the logistics of a cruise ship but others have done it so beautifully. Also notice dress code ignored in formal dining areas with reservations. We’ve worked in the industry and know the problems AND they are fixable. No snack items for between meals. Some food nicely done but usually cool...
ALSO, many of us have lost our day in Ketchikan due to mechanical failure as well as our treasured excursions, ours a float plane experience with Food and Wine, forced to spend extra day onboard and in Victoria, we’ve seen. We feel rather than refunds for our excursions, we should be further compensated for the extreme loss to our expectations and reason for booking. I suppose you have “fine print” to cover your errors but it certainly makes us decide not to book with HOLLAND America again even for another post trip offer!
Thanks for your consideration, Barbara Toma and Lou Cecchi

Barbara Aug 29th, 2019

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