Passengers opting for traditional dining will be scheduled at one of four seatings: 5:45 p.m. (first upper); 6:15 p.m. (first lower); 8 p.m. (main upper); and 8:30 p.m. (main lower). "As You Wish" is HAL's flexible dining program. One level of the ships' two-deck-high dining rooms will be dedicated to traditional "early or main seating" while the other will be open from 5:15 - 9 p.m. daily. Passengers opting for the flexible option can make reservations ahead of time -- or simply walk in.
Dining options on Volendam are varied and plentiful, from early morning continental breakfast to the themed midnight-snack buffet. Apart from the regular restaurant service, hungry guests will also find a hamburger/hot dog/taco/fajita station located near the Lido pool, (self-serve from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.), afternoon tea, and room service -- available 24 hours. Special diets, from Kosher and diabetic to low-carb, are easily accommodated by Volendam's kitchen, but advance notice is required.
The two-story Rotterdam Dining Room, located aft and surrounded with windows, serves open-seating breakfast and lunch and has, at present, two assigned-seating dinner times with plenty of small tables for those who prefer to dine a deux. Even as the concept of open-seating dining is proliferating throughout the industry, there are still many HAL cruise guests who enjoy the traditional same-table, same-time, same-partners dinner.
The Rotterdam also offers a 22-dish, vegetarian-only menu for lunch and dinner; it consists of appetizers, salads, soups and entrees. Options include dishes like portobello mushroom and chipotle quesadillas, Vietnamese vegetable spring rolls or spicy lentil and garbanzo salad.
While I generally prefer the ease of casual dining, I am a patsy for the accoutrements that can only come with the latter: Parade of the Baked Alaska, or of flaming cherries, or Italian Night, or of anything that makes the wait staff drop all pretension and strut their stuff to the tune of "Hot Hot Hot," or wear silly vests and line up to sing "O Sole Mio." (Volendam crew parade their Alaskas to Wagner or Strauss, but they use sparklers, making them quite festive. Alas, there is no Italian Night.) I look forward to it, as do many who enjoy traditional cruising, and Holland America excels at tradition. In a nod to the demand for more choice, the line will soon be introducing four assigned-seating dinner times throughout its fleet.
Hint: Early seatings tend to book up first on this ship, so book your cruise early or be prepared for one of the later dining times.
The Lido Cafe, a cafeteria-style restaurant, is open for all meals. Most guests choose to have a casual breakfast and lunch in the Lido, and for dinner, the dining area is transformed into a semi-restaurant, with table linens and waiters. During busy breakfast and lunch times, fruit, salads, cheeses, breads and other cold items are self-serve while most of the hot items are portioned out from behind the counter. There is a pasta station, a wok station, soup and salad bar, pizza bar, ice cream and dessert bar. Dining-room fare is served in the regular buffet line. The restaurant itself is open and cheery, spanning a large indoor area as well as outside, along both the inner swimming pool and the aft pool. The Lido will be upgraded in the near future, with more casual-dining options and cooked-to-order entrees.
Pinnacle Grill, Volendam's sole specialty restaurant, serves aged beef, lobster tails, fish and lamb in an elegant, understated environment. Reservations are required and there is a $20 per person charge to dine, but all courses are included, the selections are terrific, the presentation artful, and the service impeccable. My favorite of all was the creamed spinach. "The secret is a drop of Pernod added at the last minute," the Pinnacle Grill manager whispered to me.
The room service menu is not extensive but does offer a fair variety. It's pretty nice being awakened each morning with a tray of juice, coffee and croissants while at sea, and there are actually hot breakfast items available through room service. The all-important "will-the-eggs-be-hot?" test passed with flying colors; the kitchen accomplishes the near-impossible task by using a heated under plate. Some of the other items don't fare quite so well. Anyone expecting a pastrami sandwich when ordering a pastrami sandwich will be disappointed, since what arrives is two slices of bread (one of which is spread with mustard and mayo), a whole bunch of iceberg lettuce and sliced tomato, and a single thin slice of meat. Not even a pickle! (The mention of mayonnaise on the menu should have been a clear indication that something was amiss.) If you stick to the salads, you'll be quite happy, and you can order coffee or tea (decaf or regular) with cookies before bed.
While not specified anywhere, during lunch and dinner times you can order from the restaurant menu and have it delivered to your room.
Food quality is generally excellent, with the very occasional misstep. Some of the soups were bland and watery, and some of the specialties (Thai curry and bami goreng at the wok/pasta station in the Lido at lunch) were virtually tasteless. For the most part, however, both preparation and presentation are exceptional. The Portuguese bean soup served at lunch was not only delicious, but had a real kick to it. The roast rack of lamb could not have been more elegantly presented. The two perennial shipboard favorites, lobster tail and prime rib, were prepared perfectly; the lobster was the largest I have ever seen in a ship's dining room and was very obviously fresh. The individual Baked Alaska in the Pinnacle Grill and the nearly perfect Key Lime pie were wonderful, and Holland America's signature bread pudding with vanilla sauce, served daily at the lunch buffet, is always great. The "homemade" ice cream is also very good, and very popular. Other desserts served in the Lido at lunch are mass-produced and it shows; they are almost uniformly mediocre.
Tucked between the Wajang Theater and the Pinnacle Grill, the Java Cafe remains one of the most popular spots on this ship. Serving a variety of coffees (espresso, cappuccino, latte) and freshly baked cookies, there is no charge for this little luxury ... yet. It's one of the small indulgences that Holland America's guests appreciate the most, but when the ship goes through an upgrade in early 2006, it will be merged into a larger Internet Cafe/Library/Card and Game Room center. There will be pastries, flavored coffees, more specialties, and it will no longer be gratis. Loyal Holland America Line customers who have been apprised of this change are already mourning the demise of the Java Cafe as they know it.