Dining on Westerdam is centered around the ship's two-tiered Vista Dining Room, its main restaurant. It serves breakfast and dinner daily. Lunch is offered on sea days and, occasionally, on port days as well.
Breakfast and lunch are always open seating. In the morning, regular menu offerings span a vast range, from healthy choices like yogurt and muesli to the decadently delicious and exotic (the zucchini bread French toast was superb). Lunch features a three-course scenario, with starters (soups and appetizers), entrees (choices always include salads) and dessert.
But it's the evening when the Vista really shines. Formal nights are particularly memorable, with chairs covered in linen and passengers all dolled up in finery. The kitchen really shines and makes an extra effort -- don't miss these evenings if you want lobster or chateaubriand.
There are two dining options for passengers. Those who prefer the traditional fixed-seating scenario can opt for set schedules and tablemates on Vista's deck 3 level; times can vary by itinerary. On our cruise the seatings were at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. We opted for the other choice: As You Wish dining. Deck 2 of the Vista is dedicated to a more restaurant-style scenario, in which tables are available, via walk-in or by reservation, from 5:15 – 9 p.m. We generally went the reservation route but only very occasionally was there a line for As You Wish dining.
Whether you choose traditional or As You Wish dining, tables are mostly in groups of six, eight and beyond; there are fewer set-ups for twos and fours. Flexible diners may be encouraged to dine with other passengers at larger tables. The difference between this and fixed seating is that you're not committed to the same folks at dinner each night.
Cuisine highlighted primarily traditional preparations. Vegan, kosher, low-sodium and other dietary needs can be easily met with advance notice. The menu always features a vegetarian item for each course and "available daily" items, such as a Caesar salad, French onion soup, grilled salmon or chicken, and a broiled steak. HAL's executive chef, Rudi Sodamin, features recommendations each night, and I found his selections to generally be the most intriguing on the menu.
The MDR 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.
Holland America's lido buffet venues are consistently among the most beautiful and well organized at sea, and Westerdam's didn't disappoint. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the room's jazzy colors are a mood-lifter (and don't forget that there's plenty of seating on the adjacent aft deck and even in the main pool area). Food is arranged in theme-based stations, serving up salads, sandwiches-to-order, pizza, sushi and hot fare, so you don't have to wait behind someone picking through the salad bar when you want to move on to the grill station.
Operating hours for the Lido are generous. A full buffet breakfast service begins at 6:30 a.m. and runs until 10:30 a.m. (a continental bar is available until 11 a.m.). Breakfast was particularly impressive -- while many lines offer pancake, waffle and omelet stations, I haven't come across another "eggs benedict-to-order" offering. There were numerous varieties of the dish, including "Scottish" eggs benedict (smoked salmon instead of Canadian bacon) and "Eggs Stanley" (with crab meat). The cooks there would also simply prepare poached eggs upon request.
Lunch is from 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. but food for noshing is available throughout the afternoon. And the choices really were superb. For instance, there'd be a pizza special, a pasta bar (with a variety of noodles and sauces), an Asian corner, sandwich specials (such as a reuben or Thai chicken wrap), a range of salads, fruits and pate, soups, and then bistro entrees (such as fried chicken or pan-seared salmon).
For passengers looking for a more casual dinner option, the Lido is a terrific spot; tables are covered in white linen and bar service is ample. Dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. and closes down -- here's a quibble -- at a relatively early 8 p.m., even on port-intensive cruises like ours. Casual dinner would include breads, appetizers, a couple of soups and a range of salads, and entrees like halibut, lamb chops and game hen. The Lido reopens again for "late night snack," which could be themed, such as an Italian evening that featured pasta, salads and antipasto, and full-on entrees from lasagna to chicken.
Note: operating times in the lido can vary with the ship's schedule. If, for instance, a number of tours are returning back to the vessel after the traditional lunch hour, it'll stay open later.
In the main pool area is the Terrace Grill, and it was one of the few food-oriented weaknesses on Westerdam. The grill was understaffed, the cook was surly, and while there was a sign on the outside to list offerings, it was blank. You just had to guess ("do you have chicken burgers?"). Adjacent to that was a steam table with Mexican food for make-your-own-tacos, etc., that wasn't terribly appetizing. (There's nothing like congealed, overheated cheese to dampen the appetite.)
Beyond main dining venues, Westerdam has two specialty restaurants. Its best known is the elegant Pinnacle Grill, the fleet's Pacific Northwest-themed eatery. Well worth the $20 per-person cover, the ambience is hushed and elegant, featuring Bvlgari china and Riedel stemware. Highlights are steaks, lamb chops and lobster (and the lobster macaroni and cheese is insanely good though the dinner portion is a bit rich -- try a smaller portion as an appetizer). Save room for the dessert soufflé -- it's worth it.
The wine list has an excellent selection of Pacific Northwest bottles (along with other new and old world choices) though is a bit on the pricey side. If you're not in the mood for a huge splurge, ask for the dining room's more plebian wine list.
Reservations are required and can be tough to get so make plans as soon as you can. But here's a tip: The restaurant opens for lunch on some days (the fee is $10 per person) with a different menu. It's got one of the best burgers in the world along with a delicious tenderloin, and the experience was equally fabulous.
A newer concept dining venue -- which is equally popular -- is Canaletto. The food's nothing-fancy-Italian (I equate it with Olive Garden), tables are awfully close together, and the service was indifferent, but it's a break from fancier fare. It's open for dinner only and occupies a dedicated corner of the Lido cafe. There's no service fee and advance reservations are crucial.
We loved the handful of special culinary events onboard. A wonderful way to greet embarking passengers was a first night's BBQ out on the pool deck; grilled lobster was the absolute highlight!
And for serious food and wine enthusiasts, the chef's once-a-cruise five-course tasting menu extravaganza is a must; it was the most memorable meal we had on a cruise in which many meals were outstanding. The menu varies at this food and wine paired event, which costs $75 per person and is held in the Culinary Arts Center. On our trip, highlights were a venison carpaccio, a perfectly rare tuna and grilled lamb chops. The food was so substantial that you might think it impossible to fit in dessert -- a double chocolate cake -- but we managed. The wines paired on this occasion were mostly South African and so a new region for many of us; this will vary of course, depending on what's available onboard.
Availability is limited; inquire upon boarding about making a reservation.
For light fare, such as pastries in the morning and small sweets and sandwiches throughout the day, head up to the Explorations Cafe, the ship's coffee bar/Internet center/library/card room. Also, kudos to Holland America for being one of the last big ship lines to provide complimentary hot and cold hors d'oeuvres in lounges during pre-dinner cocktails.
In-cabin meal service is available around the clock and was prompt and efficient. There's a quite comprehensive list of snacks, salads and sandwiches. As well, you can order from dining menus during mealtimes. At breakfast, hot items are available. There's no fee to use the service but we encourage you to proffer a small tip to the delivery person.