Maasdam's restaurants are the grand Rotterdam Dining Room, the bustling and bountiful Lido buffet, and the intimate and subdued Pinnacle Grill. Add a casual poolside option for burgers and dogs, a coffee bar, and round-the-clock complimentary (and prompt) room service (from hot breakfasts to dinner selections), and dining options are well covered.
The Lido buffet is cheerful and efficient and has great views through floor-to-ceiling windows. Lido serves continental breakfast starting at 6:30 a.m., full breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m.; lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and dinner from 6 to 7:30 p.m. (Hours may be adjusted on port days and embarkation/debarkation, so check the daily schedule to be sure.) There are extended hours at Lido for sandwiches, ice cream or special late-night offerings, and coffee and tea are available there at all times. Even at peak times, the lines are manageable, with plenty of available tables. Most days, friendly staff members will carry the trays of youngsters and those with mobility issues, a courteous touch that goes a long way.
As with most buffets, Lido is characterized by variety, quantity and quickness -- and quality is sometimes a casualty of this emphasis. Breakfast options include made-to-order omelets and specialty pancakes, generous servings of bacon or sausage, rather good muesli, and a host of unspectacular pastries. Lunch is hot entrees (pastas, stir fry, fish or chicken), sandwiches, salads and desserts. Dinner includes many of the same choices offered in the Rotterdam Dining Room.
For dinner, the Rotterdam Dining Room, the ship's elegant, two-tier restaurant, is the main event. As you enter, your eyes are drawn upward to the hundreds of Murano glass flowers covering the ceiling, and certainly outward, to the floor-to-ceiling views of the ocean.
In the evening, Holland America Line's As You Wish Dining enables passengers on Maasdam (and all other Holland America ships) to opt for pre-set seating and dining time -- or take advantage of a flexible option (breakfast and lunch are already open seating). One level of the ship's two-deck-high dining rooms will be dedicated to traditional "early or main seating" (usually 6 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. though times could vary based on itineraries) while the other level will be open from 5:15 - 9 p.m. daily. Passengers who choose the flexible option can make reservations ahead of time -- or simply walk in.
Tables range from a limited number of two-tops to eight-top mixed groups, and the ship will generally try to accommodate your seating preferences if you make them known in advance.
Rotterdam's dinners consist of three courses: appetizer, main and dessert. Menu choices include daily chef's specials, plus "Greenhouse Spa" options, vegetarian choices and sugar-free selections among the desserts. (With some advance notice, HAL will try to accommodate special dietary needs such as salt-free, gluten-free, fat-free or baby food.) The food is good but largely falls short of superb. There were some memorable moments -- a chilled avocado and salmon soup, and escargot come to mind -- but many were forgettable ones: chicken or salmon something-or-other and desserts that were somehow less satisfying than their descriptions.
Perhaps addressing this, in the summer of 2011 the cruise line began expanding the common entrees and desserts with specialties provided by HAL's Culinary Council of six acclaimed landside chefs. These new dishes include seared Cajun tuna steak, grilled venison loin with dates, and roasted chicken with sausage cornbread stuffing and an apple cider–chicken gravy. For dessert, additions include brioche toast with caramelized apricot and clove ice cream, and crepes with caramelized pears served with warm raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream.
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.
There is a kids menu with the usual suspects: macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, chicken nuggets, pizza, fries. With those staples, the ample bread basket and ice cream), youngsters usually can make it through six nights of dinner in the dining room -- including two formal nights. Bringing along crayons and coloring book can help the little ones stay occupied.
Maasdam is not heavy on dining room theatrics, but there are a few nods in the theme-evening direction: an Indonesian night with traditional music and dancing, a parade of sparkler-studded Baked Alaska. But you'll never be asked to dine in a toga (or to look at your waiter in one), though you can don a paper chef's hat for a while or join other passengers in a napkin-waving salute to the dining room staff for just a little joie de vivre.
Maasdam's service really shines in the Dining Room -- from the greeter at the ready with the de rigueur squirt of Purell as you enter, to the gentleman offering a piece of candied ginger or dried fig as you exit. Servers remember drink orders, bring extra bread if you like, and graciously indulge in banter about port-day activities, the weather or the usual questions about what it's like to work on a cruise ship. You might even have a wine steward make origami animals for your youngster as if he were a favored nephew.
Editor's Note: The Rotterdam Dining Room also serves a full-service breakfast from 7:30 - 9:30 a.m. and lunch from 12:30 - 1:30 p.m. on some days (check daily schedules). A couple of times a week, there's a late-afternoon Dutch Tea, though I could never imagine, at that hour, how anybody had room for more food, even the daintiest morsels.
Maasdam's progressive alternative restaurant, Pinnacle Grill, is worth the $35 per person surcharge, especially considering what you'd pay for a comparable restaurant experience off ship. Open for dinner plus lunch on some sea days, Pinnacle offers an intimate dining experience (read: limited seating so reserve early), a welcome retreat from the heavily peopled scene in Rotterdam or Lido. The decor is agreeably subdued, with the exception of the colorful glass sculptures by Dutch artist Bernard Heesen. Meals are beautifully presented on Bvlgari china and tables are covered in Frette linens. Stemware is Riedel.
Pinnacle's menu nods to the Pacific Northwest and emphasizes steaks, lamb chops and fish.
One night a week Pinnacle offers "An Evening at Le Cirque," emulating that feel and menu of the recipient of the James Beard Award for restaurant of the year. Pinnacle wait staff will serve on the fanciful orange Le Cirque china used in the three restaurants, for dishes such as Lobster Salad Le Cirque, Sweet Corn Soup and Côte de Boeuf.
While the standard fee for a Pinnacle meal is $35 per person, the Le Cirque event is $49 for the dinner, or $59 for the food and wine flights.
There's more to the partnership: Passengers can learn how to cook a dish or two during special Le Cirque demonstrations in the on-board Culinary Arts Center, and the HBO documentary “Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven” will show on in-cabin television.
A more prominent addition to Maadam's dining options than the new chef's specialties or Le Cirque night is the creation of Canaletto, a casual Italian restaurant open for dinner nightly. It requires just the placement of a few glass partitions in a section of the Lido to define the restaurant. Here waiters clad in the traditional striped shirts of Venetian gondoliers serve dishes such as putanesca and penne alla vodka -- and of course, gelato for dessert. There is no extra charge to dine in Canaletto, but because of the limited seating, reservations are suggested.