Of the three restaurants onboard, the Lido Cafe definitely gets the most use -- and deserves the most props. Stretching from the aft elevators to beyond the midship mark, with the food stations in the center and the tables alongside the windows, it's an elegant space. While I don't care for the mustard color of the carpeting, the rest of the design elements -- upscale furniture, sculpture and artwork -- are lovely, giving this casual dining spot an aura of high style.
Although there are now "stations" for specific items, they are -- unlike most other ships' food court-style spots -- not entirely independent. So while the sandwiches, Asian food, desserts and pizza/pasta are somewhat separate (and you can go directly to those areas), there is one central food preparation area and one line. The salad station is the only spot that's truly buffet style, since -- for the most part -- the kitchen crew portions out your meals for you.
Breakfast options in the Lido Cafe are limitless, whether you want muesli and juice; croissants and coffee; Danish and tea; a full breakfast with a made to order omelet, bacon, potatoes and fresh fruit; a toasted bagel and smoked salmon; or a fresh Belgian-style waffle with berries and whipped cream.
At lunchtime there's a wide variety of food choices, from the standard line, which features items from the main restaurants and at least one carved meat, to the Asian station where you can get noodles and stir-fry. All of the food here is very good; it's prepared in small batches so it doesn't sit on the steam table for long. The only disappointment was the pasta; there are the same three sauces daily (alfredo, marinara and meat), and they are largely uninspired. The pizza is great, though, with a wide variety of options depending on the mood of the pizza-maker.
Some of the desserts, already plated, reside in a cooler alongside the ice cream serving station. The desserts on the highest shelves were hard to see and impossible to reach. My friend Judi was horribly disappointed to discover that there was new standard procedure barring self service of Holland America's famous bread pudding. She likes the crispier corners, and I had to convince each server that I wanted less bread and more vanilla sauce.
The Lido Cafe seems enormous, stretching for what seems like forever from one end to the other. Why, then, we wondered, was it almost always crowded and difficult to navigate? The passageways between the food stations and tables seem impossibly narrow, and at those times when it's busy, getting through and around the crowds can be daunting.
Calmer and more attractive, though, are the evenings, when a casual dinner is served at white-linen-covered (and candlelit) tables to those who choose to avoid the main dining room. It's the same cuisine with a slightly more limited menu, but you are served by waiters just as you would be in the dining room. You can dress more casually and you can choose your dining time (between 5:30 and 9 p.m.).
Noordam features the no-fee Canaletto, housed in a corner of the Lido. The Italian restaurant, named after the famed Venetian artist, features a first course of Italian-styled antipasti and a set menu of pasta dishes and desserts (gelato is just one). The eatery features waiter service and decoratively arranged tables.
While the Lido Cafe appears huge, the two-level Vista Dining Room seems almost cozy in comparison. In the evening, Holland America Line's As You Wish Dining enables passengers on Noordam (and all other Holland America ships) to opt for pre-set seating and dining time -- or take advantage of a new, 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 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.
An eclectic mix of elements from other Holland America main dining rooms, the Vista is attractive in some respects and really off in others. The circus-awning effect of the rust and taupe stripes on the ceiling made us wonder why they were there. And while we liked the bigger, bolder, darker glass flowers that covered the ceiling over the grand stairway -- compared to the hundreds of white ones on the Statendam-class ships, for example -- we were really put off by the addition of fiber-optic pinpoints of light scattered throughout them, changing colors at will and destroying the classic effect of the glass sculptures.
On the other hand, the food in the Vista Dining room was the best we have had on any Holland America ship to date: There were lots of choices and food was well prepared, fresh and flavorful. On a couple of the nights we dined there, it was nearly impossible to decide between entrees. They all seemed so appealing; when they arrived, they were just as good as they sounded. None of the menu items were new or unique to Noordam, but the preparation was wonderful. And while nothing we had was over-salted, nothing we had was bland, either.
Vista 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.
Dining in the main restaurant on a Holland America ship is an elegant, classy affair, and it was no different on Noordam. The night of the Captain's Grand Gala saw crisp white slipcovers on all the chairs and candles on each table. Service was excellent, with the table teams trained to remember your preferences after just one meal. I had San Pellegrino water poured for me each night and a (complimentary at dinnertime) cappuccino placed before me after each meal without my having to ask following my first order.
Kosher, low-sodium and other dietary needs can be easily met with advance notice. Breakfast and lunch is open-seating; service tends to be slower than at supper, but the ambiance is certainly more elegant than that of the Lido Cafe.
Holland America's Pinnacle Grill, the sole for-charge alternative restaurant, is located in the middle of the ship and surrounds the atrium. On one side of the atrium is the bar, which on this ship is a new (and welcome) design change. The tables for the restaurant surround the banister on the other side of the atrium and then swirl into a separate room. With fancy stemware and crystal glasses, Bvlgari dishes and waist-coated waiters, you know you've stepped into an alternate universe for your $20 surcharge. The menu features Pacific Northwest U.S. cuisine to highlight Holland America's Seattle roots, and while planked salmon is one of the specialties, most people order the fabulous, melt-in-your-mouth filet mignon, which comes in both petite and regular sizes. (The "petite" is plenty big, we found, especially with the addition of all of the sides, like creamed spinach and asparagus, potatoes or rice, and salad.)
Room service is excellent on Noordam, whether it's a full meal from the menu at lunch or dinner, or a hot breakfast delivered right on time. For some reason, though, the servers are forced to carry enormous trays -- which realistically measure two feet by three feet -- even when you order a pot of coffee and two cups.
On the starboard side of the Lido Deck midship pool is a burger and hot dog stand, with nachos, tacos and fixins too, available from 11:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. There are themed midnight snacks offered in the Lido Cafe every night, and the Dessert Extravaganza on one of the nights; bring a camera and arrive early.