Dining on Zaandam ranges from average to excellent. Dinners in the main dining room were fine but not rave-worthy, though we appreciated the expansive breakfast menu and peaceful ambiance. The Pinnacle Grill is a wonderful dinner experience, no matter your dietary restrictions; its pop-up Sel de Mer we didn't find worth the price and the Italian Canaletto was fine but nothing special.
Casual offerings were sleeper hits. The buffet has an impressive salad bar, daily sushi and multiple made-to-order egg/crepe/waffle stations -- plus a popular ice cream sundae bar with extended hours. The pool grill has interesting options and the best fries onboard. Room service is almost entirely free of charge, which is appreciated.
Our biggest complaint was that we wished the buffet were open longer hours; it always seemed to close just as we got there. This isn't actually a problem unless you're a late diner or have a late tour.
The Dining Room (Decks 4 and 5)
Meals: Breakfast (B), Dinner (D)
Zaandam's two-story main dining room is located at the very back of the ship with views of the ship's wake. The upper level is reserved for passengers with set-seating dining at roughly 5:15/5:30 p.m. and 7:30/8 p.m. (Exact times vary by cruise, based on passenger patterns on different itineraries.) The lower level is for flexible dining, and passengers can arrive anytime between 5 and 9 p.m. These diners can choose to make reservations in advance or walk in when hungry.
One section of Deck 4 is reserved for Club Orange members (suite passengers and those who pay for the priority program). These passengers have a special check-in line and receive one exclusive entree option each evening.
The Dining Room serves breakfast, dinner and afternoon tea, but not lunch. The breakfast menu is extensive, with the usual offerings of cereal, breakfast breads and pastries, pancakes/waffles and egg dishes and also more interesting options such as an Indian aloo masala and egg bhurji and banana bread French toast.
Afternoon tea is lovely, but you don't get any choices. Waiters pour one type of tea (in our case, Darjeeling) and present a three-tiered tray with finger sandwiches, petits fours and scones already dotted with cream and jam.
At dinner, the menu offers starters, soups and salads, and entrees (with one regional special). Most dishes change daily, but a few favorite starters and entrees are always available. Dishes are labeled vegetarian, gluten-free and nondairy. For an additional fee, you can enjoy a broiled whole lobster ($25) or a 36-oz. bone-in ribeye steak ($75).
It's not advertised, but Zaandam offers a separate vegetarian menu (simply request it from your waiter) and an Indian menu (with both meat and vegetarian options, but you must place your order 24 hours in advance). The Indian food we tried was delicious and a bit more flavorful than many of the regular menu entrees.
Portions are generally moderate, so you can eat three courses and not feel overly stuffed.
A separate menu lists desserts, some of which are sugar-free, gluten-free or nondairy. A cheese plate and ice cream are always available.
Service is friendly, though sometimes meals seem to drag a bit.
Lido Market (Deck 8)
Meals: B, Lunch (L), D
The Lido Market is Zaandam's buffet venue. It serves all meals and late-night snacks, but does close between meals, which can be frustrating when your eating schedule is thrown off by a late morning or a late tour. The ice cream bar stays open through the afternoon, as does the salad bar, and there's often midday snacks (sandwiches and sweets -- the cookies are dangerously good on this ship) set out next to the ice cream station. One water/coffee station is open round the clock.
A station system cuts down on lines; however, the majority of stations are no longer self-serve, which can increase wait times for things like salad. Note that while port and starboard serving lines are mostly identical, one station on each side is different. At breakfast, you'll find a poached egg station on one side and a crepe/waffle station on the other. At lunch, it's Asian (with sushi) versus Italian and pasta.
Breakfast offers a nice mix of hot and cold items, and separate stations for scrambled/fried eggs, omelettes and poached eggs/eggs Benedict to cut down wait times. At lunch, you'll find the aforementioned Italian and Asian, plus a station with premade and made-to-order sandwiches, a carving station, uninspired pizza, an expansive salad bar, a selection of hot entrees and sides and dessert.
Dinner is similar to lunch, but with fewer choices. Oddly, the buffet has shorter opening hours and closes earlier (8 p.m.) than the dining room. Late-night snacks are offered 10:30 to 11:30 p.m. with comfort food favorites.
Dive-In (Deck 8)
Located by the main pool, Dive-In is the place to order a variety of burgers, as well as grilled chicken or portobello mushroom sandwiches, hot dogs and fries. A small buffet station offers a taco bar, or a themed buffet in select ports. (For example, in Quebec City, it became a poutine bar.) Dive-In has extended lunch hours (11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and is a good option for grabbing a quick meal when your shore excursion departs midday or returns late.
There is free 24-hour room service, with only a couple of breakfast items delivered for a fee (free to suite and Club Orange members). The mainly continental breakfast also offers some egg dishes and can be ordered via a card you hang on your door the night before. The daytime menu features starters, salads, a couple of hot entrees and desserts; a shortened version of that menu is available from 11 p.m. onward. One nice touch is a kids dinner menu, with options such as PB&J, mac 'n' cheese and chicken strips.
Pinnacle Grill (Deck 4): $39 for dinner, $15 for lunch
Meals: L, D
The Pinnacle Grill (Deck 4) is Zaandam's nicest dining venue, with a date-night atmosphere. It's a steak and seafood restaurant with a Pacific Northwest theme, serving "responsibly raised" beef from Washington's Double R Ranch and fish from Alaska. It mainly serves dinner, but on sea days, it offers lunch from a smaller menu with a reduced price tag.
The main dinner menu is divided into appetizers, entrees and desserts, with entrees further divided into seafood (Alaskan king crab or salmon), steak (ranging from 7 to 23 oz. cuts) and chops and classics (which covers nonsteak meats and poultry and vegetarian options). Sides are ordered separately and are served to share. Don't miss the highlighted dishes by Culinary Council member Chef David Burke in all categories from appetizer to dessert; they are more creative, often with fun presentation.
An additional entree will cost $15; adding a lobster tail to your steak order to make surf 'n' turf is an additional $10. Kids 12 and under pay half price; meals are free if they order off the regular kids' menu. Vegetarians and gluten-free diners can be accommodated.
Sel de Mar (Deck 4): $49
Once per cruise, the Pinnacle Grill becomes Sel de Mer, a French seafood dining experience from Holland America's Master Chef Rudi Sodamin. If you're a foodie and want to indulge, plan to make this dinner the star attraction of your evening; meals take close to three hours. If you're not a huge seafood-lover, you're better off saving your money and booking your date night at the regular Pinnacle Grill.
While you'll want to get the most for your money, pace yourself. Portions are humongous, and it's almost distressing how much food you'll leave on your plates. The appetizer course offers a beautifully presented seafood tower and the biggest escargot we've ever seen, but you can also pay an additional $25 for a massive plate of fruits de mer (best shared among a large table).
Entrees are mostly seafood, but there's also lamb, steak, duck and an enormous vegetarian goat cheese souffle. The broiled Maine lobster was the only reasonable-sized portion we saw, consisting of two tails. Sides are ordered per person, with truffled mashed potatoes and ratatouille getting good reviews.
Don't miss the beautifully presented tree of truffles and strawberries that comes with every meal. Other desserts include crepes Suzette and Rudi's vanilla and berry souffle.
Canaletto (Deck 8): $19
It's easy to miss Canaletto, Zaandam's Italian specialty restaurant, because it occupies one corner of the Lido Marketplace. The location isn't especially atmospheric, but it's a not-too-expensive alternative when you're looking for a different dining experience one night.
The menu is divided into small plates, large plates and desserts, with a daily special, such as veal saltimbocca or chicken parmigiana. Small plates include veal polpettine and mozzarella di bufala, while large plates cover your pasta and meat dishes. Desserts are typical Italian treats like tiramisu and gelato. Gluten-free, nondairy and vegetarian items are marked.
Canaletto's signature drink is a refreshing aperol spritz, and the bread basket is not to be missed. We weren't particularly wowed by our meal, but for a fairly low specialty dining fee, it's fun to try a different venue, especially on longer cruises.