Holland America has a well-earned reputation for its cuisine, from the food that is delivered to your stateroom (a pot of coffee and a fresh omelet on your balcony is a fine way to start your morning) to the variety of fresh and indulgent cuisine options in the Lido Market and the seaside Gala Nights in the Dining Room. There are also three great options for paid dining if you want to get away from the crowds. And, afternoon tea is served in the Pinnacle Grill from 3 to 4 p.m. daily. In each case, wait staff pay careful attention to particular dietary needs. The experience is effortless and relaxing, just as a vacation should be.
Dining Room (Decks 2 and 3): A circular space with plentiful window-side seating, the Dining Room (the ship's main headquarters for traditional cruise dining) is appointed in a modern global theme with bright pops of orange, mirrored accents and fresh floral arrangements. It spans two decks (traditional seating on the upper level and open seating on the lower) and is generally open for breakfast and dinner.
Breakfast (and lunch, when it is available) is open seating. Breakfast is served from 7:30 or 8 a.m. to 9 or 9:30 a.m. and includes classics (including Dungeness crab Benedict, corned beef hash and eggs, All American breakfast, kippered herring and Pan-Asian breakfast), three-egg omelets, skillet breakfasts, waffles, pancakes and baked goods.
An express lunch was only served one day of our cruise, in addition to an invitation-only Mariner Society lunch.
Traditional dinner seating times are 5:45 and 8 p.m. each night, with open seating between 5:15 and 9 p.m. Even if you are booked for open seating, you can call to make a reservation time each night -- the advantage of doing this is that you'll likely avoid a line of people waiting at particularly busy times.
Dinner in the Dining Room typically consists of four courses -- starter, soup or salad, followed by a main dish and dessert and coffee. On formal nights, you might be served an amuse-bouche to start your meal. There's always a full basket of fresh bread and rolls on the table. Your waiter will offer recommendations for dishes each evening, and assistant waiters are always quick to refill water and iced teas.
A team of chefs, the Holland America Line Culinary Council, working alongside Master Chef Rudi Sodamin, including Elizabeth Falkner, David Burke, Jacques Torres, Jonnie Boer and Mark Best, created the menu. Each of them offer dishes with unique flavors, and their recipes are highlighted throughout each menu. There is always at least one vegetarian entree, one "no sugar added" dessert and designated "responsible seafood" dishes, a result of the cruise line's partnership with the Marine Conservation Institute. Though we didn't see any expressly stated gluten-free options, servers were careful to ask about any allergies or dietary restrictions prior to each meal.
Examples of starters include salmon tartare with baby zucchini, gazpacho with crab and coconut, and carrot and radish salad with creamy black sesame vinaigrette. Main dishes included black sesame jumbo shrimp baharat salad, pan-seared rainbow trout and vegetable curry with forbidden rice. Desserts might include devil's food cake and caramelized pear crepe.
Overall, the food quality in the Dining Room was above average, with the super fresh seafood and delectable sauces being particular standouts for us. We quickly learned to order shrimp whenever it was available (and even if it wasn't available, we occasionally sweet-talked our waiter into "finding" some in the kitchen), as well as the featured fish. From the hollandaise on eggs Benedict to the delicate creams found atop fruits and desserts, the sauces stole the culinary show.
Explorations Cafe (Deck 11): This cafe, presented by The New York Times, mainly serves as a for-fee gourmet coffee shop, but there are usually plates of cookies and other baked treats placed on plates for the taking -- a quick free snack if you're curled up here with a good book or playing a game of chess.
Lido Market (Decks 9): The Lido Market spans the aft of the ship between the two pools. Here you'll find fast, casual international cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are buffets lining both sides, port and starboard, with some repeats on each side, but also a few different options. Drink stations with coffee, tea, lemonade, iced tea and water are available in two locations. The Lido is generally open 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., but sometimes service is scaled back to select stations throughout the day. Check your When & Where daily program for closures.
If you're used to the grab-and-go buffet hustle and bustle of larger cruise lines, the Lido is a bit more dignified. For starters, rather than being serve-yourself, kitchen staff man most of the stations, and the food is assembled or prepared to your liking. This includes everything from cooked-to-order omelets in the morning to freshly made salads. Some passengers may not like the extra time this takes (or the lines it creates during peak times), but it does feel a bit more refined and also presumably reduces a lot of germ-sharing associated with buffets.
Another difference from other cruise lines is that wait staff is quick to take your drink order and provide wrapped silverware (you'll never have to get this yourself). You can still grab a quick lunch, but the sit-down service is as outstanding here as it is elsewhere on the ship and deserves high marks.
The food here is fresh, with several healthy options and international flavors. For breakfast, one station offers waffles, crepes and eggs Benedict. Another station includes eggs and a variety of meats, as well as hot cereals. Several passengers commented on the tastiness of the Swiss muesli and other traditional cereals that were just somehow more delicious onboard. For lunch or dinner, you can grab a plate of sushi or a Thai noodle dish, one of the featured hot Italian or Mexican dishes, a fresh salad or even grab a prepackaged market sandwich and potato chips.
One of the most popular stations is the dessert station, where you can order a waffle cone filled with hand-scooped or soft serve ice cream, plus your choice of toppings.
Dive-In (Deck 9): If you're looking for run-of-the-mill burgers and hot dogs, this little poolside restaurant (open 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) just might inspire you to think outside the bun. Dive-In's gourmet take on these American staples is mouthwatering -- and worth the line you'll sometimes endure at peak times of the day. But, don't worry -- they'll give you a beeper to let you know when your order's up.
Dive-In's burger menu includes fresh beef patties plus the cruise line's zippy Dive-In Sauce and toasted brioche buns. The most popular is reportedly the Cannonball, featuring Gouda cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, lettuce and tomato. The restaurant serves Nathan's Famous beef hot dogs, with equally inventive toppings, including crispy onions, bacon, queso and jalapenos. Don't forget to order fries, too -- and if you really want to throw dietary caution to the wind, add some cheese to them.
New York Pizza (Deck 9): The pizza here was the talk of the ship -- passengers seemed to enjoy the variety of toppings, the inventive featured pizzas and the way they could order a pie or three late into the evening (open 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.).
There are five standard pizzas served daily, from the Wall Street (prosciutto, arugula, olive oil, white sauce, gorgonzola and mozzarella), the Bronx (capicola, pepperoni, smoked ham, sweet Italian sausage, pomodoro sauce, mozzarella) and the Central Park (red peppers, red onion, mushroom, artichoke, kalamata olives, tomato sauce and cheese). There's also a featured pizza, or you can make your own. Put in your order, and they'll fire up a personal-sized thin crust pie of about six slices (enough to share with a friend). You'll receive a beeper that tells you when your food is ready.
Don't overlook the fresh salads here -- we particularly enjoyed the caprese salad -- as well as the desserts in the case, including panna cotta and ricotta bomboloni.
Room Service: You can order room service 24 hours a day from a limited menu. Morning options include classic eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, cereals and omelets (there's a small upcharge for a few items, such as smoothies, steak and eggs or a smoked salmon Benedict). Midday to evening options include soup, chili, salad, sandwiches, pasta, chicken and desserts; late-night selections include quesadillas, sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies. There's a special kids' menu, too. If you want something from Dive-In or New York Pizza, there's a $5 upcharge.
Pinnacle Grill (Deck 3); $35 ($10 for lunch on select days): One of the ship's most posh-looking venues, this steak and seafood restaurant glimmers with mosaic mirrors, glass chandeliers, beautiful tiled floors and rich fabrics. If you are lucky enough to score a table by the window, order a glass of wine and settle in for a romantic evening by the sea. The menu features sustainably raised beef from the Double R Ranch in Washington. It's also the location for afternoon tea every day from 3 to 4 p.m. (free) and is open on select days for lunch ($10). One night per week, the menu changes to Rudi's Sel de Mer, a French seafood brasserie, for a $49 cover charge.
From the regular menu, first courses include lobster bisque, shrimp cocktail, crab cakes and Caesar salad. Main courses include petit filet mignon, crab legs and lobster tails. Unlike the Dining Room, you'll be charged extra for ordering more than one entree (this is the policy throughout all the paid restaurants). You are encouraged to order multiple side dishes to share: asparagus, French fries and Brussels sprouts were among the options.
Desserts include a Grand Marnier chocolate volcano cake, Pinnacle Souffle and fresh berries with sabayon sauce (our favorite dessert from the entire cruise).
We found the menu to be hit or miss and spoke to several fellow passengers who felt the same way -- we had high expectations for the steaks, but they were cooked inconsistently (a nearby passenger sent his back twice while we were there), and we weren't sure the menu merited the highest upcharge compared to the other specialty restaurants onboard.
Rudi's Sel de Mer (at Pinnacle Grill, Deck 3); $49: One night per week, the Pinnacle Grill becomes the French brasserie Rudi's Sel de Mer. Its seafood menu is inspired by the cuisine of the French Riviera. Appetizer options include steak tartare, Rudi's Seafood Tower (an assembly of lump crab, shrimp, octopus and a brandy cocktail sauce), bouillabaisse, foie gras and escargot. Featured entrees are a broiled catch of the day, broiled Maine lobster, rack of lamb persillade and duck cassoulet. Desserts are profiteroles, crepes Suzette, petits fours and Rudi's Souffle.
Canaletto (Deck 9); $15: This restaurant is located in a cordoned-off section of the Lido Market and is open for dinner each night. The concept of this Italian restaurant revolves around sharing small plates -- the menu describes it using the word "spartire," which means sharing. The menu is split among small plates like antipasto, zuppa di pesce, Canaletto salad and beef carpaccio; pasta such as spaghetti with clams and shrimp; garlic shrimp ravioli; potato gnocchi; large plates of vitello al forno (slow-roasted prosciutto-wrapped veal tenderloin); braised chicken cacciatore and more.
Though walled off with glass partitions, the area gets more traffic than the other specialty restaurants during dinner from buffet-goers to the Lido, but the food earned rave reviews. Canaletto was among the most popular restaurants, and at times it was hard to get a reservation, so we recommend making one early on in your cruise.
Tamarind (Deck 11); $25: Among our favorite dining experiences onboard Nieuw Amsterdam, Tamarind has quite possibly the best view from the ship on Deck 11. The restaurant is simply decorated in an Asian motif with soft lamp lighting, velvet-covered chairs and quiet music. You'll start your meal with a cup of "welcoming tea" and a compressed towel that expands when wet to cleanse your hands.
The menu is inspired by the four elements: water, wood, fire and earth. Appetizers include Indonesian-style laksa, Thai chicken and rice soup, crispy vegetable spring rolls and trail of spices satay sampler. You can also order sushi or sashimi as an appetizer (highly recommended). Main courses include ginger and garlic wok-seared lobster, Vietnamese-style lamb with mint and Korean duck breast bulgogi with sticky rice cake.
Though the food was delicious -- particularly the sushi -- the whole experience of dining at Tamarind, including the very attentive service in a secluded part of the ship, was what made it special. If you have the inclination to go to just one specialty restaurant, we'd recommend this one.