“Would you like a second dessert?” I look up at the waiter and actually think about it. I’ve just completed a delicious three-course lunch of Scallops Crème Brûlée followed by an Alaskan Halibut Fillet Sandwich with Cucumber Potato Salad, and finished with the Fresh Strawberries with Raspberry Sorbet and Sugar Dough Gaufrette in MS Oosterdam’s top restaurant, Pinnacle Grill and yet I’m seriously considering his request. Would I like a second dessert? Yes, this is what cruising does to you.
There’s something about stepping on board a cruise ship that makes normal eating – and drinking – patterns just fly out the stateroom window. Sure, there are those who nibble on salads and actually go to the gym, but for the rest of us it’s a case of “I’m on holiday, I should enjoy my food” to the power of a curvy 10.
Second or third helpings at breakfast followed by a three-course lunch, an afternoon tea or ice cream (or both) and then a four-course dinner with a cheese chaser are perfectly acceptable. In fact, it feels like it would be a waste not to take advantage of such a bounty of food. Especially when so many of your fellow cruisers (or should that be enablers?) are doing the same.
There was much to love about my first Holland America Line cruise. I have wonderful memories of exploring the South Pacific on MS Oosterdam; of seeing Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia for the first time. I was cruising with my mother (another first for us) and we both loved the beautiful islands and people, wonderful snorkeling with colourful fish, and laughing our way through piano sing-alongs, trivia competitions and some rather memorable karaoke. But for this piece I’m going to concentrate on one thing we all talked about throughout the trip. What we ate.
Holland America’s Pinnacle Grill Restaurant
While most of the food on board a Holland America cruise is part of the package, and you can easily eat your way around the world without putting an extra dollar on your cruise card for a meal, there are a couple of exceptions. And the Pinnacle Grill in particular is worth making an exception for.
All 15 of Holland America’s premium fleet ships have a Pinnacle Grill of their own, which is good news to my ears because I’ll be heading making a bee line for them when I’m onboard a HAL cruise anywhere in the world.
The restaurant not only looks beautiful, with gorgeous art nouveau silver chairs, Bvlgari china, Riedel stemware and Frette linens, the food was divine.
All of the Pinnacle Grills follow HAL Master Chef Rudi Sodamin’s menu, and offer a range of dishes including seafood to poultry and vegetarian options, but for the red meat eaters out there you can’t go past one of the incredible steaks from Sterling Silver beef.
When I realized the surcharge for the Pinnacle Grill’s three-course lunch was $10 and dinner was $25, I vowed to return. And that I did. For those who like to enjoy a drink with their meal, alcoholic beverages are extra, and they have a wide range of wines to choose from along with champagnes, ports and desert wines.
Once a cruise Rudi Sodamin joins forces with Le Cirque’s Executive Chef Craig Hopson to recreate Le Cirque on the seas.The Le Cirque meal is $39 (bargain!) and you can book before you get onboard to make sure you get a space. Sadly I missed out on doing this one, which means I’ll simply have to get back on a HAL cruise soon and correct that oversight.
With a menu designed around the Italian word Spartire, this restaurant is all about sharing, and is the only other restaurant on MS Oosterdam with a surcharge. Here both lunch and dinner can be had by popping $10 on the cruise card.
While the Bvlgari dishes and premium stemware continues in Canaletto, it doesn’t share Pinnacle Grill’s feeling of decadence. Perhaps that’s because it’s found in a corner of the Lido Dining’s buffet area.
The high backed seats do create a barrier from the rest or the room, and you have great service and quite tasty dishes so this is a nice alternative if you’re in the mood for a change; but personally I’d prefer to keep going back to Pinnacle Grill when I wanted a special treat. Especially when there are still so many dishes on their menu I’ve yet to try.
Vista Dining Room on MS Oosterdam
Now we get to the dining room where you don’t pay anything extra for your food or softer drinks.
At first I thought the two-tiered Vista Dining Room with its sea views was just a dinner option. A five course dinner option mind you. But then I realized it was open for lunch, and breakfast, and they also serve a very tempting high tea with delicious sandwiches and really tasty little cakes.
Every dinner offered a number of the Vista’s most popular meals, including a “perfectly grilled breast of chicken” which was just as described, and featured dishes including a surf and turf with a rather large and tasty lobster tail adorning the plate.
The cold soups were also incredible. I’ve never been much of a one for them in the past but am now hoping my mother comes through on her promise of learning how to make them before my next trip home (yes, yes, I will try to make them too).
Lido Deck Buffet Food
When you’re more in the mood to grab something casual rather than sit down in a restaurant, the Lido Deck buffet is the way to go.
Whether you’re in the mood for Italian, Asian, a roast beast from the carvery, a sandwich or prefer to put your own salad together you’ll find something here. They also have an omelette station if that’s the way you like to start your day.
Personally I had varied results at the buffet, and while I liked some dishes others were not what I was expecting. But while I preferred eating at the other restaurants, the Lido certainly has its fans so may be just the thing for you.
In Room Dining on Holland America Cruises
Breakfast in bed in the middle of the South Pacific is a true treat, and one that you don’t pay any extra for with free In Room Dining. You can select from a list of breakfast items and put your marked card out the night before as you would in a hotel, or go for one of the 24 hour In Room Dining menu options if you wake up and decide you’d rather not face the world just yet.
And as there are no tea or coffee making facilities in the staterooms it’s also a great way to get a caffeine kick while you’re still in your pyjamas.
The free room service isn’t just restricted to breakfast. There are lunch and dinner options too.
I enjoyed the omelette and club sandwich so much that I ended up having them both in my cabin twice, and didn’t get around the rest of In Room Dining menu (see, there’s another thing I’ll have to go back and keep on trying).
Holland America Line’s Culinary Arts Centre
As you can probably tell by now, the Holland America Line takes a lot of pride in its food. Not only do they have lots of places to eat around the ship, they also have a Culinary Arts Centre on board. Here you can watch cooking demonstrations and sample dishes from guest chefs, learn about regional cuisine from the area you’re cruising through, or take part in a hands on cooking class.
As our South Pacific cruise was on its way back to Australia our cooking class involved some Aussie dishes, including “Shrimp on the Barbie” (even though “We call them prawns, not shrimp” as my mother pointed out), an Aussie Meat Pie with vegemite in the meat mix, and a Sherry Trifle.
It may not be what this Aussie would usually cook up, but that’s just part of the fun of a cooking class. Mum and I enjoyed joining fellow cruisers in whipping up a few dishes under the watchful eye of one of the chefs.
The class cost $29, which included a sit down lunch of the dishes we’d just learned to make along with some wine in the Pinnacle Grill.
And speaking of Aussies, I’ll admit I was surprised on our galley tour of MS Oosterdam to discover we eat more than Americans on a cruise. Not quite sure we should be proud of that one, but I guess it’s good to be number one. Or maybe not in this case!
With so many wonderful dishes to choose from it’s little wonder some of us come off a cruise a little fuller figured than we started out. One regular cruiser my mother chatted to confessed she brings her own scales on board. She was in the middle of a 30 day cruise and said she weighed herself every couple of days to see if she needed to pull back a bit.
The thought of weighing myself on a cruise had about as much appeal to me as bathing in holy water would to a vampire. When I saw a set of scales in the spa’s changing rooms before a massage I think I may have drawn back and hissed.
Then on the second last day of the cruise I found myself drawn back. I wondered just how bad things could be and decided I’d have a little peek after all. But when I stepped on the scales something strange happened. It hit 2kg above my normal weight. Then one under! Then four above, then back to normal.
As the scales oscillated wildly I thanked them for doing me a favour. I didn’t really need to know, or to ruin some of my last meals on board, and with that I stepped off and made my way to join the rest of the gang for lunch. Just the three courses this time.
Amanda Woods cruised the South Pacific as a guest of Holland America Line. As usual all opinions are her own.
Then there’s my guide to Sea Days on the biggest cruise ship to ever be based in Australia, Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas.