Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eating and Drinking at Sea

As I mentioned on Monday, we've just returned from a two week trip to Alaska. The first week of the trip was spent on a Holland America Line cruise ship.
This was our first time on a cruise and we really weren't sure what to expect. We chose Holland America because we had heard they were one of the best for cruising Alaska with naturalist onboard and had the best food. Since we've never been on another ship we can't really compare, but I can say that we truly enjoyed the cruise and thought most of the food was wonderful.

You always hear about the the amount of food available to eat on a cruise and how it is non-stop (apparently an average person gains 9 pounds per week on a ship). Here's what a typical days worth of eating would include; breakfast buffet or dining room breakfast, coffee and pastries in the cafe, lunch buffet or dining room lunch plus usually some type of lunch buffet by the pool, afternoon taco bar, tea with sandwich and pastries at 3:00, hot appetizers at 6:00, dinner buffet or four-course dinner in the dining room or in one of two other restaurants,
Baked Alaska
(Baked Alaska table side service at the Pinnacle Grill)
late night snack buffet at 11:00pm plus 24-hour cabin service. Oh, and I forgot the grill at the pool that served burgers and pizza. The buffet was huge with lots of choices, but we preferred eating in the dining room to standing in line, carrying your own plate and searching for a table, plus we were a lot less likely to get seconds (though the waiters often offered a second entrée at dinner!).
To tell you the true, I took almost no pictures of food on the ship, though it was beautifully presented. I did get a tour of the ship's kitchen which makes about 8,000 meals a day! It was spotless and calm during the tour, but I would imagine it's a little different during meal times. So, the rest of the pictures in this post will be of that.
Zaandam Kitchen Zaandam Kitchen
It seems the popular thing to do when cruising these days is "Anytime Dining" where you don't have a specific table or time you have to eat dinner in the dining room. You either make a reservation or just show up and get the first table available (you could always eat at the buffet too). We chose instead to have a set dining time and table for dinner. Our dining time choices were 5:45 or 8:00. We went with 8:00 which seemed a little late some nights, but 5:45 was just too early (plus we always played Pub Trivia at 6:00). The nice thing about this was we always had the same two waiters and wine steward. They got to know us and our preferences which made for really special service. We would order a bottle of wine one night and whatever we didn't finish was on our table the next when we arrived. You really felt warmly welcome.
Zaandam Kitchen Zaandam Kitchen
It's hard to tell you exactly what the food was like because it was so varied. The buffet always had a salad station, sandwich station, Asian station, sushi and hot entrées plus a dessert buffet. In the dining room breakfast selections were the same everyday. On top of your basic American breakfasts they also served a Japanese breakfast, English Breakfast, Scandinavian and a Dutch breakfast. Matt and I loved the Dutch breakfast which was a thick bread topped with cheese, ham and an egg. Lunch and dinner menus changed every day with soups, salad, entrées and dessert. Dinner also included an appetizer course. You could order as many things as you wanted in whatever order you wanted (one night Matt's mom had a soup course for dessert, it was a chilled fruit soup). Formal nights offered a slightly higher end meal with choices like escargot and surf and turf with lobster. Of course, since we were in Alaska there was always lots of good seafood on the menu, especially salmon. There were always a couple vegetarian options as well as a full vegetarian menu if desired. We found everything to be almost always perfectly cooked with lots of very interesting combinations.
Vegetarian Menu for the Dining Room Making sweets in the Zaandam Kitchen
One night we ate dinner in the higher end restaurant on the boat, The Pinnacle Grill. While all the rest of the food on the ship was free, dinner here required an additional payment of $25 a person. Eating at The Grill was like eating in a very high end steak place. Service was exceptional with lots of table side service.
Look Book Me & the chef
As I mentioned above there were often buffets around the pool, mainly at lunch time. During our cruise there was a barbecue, a salmon and crab cook, an Indonesian rijsttafel and an Indian buffet. I have to say this was one of the few places we were disappointed. We were excited about the rijsttafel and sharing it with our parents after having one in Amsterdam, but we took one look at it and decided to eat elsewhere. Both it and the Indian buffet had few choices and look quite unappetizing. The salmon and crab cook was good, but they could not keep up with the demand for the crab legs and many people walked away without. There was also a grand dessert buffet around the pool one night was the boat was rocking and rolling that night and I suffered my one bout of seasickness.
IMG_0294 Departure bubbly
All the food on the boat was free, but drinking will cost you. Water, tea and coffee are the only free beverages. The prices were pretty reasonable though and the choices were plentiful. I can be a bit picky when it comes to wine and the choices by the bottle were really good plus I even liked the house wine by the glass. Matt and I figured we spent about $35 a day for the two of us. This included espresso drinks at the cafe, sodas, drinks at happy hour and wine at dinner (we drank a lot more on the ship than we normally would, that is for sure!).
Alaskan Beer Tasting
One cool thing about the Holland cruises is they offer cooking and beverage classes everyday as well a food and drink trivia contests. The boat even has a culinary arts center on board for teaching. The only one we attended was the Alaska Beer Tasting. It was certainly popular with a whole bar full of people trying four types of the local beer. I'll have more about Alaska microbrews in another post.

Finally, just a word about the food and beverage servers on the ship. Most of Holland America's come from Indonesia or the Philippines. You could not have asked for a friendlier, hard working group of people. The people who served us daily made a point to know all our names, from our dinner waiters to the server in the lounge where we typically hung out. These were the people who really made out cruise special.

If you are not reading this post in a feed reader or at OR at then the site you are reading is illegally publishing copyrighted material. Contact me at katbaro AT yahoo DOT COM. All recipes, text and photographs in this post are the original creations & property of the author unless otherwise noted.
© 2007-2011 Kathy Lewinski


Stacy and Brian's Adventures in Life said...

Thanks Kat for sharing. I think you may have convinced me to look into a cruise out of Seattle next summer.

Sippity Sup said...

Welcome home. I am glad you took your "good appetite" on the ship with you! GREG

A Hunter's Wife said...

Loved hearing about your cruise! Alaska is high on our list for future trips!

PG said...

Sounds like a good experience. I've never been on a cruise, so this was a good summary of what the food experience is like. Why were your dining time choices so early/late? How does someone get a 6:30 or 7:00 dining time?

kat said...

Psychgrad - For reserved dining you had two choices 5:45 or 8:00. If you did anytime dining you could make a reservation each day for the time of your choice or just show up at the dining room & wait for a table. We chose reserved in order to have the same servers every day.

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