One of the best parts of any cruise is the food. On our seven night cruise, we tried several of the dining options aboard Holland America's MS Amsterdam.
Savvy cruisers know to book specialty restaurants in advance of boarding the ship. Where as the main dining room and casual buffets can serve all of the passengers, the specialty restaurants are small, providing an intimate dining experience. Booking in advance can guarantee that you won't miss out on a special experience.
Since we booked just a few days prior to sailing, we were blocked from making advance reservations. Savvy cruisers also know, that there are certain times that you might be able to snag a last minute reservation at a specialty restaurant. Here are a few tips for those last minute reservations -
1. Dine at a specialty restaurant on formal night. The main dining room usually puts on the glitz during formal night with fancier entree options and the servers putting on a show. Those who decide to dress up want to show off their attire. It's generally the busiest days for the main dining room.
2. Pick an off-time to dine. This is conventional wisdom for any restaurant, land or sea. While it might be difficult to grab a reservation at 6:30pm, you could get one if you're willing to eat early or late.
3. Dining while in port. If you're not getting off the ship, this may be the easiest option for dining in a specialty restaurant. However, be aware that some restaurants may not be open while in port. Double check in advance.
4. Dine in the specialty restaurant on the first night of the cruise. Much like formal night, people often want to dine in the main dining room on the first night. If they're sitting at a table with strangers, they usually want to meet these potential new friends. The first night is a great time to sort out any dining room issues and to get to know your waitstaff, who often serve you for the duration of the cruise. If you're not fussed by this, go for the specialty restaurant.
We utilized the fourth option and we were able to get a reservation at Pinnacle Grill for the first night of our cruise. Pinnacle Grill is the steakhouse option on the MS Amsterdam and it was fabulous. Dan ordered steak and lobster, while I went with crab legs. This was my favorite meal of the trip. One of our dessert choices was Baked Alaska: of course!
On formal night, we skipped the main dining room and went to the Italian restaurant, Canaletto. The meal was very good, but not spectacular like Pinnacle Grill. If we had been on a longer cruise, we definitely would have dined at Pinnacle Grill twice. At Canaletto we ordered an antipasto starter and ate lasagna for our main. I enjoyed the tiramisu for dessert. The best part of Canaletto was the ocean view.
I love traditional afternoon tea and I was thrilled to see it offered on our cruise. Afternoon tea was held in the main dining room and didn't require a reservation. It also didn't have an additional fee, like the specialty restaurants do.
The tea was themed to Indonesia, paying tribute to the former Dutch colony. The cakes, some with coconut and some deep-fried, were colorful, like Easter eggs. I enjoyed the treats, but this was a busy "get in and get out" type of experience. It was not what I imagine when I think of having a traditional afternoon tea. Not relaxing. It was awesome that it was not an upsell experience, but I would have paid a fee for a proper afternoon tea. By the enormous volume of cruisers that showed up, they totally could have made it a fancy, specialty experience for a profit.
We had dinner in the main dining room once. It was okay. This was our first time cruising with Holland America, but in general, with other cruise lines, I've found a decline in the quality of both food and service in the main dining room. Since we booked late, we were not able to secure a specific table or dining time, so it was awkward just showing up. We were seated at a table with a young couple on their honeymoon, who were nearly done eating when we arrived. It was uncomfortable for all, as we made small talk and ate our courses at different times. Most nights, we went to the casual buffet instead, which was better. It's just nice to choose our own things and eat when we desired.
Dive-In, the poolside grill was one of the best finds. I'm not sure what the ingredients are, but the special "Dive-In Sauce" that they put on the burgers in addictive! It's now a year later and I'm still craving it. Dive-In has odd hours, but it's worth the effort.
We visited four ports and with each stop, we dined off-ship. When you visit amazing places like Alaska, you definitely want to try the local cuisine. More on those meals, during my individual port reviews.