Holland America Line ms Oosterdam Review
Holland America's modest-sized Oosterdam promises an outsized experience.
From basic pool grill and well-stocked buffet to an elegant specialty restaurant, there was a decent array of dining choices on Oosterdam. Cuisine is one of Holland America’s focus areas, and we had a number of satisfying meals. The menu for Vista, the main dining room, changes nightly, and each night’s selection features an appetizer and entrée selection from Holland America’s “Culinary Council,” a quintet of noteworthy chefs. Set seating times for the main dining room were 5:30 and 7:45 p.m. but passengers could also opt for open seating, available between 5:15 and 9 p.m. The Vista Dining Room was open for breakfast daily, and for lunch on sea days, and was home to afternoon tea service.
We found good food at the main buffet (serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily) plus we had a couple satisfactory lunches at the Terrace Grill, the poolside buffet option. There are two surcharge restaurants, Pinnacle Grill and Canaletto, and especially for a voyage of a week or longer we advise trying one or both.
Vista Dining Room
Oosterdam’s main dining room is a two-story affair, located on decks 2 and 3. With a number of tables offering sea views, the room is elegantly appointed in red, with crisp white linens, china, fresh flowers and pepper grinders adorning each table. We were dining anytime (rather than during the two set seatings nightly); wait times for a table were less than 10 minutes for each dinner. One complaint we had was that tables for two were mostly snuggled against four-tops, meaning there was little privacy for couples.
We had several appealing dishes, including an excellent beef carpaccio served paper-thin with Reggiano-Parmigiano, perfectly punched with spicy mustard. Gold Rush soup was a delicious pureé of fennel and yellow tomato, with a decadent dollop of crème fraîche. Another starter, chilled rainbow trout tartare with salmon caviar and marinated shrimp, was intriguing. The fresh breads served by Holland America were varied, and it was hard to not stuff ourselves with the nutty dark loaf. Several vegetarian entrées were available nightly.
Entrées we liked included the halibut poached in olive oil, with dollops chorizo cream—a dish we had on another Holland America ship with less success. Lamb chops were nicely done, medium well, with good flavor and a smoked paprika-rosemary crust. The flank steak was excellent, tender, still pinkish (as we requested). At lunch one day we had a fish called basa—new to us—lightly cooked with lemon and leeks; we would have happily ordered this again. Desserts were generally good, especially the simple “purse” made of phyllo dough and plumped with dark chocolate.
But the Master Chefs International Dinner was a disappointment, an ambitious menu covering a lot of geographical turf. Brie in crispy phyllo is a cute idea, but it sat in a swamp of overly sweet apple-cranberry chutney, and the tiny pocket of cheese was served at room temperature. A salad of shiitake mushrooms was fine, but orecchiette with Italian sausage and escarole was awful—a dish lacking in any character. Instead, the pasta was coasted with a pasty cream with little cheese flavor while the “ribbons” of escarole were nearly invisible—it was a starch bomb. Another night, “gourmet greens” was merely a pile of romaine, a couple thick wedges of pear and pithy orange and a half a shard of pecan—what exactly made this “gourmet”?
We really enjoyed our unhurried breakfasts in Vista, with its subdued ambience. The varied menu started with simpler dishes like fruits, cold cuts, yogurts, cold and hot cereals, egg and cheese sandwiches, bagel and lox. But many other options were available, from Belgian waffles and pancakes (with banana or blueberry) to egg white frittata Italiana, and eggs Benedict (and Florentine, Royale). International options ranged from Scandinavian (smoked salmon, pickled herring, hard boiled egg, dark rye bread), Dutch breakfast (Uitsmijter, an open-face sandwich with thick white bread, ham, aged Gouda, and two eggs sunny side up), Japanese breakfast (miso soup, white rice, tamagoyaki and broiled salmon), to the classic full English breakfast (scrambled eggs, English banger sausage, bacon, baked beans, hash browns, grilled half tomato).
The Vista Dining Room was used for the daily afternoon tea, featuring desserts, finger sandwiches and (on one day) cupcakes. One afternoon was dedicated to an Indonesian tea service and included coffee from Sumatra and Celebes. Tasty rice dumplings were served, along with warm scones with clotted cream and preserves.
Oosterdam’s main buffet venue is a compact set-up, but it offers a pleasing variety of food options. It was usually quite crowded in the morning (which motivated us toward the calmer terrain of the Vista Dining Room), but if one came early or late it wasn’t too hard to find a table. Lunch was also busy, but dinner was always lightly attended. Two buffet lanes had a similar selection, with seating areas running along the windows on each side; tables were brightened with potted orchids.
For the first 48 hours of our cruise, no self-service was allowed—only crewmembers could put food onto our plates (to help minimize spread of contagious diseases).
For breakfast, the standard selection was well represented, including various pastries and breads (toasted to order) with lots of packaged preserves to choose from. The cold station included fresh sliced fruit and fruit salad, yogurts, smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers and sliced red onion, packaged cereals, muesli; hot oatmeal was also available. At the griddle we found blueberry pancakes, French toast and waffles topped with whipped cream and strawberries or cherries. Poached egg dishes included various eggs benedict—Florentine, Messina, Stanley crab, Scottish and Italian—along with traditional Omelet station, with assorted meats and veggies, or an omelet of the day.
At breakfast there was delicious freshly squeezed orange juice available, along with about eight other juices. A pair of self-service beverage stations flanked the buffet lines and availed coffee, tea, iced tea and lemonade. In addition to standard coffee, which we found a bit bland, there was a dark roast, which was much more flavorful (not great coffee, mind you, but definitely above-average cruise ship java). Other drinks could be ordered from the nearby Lido Bar.
For lunch, the salad bar included prepared salads such as Waldorf, brown rice salad with roast vegetables, citrus chicken salad, roast beef salad with green beans, etc. There were two soups daily, such as cheddar and crab, barley and mushroom, and cock-a-leekie. At the pasta bar we found a daily baked pasta such as lasagna or baked ziti along with various noodles and sauces, including pesto, pinenuts and sun-dried tomatoes, pomodoro and Alfredo; four different pizzas were available by the slice. In addition to a carving station (baked ham, rotisserie chicken, meatloaf), entrées available at lunch included Puerto Rican grilled pork, country-style buttermilk chicken, tempe and roast vegetable quiche, cilantro and mint-crusted tilapia, and Swiss steak. Asian items were a regular feature and included such fare as coconut curry, almond jasmine rice, chicken korma, Indonesian tofu and tempeh curry. We also enjoyed the sandwich bar, which had daily suggestions such as a Thai chicken wrap, grilled Ruben, Cobb salad wrap.
There was a dessert station offering scooped ice cream, and a daily fruit pie, cupcake, mousse, and cheese cake, along with cookies, brownies, fruit tarts, cream puffs, etc.; sugar-free desserts were also available daily.
At dinnertime, passenger focus shifted to some of the ship’s more full-scale offerings, but we found excellent casual choices available here, including some of what was offered at the Vista. Among the entrée choices were quail with apricot bread stuffing, brown butter gnocchi with roasted squash, bourbon-glazed beef with Portobello mushrooms, and tofu and vegetable korma. We had dinner here the last night of the cruise and found the lamb souvlaki surprisingly good—pink inside, with tzatziki sauce on side for dipping, and accompanied by a pleasing variety of vegetables.
The Lido also offered a themed late night snack spread on most evenings: American one night, Indonesian, the next, etc.
Found on all of the Holland America ships, Canaletto uses an underutilized corner of the Lido Restaurant each evening, transforming it into an Italian venue with a separate menu. Formerly a no-charge alternative restaurant, in 2012 a $10 surcharge was instituted for dining here and the menu was revised. This Canaletto meal on Oosterdam was our first experience with the surcharge and new menu. Our take: The food is slightly improved if still nothing special, the service and ambience is the same (no need to improve on real candles and a real red rose), and noise from the nearby Lido is unobtrusive. But the surcharge is modest enough that we think Canaletto is worth a try, as least for a change of pace, especially on a longer voyage.
As before, the meal starts with a basket of bread and bottles of olive oil and syrupy sweet Balsamic vinegar. The garlic bread was liberally soaked with garlic butter—it was scrumptious but we thought of what our doctor at home would say (oh well). An appealing plate of antipasti was offered for us to select from—roasted vegetables, tomatoes, mozzarella, olives, calamari and slices of meat. We chose the Italian herb sausage and cannellini beans as a starter, served astride a tarn of creamy polenta. For an entrée we opted for the chicken cacciatore “alla forno,” also served with the tasty polenta. We liked the dish as comfort food, but felt it could have used a bit more sparkle.
A supposed signature item at Canaletto that has previously missed us on every other occasion we have dined here is a plate of white cotton candy. It’s a simple, cute touch, and kind of made the actual dessert we ordered redundant. It was a lemoncello cream, a copious serving in a big goblet. While it tasted pretty much as one would expect, it lacked any of the alcoholic kick we would like from anything called lemoncello anything.
Pinnacle Grill and Pinnacle Bar
Holland America’s premium restaurant fleet-wide is the Pinnacle Grill. There is a $25 cover charge for dinner, but this is one specialty restaurant at sea that justifies the add-on. Although the focus is on chops—Sterling Silver premium beef—the menu also features broiled king salmon, lobster tail, cedar planked black cod and shrimp scampi, plus a selection of skewered dishes. Also, one night of each cruise the venue is transformed into “An Evening at Le Cirque in the Pinnacle Grill,” a tribute to the famed Le Cirque restaurant in New York, replete with Bvlgari china. On this evening guests will find a set menu with optional wine pairings, and reservation are required; there is a $39 supplement for this meal. On certain days, the Pinnacle Grill also hosts lunch, with a $10 surcharge. (You can read about our Le Cirque experience as well as lunch at the Pinnacle Grill aboard Holland America’s Veendam here.)
Editor's note: In January 2014 Holland America increased surcharges for Pinnacle Grill. Dinner is now $29 and Le Cirque dinners are now $49.
Our past meals at Pinnacle Grill have generally been very good, and our experience at the restaurant aboard Oosterdam did not disappoint. As one of the larger ships in the fleet, a little more space is given to the venue here, and the setting is elegant, with fine plate-ware and Riedel stemware. One caveat: the backlighted reproductions of paintings by Dutch masters are yellowed and faded—in a word, tacky.
The meal started with a basket of assorted breads, three flavored butters and three varieties of sea salt (pink, red and black). This was followed by an amuse-bousch—an oversized fried ravioli with mushroom filling. It’s perky but one is enough. We like the Caesar salad at Pinnacle because—prepared tableside—it is redolent with garlic, Worstershire, Tabasco and as much anchovy as we want. Delish! Seeking a lighter entrée, we were going to order the salmon but our waiter recommended we stick with the meat offerings, specifically recommending the filet mignon. We chose the 7-oz cut (a 10-oz is also available) and ordered it medium—it arrived cooked perfectly. The steak was liberally peppered, which we liked (those less fond of pepper might ask for them to hold back a bit). It was an excellent cut, with a trough of béarnaise sauce and a frill of shaved beet on the side. Our dessert, chocolate velvet soufflé, came in a bowl with a side of Grand Marnier-flavored cream—it was terrific.
The wine list at Pinnacle Grill was almost identical to the one offered at the Vista Dining Room, but with the addition of a few very high-end recommendations. Opposite the restaurant entrance was the Pinnacle Bar. It was a good place for perusing the wine list (we snagged a couple tastes of bottles available by the glass), and for people watching.
This poolside buffet and grill was open daily for lunch. Though the selection was limited it evolved into a fairly tasty Mexican spread after the second day, with beef empanadas, black beans, shrimp Vera Cruz, beef escabeche, rice and corn chips filling the untended buffet counter. This was decent stuff, spicier than we would have expected, with various toppings offered—sour cream, cheese, tomatoes, jalapenos and onions; our only disappointment was that the guacamole tasted watered down.
The actual grill was nearby, where cheeseburgers, hot dogs and brockwurst dogs—served with French fries—were available.
Holland America offers better-than-average room service options, involving three separate menus. Breakfast could be ordered by choosing a delivery time between 6 and 10 a.m., using a door tag hung on the cabin door by 2 a.m. the night before. The selection included cold and hot choices: juice, fruit, yogurt, assorted breads and toast with preserves, packaged cold cereals, eggs any style (eggbeaters available), omelets, and ham, sausage or bacon. An expanded menu was also available from 12 noon to 10 p.m. and featured soups, salads, sandwiches, and a couple entrées (seared salmon and penne primavera). Finally, a 24-hour menu encompassed such basic fare as smoked salmon, mixed green salad, club sandwich, hamburger, omelet, cheese plate, fruit plate and a few desserts.
We ordered breakfast to be delivered between 8:30 and 9 a.m. The knock on the door came at 8:39. Eggs over easy, bacon and diced sautéed potatoes were all delivered hot; it helped that the ceramic plate sat atop a hot metal plate. Along with two glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice and hot coffee with milk, the meal was just what we ordered, and it was delivered on a tray with fresh flowers, salt and pepper shakers. A small sign on the tray asked us to not leave the tray outside the cabin door “for everyone’s safety.”
When we placed our lunch order by phone another day, we were told the order would be delivered in 20 to 25 minutes—it arrived in 19 minutes. The French onion soup was smartly packaged with a double layer of plastic wrap—one on the soup, another for the toast with melted Gruyère cheese on top. The soup was decent, with lots of onions in a meat broth that was not overly salty. But the second item—a grilled tuna melt—was neither grilled nor melted. It was a plain tuna salad on two pieces of bread with a slice of American cheese; there was iceberg lettuce, sliced onion, tomato and pickle on the side, along with potato chips. We wanted a grilled tuna melt.
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