Ever since our first cruise in 1997, we have been hooked on the moving resort also known as a cruise ship. Yes, these behemoths have it all - accommodations, activities, shows, usually great service and of course food. Despite being essentially glorified mass-catered food, there are still decent eats to be found. And not all cruise lines are made equal. Now if one had unlimited funds, there are cruise lines (ie. Crystal and Cunard) that do serve up some impressive cuisine. Yet, most people end up on one of the mainstream lines including Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean. I'm not going to throw Disney into the mix because it is quite expensive and generally caters to families. Also, I will exclude Costa because sinking ships are not good for business and eating... LOL...
Viv and I were on a pattern of a cruise every 2 years until we had kids. Stubbornly, we were able to do an Alaskan cruise aboard the Celebrity Mercury in 2007 with our then 2-year old son. Fast forward 5 years and we finally got to go cruising again. And yup, we headed to Alaska once again. This time aboard Holland America's Oosterdam. Our first choice was not the land of snow and ice, but since the kiddies and grandparents were all going as well, we needed something more simple and relaxed. We actually embarked in Seattle because the pricing for the kiddies was substantially cheaper. Instead of paying full fare, they were only charged $150.00 (+ port charges) as 3rd and 4th passengers in our stateroom.
As seasoned cruisers, we decided to head to the pier at 11:00am to avoid the rush and of course, take advantage of the welcome aboard buffet. The embarkation process was pretty straightforward, especially with the express boarding pass we printed out the internet. All of our information, including passport numbers and credit card were already entered into the system. So all we needed to do was print out our tags and attach to them to our luggage. When we arrived at the pier, we dropped off our tagged luggage and proceeded to getting our pictures taken for our onboard cruise cards (these would act at both identification and payment for any expenses incurred on the boat). We were given a boarding party number, which we waited to be called so we could board.This number also acted as our muster station assignment as well as the lifeboat.
Now onto the food! After we dropped off our carry-ons in our stateroom, we proceeded to the Lido deck for some grub. For the first 48 hours, the food was served by the staff and sanitizing lotion was offered to prevent the likelihood of infection. The buffet consisted of 6 stations including drinks (only some juices, tea, coffee and ice tea), salads, entrees (including sandwich bar and soups), desserts, Italian and Asian food. The first meal included salmon, pork, roast beef and fried chicken with sides consisting of roast potatoes, rice, yellow zucchini squash and fries. The soups were chicken barley and cream of broccoli. As expected, the meats were pretty much overcooked, but they didn’t taste bad. The fried chicken was moist except the batter was a bit thick and wet (due to sitting in a warming tray). We ended up trying a plate of their made-to-order pasta and it was pretty standard.
The penne was still somewhat chewy while the creamy meat sauce was tasty for what it was. I tried the Lasagna and it was meaty and cheesy (lacking in tomato sauce). As for the Asian station, we didn’t try the sushi because it was the “safe” variety (all cooked), but I did try almost everything else including the Beef Salad, Coconut Pork Red Curry and Pad Thai. As expected, the beef in the salad was not exactly authentic being more like strips of roast beef. The curry was actually not bad being very flavourful with nice kick. The pork was a touch dry, but not chewy. Being a ketchup-based Pad Thai with none of the usual ingredients, it was what it was. Onto the desserts, I tried the NY Cheesecake and it had no flavour and the texture was gummy. The Passion Fruit Cake was slightly better with some sweetness, yet it reminded us of cafeteria cake. Then again, what are we to expect from a buffet anyways? All-in-all, compared to the other cruises we’ve been on, this was an acceptable buffet meal.
That night, there was a BBQ which included burgers, hot dogs, salmon and ribs which we did not try. However, we did make reservations for their alternative restaurant – Pinnacle (which is a steakhouse). For a $25.00 surcharge per person, we were treated to a meal that would not be available in the main dining room. For some, the thought of “paying” for a meal on a cruise would be sacrilegious, but the cruise industry has shifted to specialty alternative restaurants. We have paid for meals onboard before on our previous cruises and there has never been a time where we thought it wasn’t worth it. This time around, we were treated to some pretty good eats. We began with an amuse bouche consisting of a Scallop which was done nicely. Everyone started with the Lobster Bisque which was served tableside with cognac and crème fraiche. The bisque was creamy and rich while not being salty. The essence of lobster was definitely there, yet could’ve been stronger. For my second appie, I had the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail which was very good. The shrimp were gigantic and prepared properly. There was a snap and a crunch as well as lots of shrimp flavour. Not sure why they put so much shredded lettuce beneath the cocktail sauce as it was hard to get to. My mom had the Crab Cakes and they were full of fluffy crab. The outer crust was crispy, yet could’ve been a touch more firm. There was a nice spice that accented the crab while not overpowering it. Viv had the Tomato Salad which looked impressive. To me, it was a tomato salad... My dad had the Ocean Platter consisting of smoked salmon and scallops. I’m not sure why they called it a platter because it wasn’t that big. No matter, it was well-prepared and he liked it.
For our mains, I went for the Porterhouse with peppercorn sauce with sides of creamed spinach, shoestring fries and asparagus (a bit small for a porterhouse though). I asked for my steak to be prepared medium rare and it was more or less so. The filet side of the porterhouse was definitely medium rare while the striploin portion was closer to medium. This is common since both sides of the steak cook differently. The meat was tender and the peppercorn sauce was smooth and peppery. Both my mom and Viv had the Land & Sea which included a 7 oz Filet Mignon and 2 huge prawns. The steaks were prepared a beautiful medium-rare and were super moist. Crunchy with a definite snap and a nice grilled shrimp essence, the jumbo shrimp were a treat. My dad ended up with the Black Cod (I know, in a steakhouse...), but it ended up to be very good. The fish was moist, flaky and fresh-tasting. It came with the same wonderful prawns. For dessert, there was no doubt in my mind I was going for the Vanilla Souffle. It was light and only semi-sweet. My mom had the Creme Brulee consisting of 3 ribbons of chocolate, vanilla and coffee. For some reason or another, the chocolate was runny and a bit weak while the other two were not bad and not overly sweet. Viv had the Volcano Cake which was a bit goupy and wet. It was very sweet and chocolaty. In the end, we felt the $25.00 surcharge was justified considering the level of execution and quality of ingredients. Sure, not everything was perfect, but nothing ever is. Fortunately the Oosterdam is considered a "smaller" cruise ship, so there were not a lot of alternative dining options. The rest of our dinners were in the main dining room, which ranged from good-to-average. That will be in the next post.