When it comes to cruise dining, I consider myself a bit of an authority. A “Professor of Cruising” with a concentration in “Eating” if you will. Mind you, I have no formal degree to display, but as evidence of my credentials, I’m currently at the midway point of a 16-night cruise to New Zealand on the Noordam and I’m already clocking in 6 pounds heavier than when I boarded.
And while gaining weight on a cruise is easier than jumping over a toothpick (I bring you that analogy after tripping over one earlier today after a particularly hearty lunch), I offer up these Holland America dining tips and tricks to maximize your enjoyment and help you reach that 10-15 pound goal even faster (because who doesn’t want to gain weight on a cruise – isn’t that the whole point?).
Many of these “secrets” will only be surprising to new HAL cruisers. However, my old dogs might learn a new trick or two…too. And please feel free to share anything I missed to the comments. I learn as much from my readers as I share, which is one of the reasons I continue to enjoy writing this blog. So here are my…
25 Holland America Dining Secrets
1. Unlike other lines, the buffet on Holland America is NOT self-serve and full drink service is offered.
While I actually toggle back and forth between loving and hating this, it’s something that, pre-Covid, was unique to Holland America (it’s like they saw Covid coming years ago and decided to be ready).
I’m something like a pig at a trough at a buffet. If I didn’t fear a lifetime ban, I’d stick my whole face in a vat of mac and cheese, coming up only for air and dessert. Maybe that’s what prompted Holland America to have crew serve most items at the buffet. And while I acknowledge the wisdom in trying to limit the spread of germs and cut down on food waste, sometimes this leads to longer waits and smaller portions than I’ve come to expect at a buffet: “another six scoops please, so I don’t have to wait in this line again for seconds and thirds and….”
This will also cause anxiety to those among us (me) who like a 3 inch perimeter of clean plate between each food item. It’s not uncommon for crew serving at the buffet to slap some fruit salad right on top of some pasta with some Jello thrown in there just to insure it topples all over you before you can abandon it on an empty table to start over with clearer instructions, “think of my food items like a couple of buddies sharing a hotel room who forgot to ask for separate beds…do whatever it takes to ensure nothing touches! Heck, place a pillow between my mashed potatoes and mac ‘n cheese if necessary!”
On a wholly positive note, I love the drink service in the buffets on Holland. Instead of having to get your own drinks – leading to extra trips, and an unintended wet t-shirt contest when two guests wielding water and lemonade collide – servers will come around to your table and offer you a variety of complimentary beverages (or bar service) and will refill your glass as necessary.
2. Many items (including all desserts) available on the main dining room dinner menu will also be available at the buffet.
Unlike on some other lines, on Holland America many of the dinner items available each night in the main dining room will also be available on the buffet. They will be plated differently, but will otherwise be identical. This is great for several reasons. First, if you get back late from an excursion, don’t want to miss a show that conflicts with your assigned dining time, or are too tired for a long meal, you can hit the buffet without worrying about missing an item that sounded good on the MDR menu. Second, if you aren’t hungry enough for dessert after your appetizer and entree courses in the MDR, you can hit the buffet later for the exact same high quality desserts. And finally, if you love something in the main dining room, but are too embarrassed to order three more portions, you can head up to the buffet and casually pretend like it’s your first dinner, “oh, I suppose I’ll try nine slices of the prime rib. I haven’t eaten all day!” For comparison purposes, here’s a main dining room menu and a buffet menu from the same night on my current HAL cruise:
3. Napkin wrapped cutlery will be pre-placed on tables at the buffet.
You don’t need to collect it yourself while trying to balance a drink and four plates of dessert!
4. If the buffet is crowded, additional dining tables are available near the main lido and aft pools.
5. Waffle cones are available at the dessert station (and they’re complimentary!)
6. In addition to chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, there is a hard ice cream flavor of the day. There is also a rotating soft serve flavor in addition to chocolate and vanilla (strawberry, pineapple, etc)
Just ask at the dessert stations in the buffet. Some of the flavors offered on our sailing have included blackberry, mango, toffee crunch, mint chocolate chip, rocky road, and cookie dough. The ice cream on HAL is of high quality and there are also a bunch of sauces and toppings to choose from!
7. Bread pudding is available from behind the counter at the buffet dessert station.
It’s a Holland America specialty and a must try! Just be sure to pick out the giant raisins first (unless you like them, in which case we can’t be friends).
8. Vegan sushi and other vegan and gluten-free items (not displayed or listed on the menu) are available at the buffet.
9. Made-to-order crepes are offered at the buffet in the evening (and for breakfast on most ships).
10. On most ships a taco/nacho bar is set up near the main Lido pool at lunch.
And it’s really, really good! Both soft flour tortillas (usually covered by a napkin – be sure to look around if you don’t see them right away) and hard shells are available in addition to homemade chips.
11. Soy and almond milk are available as non-dairy options for coffee beverages, cereal, or for any other purpose.
You can find these options at all dining rooms, the coffee shop, and the buffet (just ask at the buffet).
12. Most room service items are still free on Holland America.
Here’s the menu:
13. As long as the dining room is open, you can order any item from the main dining room menu through room service at no extra charge.
Just pull up the dining room menu on the Navigator App and call room service to place your order.
14. A breakfast card is available to place a room service order the night before.
Just hang it on your door by 2am.
15. You can avoid the line at Dive-In burgers by ordering on the Navitagor app.
Just go to “Experiences” then “Order Now.” It will tell you on the app when your order is ready. So easy a retired college professor can do it! And convenient too!
16. Beyond Meat vegan burger patties or a vegetarian brown rice patty can be substituted for any burger at Dive-In and a Beyond Meat brat can be substituted for any hog dog.
Here’s the Dive-In Menu:
17. You can ask for a gluten free bun for burgers or hot dogs at Dive-In (you can also ask for “no bun”). Gluten free bread and pasta is also available at the buffet and in the dining rooms.
18. There are special menus available for those with dietary restrictions in the main dining room.
Stop by the dining room after you board to see them and inquire about how to order (on some sailings I’ve had to order off the vegan menu in advance). Here’s the vegan/vegetarian menu:
Holland America Vegan Menu
19. A short “express” lunch menu is sometimes served in the main dining room on port days, while a full menu is served on sea days.
Sea Day Lunch Menu
20. There are two breakfast specials offered in the main dining room each day.
Be sure to ask – servers usually forget to mention them. Today one of the specials was cinnamon roll french toast!
21. Make a reservation for specialty restaurants early – prime times book up fast.
Fact: You’ll find more walkers than strollers on Holland America. Which is to say that the crowd trends older and there’s more demand for early dining times. So if you wish to dine before 7:00pm, make reservations for specialty restaurants early (via the website or app prior to embarkation or by calling or visiting the reservations desk as soon as you board).
22. Complimentary bags of popcorn are served during onboard movies.
Unlike on certain lines, *cough* CARNIVAL, movie popcorn is free on Holland America. Remember to bring a beverage with you if you plan to partake!
23. Spiked coffee is available at the coffee shop.
My favorite drink to order at the coffee shop is a decaf soy mocha with a double shot of amaretto. Baileys is another popular addition. And the best part? All specialty coffees (spiked or not) are included in the beverage packages (I wish that were the case on NCL, another line I sail on frequently).
24. The biscotti and pastries at the coffee shop are free (and delicious)!
Grab a chocolate donut to go with that mocha and don’t even think about hitting the gym later!
Remember, cruise ship calories don’t count! There’s even a shirt that says so:
25. Dining rooms feature beautiful Delft china.
I love the signature blue and white Delft china on Holland America almost as much as the food served on it. No I don’t. Still though, it’s beautiful and available for purchase onboard.
BONUS TIP! Special menus will be available at the holidays.
If you’re lucky enough to be cruising over any major holidays (Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years), you’ll be treated to special dining room menus and items at the buffet. You can see HAL’s special Christmas Eve menu HERE and the Christmas brunch and dinner menus HERE.
BONUS TIP! Bar snacks are available.
Bar snacks, usually peanuts, are available at most bars. Just ask!
And with that…
Homework (10 points): Share to the comments any additional Holland America dining secrets I missed. Let’s learn from each other! In the meantime, see you at the buffet (for a second dinner after my first one at the MDR, of course)!
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