Onboard Holland America’s Noordam in Alaska

Noordam's elegant Vista dining room is notable for its fine food and service.
Noordam’s elegant Vista dining room is notable for its fine food and service.

ABOARD NOORDAM-We’re cruising today en route to Vancouver on the final leg of our 7-day Alaska voyage – so it’s time to wrap up my blog with some closing comments on our first-ever Holland America cruise.

Yesterday’s call at Ketchikan – where it was raining as per usual – found us traveling by bus for more than 20 miles to remote George Inlet Lodge, a one-time dormitory for a defunct crab cannery that’s been renovated to serve as a seasonal base for a cleverly conceived cruise ship excursion. After clambering down a 79-step wooden staircase to the waterfront lodge, we were invited aboard Patricia, a chubby 36-foot purpose-built tour boat for a cruise to a nearby crab estuary – a shallow muddy-bottomed bay favored by Dungeness crabs.

Our ebullient 20-something guide Austie then recruited a teenage guest to assist in pulling up a crab pot loaded with the spiny creatures, examples of which were passed around for pictures while Austie told us more than we ever wanted to know about the life cycle of a Dungeness crab. We’d joined the “Wilderness Cruise & Crab Feast” excursion primarily for the feast – which finally ensued in the lodge’s cavernous dining room. The crab – fresh, sweet, tasty and plentiful – more than made up for the preliminaries and long bus rides.

While I’m on the subject of food, I really must elaborate a bit on the Noordam dining experience – which has been the absolute highlight of this voyage. I’ll go further to say that based on overall ambiance, food and service Noordam gets my Best of Class award in this category.

The Vista dining room – a huge two-level layout seating more than 2,000 and that serves as the ship’s main dining area – impressed us greatly with its elegance and comfort, never seeming as big and busy as it always was. Remarkably well-trained and attentive, Vista’s servers called us by name and even remembered our drink preferences from our first meal onward. The menu here is innovative; the wine list goes on forever; the food is excellent, and the service cheerful and efficient…all way more so than one would expect from a restaurant of this size.

Pinnacle Grill is one of Noordam's two specialty restaurants.  It features  Pacific Northwest cuisine in an intimate seeting.
Pinnacle Grill is one of Noordam’s two specialty restaurants. It features Pacific Northwest cuisine in an intimate seeting.

Our primo dining experience, however, came night before last in the Pinnacle Grill. Once weekly during every voyage the Pinnacle serves a special “Le Cirque” dinner in honor of Manhattan’s most charismatic restaurateur Sirio Maccioni – proprietor extraordinaire since 1974 of New York City’s most favored restaurant – Le Cirque. We began our meal with poached lobster salad, followed by garden pea soup. Mel chose a rack of Colorado lamb for her main course and I went for a slab of chateaubriand. For dessert we traded spoonsful of crème brulee and chocolate soufflé. Extraordinary doesn’t go far enough to characterize this dining experience – one we think is well worth its $58 surcharge.
Except for breakfast on some mornings and quick snacks, we avoided the Lido – Noordam’s cafeteria-style casual eatery. It’s just too crowded and noisy for us. Room service was fast and efficient for breakfast (pre-ordered the night before), but it was disappointing one evening when we ordered soup, salad and burgers. The process took an hour and a half and our soup and burgers were stone cold on arrival.

The only other criticism we have involves the line’s “hard-sell” tactics, as reflected in the daily barrage of printed material delivered to our cabin promoting everything from shopping specials to spa treatments to future cruise opportunities. The marketing assault spills over into public areas where crew members hawk drinks, books, photos, DVDs, and even “transportation packs” of Alaska beer. In our opinion, this kind of overly aggressive marketing just doesn’t fit the Holland America image.

But hey, these are minor beefs. Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our Alaska voyage on Noordam and leave it wishing for more.

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