What are Main Dining Meals like on Holland America Cruises – Is It True What You Hear About HAL?

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I really was surprised by the reactions of so many when I told them I was going on a Holland America cruise. Some were like: “you guys are not THAT old to cruise HAL” or “way too slow for me” or about every other old person type joke you can come up with.

But the one thing I had been told by almost everyone before booking as well as once they learned about our trip was: “oh I hear the food is really good on HAL”. So was it that good? It really was and I was so impressed I would consider the meals comparable to some specialty dining on other cruise lines (yeah it was that good overall). Let’s look at a bunch of photos and see.

a plate with a glass of shrimp and a leaf on it

a plate of food on a white plate

Embarkation day was a joy as I already talked about and main dining was open for lunch. We only had a few days to enjoy this type of sit-down lunch as only sea days offered this and we had many ports of call on this voyage. The above shrimp cocktail was good and the aioli was refreshing but maybe not as good as a traditional cocktail sauce. The other item I ordered I simply can not remember what it was but was very good and I ate every bite (other than the hot pepper).

a plate of food with a basket of fries

While we are on lunch I will cover one of my only disappointments of the main dining offers. They had a fish sandwich and we were, at this point of the 11 day voyage, wanted to limit a bit how much we were eating so we ordered it with no bun and it came as requested after a LONG wait. The only problem was the fish was nearly raw and it was at this point almost 1PM and we had dinner at a specialty at 5PM so we just left it as-is.

a plate of food on a table

On to breakfast. This really was the weakest part of our cruise. The first few days the service was on the slow side and the food was just OK. We quickly found the house potatoes were a better choice than hash browns that were on the oily side. Things did improve however throughout the sailing.

a plate of food on a plate

Let me run down some of the appetizers. Some were simply remarkable and most of the rest were very good or good. I will also say that one thing we were both so impressed with HAL was the portion size of everything that is enough to enjoy but not so much that you had no room for dessert or needed a wheelchair to get moving afterward that can be the case on other lines. The above, Thai Beef, was my favorite that was only offered once in main dining but also on the menu at a specialty (more about that later).

a plate of food on a table

food on a plate

Next up we have two more appetizers. The first I should have ordered two, that is, the crab cake. It was very impressive. The next coconut crusted meatballs was a 50-50 split. My wife loved them but I thought they were good but a bit too bread forward.

a plate of meat with sauce

The next one I just had to try because I have never ever had beef carpaccio before. I found it somewhat boring but maybe that was just me as I like my steaks medium to medium plus but even so the flavor was just meh. But presentation was impressive.

a plate of food on a table

We did have a few salads along the way and my wife very much enjoyed the Coconut Crusted Shrimp Salad Chive Dressing. Again, the portion size was just perfect – not too much and not too little. Now to main courses first with some beef.

a plate of food on a table

a plate of food on a table

a plate of food on a table

Roasted Spice Crusted Prime Rib with Wild Mushrooms? Yes please! Perfectly cooked and tender and I would have ordered it again had it been presented. New York Strip Loin with Shrimp? You bet and again I would have had the surf and turf again and again. Red Wine Braised Brisket? Sure and thank you may I have more!

Again just so impressive that in a main dining room such top quality meals were presented. There have been few NCL cruises where I eagerly looked forward to my next main dining meal with anticipation. What else?

a plate of food on a table

a plate of food on a table

My wife and I both had the Mahi-mahi and it was perfectly cooked (unlike the lunch fish). Flavorful and flaky and the veggies were crisp and delicious. While the next meal may not look amazing that is the Fettuccini with Beef Short Rib Bolognese my wife said it was just num! A few more.

a plate of food on a table

a plate of food on a table

We believe these were both Wiener Schnitzels but my memory may be a bit mixed up but both were good but not stunning. For the first some kind of aioli or tartar sauce would have helped. But overall both good choices. Now some desserts.

a cookie on a plate

a plate of food on a table

a slice of chocolate cake with ice cream on a white plate

a bowl of ice cream with a cookie on a plate

Not to sound like a broken record again but the size of these were all perfect. A sweet flavorful bite each one of them. One of my favorites was this apple crumble tart and my wife very much enjoyed the simple apple pie with ice cream. She also could not finish the rich double chocolate tart and many nights we chose the ice cream sundae that was simple but perfect.

a plate of cheese and grapes

Lastly for dessert a few nights I had a cheese plate. Not only was the presentation fun but also just enough to enjoy with cognac and conversation.

So to end – what you have heard is true – Holland America main dining meals are very good. Service at dinner was perfect each night and meals were hot and flavorful. Lunches were good and breakfast was acceptable. I know one reader who has been following this ship review was not as impressed with the meals as my wife and I so I would love more reader feedback. Have you been impressed with HAL main dining meals? – René

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René de Lambert
René de Lamberthttp://www.FrequentFloaters.com
René de Lambert has been a travel blogger for over 10 years covering the travel industry - including cruising.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Rene! As a longtime Sky Team flyer would you say HAL has as much of a Dutch feel and personality as a KLM flight? Or are too many of the crew non Dutch?

    It seems the European influence is helping the food presentation here.

  2. Meals and service are pretty good with HAL. Having a Japanese SO, the fact that HAL consistently has congee in the LIDO for breakfast and sushi for lunch is a particular draw for us. While Oceania has even better food, their cruise prices are much more than HAL. While we have travelled on most of the major cruise lines, we consistently return to HAL and have sailed with them for over 300 days at sea during 36 years.

  3. I was on the Oct. 28 sailing cruising out of FLL on the Eurodam. This was my 6th cruise with HAL. The previous 5 cruises were excellent with very good to excellent food. This cruise was disappointing from a dining perspective. The presentation and service in the main dining room was excellent. However the food was average at best. On beef filet night the steaks were not tender and it was not just tour table. I could see other diners with the same issue. The breakfast buffett was good, and I did find the made to order eggs and omelets station to be excellent. The best restaurant was Italian speciality restaurant Canaletto. excellent food. Pinnacle grill, speciality streak house, was very good, but found it to be much better on other HAL ships. The ship was very crowded which may have lead to the buffet being difficult to access and seating was always difficult. I did like the Dive In Bar for burgers. hot dogs and french fries. If this had been my first cruise, I would probably not cruise again. Also there must be a lot of pent up cruise demand, as the ship did seem to be at capacity.

  4. We were on the December 9 Eurodam cruise with you. A “free” casino cruise for us as well.

    We were very disappointed with the dining room food. The reason we kept coming back each night was the enjoyment we experienced with our new friends at our table for six. When we booked our cruise, HAL asked us what size table we wanted at dinner — 2, 4, 6 or 8. We chose 8 and ended up with 6. We shared, we laughed, we ended up spending time at the ports with them.

    We have cruised Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, NCL and Carnival. Our most recent was with RC. The food in the main dining room was really good on RC and wonderful on Princess and Celebrity. The HAL food was plated beautifully but was lacking in taste and variety. I believe the lasagna was on the menu every night! And it wasn’t that good. Yes, offer a pasta dish, but not the same one each night.

    We are certainly not food connoisseurs, but we were definitely not impressed with the HAL dining room. The others at our table (HAL frequent cruisers), said the food was better on their other cruises.

  5. On our recent Oceania Cruise I found that they could not make the sauce forEggs Benedict! Whatever it was-was horrid so I just had poached eggs daily! Bummer as that is my vacay go to breakfast!

  6. The food started off very bad in the main dining room on our HAL cruise. You can tell it’s mass produced when, for example, the fish is overcooked, dry etc. Easy solution is send it back (I even offered to cook one of the fish dishes myself as it was so bad), have them cook it from scratch and then you have a totally different and way better dish. After two days of doing this, things changed on day three. They never gave us the dishes they were serving to other passengers. They’d bring out a stack of 10 and then a stack of 2. They’d give the stack of 10 to everyone else at tables around ours, and ours was always the stack of 2. From that point on, the food was consistently very good or excellent.

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