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Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Time Event
Dining on the Westerdam
I took a cruise to Alaska - remember? As promised, I'm jotting down a few more memories...

The Westerdam has a few dining options; not as many as NCL ships, but more than just the dining room. There is: the Lido restaurant, a dining room (two decks, two seatings in each); the buffet (top deck); the Pinnacle Grill, a fancier restaurant mid-ships; and a few cafes and bars throughout the upper decks. We were all scheduled for the first seating in the lower dining hall, but originally at different tables (my parents and grandparents at one table, Melinda and me at a second table, and Yilin and Melinda's mom at a third). A first surprise came at dinner on the first night: a couple sitting at the table with Melinda and me were friends of Melinda's mom in Stamford. Small world! Melinda and I swapped seats with her mom and Yilin, so they could sit with the other guests and so Melinda and I could be at a two-person table. Aww, romantic!

We ended up not sticking with this arrangement for long. Mom and Dad asked their concierge if they couldn't move the eight of us all to the same table. After all, we were traveling together, and even though we weren't going to follow all the same shore excursions, it would be nice to catch up with each other at each days' end. By Monday night the switch had been made, so we were together at Mom and Dad's original table. All these tables were within a few seats of each other as it was, so it wasn't far to at least wave at the other Connecticut people every now and again. But I greatly enjoyed having everyone sit with each other each night. And after the first night or so Melinda and I figured out that we should adjust where we were sitting so as to encourage the other people to talk with each other and to sit more closely. 8)

On the second formal night, Thursday or Friday night (I don't recall which), we ate at the Pinnacle Grill instead of the main dining room. The grill charges an additional fee per person for dining (the other dining options are all included in the base cost of the cruise) so generally fewer people eat there. The food and the service, though, were well worth it. The eight of us sat in the back part of the dining area (and the whole dining area was big enough for only maybe 15 small or medium sized tables), had a large window out of which to see the sea, and were waited on by two friendly staff. The meal followed four courses and simply was outstanding food. I would have been spoiled to have eaten there on more than just that night but had they not been entirely reserved the rest of the trip I may well have. The food, the ambiance, the service all made it finally feel like we were enjoying a luxury.

The other food options simply didn't impress. The buffet generally had long lines in the morning (for good health reasons all the food is served by cruise staff, not self-served), was slow, and was pretty industrial. Dining in the Lido restaurant was slow; we spent most of the time waiting for our next course to be brought out or for dishes to be cleared. The food itself was pleasant but generally less exciting than most boutique restaurants you can find in Seattle or San Francisco. And, in fact, the low point was the seafood: it was fishy, in the way that seafood (eg, salmon) shouldn't be. Poultry was better but I never had a good experience with anything from the sea while on board the ship. Yes, I guess I'm a bit of a snob, but I simply expected much higher quality from a cruise line that conveys itself as a truly luxury line. And, not everything was below my expectations: the Pinnacle Grill was very good. I just had higher expectations for the rest of the ship.

Oh, one last note about dining: there was also room service. Unlike in any hotel, the room service was free, and so Melinda and I took advantage of this feature several times. On one evening we ordered a snack -- milk and cookies -- which arrived 20 minutes or so later. The cookies were sorta industrial but it's the novelty that counts. 8) Where room service really stands out is for the mornings when we headed out early for a shore excursion. Rather than wait in line at the buffet, we placed our order, with delivery time, the night before, and enjoyed some scrambled eggs and hashbrowns while still in our room.

So, generally I was underwhelmed by the dining on the Westerdam. The Pinnacle Grill is a stand-out for quality and service but the rest of the options are pretty average. Use the dining opportunity to talk with your travel partners, to watch the scenery while you eat, or to eat leisurely in your room for the novelty of room service.

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