Cruise Ship Specialty Restaurants – Are they worth the extra fee?

While on our recent 21 day Trans-Atlantic and Caribbean cruise aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam Holland America we had the pleasure of dining at a variety of dining outlets.  The Nieuw Amsterdam has a wide variety of foods and dinning experiences for everyone, from a poolside burger bar, to the (nearly) 24-hour Lido deck buffet, to the elegant main dining room, and the three specialty restaurants. Regardless of the dining venue we chose, we were always impressed how fresh and carefully prepared the food was (especially considering we were at sea for up to six days at a time).

…the specialty restaurants create a dining atmosphere and dedicated menu comparable to high-end restaurants found in Chicago and other foodie cities.

For us, some of our most memorable and romantic evenings on the cruise were the three evenings we dined at each of the specialty restaurants: Canaletto, Tamarind, and Pinnacle Grill.  Even though we found the food and choices in the Manhattan Dining Room excellent, it was nice to share a more intimate meal together.  While dining at the specialty restaurants, specifically Tamarind and The Pinnacle Grill, we really felt like we were dinning at a high end restaurant in Chicago.  The Canaletto is also a fine dinning experience, however being located on the Lido deck near where the Buffet is served, it feels less of a specialty restaurant, but I can assure you, the incredible food makes up for the shared space.

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The Canaletto is a classic Italian restaurant with a menu that encourages sharing and enjoying the tastes of each dish.  The menu is designed with small plates for appetizers and larger entree options that include a variety of seafood, pastas and meat dishes.  I started with the Chacuterie plate of Salumi, and an order of the Vermouth Braised Clams, both of which were fresh and flavorful.  Julie started with the crisp Canaletto Salad.  Rather than over-ordering, we ordered only a half portion of the White Sea Bass and the Potato Gnocchi with Braised Short-Rib as our main entrees.  The sea bass was slightly overcooked, but the Gnocchi was absolutely mouth wateringly delicious.  It was so good that we ordered another half portion and later excitedly shared with our cruise friends just how good it was! We still talk about that Gnocchi today!  Despite being incredibly full from our two helpings of Gnocchi — though I will point out it was only two HALF orders 🙂 — we somehow found room in our stomachs to try the lemon custard-like dessert, as well as the brownie and ice cream.

At the time of our sailing, the Canaletto Restaurant has a dining fee of $10 per person.  Would we recommend making this restaurant part of your cruise itinerary? Yes, indeed!  If you were to only order the Gnocchi, I think you would agree this restaurant is well worth the additional fee.

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For a uniquely Asian experience, the Tamarind is the restaurant to visit, but be sure to bring an appetite!  The food here was divine, but we found this restaurant to have the largest portion sizes of anywhere on the ship.  The meal started with a laugh when the jumbo Shrimp Tempura was delivered to our table.  The shrimp are positioned in such a way to look like a frog stuck upside down in a tea cup.  The courses continued to flow to our table and with each new course, we were impressed with the freshness and quality of food.  The Salmon Sashimi and Rainbow Sushi Roll were as good as any high-end Asian restaurant we’ve tried.   I had the crumbed Wasabi Steak with onion rings which was cooked to perfection.  My mouth salivates just thinking about it.  The deserts were refreshing and light which was needed after such a large meal.

At the time of our sailing, dinner at the Tamarind restaurant is an up-charge of $20 per person.  The restaurant is also open for lunch with a Dim Sum menu for $10 per person. We didn’t have the opportunity to dine for lunch as the reservations for lunch sell out quickly.  Regardless, I think the expansive dinner menu justifies the additional fee. If you go, be sure to try the Wasabi Beef Tenderloin, it’s one of the best steaks I’ve had at sea or on land!  Remember, the dishes at Tamarind are large, so order wisely if you want to make it to dessert!

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Pinnacle Grill

The Pinnacle Grill is an elegant steak restaurant that features luxury tablewares and knowledgeable service staff similar to what you would expect to find at a top steakhouse in Chicago, a city know for steakhouses!  We were impressed with the classy decor and romantic atmosphere complete with crystal chandlers and uniquely sheltered/private seating areas.  We had a spacious table to ourselves overlooking the dining room.  Our table was nestled into a half moon shaped booth and while we liked the intimacy it created, the booth seats began to feel uncomfortable after our first course.

The overall wine selection and menu was top notch.  We had the crab cakes and steak tartar as an appetizer.  The crab cakes are a must, but the steak tartar was not our favorite.  When first delivered to our table, Julie’s steak entree was incorrect, but the team was quick to correct the error and we both enjoyed our dinners at the same time.  Julie had the 10oz. Filet Mignon and I challenged myself with the 18oz bone in Rib-eye.  Both steaks were excellent and cooked to perfection.  Julie’s Filet was incredible.  The meat was so tender it just melted in your mouth with every bite.  We complimented the steaks with a shared sides of asparagus and mushrooms.

Surprisingly, we managed to save space for dessert and Julie enjoyed a Chocolate Lava Cake, while I splurged on one of my favorites, Creme Brulee.  It was definitely the best Creme Brulee’s that I had while on the ship.  What? I said it was my favorite! 🙂

At the time of our sailing, dinner at the Pinnacle Grill was $29 per person.  The restaurant is also open for lunch with an alternative menu for $15 per person.  The Pinnacle Grill should be part of every cruise itinerary.  The same quality meal and service provided at the Pinnacle Grill would set you back several hundred dollars on shore.  Our recommendation would be to request a free-standing table with chairs, not a booth, when making your reservations.

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So, are these restaurants worth the additional fees?

Julie and I were extremely impressed with our specialty restaurant dinning experiences.  The food at each restaurant was over-the-top delicious and each mastered their specific culinary theme.  While we found the meals expertly prepared throughout the ship (specialty restaurant or not), the specialty restaurants create a dining atmosphere and dedicated menu comparable to high-end restaurants found in Chicago and other foodie cities.

In our opinion we felt that dining at these three specialty restaurants was a unique, fine dining experience.  If you are looking for amazing fine cuisine — at a reasonable cost — we would recommend that every guest take the opportunity to dine at one (or all) of these restaurants while aboard a Holland America ship.


Insider Tips

1. Plan Ahead – Before departing for your cruise, look at your itinerary to determine what days you want to dine at a Specialty Restaurant.  Having a game plan is important as restaurant reservations can sell out quickly.  You’ll want to reserve as soon as you can and with confidence in the date you choose to avoid having to cancel and (unsuccessfully) reschedule.

2. Bundle Pricing – At the time of our cruise, Holland America offered a bundle price to experience dinner at each restaurant for a reduced rate of $49 per person for one dinner at each restaurant.  This is an incredible deal and one that we’d recommend you take advantage of!

3. Formal Nights – Knowing when Formal Night(s) will take place on your cruise is important, whether you want to participate or not.  The reason is so you can plan accordingly.  For instance, if Formal Night (typically Surf & Turf in the main dinning room) is a priority for you, you’ll want to avoid making reservations for that evening.  The flip side of that is, if you intentionally want to avoid a Formal Evening in the main dining room, then that evening is an ideal night to experience a Specialty Restaurant.

We hope this information has been useful in helping you decide whether a Specialty Restaurant is worth the additional fee.  Have you dined at any of these restaurants aboard a Holland America ship?  What were your impressions?  Please share with us below.

The Honeymoon Couple were invited guests of each of the Specialty Restuarants, however the views and opinions expressed are solely our own.

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