The days of October were getting short. It had been a fabulous European summer for Captain Dirk van den Berg and his Vista-Class Zuiderdam. However, he needed to pack it up and head for the warmer waters of the Caribbean. After taking on the majority of her crowd in Venice, Italy, he gracefully eased her out of the Grand Canal heading for 17 days of seven exciting ports and a six-day Atlantic crossing. Launched in 2002, christened by morning show host Joan Lunden in Venice, the Zuiderdam carried over 1800 guests served by a crew of 800.
Van den Berg likes to refer to “rolling his r’s” when he speaks of his ship, the “Zuiderrrrrrrrrrr-dam.” When asked about Atlantic crossings, he smiles, “I love it! Relax. Sit down, take in the weather. Enjoy the movement of the ship, the roll of the ship. It is so nice. Lay down on the bed, it makes you sleep immediately because of the little movement of the ship. It’s good, like a cradle. You can relax for five days, you don’t have to go ashore and you don’t have to hurry or wake up early in the morning. For many years crossing was not nice, but this is wonderful. Our weather will be good,” he promised.
The Med is Captain van den Berg’s favorite part of the world short of his homeland, the Netherlands, near the German border, maybe a good clue to why the ship’s executive chef is from Germany. Duty, three months on — three months off, it’s a huge undertaking, being responsible for nearly 3,000 people and their well-being as they float across the great depths. This is the captain’s 43rd year with Holland America.
Food is a great part of cruising, and dining times are what’s new on Holland America. Now you still get to choose traditional, pre-set, seating. Or, your new choice, a more flexible one, is “As you wish” dining. In this dining room you can forget getting fond of your nightly Indonesian wait team. Under this arrangement, you eat when you like, get to share tables with new friends and greet new service people each night. For most guests, the flexibility of this arrangement outweighs the repetitive, same time, same table, same people scene. So, if you need to tell your waiter each night you want the oolong tea with your dessert, you won’t need to shoot for an exact dining time any more.
Master Chef Rudi Sodamin is menu consultant for all menus on Holland American ships. On the Zuiderdam, Executive Chef Klaus-Dieter Paatsch, implements Sodimen’s recipes into the daily offerings. Pulling it all together is Craig Oakes, Culinary Operations Manager. “It needs to be a centralized situation, because it would be impossible to suddenly contact suppliers to carry out any spur-of-the-moment recipes,” he explains. “It is important we standardize.”
Oakes, a soft-spoken native of the U.K., has lived around most of the world and appreciates the line’s international policy on food and beverage personnel. “What is really great here is the people we work with — the Indonesians, the Philippinos – we are opening a culinary school in Manila, we also have new training programs on board to help develop and maximize potential. I think it shows. We like to utilize the cooking skills of all our staff, Indian, Middle Eastern, Lebanese, each ship is different.”
Today’s cruiser can still go to the dining room for a well-rounded breakfast, even the old standard, Kippered Herring with Smothered Onions. Nightly dinners tempt guests with broad selections of seafood, meats and vegetarian dishes. Dishes range from the bistro-inspired to exotic Asian and homespun European. Desserts run from sweet masterpieces to simple cheeses with nuts and fruits.
Food can be a diversion as well as entertainment during a six-day crossing. Minneapolis’ Guest Chef Paulette Mitchell, author of 13 cookbooks, presented formal cooking lessons in addition to separate demonstrations and catered a special dinner in the Pinnacle Dining room. Chefs Klaus and Rajeev also made presentations. Additionally, Kelly Bolt, Party Planner, held many food and entertaining demonstrations. Afternoon teas and nightly Cigars under the Stars were additional attractions.
A fun time was the Mid-Atlantic Guest Crossing Party. “The tide is high but I’m holdin’ on,” the band rocked. This prompted much of the Zuiderdam’s staff, crisp uniforms be-darned, shoulder boards askew and some passengers to jump into the Lido pool, jubilant over the so-far, half-way, smooth “crossing.” The menu that day? A Portuguese fish fry, Holland American Dutch Pea Soup, assorted sides and kiwi-garnished, bluish-green Poseidon Cocktails. Make them at home with Midori, Blue Curacao and a little Sprite.
The Zuiderdam’s winter schedule takes her to the western Caribbean including the Panama Canal and Costa Rica.