On Ryndam, Peak Service Leaves Atlantic Memories

Our traveling blogger sails onboard Holland America's Ryndam on its final Europe to America voyage before it is scheduled to be refitted and transferred to P&O Line, and takes a look at the classic vessel. You can find part one of his story, on guest interaction with the crew and captain, here, and part two, on sea day activities, here

Tea service preparation in Ryndam kitchen. // All photos by Maureen Stone
Tea service preparation in Ryndam kitchen. // All photos by Maureen Stone

Despite long experience as a Holland America cruiser with membership in the line’s Mariner Society of past guests, this traveler did not visit a HAL ship in the last decade prior to November’s cruise on the Ryndam. The Atlantic crossing was an opportunity to fully experience the Signature of Excellence Program, which brought numerous upgrades to new builds and existing vessels in the HAL fleet beginning in 2003.  

The Ryndam voyage, with Signature of Excellence features in place, revealed clear and visible improvements in dining and service to an already excellent cruise experience. The food we remembered was always good, but now seemed better and fresher than ever. Fish and steaks were especially fine with sensibly moderate portions, and flavorful light sauces that added delicious delicacy to many presentations. While not often a first-choice fish eater, this diner gravitated on several evenings to Executive Chef Udo Sandering’s outstanding presentations of John Dory, Dover sole, grilled salmon, barramundi and sea bass, all among the best seafood dishes we have experienced at sea.

Sumptuous theme buffet lunches were presented on the Lido pool deck decorated for each occasion, including a Spanish-themed spread, an Indonesian buffet, and a German Oktoberfest. Ryndam hotel director Darren Lewis said the themed lunches are part of Holland America’s popular “On Location” program, launched two years ago, in which the ships present food events with ingredients from the destinations experienced on the itinerary. He noted that Greek dishes in the Greek Islands and Italian dishes along the Italian coast were been featured in the Lido buffet restaurant on Ryndam during Mediterranean cruises this year.

The service professionalism of the Ryndam crew on the Spanish Farewell crossing cannot be overstated. The impact in passenger enjoyment was felt from first visit to the Rotterdam dining room on sailaway day in Barcelona until disembarkation in Tampa 15 days later. Rotterdam dining is split between the passengers’ choice of set table reservations on the upper level, and open seating on the lower level. We chose open seating and gained unrivaled assistance from our friendly maître d named “Asta,” who reminded us that his name matches that of the American Society of Travel Agents. Asta provided an excellent recommendations for our dining choice of a later seating at smaller tables. He suggested we arrive at 7:15 or later, when early diners were leaving. Our table preferences were easily satisfied each evening.

We were treated to a crack service staff that turned table 118 into our cozy private corner of the Rotterdam dining room. We wanted to dine nightly with our waiter Toby, his assistant Komang, our dining service manager Harris, and our sommelier John. Our success in returning nightly to the same dining area, often for memorable meals with new friends met onboard, was interrupted only by special event dinners in the Ryndam’s Pinnacle Grill and Canaletto, Holland America’s two alternative restaurants found on each of its ships. 

The fine Rotterdam servers quickly remembered guest names and dining requests, including salad dressing and entrée saucing preferences, as well as coffee choices and after-dinner drinks. Komang, our assistant waiter, went to the Explorations Café on deck 8 to find Italian biscotti for our coffees when none were immediately available in our deck 7 dining area. Dinner and service, in a word, were memorable and have since become a topic of conversation with friends over dinners back home.

Bread is baked daily in Ryndam's kitchen. // All photos by Maureen Stone
Bread is baked daily in Ryndam's kitchen. // All photos by Maureen Stone

The Pinnacle Grill 

The Pinnacle Grill on Ryndam has a warm, wood-paneled ambiance that feels like a country club at sea. It also has a gracious, attentive host named Ayhan, a native of Istanbul, and a fine dining menu worthy of some of the best steak houses we’ve visited in New York and Chicago. The Pinnacle Grill chef on Ryndam is Babu Parekkunnel, supervised by the ship’s Executive Chef Udo Sandering. One recommendation is to consider the $10 lunch in the Pinnacle when daylight ocean views from the panoramic windows enhance the experience. 

The Pinnacle, which carries a $20 per diner service charge, has been made increasingly popular with passengers thanks to a schedule of special events. During our cruise two murder mystery dinners, in which crew members portrayed whodunit characters intermingling with guests, were complete sellouts that we were unable to attend. However an “Evening at Le Cirque Dinner,” a menu created in partnership with famed restaurateur Cirio Maccioni of Le Cirque Restaurant in New York, was a standout dinner in which chateaubriand and a succulent black cod entree were stars of the show. 

There were also a baby rack of lamb with polenta cake and artichoke, a trio of foie gras variations, soups of chilled melon yogurt with shrimp, and a warm butternut squash with huckleberry. A choice of desserts included a dark chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice cream or a Le Cirque crème brulee neapolitan. Suffice to say it took several walking tours of the outside Promenade deck circling the Ryndam to burn off this remarkable menu.

At a Pinnacle Grill dinner with hotel director Darren Lewis we enjoyed a unique goose liver mousse lollipop as an amuse bouche, followed by a carpaccio of yellow fin tuna, a cream of sugar snap pea soup, a choice of Indonesian lobster and rice, a bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, or roasted vegetarian and feta cheese in a crispy phyllo dough shell.

Our sole dining disappointment on Ryndam was in the Canaletto alternative restaurant, located evenings in a corner of the Lido Restaurant. The Italian dish choices on the menu were spicier than our tastes, and a veal picatta was the rare entrée on this cruise that tasted ordinary instead of outstanding. One possible problem for us was the contrast of Canaletto with the consistently superb dining we experienced in both the Rotterdam dining room and Pinnacle Grill, as well as at our Lido breakfasts and lunches. Other passengers, however, gave high marks to their Canaletto experience.

Executive Chef Udo Sandering (left) and Culinary Host Barbara Mills Schuchardt with passenger cook winner Dale Boggs. // All photos by Maureen Stone
Executive Chef Udo Sandering (left) and Culinary Host Barbara Mills Schuchardt with passenger cook winner Dale Boggs. // All photos by Maureen Stone

More memorable were the cooking demonstrations in the Ryndam’s Culinary Arts Center, a main attraction of the Signature of Excellence program created throughout the HAL fleet in partnership with Food & Wine Magazine. It is located in the Wajang Theater, which also serves each day as Ryndam’s movie theater, on deck 7 near the ship’s front desk. The culinary host Barbara Mills Schuchardt was a superb presenter who gained a loyal following of many passengers throughout the voyage. Her wealth of daily cooking tips, such as recommending King Arthur flour for baking, and the use of lukewarm, not hot, water for creating pastry dough from scratch, were worth taking notes for. Guests were given a stack of coveted recipes for all of Mills Schuchardt’s demonstration dishes before the end of the cruise.

Mills Schuchardt, who was named Ryndam’s Employee of the Month prior to our cruise, is a culinary hoot with whom we spent entertaining hours watching several demos during the voyage. After discovering someone had inserted oven racks upside down after cleaning the kitchen, she quipped, “Sometimes I feel like Lucy.”  When she received enthusiastic audience comments during one demonstration, the Culinary Host remarked, “I love it in here because I feel like I’m talking at home with my girlfriends in the kitchen.” 

A tip for Travel Agent readers is that Mills Schuchardt will transfer in February to the Holland America Noordam for a series of southern Caribbean cruises roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale this winter. In April 2015 she will be transfer to the Eurodam for a return trans-Atlantic voyage to Barcelona from Fort Lauderdale, followed by Eurodam’s summer cruises in the western Mediterranean and the Baltic. Mills Schuchardt, who has already served on several HAL ships, is clearly enjoying a personal tour of the fleet, matched only by the passengers’ enjoyment of her winning culinary personality.

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