Solo Cruiser in Search of Dinner Companions

Day 15, South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand Cruise

Monday, Oct. 17, 2022; At Sea, Pacific Ocean.

For the first time in nine years, this time I embarked on a cruise not knowing a single passenger. The last time I cruised – the 2020 Grand World Voyage – I traveled with my sister Elaine and at least 50 people I knew from previous cruises. A lot of the same people take Holland America’s longer cruises, and I’ve made a number of good friends on these ships over the years.

We’ve stayed in touch during the pandemic via Zoom happy hours, social media posts and even a few visits in person. I never would have gone to Santa Fe for the past three summers had my cruise friend Connie not lived there, I think. Or driven to the southern tip of Texas to visit Barbara and Richard – twice!

A number of my friends are on the MS Zuiderdam now for its 45-day Tales of the South Pacific, which follows our initial route through Hawaii but then heads to Tahiti and eventually returns to California. I booked this cruise preferring to visit Australia and New Zealand, even though I knew no one on board.

As I’ve written before, I’m comfortable making friends in new settings, due in large part to multiple moves during my childhood. I find it easy to meet people on cruise ships. At dinner I usually share a table with others, so in the two weeks I’ve been on board, I’ve met a number of fellow cruisers. I join a group of five other single women for dinner occasionally.

Eating in the specialty restaurants is another matter. The restaurants do not offer sharing tables. And I haven’t found anyone yet who is interested in joining me at the Pinnacle Grill, which has a $39 surcharge, or Canaletto with its $19 fee. Those of us with four- or five-star Mariner loyalty status get a 50 percent discount, but not many of the people I have met have achieved that level, and understandably many of them would just as soon have a great meal in the main dining for no additional charge.

My five-star status also entitles me to a couple of free specialty restaurant meals, and I decided this perk wasn’t going to waste even if it meant eating alone. So last night I had the best meal of the cruise so far in the Pinnacle Grill.

The amazing Clothesline Candied Bacon appetizer lived up to my memories. And the chef was correct when he said I should eat it with a squeeze of lemon and bite of pickle. The acidity balanced the yummy bacon fat perfectly. I had to stop after two thick slices so I would still want the steakhouse’s main course.

As a Texan who also lived for many years in Kansas City, I know my steaks, and the filet mignon was tender and flavorful.

For the first time this cruise I ordered dessert – key lime pie. I couldn’t finish it, but I put a good dent in it. The server also brought a plate of chocolates, which at my request he wrapped in foil for me to take back to my stateroom.

The larger Holland America ships have more specialty restaurants, including the Asian-inspired Tamarind ($29); Nami, a specialty sushi restaurant with a la carte pricing; and Rudi’s Sel de Mer featuring seafood. While the Westerdam doesn’t have room for all these venues, it does feature the Rudi’s $49 menu as an occasional pop-up in the Pinnacle Grill space. I’ll take advantage of my 25 percent off perk and eat there in a couple of weeks.

We also have the option of enjoying special theme dinners in the Pinnacle Grill during this cruise, such as Polynesian Night, Indonesian Rijsttafel, and Italian Cellar Master’s. They frequently include wine and are priced accordingly.

On past cruises on the even smaller MS Amsterdam, dinner on these theme nights was at a set time and we shared tables. But that’s not the policy on the Westerdam, probably because the Pinnacle Grill here is so much larger.

As far as I could see, I was only solo diner last night. Sure, I would have enjoyed sharing conversation over the meal. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. I’m glad I didn’t let that stand in my way.