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Come Sail Away

Once, I was a queen... I parked my fat white ass in a deck chair while impoverished brown people from Third World countries scurried around to satisfy my every whim. Caviar? Champagne? I had only to waggle a pinkie. And if, during my five-course dinner, I wanted another filet mignon or lobster tail -- and another and another -- until I was ready to explode, like the obese gourmand in a Monty Python movie, you can be sure the attentive staff on Holland America's Zuiderdam would get right on it. Meanwhile, we chugged through azure and turquoise seas, consuming 88 gallons of fuel per nautical mile, using 1,700 tons of water per day. A Mediterranean cruise is either a "luxury escape" or a "white liberal's guilty nightmare," depending on how you look at it.

But enough. You didn't clamber on board, dragging your steamer trunks full of formal gowns, strappy sandals, and resort wear, for a lesson in neoliberal class politics, did you? Let's get to the food!

There was quite a lot of it. We sailed from Fort Lauderdale on September 24, hauling 15 tons of Cornish game hens, veal shanks, pastramis, salmon fillets, blocks of Gruyère, and entire holding tanks of potatoes, rice, and foie gras, bound for the Bahamas and Mexico. The Zuiderdam, a 3-year-old Vista-class ship that departs weekly for seven-night cruises from Fort Lauderdale on tours of the east, west, and southern Caribbean, serves 11,000 meals a day to 1,850 passengers and 800 crew. I'll do the math for you: That comes to 4.1 meals per day per person. Judging from the svelte and elegant figures of the Filipino and Indonesian staff, I'd guess they're not consuming the bulk of what comes out of the ship's freezers and larders, which fully occupy two lower decks. So guess who is?

Holland America's paying passengers shalt never go hungry. And I'll bet the Zuiderdam doesn't get a lot of calls for its healthy, low-cal "spa menu." What sane human being would choose a fresh green salad and a broiled skinless chicken breast over roasted rack of pork au jus, braised osso buco, "Dutch favorite" brisket of beef with hodgepodge, Zander perch meunière, beef Wellington, steamed Alaskan king crab legs, rotisserie duck, stuffed shrimp, salt-crusted tenderloin, baked honey-glazed ham, or the notoriously popular surf and turf? The Zuiderdam's executive chef, Franz Schaunig, an austere exclamation point of a man who stands seven feet tall in his chef's toque, a guy who's spent 27 years in cruise-ship kitchens, told me his blood pressure still literally shoots up for the Farewell Dinner, when the menu features filet mignon and lobster tails. "People are eating five, six tails each, sometimes three or four filets per person," he said. "It's very hard to judge consumption. But we have enough."

Enough, of course, is a relative concept aboard a cruise ship. At the most basic level, room service operates 24/7 -- pancakes at 4 a.m., a New York strip at dawn, maybe a pastrami sandwich to tide you over between the cakes and steak. A full breakfast -- no stingy "continental" croissants and coffee here! -- and extensive lunch are served daily in the two formal dining rooms, complete with silver-plated coffee pots and china. Buffet stations on the Ninth Lido deck are going strong from dawn until well past midnight -- Italian, sushi, stir fry, salads, roasts, poultry, pizza, and sandwiches. Get your hot dogs and hamburgers at the poolside Terrace Grill. Go for pastries and cappuccino at the Windstar Café. Or opt for afternoon teas and predinner cocktail hors d'oeuvres.

Then there's your five-course nightly extravaganza, courtesy of Chef Franz and Holland America's Master Chef Rudi Sodamin. The latter oversees the entire Holland America menu line, whipping up signature dishes like "Trio of Salmon with Grilled Scallop and Pearls of the Ocean" or "Dialogue of Salmon Tartare with Avocado." You may sup in one of the two formal dining rooms or, for an extra $20, the posher Odyssey Restaurant, where even the chairs have staggering bulk: They're made of a silver-painted iron, thrones for the monarchs we've lately become. Hungry, late-night revelers may venture up for a midnight buffet on Lido deck. And when you stagger back to your cabin at 4 a.m., having spent your kid's college fund at the blackjack tables, press a button for room service and the whole vicious cycle starts all over again.

A full week of this! You'd think we rarely got to eat at home, the way we went at it. By the time we hit Grand Cayman, I'd gained five pounds. The Zuiderdam goes through almost its entire 15 tons of food per cruise, theoretically leaving the ship lighter at the end of its voyage, notwithstanding the approximately 10,000 pounds of fat its guests have collectively put on.

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Gail Shepherd
Contact: Gail Shepherd

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