The four-course menu features all the traditional favorites: gefilte fish, matzah-ball soup, roast chicken with tzimmes — even hazelnut macaroons to leave a sweet taste in the mouth as the last verse of chad gadya is sung.
As passengers read, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" they may be forgiven for assuming it's because they are cruising in the Caribbean on a luxury ship, far from family foibles, the Great Passover Kitchen Cleanout and the annual lament at overpriced holiday foods.
This year, this Passover night is different because it's in the hands of Holland America.
The cruise line goes to impressive lengths to meet the needs of Jewish travelers. If your journey is over Shabbat, the daily agenda placed in your cabin will invite you to attend services on Friday evening, where you'll find candles, challah, Manishewitz wine and even prayerbooks.
On Passover, starting this year the evening of April 18, a Conservative or Reform rabbi is given a complimentary cruise in exchange for leading the seders and prayer services. An area of the Lido Restaurant is reserved for seder guests and tables are laid with all the correct accoutrements, right down to the afikomen, the seder plate and the goblet of wine for Elijah.
Reform Rabbi Laurie Gold will be leading the seder this year, and though the ship's kitchen will not be kashered for Passover, guests who pre-order kosher food can be assured that kosher-for- Passover meals sealed in plastic will arrive at their tables, compliments of Weberman Foods of Miami.
In the past, there have been up to 50 people attending the annual seders on board, and they pay no additional charges for the special food or Passover services. For those who need a break and choose to avoid the labor involved in hosting Passover seders and filling their pantries with kosher- for-Passover food, a cruise timed with the holiday seems like a bright solution.
(A number of other lines offer Passover cruises, including Disney and Celebrity, whose Solstice program will be run by Passover Kosher Cruise.)
But Passover is not Holland America's biggest draw card when it comes to attracting Jewish passengers. Rather, it's Chanukah. That's when the travel company Kosherica books some 250 frum passengers from all over the world.
The week of my cruise, there are only two frum families on board, American brothers and their families who are cruising with their grandmother in celebration of her 92nd birthday. Their daily menu choices include borekas, quiche, brisket, veal, turkey, steak and chicken.
Their meals arrive hot from an oven devoted specifically to kosher food, and still sealed in their double-layer of plastic, looking about as appetizing as, well, airline food.
"The food is OK," the brothers say with a shrug. But it's the kosher carrot cake they love the most.
It's not just the Jewish passengers that are taken care of when they travel with Holland America. The ship has daily Catholic services with wine and wafers, and services led by an interdenominational minister on Christmas and Easter.
"Guests choose this line because they know about our religious services," says Knight. "It's a tradition at Holland America to have these services, and we get a lot of positive feedback and gratitude from our passengers for doing so."
With Passover looming, the ship's culinary director is reviewing his list of instructions for laying the seder table.
The list begins with finding the best tablecloths, and arranging the candles and candlesticks, and ends with instructions about the fourth matzah, the "matzah of hope," that some Jewish families use as a reminder of Jews who are not yet allowed to live in freedom.
Matzah seems to taste a whole lot better when munched on the deep blue ocean, beneath the hot Caribbean skies. For information, see: www. hollandamerica.com.