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Cruise Ship Food and Dining


Captain Hongo
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Like a lot of people, we took the Mexican Riviera cruise. Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas. We took the Diamond Princess and mainly ate in the speciality restaurants, not the main dining room. We haven't seen any posts comparing the various cruise lines that make that trip (Crystal, Roayl Carribbean, Princess, Holland America).

Anyone interested in starting a thread?

Captain Hongo

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We did the Carnival Pride last year and liked the food. The restaurant "Davids" was awesome, with great steaks, nice wine list and a wonderful cheese course at the end, plus it was gorgous! The hightlight off the cruise is always eating at "aye carumba" high up in the hillls in P.V. with and amazing view and amazing lobster!

Moo, Cluck, Oink.....they all taste good!

The Hungry Detective

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We'll be cruising on the Caribbean Princess in April. I've heard the speciality restaurants are generally pretty good.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Ahhh, Princess Cruises. I worked on the original "Sun Princess", a tiny little ship by today's standards but, as anyone who ever worked on her said, the best and friendliest little ship that ever sailed the seven seas. I became friends with the assistant pastry chef. To earn my chocolate souffle on Wednesday nights, I helped by dishing out the ice cream to the Italian waiters as they queued up to fill their guests' orders (chocolate souffle wasn't often on the menu in the Crew Mess! :wink: ). Roger would then treat me to a bowl containing two individual souffles smothered in creme anglaise.

Ahhh, the good old days...

kit

"I'm bringing pastry back"

Weebl

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  • 4 weeks later...

Anybody had any decent food experiences with cruise ship dining?

I’ve noticed Michel Roux supervising Celebrity Cruise Lines, sushi bars on Crystal, ‘anytime dining’ on many other lines, and a ton of celebrity chefs and winemakers aboard special ‘gourmet’ voyages. So maybe it's time to update.

Have any of you partaken?

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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I was lucky enough to have crossed the Atlantic on the SS France in 1969, when it was still the SS France.

Memories are dim at this point, but I know it was nothing like the cruise ships of today.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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I've been on a few cruises, and also eaten cruise ship food on account of the occasional invitation to visit a ship docked in New York. There is, as you might imagine, quite a range of quality -- even on any given ship. Most of the large ships these days have multiple dining options (this is also the case at large land-based resorts), and I think these options play to the fact that, as in any population, most people don't care about food and some do. So most people default to a resort-style dining room or a mediocre buffet, but if you care enough to eat better you can reserve at one of the more interesting "restaurants" (it's all included in the cruise fare, so the only investment is the effort it takes to care). So for example on the Crystal Harmony (or was it the Crystal Symphony) you can eat in the main dining room or you can eat at the Piero Selvaggio (of Valentino in LA) signature restaurant, which is a serious cut above. Likewise, even if you eat in the main dining room, you can game it in order to get the best stuff. At that level of the cruise industry (Crystal is high up) the larder is stocked with a lot of premium stuff -- live lobsters, etc. -- so you just have to figure out that a lobster is likely to be better than the lame attempt at a creative "chef's special."

Even on the lower end cruise ships, you can eat somewhat well if you stick to the buffets and the smaller food outlets. For example, we went on the Regal Empress for a fall foliage cruise, and the Regal Empress (which may not even be sailing anymore -- I'd have to check) is pretty low in the hierarchy of cruise ships. But at the buffets there were always some high-quality items, like steamed shrimp or whatever -- and all these ships bake most of their breads and such on board to decent standards -- you just had to navigate around the junk. There was also always a guy on deck grilling basic foods like hamburgers, which were usually better than the entrees in the main dining room. You just had to figure it all out. The SS Rotterdam, a Holland America ship that was taken offline shortly after we cruised on her to Alaska, was the same way -- you just had to be proactive in order to eat well.

Probably the best cruise ship food we've had has been on the Windstar ships. We haven't been on one for awhile, but when we did go the level of the food was quite high -- the dining rooms on these ships were competitive, quality-wise, with the better restaurants in small American cities. Many of the dishes were designed by consulting chef Joachim Splichal of Patina in Los Angeles (most cruise lines have a big-name chef consulting for them, but one got the impression that Splichal was quite involved in Windstar's cuisine). But I think the big advantage Windstar has is that the ships are so small -- only 150 passengers as opposed to 2000 or however many they have on the mega-ships. The smaller number of covers per night -- 150 is a lot less than a restaurant like Daniel handles in a given evening -- allows a lot more attention to detail and cooking to order. Also Windstar is pretty expensive, so the food budget is higher, as are the expectations of the passengers who are likely to have dined all over.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Anybody had any decent food experiences with cruise ship dining?

I’ve noticed Michel Roux supervising Celebrity Cruise Lines, sushi bars on Crystal, ‘anytime dining’ on many other lines, and a ton of celebrity chefs and winemakers aboard special ‘gourmet’ voyages. So maybe it's time to update.

Have any of you partaken?

We're going on our first cruise in September (Radisson). I'll let you know. Robyn

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JUST ( a week ago) came off the Disney cruise (4 nights) The food was

outstanding!.. Obviously very good product is purchased to start with, then they

do good work. Fact of the matter one night the meal was so good, I asked for

and complemented the Chef. 'twas a herb crusted wonderfully cooked piece of

cod (old Yankees like me enjoy cod) on a bed of Pernod influenced spinach.

At buffet lunch there were all the stone crab claws that I wanted to eat. Yes, they

were small, but they were FRESH! Having spent my life in F&B, I KNOW when I'm

being served good stuff. Their bake shop also does very good work. Was surprised to find an old time dessert that most folks do not know. Floating island.

I also enjoyed a good old fashioned Kaintuck chess pie.

Having said the above, one night they had a Pirates of The Caribbean, with a menu

to match. I'm no pirate, did not like the menu and told them about it. ANYTHING

I wanted they would have prepared.

That's my report on Disney. Don't get me started on Princess (last fall in the Baltic)

one bad meal after another. No taste, no seasonings, no thanks.

Ted Task

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We'll be cruising Royal Caribbean in three weeks. It was to have been Princess next week, but we had to cancel and rebook. The last time I cruised on Royal Caribbean, it was a four day Bahamas cruise and I remember the food was ok, but not outstanding. We'll see if one of their larger ships does any better for a seven day event.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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We've cruised with RC a few times in the last few years. I noted that the same dishes appear on the different ships. Had garlic soup twice that was pretty bad, then the next ship it was wonderful. The food on that sailing was frequently better than our local restaurants and of course if your dining partners chose better you can change! On another cruise, the main courses tended to be poor and we started ordering the "spa" main course, Lightly sauteed fish and vegies that were great. I feel that if you're flexible about what you choose you can eat very well on today's ships. When our last RC chef gave cooking demo's his love of food was obvious when listening to him then or speaking with him, while on a previus cruise that chef acted like he didn't really want to be there and the level of the food and service was lower. Enjoy! :smile:

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I’ve noticed Michel Roux supervising Celebrity Cruise Lines

Celebrity has long been known for its strong F&B program -- it's not a particularly expensive cruise line, but it competes culinarily with some of the more elite vessels.

Cruise ships are somewhat similar to Las Vegas, in that their cuisine tends to be imitative of mainland brands. This has been going on for ages; I believe it was in Last Days of Haute Cuisine (though I can't seem to find the reference right now) that I read that Escoffier ran a Ritz branded restaurant on one of the cruise lines. Crystal is probably the most aggressive about this sort of thing: everything on their ships (not just the food) is associated with a brand. But the other lines do a lot of this as well, and the Queen Mary project seems to be particularly well branded.

I don't think you'll ever get a meal on a cruise ship that would merit, say, even one Michelin star. And if you live in New York, Paris, London, etc., you're not going to be terribly impressed by even the best a cruise ship has to offer (though I've never cruised on, for example, Seabourn, where I imagine the food is as good as it gets in this context). But you may be pleasantly surprised.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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We cruised on Celebrity's Constellation in October 2003 around the Mediterranean. To be fair, we didn't eat all that many meals on board. Those that we did eat on board, though, were good. Not on-par with the best onshore meal I've ever had, but considering how many meals they were turning out each night I thought the quality was good and the selection of foods was far from pedestrian. We didn't eat in the onboard high-end restaurant, which charged an additional fee, but everyone we talked to said the food there was really excellent. The ship had a nice wine list and a good espresso bar on-board.

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We were on a Princess Alaska cruise a couple of years ago, and the food was well executed, just tired. They basically trotted out every old standard, from baked Alaska to cherries jubilee - all quite good, but horribly uninventive. There was only a pizza joint or the later buffet for options. Frankly, it was disappointing.

The best meals we had were in the ports - I didn't mind spending my own money for possibly the best fish and chips I've ever had, or at a place aptly called "Death By Chocolate".

Marcia.

Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted...he lived happily ever after. -- Willy Wonka

eGullet foodblog

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We'll be cruising Royal Caribbean in three weeks.  It was to have been Princess next week, but we had to cancel and rebook.  The last time I cruised on Royal Caribbean, it was a four day Bahamas cruise and I remember the food was ok, but not outstanding.  We'll see if one of their larger ships does any better for a seven day event.

I've sailed on RC twice over the past five years. Their sit down lunches (vs. the standard lunch buffet) were much better than their dinners.

Celebrity, which is now owned by RC, has a much better menu as well as execution.

My mom took my family, along with my brothers' last year on Holland America. Definitely the hit of the blue hair crowd, with simple menus and execution.

Vacation is vacation, any way you take it! Enjoy, Marlene.

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I do recall, when we boarded the ship, they were serving a buffet lunch at the cafe before we sailed. They had a Prime Rib that day that was to die for, which horribly raised my expectations for the food the rest of the trip. Nothing matched that piece of beef for the next four days.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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There has been a lot of consolidation in the cruise industry. I believe Carnival, for example, currently owns Cunard, Holland America, Costa, Seabourn and Windstar. Presumably these are run as somewhat independent subsidiaries, because they have radically different characters, but the trend certainly seems to be towards a few large cruise mega-corporations each owning a portfolio of lines.

Cruise ship kitchens face several challenges that mainland restaurants generally don't, each of which can be overcome to some extent, but each of which can be a dealbreaker if not properly addressed.

The big one is that all (or nearly all) the food for a week-long (or even longer) cruise needs to be loaded in advance. Cruise ships do not typically pick up ingredients in each port. What you might occasionally see is one well-publicized ingredient pickup -- like live lobsters being taken on in Maine -- but most everything else needs to be brought on all at once. Not only does this mean an emphasis on frozen and otherwise sturdy ingredients, but also it means the people cooking the food (who live on the ship) have little to do with the purchasing of the food (which is managed by a land-based operation). With careful planning, this can be made to work well, but most cruise lines don't push the limits of the system -- they default to worse ingredients and methods than they need to because it's easier (and cheaper) and the passengers don't really care all that much.

The other major issue is that you need to feed a lot of people all at once. It's not terribly hard to do 500 covers in a night out of a medium-sized kitchen if you're serving from 5:30pm until 10:30pm. It's very hard to do it when 250 people come in at 6pm and the other 250 people come in at 8pm. Once you get into a situation where you're cooking beyond the limits of a cooked-to-order strategy, you're essentially serving banquet food. And while banquet food can be good, even very good, there are compromises.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Many of the cruise ship lines today are offering other alternatives to the main dining room, two sitting options. For example the ship we are going on, also has an Italian specialty restaurant and a steakhouse. I'm hoping this is a good alternative to compensate for what Steven talks about in terms of having to do 250 people at once. There is usually a small surcharge for these restaurants and you need to make reservations, but if they are any good, I may never see the inside of the main dining room.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Many of the cruise ship lines today are offering other alternatives to the main dining room, two sitting options.  For example the ship we are going on, also has an Italian specialty restaurant and a steakhouse.  I'm hoping this is a good alternative to compensate for what Steven talks about in terms of having to do 250 people at once.  There is usually a small surcharge for these restaurants and you need to make reservations, but if they are any good, I may never see the inside of the main dining room.

My last RC cruise was with a group of 35 - ranging in age from 10 to late 50's. We were tempted to try the specialty restaurant (I think it was named Allegro). We could have left our children in the sit-down, since we have 20 somethings that could have looked after the younger ones. Still, there were at least 12 adults that would have dined there, and we didn't want to ruin the experience for the other diners if we were to get too loud (something we were prone to do.) Alas, we missed the chance to get out of the mediocre sit-down. Heard from other cruisers on board that it was worth the extra surcharge.

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I've heard that RC and Norwegian charge extra for better food. On the higher-end lines, like Crystal, you won't find a surcharge for any dining option.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Nor on Silver Seas, which is the cruise ship I aspire to cruise on. And, Crystal, Silver Seas and some of the other high end cruise lines also include alcohol in their prices.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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We are booked on a Raddisson Seven Seas cruise next month that is advertised to have a "Spotlight is on Food & Wine" I am not sure if or how that will translate to a more intersting and higher quality food service.

They have several guests that I assume will have seminars or work shops, such as Ed Sbragia from Beringer Vineyards, Kevin Rathbun from Atlanta restaurant "Rathbun's," cheese expert Max McCalman of Artisanal and James Beard Award-winning wine writer Lyn Farmer. I hope some of this will spoill over to the food service.

They have 4 restaurants on board, with two of them open seating and two require reservations. There is no extra charge for the smaller resturants but you can only dine in each once during the cruise. The signuture resturant is run by the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and the other only has 72 seats. You can potentially offer restaurant quality meals in that intimate setting. Red and white wine is included with the meals, but there is aslo a wine list (with supposely high mark-ups) to order better wines.

The cruise is still a month away........

Edited by NewYorkTexan (log)
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We did a Carnival Ny to Halifax last fall....

the breakfast buffet was lovely, good assortment and the scrambled eggs were nice and creamy.

Lunch buffet was pleasant...nothing was above or below the level of "nice".

The main dining room for dinner....the only item subpar and 2 different ways was the Fillet of beef very strong beefy taste and or in a heavy sauce was more like med cooked potroast in flavor. But on the second night my husband realized you could order as much food as you want so if the menu said soup or salad options you could get both....I swear one meal he had soup salad 2 apps and 2 entrees. The food is there, you know there are people on board afraid of the fancy dinner and eating at the deli or burger stand.

And... if they have the extravaganza special over the top midnight buffet with photo ops, take some pictures then go get a sandwich.

of course the fish and chips, lobster roll and dozen oysters we got on shore beat it all :biggrin:

tracey

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

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I've heard that RC and Norwegian charge extra for better food. On the higher-end lines, like Crystal, you won't find a surcharge for any dining option.

We did some cruise research a couple of months ago when we were trying to find a family trip with kid care built in. :biggrin:

Norwegian has something called Freestyle Dining, which offers multiple higher end restaurants for an added fee. Our favorite bartender is becoming a cruise afficionado. He did Norwegian last year, and thought that the Freestyle Dining wasn't necessarily worth the cost. He said the food still wasn't as good as the food at his restaurant (high end seafood joint in Toledo), and that he preferred to spend his money on alcohol. :blink:

Did I mention that he's young?

Anyway, I came away from the conversation thinking that the Freestyle Dining was probably not worth the bucks.

Danielle Altshuler Wiley

a.k.a. Foodmomiac

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There has been a lot of consolidation in the cruise industry. I believe Carnival, for example, currently owns Cunard, Holland America, Costa, Seabourn and Windstar.

Here's the complete list of who Carnival owns. Perhaps listing who they DON'T own would have been easier!

Carnival | Princess | Holland America | Seabourn | Windstar | P & O Cruises | Cunard | Ocean Village | Swan Hellenic | Costa | AIDA | P & O Cruises Australia

I used to work on board the Princess ships and dined in the Crew Mess. We'd get some of the leftovers from the previous passenger meals, plus an entree specifically for us. Every Monday we'd have Osso Bucco. And Wednesdays, when cruising in Alaska, was Glacier Bay Stew with Dumplings! That's probably why I befriended the Bakers! Oh, the Shortbread and Chocolate Souffles!

kit

"I'm bringing pastry back"

Weebl

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