Golden Princess Dining
Personal Choice Dining offers flexibility. It gives the same freedom as land-based nights out. Show up in the designated dining room whenever you feel like it, between 5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., if you want to free yourself from the "hurry up and get dressed for dinner" rush that all too often comes after a long and active day in port.
Because of the popularity of Personal Choice Dining, the ship utilizes both the Bernini dining room from 5:30 until 10 p.m. and the Donatello from 5:30 until 9:30 p.m. If you're willing to meet new people and join a group table, then you may be seated more promptly. But, if you desire a solo table during the popular 7:45 to 8:30 p.m. slot, you may wait up to 15 minutes. By arriving around 7 p.m., we were able to finish our meal in time to double up on our evening entertainment, taking in the first show at the Princess Theater at 8:30 p.m., followed by the comedian or singer in the Vista Lounge at 10:15 p.m….with enough time left over to throw away our quarters in the casino's slots.
A tip: Reservations for a specific time for any size group, even for a couple, may be made throughout the cruise.
Traditionalists who like the camaraderie of the same table and service from the same waiter -- the one who knows you like extra lemons with your iced tea -- can book tables in the Canaletto dining room for either 5:30 p.m. or 8 p.m. service.
Despite seating hundreds of people at once, the dining rooms didn't feel cavernous. Railings divide the rooms into manageable areas, and the drapes, carpeting and other measures absorb much of the background noise so you don't ever have to yell to be heard by your own tablemates. Each dining room is its own enclosed room, rather than a tiered multi-deck space. The decor is lovely and floral, with paintings of country gardens.
Each night, diners have a choice of two pastas, appetizers, soups and salads, and main courses. Vegetarian, healthy and "homestyle" (essentially meat-and-potatoes type dishes) items are marked on the menu, as are local Pacific Rim dishes on Hawaii itineraries. Always-available selections include Caesar salad, shrimp cocktail, broiled chicken breast and grilled beef medallions. An adequate selection of wines, ranging from $20 to $50 per bottle, was available.
Open-seating breakfast (7 to 9 a.m.), lunch (noon to 1:30 p.m.) and afternoon tea (3:30 to 4:30 p.m.) are also served in the Donatello dining room. A nice touch is that late-riser's breakfast items are always included in the dining room's lunch menu.
The Horizon Court serves ample buffets on Deck 14, with the stations all contained in one area, so you're never in danger of overlooking food options. Breakfast, beginning at 6 a.m., features the usual array of hot and cold cereals, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, omelets, and alternating days of waffles, pancakes and other traditional fare. For lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.), in addition to cold cuts, the spread includes a hot fish, chicken or pork dish (often all three), vegetables, greens and sometimes special platters like sushi. Afternoon snacks are available from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. For dinner, the Horizon Court also offers a wide variety of hot and cold entrees, along with salad and desserts. Late-night snacks, available from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., include a variety of hot and cold dishes, salads, fruit, sandwiches, breads and desserts.
The dining options continue out by the Calypso Reef pool, where chefs toss pizzas at Prego Pizzeria (open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.) and grill up burgers and dogs at the Trident Grill (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.). Satisfy your sweet tooth with soft-serve ice cream and all the toppings at Sundaes Ice Cream Bar.
The International Cafe, located on the Piazza, is another casual dining option, added during the 2009 dry dock. From 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., it serves complimentary snacks, including breakfast pastries, soups, quiche, salads and desserts. (Think warm, melty cookies, as well as fancier items.) Specialty coffee drinks cost extra. It's quite pleasant to grab a seat in the atrium, munch on your snacks and observe whatever entertainment is happening in the Piazza (or simply people-watch).
Next door, Vines Wine Bar (11 a.m. to 11 p.m.) serves up complimentary sushi and tapas. Its corner of the Piazza is like stepping into a traditional winery with oak barrels for tables and flooring that looks like tiled stone. Pair your meal with a great glass of wine, or skip the light bites for a do-it-yourself tasting with a wine flight.
Golden Princess offers two specialty restaurants, Sabatini's and Crown Grill, available by reservation only. To be sure you get the time and day you desire, reserve well in advance. Dinner is served in both venues from 6 to 11 p.m.
If you like Italian fare, don't miss Sabatini's, well worth the $25-per-person extra charge. You select your entree and a soup or salad; then the waiter brings you everything else. Start with eight types of antipasto, including melon with prosciutto, porcini mushrooms in olive oil, crab cakes, fried calamari, shrimp and fried cheese. Make your way through a white bean soup or garden salad, followed by two types of pasta. Continue with an entree, and end with dessert. By the time we licked the last of the tiramisu from our forks, we were stuffed and very happy.
In contrast, the Crown Grill (which replaced the Sterling Steakhouse in 2009) has a more traditional vibe. A New York-style steakhouse, its ambience is set with black-and-white photos of New York City, red woods and carpeting paired with blue upholstered chairs (a hint of patriotism, perhaps?). The menu focuses on seafood, chops and steaks, with the additional choices of appetizers (black tiger prawn and papaya salpicon, lobster cake), soups and salads (black and blue onion soup, marinated goat's cheese and heirloom tomato salad) and the delectable sides that always crop up in steakhouses (garlic fries, corn casserole, creamed spinach). The fee for a multicourse dinner is $25 per person, but to truly indulge, shell out an extra $9 for whole Maine lobster or Brazilian lobster tail.
Room service, although limited to a set menu of breakfast items or sandwiches, salads and burgers, is available 24 hours a day. Along with a Continental breakfast of pastries, coffee and fruit, room service delivers hot items, such as eggs, omelets and oatmeal. For people who like a hot breakfast but don't want to get dressed to enjoy one, this is a nice touch.
The Ultimate Balcony Dinner proved to be our favorite shipboard dining experience in 20 years of cruising. Our personal "butler," after draping our balcony table and chairs in yellow linen, began our experience by offering us Champagne and canapes. Then, the ship's photographer snapped our complimentary photo. Next, we dined on our balcony, enjoying the seascape, the swooping gulls and the breezes as our butler served us, course by course, discretely positioning himself behind the cabin drapes or out in the hall when not needed. The food was good and bountiful. We started with blue crab in pastry shells, followed by salad, then lobster tails and filet mignon...and for dessert, walnut and vanilla mousse, plus chocolates. The meal was both romantic and memorable, and though an indulgence at $100 per couple, it was well worth the extra splurge.