Celebrity markets itself as a line for foodies, and for the most part, the cuisine onboard is a notch above other mass-market lines. From the Oceanview Cafe buffet to Cosmopolitan, the main dining room, to specialty restaurant Qsine, we found that while the food wasn't OMG-wow (a Top Chef-themed dinner aside), there weren't a lot of outright misses either.
Cosmopolitan Restaurant (Decks 4 and 5): The two-level Cosmopolitan Restaurant features sophisticated decor accented by La Normandie, a seven-foot-high bronze statue of a woman draped like the goddess Athena. Created by Art Deco sculptor Leon-Georges Baudry, this statue originally graced the first-class smoking room in the legendary liner SS Normandie. The dining room also has a sweeping staircase for grand entrances on formal nights and a two-level glass wall with panoramic views aft.
The restaurant is open seating for breakfast between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. You'll find the usual offerings, including eggs Benedict, waffles and omelets. On certain days, Cosmopolitan opens for lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m.
There are two options for dinner in the Cosmopolitan Restaurant. Passengers can go with traditional set-seating at either 6 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. or opt for the more flexible Celebrity Select dining option. With Celebrity Select, passengers have the option to eat any time between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. and to decide whether they want to eat with their own party or at a mixed table with other passengers. They can also make specific dinner reservations for each day of their cruise online in advance, make reservations onboard or simply show up when ready to eat (although lines can form if you don't make a reservation). If you choose Celebrity Select, you have to pay your gratuities in advance.
The nightly four-course menu has two options: classics such as filet, salmon and escargot on one side and more modern dishes such as kale salad on the other. On one evening, this side of the menu was dedicated to dishes created by chefs from the TV show Top Chef; the braised short ribs we had that night (recipe by Ash Fulk of New York City's Hill Country Barbecue) proved to be the best meal of the cruise. Gluten-free, vegetarian, no-sugar-added and lactose-free menu selections are marked.
On our cruise, the biggest issue was not the food, but the service. While our waiter was agreeable and adaptable to the people at our four-top, the wine steward knew very little about wine and at times seemed not to have read the menu. He was not capable of suggesting wine to pair with different dishes.
Blu (Deck 5): Blu, which is exclusive to passengers sailing in AquaClass cabins, features modern decor, soft lighting and a menu inspired by spa cuisine. Though the food does not seem overly healthful, the restaurant features smaller portions and dishes that are lighter than what you typically find in the main dining room or buffet. Options include seafood ceviche, tortilla soup, pumpkin gnocchi and Hawaiian salmon. Dinner is open seating between 5:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Suite passengers have the option of dining at Blu if there is availability.
Blu also offers an excellent breakfast menu -- featuring yogurt parfaits, fruit smoothies and pancakes -- to AquaClass passengers. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. On my sailing, Blu was piloting lunchtime service on embarkation day to take pressure off the main buffet.
Oceanview Cafe (Deck 10): On the casual dining front, the Oceanview Cafe serves buffet-style breakfasts, lunches and dinners. You'll find various carving stations, made-to-order omelets and pasta dishes, pizza and antipasti, and a slew of internationally inspired dishes, including everything from British bangers and mash to Indian curries and fee-free sushi. An ice cream bar sits at each entrance to the buffet. Treats include a selection of hand-scooped hard ice cream, freshly baked cookies and toppings like Reese's Pieces and Sour Patch Kids.
One surprising highlight of dining in Celebrity Summit's buffet is the view. The venue is spacious and features floor-to-ceiling windows all around; it feels much more like a cafe than a cafeteria. There are even "portholes" built into the floor so passengers can peer down into the ocean as they dine.
As noted in the Overview, Oceanview Cafe on Summit has switched to a different style of service, where dishes are pre-plated into individual portions. Aside from the fact that the trays were a little too small to accommodate multiple dishes, we thought the new format made the buffet food look more appetizing and the overall experience more upscale.
We had trouble keeping track of the various opening hours for different sections of the buffet. Breakfast, including the waffle station and omelet station, closed promptly at 10 a.m. Late breakfast, which ran from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., had far fewer choices; you were better off waiting until the full lunch buffet opened at noon. In the evening, sushi, curries, Mexican, stir fries and other international options were served from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. -- but if you arrived a minute later, you were stuck with pasta, pizza and cold charcuterie. We found the pizza decent but not spectacular. (Still, at 1 a.m., you can't be too choosy on this ship.)
Pool Grill (Deck 10): Located in a covered area near the pool (natch), the Pool Grill is a less crowded spot to get made-to-order omelets and other breakfast foods in the morning (open 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.). At noon, it becomes the main place for those in swimsuits (which are discouraged in Oceanview Cafe) to grab burgers, fries and hot dogs -- even fried chicken and waffles. We found the fries nice and crisp. Open from noon to 6 p.m.
AquaSpa Cafe (Deck 10): Within the enclosed solarium encompassing the thalassotherapy pool, the AquaSpa Cafe serves up lighter breakfasts and lunches, as well as smoothies and juice mixes (for an extra cost). While we enjoyed the elaborate yogurt parfaits, we didn't think they were worth the $5 cost. (On the other hand, the complimentary chocolate beet muffins were so tasty, you'd never know they were healthy.) Open 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. for breakfast and noon to 12:30 p.m. for lunch. An afternoon tea is spread out in this space from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Room service is offered around the clock, although there's a $3.95 charge for passengers in interior, oceanview and balcony staterooms between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. .Breakfast can be ordered the night before, but we were also able to get a pot of coffee in a reasonable amount of time just by phoning in the morning. The standard menu, available from 11 a.m. to 5 a.m., includes a reasonable selection of appetizers, salads, desserts and stalwarts such as cheeseburgers, pizza and club sandwiches (accompanied by fries that were still crispy and toasty). For an extra cost, you can order premium items such as a caprese salad ($10), filet mignon ($20) and a cheese platter ($15).
The Normandie (Deck 3); $40 per person: The Normandie, a 134-seat specialty restaurant, serves upscale dishes prepared using traditional French methods; think goat cheese souffle, pan-seared foie gras and Dover Sole Veronique. It features memorabilia from the legendary transatlantic liner, including gold-lacquered paneling depicting hunt scenes that originally adorned the smoking room on the SS Normandie. The restaurant also touts a dine-in wine cellar, open kitchen and "butterfly service" with waiters serving, presenting and removing dishes at the same table in unison. Many dishes are prepared or finished tableside. Open 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily; lunch in The Normandie was offered on embarkation day for free for VIPs and suite passengers and at least one sea day from noon to 1:30 p.m. for $25.
Bistro on Five (Deck 5); $10 per person: The ship's creperie is open from 6 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. daily, making it a convenient option for passengers looking for something to nosh between meals and late at night. The menu features both sweet and savory crepes, salads, paninis and flatbreads along with wine by the glass, beer and cocktails. We were underwhelmed by our flatbread and savory crepes, but the dessert crepes received high marks.
Cafe al Bacio (Deck 5): A mixture of fee and free, Cafe Al Bacio offers specialty Lavazza coffee beverages and complimentary pastries in a coffeehouse lounge that surrounds the atrium. Don't miss the house-made gelato in a freshly made waffle cone; it's worth the extra fee ($4 for a small, $6 for a large, $7 for a sundae). Cafe al Bacio is open 6:30 a.m. to midnight; the gelateria serves between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.
Qsine (Deck 11, midship); $40 per person: Now a Celebrity fixture on most ships, Qsine is a super-sleek and inventive dining venue that offers a whimsical, interactive dining experience. The menu is presented on an iPad and features items inspired by cuisines from around the world, including disco shrimp, filet mignon with five sauces, tacos with guacamole you prepare yourself and Kobe beef sliders. All are served in creative vessels -- you'll rarely see a serving plate. While the food doesn't taste as exciting as the presentation, Qsine offers a fun, modern ambiance that's perfect for a group. (The plates are meant to be shared, and portions are sizeable, so if you're traveling solo or as a couple, you'll get full long before you explore most of the menu.) Open 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.