We found the food on Island Princess to be generally decent throughout with attentive and friendly waiting staff.
As far as special diets go -- gluten-free, kosher, vegan, etc. -- it is advisable to inform the cruise line six weeks in advance, although they say they can still cater well for special diets without advance warning.
Island Princess dining options include a choice of Traditional Dining -- the classic cruise experience that assigns passengers to set dinner times at 5:45 or 8 p.m. with the same table companions and waiting staff -- and Anytime Dining -- which offers more flexibility as passengers can have dinner anytime between 5.30 p.m. and 10 p.m. and sit with whomever they wish. Casual dining venues are available throughout the ship or you can eat in your own stateroom at any time at all, thanks to 24-hour complimentary room service.
A little map marked on the menus indicate regional dishes. On our Mediterranean cruise, these included Turkish chicken soup, Spanish gazpacho, seared diver scallops and snails glazed with shallots. Similarly, selections marked with a "V" identify veggie options, like grilled eggplant and chickpea fritters or mushroom and Emmental cheese quiche. Typically one main course meat-free dish is available every night.
Bordeaux Dining Room (Deck 5): This is one of two main dining rooms -- the other is the Provence -- featuring elegant decor in muted tones with lots of lovely wood and etched glass panels. There are a few tables for two -- though guests have to specifically ask if they want to eat a deux -- and some tables for four, but most are for six or eight. If you choose Anytime Dining, you'll eat here.
This restaurant seats 570 and is open for lunch on sea days only from noon to 1.30 p.m. Lunch menus offer items such as rollmop herrings with horseradish puree, fried tortillas stuffed with spicy beef or combos of soup, salad and sandwich.
Daily afternoon tea offers a selection of premium teas from Earl Grey to herbal -- or coffee if you prefer -- and comes with scones, pastries, finger sandwiches, soft background music and white-gloved waiters. Afternoon tea is served from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
For dinner, choices might include oven-roasted prime rib with brioche potatoes or fillet of rockfish, while an "always available favorites" menu includes options like grilled salmon, beef medallions and corn-fed chicken. There are four choices on the dessert menu with the addition of "Princess favorites," which includes the Princess Love Boat Dream (rich chocolate mousse sitting on a chocolate brownie). As of 2015, Island Princess offers the Chocolate Journeys program, which allows guests to taste creations crafted by chocolatier Norman Love. One or two Chocolate Journeys desserts -- such as white chocolate cheesecake with vanilla mousseline and strawberry preserves or coconut mousse with dark chocolate cream -- are offered each night in the main dining rooms.
Open-seating dining is from 5.30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Provence Dining Room (Deck 6): This traditional dining room -- similar in style, decor and atmosphere to the Bordeaux -- is a more peaceful oasis to enjoy a leisurely breakfast than the self-service Horizon Court, particularly on sea days. Expect a standard selection of fruit juices, cereals, yogurts, pastries, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels. For those who like to go the whole hog, there is sausage, bacon, baked beans, grilled mushrooms and eggs how you like them. On our cruise, there were no queues for tables at breakfast, though a request to eat at a table for two was met with minor irritation, even though there were several unreserved, empty tables for two dotted round the room. Breakfast is served by waiting staff from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Early dinner seating with the same menu as the Provence is at 5:45 p.m; late seating is at 8 p.m. Toward the end of the cruise, the napkin-waving, seagoing tradition of the Parade of Baked Alaska is always fun and came as a total surprise to my new-to-cruise companions.
Alfredo's Pizza (Deck 7): A side section of the Sabatini's restaurant morphs into Alfredo's Pizza at lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It serves complimentary pizzas, which are superior to those served in the grab-and-go pizzeria on Deck 14.
Bayou Cafe (Deck 7): A pub lunch is available here on sea days for no extra charge. It proves popular -- too popular when we were onboard and had a slightly chaotic feel. Menu items include fish and chips and cottage pie. Bar service is available.
Princess Pizzeria (Deck 14): The pizzeria is located right across from the Movies Under the Stars screen. It offers a choice of three freshly made pizzas -- margarita, pepperoni and a rotating special each day. Open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Horizon Court (Deck 14): The stations in this pleasantly fresh area improve traffic flow, and we found fewer long lines than at other cruise ship buffets. Tables are pre-set with cutlery and napkins and waiting staff are always on hand to provide beverage service to each table, whether you order self-service selections or bar items. Breakfast offers a wide choice of both the usual suspects and some rather more unusual items; you might find mini potato and onion quiches, grilled mini steaks and cheddar biscuits with cheese sauce alongside dishes of sausages, bacon and eggs. The scrambled eggs were a daily disappointment; instead of being light and fluffy with a creamy texture, they were always an almost cold, solid mass. Breakfast is from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Choices include hot dishes such as macaroni and cheese and honey soy glazed pork spareribs, and there is always a rather good salad bar with lots of dressings and toppings, a variety of fresh pasta dishes, Indian specialties and wrapped grab and go sandwiches for those in a hurry or who don't want to miss a moment of sunshine. An enticing range of desserts, fresh fruit and yogurt is available, too.
Interestingly, on a couple of days during our cruise, individual shepherd's pies were on offer. When asked what they contained, the answer was, "beef of course" -- even thought shepherd's pie is traditionally made with lamb.
Light snacks, including several varieties of toasted sandwiches, cakes and pastries, are available between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
A casual dinner served from 5:30 p.m. to midnight has plenty of options. Starters might be Caesar salad, antipasto and two or three soups, both hot and cold; mains could be coconut vegetable curry, red snapper or roast chicken. Desserts are as sweet and tempting as they should be with cheesecakes, compotes and create-your-own sundae choices.
Iced tea, coffee, water and lemonade are always available on a complimentary basis.
The Horizon Court also has a children's area that serves child-friendly meals, such as chicken nuggets, salads, yogurts and ice cream.
Swirls Ice Cream Bar (Deck 14): Free ice cream in cones or tubs comes in vanilla, chocolate or strawberry flavors. If you prefer milkshakes, however, they cost $2.50. Open from10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Trident Grill (Deck 15): Glass-topped, metal-framed tables and white wrought iron chairs with pale green cushioned seats enhance this open air restaurant where classic American grilled food is cooked and served. The menu offers hamburgers, hotdogs, cheeseburgers, veggie burgers, bratwurst and fries. Open from11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Room Service: Complimentary in-cabin dining is offered 24 hours a day so passengers can dine in their pajamas if they feel like it. The menu includes salads, sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers and pastries and drinks such as iced tea, coffee and milk.
Breakfast via a door-hung card is available in your stateroom from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Choices include juices, fresh fruits, yogurt, cold cereals, breads, pastries, preserves and one hot item -- an egg, bacon and cheese breakfast muffin, which comes with or without ketchup.
Island Princess offers two restaurants that come with a reasonable supplement, Sabatini's and the Bayou Cafe Steakhouse. Passengers can also indulge in the Ultimate Balcony Experience or pop along to the Crab Shack (although it is not open every evening).
La Patisserie (Deck 5): This small coffee lounge seating 40 in the atrium is particularly busy on sea day afternoons. A limited selection of complimentary cakes and pastries is available. The selection of hot and cold drinks includes a vanilla bean latte ($2.75), hot chocolate ($1.50), raspberry caramel coffee ($4) and iced coffee ($1.25). Coffee cards cost $29 and allow you 15 coffees or teas. Alcoholic beverages are also sold here. Open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sabatini's (Deck 7); $25 for adults and children over 13, $12.50 for children ages 3 to 12: This Italian-themed dining room -- complete with Roman pillars and Italian-esque wall murals -- features seafood specialties and other Mediterranean favorites. Dinner is served from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Waitstaff automatically serve a selection of appetizers to munch on while you decide what to choose from the menu. Menus offer a selection of hot and cold antipasti, handmade pastas and main courses such as roast Chilean sea bass, grilled cold water lobster tails and fettuccine Alfredo in a crisp Parmesan basket. Vegetarians fare better here than in the other restaurants, with options varying from hearty hot soups like lentil or mushroom and cold soups such as frosted coconut soup and iced peach Bellini soup, lots of pasta varieties, ricotta tart, baked zucchini with cheese and onion stuffing and potato gnocchi. The restaurant seats 108 and reservations are recommended, particularly on sea days.
Suite guests only can eat breakfast here from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
The Bayou Cafe Steakhouse (Deck 7); $25 for adults and children over 13, $12.50 for children ages 3 to 12: This New Orleans-style restaurant that seats 118 serves up Cajun and Creole specialties amid a background of live jazz. Dark decor manages somehow to give the space atmosphere. The menu offers appetizers such as smothered gator and crayfish bisque and is heavy on steak for the entrees section. If steak doesn't do it for you, you might prefer the seafood gumbo, sweet potato pie or jambalaya. Entrees come with a warm basket of Johnny cakes (cornmeal flatbreads). We found the food here didn't live up to our expectations and wine service was slow. Dinner is from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Crab Shack (Deck 14); $20: A cordoned-off area of the Horizon Court buffet becomes a pop-up fish restaurant on select evenings. Finger-licking seafood comes with mallets, bibs and buckets. Dishes include spiced peel-and-eat shrimp or a mixed steamer pot filled with crab, shrimp, clams and mussels. Check the Princess Patter for open hours, as they vary.
Ultimate Balcony Dining; Champagne breakfast $45 per couple, lobster dinner $100 per couple: A meal set up and served on your balcony is a special treat for honeymooners, those celebrating an anniversary or for cruisers who just want to indulge in a little luxury. Breakfast consists of a half bottle of chilled French Champagne, a warm basket overflowing with homemade pastries, cold smoked salmon with dill cream cheese and toasted lemon brioche, fresh fruit, forest berries and quiche.
The balcony dinner includes one pre-dinner cocktail per person, 2 canapes per person, a flower bouquet, one 8 x 10 picture per couple and a half bottle of chilled Champagne. The menu could include Pacific blue crabcake baked in a puff pastry crown and marinated chevre and mesclun field greens, broiled tail of cold water lobster, drawn lemon butter and vegetables or grilled filet of beef tenderloin, potatoes, vegetables and mushroom demi-glace. Desserts include the "extraordinary chocolate quartet mousseline."
Balcony breakfasts are served between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and balcony dinners are served between 5.30 p.m. and 10 p.m.