My husband Gil and I found the food on Island Princess to be good overall -- but a bit uneven, and sometimes mediocre. The 24-hour buffet delivered a few bombs (inedible trout almondine, watery eggs scrambled with salmon, and a sliced-off-the-grill stuffed pork loin I couldn't bite through) -- but that's the nature of a lot of buffets: There are winners and losers. And frankly, there's enough of a choice that a questionable option or two isn't going to ruin your day. We stuck with the buffet's salad and fruit bars, hands-down winners. More to my surprise, some of the dinner entrees in the formal dining room trended toward bland. As for selection, however, you can't beat it. Imagine our difficulty at dinner one night having to choose between beef Wellington, broiled lobster tail and pheasant. Problem or bliss?
Here's the skinny on the ship's dining options:
First, the venues. There are two formal dining rooms, Provence and Bordeaux. Despite their seating capacity (510 and 570 seats, respectively), they are successfully designed to create intimate spaces within a larger one. The dining rooms have two seatings, usually at 6 and 8:15 p.m. For those who don't care for the traditional dining option (which means same time, same waiters, same tablemates), "Anytime Dining" is available in at least one of the dining rooms between 5:30 and 10 p.m., depending upon availability. Same-day reservations may be made by calling a "dining hotline" between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Horizon Court, the round-the-clock buffet, shares space on the Lido deck with two swimming pools, a terrific pizzeria, and, one deck above that, a hamburger and hot dog grill. There's 24-hour complimentary room service as well. (The Alaska Champagne Breakfast & Brunch for Two, which included a half bottle of French champagne, did carry a charge of $28.)
There are also two "alternative" restaurants, Sabatini's and the Bayou Cafe & Steakhouse, with nominal cover charges. Sabatini's ($20) has an impressive -- and seemingly infinite -- fixed-dinner menu with Italian and seafood favorites in a formal setting. The more casual Bayou ($15) features Cajun- and Creole-influenced foods as well as premium steaks.
Room service offers Continental breakfast only. Hot and cold selections are available for lunch and dinner; passengers in suites may also order from dining room menus.
To round it all out, there's a patisserie and ice cream bar, neither of which is complimentary.
As for those all-important three squares:
There are three choices: complimentary room service; a formal sit-down meal in the elegant Bordeaux dining room; or, as most probably experience it, the buffet-style breakfast in Horizon Court. Gil and I were typically up early, and we would hit the buffet by 6:30 a.m. -- before the rush. Overall, it was fairly pleasing. Among other offerings, there's a fruit bar, a cereal and yogurt bar, all manner of breads, and the usual suspects: eggs, bacon, ham, potatoes, pancakes and crepes. There's also a station for made-to-order omelettes.
Horizon Court is probably the crowd favorite because of its exhausting selection, but we enjoyed two other options as well on this last trip: the pizzeria, and a formal lunch in the Bordeaux dining room. Both were terrific. I marveled at the luncheon menu choices in the dining room, and thinking about them now makes me hungry. Some of the standouts included chicken gumbo, Cobb salad, poached salmon with a cucumber salad, and Irish stew. How to choose?
Given our cruise route, we indulged in a lot of Alaskan specialties during our first seating dinners in the Provence dining room: venison, halibut, turbot, grouper, salmon. The desserts were also memorable. In fact, one of our traveling mates ate nine -- count them, nine -- pieces of cheesecake during the trip. Traditional dining also includes a vegetarian menu as well as the health-focused Lotus Spa menu, which offers options like chilled yogurt and tamarind soup, filet of baby turbot with a fennel Pernod sauce and tropical fruit smoothies. I'd also give high marks to Sabatini's, the Italian specialty restaurant. We didn't eat dinner at Horizon Court, though of course it has ample offerings that include some of the same dishes served in the dining rooms as well as daily specials.