On this ship it's all about choice, including the option to have no choice. When you book your cruise you pick either Personal Choice Dining or traditional dining (and you can even change your mind when you get to the ship). With the traditional dining setup, you eat in the International Dining Room (or Vivaldi, early seating only) at the same table and same time nightly with the same assigned tablemates.
Personal Choice Dining is more of a restaurant-type option; in this case you can eat in any of four, themed (no surcharge) dining rooms, and you can eat whenever you like and with whom you like. Want to have a table for two one night and a table for eight the next? No problem. Want to eat at 6 p.m. one night and 8 p.m. the next? No problem. The only catch is the themed dining rooms get filled up, and reservations are suggested.
One change made by Princess about a year after launch is that all restaurants, even the specialty dining rooms, serve the same menu (each menu does include a smattering of themed cuisine) but the rooms themselves still offer unique ambiences.
The specialty restaurants are Santa Fe, Pacific Moon and Vivaldi (after 7:45 p.m. only). The former Sterling Steakhouse has been renamed the Savoy.
Added in the restaurant makeover was Princess' signature Sterling Steakhouse; it's located in an unused-at-night section of the Horizon Court buffet area. The space features a more elegant evening look -- and the same menu as the rest of the fleet's Sterling Steakhouses. Service charge is $25.
The International Dining Room is also open for open seating breakfast and lunch.
The restaurants offer a good selection of wine from $20 to $50 per bottle. You can bring your own, but may be charged a $15 corkage fee. There is a charge for espresso or cappuccino. Don't miss a chance to finish your meal with the Italian liquor limoncello.
Room Service is available 24 hours a day, but the menu is limited. The breakfast menu is limited to yogurt, pastries and bread, fruit, cereal, coffee and juice. The otherwise round-the-clock menu offers fare such as deli and club sandwiches, salads, soup of the day, grilled burgers and cheeseburgers, and a few dessert items. If you're entertaining there are canapes available for a fee; you can also order wine, beer and drinks, including full bottles. On all room service deliveries a tip (a dollar or two for the average order, more for party orders) is requested.
There is always something to eat at the Horizon Court buffet on Lido, which also offers a bistro menu with waiter service (for drinks) into the wee hours. Lunch in Horizon Court is pretty uninspired with your typical hot items and cold salads (we preferred to grab a burger or a slice of pizza by the pool). But breakfast here is better than in the dining room -- the buffet included fried eggs, eggs benedict, cereals, crispy bacon, corned beef hash, French toast with cornflake crust and fresh fruit. With the buffet areas on two sides, there was rarely a crowd. Seating is indoors and outdoors.
Don't miss afternoon tea, served daily in the Pacific Moon, with sandwiches, pastries, and warm scones with cream (tea connoisseurs will notice however that the pour Lipton).
Another must-do at least once during your cruise is the reservations-only specialty restaurant Sabatini's, named for the famous trattoria in Florence, and serving an inspired Italian menu (again, Princess does Italian well). The cozy venue, with Italian music playing and murals on the walls, is open daily for dinner and occasionally for lunch, and a fee of $25 per person is charged. They pile on the food here, so come hungry. We particularly enjoyed the extraordinary cannelloni.