Princess has not yet joined the cruise bandwagon of downsizing its free dining options in favor of for-fee alternative restaurants. Nearly all of the dining options onboard Diamond Princess are free, including the whopping five main dining rooms: Savoy, Vivaldi, Pacific Moon, Santa Fe and International Dining Room. There's also a gratis buffet, grill, pizza place and ice cream counter.
Main Dining Rooms: All dining rooms offer the same main menu items, though each offers a small selection of signature items, as well, resulting in some 10 items on offer every night, most of which can also be made in appetizer size. On sailings carrying a majority of Japanese passengers, entree sizes are kept purposely small, and our waiter encouraged us to order multiple dishes or double our entree order. This created the ideal opportunity for tasting, and most folks at our table typically ordered two to three main items every evening. With few exceptions, food in the main dining rooms was the best on offer on the ship, even better than what we found in the for-fee restaurants. For instance, the miso-glazed salmon instantly earned honors as the best salmon dish we've ever had.
On sailings that are not full, only certain main dining rooms will be open. On our sailing, only Pacific Moon, Santa Fe and the International Dining Room were in use on a daily basis. On two of the sea days, the Savoy dining room opened for a special British-Style pub lunch that featured fish and chips, bangers 'n' mash, and steak and kidney pie, with bread pudding for dessert.
On all other days, the only main dining room open for breakfast and lunch was the International Dining Room (except for Sabatini's, where suite passengers could eat breakfast). Lunch in the International Dining Room was especially popular with the Japanese passengers, as it always offered a variety of Asian and Indian dishes.
On sailings that originate from Japan, Anytime Dining is not available -- only traditional early (5:30 p.m.) and late (7:45 p.m.) seatings. However, the ship reverts to standard Princess dining when it sails in Australia, with the International Dining Room offering traditional seating, Vivaldi Dining Room offering a traditional early first seating and then Anytime afterwards, and the Santa Fe, Pacific Moon and Savoy dining rooms always offering Anytime Dining. Each will offer a signature dish, as well -- something not offered during Japan sailings.
Horizon Court: Those looking for a more casual option than a dining room can opt for the ship's buffet, Horizon Court, on Deck 14.
Continental breakfast starts at 5:00 a.m., and the full breakfast buffet runs from 6:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Breakfast at Horizon Court on an Asian cruise is unlike any buffet breakfast you'll find at sea. Along with the requisite scrambled eggs, omelets made to order, French toast, pancakes, cereal and fruit, you'll find items that appeal to Japanese tastes like Miso soup, stewed fish, stir-fried cabbage and fried rice. An excellent selection of pastries is also available every morning, including fruit tarts, plain and chocolate croissants and a variety of muffins.
Lunch runs 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., though the full selection gradually makes way for more snack-sized items like make-your-own sandwiches around 4:00 p.m. As with breakfast, lunch options include typical Western dishes (pasta, carving stations, etc.) and Asian dishes like udon noodle dishes and sushi. Dinner runs from 5:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., again with a mix of Western and Asian dishes. Both lunch and dinner include a variety of desserts, including a large selection of sugar-free options.
On Australian cruises, the Asian-style buffet items will only be offered if there is a large contingent of Japanese passengers onboard.
Trident Grill: Located on Deck 14 forward, near the Neptune Pool and Prego pizzeria, this small poolside grill offers traditional burgers and hot dogs. For passengers lounging by the pool in need of a quick bite it's a great option, but for those eating in the buffet, it's a longer walk if you want both grill and buffet food at the same time. The grill is open all day, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Prego: On the other side of Neptune Pool is the poolside Prego pizzeria. Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., the slices on offer are nothing special, and past Princess passengers complained Diamond Princess' Prego had been downgraded in comparison with other ships. Like Trident Grill, Prego is perfect for poolside eating, but it's not convenient for combining with a meal at Horizon Court.
Swirls: Tucked away on Deck 14, between Calypso and Neptune pools, Swirls is the ship's ice cream bar, offering soft-serve in a cone or cup. Flavors are always the same: vanilla, chocolate and green tea. Swirls is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Lobby Bar: A small selection of pastries is served throughout the day at the Lobby Bar on Deck 5. It's also the only spot on the ship to get free cappuccinos.
Room service: Passengers can order breakfast room service by hanging a card with their choices on their doorknob the night before. Options include cereal, eggs with various sides, French toast, fruit and juices. Lunch and dinner items include soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts. Pizza can be ordered too, but there's a $3 surcharge.
There are only three restaurants onboard Diamond Princess that come with a surcharge. None got a stellar review from any of the passengers we spoke with, though the three-way lobster at Sabatini's got a few thumbs up. On our sailing of Diamond Princess, none of the three were ever full. One quick note: none of the three specialty restaurants offers vegetarian fare beyond one or two appetizer choices.
Sabatini's: Hidden away behind the Photo and Video Gallery, Sabatini's can be hard to find. A medium-sized restaurant with a capacity of 92 diners, Sabatini's serves Italian fare that's heavy on the seafood, especially shellfish. Appetizers, for instance, include marinated shrimp, calamari and soft-shell crab. Main dish choices include baked striped bass, garlic infused shrimp, lobster three ways (lobster tail, lobster risotto and lobster sauce), chicken skewers, strip steak and grilled veal chop. ($25 per person)
In addition to serving dinner, Sabatini's also is open to suite passengers for breakfast. Items include eggs made to order, French toast, fruit parfaits, free mimosas and cappuccino.
Sterling Steakhouse: Unlike steakhouses we've been to on other cruise ships, Sterling does not provide an elite, exclusive atmosphere. Situated in a somewhat nicer back section of Horizon Buffet that's decked out at night with decorative linens and special table settings, Sterling Steakhouse is, nevertheless, the place to dine for meat-lovers. Items served in the 78-seat restaurant include New York Strip and Kansas City Strip steaks, Rib-Eye, Filet Mignon and Porterhouse steak. For an extra fee of $10 each, diners can opt for carpaccio of Kobe beef, surf & turf and Onigara-Yaki Lobster Tails. The lobster tails and a pan roasted Chilean sea bass are the only alternatives to red meat. ($25 per person)
Kai Sushi: The largest sushi restaurant in Princess' fleet, Kai Sushi can seat 66 diners, but it was never even close to half full on our sailing. An a la carte eatery only open for dinner, Kai Sushi offers a variety of sushi and sashimi, as well as a small selection of other seafood items like the marinated cocktails Ahi Tuna Poke and Chili & Lime Jumbo Lump Crab Margarita, as well as a seafood udon noodle dish.