Our welcome-aboard buffet featuring mystery-meat loaf and lunchroom fish set the tone for cuisine on the cruise. If you start with low expectations, you're pleasantly surprised when the level rises to average or above. But I will say quite candidly that it's clearly not the food that brings the substantial number of repeat passengers back.
Dining venues are limited, as you would expect on a ship of this size. There is the Seven Continents Restaurant, with menu service for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Lido Cafe serves a standard English buffet breakfast, theme lunch, and afternoon tea at 4 p.m. The Yacht Club, a free alternative restaurant, has an "early risers" Continental breakfast and a reservations-only Italian or Oriental dinner. Some of the most appetizing offerings, both sweet and savory, showed up at the late night snack in the Palm Court at 11 p.m. There is room service from breakfast through 11 p.m., but it only offers items from the room service menu.
The dining room has open seating for breakfast and lunch, and assigned tables for a 6:30 or 8:30 p.m. sitting. There is a vegetarian meal and sugar-free desert for both lunch and dinner. The restaurant's luncheon menu is usually an abbreviated version of the Lido buffet spread. The chef's recommendation for the Captain's Welcome Dinner was Surimi crab salad in a filo basket with honey dill sauce, cream of lobster soup with shrimps, champagne sorbet, beef Wellington, and black and white chocolate terrine with berry coulis. The Seven Continents restaurant always offers hamburgers, cheeseburgers and hot dogs as an alternative for lunch and minute steak and grilled chicken breast for dinner.
The Lido buffet offers theme lunches, like "Pasta Festival," "French Baguette" (sandwiches), "Burger Shack" and "Oriental Lunch." The late night snack in Palm Court also has themes, and on our cruise they included Arabian, Japanese, Italian, Greek, South American, Scandinavian, "Vol au Vents" and "Lolly Pops and Chops."
The best thing about the food was that I managed to weigh the same disembarking as I did coming aboard -- but then again, I limited myself to three meals a day and skipped most deserts and the late-night snack.
While the food is plentiful and acceptable, the same can't be said for the service. It was okay from the dining room staff, who were "accountable" -- and by that we mean not only that you knew their names but also that their gratuities are charged to your onboard account -- but service in the Lido buffet was frequently as cold and dismal as the Southern Atlantic. It did lend a certain drama to the voyage across the Drake Passage to see septuagenarians carrying their own trays across the wooden deck in ten-foot swells while being ignored by nearby stewards, but those are the kind of thrills I can live without. Want a glass of water with your meal? Good luck! The wait staff shares only the bar tips, so you'll fare better trying to get something with that automatic 15 percent gratuity added on.
It was the service that dragged the dining rating down, and (along with the Internet center) was the cause of the most vocal complaints we heard from other passengers.