Sea Princess Dining
There are two virtually identical main restaurants, Rigoletto on Deck 5 and Traviata on Deck 6. Both are attractively presented with large windows on two sides, wood paneled walls, elegant red-and-gold and blue-and-gold color schemes (respectively), and ceilings which, though very low, are glamorously studded with twinkling lights.
Food is fairly standard mass-market cruise fare (with sprouts featuring rather too frequently for my taste), but meat cuts are very good quality and puddings generally high standard; salads could be crisper, but the fresh-baked specialty breads and cream soups are delicious.
Traviata operates a traditional set-seating system with pre-assigned tables, while Rigoletto offers "anytime dining," allowing passengers to dine when and with whom they please. The Princess traditional and anytime dining policy allows passengers to switch from one to the other at 24 hours' notice.
Generally speaking, this is an excellent system, as it removes the old bugaboo of cruise passengers being forced to sit with strangers, but it does cause a few problems. On the first night of our cruise, there was an extremely long line of passengers waiting to be seated (though you can avoid this by making a reservation as soon as you board).
However, similar problems beset the system when we sampled a sit-down breakfast two days later: passengers willing to share tables had to wait around 15 minutes, and those who preferred to eat by themselves (not an unreasonable request at breakfast time) faced an even longer wait. Waiters, though friendly and efficient, seemed overstretched and harassed at times.
There are two alternative dining venues: the lovely Cafe Corniche on Deck 8, which offers a good selection of pizzas and a more limited range of Italian antipasti, pasta dishes and puddings in a very pleasant setting; and the Sterling Steak House -- part of the Horizon Court buffet on Deck 14, which is screened off and dressed with snowy tablecloths every evening.
Sterling charges a $20-per-person supplement and offers good service, terrific sea views and an excellent range of steak cuts, though the choice of starters was disappointing. You should take a jacket or wrap if you're planning to eat there, as the air conditioning is ferocious.
Horizon Court is the ship's indoor/outdoor buffet restaurant, offering a full breakfast from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m., a substantial lunch buffet after that, then afternoon snacks (from 5:30 p.m.) and dinner.
Like most of Sea Princess' public areas, Horizon Court is beautifully designed, with a pleasing garden room freshness and substantial solid teak outside seating overlooking the ship's pools. However, at peak times, it does get crowded, and tables are hard to come by.
Because the buffet is arranged into different islands, there are no long lines, but waiters wielding tea and coffee pots could be more extensively deployed, as the self-service drinks machines do tend to log-jam during busy periods.
For casual meals out on deck, the Deck 14 Riviera Grill provides burgers and hot dogs from 11 a.m. to midnight, while on Deck 12, Sundaes ice cream parlor offers complimentary soft-serve ice cream. br>
And passengers in balcony cabins can dine in solitary splendor with the ship's Ultimate Balcony Dining program. This costs $32 per couple for a Champagne breakfast, $100 per couple for dinner, and meals are served course-by-course onto a balcony set up with a white-clothed table and flowers.