There are two virtually identical main restaurants, Rigoletto on Deck 5 and La Traviata on Deck 6. Both are attractively presented with large windows on two sides, wood panelled walls, an elegant red and gold colour scheme 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 freshly-baked speciality breads and the cream soups are delicious.
La 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 "Personal Choice 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 bugbear of cruise passengers being forced to sit with strangers, but it does cause a few problems. On the first night of my cruise there was an extremely long queue 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 I sampled a sit-down breakfast two days later, with passengers willing to share a table having to wait around 15 minutes, and those who preferred to eat by themselves (not an unreasonable request at breakfast time ) facing an even longer wait.
In fairness, it's refreshing to be offered the choice at all, since so many mass-market cruise ships virtually enforce table-sharing at open seating times, but perhaps more dining staff are needed for this system to work really smoothly as only parts of the restaurant were open and 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.
This charges a $25 a head supplement and offers good service, terrific sea views and an excellent range of steak cuts, though the choice of starters was disappointing and some of the puddings were stodgy. And you should take a jacket or wrap if you're planning to eat here, as the air conditioning is ferocious.
The Horizon Court is the ship's indoor/outdoor 24-hour restaurant, offering early riser then full breakfasts until 11:30 a.m. , a substantial lunch buffet after that; then afternoon snacks and (from 6 p.m.) dinner. From 11 p.m. until 4 a.m., lighter Bistro dining is available.
Like most of Sea Princess' public areas, the 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 very crowded and tables are hard to come by.
Because the buffet is arranged into different islands, there are no long queues, but waiters wielding tea and coffee pots could usefully 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 5 p.m., while on Deck 12, Sundaes ice cream parlour sells elaborate and highly calorific concoctions (including the amusingly named 'Dieter's Revenge') for $3.95 each.
And passengers in balconied cabins can breakfast or dine in solitary splendour
on the ship's Ultimate Balcony Dining programme. This costs $32 a head for a Champagne breakfast, $100 for dinner, and meals are served course-by-course onto a balcony set up with a white-clothed table and flowers.