First and foremost: Expect continental-style cuisine -- with lots of German favorites. From breakfast, where cold meats and cheeses are more popular than fried eggs and bacon (though those are available, too), to dinner, with items like roast beef with cream sauce, there's definitely more of an international feel.
Europa offers four restaurants. The Europa Restaurant is the elegant main restaurant, and it's absolutely beautiful, with a blue and gold color scheme and lots of near floor-to-ceiling windows. Seating is open for breakfast and lunch, but at dinner it's predetermined; however, in European tradition, you "own" your table, so you can choose to eat anytime between 7 and 9:30 p.m., rather than at a fixed time. A fair variety of tables for two and four are available, but the downside of the system comes when you're assigned to a larger table, when fellow diners come and go at different stages in the meal. On our bilingual cruises, the maitre d' made an effort to either pair us with like-speaking couples or made sure we were seated at a table for two.
Breakfasts are interesting. The buffet station seems out of place in the middle of this elegant room, yet buffets are very popular with Germans, so there it was. You find cold meats and cheeses, yogurts and muesli. Bottled water and German sparkling wine were available, free of charge, every morning. There is also a menu that features cooked items, such as eggs Benedict and veal chops. Also offered: Standard American fare, such as pancakes, which tasted more like crepes, and French toast. Offerings change daily. Breakfast is served from 8 to 10 a.m., though times could vary based on port calls.
Menus at lunch were also interesting, and I've noticed (this being our second trip on Europa) that there are lighter fare choices that I don't remember from before. A Cuisine Legere menu, loosely translated as healthier choices, is offered each day. Options include chilled fruit soups, grilled fish and chicken breast. Regularly, though, the menus reflect the ship's continental style, and, wherever possible, the regions in which the ship travels. Starters, available from the buffet and the lunch menu -- which, like all menus, changes daily -- include, for instance, a (tiny) club sandwich or fruit cocktail, soups, pasta (the spaghetti alla carbonara I had one day was perfectly sized for a meal in itself -- not too big, not too small) and main courses. These typically include regional specialties, such as wiener schnitzel or a fish dish. Not to be missed was the occasional tempting offer "from the crew galley," and while I skipped one day's offer of fried pork knuckle, another's sauteed beef was delightful.
Service, particularly at lunch but occasionally at breakfast, was not delightful. It was below par more consistently than expected. (At one lunch, a member of the waitstaff was so engrossed in folding linen napkins that diners at her station literally had to wave her down to get her attention, and that was just one example.)
At Europa, lunch is served from 12:30 to 2 p.m.
Dinner in Europa, when it came to menus, ambience and service, was consistently outstanding. Typically, menus were broken down into two options. The Europa Menu offered a series of starters, soups, entrees and desserts, and it's there -- with dishes like beef fillet with peanut-chili sauce and crispy fried Holstein duck with orange sauce -- that you could get your waistline in trouble.
The lighter-fare Cuisine Legere menu is also available at dinner, and it offers plenty of choices -- not just for those wanting healthier options, but also those who are vegetarian. And you can mix and match. We found that, when it comes to dinner at the Europa, no request is too much trouble.
A separate dessert menu includes cheeses. Every night features different options.
Europa operates from 7 to 9:30 p.m.
For those wanting a more casual experience, The Lido Cafe, with alfresco and indoor tables, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Interestingly, when I first sailed Europa some seven years before, The Lido Cafe was the finest buffet I'd experienced on a luxury ship, featuring a lovely layout and high-quality fare. The food's still excellent, but at this point, particularly when it comes to decor and space, it's overshadowed by more elegant and spacious casual buffet venues on newer ships. (Seabourn's Odyssey-class series and Crystal's recently renovated facilities come to mind.) It's still a very pleasant place, if occasionally a bit crowded, to dine.
At breakfast, there's an ample selection of meats and cheeses, breads and pastries, German sparkling wine for mimosas and a grill that will cook everything from pancakes to a steak, a la minute. You can order hot items from the menu, as well. On our nippy Norwegian fjords cruise, we especially appreciated outdoor heaters and tartan blankets draped over chairs in the Lido's open-air area.
At lunch, The Lido Cafe offers basically the same fare as the Europa in a serve-yourself mode. (You can also order hot items from a waiter.)
One of the highlights of The Lido Cafe is its occasional theme buffets on sea days. It seemed as if the whole ship turned out for the Oktoberfest lunch on one sea day -- it featured wiener schnitzel and sausages, a fabulous German band that played traditional festival music and German beers on the house.
At night, The Lido Cafe really shines. While still relatively casual next to the formality of The Europa Restaurant, each night it features a culinary theme (and is very popular -- reservations are recommended). It is transformed into a boutique, waiter-service restaurant centered on various themes. One evening featured an all-duck menu (for starters and mains, anyway -- desserts were duck-free!). Another night, a pizza-themed menu offered six pies, and on another it showcased steaks and chops. Starters and salads were featured on the buffet.
Dieter Muller and the Italian-oriented Venezia were quite distinct from other ships' alternative restaurants. First, as with Europa, there was just one seating per night; while the restaurants were open from 7 until 9:30 p.m., folks with reservations simply showed up at their leisure within that time frame. (There were plenty of smaller tables, so we weren't required to dine with strangers.)
We dined twice at Dieter Muller, and they were two of the best meals I've ever had (either on land or at sea). Each featured a different seven-course tasting menu. Make an effort to try each.
On one night, we started with a truffle ravioli, moved on to carpaccio with caviar, then scallop with pumpkin chutney, a wild prawn that was astonishingly memorable "in a cappuccino of curry and lemon grass," Champagne cream sorbet, saddle of deer calf with spaetzle, and, for dessert, savarin. Because courses are small, you won't leave too stuffed. (In fact, we weren't the only ones picking at the delicious bits of cookies and pastries that come along afterward.)
Reservations are required and can be hard to come by.
Venezia, the ship's Italian restaurant, was another delight. Open every day for lunch from 12:30 to 2 p.m., the Northern Italian menus feature hearty fare and repeat a couple of times throughout each sailing. You don't have to make a reservation for lunch, but Venezia can fill up, so you may want to do so to avoid disappointment.
Venezia, open from 7:30 to 9 p.m., features a different menu every evening that showcases various regions of Italy. Our favorite was the "regions of the Alps, Piedmont and Trentino," where highlights included marinated calamari with pesto, noodles with mussels and pine nuts, suckling pig and a fantastic cheese trolley. Advance reservations are necessary for dinner.
None of the alternative venues levies a service fee. Each has individual wine lists and offers wine-pairing expertise upon request.
During the afternoon, snacks are available, either at afternoon tea (in Club Belvedere, its top-ship lounge) from 4 to 5 p.m. or freshly prepared waffles poolside from 3 to 5 p.m.
The 24-hour in-cabin meal service offers some basics, such as wiener schnitzel, steak frites, Nuremberg sausages and Caesar salad, but you can, at mealtime, order off the restaurant menu from Europa.
A heads-up: It's nearly impossible to get a server to bring you "just a glass of water, please" at lunch and dinner. It is the European way to order bottled water with meals (save for breakfast, when it's available on a complimentary basis) -- and these are priced a la carte.