Emerald Princess Dining
Princess has deftly maneuvered the tight rope at dinnertime between pleasing passengers who prefer a traditional dining experience (set time, tablemates and restaurant) with those who desire flexibility. Passengers can opt for the structured choice in the Botticelli Dining Room (seatings at 6 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.). The Michelangelo and Da Vinci restaurants handle the flex-dining crowd -- passengers who can turn up anytime between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.; beepers are provided during busy times, or you can opt to dine with other passengers.
Typical dishes served in the three dining rooms include Strasbourg duck liver pate with black truffle, gnocchi pillows filled with Asiago cheese in a truffle creamy coulis, aged beef tenderloin in a whole grain mustard crust with chasseur sauce, and baked Italian crepes filled with Fontina cheese and porcini mushrooms. As well, Princess features standards on every menu; these include grilled salmon with herb and lemon compound butter, spice-rubbed tri tip roast, grilled beef filet medallions, burgers and pan-seared corn-fed chicken with thyme jus. Vegetarian choices are marked and always available. Desserts range from amaretto torte to vanilla souffle with Grand Marnier sabayon.
Breakfast and lunch are served daily, usually in Da Vinci; it's open seating during these meals. Hours are 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. for breakfast and noon to 1:30 p.m. for lunch. An elegant afternoon tea is also served there daily from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The breakfast menu is extensive, featuring Maine blueberry pancakes, eggs Florentine, a fresh fruit plate, grilled minute steak with ranch-style eggs, and frittata con funghi. Lunch includes a brunch option for late risers, along with a host of selections that range from burgers and vegetarian burritos to London mixed grill and crisp-fried calamari. Desserts -- a fresh fruit tartlet, cinnamon rice pudding and double chocolate fudge cake, as examples -- round out the menu.
While main dining rooms are a focus for many, one of Emerald Princess' greatest strengths throughout the day is its sheer volume of noshing options. The Horizon Court is the ship's buffet venue, and it's open for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. Hours are: 6 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for lunch, 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. for a light snack buffet and 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. for a full-blown dinner. Typical breakfast offerings include made-to-order omelets, pastries, cereal, etc. For lunch, you'll find deli fare, sandwiches and meats, soups, and a whole host of sides and salads. Dinners are sometimes themed -- a Bavarian Bierfest, for example, and a Mexican Buffet. We tend to be big fans of buffet dining, but the choices at Horizon Court -- pretty much across all meals -- were surprisingly limited and the quality uneven. In contrast, our dining experience in the formal restaurants was terrific in terms of both food and service.
Just beyond the Horizon Court on the Lido Deck is the smaller and slightly more intimate Cafe Caribe. While also a buffet-style venue, the cafe offers terrific themed buffets for lunch and dinner (such as Asian one day for lunch, with an expansive sushi bar, and French Provencal on one evening for dinner). It's also the best place onboard for comfort food -- our roast chicken, mashed potatoes and pea dinner one night was just the ticket. Wines are sold only by the glass there.
On the same deck, midship, you'll also find a pizzeria and a complimentary ice cream bar, as well as the Trident Grill, which serves the usual grilled items like hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and fries. All are open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
For even more casual noshing, we adored the cluster of food emporiums around the Piazza. Vines, the ship's wine bar, has freshly prepared sushi and tapas in addition to the best selection of wines onboard. This is not your standard "buffet" sushi, left out for all to grab at. You order your rolls, and a chef actually makes it in front of you. Same with the tapas. The sushi and tapas are complimentary when you order a glass of wine.
The International Cafe, across the way, has its own bakeshop (with onsite ovens so you can smell the tantalizing cookies, desserts and croissants as they cook). For breakfast, there are croissants and pastries, and for lunch there are salads and quiches, all included in your cruise fare. The cafe does have a short menu of specialty items that are priced a la carte -- the chocolate fondue is worth every cent and calorie.
The Cafe is also a coffee bar; lattes, espressos and more are available there for a fee.
Most formal are the ship's two specialty restaurants. Sabatini's, which levies a $25 per person service charge, is the fleet's Northern Italian-themed restaurant based on a typical ristorante in Tuscany. The dining experience on Deck 16 comes with gorgeous views, so plan your meal to coincide with sunset. While pondering their menu choices, diners are treated to herbed focaccia, rosemary flatbread with air-cured prosciutto, and marinated green and black olives. The meal includes antipasti, a nightly special pasta dish and entrees like duck with fava beans and pancetta or baked striped bass in an herbed salt crust. Sweets -- including raspberry frangipane tart with macerated wild berries or an almond, hazelnut and pecan napoleon with praline mousse and caramel pecan brittle -- end the dinner.
One neat aspect to dining there is that you can have your dessert served in the adjacent Adagio, a handsome piano bar with comfy seating. It's a nice, quiet alternative to some of the louder venues onboard.
Crown Grill, the other specialty restaurant, is a seafood/chophouse with an open kitchen. Specialties include Chilean sea bass and brioche-breaded king prawns, four-ounce Maine lobster tails, New Zealand double lamb chops, a Madeira-glazed Wisconsin veal chop and an array of steaks. It costs $25 per person to dine at Crown Grill.
For a very intimate dinner, we loved the Chef's Table. A group of up to 10 (and not necessarily all known to one another -- you just sign up for designated evenings) start the night off with a Champagne cocktail and appetizers in the ship's working galley. What's neat about Chef's Table is that your group occupies a corner of the main galley at the height of dinnertime. The chance to see chefs and waiters in action -- a real behind-the-scenes experience -- is worth the price of admission alone. Then you're led out to specially designated tables in a private dining area and served a multicourse menu paired with wines that are selected just for the evening. The Chef's Table is $95 per person.
In-cabin dining options abound. There's a 24/7 no-fee room service menu; in standard cabins, this includes continental breakfast and a selection of sandwiches, salads, entrees and desserts throughout the day. Pizza delivery costs $3 per pie. Suites can order room service from the regular daily dining room menu; they can also have an in-suite afternoon tea service. And, for a really special evening, try the Ultimate Balcony Dinner. You need to reside in a cabin with a verandah, of course, and what you get is a romantic meal for two outdoors, complete with table set with white linen and festooned with flowers. The $100 per-couple charge includes a four-course meal, a half bottle of sparkling wine, a pre-dinner cocktail and a photo portrait.
The Champagne Brunch is another option for balcony and suite passengers. For $32 per person, a waiter sets up the table and presents several covered plates with quiche, fresh fruit and way too many pastries. As the name indicates, you also get a split of Champagne.