Emerald Princess Dining
Princess has deftly maneuvered the tight rope at dinner time 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 Restaurant (seatings at 6:15 and 8:30 p.m.). The Michelangelo and Da Vinci restaurants handle the flex-dining crowd where passengers can turn up anytime between 6 - 10 p.m.; beepers are provided during busy times -- or you can opt to dine with other passengers.
Editor's Note: Because passengers can pre-request their evening dining option (traditional or anytime), the maitre 'd onboard will tweak as best he or she can to accommodate everyone.
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 or baked Italian crepes filled with Fontina cheese and porcini mushrooms. As well, Princess features standards on every menu; these include sirloin steak, grilled chicken or salmon.
Desserts range from amaretto torte to vanilla souffle with Grand Marnier sabayon.
Breakfast and lunch are served daily in, usually, Da Vinci; it's open seating during these meals. Hours are 7 - 9 a.m. for breakfast and noon - 2 p.m. for lunch. An elegant afternoon tea is also served here from 3:30 - 4:30 p.m.
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 - 11:30 a.m. for breakfast; 11:30 a.m. - 3.30 p.m. for lunch; and from 3:30 -5:30 p.m. for a light snack buffet. Typical breakfast offerings include omeletates, pastries, cereal, etc. For lunch, you'll find deli fare, made-to-order sandwiches and meats, and a whole hosts of sides and salads.
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 adjacent Cafe Caribe offers terrific themed buffets for lunch and dinner (such as Asian one day for lunch, with an expansive sushi bar, and French Provencal on an evening for dinner). It's also the best place onboard for "home food" -- our roast chicken, mashed potatoes and pea dinner one night was just the ticket. Wines are sold only by the glass here.
On the same deck, midship, you'll also find a pizzeria and an ice cream bar, as well as the Trident Grill, which serves the usual grilled items like hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken and fries. All are open daily from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
It is open from 5:30 - 11 p.m. for dinner and from 11 p.m. - 4 a.m. for "bistro dinner." The latter's aimed at night owls, and the few evenings we actually were up late enough to check it out we were unimpressed with dried out, steam-table fare.
For even more casual noshing, we adored the cluster of food emporiums around the Piazza. Vines, the ship's wine bar, has, in addition to the best selection of wines onboard (far, far superior to the pedantic list available in the main venues), freshly prepared sushi. There is an additional cost, but 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. 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 a la carte priced -- the chocolate fondue is worth every cent and calorie.
The Cafe is also a coffee bar; lattes, espressos and more are available here and all command a price.
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 an eatery in Florence. And, as with Crown Princess, it's been moved to a top deck (previous iterations on older ships were situated lower down). The dining experience now comes with gorgeous views -- so if you want to see the sunset plan to dine fairly early). In terms of the menus, while basically the same, they've been pared down slightly (no pizzas are offered, for instance), and passengers are served small bites of a variety of different tastes, from antipasti to the main course. There are plenty of fish dishes, (my favorite has always been the lobster with pumpkin risotto).
One neat aspect to dining here is you can have your dessert served in the adjacent Adagio, a piano bar.
Crown Grill is another popular venue that debuted on Crown Princess; it's a seafood/chop house and is elegantly dark. There's an open kitchen and the seafood, including lobster, is so fresh it's occasionally still alive. It costs $25 per person to dine at Crown Grill.
We loved the Chef's Table concept; 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 champagne cocktail and appetizers in the working galley. Anyone who's done a tour of any ship's huge galley will understand that these are always held, for obvious reasons, when there isn't much going on! 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 lead out to specially designated tables in a private dining area and served a multi-course 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 no-fee room service menu (continental breakfast in standard cabins, and a selection of sandwiches, salads and entrees throughout the day). Pizza delivery costs $3 per pie. 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 Champange Brunch is another option. For $32 per person (and of course a balcony), a waiter comes, sets up the table, and presents several covered plates with quiche, fresh fruit and lots of (way too many of) pastries. As the name indicates, you also get a split of champagne.