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Ruby Princess Dining

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Ruby Princess Dining
Princess' main dining rooms present a choice of traditional or anytime dining to accommodate passenger lifestyles. For those passengers who prefer a set-seating, assigned tablemate and same-time-every-night option, The Botticelli Dining Room, for traditional dinners, is located all the way aft on Deck 6. Seating times are at 6 and 8:15 p.m.

The menu offers a range of dinner choices. Marked on each menu with what resembles a lotus flower are Lotus Spa dishes, which are lower in fat, cholesterol and sodium. Similarly, selections marked with a V identify vegetarian options, like Moroccan vegetable ragout and baked zucchini stuffed with cheese and onions. Typically, one main course, sans meat, is available each night, but there are plenty of soups, salads and pasta options on the menu for vegetarians. In addition, a home-style dish, like meatloaf, pot roast or another comfort food, is featured on the menu each night.

Being that we aren't rigid schedule-keepers, we opted for anytime dining, which allowed us to visit either the Da Vinci Dining Room, midship on Deck 6, or the Michelangelo on Deck 5. These two restaurants, which have unique color schemes, but offer identical menus to that of the Botticelli, are open from 5:30 to 10 p.m.

During peak times, between 7 and 8 p.m. on most cruises, there may be a queue; passengers can opt for beepers that will alert them when their tables are ready.

I found a good rule of thumb: the later, the better. Earlier dining times required more of a wait, but if your plans for the night aren't binding, it's nice to enjoy a meal later in the evening without the wait. You can dine for as long as you like or shorten the process by just ordering an appetizer or two.

The food there was very good (one woman couldn't stop raving about the prime rib), and great care was taken with the plate presentation. Our favorite dessert was the decadent Princess Love Boat Dream, a creamy, rich chocolate mousse atop a thin chocolate brownie in the shape of a lovely little heart. Luckily for us, it appeared on the menu every night.

One feature I loved was that, upon ordering a bottle of wine and not being able to finish it, the bottle was stowed away so we could revisit it at a future meal. I asked one night at Vines if I could have the bottle retrieved to enjoy a glass of wine while watching some of the performers in the Piazza, and the crew was more than happy to oblige.

For those who prefer the slightly more formal atmosphere of Princess' main restaurants for breakfast and lunch, the Da Vinci dining room is open for breakfast from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. and for lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m. In both cases, it's open-seating.

Ruby Princess also offers boutique dining options for dinner at a pair of alternative restaurants.

Crown Grill, one of Ruby Princess' for-fee venues, is located aft on Deck 7. It's furnished with lots of cozy booths in addition to larger tables, and dark wood paneling gives the space a very upscale vibe, while dim lighting inspires a feeling of intimacy. For a cover charge of $25, menu items at the Crown Grill include mostly steakhouse fare, such as rib eye, filet mignon and seafood. There's an open theater-style kitchen where passengers can look on as chefs prepare tender steaks and shuck shellfish for them. And, while most menu items are included in the cover charge, be aware that some -- like Brazilian lobster tail and whole Maine lobster, which are removed from their shells tableside and served with plenty of drawn butter (a treat!) -- will cost an additional $9.

Sabatini's is the second of the ship's alternative dining venues. Perched high atop the back of the ship, it's beautifully decorated with Roman pillars and Italian art, and Mediterranean tile-like designs appear on the china. A word of caution that we heard countless times prior to dining at Sabatini's: Bring your appetite. This is a culinary event consisting of so many items that you can't count them with both hands. You'll try everything on the menu, unless you kindly decline, but, thankfully, portions are not huge. The experience starts with eight different hot and cold antipasti, including prosciutto and melon and fried calamari. The second course offers soup, salad and two palate-pleasing pasta dishes. Your stomach may feel finished by this point, but it's only time for the main course.

Knowing that the market price of Chilean sea bass can be very high back home, we tried that. Lobster, stuffed chicken, sea scallops and veal, prepared Italian-style, were other options on the menu. For dessert, choose more than one if you've got the room. I paired the Crema al Caffe, an espresso flavored creme brulee, with a frothy cappuccino to finish off the meal. The cover charge here is $25 and is worth every penny.

For those looking for a more casual dining experience, head up to the Lido Deck for Horizon Court, the ship's casual buffet, open from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For breakfast, chocolate chip pancakes, eggs, bacon, pastries, cereals, fresh fruit, bagels and lox are on offer. There's really a large selection of just about anything you could want, but the food is certainly not on par with the main dining rooms; eggs didn't taste real, and pancakes were on the rubbery side. At lunch you can expect to find grilled panini sandwiches, club sandwiches, antipasto, hot wings and an extensive salad bar with tons of toppings and dressings.

I found there's not a clear traffic pattern when you're piling up your plate, so things can get a bit jumbled here. One bright spot, and different from other ships I've been on, is that the stewards will bring beverages to the table for you. Iced tea, coffee, water and lemonade are available on a complimentary basis.

Right next door, Cafe Caribe, a secondary buffet area, is open between the hours of 5 and 10 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. for lunch (on sea days only), 5:30 (when Horizon Court closes) to 11 p.m. for dinner and 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. for late-night bistro service. At Cafe Caribe, you'll find a changing menu of Caribbean and international cuisine. We found ourselves enjoying German-themed cuisine one night for dinner and chose from a large spread of almost nothing but German fare like bratwurst, spatzle, sauerkraut and a host of deli meats and cheeses. Disappointingly, the theme of the night is no longer displayed near its doors or announced in the Princess Patter, so if you're curious what's on offer that day, you'll have to go in and find out. Although the menus are creative, they're not quite the same quality as Princess' main restaurants, but they're adequate.

Cafe Caribe is also where night owls will find the late-night bistro with table service, offered from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. Fare on offer in the wee hours of the morning includes breakfast items like Western omelets and pastries, as well as dinner plates of broiled salmon, sauteed chicken and other dishes.

Carve out time on one of your sea days to take part in an authentic English-style pub lunch at the Wheelhouse Bar, which is one of the many new-to-Ruby features onboard. The menu offers cottage pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash or a ploughman's lunch. The tempura-dipped fish and accompanying chips are, by far, the most popular items with two-thirds of guests ordering it. I must say that it does hit the spot. Guinness and other popular pub ales flow freely (at additional cost of course). Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Casual dining options in the whimsical Piazza include Vines, a combination wine and sushi bar, and the International Cafe.

Located right on the Piazza, the International Cafe is the best place onboard for a casual nosh, but the service here could use a little work. A unique European sidewalk cafe feel has been achieved there, and it's a good place to talk over coffee, freshly-baked pastries, donuts and muffins in the morning. From lunchtime onward, there are tea sandwiches (the chicken salad is not to be missed), light salads and other snacks. You can also swing by the International Cafe for chocolate fondue with fruit for dipping ($5 per pot) or chocolate covered strawberries ($4).

Specialty coffees -- including espresso, cappuccino and flavored lattes -- and hot tea range in price from $1 (for regular coffee) to $3.50 (for specialty beverages). Every afternoon, there's a cookies-and-milk break, and you'll see crew offering the same poolside, too. It's a nice Princess touch. Also be sure to taste some of the cream-based gelato, which comes in vanilla, honey-almond, egg-nog, chocolate, strawberry and lemon flavors. Three scoops go for $1.50.

Vines, situated at the edge of the Piazza, quickly became one of our favorite places. Wooden barrels decorate the bar that houses more than 30 different selections of wine. In all, there are only 12 tables -- mostly tables for two -- and the quaint, old-world ambience and dim lighting make it a nice place to sit and chat. It's a great place to watch the street performers while enjoying a glass (or three!) of wine. And the sushi bar at Vines offers a small snack of Nigiri- (with rice) or Sashimi-style sushi. (You won't find bamboo-rolled Maki sushi here.) We tried oysters, halibut and lobster, which were all fresh and delicious. New at Vines is the selection of 18 different artisan cheeses from around the world -- three ounces will cost you $4.50. Hours vary depending on the day. In port, Vines is open from 4 to 11 p.m., and at-sea hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Trident Grill on the Lido Deck is a great place to grab a quick burger, dog or chicken sandwich with fries. You'll also find free pizza by the slice and an ice cream bar with all the fixings (including sprinkles) for a nominal fee, poolside.

Princess has a broader offering of in-cabin options than most other lines, especially if you're occupying a balcony stateroom. Passengers who have balcony cabins (which, on Ruby Princess, is some 80 percent) can enjoy intimate meals in the comfort of their own cabins. The Ultimate Balcony Dinner ($50 per person) is a privately served, four-course meal (which includes the option to order surf-and-turf), enjoyed at a beautifully set table with a bouquet of fresh flowers. Sea views, of course, are free of charge. One of Princess' photographers will come to snap a few photos and will deliver the best one to your cabin the next day. For a daytime twist, try the Champagne Balcony Breakfast ($32 per person), complete with pastries, fresh fruit, quiche and a split of Champagne.

Continental breakfast items like fruit, cereal and yogurt (or sandwiches and salads for lunch) can be arranged to arrive at the time of your choice, compliments of the room-service staff. To have pizza delivered to your stateroom, it will cost $3.
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