River Royale Dining
Large ships may offer facilities that river vessels this size can't hope to match, but no large-ship dining experience comes close to what I experienced aboard River Royale. The excellence of the cuisine was such that I wasn't once enticed to eat on land, even in Lyon, the city renowned as France's gastronomical epicenter.
Eschewing the many dining venues of larger ships, River Royale offers a single dining room. Able to seat all passengers and beautifully decorated in blue, white and silver, the Cezanne Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner every day in a single, open seating. A surprisingly popular feature is that the big windows on two sides of the room are practically at the waterline -- you can see the water flowing past nearly at eye level when you're seated! (Your feet are below the waterline in this room.)
Each day begins with an extensive buffet breakfast. It boasts a wide variety of bread, fruit, yogurt and cheeses, along with bacon, oatmeal, roasted potatoes and a made-to-order egg and omelette station. In addition, the buffet breakfast features a daily special, such as Belgian waffles. There's a wide variety of juices, and coffee is made in dozens of French presses -- the perfect antidote for the dreadful coffee on many large cruise ships.
Lunch is again a buffet, the centerpiece of which is a different roast every day, carved to order by a chef. Every day there's also a range of magnificent salads, a hot or cold sandwich, a pasta course, potatoes, fish and vegetables. A different soup -- always a highlight -- is served every day at the table, along with crusty bread, and a separate buffet table holds a variety of desserts, fruits and cheeses.
Dinner naturally clenches the culinary spot of each day. Unlike breakfast and lunch, dinner features full waiter service; since everything is cooked to order, every course except soup must be ordered at the beginning of the meal. Five nights a week, you'll find two appetizers, one hot and one cold; a soup; three main courses -- one meat or poultry, one fish and one vegetarian -- and two desserts. At the entrance to the dining room is a long table of French cheeses with assorted breads and biscuits.
The Captain's Welcome and Farewell Dinners -- the second and sixth nights of the cruise -- offer fixed menus with an amuse bouche, a cold appetizer, a hot appetizer, sorbet, main course and dessert. On my cruise, the main course was quail for the Welcome Dinner and filet mignon with shrimp for the Farewell Dinner; vegetarians or others with special diets (the latter including my traveling companion on this cruise) need only notify the restaurant manager, and she will make any necessary adjustments.
The cuisine is classic French, with first-rate ingredients and preparation. The ship receives provisions every two to three days, ensuring that ingredients are always fresh and the best available. With five chefs for a maximum of 132 passengers, the attention to detail is amazing like the fact that a different flavor of butter is featured each night or that the plate decorations on desserts actually have flavor. Together with polite, professional service, the attention to detail creates a dining experience unmatched by anything I've had at sea, extra-cost alternative restaurants included.
Cabin service is not available, but there's always 24-hour coffee, tea, hot chocolate, iced tea and water in the Patio Lounge (outside the dining room entrance) along with big bowls of fruit in the lobby. There are also trays of delicious pastries in the Patio Lounge from early morning until night for anyone wanting a snack.