While lines like Celebrity Cruises and Holland America make a bigger fuss about culinary quality, I was pleasantly surprised by the cuisine onboard Grand Princess just about everywhere. In fact, my picky eater of a husband had trouble getting his slacks buttoned the last day. The dining room fare was consistently excellent; alternative restaurants like Crown Grill and Sabatini's were superb and tough to get into (reservations a must) even with surcharges of $25. Also marvelous: the sea-day pub lunches, hosted in the Crown Grill, and the marvelous Piazza, with its casual fare options.
Princess features "Personal Choice" dining, wherein passengers may dine at will (whenever and with whomever they choose) or traditionally, with two sittings in which you're assigned a table and tablemates, nightly. Two restaurants are dedicated to the flexible dining concept and one to traditional dining.
Botticelli, the traditional dining room, is located aft on Deck 6; the two Personal Choice restaurants, DaVinci and Michelangelo, are located midship on Decks 6 and 7, respectively. All are pleasant spaces with attentive wait staff and knowledgeable sommeliers; in Botticelli, guests have the advantage of enjoying seagoing traditions like the Parade of Baked Alaska and the introduction of the waiters to the napkin-waving tune of "Tarantella." (Mind you, there was a Baked Alaska parade on the last night in the other two dining rooms, but it came as people were in various stages of dining and seemed a bit awkward.) Dinner times are fixed at 5:30, 6 and 8:15 p.m.
Those who opt for flexible dining in DaVinci and Michelangelo can show up anytime at either restaurant between 5:30 - 10 p.m.
One dining room is open each day for those who prefer a more formal breakfast (7:30 - 9:30 a.m.), and on sea days and embarkation day only, for lunch (noon - 1:30 p.m.). At these meals it's open seating for all.
Another more cruise-traditional dining venue aboard Grand Princess is the Horizon Court, the ship's buffet area. A fairly innovative design from the get-go, the Horizon Court is set up in stations rather than one long cafeteria line in order to cut down on lengthy queues. (There are two station areas, one port, one starboard.)
Open nearly round-the-clock (from 5 a.m. - 11 p.m. daily), the buffet venue starts the day with Continental breakfast for early risers and then moves into full breakfast. For breakfast, the selection is reasonably varied. Bangers (and sausages), baked beans, bacon (Canadian and American) and grilled tomatoes are daily staples. Instead of an omelet station, fried eggs are laid out on a griddle. There is an array of breads, butter and jam; toasted bagels and smoked salmon; and pre-made pancakes. A large variety of fresh fruit, including sliced melon, berries and fresh fruit salad, is a welcome addition to breakfast and the fresh-baked breads and muffins are excellent. There's one major omission: Horizon Court offers no option for eggs made to order.
Lunch and dinner in the Horizon Court follow the dining room menus, serving many of the same items. The salad stations are wonderful, with tons of add-ons and several dressings from which to choose. Pastas are creative, and there is usually a roast of some sort at the carving station. Freshly made mashed potatoes and gravy are always good. A new addition to Horizon Court is a separate dessert station.
Just forward of midship on the Lido Deck is the pizza station and grill, open daily from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. The pizzas, with a slightly crunchy crust, a spicy tomato sauce and ample cheese and toppings, provide a great snack option or an alternative to lunch in Horizon Court. The grill serves hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken breasts and sausages with all the fixings, including sauerkraut.
Tradition aside, on the "new" Grand Princess, our favorite place to eat was actually the Piazza, which has an International Cafe (pioneered on Crown Princess and its two sisters, Emerald and Ruby), where fresh-baked breads and cookies are available alongside time-appropriate small repasts, like Panini sandwiches, salads, bagels, muffins, and to-die-for pastries. There is no charge to eat here. It's open 24 hours.
Also new here is Alfredo's Pizzeria. I loved the concept (and the pizza, made on the spot, was delicious), but the reason I only went once -- and wasn't lured back -- was that the venue really needed to serve more than just pizza. If I'd been able to pair pizza with a simple salad, for instance, it would have made for a great repeat destination (and a true dinner-time option). It opens at 11:30 a.m. and serves pizzas until late evening.
One disappointment on the Piazza front: While the Vines wine bar on Crown, Ruby and Emerald serves sushi and tapas, this version, while beautifully designed, does not offer food. (Though do take advantage of occasional wine and food pairing events.)
Another new option on Grand Princess is the line's popular "pub lunch," available only on sea days. It's frankly too popular -- waiting times are long and the atmosphere is somewhat chaotic -- but the menu's lovely. (The fish and chips were superb.) Bar service is available. The pub lunch is offered in the Crown Grill and there's no extra charge.
Sabatini's, Princess' alternative Italian eatery, charges $25 per person (and worth it). The meal starts with antipasti; the artichoke dip was rich and luscious and the calamari fritti crisp but not oily. The pasta course features a "pasta of the day." For mains, the seafood's superb. Lobster three ways and the sea bass were particular standouts, and the steak's good, too. Try to save room for dessert. And definitely book your reservation ahead of time; Sabatini's is one of the best value-for-money alternative restaurant experiences afloat, and books up quickly.
The Crown Grill, a steakhouse with seafood, is already popular on other Princess ships and was added to Grand during the refurbishment. Dinner costs $25 per person, and standouts include, for starters, lamb carpaccio, cherrystone clams and foie gras. The Black and Blue Onion Soup, with Jack Daniels and Roquefort, is a signature dish. And the mains -- pork chop, veal, lamb, and of course a variety of different cuts of steak -- are hearty. Sides are served family-style.
Both Sabatini's and Crown Grill are open each night from 6:30 – 11 p.m. and, again, reservations are highly recommended.
Princess continues to market itself as a cruise line for romantics, and in keeping with the theme, it offers a pair of balcony dining experiences (available, naturally, to all whose cabins have private verandahs). The most special -- particularly if you time the meal for sunset and/or sailaway -- is the Ultimate Balcony Dinner. The $100 per-couple charge includes a four-course meal, a half bottle of sparkling wine, a pre-dinner cocktail and a photo portrait. You can also opt for a balcony brunch for $32, which is a bit less elaborate, featuring pastries, quiche, smoked salmon and a half bottle of Champagne.
Afternoon tea is offered daily in the DaVinci dining room from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Room service is offered 24 hours a day, with salads, sandwiches, hot dogs and hamburgers available, as is a Continental breakfast via a door-hung card.
There is an ice cream bar on the Lido Deck that serves sundaes and cones for a fee. (Ice cream is available for a few short hours every day in Horizon Court with no charge.)