One morning in bed, while pondering a shower, I smelled bacon frying. Talk about a nice wakeup call. Dining on Arabella is all about home cooking with occasional touches of fine dining. Cook John Hawkins, in his signature ponytail and knit cap, delivers a creative mix of meals that caused me to ask for a recipe more than once. Meals are generally served buffet-style.
All breakfasts and lunches are served onboard. Notably, some dinners -- three on our five-night cruise -- are "on your own" and not included in the fare. In the Caribbean, all dinners (except for one) are included, but because of the ship's small galley, most are usually held ashore in restaurants with which the line works closely. Note: Arabella pays for the dinner but does not pick up the bar bill.
On one of our nights in Baltimore, Arabella treated passengers to a fabulous Maryland crab feast at Bo Brooks, a local culinary institution. On the table in true Chesapeake style were Maryland vegetable crab soup, garden salads, piles of steamed crabs seasoned with Old Bay, and corn on the cob. Hawkins, too, pays homage to regional cuisine; on our cruise, he served tasty Maryland crab cakes and bacon-wrapped scallops.
Soda and juices onboard are complimentary. A beer is $4, wine is $5, and a cocktail is $6. One quibble from this wine drinker: There's inconsistency in the wine offerings and pours. It's not unusual to get a marginal wine, followed by a nice one, for the same price tag. It's an easy fix, so it's something Arabella can and should do better.
Here's a sampling of the onboard cuisine, served in Arabella's handsome salon:
: Early risers will find coffee and tea as early as 5:30 a.m. in the ship's salon, where passengers eat, drink and otherwise mingle. A hot breakfast, different each day and on the buffet bar by 7 a.m. or so, features one or two signature dishes -- among them egg strata, a cheesy egg casserole; a spinach and tomato frittata; eggs Benedict; blueberry pancakes; scrambled eggs; and a Swiss, cheddar and apple quiche. A typical breakfast buffet also includes an assortment of cold cereals; bacon and/or sausage; boiled eggs; fresh fruit salad; yogurt and juices; and toast, bagels, English muffins and freshly baked muffins.
: In a reflection of Arabella's laid-back atmosphere, lunch is generally served "12 o'clock-ish." While there are no special health-oriented options, meals are well-rounded and include choices for vegetarians. One of my favorites featured a selection of crab cakes, a tossed salad, pasta and a black-bean cake. Another afternoon, we enjoyed three types of salads -- bowtie pasta, garden and chicken -- along with sliced baguettes and a wonderful pimento potato soup with roasted garlic. Other highlights included clam chowder with a lobster base and shrimp stock; fajitas served with both chicken and a mixture of flank steak and ground beef; and a sandwich board with cold cuts and cheeses. Desserts range from chocolate chip cookies to strawberry cheesecake and red velvet cupcakes.
: Every day at 5 p.m., Hawkins puts out a tray of appetizers -- something as simple as cheese and crackers and a sliced baguette with spinach dip or as elaborate as shrimp and vegetable egg rolls and bacon-wrapped scallops. Complimentary cocktails are served during Happy Hour.
: Three of our suppers during our cruise in Maryland waters were on our own. We sampled Thai in Annapolis, Spanish tapas in Baltimore and, on tiny Solomons Island, we discovered CD Cafe, a locals' favorite with just 11 tables that did a fine turn with burgers. The one dinner we had onboard was exemplary: a selection of flounder topped with lobster and baked boneless chicken breast served with crisp green beans.
Note: There is no room service.