Ever find that the onboard gourmet adventure you've been salivating over ends up being relatively lackluster? Or that cruise dish everyone raves about never lives up to expectations once you're in the main dining room, fork in hand? Us, too. To better set your expectations, here are 10 cruise ship dining traditions that tend to be overrated. While your experience could be mouth-wateringly amazing, we warn you that the reality doesn't always reflect the hype.
We're kicking off the list with a controversial crustacean: lobster. When lobster is good, it's really lick-the-butter-from-your-fingers good. However, not only is it nearly impossible to come by anymore in the main dining room on mainstream cruise lines, but when it is available we hear complaints that it's rubbery, dry and relatively tasteless. To add insult, if you are having a lobster dinner on most cruise lines, it means you are paying for the privilege. Generally, we recommend leaving this delicacy for a port day in Canada/New England or check with your chef that it's fresh and worth the added expense.
We love the idea of a fancy, afternoon tea service mimicking the elegant British tradition. The reality of many afternoon teas served onboard cruise ships is a somewhat disappointing procession of mediocre cookies and cakes followed by the same tea bags you could find at the buffet. Call us posh, but in order for a tea service to be special, we're looking for silver platters, exotic loose-leaf blends, scones with actual clotted cream and white glove service -- a string quartet doesn't hurt.
Sushi is just one of those things. Sure, there are cruise lines that do it well, and those typically revolve around venues with dedicated sushi chefs known as itamae. But any time raw fish is being manipulated for mass consumption, something gets lost in the process. If the craving overcomes and you're going to partake, select an onboard sushi restaurant that rolls it in front of you -- and avoid the platters set out for an undetermined time.
We know there is a solid fan base for this liquid, but we just don't get why cold soups are such a "thing" on cruise ships. The unusual flavors -- melon, strawberry, cucumber -- draw us in, but we always end up shrugging at the chilly bowl of puree placed before us. We want the fruit flavors to be ice cream and we want the gazpacho to be salsa. We recognize that this popular appetizer is a novelty for some, but we'll stick to good old-fashioned hot soup, thank you.
How could we? We know. Hear us out: Teppanyaki is tasty and generally fun, but it's just a lot of hassle to get a reservation (which book up quickly) at many of the restaurants at sea, and we feel it's to mixed results. For one, the shows tend to be shorter and less interactive than on land. Kudos to the hibachi chefs who are whirling knives around with the motion of the ocean, but unless you have kids who will be truly mesmerized by the action -- meh. The meals are also hit or miss, and complicated for anyone with dietary restrictions (the meal is made all together on one grill and divided up). Plus, unless you're social, or have enough friends to fill a whole table, you'll be paying to share your meal with strangers.
We love this custard with a crispy crust as much as the next person, but there seems to be an obsession with the flame-licked dessert on cruise ships. It's on the menu in just about every main dining room, every night. And then come the variations: passion fruit creme brulee, lemon creme brulee, green tea creme brulee… we get it! There is such a predicament as too much of a good thing. Don't ruin this for us, cruise creme brulee!
It's the ultimate sign of an indulgent breakfast: toasted English muffin, glistening with butter; maybe some Canadian bacon; a perfectly poached egg; and the whole lot smothered in hollandaise. Sure, for some it's what gets you out of bed every sea day, but unless every element is cooked to a T (and it rarely is) you could end up with a soggy piece of bread or worse -- cold eggs.
We all scream for ice cream… but for quality scoops of mint-chip in a waffle cone or a gelato sundae or a specialty milkshake. There are so many frozen dessert options on cruise ships nowadays, are you really still pining for that plain Jane sludge of vanilla and chocolate? Not to burst your bubble, but it's basically a mix in a machine. Let the kids go bananas for the 24-hour soft serve at the buffet stations, and let your discerning ice cream taste buds mature with age.
The presence of snails on every main dining menu across most cruise lines seems unnecessary. For those that have tried them, you know they're basically a vehicle for garlic and butter -- and that's great and all, but what's the fixation? If you want to try them to say that you did, do it. Otherwise, save the potential battle with chewiness and dip your bread instead.
Trust us: When there is dinner accompanying a show onboard a cruise ship, emphasis is going to be on the show. Food is going to vary from ship to ship and show to show, but the timing for a dinner theater meal needs to be so exact that having your dish hot, cooked and seasoned well, is like playing the lottery. Go for the show, but make sure you eat beforehand or keep your attention on the performers and not your plate.