The Sturt Dining Room, located on Sturt Deck (below the top Sun Deck), handles all meals on board and is configured with long tables seating up to 14 guests. If the ship is full, everyone can be seated at the same time. No matter where you sit you'll enjoy a lovely view of the river, and not miss any of the action outside, thanks to rows of large picture windows on each side that run the full length of the room. The decor is quite formal, with plenty of dark rosewood panelling and bronze fittings, imitation gas lights, dark wood furniture including new dining chairs with comfortable grey fabric inlays, and a combination of a highly polished wood floor and dark grey carpet with a gold coloured accent. A focal point of the room is the central buffet station, which emerges from the galley at one end and is hidden behind shutters when not open; this is used for all buffet meals, including breakfast. At the other end is a circular bar, which joins the Sturt Deck Bar forward.
Dining is a communal affair for all meals, and although you can sit where you like for breakfast and lunch, you are assigned to a specific table for dinner, if not a specific seat. Meal times are set but schedule-dependent; times are listed in the daily program, and announced shipwide through the PA system when ready to begin. You should aim to be on time, or close to it, for every meal service. Not all the tables are set if the ship isn't full, so there's no option for a quiet table for two by yourself.
The food throughout has a focus on traditional Aussie fare and is good quality, but if you have any dietary issues, you need to complete a special diet request form when you book, or make any special requests in writing to Captain Cook at least two weeks before your cruise. The cruise line says it regularly caters to gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, diabetic and what it dubs "non-seafood" diets. The Murray Princess also carries a range of gluten-free products including gluten-free and dairy-free bread; a wide selection of breakfast cereals; gluten-free and dairy-free margarine; light and regular milk, plus rice milk and soy milk; and a small selection of rice crackers. All sauces and gravies are made onboard, and thickened with gluten-free cornstarch.
Breakfast is served normally from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., and the generous buffet offers a choice of cereals, fruit, eggs, bakery items (including toast) and a daily special such as pancakes or porridge. Lunch is generally served from noon or 12:30 p.m., and varies depending on the day, from either a two-course set meal (including a choice of two mains and dessert) to a buffet with cold meats, breads, sandwiches and salads, all followed by tea or coffee. Typical dishes for a set meal included lamb chops with sweet potato mash and a Caesar salad, followed by a strawberry meringue with whipped cream; or a Vienna schnitzel with Austrian potato salad, sauerkraut and green-bean salad, rounded off with apple strudel with whipped cream.
On our cruise, dinner began at 7 p.m. every night, and was either a three-course set menu with a choice of two appetisers and mains followed by dessert, or a carvery buffet with various roasted meats and vegetables. Typical set-menu dishes included an antipasto plate or seafood chowder, followed by a breast of chicken with a brandy and tarragon sauce, cocktail potatoes and broccoli, or a baked Murray District Angus strip loin of beef with the same sides, both mains topped off with an apricot macaroon with apricot coulis and cream. Wine isn't included in the fare, but you can buy by the glass or bottle from a wine menu which focuses on South Australian wines.
There are several culinary events, too, depending on which cruise you're on. One mid-cruise highlight is the traditional Australian barbecue, which was held ashore in a specially built, open-air facility in the bush next to our overnight mooring spot in Sunnydale. As we went off to a special Woolshed Tour (read more in Entertainment), the crew set up a feast of marinated eye-fillet steaks and kangaroo fillet, lamb skewers, gourmet sausages, chicken drumsticks, salads and more. There was a happy hour beforehand, and a limited bar serving cold beers and boxed wines, with live music. Crew members particularly enjoy this event, as they get to dress casually and eat with the passengers. If you book in advance, on the last morning before departure, you can enjoy a Bush Tucker Breakfast onshore. For AU$30 a head, you get to start the day with kangaroo sausages, smoked bacon, scrambled eggs with bush tomato spice, and jam and chutneys with wattle-seed toast.
The Captain's Dinner is another highlight -- a jovial affair held on the last evening on board. This is a more traditional affair; you're joined by the Captain and officers in their formal uniforms, and it kicks off with a cocktail party with complimentary sparkling wine and orange juice. The impressive seafood buffet is then revealed, featuring South Australian prawns, natural oysters and Kilpatrick-style oysters (lightly grilled and topped with bacon and Worcestershire sauce), smoked salmon, whole baked ocean trout, mussels, and lightly crumbed prawns and scallops, accompanied by a range of breads and salads. For anyone who doesn't like fish or seafood, at the other end of the room the chef serves up freshly roasted turkey with all the trimmings, including stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce, along with leg ham and mustard.
There is no room service on the Murray Princess, but you can help yourself to tea and coffee on the lower level of the Paddlewheel Cafe 24 hours a day, using either the mug from your stateroom or one of the communal ones supplied; just help out the crew by washing it out afterwards. You can also buy snacks including chocolates, lollies and soft drinks from the souvenir shop.