We felt the food was a strong point on the cruise with perfect portions and well-executed dishes with a French flair, but the reviewer also has no dietary restrictions and is up to eat anything; if you require sugar-free, gluten-free or vegetarian meals, make sure to emphasize those needs before boarding, and a reminder doesn't hurt. A passenger with a nut allergy was often offered gorgeous fruit plates at dessert to replace many of the cakes containing almonds or walnuts, but only after reminding wait staff each evening or politely declining the course altogether.
A few other quirks. There are no printed menus and you do not receive any options at the meals, so if you don't like what they are serving, you're out of luck. If you have dietary restrictions, tell a crew member -- the hotel director is best -- ahead of time and also during your cruise. Another way to handle this is to look for the menus at reception; they are displayed on a video screen ahead of time and are also read over the loudspeaker in all languages.
Main Restaurant (First Deck): The only dining venue onboard is large enough to accommodate all passengers at once. Decor follows the teal and magenta color scheme in the chairs, as well as the lights that glow around the windows in the evening. Tables are dressed in white linen with orchids in the center. Tables are not assigned, but might be suggested, as you will probably want to sit with other passengers speaking your language. While tables are open seating, the time is nonnegotiable; dinner starts promptly at the time it is announced each evening, and if you are late, you might miss a course.
Breakfast is held promptly between 7:30 and 9 a.m. with a European spread of rolls, croissants and bread; various jams, jellies and compotes; boiled eggs; scrambled eggs, bacon and German sausages; yogurts; fresh fruit and juices; cereal; and a plate of cold meats and cheeses. Coffee and milk are on the table and the entire meal is self-serve. A fellow passenger tried to take a plate upstairs to the lounge and was firmly but politely told, "No."
Lunch and dinner consist of a set menu with one seating; each meal is a four-course affair composed of a soup, starter, entree and dessert. (The soups were always utterly delicious.) The menu is shown on the screen in the lobby by the front desk throughout the day, and announced in the evening, but is never found in tangible form.
Lunch is ready to eat around 12:30 (depending on when excursions return). You might have a cauliflower soup with cream, a variation of a garden salad with roasted corn over your greens and tomatoes, pork tenderloin in mushroom sauce with whipped Duchess potatoes and green beans with parsley, and a rhubarb tart for dessert. Lunch and dinner are served with your choice of beverages, including tasty wines (the selection includes two red, two white or a rose), beer or soda, and an espresso is offered at every meal with dessert.
Dinner is held around 7 or 8; the time varies nightly. Expect a soup (we had everything from potato to pumpkin); a starter (salmon lox in various ways was a popular choice, appearing more than once); an entree such as veal or rabbit cooked with carrots or purple potatoes; and a dessert platter with a sampling of creme brulee, chocolate cake with cream and vanilla ice cream with almonds and raspberry sauce.
A gala dinner, held once per cruise, is a meal specially designed by the chef with wine pairings and an added dash of panache. Our formal evening kicked off with a foie gras pate paired with a sweet French white wine and ended with a baked Alaska set aflame with Grand Marnier; a much-beloved but no-longer-allowed cruise ship dessert on oceangoing vessels. After the dessert was presented, it was served with a wedge of passion fruit, a dash of puree, a French macaron and an almond cookie, which all tasted and looked exquisite.
There is no room service onboard Elbe Princesse.