The chefs pride themselves on creating menus from fresh, local ingredients. So on a Chesapeake Bay cruise, that meant lots of blue crab. In the Pacific Northwest, expect salmon. On the Lower Mississippi, it's creole and Cajun fare. And on our Grand New England itinerary? Lobster! It was served in potpie, in fondue, in soup, in omelets and, on one glorious day ashore, presented whole after being steamed in seaweed over an open fire with classic Maine accompaniments.
Meals are served in the ship's dining room. Room service is available for breakfast only (though accommodations were made for under-the-weather passengers.) In an unusual move unique to the line, passengers are asked to survey the day's lunch and dinner menus while they are at breakfast and check off their selections so the kitchen can get an idea of how much to cook. There's also an option for ordering a half portion, which is another simple, but effective way to cut waste.
The set menus don't have a lot of vegetarian options, but the aim-to-please staff will work to accommodate passengers with dietary restrictions.
Dining Room (Deck 1, aft): The ship's sole restaurant is airy and roomy enough to accommodate a sold-out ship without crowding. The room has tables set for two to up to six. It's open seating so there's opportunity to get acquainted with fellow cruisers while breaking bread. Waiters work the same sections throughout the cruise, so passengers who bond with their servers tend to gravitate to the same tables day after day. Walls of windows bring the outside in and a mirrored wall at the rear visually expands the space. High-backed chairs are upholstered in classy blue and white stripes. The royal blue carpet is emblazoned with bold, gold stars.
Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Two central buffet tables are laden with yogurt, scones, pastries, fresh and dried fruit, juices and cold cereal. Made-to-order items from the menu include eggs Benedict with Canadian bacon, quiche, blueberry pancakes, French toast with espresso chocolate sauce and whipped cream, and eggs, with accompaniments like corned-beef hash, grits and potatoes.
A three-course lunch (with two appetizer choices, three entree selections and a dessert) is served in the dining room from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Menu items range from light bites, like an organic spinach salad with roasted grapes, candied pecans and feta, to heartier fare like Maine blueberry barbecued braised pork shoulder with sweet potatoes and local corn-avocado salad.
Dinner, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., offers a choice of two appetizers, three entrees and a couple of dessert options. Sample fare: sherry-laced Maine lobster bisque, braised osso bucco of lamb with whipped sweet potatoes and roasted root vegetables and Atlantic swordfish steak with lobster-leek fondue and brown butter mashed potatoes. The kitchen gets creative with desserts like blueberry-cornmeal cake with maple whipped cream and almond cake with balsamic strawberries and orange mascarpone. A bottle of red and white wine are on the tables, and the staff will keep replenishing them as they are consumed.
Early risers can grab a bite -- fruit, muffins, juice and coffee -- in the Chesapeake Lounge (forward, Deck 3) or the Sky Lounge (aft, Deck 4).
Snacks: Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres are served at 5:30 p.m. in the Chesapeake (forward, Deck 3) and Sky (aft, Deck 4) lounges. Servers circulate offering small bites and a table is laden with crudites, cheeses, dips and more.
Warm-from-the-oven cookies are delivered to the Chesapeake and Sky lounges at 10 a.m.
At 3:30 p.m., it's teatime in the Sky Lounge, with sweet and savory bites, like raspberry tarts and cucumber sandwiches.
After dinner, the nightly entertainment in the Chesapeake Lounge is accompanied by ice cream concoctions and fresh-popped popcorn.
Both the Chesapeake and Sky lounges have coffee/espresso makers available 24/7, along with teas, soft drinks and juices. Packaged snacks -- granola bars, trail mix, pretzels etc. -- are there for the taking.
Room Service: If you prefer in-room or balcony dining at breakfast, fill out a room-service request and turn it in the night before. Deliveries are from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Menu items include beverages, cold cereals, eggs cooked to order, omelets and sides including toast, bagels, English muffins and bacon, sausage and fresh fruit.