The food is a real highlight on the Constitution. It's excellent and there's a lot of variety in the three-course lunch and dinner menus, with four entree choices. New this year: a vegan option on every menu. As regional executive chef Jonathan Haag told us, "Vegans have gotta eat, too."
Passengers can alert the staff to dietary restrictions when they sign up for the cruise, but this crew takes it a step further by offering an opportunity to meet with the chef. When a passenger asked Haag if there'd be Key lime pie on the menu, he said they hadn't planned on it, but he'd talk to the pastry chef. Sure enough, Key lime pie made an appearance at one lunch. When another guest informed Haag he prefers half-and-half in his coffee, Haag made a note to provide it for him. When another said she's allergic to seafood, he assured her he'd substitute a side dish of crab bread pudding with mashed potatoes on her plate that night.
Not even a past guest who ate only steamed food and requested a dozen small bowls to sample daily, was off-putting to the affable and accommodating Haag.
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ACL tailors menus to reflect the regions it's sailing in. So in New England, for instance, lobster is a mainstay. Expect salmon in the Pacific Northwest. And on our Chesapeake Bay cruise, crab was the superstar. It appeared in tarts, dips, grilled cheese sandwiches, omelets and more. But other local fare, such as coastal red fish and James River oysters were on the menu, too.
Meals are served in the ship's dining room. Room service is available only for breakfast (though accommodations are made for under-the-weather passengers). At breakfast, passengers can survey the day's lunch and dinner menus and check off their selections as a heads-up for the kitchen. There's also an option to order half portions.
The Dining Salon (Deck 1, aft) is roomy enough to accommodate a sold-out ship without feeling overcrowded. Constitution's dining room is bigger than on its sister ship Constellation, enabling more tables for two, along with tables for four and six. It's open-seating so there's opportunity to get acquainted with fellow cruisers. But wait staff work the same sections throughout the cruise, so passengers who bond with their servers tend to gravitate to the same tables. The decor is bold and blue, with a carpet accented with gold and white stars. Walls of windows bring in the outside. It's placemats and paper napkins for breakfast and lunch. The white linens come out for dinner.
Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Two central tables are laden with serve-yourself yogurt, scones, pastries, fresh fruit, juices and cold cereal. Order-off-the menu fare includes eggs Benedict Florentine, mushroom quiche, apple pie pancakes with vanilla maple syrup, cooked-to-order eggs and sides such as bacon, corned beef hash, potatoes, oatmeal and grits.
Early risers can grab a bite -- fruit, muffins, juice and coffee -- in the Chesapeake Lounge (Deck 3, forward) or the Sky Lounge (Deck 4, aft). If you prefer in-room or balcony dining at breakfast, fill out a room-service request 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, bacon, sausage and fresh fruit.
If you're still hungry, warm-from-the-oven cookies are delivered to the Chesapeake and Sky lounges at 10 a.m.
A three-course lunch (with two appetizer choices, four entree selections and dessert) is served in the dining room from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Menu items range from light bites, like chicken salad, to heartier fare, like shrimp and grits.
At 3:30 p.m., it's tea time in the Sky Lounge, with sweet and savory bites, like raspberry tarts and cucumber sandwiches.
Dinner, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., offers a choice of two appetizers, four entrees and a couple of dessert options. Sample fare: seared jumbo sea scallops on cornbread pudding with creole butter sauce; blue cheese herb-crusted beef tenderloin with jumbo lump crab bread pudding; and pan-seared swordfish in a lemon-caper butter sauce. Among the vegan offerings: mushroom risotto, jambalaya and "chicken" picatta. The pastry chef works magic in the galley, turning out freshly baked desserts to die for. Bottles of serve-yourself red and white wine are on the dinner tables.
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.
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, plus tea, soft drinks and juices. Fresh fruit and packaged snacks -- granola bars, chips, Fig Newtons -- are set out 24/7.