By Dori Saltzman
Cruise Critic Senior Editor
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Dining

Dining on Caribbean Princess runs from just OK to really quite good, with the best dishes served in the specialty restaurants (Crown Grill gets the highest marks) and at the $95 per person Chef's Table. The World Fresh Marketplace runs hot and cold; our favorite dish on the entire ship was a simple quinoa with caramelized onion side offered one night in the Marketplace, but on other nights we couldn't find anything that appealed to our taste buds. The main dining room always satisfied.

One of the best things about dining on Caribbean Princess is the plethora of choices for any meal with five venues open for breakfast, seven for lunch (five on a port day) and eight for dinner.

Most dietary restrictions can be catered for if you alert the line to your needs before you cruise. Even if you forget to tell them, there are always vegetarian options, gluten-free bread and sugar-free choices at dessert, and if you talk to the maitre d' once onboard, you can arrange special needs meals for each day.

Free Dining

Island and Coral Dining Rooms (Decks 5 and 6, midship): Caribbean Princess has three main dining rooms, one of which is reserved only for suite and Club Class mini-suite passengers. The Island and Coral dining rooms are for everyone else.

Breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner are served every day in one of the dining rooms; on sea days lunch is also served in one of the restaurants.

For dinner, both dining rooms are open to passengers with Anytime Dining, Princess' flexible dining program that enables cruisers to show up anytime they want during dinner hours (waits are usually 20 to 40 minutes long). To avoid a long wait, you can make a reservation for the time you want. One of the dining rooms (Coral Dining Room on our sailing) is first reserved for a set-time 5:30 p.m. early dinner seating, opening for Anytime dining after 7:30 p.m.

Breakfast in the main dining room features two menu items that change daily and a full list of standards available every day including cereals, yogurt, egg dishes (fried, poached, omelets, boiled, scrambled), pancakes, pastries and a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Changing menu items might include smoked haddock with potatoes, eggs Benedict, a grilled minute steak with fried eggs and mushrooms, a Spanish egg tortilla or scrambled eggs with diced smoked salmon.

On sea days, lunch is served in one of the two dining rooms from about noon to 1:30 p.m. The menu includes brunch selections like maple granola, eggs Benedict and French toast, as well as a selection of starters, soup, salad, pasta, entrees, burgers, combos (soup and salad, or soup and a sandwich) and desserts. Options might include mushroom and mozzarella croquettes, baked potato cream soup, mixed greens with red radish, Princess burger or veggie burger, penne with cauliflower florets and anchovies, pan-fried fresh water perch, grilled chicken paillard-style and vegetable tempura. Desserts include bread and butter pudding, apple and apricot cobbler, creme caramel and assorted ice creams.

Afternoon tea, served every day from 3 to 4 p.m. consists of finger sandwiches, pastries and cookies and a selection of teas.

The dinner menu most nights features four sections: Princess Favorites; Starters, Soups and Salads; Mains; and Desserts. Vegetarian options are marked with a "V."

Princess Favorites are available every night and include shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad appetizers, and fettucine Alfredo, grilled salmon, country chicken and a beef burger as main choices.

Other appetizers, soups and salads that might be offered, depending on the night, include pasta e fagioli, iced peach Bellini soup, red snapper mojito ceviche, vegetable spring rolls, escargots, roasted tomato cream soup and creamed artichoke bisque.

Main dishes might include veal scallopini, beef pot roast, bass with pineapple-papaya salsa, broiled lobster tail and king prawns, roast pork with an apricot glaze, sea scallops and shrimp in cream sauce, filet of beef Wellington, steak and onion pie and a leek and ricotta cheese tart.

Some nights the menu also features a "Crafted by Curtis Stone" item, brought to Princess by its partnership with celebrity chef Curtis Stone. Choices might include seafood stew with Chilean sea bass, black mussels and clams, or chicken and leek potpie.

Desserts also include a selection of always-available items and nightly specials. Always available choices are the Princess Love Boat Dream, a chocolate mousse on a brownie; traditional New York cheesecake; French vanilla creme brulee; a create your own sundae option; a cheese plate with Brie and Gouda; and fruit. Other choices might include tiramisu, crusty banana tart, sugar-free cherry trifle, sugar-free mochaccino, and a selection of ice creams and sorbets. On rare evenings, a Chocolate Journeys option (created in partnership with chocolatier Norman Love) will be available as well. The one we encountered was a chocolate pistachio dome with almond and pistachio nougatine; it got rave reviews.

Palm Dining Room (Deck 6, aft): The Palm Dining Room is an exclusive main dining room reserved only for passengers staying in suites and Club-designated mini-suites. It uses the same menus found in the Island and Coral dining rooms. Seating in Palm is set-seating only, with early dinner at 5:45 p.m. and late dinner at 8 p.m.

World Fresh Marketplace (Deck 15, midship): Essentially the ship's upper-deck buffet, World Fresh Marketplace is a conglomerate of food stations designed to decrease congestion and move cruisers through the buffet more quickly. The U-shaped space is located in between the midship Calypso Pool and the aft Planks BBQ and Steamers Seafood restaurants. There are identical setups on either side of the Marketplace, each with three rows totaling about 15 themed stations that change from lunch to dinner, though some -- such as Eastern and Western Destinations, the Garden Soup Kettle and the two Pastry Counters -- are always there. It can be a noisy spot, and seats during peak times (embarkation day, sea day breakfast and lunch) are hard to come by. If you can't find a place to sit at lunch, you can head to the back and sit in Steamers or Planks BBQ or try to find one of the few tables located outside by the pools.

World Fresh Marketplace is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, offering food throughout the day. At breakfast you'll find cereal (actually there's a 24-hour cereal station so you can get your Cheerios fix any time of day), French toast and waffles, a specialty pancake station (think banana nut, chocolate cappuccino) with lots of delicious fixings, egg dishes including scrambled or fried eggs and pre-made omelets, and regional specialties like shrimp and grits, polenta porridge, sausage frittata and cheesy potato casserole, along with all your usual buffet breakfast offerings like deli meats, smoked salmon and fruit.

Lunch features items like Indian sweet potato and zucchini, beef vindaloo and spinach paneer at the Eastern food station; rosemary chicken with side choices that include vegetable korma, chopped zucchini and garlic, beef gravy, roasted peppers, sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions in the Carvery Bazaar; Mexican meatball or cream of mushroom at the Garden Soup Kettle island; and pork carnitas, enchilada casserole, Yucatan cumin-scented chicken, grilled Cuban sandwich, Moroccan fish tagine, and pine nut couscous at the Western Destination station. There's also a sandwich station at lunch with items like a feta, spinach and herbed cream cheese wrap; bagel with grilled vegetables, red potatoes and cream cheese; chicken salad sandwich with apricots, walnuts, celery and apples on whole wheat berry bread; or a creamy tuna wrap with peppers and cucumbers. For something a bit heavier, there's a taco and Mexican chili station.

Dinner selections include a Family Kitchen island with items like corn dogs, pasta with marinara or Alfredo sauce, cheddar and pancetta quiche, and french fries; an International Festival station that might offer chicken paillard-style with ale gravy, chick pea and potato curry, fish baked Portuguese style, mini minute steak Diane, Hungarian beef goulash, and Cajun-roasted potatoes; and a kid-friendly peanut butter and jelly bar. Only one side of the buffet is open for dinner most nights.

Both lunch and dinner have multiple stations with soups (cream of mushroom, Mexican meatball, etc.) deli meats, cheeses, salad fixings and roasted vegetables.

At the two Pastry Counters you'll find a selection of cakes, cookies, brownies and other dessert favorites at both lunch and dinner. The nearby "Specialty Shop" has a selection of gluten-free desserts (a real rarity!) like fresh fruit, strawberry meringue, coffee buttercream cake and apple crumble cups.

The Salty Dog Grill (Deck 15, midship): A poolside grill with gourmet ambitions, The Salty Dog Grill features items like the triple smoked burger with hickory-smoked bacon jam, smoked Gouda and barbecue onion sauce; a grilled chicken sandwich with dill and lemon aioli, cucumber and tomato; and two flavors of "street tacos": grilled chipotle-lime chicken and sweet potato-green chili with black beans, cheddar cheese and maple syrup. The star menu item is the extra-fee "Ernesto" burger, which was created by Los Angeles-based chef Ernesto Uchimura specifically for Princess Cruises. (His partnership with Princess started with the Salty Dog Gastropub, which can be found on Crown, Emerald and Ruby Princess.) The "Ernesto" features fresh a ground rib eye and short rib patty with grilled pork belly, aged Gruyere, caramelized kimchi, beer-battered jalapeno and charred onion aioli. The "Ernesto" costs $5 or you can pay $8 for the burger and a beer.

If you're just looking for more traditional poolside grill options, the closest item on the menu is the "Princess Classic" burger with tomato, lettuce and red onion, plus a choice of Swiss, cheddar or smoked Gouda cheese. There is no plain hot dog though; instead The Salty Dog Grill serves an all-beef sausage-like hot dog, with your choice of toppings, and the "Salty" chili cheese dog. Sides on offer are loaded fries with either chili cheese or bacon and cheese. Veggie burgers aren't available.

Slice Pizzeria (Deck 15, midship): Also located poolside is Slice Pizzeria, with both standard and more trendy options. Among the offerings at Slice are Princess' signature thin-crust Margherita and pepperoni pizza (along with a daily special that might include vegetable or anchovy), deep-dish focaccia with meatballs and cheese, and Italian stromboli by the slice, featuring smoked ham, salami, pepperoni, provolone and basil pesto-marinara sauce. Also available are two choices of "California Toast" made from herb ciabatta bread: Cali-avocado with smoked bacon crumbles and feta cheese and caprese with mozzarella, basil and garlic. Gluten-free versions of the thin-crust pizza are available upon request.

Steamers Ramen Noodle Bar (Deck 15, aft): Open only for lunch in the space normally used for the dinner-only, extra-fee Steamers Seafood restaurant is this simple choose-your-own-fixings ramen noodle bar. Choices include two ramen noodle styles (soba or glass) and two broth choices (chicken or beef), plus a selection of vegetables and meats (chicken, beef, pork and seafood), from the buffet line. Lunch hours are more limited than at other venues, usually between noon and 1:30 p.m. (There's also a small standard breakfast buffet in Steamers every morning.)

Planks Lunch (Deck 15, aft): Similar to the Steamers ramen noodle bar, the Planks buffet lunch is held in the space occupied by the dinner-only, extra-fee Planks BBQ restaurant. Always available are a Caesar salad bar and baked potato chowder; other selections might include an open-faced roast turkey and potato on white bread sandwich, triple-deck grilled cheese, an open-faced pork belly and Swiss on sourdough bread sandwich and grilled mac and cheese on white bread. Sides offered include brussels sprouts or green pea mush, creamed corn, smoky bacon, kielbasa sausage, shredded cheddar and fried onions. Lunch hours are more limited than at other venues, usually between noon and 1:30 p.m. (There's also a small standard breakfast buffet in Planks every morning.)

Coffee & Cones (Deck 15, midship): Most of the items at this specialty coffee and ice cream shop cost extra, but you can get free soft serve vanilla and chocolate ice cream in a cup or cone. Complimentary extras include sprinkles and whipped cream.

British-Style Pub Lunch (Crown Grill, Deck 6, forward): On sea days you'll find a British-style pub lunch on the lineup of the day's activities. Open for about two hours (usually from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.), the menu has just four items on it: bangers (sausage) and mash, fish and chips, ploughman's lunch and steak and kidney pie. The only dessert provided is a bread and butter pudding. For aficionados of British or Irish pub food, the food at this Princess staple might disappoint, but we enjoyed our fish and chips, nevertheless.

The International Cafe (Deck 5, midship): Light bites, including a delicious selection of pastries, plus coffee and tea (basic and for-a-fee specialties) are available 24 hours a day at this popular spot in the Piazza. During the early hours, the selections at The International Cafe are more breakfast style with banana bread, Danish, turnovers, croissants, doughnuts, yogurt parfaits and muesli. As lunch approaches, breakfast pastries give way to a variety of cakes (cheese, carrot, strawberry shortcake, Black Forest, etc.), flavored puddings including tapioca, tiramisu in a glass, and fruit tarts. At least two choices are sugar free. More substantial snacks are also available from late morning to late afternoon, including a hearty selection of sandwiches (barbecue beef, braised pork, chicken, tuna, Cuban, tomato and mozzarella), steak and kidney pie, quiches (zucchini and bacon), salads (Greek, mixed green, grilled vegetable, chicken with pineapple and lime-curry dressing) and a soup of the day (Tuscan-style chickpea, for instance).

Fee Dining

Crown Grill (Deck 6, forward); $29 per adult and $14.50 for children ages 3 to 12: Princess' most popular specialty restaurant is its steakhouse, the Crown Grill, with a menu consisting of appetizers, soups and salads, seafood entrees, chops and desserts. Starters are black tiger prawn, carpaccio of pine nut-coated lamb loin, Mediterranean-style spiny lobster cake, and pan-seared Pacific scallops. Soup and salad choices are shrimp and pancetta bisque, black and blue onion soup, mixed salad and a marinated goat cheese and heirloom tomato salad. Diners in the mood for seafood can choose a mussel pot, Chilean sea bass and brioche-breaded king prawns, grilled tiger prawns or a four-ounce lobster tail (add the lobster tail to one of the meat entrees to create your own surf and turf dish).

But what the restaurant is known for are its steaks and chops, which include Sterling Silver beef chop, Madeira-glazed Wisconsin veal chop, New Zealand double lamb chops, Sterling Silver pork chop, porterhouse, New York or Kansas City strip steak, rib -eye and filet mignon. Side dishes (order as many as you want) on offer include loaded baked potato, garlic and herb french fries, red skin mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, creamed spinach and sauteed wild mushrooms. Try to leave room for desert, as the choices are ultra-indulgent and include molten Dutch chocolate fudge obsession, a seven layer s'mores stack, lemon meringue pudding tart and a sampler that includes all three. Crown Grill is only open for dinner, though on sea days the British-style pub lunch is held here.

Sabatini's (Deck 7, midship); $25: A longtime Princess favorite, Sabatini's underwent a complete overhaul in 2017 that included scrapping the old menu and replacing it with an entirely new one created in partnership with Los Angeles-based chef Angelo Auriana. The menu consists of five courses (diners choose one item for each course), plus the aperitivo, which features warm mini-whole wheat loafs, a Tuscan tomato and pepper spread and prosciutto. Your waiter will help you through the menu because the order of the dishes can be a bit confusing.

First is the antipasti; the five choices all have Italian names with the English explanation below. For instance, alici consists of fried zucchini and yellow squash and smoked scamorza cheese on a toasted housemade crostini; arrosticini di agnello is grilled lamb skewers and frittino di paranza is chickpea fritters, squid, prawns, eggplant, carrots and green beans. As a second course, you can choose either a celery, mushroom and hazelnut soup or an escarole, celery and pear salad. Second and third courses are the pasta and main entrees. Among the pasta choices are picagge (marjoram-infused long pasta, prawns, clams and artichoke pesto), tortelloni (mint-speckled pasta, roasted lamb, broccoli rabe and a cheese and pepper sauce) and a beet, pistachio and gorgonzola risotto. There are six main entree choices including trout rolls, breaded veal with potatoes and artichokes, rolled pork belly Toscana, and the Roman seafood al cartoccio with grouper, shrimp, black mussels, scallops, potato and artichoke. If you can't decide on just one pasta or entree, you can pay $10 for each additional choice.

The four dessert choices include the obligatory, but interestingly shaped, tiramisu, plus vanilla panna cotta and fresh berries. There's also the you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it Rocher by Norman Love, which looks like an oversized Ferrero Rocher candy in a terrarium globe. (There's also a delicious tiramisu martini on the menu that tastes just like liquid tiramisu!)

Steamers Seafood (Deck 15, aft); $12: On our sailing, smallish specialty restaurant Steamers was rarely frequented, which we were told had more to do with the cold-weather itinerary we were on than anything else. Yet the food was also mediocre, with a limited menu consisting entirely of shellfish, with the only exception being a crab-stuffed flounder that can be made without the crab. (However, it's drowned in hollandaise sauce and not very good.)

The menu consists of two starters (chopped Caesar salad and smoked ham chowder) and three entree choices: black and blue mussels with scallops and kielbasa sausage, plus corn on the cob, green beans and crispy, seasoned fries; steamed clams with shrimp and andouille sausage with a choice of three sauces and corn on the cob, green beans and seasoned fries; and the "Princess Broiler," which comes served in a large skillet pan and includes broiled scallops and shrimp, and the crab-stuffed flounder, with a side of crispy seasoned fries. Diners can opt to add lobster tail and crab to any of the entrees for just $10. Dessert choices are strawberry shortcake or Key lime pie in a jar, or you can ask for a scoop of chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Also on the menu at Steamers Seafood are specialty cocktails with names like Mermaid's Wish (with Chambord, Absolut Citron and house sparkling wine) and Captain's Bounty (with Bacardi Limon, Malibu rum, Bacardi Oakheart, Cruzan dark, sweet and sour pineapple juice and Coca-Cola).

Chef's Table (Deck 5, midship); $95: The most exclusive dining event on Caribbean Princess is the multicourse Chef's Table with wine pairing, which takes diners behind the scenes into the galley for hors d'oeuvres and Champagne, and then to a beautifully appointed table (either in a main dining room or a private room) for the lavish meal. The meal changes each time depending on the mood of the chef. Our Chef's Table included duck confit with a cherry glaze, smoked salmon and hazelnut eclair, two types of caviar, a mini halibut burger with mini truffle fries, and oxtail and lobster surf and turf -- and those were just the hors d'oeuvres! The main meal included a potato and barley risotto with single malt Scotch and wild mushrooms, a Hendrick's Gin and tonic sorbet, and a filet of beef and Champagne-poached lobster. Desserts started with a pink peppercorn cheesecake and ended with the most divine chocolate cake. (Special diets such as vegetarian, pescatarian, shellfish-free and gluten-free can be accommodated with advanced notice.) Chef's Table is offered once or twice per cruise depending on cruise length and fills up almost as soon as it's announced in the daily Princess Patter. Also, to participate in Chef's Table diners are required to sign a document that says they have not had any gastrointestinal or respiratory illness within the last 48 hours; wear a white lab coat-like jacket while in the galley; and not wear shorts or open-toed shoes.

Planks BBQ (Deck 15, aft); $12: The only complaint we heard about this meat lover's paradise was that it served way too much (good!) food. A casual dinner-only eatery, Planks BBQ features round or block wood tables adorned with blue masonry jars and paired with silver-studded leather backed chairs. Three courses are included in a Planks meal. Appetizer choices are a salad with iceberg lettuce, cheddar cheese, roasted corn and black bean salsa, cornbread croutons and a bacon ranch dressing, or baked potato chowder with chopped barbecued beef, pork and burnt ends, cheddar cheese and chives. (You can get it plain if you'd like as well.)

For the main course, diners choose four of six barbecued meats -- sou'wester pulled pork, chili-spiced roasted tri-tip, kielbasa smoked sausage links, Caribbean island smoked chicken drumsticks, hard cider barbecue pork ribs and chipotle barbecue meatballs. (If you're having trouble deciding, the tri-tip, ribs and sausages get the highest ratings -- and you can add an extra meat selection for $4.) Along with the meat, each plank also has a "heaping" serving of seasoned wedge-cut fries, calico three-bean chili, creamy confetti slaw, charred toast and dill pickles. Sauces -- tangy apple butter and cider, and steakhouse smoky bourbon and ale -- are served on the side and you can always ask for more. For those who have room for more, desert choices are banana pudding, chocolate cake or a scoop of vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Be prepared to unbutton the top button of your pants when all is said and done.

Coffee and Cones (Deck 15, midship); a la carte: Other than the soft serve ice cream, everything at Coffee and Cones carries a surcharge. But $3 is a small price to pay for the delicious ice cream sandwiches you'll find on offer. Our favorite was the mint patty with peppermint ice cream nestled in between two chocolate chocolate-chip cookies. Other choices are the classic, cookie colada (pina colada ice cream with coconut-ginger cookies), snicker doodle (cinnamon ice cream and snicker doodle cookies) and honey 'n' oats (honey yogurt ice cream and oatmeal raisin cookies). Also available are specialty coffees (hot or cold) ranging in price from $1.75 to $5; and frappes, costing $4 or $5 depending on size.

Ultimate Balcony Dining (Your Cabin); $45 for breakfast per couple and $100 for dinner per couple: Two Ultimate Balcony Dining options are offered on Caribbean Princess (and you must have a balcony to order them). The first, the Deluxe Breakfast, can be served from 7 to 11 a.m. and includes a chilled half bottle of sparkling wine, fresh breakfast pastries, smoked salmon with dill cream cheese, a medley of fresh fruits and berries, and quiche Lorraine. The four-course Deluxe Dinner is available from 5:30 to 10 p.m. and features pre-dinner cocktails (one per person), four canapes per person and a half bottle of chilled sparkling wine. Dinner itself can consist of items from a set menu, the evening's main dining room menu or a special request. A sample set menu included Pacific blue crabcake in a puff pastry, marinated chevre and mesclun field greens and broiled tail of cold-water lobster. An extravagant dessert is also included.

Vines (Deck 5, midship); a la carte: The ship's wine bar offers tapas-style snacks when you buy a glass of wine. Food cannot be purchased separately from the wine, nor can you get food if you want something nonalcoholic.

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