By Amanda Castleman
Cruise Critic Contributor
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Dining

Crown Princess Dining

The main dining rooms -- Botticelli, Da Vinci and Michelangelo -- offer a mix of traditional (assigned seats and fixed meal times) and anytime (freestyle) options, all with identical menus that vary daily. More adventurous eaters should keep an eye on Cafe Caribe's buffets, which feature more ethnic cuisine.

International Cafe (Deck 5): Open 24 hours, the International Cafe counter serves pastries and yogurt-granola parfaits until 11 a.m. and then a light, easily portable menu for the rest of the day. Drop by for pressed paninis and salads ranging from feta with cubed watermelon to beets in orange vinaigrette, alongside desserts like pistachio pudding. Adjacent service areas sell coffee and gelato.

Michelangelo Dining Room (Deck 5), Botticelli Dining Room (Deck 6) and Da Vinci Dining Room (Deck 6): Crown Princess has three main dining rooms across two decks. In the venues, curving, backlit ceiling panels twinkle with lights above jazzy carpets and simple cream linens. All have reproductions of the works of the Renaissance artist for which they're named.

Boticelli is open 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. for breakfast and at 5:15 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. for traditional dining (a fixed time and table). The other two dining rooms welcome diners from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. for breakfast and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner. (Passengers on the "anytime" plan may drop in whenever and choose their own table companions, restaurant-style.) Lunch is available in all three venues on sea and turnaround days, as well as in select ports. Check the Princess Patter for details.

For passengers on the flexible meal plan, reservations are available but not required, and waits rarely stretch longer than 10 to 15 minutes during peak periods. Anytime diners with small parties can join combined tables to speed things along.

Breakfast runs the gamut from maple granola to eggs Benedict and the spectacular James Beard French Toast (complete with a Corn Flake crust). Lunch, when available, includes items like mozzarella sticks, chicken broth with matzo balls and a Nicoise tuna salad. Remarkable dinners feature salmon, porcini mushroom soup and chateaubriand with bearnaise sauce. Crown Princess goes lavish on desserts, offering everything from fruit to cheese platters and sugar-free coconut cake, along with the perennial favorite: the Princess Love Boat Dream (chocolate mousse on a brownie). Master Chocolatier Norman Love has produced 15 dessert designs for Princess Cruises, which rotate through the dining rooms and specialty restaurants. Standouts include a chocolate-pistachio dome and a chocolate tart with vanilla mousse.

Healthy eaters should look for Lotus Spa dishes (marked with a flower symbol), which are lower in fat, sodium and cholesterol. Crown Princess also turns out one vegetarian entree per evening like gnocchi or curried vegetables on basmati rice. The kitchen can accommodate special diets, including vegan, kosher, gluten-free, dairy-free, low-sulfite and salt-free, but passengers must pre-arrange this, ideally four weeks before sailing. Make sure to confirm your choice with the maitre d' within 24 hours of boarding.

The ship also occasionally does a magnificent afternoon tea in Da Vinci with crustless sandwiches, gleaming Samovars and white-glove service from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Again, watch the Princess Patter for details.

Wheelhouse Bar (Deck 7): On sea days, this lounge offers a complimentary pub-style lunch (think shepherd's pie and fish and chips) from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Horizon Court (Deck 15): This casual buffet gets the job done, amid pleasant Mediterranean murals, decorative tiling and rattan and white-leather chairs, plus floor-to-ceiling windows that frame stunning views. Responding to passenger complaints about traffic flow, Crown Princess has gotten strict about entry and exit points for the service lines. Waiters politely stop anyone walking in through the "out" door and funnel them into the appropriate areas.

Breakfast stacks on predictable options like cereal, pastries, bagels, cheese, cold cuts and fresh fruit, along with a congee (Asian porridge) station. Skip the prefab eggs in favor of made-to-order omelets, delivered to your table. While the coffee is several degrees past dreadful, nice stewards will make mercy runs to the espresso bars for those who don't mind paying for specialty drinks. They also deliver complimentary tea, water, juice and lemonade.

Lunches aim for the middle and succeed (while never quite amazing anyone) with antipasti, grilled paninis, hot wings and two daily soups. Dinner steps things up with a carving station, as well as theme nights like Italian and local fare. The buffet is open 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. for Continental breakfast and 6 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. for more robust offerings. Lunch runs 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with snacks until 5:30 p.m. and then dinner until 11 p.m.

Cafe Caribe (Deck 15): Open 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for sea-day lunch and 5:30 p.m. to midnight for dinner, this second buffet serves Caribbean favorites like curries, jerk chicken and paella-style prawns. It also does theme meals, ranging from Asian and Mexican lunches to the popular for-fee Crab Shack (see below).

Pizza and Ice Cream Bar (Deck 15): Right beside the Neptune Pool, a wood-fired oven cranks out delicious thin-crust pies that range from the classic (margherita and pepperoni) to specials like pear and gorgonzola. Finish by ordering a soft-serve ice cream cone with chocolate or multicolored sprinkles. Open 11 a.m. to midnight.

Trident Grill (Deck 15): This open-air grab-and-go counter turns out hot dogs, hamburgers and fries, alongside specials like grilled chicken sandwiches. It opens at 11 a.m. and runs into the evening (times vary). Most nights, it offers smokehouse BBQ from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Room Service: Passengers can place orders 24 hours a day until 11 p.m. on the last evening of each sailing. Dishes range from peanut butter and jelly to roast turkey breast sandwiches and Caesar salad with Cajun-spiced chicken strips. Choose from caramel flan, chocolate fudge cake or a chocolate chip cookie for dessert. Crown Princess also delivers fresh, delicious thin-crust 12-inch pizzas for a $3 fee. The menu includes 17 wines and a dozen liquors, plus specials like five-for-four bottles of beer or a selection of four 187ml wines for $25. With six hours' advance notice, room service can deliver canapes from bay shrimp to caviar, or guacamole with tortilla chips and salsa ($3 delivery fee).

Fee Dining

Don't expect any sushi or ethnic flair beyond fondue and Tuscan delicacies. But what Crown Princess does -- like its signature steakhouse and Tuscan restaurant Sabatini's -- it does superbly. The food, service and ambiance are dialed in to a world-class level that makes these spots well worth the upgrade fees.

Crown Grill (Deck 7); $25 for adults and $12.50 for ages 3 to 12: This classic seafood and chophouse goes heavy on the mahogany paneling, wrought iron and brass-rail accents. An open, theater-style kitchen adds to the bustling atmosphere of this popular eatery, considered one of the best at sea.

Snuggle into a booth, and start with appetizers like pan-seared Pacific scallops or carpaccio of pine-nut-coated lamb loin with gooseberry chutney and minted-pear spaghettini. Then move on to dishes like black-and-blue onion soup (featuring Jack Daniels and a Roquefort crust) or a marinated goat cheese and heirloom tomato salad with baby spinach. For mains, standouts are a mussel pot, 4 ounces of Maine Lobster Tail, New Zealand double lamb chops and delectable filet mignon. Sides include grilled asparagus and a loaded baked Idaho potato. For dessert, try indulgences like caramel-cheesecake parfait and a seven-layer s'mores stack.

Salt aficionados can choose between varieties of the seasoning that include black Hawaiian, a sweet applewood-smoked blend or robust pink Himalayan.

The Crown Grill is open 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Make sure to reserve a table, and be prepared for a wait if the kitchen gets backed up.

Crab Shack (Deck 15); $20: The Crab Shack pop-up restaurant takes over part of the Cafe Caribe on certain evenings from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. All its meals kick off with popcorn shrimp and hushpuppies before moving on to Manhattan clam chowder -- rich with bacon and tomatoes. Then it's time to tie on the bib and choose from entrees like a bayou-style crawfish boil or a clam, mussel and shrimp pot. Reservations are recommended.

The Fondue Dispensary (Deck 15); $20: Another Cafe Caribe pop-up, the Fondue Dispensary offers dipping classics like German cheddar with beer (6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on select evenings). Walk-ins are welcome, but reserve ahead if you're passionate about liquid cheese.

Sabatini's (Deck 16); $25 for adults and $12.50 for ages 3 to 12: Crown Princess hits all the right notes at elegant Italian eatery Sabatini's. White columns flank arched murals and terra-cotta walls in this tranquil space, anchored around a wine tower. The dropped ceiling has dark wood accents interspersed with illuminated panels, which cast a soft, flattering and romantic light.

Kick off the meal with Tuscan nibbles like spicy focaccia and rosemary flatbread with air-cured prosciutto. Connoisseurs might want to upgrade to Princess' exclusive Sicilian extra virgin olive oil for dipping ($10). Then move on to antipasti, including the succulent sformato di carciofi (twice baked artichoke souffle in Castelrosso cheese sauce). Next, choose from among three pastas -- a seafood spaghetti, braised short rib penne or spinach-ricotta manicotti. The second course's highlights include lobster three ways and chicken supreme stuffed with eggplant. While Sabatini's has no vegetarian options, the chef whipped up a penne all' arrabbiata (a garlic, tomato and chili flake pasta) worthy of any Roman restaurant.

Desserts include the delirium-inducing crema al caffe, a tiny cup of espresso creme brulee and star anise biscotti with Armagnac foam (possibly the best delicacy on the whole ship). Steer clear of the rather bland tiramisu, which is curiously walled in slabs of chocolate.

While Sabatini's never filled on a recent sailing, reservations are recommended. The restaurant operates 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Chef's Table; $80 nonalcoholic, $95 with wine: Known for creating the first chef's table at sea, Princess invites up to 10 diners per evening into the galley for a peek behind the scenes (and appetizers and cocktails there, too). Delicacies vary but might include foie gras terrine on toast, asparagus risotto with lobster, and buckwheat blinis with caviar and creme fraiche, followed by iced amaretto parfait. Each couple receives an autographed copy of Princess' cookbook, "Courses, A Culinary Journey," plus a handwritten special menu and a complimentary photo taken at a private table. You must reserve onboard for this dinner service, which is usually hosted in one of the main dining rooms.

Ultimate Balcony Dining; $45 for breakfast and $100 for dinner, per couple: Morning options for Ultimate Balcony Dining include quiche, smoked salmon and fresh fruits, along with a half-bottle of chilled sparkling wine. For dinner, choose between steak, lobster or both (surf and turf), and settle in for Champagne and hors d'oeuvres like blue crab cakes baked in a puff pastry crown, all served by two waiters. The service is available 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Only onboard reservations are accepted, and they're available to all passengers -- even those in staterooms without balconies.

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