Cuisine on ms Emerald generally is excellent, with meals prepared to reflect the region to which the ship is sailing. Food is clever and creative without being too fussy for eaters who just want a good meal. All meals are included in the price of your cruise. Wines are specifically selected to pair with the menus each night, and like the food, are mostly regional. Before dinner, the maitre d' gives a quick overview of the two featured selections each night so passengers can decide which they would prefer. If you don't like either of the selections, you can ask for a different wine. Passengers on our sailing raved about the wines. All wine, soft drinks, beer and spirits are included in the fare, so it's not uncommon to see passengers sampling wines with lunch or even occasionally sipping Bloody Marys after breakfast.
Service at all venues is respectful and intuitive, with servers bending over backward to accommodate requests. No matter the venue, servers wear white gloves to lay out cutlery between courses, and they'll handle the smallest details, like squeezing lemon over fish for you (using utensils) so you don't end up with lemon on you. Service is simply efficient and friendly; passengers feel pampered by the attention. Regardless of where you eat, seating is open, and you can come when you like when the dining venues are open.
All menus identify items that contain common allergens (nuts, dairy, gluten), and vegetarian and healthy items are also clearly labeled. Still, passengers who have specific dietary needs should alert the company before they sail and follow up with the maitre d' once onboard.
In addition to the restaurants onboard, some excursions take passengers off the ship for things like cheese and wine tastings or a chocolate sampling. Occasionally, nighttime excursions take passengers to restaurants off the ship. In general, the destination is beautiful, but the food isn't as good as what you'll get onboard Emerald. When you return from excursions, you'll often find treats laid out in the lobby -- things like nougat or macarons and fruit.
Compass Rose (Deck 2): The ship's main dining restaurant, Compass Rose, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, except for when an excursion takes passengers off the ship during mealtime. Breakfast is served as a combination of buffet and menu order. The buffet includes fruit, cheese, smoked meats and fish, oatmeal, cereal, muesli and a large bread bar. There's also an omelet station, where you can order eggs the way you want or load up on bacon or sausage, or traditional English breakfast items like beans and grilled tomatoes. Passengers can also order off the menu, which includes made-to-order eggs (and omelets -- so you can skip the egg station and order from your table), raisin French toast and pancakes. The menu is the same every day, and few changes are made to the buffet; still, the variety is good enough that you won't get bored eating the same thing morning after morning. Meal times vary depending on the excursion schedule but generally fall between 7 and 9 a.m.
Like breakfast, lunch combines a buffet and sit-down menu, but both change every day. The buffet will include a salad bar with lots of toppings each day, and it will also have several sandwich and hot items. Food here is sometimes regional, so you might get a boeuf bourguignon, for example, while still enjoying American favorites like seafood sandwiches. A chef manning a hot-item station will serve up different dishes each day; you might get noodles and garlic sauce one day, fresh-poached salmon with tarragon sauce the next. You can order hot -- really hot! -- soup from a server, and options include a range of consommes or cream-based soups like carrot or turnip. A dessert bar is laid out to include an excellent cheese platter, fruit and rotating sweets, like madeleines or tarts, and passengers also can order from the menu, which includes options such as ice cream (scoops are small, so don't feel guilty about ordering two).
Dinner is a multicourse affair that always begins with a chef's choice amuse-bouche that plays on local cuisine. In France, that might be butter and garlic pan-fried frog legs or breaded Camembert cheese. Passengers then can choose a starter, a soup and an entree. Starters include salads or items such as salmon tartare. Soups routinely were our favorite, with crafty options like beet consomme or creamy white asparagus. Entree choices usually include one seafood, one meat, one vegan and one vegetarian option, and occasionally they'll feature ingredients the chef picked up in the local markets that day. (We were treated to fresh salmon and red snapper as well as just-picked ingredients like cherries, strawberries and peaches.) If nothing on the daily menu tickles your fancy, you can pick from the everyday menu, which includes steak, Norwegian salmon filet, roasted chicken or Caesar salad. Dessert always includes a cheese option as well as a selection of ice creams or sorbets. Additional options change daily and might include chocolate gateau with gooseberry sauce or crepe suzette with a splash of Grand Marnier.
Arthur's (Deck 3): The ship's lone alternative restaurant, Arthur's also is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, though morning options are more along continental lines. Arthur's is open for early risers -- usually by 6 a.m. -- and offers a selection of cheeses, fruit, yogurt, pastries and bread, milk and hard-boiled eggs. It's fairly quiet, as most people elect to eat at Compass Rose for breakfast instead, but Arthur's also is home to a spectacular coffee machine, and passengers (and crew) often grab their coffee there to start their day. The coffee machine also has a hot water function, and passengers can pick from a well-rounded assortment of tea all day long.
Outside of breakfast, Arthur's is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day, and lunch definitely is the most popular meal, as passengers can grab a quick and delicious casual bite outside or during the main restaurant's hours. The lunch menu is simple and doesn't change from day to day. It includes two salad choices, a rotating soup option (we loved the pumpkin) and entrees including a cheeseburger, club sandwich, bacon and onion flatbread pizza, and a decadent mac and cheese. The venue has its own, small kitchen, which is open so passengers can watch the chef flip burgers or make the bechamel sauce for the pasta. Dessert includes a fresh fruit plate, madeleines and an assortment of ice cream.
At dinner, the menu has some of the same options that are available for lunch, but it also adds a charcuterie board and appetizer as well as a ratatouille, seared yellow-fin tuna steak, chicken with aromatics and New York strip steak. Dessert is the same at lunch and dinner. While Arthur's is somewhat busy at lunch, it's fairly quiet at night, as most passengers elect to dine in Compass Rose. Still it's a solid casual option, which is welcomed after a long day exploring in port.
Cookies are always available in Arthur's as well, and we found ourselves grabbing chocolate chip cookies and coconut macaroons in off-hours.
Panorama Lounge/Room Service (Deck 2): Passengers who get peckish while hanging in the Panorama Lounge can order from a limited "Bite to Eat" menu that includes an assortment of cheese, bread, crackers and nuts, croque madame, fruit, ice cream or a hot stuffed croissant. Snacks are available from 10 a.m. to midnight. These items can be delivered anywhere on the ship -- your cabin or the Sun Deck, for example.