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Cruise food?

My grandmother is taking the entire family --- all 25 of us -- on a cruise starting in Florida, circling the Caribbean, and coming back a week later. I've never been on a cruise, but I have visions of long-suffering hotel pans full of overcooked food in cream sauce. What have your experiences been with cruise food? Are there tips for eating better (or just well -- how scared should I be?) onboard? Things to avoid? Alcholic bevs are not included and it's a Princess Cruise ship, in case that helps.

(If anyone has tips for places to hit in St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Princess Cays, Bahamas, send 'em this way. We get off the boat at 9 a.m. and have to be back by 4, so unfortunatelty this excludes dinner. I'll be dragging my sisters to find lunch or street food. Thanks!)

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  1. I would try and manage your expectations. My father in law used to take the whole family on an annual cruise and cruise food seems to be more about volume. They feed you all the time. In order to feed that many people every meal, every day, It doesn't seems possible for the cruise line to produce memorable meals.

    1. For tips on places to eat in the Caribbean, you may want to post on the Caribbean board, as such recommendations would be off topic here. Here's a link to that board:

      http://www.chowhound.com/boards/54

      1. Most ships have a higher level - pay extra restaurant. The add on fee is usually not bad, and the service and food improve greatly. Check out your specific ship and reserve asap. This goes for other activities, like spa treatments. Review what they have to offer and make that your first mission when you board. Oh, and hit the gym........

        1. We went on a cruise similar to the one you describe a couple of years ago. The "upscale" dinners tended to be a dissapointment for us. Things just weren't executed in terms of the food the way you'd expect given the pomp and circumstance of the whole thing, not to mention the tie and jacket thing. (If I'm wearing a tie, I want some pretty good food.) What we did discover a couple of days in, though, was that the next level down options were actually quite good.

          There were several levels on the boat...the upscale dinner every night, the pizza stand and hot dog stand and the like and then a part buffet/part serve to order restaurant that was operating almost 24 hours a day. They had a terrific salad bar, amazing fresh fruit and did a good job with pastas and other entrees. We were much happier with it. We felt like it was food that was more in line with the ability of the kitchen and the demands of serving so many people. So, my advice is to try out all of the available options as soon as you can.

          Also, we found that buying the all you can drink soft drink option was great. But, the boat we were on had coffee, tea, iced tea and water available free all the time. I like sparkling water and coke, so it was worth it to me.

          1. We went on one of these once. Dinner was at the same table with the same people and same servers for the entire week. The people were fine and having the same server assured that he would, in short order, find out about "his" diners' little quirks. Like ice cream with every dessert! I thought the food was pretty good, plentiful, and they bent over backwards to satisfy. Now that they have added extra cost elite dinning rooms, it may be that they have started "cutting back" on the quality in the regular dining room. Other meals were served at appointed times in the dinning rooms and almost round the clock at the buffet at another location. We were well satisfied.

            Look over their web site for your particular trip and plan any extra cost excursions ahead so that you can reserve them as soon as you board. The good ones fill up quickly.

            Also, If you get there well before sailing time, they may have a tour of the kitchen. If that end of chowhounding interests you.

            You could probably get more up-to-date info than mine if you say what line and even which ship.

            3 Replies
            1. re: yayadave

              I don't think there is a extra cost elite dining room on board, and even if there was, I can't really do it as a grad student, but also because the idea is for there to be some whole family dinners together.

              Touring the kitchen is a great idea. I'll look into it.

              There are mentions of dress code... This is also something I forgot about. Is this common? I guess I need to get a cocktail dress.

              1. re: slowfoodgrrl

                I think that cocktail dress is probably unnecessary. I thought even younger women knew to have at least one "basic black" that could be dressed up or dressed down to fit a variety of occasions. It's the accessories. The boat we were on had only 2 dress nights during a week cruise. Maybe they expected a tux or dinner jacket, but I felt fine in a tie and jacket.

                I hope you get some responses from people who have done more of this than I have - and more recently.

                1. re: slowfoodgrrl

                  The galley tour is interesting and you'll be surprised how they're able to get out the number of meals they do and how clean it is.

                  Only dress code is at dinner if you eat in the dining rooms ..no shorts, swim suits, t-shirts or tank tops. At the Horizon Court Buffet for dinner I think its just no swim suits allowed.