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Cruise Ships - food?

My husband and I are thinking about a cruise in a year for vacation. We love food and dining but I have heard mixed reviews on cruise dining experiences.

Perhaps you can help, Hounds!

1. Do you eat with other guests at a Round of 10 on a cruise?
2. Are there any cruise lines that are known for culinary excellence. I'm not so much interested in the midnight buffet as I am in a quality experience.
3. Are there are food specific cruises out there?

Any help is appreciated!

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  1. I can't answer all of your questions but can offer some insight. Our last cruise was on Princess and the food was very good to excellent (we do not like buffets either except for something quick and maybe breakfast). They give you seating options, and for dinner, we requested a table for two which they happily provided. We enjoyed our servers the first night and ended up with the same quiet table every night. Some people like meeting new "friends" on vacation. However, you never know who you may be sat with. For example, one large table of mixed vacationers got stuck with a very loud and obnoxious guy from NJ who had to one up everyone at the table every night. To me, that is not a vacation. My other piece of advice would be to choose one of the newest ships. There are some real rust buckets out there, especially in the Carnival Fleet. If possible, pick a ship that is in it's inaugural season. It will be clean, well appointed, and have many amenities that an older ship would not have.

    1. The only thing I can speak to specifically (since it's been a while since I've been on a cruise) is #1. Usually you get the choice of eating with a group or by yourself. If there's open seating, you typically get seated with other people who arrive at the same time as you. I'd say this is the way to go because you can eat when you want.

      Cruises with seating times put you at a set table for the entire trip. Everyone orders and receives their food at the same time, so if you sit with someone who is tardy or doesn't regularly come to dinner, you can sometimes end up waiting 30 minutes or more before you have your order taken. Sometimes I've seen situations where the waiter's entire group had to wait for the couple that was late because the server had to bring out each course all at once.

      2 Replies
      1. re: queencru

        Yet another reason to request a table for two !

        1. re: TonyO

          Often times that doesn't matter because you'll have some delinquent couple at another table and your server has to put in every table's order at once and bring out each course at the same time for all tables. I remember one cruise where my server's group always got their food last because of the delinquent couple. The server was as annoyed about the situation as the rest of us, but cruise ships aren't as big on punctuality as they used to be.

      2. We took a Crystal Cruise and the food was outstanding. We had all sorts of dishes, which we had never tried before. Our servers were so good that they were fun to watch. If any one of us really liked something, a sample showed up at everyone's plate without asking. The wine steward and the cellar master hovered over our table. We had a cocktail party in the room one afternoon and they served, among other things, so many chilled prawns that we almost got sick because we ate them all. The desserts were spectacular, cherries jubilee and crepe suzettes prepared tableside. Memorable!

        2 Replies
        1. re: BN1

          Crystal Cruiseline is known for their excellent food, absolutely better than other cruises...

          1. re: BN1

            I've been a travel agent 26 years and have been on more than 30 cruises. I totally agree. Crystal trumps 'em all! I took the Symphony on my second trip through the Panama Canal and one day they served us the most incredible lunch I've ever eaten.....a 40-foot-long lobster buffet!!! Forget the midnight buffet. Gimme lobster!! Lobster thermador, lobster Newburg.........omg.........thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Holland America is also very good, just not quite as top-drawer as Crystal.

          2. The quality of cruise ship dining is directly tied to the cost of the cruise. You get what you pay for in cruise travel. Find me a line that offers a great cup of java tho...still looking for that!

            Many midnight buffets have been removed from itineraries in favor of specialty restaurants included with your cruise. Our last cruise offered Asian, Italian and Contiental dining rooms (separate from the main dinner room) by reservation but still included in the cost of the cruise. You paid for wine/cocktails only. Crystal Cruise has been our fav under "best dining" experience so far.

            1. As a travel professional I was invited to have lunch on the Queen Mary II when it was docked in Manhattan on one of it's first trans-atlantic cruises. I had lunch in The Britannia Restaurant. Service was excellent as was the food. I think they had 1 waiter for every 3 guests. There were a number of other restaurants on board including an Al a carte - Todd English restaurant. I think the Queen Mary II would not disappoint anyone in the food department. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:QM...

              1. As has been said, you get what you pay for. I wasn't as impressed by Crystal as many are, but I prefer small ships and do admit their food was excellent - I just didn't like the nickel and diming on everything else. That said, Silversea and Seabourn are our favorites. Radisson is also good, but not in the same class. You eat where you want, when you want, and with whom you want. We usually prefer to eat alone and meet others for after dinner drinks, but have had many an amazing dinner party with specific menu pre-ordered and nothing like anyone else in the dining room was eating. I also appreciate ships with small, private upscale dining experiences, like La Salletta on Silversea and I can't remember the name on Holland America - best food on those ships!

                I know Silversea has food specific culinary cruises and also wine cruises, and I believe so do the other upscale lines.

                Nothing better than unlimited caviar and champagne service 24/7 in your suite!!

                1. Several years ago we did a Windjammer out of Grenada and went to many little islands often under sail, the big ships cannot get to. We got to taste plenty of local and native foods. Sometimes the crew would fish off the back of the ship and catch flying fish and fry it for the cocktail hour appetizers. Also just needing 2 swimsuits, some shorts and T-shites and sun screen was great. Haute cuisine? No. Good food and interesting? You bet. Would I do it again? In a minute.

                  1. jfood has been on 3 cruises, Seabourn, Celebrity and Princess. The food quality is also that order. But the Seabourn cruises are VERY expensive and you get what you pay for (jfood received as a management award).

                    Then let's chat about the buffet. Although jfood went to look, he could not get himself to eat it. Sorry, but it was just so bad looking. And given your question jfood thinks you are not looking for the buffet review.

                    Cruise lines have the general seating (the old traditional) and the eat when you reserve in a specific theme-type resto. Both Celebrity and Princess had excellent food for dinner. Best advise is tip the waiter up front, try to gain a friendship and your week wiill be much better. If you want to eat as a 2-top or if you are traveling as a group, you can reserve a table just for you. If you want to meet others at dinner, you can ask for a piece of a larger table.

                    B'fast and lunch can also give you a chance to meet others if you like, or eat by yourselves again. Mid-cruise it was a good chance to hear about other's excursions (very interesting on an Alaska cruise).

                    Jfood would suggest do your homework and if you are looking for better food Crystal (so jfood has heard) and Princess and Celebrity (first hand info) have the top tier of the food scale.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: jfood

                      It is not just the cruise line - it is different on different ships. We have friends who LOVE the food on Mariner of the Seas RCI and they are real foodies. We went on an RCI with them on Jewel of the Seas and agreed that the food in the dining room was pretty awful. The buffet at lunch and b-fast, however, was quite good. Their omelettes were made to order and they even had jalapenos mmmm! Lunch they had sandwiches made in front of you as well as salad, etc. I have read reviews recently that the food on that ship has improved. We sailed on the QM2 and I agree with the above poster that the food in the dining room was very good. Their lunch b-fast and lunch buffet was not well laid out and there were long lines for sandwiches, etc. made to order. We are taking a Transatlantic in October on Westerdam (Holland American) and hear that the food is excellent (hoping!!!!!). My friend always sails Crystal but she didn't love the food this last time. As I said! It is the ship. There is a European Cruise coming up in September with one of the editors of Bon Appetit so that should be a good one!

                      I would go to www.cruisecritic.com and read the reviews when you find an area and ship you want to sail. Not saying that they will be chowhounders but if they say the food is just okay I figure it isn't very good at all. JMHO, Linda

                    2. I bet everyone will disagree with me here, but I've been on 2 Carnival cruises (both since 2003), and loved the food both times. I didn't eat much at the buffets, but instead ate in the dining room for nearly every meal, and the fancy upgrade restaurant once.

                      I found the food to be fantastic. The first time, I traveled with a group (there were 5 of us), and we had a table all to ourselves. The second time it was just my husband and I. We sat with another lovely couple and became fast friends. We still communicate almost a year later.

                      The food isn't haute cuisine, but everything was prepared well, and the servers cared a great deal.

                      We were even warned one night that something (I don't remember what, a pasta dish I think) wasn't looking as good as some other things, so that I was able to change my order.

                      Any time someone had something that looked good and we commented on it, another plate of it was brought for the table to share.

                      I have no complaints about the food on Carnival at all.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: tzurriz

                        I second the opinion the opinion of tzurriz. I have been on 2 Carnival cruises in fact just returned on Sunday from the Caribbean. Both times the food was excellent. We had our own table because we were a party of 5. The service is fantastic with the servers going above and beyond to satisfy us. The dining room food is quite good with a very good selection. The Supper Club (for which you pay an extra $30 per person) is well worth the extra expense. Food as good as I have had at any high end steakhouse and service that was impeccable.

                        I am not much of a buffet person either but the samplings that I did have were very fresh and well prepared. Cleanliness of the buffet area was stellar. Then do have an excellent deli, a fresh baked pizza station that was very popular as well as terrific sushi that becomes available at 5 in the casino area.

                        I highly recommend the whole Carnival experience.

                      2. My sister and I took a Celebrity cruise to Alaska three years ago. The food is the main dining room is okay (sometimes even better than okay). We really enjoyed the special restaurant that you do need to pay a supplement, but the food was excellent. The service was also excellent. We felt we were receiving the same high quality as in a fine restaurant in New York City (where we live). The nice thing also was that we would see some of the waiters from the special restaurant at other food locations during the day, and they would take extra special care of us. We enjoyed the special restaurant so much that we dined there twice.

                        1. Silver Seas does food specific cruises (they are really expensive though).

                          I have done a Star Clippers cruise in Thailand and the food was not very good (except for breakfasts), but my in laws (who are pretty discriminating) have done their cruises in the Carribean and the Meditteranean and raved about the food on all of their trips.

                          1. I went on a Princess Cruise and Norwegian cruise. While on the Princess cruise I ate most dinners in the main dining room on the open seating plan (even though it's not fixed seating MAKE RESERVATIONS for the time you want to eat). The food was good, but there wasn't any particular meal that really stood out - not even on New Year's Even when one might expect it to be better. I ate at the pay-extra Italian restaurant one night and again, it wasn't outstanding. Keep in mind nothing was *bad*. It just didn't bowl me over. I always ate breakfast and lunch in the 24-hour buffet though and I had a pesto lasagna for lunch once that I still dream about.

                            The Norwegian cruise I had a couple of dinners in the main dining room and the rest in the restaurants. The French restaurant was great. The steakhouse was pretty good. The Italian restaurant was mediocre. The Japanese hibachi place was typical. I know on New Year's Eve I decided to try the cheese plate instead of hte traditional dessert and the cheeses looked like something I would find shrink-wrapped in the dairy case at the supermarket.

                            Norwegian also has a pool buffet. Very often the buffet would have a theme like German day or Chinese Day. The food was Americanized of course, but it was a cute idea. On New Year's Eve they had a buffet full of snack foods like wings and poppers all night.

                            Norwegian shuts down parts of the 24-hour buffet at different times of the day. One night my husband wanted a snack around midnight and thought he would grab some cake there. For some reason they put a screen around the cake shelves.

                            It's interesting to hear such great things about Carnival. I've heard horrible stories about the food in the past.

                            1. Just wanted to agree with what people have said about Celebrity, though I don't have any other cruise experiences to compare.

                              I will add that, especially as a first-time cruiser, I found it helpful to work with a travel agent. She was able to help us find a cruise line that suited us well, and she got us a table for two -- at least the first time. The second time we were seated at a table for four (though it was like two since the others spoke little English). When we got there and asked, the maitre d was able to reassign us after the first meal.

                              1. I went on a Princess cruise a couple years ago...in anticipation of a GREAT food experience. While they had plenty of options each night, I wasn't really blown away (and believe me I tried almost all of it!). Being able to order all of the entrees if I desired was quite fun though, and so was trying escargot! I remember not liking their souffle cakes, but loving their beef carpaccio. Not sure if they serve the same things on every cruise or not. That's all I've got!

                                1. I have done both the floating-city Voyager-class cruise with Royal Caribbean and the smallship cruise with Windstar. I vastly preferred the smallship experience -- to actually have sails flapping, and to be part of a group of a hundred passengers instead of several thousand, and to be able to go to small ports that weren't swamped with overflowing humanity -- a much more relaxing experience. I picked Windstar for the food; Joachim Splichal designed their menu. We toured the galley and spoke with the chefs and found that all the meat was US-sourced; all the fish and produce came from Greece (where we started) and most of the dairy, outside of the Greek yogurt I rapidly could not live without, came from France. There was a high foodie quotient on board and we begged the chef and his staff to make us their native dishes, make us what they were making for their own meals (all the crew except the officers were Indonesian and Filipino). They did! It was an a amazing meal.

                                  No complaints about the food. And they were less likely to try to overstuff you than the big barges. And -- mealtimes were a several-hour bracket. You showed up when you were hungry, at whatever time was convenient, and you could request a private table or tell him you were in the mood to sit with some lively strangers or sit with friends you'd made, whatever you felt like that day.

                                  1. Hi Stella,

                                    I too, would do alot of investigating prior to booking another cruise. I have no complaints with Princess, I had the time of my life. We learned so much though, afterward that we wish we had known up front.
                                    A few things that come to mind. If you have a preferred drink...for example Diet Caffeine Free Coke. They don't serve it, bring your own and give it to the steward and everytime you want a drink they will serve you one, it's like magic, they appear out of nowhere, with your drink on ice.
                                    If, while your eating your meal you decide that Mr. Joe next to you has something better looking, they will exchange your meal and bring you anything you want. One of the people in my party wanted lox with her bagels in the morning and I kid you not, she had 8 plates full.
                                    We went crazy one night and they were serving chocolate souffle's for dessert, We had four apiece. They must have been 5000 calories each. We didn't care, it was the trip of a life time.
                                    We ordered room service one night about midnite and they brought up lobster and steak with fresh fruit and well I can't tell you how romantic that was.
                                    I guess what I'm trying to say, is as far as I can tell, there wasn't anything that they wouldn't do for us, all we had to do was ask. That's the key. Have fun, enjoy and whatever you want ask for it.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: othervoice

                                      You hear the stories about eating several mains, and the stories are true. But what got me was that they found out I like ice cream so every dessert had ice cream with it or on the side. The same with the espresso. It was there after dinner. I don't know if they were supposed to charge for the espresso, but they did not.

                                      1. re: othervoice

                                        Everyone - thank you for the great responses. This has been so helpful. I didn't even know about Crystal cruiseline! That lobster buffet sounds amazing!

                                        It seems I need to decide whether we want more shore excursions (dining on shore) or not right now...

                                        1. re: stellamystar

                                          We have taken our grandkids on a cruise every march break for the past 8 years, including twice one year to include alaska.
                                          We very much enjoyed the food on the Celebrity ships.
                                          My husband won't go near a buffet, unless there is no other choice.,but the buffet which some of the kids frequented didn't look too bad.
                                          We have also taken the Royal Carribean cruises, as we have done the Celebrity 10 day cruises over and over.
                                          Last year we did the Panama Canal with Royal Carribean.
                                          I can only say the food was just O.K. in the dining room, but the buffet was awful.
                                          My husband simply asked them to find a scoop of tuna(not a bite in a stale bun) and put it on a plate.
                                          With the cutbacks, the dining rooms are closed during shoretimes.
                                          Service was excellent, and the staff were accomodating, but the food literally turned us off.
                                          Instead of the quaint Ice Cream Parlour (Celebrity), they had a vending machine with soft Ice Cream, which was out of order half the time.
                                          Felt like a second rate bus tour.
                                          I think Celebrity is good value for the price.
                                          .

                                      2. Just got back from Regent Seven Seas to Alaska. I wasn't going unless the food was good. The chefs are trained, and the restaurants certified, by Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. Latitudes was Indochinese Asian fusion- great variety of small dishes, lobster, sates, dumplings, lamb chops in hoisin sauce. Wines were fantastically paired. Signatures the french restaurant was foie gras overdose with perfect duck. Again wines were amazing-the chateauneuf de pape was great. Even the buffet restaurant La Veranda had excellent quality, steaks and chops in addition to the buffet and the farewell luncheon included roast suckling pig and all you could eat frogs' legs (my favorite). My butler brought me caviar and other canapes to my room each day at 5pm with wine or champagne. I could get used to it (except for the motion :( !) Highly recommended, very expensive but worth it. Also the staff to guest ratio is about 400 to 700 as opposed to 1000 to 2000+ on other ships I've heard.

                                        1. I was very wary of cruise ship food and I was pleasantly surprised by Celebrity. Since they are cooking for so many people I thought it would taste mass produced. Not only was the food fresh and different, they were willing to go out of thier way to make sure that you got what you wanted. I also enjoyed the variety of dining choices. We chose to sit with other people and after the first 2 days, we ate most of our meals at the buffet, because we did not have to dress for dinner, we could eat when we wanted to and at the pace we wanted to!