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Cruisin' food -- the good, the bad, or do you want to make the cooks 'walk the plank'?

Headed on a cruise ship to Alaska in a couple of months, and am wondering what to expect...The old stories are a mixed bag ranging from some rating the buffets at the peak of gastronomic excellence to the main dining rooms being a cut below Denney's... The truth must lie somewhere in between.

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  1. oh my. i wonder where you heard this... i have been on a cruise with Princess, and the food was sooooo good. honestly. so good.
    my party was fortunate enough to get an hour with the food and beverage manager, and he explained that on a cruise ship, everything is made from scratch except the yogurt and boxed cereal. stocks, soups, sauces, you name it! all made from scratch. he said that cruise ship cooks are masters at recycling cooking leftovers (i.e carrot tops and meat carcasses for stock), because of storage restreints on the ship.
    we had a night with lobster that was fresh and delicious. the desserts we always fresh and not too sweet. only once had a sauce been too salty for my taste... but hey. i would go back just for the food!!

    1. I've been on many cruises, and it depends on the cruise line. Just remember, they want you to be happy, and they don't mind if you order two entrees or send something back that's not to your liking. I've found the simpler the better,and the salads and fruits are almost always great. I know some people who are happy just with the desserts!

      1. I would be interested in any input. Mrbuffer and I are booked on the Norwegian Dawn in May to Bermuda. My first cruise ever, and his first as a passenger (he spend four years as chief storekeeper for American Hawaii Cruise Lines in the 90s).

        2 Replies
        1. re: mrsbuffer

          Norwegian Dawn (2002) has 12 different restaurants and "Freestyle Dining," which means you have different choices of where to eat and when you eat. There are a couple restaurants where you pay an extra fee to eat at, but only if you want. I think on our ship it was the sushi restaurant and the steak house. Unfortunately the Norwegian Dawn website doesn't list what those restaurants are. But all Norwegian ships have basically the same restaurants if you can find a listing.

          When we were on Norwegian Wind (older ship-now retired from Norwegian) we had a party of 6 and made sure we had dinner reservations every night at the restaurant we wanted to eat at (we like to eat early), otherwise you have to wait to be seated after the reservations. I'm satisfied with eating the buffet for breakfast, always plenty to pick and choose. Some people prefer to eat in in the dining rooms and be waited on. The food and service is good.

          1. re: mrsbuffer

            So how did you enjoy your cruise, the food and Bermuda?

          2. We are not cruise folks, and have only done two. One is the Hurtigruten, the boats that go up and down the Norwegian coast, carrying passengers and freight. Food was typical Norwegian, very practical, potatoes twice a day, plain meat and gravy type stuff. The other was a high-end trip from Barcelona to Nice on the Sea Cloud, the one-time yacht of Marjorie Merriwether Post, a sailing ship. Gorgeous, to be sure. But neither the food nor the wine lived up to expectations. It wasn't bad. It was just unimaginative and far too safe.

            1. Which cruise line are you taking?
              If its what I call "middle of the road" like Royal Caribbean, Princess, Norwegian, Holland American, the food is going to be good. It's not going to be 5 star dining. They all do a good job when you consider they're cooking for 2,000+ people. Surprisingly many things can be cooked to order like eggs, omelettes, steaks are now cooked to order so you have it the way you like.

              You aren't going to experience any dining room thats a cut below Denny's. Even on Princess they have the best pizza I've ever had at their pizza stand by the pool. Everything they make from the baked goods to the deserts are made from scratch and fresh everyday.

              3 Replies
              1. re: monku

                Concur with this description.

                Think of most "middle of the road" cruise line cuisine to be about what a middle of the road Las Vegas buffet will provide.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  That's what I was missing.
                  Like a middle of the road Las Vegas Buffet, but not like Home Town Buffet.

                2. re: monku

                  I was on the Princess Ruby last month and loved that pizza they had by the pool (and I live in NYC so I don't feel particularly deprived when I'm home, but I sure miss their pizza).

                  For the OP - I was really surprised at the quality of the food especially given the mass production aspect of it; this was my first cruise. I really enjoyed just about everything I ate except I found the fish to be really overcooked so I just avoided it and found something else I liked. When that happened, I just sent it back and had them bring out something else. I became oddly addicted to their fettucini alfredo which I promptly ordered as a side dish with my dinner, much to the amusement of my fiance. We ate at one of the specialty restaurants too - the steakhouse and had a great meal.

                  One special treat we were able to take advantage of was that we were selected for the Chef's Table which is only available on some Princess cruises (not sure if other lines have a similar thing). You have to sign up once you're on the ship and cross your fingers that you get picked. We were part of a group of 10 and received a tour of the galley, where we were served champagne and appetizers with the maitre d' and the executive chef and then had a special dinner which started with lobster risotto that was absolutely amazing.

                  The one aspect I was less impressed by was the wine lists in the dining rooms, especially the by the glass offerings. I thought they were pretty boring. We brought on one bottle we wanted to have when we ate at the steakhouse and if I wasn't so worried about packing more in our suitcase, I would have brought more bottles. But the cocktails were fantastic and I was so happy that they had Hacker Pschorr hefeweizen and was not stuck with the usual Bud/Miller Lite offerings.

                3. Another thing to expect is good service and you pay extra for that in the form of a daily gratuity of around $10/day/person.

                  What the heck does that cover?

                  Covers your cabin steward(s) who makes up your room twice a day, the waiter, the assistant waiter, the head waiter, the maitre'd, the assistant maitre'd, the people bussing the tables in the buffet. They work 7 days a week, 16 hours a day (they get a few hours off a week to get off the ship) for anywhere from 6 months to 2 years depending on their contract.

                  1. I've watched this thread for a couple of days and want to comment a tad. We've been on four Holland American cruises so my opinions are based only on that. I'd never say the food was "honestly sooooo good." I will say some of it is good. I had a lamb shank that gets high praise. Also I remember some kind of cold apple soup that was so good I got it for dessert also. The dining room is pretty middle of the road which I think they have to be when catering to such a large crowd and having to do it over a fairly short period of time. Nothing "haute cuisine" but nice dinner fare. The buffets are good if you pick carefully. We frequently had lox. Cooked to order eggs were always good. Tons of fresh fruit. The steam table hot food was, of course, over cooked and quite bland. (Holland America is an older group of pax so that's probably more of a problem for them.) But who needs hot food for lunch? Our experience with the pizza, burgers, etc. by the pool is that it's better than 7-11 but not as good as McD's or chain pizza. But when you're by the pool, who needs really good any way. Frequently for lunch if we were on the ship, we'd pick up meats, cheeses, rolls, etc. and glasses of iced tea and head for one of the sitting areas outside the dining area and read our books and enjoy a pleasant lunch. I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself. And the service IS so wonderful. These guys spend so much time away from their families, sending money home and they act like there's no where they'd rather be than right there anticipating your every wish :)

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: c oliver

                      We were on the Sapphire Princess in October and they didn't have the smoked salmon out for the breakfast buffet. Finally after a couple days I asked one of the cooks and they had it behind the line and would give you whatever you wanted.

                      1. re: monku

                        We chuckled at how decadent it felt to have lox day after day. Like oh, no, not lox again :) I tend to put on weight but don't gain on cruises. I think with so MANY choices, I make better ones. And I would encourage OP and others NOT to scurry back to the ship at lunch. You can find better on shore especially if you do your research ahead of time and avoid the hordes from the cruise ships!

                        1. re: c oliver

                          I figured I paid for those meals on the ship and I'll try to get my moneysworth. Think they said they prepare 10,000 meals a day. For that many they do a good job.

                          1. re: monku

                            At under $100/day (and now WAY under that) I'd say you'll get your money's worth anyway :) One of the things I DON'T like about the cruises is that the food is SO homogeneous. Nothing risky, edgy, unknown. Hey, I'm the person who ate chicken wings from a street vendor in Guatemala!!!

                    2. As others have pointed out, they want you to be happy and they want you to come back, so overall I would expect pretty good food. We tend to book tables at their 'premium' spots (you pay extra, but not like the full bill). I think most cruise ships these days have multiple premium choices. The worst thing about the food on a cruise ship is that you tend to eat way too much. I had a friend who went on a diet and lost 10 pounds before his cruise so he could just eat it back in a week.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: bnemes3343

                        I LOSE weight on cruises! The ship is so long, and breakfast is at one end, the bridge class is at the other, lunch is at the far end, the lecture is at the other, and so forth. I put in miles each day. And, I avoid eating the starchy sticky stuff, and focus on soup, salad, seafood and lots of fruit.

                      2. It was definitely a mixed bag... Golden P on the Alaska run. All meat in the buffet was well done or worse--this was especially bad on 'formal nights' -- why can't they keep one of the three main dinning rooms open for those of us who refuse to wear penguin suits on vacation? On a trip to Alaska, I was surprised that there was not more good seafood on the menu. The King crab was very good, but most of the salmon tended to be dry and the halibut was only served once on a formal night. They used 30-40s shrimp in the cocktails--again I was surprised that they didn't use at least 20s or bigger, and the sauce was basically ketchup--one experienced traveler brought their own bottle of horseradish to 'improve' the sauce. Spices in general were lacking. Cheese was more of the kraft variety, though they did have a good Esrom, but the Parmigiano was definitely not Reggiano. A number of experienced cruisers remarked that the food was down on this trip. Service in the dining rooms was spotty with a lot of the staff being marginal English speakers.... Good finds were the Brats at the burger stand by the pool--go back to the buffet after getting one so you can get Dijon or Gulden mustard and red onions instead of the basic yellow stuff. The chorizo at breakfast was also very good.
                        It was interesting, the scenery was great, but I'll probably take the Alaska Ferry system next time and plan on major meals on shore....

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: NVJims

                          I don't mind cruise food. Stay away from the buffets. Have breakfast and lunch in the dining room. Otherwise, buffet food is mediocre and heavy on the salt. Stick to fish and salads for lunch and you'll be fine.
                          We also resisted the temptation to eat the 24 hour burgers and pizzas. in fact, my daughters ordered fine dining every afternoon and night instead of children's menu and had a great time. They were 6 and 3 at the time and loved the salads, pasta, chateaubriand, fish and lobster tails.
                          Dinner in the dining room is always good. We enjoyed every single dish and the wait staff were very attentive. At our first cruise, we were too 'shy' to order a second entree and they read our minds and brought out various choices. We also took advantage of the fresh fruits and snacked on those during the day instead of ordering expensive drinks and cocktails.

                          1. re: NVJims

                            Surprised you experieced well done meat at the buffet. Every night I was ever there the carved meat offerings were availble in various doneness. If they were too done you should have asked them if they had more available.
                            Surprised you said there was no Parmigiano Reggiano, At the buffet I had the made to order Fettucini Alfredo and the Parmigiano Reggiano was there as the main ingredient. I think the majority like to go all out and dress up and formal night is one of those cruise traditions. I hate having to pack a suit for two nights.

                            They have pure horseradish, I always ask for it with my prime rib. Shrimp cocktails I'll order two if I don't like the other appetizers.

                            The menu offerings on all the ships are basically the same no matter where they cruise. If its the 2nd night out its formal night and prime rib is one of the offerings. One night they will have a meal tailored to the area you're cruising....maybe that was the night you got halibut?

                            1. re: monku

                              I have to admit that in an Alfredo sauce I would not be able to tell the difference between plain P and P-R..

                              We've been on a few cruises and while the food is fine (in most cases), it's definitely not chow-worthy. IMO it's one of those lowest common denominator things, I believe.

                          2. We have been on a few cruises and all different lines, most recent was last year, Norwegian Pearl...we had balcony rooms so everyday we ordered breakfast in our rooms and had the best view ever....Lunch we were always at port, so we ate local and dinner we "freestyled" dined and it was pretty good, I have had worse and I have had better, but you can't knock it for what it is it. And service was top knotch!

                            Carnival now has the supper club and for an additional $20.00 you can eat in there...Jacket required! Can not remember what ship we were on but I had a perfectly cooked lobster with a porterhouse! Not Peter Luger quality, but Ruth Chris!