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Aug 8, 2009 01:27 PM

Cruise Line food, some better than others?

Just home from our first cruise. We took the Pacific Princess for 2 weeks through Alaska. We both were disappointed about the food on the ship. We paid a lot for this cruise and hoped for something better than we had. Seemed just like wedding food. The desserts looked good but totally lacked any flavor. Don't even try the desserts in the buffet. The cookies were made with crisco, no butter at all.I guess some people don't know what well prepared food is. Seems our dining companions really enjoyed the food but we didn't. I'm not a food snob by any means but I know when I am being served wedding food. The better meals were the last 2-3 days of the cruise. I was figuring they wanted us to give them a high rating on the survey about the food and such and maybe they hoped people would have forgotten about the so-so meals. Are any of the cruise lines better than others when it comes to the food? P.S. If this is in the wrong board can you move it? Thanks.

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  1. There are cruise lines with really great food - Crystal (which I know from experience), Seabourne and Cunard (by reputation) - but you really pay through the nose for them - as in 3-4 times the price of a bargain cruise.

    Norwegian is a middle between the truly good, and the Celebrity/Carnival bottom; we enjoyed most of our meals there, although they didn't serve lobster. Steaks, chops, fish were all very good, and with my mother-in-law on a low cholesterol diet, our waiter was conscientious about making sure all her fish were broiled, sauces on the side, etc. Dining was a very pleasant experience.

    7 Replies
    1. re: FrankDrakman

      Of the three I've tried, I'd put Norwegian at the bottom with Carnival. It seems to have undeservedly good reputation. Royal Caribbean's was much better than either of them.

      I'm not sure how much the food varies from ship to ship within a line, though, and all of those opinions are based on a single ship.

      1. re: Jacquilynne

        We just came off a Royal Caribbean cruise on Liberty of the Seas, and I must say that except for the first night, when the sea-bass was a bit dry, the food was consistently good in the main Botticelli Dining Room. The steak was done to perfection (which totally surprised us), the lamb shanks were moist and tasty, the risotto was not overcooked -- all of the food was done right and tasty, if not wildly creative. The wine list had some surprisingly good wines priced below restaurant markups. The Caymus and the Ornellaia 2007 were both superb. All told, perfectly satisfactory, as long as you were not expecting Michelin quality or caviar.

      2. re: FrankDrakman

        I have to say the lobster tails and king crab legs we had were good but that was towards the end of the cruise. I had a filet mignon that tasted like an "Outback Special" sirlion. It was tasty but was too tough for beef tenderloin.

        1. re: javaandjazz

          You should have asked for another steak if you thought it was tough. Every filet I've had on the Princess was tender.

        2. re: FrankDrakman

          I haven't used them, but I was under the impression that Celebrity was a higher end line just under Crystal.

          I have been on Princess and Royal Caribbean and thought the food was good.

          1. re: mrfood16

            I just went on Celebrity in January and the food was abysmal. It seems like they put all their energy into the premium restaurants and buffet and the main dining room food was barely edible unless you ordered a steak/red meat. I don't eat red meat, so I dreaded dinner every night because I knew I'd be faced with another awful meal. The buffet was actually much better than the dining room.

            Princess seems to be pretty much in the middle in terms of food. I haven't really had a bad experience there. After all I'd heard about Carnival (granted this was 6 years ago) I was surprised that the food was not too bad. I think at that point, they were introducing nicer ships and trying to improve their image as not being so cheap, so the food quality on the newest ships was fairly decent.

          2. re: FrankDrakman

            I would add Regent Seven Seas to that list. We took a cruise on Regent last year from Athens to Monte Carlo and the food was fantastic. Of course, the cruise was really expensive but it was a great treat.
            Have cruised on Royal Carribean and Carnival too. Food was awful but Carnival had a "specialty" steak house where you could go and eat for $30. It was pretty good and the quality and service were far better than the main dining room and (horror) buffet.

          3. I'd rate Royal Carribean above NCL. Holland America in between. Though I've never been on a Princess ship, I bet that some of the desserts you passed up in the buffet were pretty good. When cruising, I try to remember not to go for the fancy or exotic menu items as it is unlikely that those could be prepared well in great volume.

            2 Replies
            1. re: WinTer15

              We tried most of the desserts in the buffet and most lacked any flavor at all. Ya know, they used gelatin in the apple pies and cherry pies and that turned me off. They did have a few desserts my partner liked but that was towards the end of the cruise. We both enjoy baking so we kinda know what stuff is supposed to taste like.

              1. re: WinTer15

                My last cruise on NCL was before they were acquired by Star Cruises of Malaysia. It's quite possible the food has gone downhill since then.

                But I'm curious about dinner dessert buffets; I can't remember a cruise that had one of these. Midnight buffet, sure. Chocolate special midnight buffet, sure. But at dinner, we always ordered off the menu.

                1. Did you mean the desserts at the lunch buffet? Because I always found them to be kind of uninspiring and always skipped them. However at the dinner buffet they had a good selection of whole cakes and tortes from which to select and they were pretty good...some of the same ones served in the dining room. As far as the cookies I always had a couple everyday and found they were like home made and good, didn't think butter or shortening when I was eating them.

                  The first poster is correct. You get what you pay for. A cruise on Crystal will cost you $300-$400/day and cruise lines like Princess you're probably paying around $100/day.

                  When you consider they prepare 10,000 meals a day and have to have some kind of variety they don't do a bad job and it's a few steps above the wedding food I've had. I think the food on all those middle of the road cruise ships is about the same. All have their strengths and weaknesses, but overall the food is good not great. They're all purchasing their provisions from the same places.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: monku

                    We were on a small ship, held less than 700 passengers and paid $215 each a day for the 14 day cruise. I agree with you monku, the food is good but not great. I think they could have tweaked it a bit and used better ingredients and the food would have been much better.

                    1. re: javaandjazz

                      Being your first cruise you had high expectations about what you heard about the food. The first day your expectations weren't met and you got "wedding" food so I'm sure the next 13 days were a let down.

                      Quick look at the Pacific Princess, it appears that it appeals to the seasoned cruiser over the age of 50 because of it's itineraries and the size of the ship. January the Pacific Princess will embark on a 107 day world cruise for the first time.

                      These days it's possible to cruise the intermediate lines for as low as $75/day on some itineraries. The majority think it's a deal and their expectations have been more than satisfied. I was on a Mexican cruise paying about $100/day and met some guy in the jacuzzi and he'd got a last minute deal for $55/day...I'm sure everything was great to him. My friend is going on an 11 day Baltic cruise this week on Crystal for almost $500/day...but he says the food and everything is worth it, plus they got a $2,000 ship board credit.

                      Don't give up on the cruise food, next time try a different cruise line. Nothing's going to knock your socks off and some meals may be hit or miss. You don't like something order something else, they're more than happy to accomodate your request. My mother complained they didn't serve enough vegetables like they used to and the waiter said people didn't eat them, so they cut back....every night thereafter he brought her a side order of vegetables which she couldn't finish.

                      Interesting the best overall ranking on this one survey for the intermediate cruiselines goes to Holland America. First time cruiser satisfaction for Princess was a 9 out of 10 but 8 out of 10 on the food. Overall Princess was ranked 3rd. The interesting fact is that Carnival owns Holland America and they were ranked 2nd from the bottom.

                      1. re: monku

                        Princess was actually offering deals on Alaska cruises for as low as $45 a day this spring, so the food is really going to seem pretty good when you're paying that little. Unless you pay for the Crystal and other higher end lines or fork out the extra $10-20 for the premium restaurants on the other restaurants, the food is probably going to be wedding banquet.

                        1. re: queencru

                          At $45/day I'd have no complaints.
                          Food is better than a wedding banquet these days. At least when you order a steak it's cooked to order and hasn't been sitting around.

                          I did have a disappointing rib eye in their Sterling Steakhouse. They show you a nicely marbled representative steak when you order and it sure didn't seem like the nice steak I was shown when I was eating it. $15 big deal but felt a bit slighted. Complained on my cruise survey.

                          The food on the intermediates is good and satisfies most of the people. I imagine half the CH's would be disappointed.

                          Interesting figure I saw last night on cruising (featured NCL), that only 17% of the U.S. population has ever cruised. The other is they have to sell $7.25 in liquor to every passenger per day to break even on bar sales.

                          1. re: monku

                            I am not sure that is always the case. On my last Celebrity cruise, the food other than the red meat was abysmal to the point where some of it wasn't even edible.

                  2. We've only been on one cruise, the Emerald Princess, and were very pleased with the quality and diversity of the food. Buffet food is buffet food, yes, but I would say this buffet food was above-average. Always hot and never sitting out for too long before being replenished. I liked that they had themed nights. On top of the casual, there were also sit-down restaurants with a menu that changed daily, and a fairly nice steak and seafood lounge. We also enjoyed a sushi bar on the ship. Even having a slice of pizza poolside whenever we wanted it was wonderful.

                    My beef with cruising was not in the quality of the food, but in that we only had lunchtimebasically in the ports to experience the true cuisine of the countries to which we were traveling. The pros and cons of cruisin'.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: KayceeK

                      Most cruise lines will only stop in a port for the day because they pay a daily port tax of $10-$15/person/day (usually added on to your cruise) for everyone including the crew on the ship. The majority of the people are at the port to see the sights and buy the local goods and at the last choice is to eat the local cuisine. Some use the excuse- why pay for food off the ship when it's included in my trip.

                      1. re: monku

                        Yes, this is true. But for my husband and I, who love food, this was our beef. We went on a cruise because we wanted a relaxing stress-free vacation for hubby's mid-tour of Afghanistan break - and the cruise certainly did the trick!

                        1. re: monku

                          We had heard something about port charges form other passengers on the boat. That's why in some of the less interesting towns where there was nothing to do we were there all day. You had to take an excursion otherwise you were bored all day! There were some ports where we could have spent at least 2 days.

                          1. re: javaandjazz

                            I looked at the Pacific Princess itinerary and noticed the strange arrival time (5:00pm) and shortest port of call was Vancouver, BC where you could have spent 2 days. Since your cruise started in Seattle, it was to satisfy the age old PVSA (Passenger Vessel Service Act of 1886) which says a foreign flagged ship (the only U.S. flagged ship is the Pride of America which operates in Hawaii) can't pick up or drop off passengers in the consecutive US ports without touching a foreign port. Itineraries are scheduled around other cruise lines since there might not be sufficient space to dock more than one cruise ship on a particular day. The evening stop in Vancouver was because there are other Alaskan cruise ships originating from Vancouver that are docked at the ports which probably depart by 4pm.

                            See your point on your ports of call. Skagway you can walk from one end of town to the other in an hour. Nothing really to do in Valdez or Skagway for a whole day in my opinion. Haven't been to Kodiak, so can't comment. As I mentioned before that particular ship and itinerary is geared to seasoned cruisers and some don't care where they cruise and some of them don't even get off the ship at certain ports. Maybe a 14 day Alaska cruise was too much, we took a 7 day to Seward then a bus to Anchorage and boarded the Alaska Railroad to Denali Park.

                            Excursions are a profit center for the cruise lines and they get a cut of every excursion they sell. I avoid buying the ship excursions. The two times I went to Alaska I got a weekly fishing license and just fished wherever I could drop a line and chartered a private boat for my family to salmon fish at our leisure and price. If I want to snorkel I'll bring my own equipment and make my way to where the beach access spots are. We'll get on city buses go the the central markets to see what the locals eat and sample some street food.

                            We were on a family trip of 16 on the Radiance of the Seas on an Alaskan cruise. I befriended the maƮtre d' on the first night with a conversation about restaurants he worked at in Europe. Every night thereafter he brought us off the menu kind of appetizers like snow crab claws, giant shrimp cocktails, seafood chowders and one night jambalaya for one of our Creole members. Othere diners are staring at us wondering why we got the special stuff. We ended up tipping him $50 at the end of the trip.

                            Don't give up on cruising. I like it because it's a convenient and relaxing way to travel without moving from one hotel to another and it gives you a glimpse of a place. Don't be too critical of the food, sure it's an integral part of the cruise experience and it's mass produced, better than most wedding food I've had.

                            1. re: monku

                              Just a quick request, folks, that we keep this conversation focused on cruise line food. Shore excursions, itineraries, etc, are off topic for Chowhound.

                              1. re: monku

                                How as the food on the Radiance of the Seas otherwise? We saw that ship in several ports along the way.

                                1. re: javaandjazz

                                  I think the food on Radiance of the Seas and other Royal Carribean ships was about the same as the others in the intermediate category except maybe Carnival being a notch below. I thought the Carnival presentation is more about serving the masses in that items like the dessert cakes seem to be cut from a sheet pan and kind of run of the mill on some of the basics like pizza I think they were using pre-made pizza shells.

                                  I like the little things on the larger Princess ships. By the pool their pizza is some of the best you'll find anywhere (they made the dough fresh every day), hamburgers, hot dogs and sausages were pretty good. The hot buffet entrees were kept in platters that weren't gigantic steam trays and they restocked frequently to keep them fresh. Don't know if you went up to the buffet at dinner but they had a someone making a pasta of the night like fettucini Alfredo using Parmigiano-Reggiano and the Penne All'Arrabbiata was my favorite. At the dinner buffet they had tenderloin of filet, prime rib, beef Wellington they hand carve.

                          2. re: KayceeK

                            I agree- my experience has also only been on Princess- Emerald at that :-). However I felt that the food was good. I'd always heard about the amazing food on ships- but I really feel that when people talk about that- they are more referring to the quantity rather than quality. That said- I had some delicious dinners on board, and some that were good-but not fantastic. They were incredibly accommodating though- and I think that definitely needs to be mentioned. Any preference that you voiced they were willing to help you with-and would remember it night after night.
                            Breakfast and lunch in the buffets had great variety of offerings, again some good and bad. I stuck with the salad bar for lunch every day-with an occasional cup of soup. Salad bar was always packed with good options, and the soups were delicious when I had them.

                              1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                I do too! Especially when they are loaded with healthy stuff- instead of all the pre cooked stuff. Give me raw veggies and some spinach any day :-)