If you think cruises are all about underachieving staff and overwrought buffets, you’re cruising with the wrong lines.
I recently took Princess Cruises' Western Caribbean cruise on their Crown Princess with my teenage daughter in tow. We snorkeled and sailed and kayaked and cave tubed our way through Belize and Roatán and Cozumel. While on board, we were entertained by comedians, musicians, and a mentalist who sure seemed to have read my mind. We also ate. A lot.
I’m not much for buffets. And although Princess offers very nice ones, I didn’t even have to visit them once, because there were plenty of other, much more impressive, dining options to sample during our seven-night trip. Alongside their plethora of causal venues and the more formal dining rooms, they also boast an impressive Italian restaurant and an upscale steak and seafood grill.
But the most impressive dining opportunity on board was the Chef’s Table dinner. Our host for the evening was maître d’ Giorgio Pisano. We began our evening in Galley 8, which happens to be the ship’s largest kitchen. It was as gleaming as it was bustling.
We were lucky to have a quiet corner all to ourselves where we were served appetizers that were dressed for an occasion with the queen — a lobster "margarita" with avocado and mango, salmon tartar, mini quiches, and caviar. Truth be told, I was nearly full after all of that. But the main event was still to come.
Following appetizers in the kitchen, we moved to the dining room where a beautiful table was set for us and flowers, candles, and pristine linens awaited. Our opening dish was Italian arborio risotto peppered with gorgeous porcini mushrooms. After such a rich dish, I was thrilled to be treated to a lemon sorbet swimming in Grey Goose Vodka, a perfect palate-cleanser.
Then it was time for the big splash, the main course. It took oversized china to hold the feast. Executive chef Giuseppe De Gennaro carved roast veal shank and beef tenderloin tableside. Accompanying the tender meats were potatoes, asparagus, carrots, and broccoli.
By the time the final course arrived, I thought I wouldn’t be able to touch another bite. But when I saw the Belgium dark chocolate dome cake with raspberries soaked in whiskey, plated with a sculpture of spun sugar, I couldn’t resist. The meal was delicious. And the experience was remarkable. Each course was paired with a wine that the sommelier generously tasted with and detailed for us. And the chef and maître d’ were on hand throughout the night to answer any dining inquires.
If you find yourself setting sail with Princess Cruises, which I highly recommend, be sure to make a reservation for the Chef’s Table early. It has very limited seating, and I’m told it sells out fast. Guests at the Chef’s Table get a copy of Courses, A Culinary Journey and a photo with the chef taken at the table. It’s a great way to get a sneak peak at what goes on in the kitchen, and you and your taste buds will be spoiled rotten.