Cynthia Drake
Cruise Critic Contributor
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating: Dining

Crown Princess offers a range of dining options from buffets and casual eateries to three specialty restaurants, plus the traditional dining rooms, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can enjoy a romantic dinner delivered to your balcony stateroom or afternoon tea served with white gloves and a limitless amount of warm scones with cream and jam. Or grab a slice of specialty pizza or a gourmet hamburger poolside for a fine afternoon snack.

Generally, we found the dining room to offer the best food and service and we vastly preferred it to the buffet. The specialty dining options each offered something unique beyond what was included with the cruise, and in particular, we found the Chef's Table experience to be an exceptional value -- something you should try at least once if you can. Afternoon tea was another special experience worthy of at least one visit during your cruise.

Passengers on Crown Princess can choose from set seating or the flexible Anytime Dining option. Depending on your cruise, there may be two early set seatings, for example: 5:30 and 5:45 p.m. in different dining rooms; and a late seating at 8 p.m.

Anytime dining offers cruisers the flexibility to eat on their own schedule, but the downside is that you might encounter long lines for a table, particularly during formal dinner nights, or if you eat during peak times. To bypass this, try making a reservation for your preferred time slot by calling the Dine Line in the morning. If you are a late eater, you'll also likely avoid having to wait in line, and can usually walk right in and be seated.

Free Dining

Da Vinci Dining Room (Deck 6): You'll find the three main dining rooms all named for Renaissance painters, at the ship's aft and midship. Nearly identical, except for a slightly different color scheme, each dining room has an understated elegance -- you won't find grand, winding staircases or glittering chandeliers here, but white table linens, warm wood tones on the walls and chairs, and artwork that pays homage to those artists provides a cozy backdrop for intimate meals. By day, the windows surrounding the sides of each dining room provide a fine oceanside view, while by night, tiny lights scattered across the ceilings glow like stars.

Da Vinci is the place to go for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. Times vary based on whether the ship is in port or at sea. The 5:30 p.m. early seating traditional dinner is assigned to Da Vinci, and you can also head there for anytime dinner from 7:15 to 9:30 p.m.

Breakfast in Da Vinci is a great way to start the day. In our opinion, it was the best breakfast option we found on the ship. The menu always includes a selection of fresh juices, coffee, fresh fruit, pastries, compotes, cereal, yogurt, eggs prepared the way you like them (including omelets), smoked salmon on a bagel, pancakes, bacon and sausage. There are also a couple of specialty dishes, such as J.B.'s (James Beard's) French toast, with a crispy, cornflake coating and fig compote soaked in a lemon peel-infused syrup.

Lunch here is also a treat. The menu includes a couple of brunch-style options for late risers, such as eggs Benedict and French toast. You can choose soup and salad, burgers and fries, or go for a signature pasta like meat tortellini with veal au jus and sage butter, or skillet-fried sole with lemon and parsley. For dessert, try blueberry roulade topped with mascarpone cream or cherry trifle.

We loved having afternoon tea here as often as we could. The experience truly felt like something special, from the white-glove treatment to the attentive wait staff who happily paraded through the tables, piling goodies on plates: scones, cream, jam, bigger-than-usual tea sandwiches, cookies, cakes and other baked goods.

Dinner in any of the main dining rooms includes a menu that changes nightly, but features a few mainstays, called Princess Favorites, every evening. These include shrimp cocktail, classic Caesar salad, baked potato soup, fettuccine Alfredo, grilled Atlantic salmon, country chicken and the Princess gourmet beef BLT burger.

Diners have their choice from a selection of starters, soups and salads. Options might be a  Mediterranean spinach dip served with Parmesan pita crisps, frozen rum-infused pina colada soup and fresh salads served with housemade dressings. Main dishes include skillet-seared pork chops with fig demi-glace and seared bass filet with pineapple-mango salsa. Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone makes his mark on the menu as well -- usually with a featured entree such as steamed mussels, chorizo and white wine. End your meal with a Princess Love Boat Dream (the signature dessert), tiramisu or one of the specialty desserts designed by master chocolatier Norman Love and made with Guittard chocolate.

Though vegetarian entrees are marked on the menu, those with allergies or other food sensitivities should notify the head waiter before they order.

Botticelli Dining Room (Deck 6): Those opting for a traditional dinner seating have their choice between the early seating at 5:45 p.m. and the late seating at 8 p.m., and will eat in the Botticelli Dining Room (there is also a 5:30 p.m. seating option in Da Vinci). Botticelli is a bit tricky to locate; it's all the way at the aft of the ship, and it's best to get there via elevator. This restaurant is exclusively reserved for the traditional dinner seatings, a great option if you prefer the intimacy of getting to know your tablemates and wait staff over the course of your cruise, and if you don't mind being locked in to a set schedule.

Michelangelo Dining Room (Deck 5): Michelangelo is the dining room assigned to anytime dining (along with Da Vinci), and is open for dinner only between 5:15 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Horizon Court Buffet (Deck 15): Horizon Court Buffet and its twin, Cafe Caribe, are located back-to-back at the ship's aft, and are the main casual buffet options for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks throughout the day. Nearly identical in their decor and menu offerings, the venues offer different hours to accommodate peak dining times and cut down on overcrowding (a real blessing when it comes to cruising).

A bit dated in appearance with frosted glass and brass dividers and salmon-and-blue-colored wall tiles, these buffet restaurants nevertheless get the job done in terms of offering a variety of foods, running continuously from about 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. More importantly, because the buffet areas are gated off and staffed by attendants who personally hand out napkin-wrapped silverware and plates, all passengers are asked to sanitize their hands before handling buffet utensils, in an effort to cut down on the spread of germs, and monitoring traffic flow to minimize pre-coffee passenger collisions.

For breakfast, there are banks of hot tables offering specialty items, including steamed fish and vegetables, corned beef hash, various egg dishes, bacon (American and English style) and French toast, to name a few. If you wish to order an omelet, simply place your order with a cook, and take a slip back to your table to give a waiter; it'll be delivered to your table when it's ready. That's quite a novel and welcome idea in the cruise industry. There is also a pastry section, a variety of fresh fruits and cereals.

One interesting clue that you’re on a cruise with non-Americans: Check the supply of bacon at the buffet. On our cruise, there was always “American bacon” and “English bacon,” (and occasionally Canadian bacon, as well). A gentleman from the U.K. clued us in that the English prefer a less crisp bacon than Americans, and he was happy to find it available every day on the ship.

Lunch includes a salad bar, a selection of international cheeses, several hot protein options (usually including a carving station with beef or pork), pasta, soups and breads.

For dinner, depending on the evening, you might find regional cuisine, such as one night that featured Greek food, with lemon chicken with potatoes, mint couscous with sun-dried tomatoes and spanakopita.

Vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free options are clearly marked on the buffet, making this a good option for passengers with specialty diets.

Service in the buffet areas tends to be quite speedy and cheerful. Wait staff will fetch drinks for you -- complimentary water, lemonade, coffee or juice, or drinks from the bar (for a charge), if that's more your speed. The quality of the food here is fairly standard for a cruise buffet. Given the choice, we usually preferred the more leisurely experience and better quality of the food in the main dining areas.

Cafe Caribe (Deck 15): This buffet serves as a complement to Horizon Court, and on our cruise, was mainly only open for breakfast during peak times from 7 to 10 a.m. It offered repeats of what was available in the Horizon Court line, opening up more seating areas and easing traffic flow. On select nights, Cafe Caribe is transformed into Crab Shack, an extra-fee restaurant.

The Salty Dog Grill (Deck 15): Not to be confused with the Salty Dog Gastropub (the extra-fee restaurant located at Wheelhouse Bar), the Salty Dog Grill offers complimentary bites poolside: There are two free burgers, the Princess Classic and the Triple Smoked, the latter loaded with bacon jam, smoked Gouda and barbecue sauce; a grilled chicken sandwich; street tacos such as chipotle lime chicken or sweet potato-green chili; loaded fries with bacon and cheese; and hot dogs with your choice of toppings. You can pay extra for the line's signature "Ernesto" burger ($5 for the burger, or $8 for the burger and a beer).

Slice (Deck 15): Sharing a space next to Coffee & Cones, Slice continues the contemporary decor, with weathered gray wood-paneled walls and a chic skyline mural. It's the spot to grab a slice of Princess's signature thin-crust pizza, made with hand-stretched, housemade dough. You can choose from a traditional Margherita pizza or a daily special flavor.

Slice also offers California-style toast: herb ciabatta bread, topped with avocado, bacon, feta cheese and pine nuts, or Caprese-style, and toasted to a perfect crisp. Deep-dish focaccia and stromboli are additional complimentary dishes here, but we preferred the pizza to anything else.

International Cafe (Deck 5): Located right in the heart of the Piazza, this is a hugely popular "sidewalk-style" cafe that serves up a variety of coffee drinks (a la carte pricing), in addition to free casual meals and snacks, and is the ship's only 24-hour venue for food. For breakfast, there are a variety of pastries available (Nutella doughnut, anyone?), in addition to a hot egg-and-bacon breakfast sandwich. Lunches and dinners include items such as artichoke and goat cheese quiche, steak and kidney pie, Cuban sandwiches, watermelon caprese salad and a variety of other soups, sandwiches and salads, plus a dessert case with fruit tartlets, gluten-free chocolate cake, strawberry shortcake and pavlova. The wait staff at the International Cafe clearly has fun with their jobs, slinging cheeky commentary along with cappuccinos and mochas.

Room Service: Room service is available 24 hours a day, and offers several free options. A continental breakfast is available to order by hanging the menu with your choices outside your door the prior evening; you can choose from cereals, breads and pastries, or a breakfast sandwich. Throughout the day, you may order soups, salads, sandwiches (roast beef, tuna salad, vegetarian, peanut butter and jelly); hot dishes, such as croque monsieur, lasagna, Moroccan vegetable stew with pita bread; and a small selection of desserts, including cookies and milk. You can also order a whole pizza to be delivered to your stateroom for a $3 delivery charge.

Fee Dining

Chef's Table (Deck 5); $95: Chef's Table is a unique dining experience that includes a special galley tour and several courses (each paired with wine) that are designed by the chef just for your group. Escorted by the maitre d', you'll start by suiting up with a white chef's coat and a requisite hand scrubbing, followed by a welcome glass of Champagne and hors d'oeuvres enjoyed right in the galley, with the dinnertime hustle and bustle going on all around you.

The chef then presents your specially prepared menu, course by course, at your reserved table in the Michelangelo Dining Room, along with selected wine pairings. You'll receive an autographed copy of Princess' cookbook, a photo taken with the chef and roses for the ladies. You'll want to reserve your Chef's Table experience as soon as possible, as it is limited to just 10 passengers for each experience. Important to note, food allergies or aversions typically cannot be accommodated. This was one of the finest dining experiences we've had on a cruise ship, and we thought it was well worth the price.

Crown Grill, (Deck 7); $29: Mahogany-paneled walls and coffered ceilings are your cue that this restaurant offers an upscale, intimate dining experience. Known for its steak and seafood, Crown Grill offers appetizers such as black tiger prawns, beef tartare and bay scallop timbale with Cajun crawfish cream. For your main dish, options include a 6- to 7-ounce Maine lobster tail; mussel and smoked sausage pot; 16-ounce beef chop, 8-ounce filet mignon; or 22-ounce porterhouse steak, among others. The meal is served with family-style sides such as garlic and herb French fries, sauteed wild mushrooms and creamed spinach, plus a selection of gourmet salts for enjoying atop your steak. Dessert choices include: molten Dutch chocolate fudge obsession and a seven-layer s'mores stack.

One main dish is included in the cover price; additional main courses are $10 each.

The Salty Dog Gastropub (Deck 7); $12: The Salty Dog Gastropub is located inside the Wheelhouse Bar. With the nautical decor, model ships and soft mood lighting, the venue feels like a swanky neighborhood pub that serves small plates. The restaurant concept was created in partnership with celebrity chef Ernesto Uchimura. You can choose two items from the menu, and everyone enjoys a complimentary appetizer of Ernesto dip sticks -- bread sticks served with beer-cheddar fondue. The "Ernesto" burger is popular, -- adding to the average burger grilled pork belly, Gruyere cheese, a kick of caramelized kimchi beer-battered jalapeno and onion aioli on a brioche bun. We also liked the beef short ribs slathered with a stout-orange blossom honey glaze.

Coffee & Cones (Deck 15); a la carte: A cute, black-and-white treat shop with fresh, white subway tiles and marble countertops, Coffee & Cones is located next to Slice, and is your stop for coffee and sweet treats by the pool. Here you'll find $3 gourmet ice cream sandwiches (premade packed ice cream slabs sandwiched by two cookies) in a variety of flavors, including snickerdoodle and mint paddy, or shakes and malts for $2.50. You can also order specialty coffees, from espresso drinks to frappes ($2 to $5; add a shot of Irish cream or Kahlua for $1 extra). Cones or cups of soft serve ice cream are complimentary.

Crab Shack (Deck 15); $29: On select nights of every cruise, a section of Cafe Caribe becomes the Crab Shack, a perfect excuse to get a little messy and enjoy fresh seafood. Tables are topped with butcher paper (crayons are provided for coloring) and everyone is suited up with oversized bibs and given all the tools needed to get cracking. You'll start with shared appetizers of popcorn shrimp and hush puppies, and you can order an appetizer of Manhattan clam chowder if you like. Mains include Bayou-style "Mud Bug" Boil (that's crawfish, corn on the cob, potatoes and spicy andouille sausage); steamed Alaskan crab legs with peel and eat shrimp; and a clam, mussel and shrimp pot, followed by dessert, with a selection of tarts from the ship's pastry shop.

Sabatini's (Deck 16); $29: Easily the most visually stunning restaurant on the ship, Sabatini's transports diners to Tuscany with its stone and iron decor, mosaic glass light fixtures and romantic sheer drapery adorning the windows. It's also tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the dining areas, making it a particularly ideal spot for a romantic dinner.

Save room for this meal! It's a lot of food. You'll start with a complimentary selection of breads, prosciutto and olives. Starters include burrata with carpaccio, marinated porcini mushrooms, fried calamari and a choice of salads. As in Italy, you'll have a primo piatto showcasing pasta dishes such as spaghetti with shrimp and scallops, and manicotti; and secondi, featuring meats, such as lobster three ways, a 10-ounce Tuscan-style strip steak, baked striped bass in a zucchini crust and a roasted veal rack.

The Sanctuary (Deck 17); $20 to $40: Though meals served at The Sanctuary are free, you'll pay a cover charge to reserve your chair there ($20 per half-day or $40 for a full day). The Sanctuary offers a special, spa-inspired light menu, including items like an all-day breakfast parfait, sesame tuna salad and grilled shrimp skewers over white bean salad, each listed with calorie counts, and served right to your comfortable lounger. We loved the atmosphere, but felt the food was not particularly special. Afternoon tea is also served here, including Princess' decadent scones.

Ultimate Balcony Dining; ($45 or $100 per couple): If you have a room with a balcony and you'd like to step up your room service, take advantage of Princess' Ultimate Balcony Dining experience, serving breakfast or dinner with the best view on the ship without leaving your room. The deluxe breakfast ($45) includes a half-bottle of chilled Champagne, a basket of pastries, a specially prepared quiche and smoked salmon on brioche. The Lobster Balcony Dinner ($100) includes pre-dinner cocktails, canapes, a fresh flower bouquet, a half-bottle of sparkling wine and your choice of lobster tail or beef tenderloin.

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