Dispatch, Caribbean Princess: More ways to dine

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Cruise editor Johanna Jainchill is sailing on half of a nine-day Bermuda-Caribbean cruise on the 3,100-passenger Caribbean Princess, to check out one of Princess Cruises' refurbished vessels during its five-year shipbuilding hiatus. Her final dispatch follows.

SAN JUAN — Another way that Princess keeps its product fresh on all its ships, including this one, is by offering new and unique ways to dine.

Princess added new venues for lunch and breakfast, taking advantage of its otherwise empty specialty restaurants during the day.

The Crown Grill offers a complimentary, traditional British pub lunch on sea days. The menu, limited but authentic pub fare (so not exactly a spa lunch) offers fish and chips, a plowman’s lunch (bread, cheese, pickles, salad and fruit), chicken curry and Scottish eggs (hard-boiled eggs encased in sausage, then breaded and deep-fried).

The 200 people that pack the Crown Grill for the pub lunches alleviate the crowd at the lido, which gets quite busy during peak lunch hours, but never so much that one can’t find a table.

A new option that Princess began offering exclusively for suite guests is breakfast in Sabatini’s, the Italian specialty restaurant that carries a $20-per-person surcharge for dinner.

The morning offerings are an enhanced breakfast menu with cooked-to-order dishes such as several variations of eggs Benedict and brioche French toast.

The breakfast is popular with suite guests, especially on sea days, offering a quieter, less busy alternative to the main dining room and the lido restaurant.

By morning, Sabatini’s is a bright, quiet space with nice views. And chefs hand-making pasta for Sabatini’s dinner menu offer breakfast entertaintainment.

Passengers who buy time in the Sanctuary, the adults-only quiet area ($10 half-day, $20 full day), get a special menu, as well. There is lighter, spa-type fare such as "spring rolls" (vegetables wrapped in lettuce), fruit skewers, cottage cheese and melon, and turkey-and-cheese pinwheels. Passengers can still order less healthy lunch staples like hamburgers and pizza. 

Another dinner options Princess has added over the past few years is the $75-per-person Chef’s Table experience, which books full every cruise because Princess limits it to 10 to 12 people.

Originally introduced on the Emerald Princess, the Chef's Table offers a meal that begins with appetizers and cocktails in the ship's galley and continues with a multi-course tasting dinner paired with wine in the main dining room with the ship's executive chef.

For passengers that prefer to splurge in private, there's the $100-per-couple "Lobster Balcony Dinner." A waiter serves a four-course lobster dinner on the passengers' balcony, accompanied by champagne, a flower bouquet and a stateroom portrait session. Richard Harry, the Caribbean Princess’ hotel director, said that about 20 to 40 passengers do this every cruise.

In the traditional dining area, Princess was one of the first cruise lines to introduce a flexible dining program, which it calls Anytime Dining. According to Harry, about half the passengers choose Anytime Dining and half do traditional seating.

Passengers can reserve a table in advance, although when my friend and I tried to get a table for two, we were told there was nothing available between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. — not just that night, but for the next two nights.

Instead, most Anytime diners walk right up to the dining room and ask for a table. Every night at about 8 p.m., there is a long line of passengers at both Anytime Dining restaurants, the Coral and the Island dining rooms. The Palm is for traditional, two-seating dining at 6 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.

The lines look daunting, but waits were not long, unless people insist on eating alone as a couple or even a foursome.

We found ourselves at tables for six and eight on the nights we ate in the main dining room — once we had a reservation, and the other time the wait for a table for two would have been 40 minutes. Joining a large table took only as long as the line to the maitre'd, about 10 minutes.

Most people who chose Anytime Dining seemed fine with the wait. One person remarked that it was similar to walking into a popular restaurant, where one wouldn’t expect to be able to sit down immediately.

Anytime Dining was a great option for us, because we wanted to try the various dining options onboard. We ate twice in the main dining room, once in Sabatini’s, once at the lido buffet and once (after having a late lunch) at the wine bar, which offers tapas-style snacks like sushi and ceviche as well as caprese salad and meatballs, or a cheese plate (the cheese alone carries a surcharge of $4).

Click here to read Johanna's first Caribbean Princess dispatch. In addition, see more photos and video by viewing Johanna's slideshow here.

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