OUR TRANSATLANTIC CRUISE - EATING AND DRINKING
When you think of a cruise what’s the first thing that comes to mind? I think for most people it has something to do with food – as in unlimited food, non-stop eating, midnight buffets and room service. Because people on a cruise ship are more or less a captive audience, the food does have to be good, otherwise, who’d bother? On warm weather cruises I’m sure drinking is just as important as eating, but for now let’s just talk about the food.
The setup for eating during out transatlantic cruise on the Celebrity Solstice was this: Breakfast was available from very early until late in the morning at the Oceanview Café, a large buffet style restaurant with food islands for every type of breakfast food you could want. There were omelet bars and waffle bars, cold cereals, hot cereals, yogurt, breads of every type, sausages and bacon, fresh fruit and more. This is where Art and I had breakfast every day. We usually found a table by the window first, then wandered through the various sections until something struck our fancy.
If we had preferred something more intimate and with table service we could have opted to have breakfast in the Bistro on 5, the creperie restaurant. The Bistro charged $5 per person to eat here, and I heard it was very nice, but somehow we just never made it there.
For an even more intimate and relaxed breakfast we could have ordered room service for breakfast. We would have filled out the menu the night before and indicated what time we wanted our breakfast delivered. I think if we'd had a balcony and the weather was nice this would be a wonderful way to start the day, but since we didn’t have a balcony we never did order room service. There’s no additional charge for room service, but I guess you’d be expected to bump up your tip for the cabin steward at the end of the cruise.
Lunch offered even more choices. In the Oceanview Café each station featured a variety of cuisines, some changing from day to day and others being offered every day. Pizza, sushi, Indian, Mexican. There was a pasta bar, and soup and sandwich bar. You could have a Caesar salad made which you waited, or assemble a selection of cold salads, cheeses or fresh fruit. There was fried chicken and baked chicken, fish, pork, and a roast beef waiting to be carved.
In addition to the three options listed above, you could also eat in the main dining room, the Grand Epernay. Although not stuffy formal, it was still a very nice experience with white tablecloths and table service. You could also opt for a burger at the outdoor bar by the pool, the AquaSpa Café, but tables seemed to be in short supply here – I guess you were expected to take your food back to your lounge chair. There was also an outdoor grill on the same level as the Oceanview Café, but most days it was just a little too cool for eating outdoors.
Dinner of course was the main event. Once again you could opt for any of the above listed options for dinner. For the most part we ate dinner in the ship’s main restaurant. The Grand Epernay dining room was a two level restaurant, and it was very attractive. Each evening when the doors opened the crowds would come pouring through, and everyone was greeted by the wait staff who were lined up to greet us. I don’t like to eat my largest meal at dinner, so it was always a struggle to resist the temptations on the evening menu, especially when we were eating at the late seating.
the Grand Epernay dining room
In addition to all these options you could also opt to dine in one of the specialty restaurants on board. Blu was available only to those who had booked the AquaSpa class rooms, but the other three specialty restaurants, The Tuscan Grill, Murano, and Silk Harvest were each open to anyone for an additional charge of $25 per person. The specialty restaurants, while not requiring coat and tie, were a bit more discriminating about their dress code, and although you certainly wouldn’t wear shorts and flip-flops to the Grand Epernay dining room, the specialty restaurants were just a bit more formal.
I have to admit that I was puzzled about this ‘specialty dining’ idea. It seemed to me that it was a little insulting to be told that if I wanted the REALLY good service and the REALLY good food I had to pay an extra $25, but a travel agent friend explained the reason to me. In order to keep the basic cruise price down, most cruise lines now offer these specialty restaurants as a way to generate additional revenue, and it must be working. I’m sure there were people who ate in a specialty restaurant every night. The one night we ate in the Tuscan Grill was fabulous – both the food and the service – but still the cost of wine and alcohol is nothing to sneeze at.
This is another area where the cruise lines have upped their prices. Back in the late 1970’s when I cruised on Royal Caribbean I’m sure that soft drinks were included at no additional cost, and that alcohol was cheaper than the average bar back home. Now the only drinks that are included are coffee, hot and cold tea, and water. Bottled water is available for an additional charge, as are soft drinks. For one flat fee, I think $5 per day, you could buy a soft drink package that allowed you unlimited soft drinks throughout the cruise. Similar packages were also available for wine and alcohol, and although I don’t remember the prices, I do remember thinking that in order to justify the daily cost you’d be ready for the next AA meeting as soon as the ship docked.
Daily drink specials were available for $5, but otherwise were no bargain. The cheapest wine I saw was Chianti by the glass for about $8, although up in the Oceanview Café you could get a carafe of wine for a reasonable price. Luckily I don’t require a drink before dinner, or even a drink with dinner, so this wasn’t a problem for us. We did have a glass or two of wine a few dinners, but only because we had our onboard credit.
After being on the ship for a few days I did learn a few tricks, like taking some fruit, cheese slices and bread back to our cabin to enjoy later with a glass of (our own) wine. You’re allowed to bring two bottles of wine on board, which you can of course drink in your cabin. Our steward, noticing that we’d had wine, thoughtfully let some wine glasses in our room for the next time. If we’d wanted to have one of our bottles of wine with dinner there would have been a $25 corkage fee – which would have been more than the bottle cost in the first place!
I also learned to stop by the ice cream bar to ask for a bowl of peanut M&Ms for a snack, rather than topping my ice cream. Other than fruit and cheese, there weren’t any snack foods around other than the bar munchies provided when you bought a drink. I guess that was good news for my waistline, but still, there were times when I wished I had something crunchy to nibble on.