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Scaling Back on the Food Issue

So you're worried about packing five extra pounds, are you, after a just-completed holiday season of over-eating?


"So you're going on a one-week cruise?" said the dentist, his fingers and instruments making it impossible to answer. "I went on a cruise once and I wasn't worried about putting on weight. You know what the experts say?"

Again, no answer.

"They say — and 'they' are the experts in gaining weight — that's it's physiologically impossible to add more than two pounds in one week. It's also physiologically impossible to lose more than two pounds in one week. Physiologically impossible!"

There's another reason to relax, one that didn't come from the dentist.

Cruise lines understand passenger concerns about obesity. Their menus are increasingly health-conscious. Check any dining room menu on a ship and you'll find what's low-cal, low-carb, low-fat, vegetarian, gluten-free…items marked to cater to just above everybody's dietary concerns. When we were on the Celebrity Reflection last month, on one evening's menu 16 of the 21 items were gluten-free.

Besides that, portions are smaller. You can still eat as much as you can fit down your throat, but not usually in one serving. Two main courses? Go for it. But the cruise lines have really thrown the guilt complex back at the passenger, where it should be, of course. 

Dessert? You don't have to chow-down on all the chocolate you can find because desserts are smaller, too. Sometimes, three or four bite-sized desserts is better…and better for you.

If all else fails, naturally, you can hit the gym and work it off.

Or…just take the dentist's word for it.

Norwegian Breakaway
7 nights
April 30, 2013
Southampton, New York
 Inside: $749
Cost per day: $107

Celebrity Dining: Two Opposites


This is a tale of two restaurants that happen to be on a cruise ship.

The restaurants are called the Tuscan Grille and Qsine, and the ship is the Celebrity Reflection, which made its North American debut last week in Miami.

The Tuscan Grille, as you might ascertain, is of Italian lineage and costs $30 per person. The first time we tried it was on the Celebrity Eclipse a couple of years ago, and it is a staple on all Solstice Class ships. The problem is that, despite its name and obvious cuisine, it strikes us that this is a restaurant with an identity problem. Start with billing it as an "Italian steakhouse" which could be taken as something of an oxymoron.

Long-time lovers of Italian food, we were convinced by the waiter to have steak on our Eclipse visit. Last week on the Reflection, it happened again…although the steak was much better the second time than the first. Must have been the aging. Its authenticity as an Italian restaurant is undermined by not having "primo piatto" and "secondo piatto" — pasta or meat/seafood, not a little of each as the Italians do. You CAN have both, but they're both main courses.

One of the appetizers (goat cheese) was on the menu two years ago, then it was gone, now it is back. The menu seems to be fluid, which is not necessarily bad, but at the Tuscan Grille you get the idea it is ever-changing. Is it truly Italian or not?

Qsine is another story.

Introduced as a quirky kind of place where you order tapas-style dishes from an iPad, it's also a Solstice Class staple. We never considered ourselves to be quirky people — we have friends who might disagree — but we loved this place on the Eclipse and again during a brief sampling on the Reflection. You pick five to seven dishes (seven is usually too many) on your iPad by scrolling through and picking your list of favorites.

Everything comes in small bites and anybody of our vintage appreciates that. The food was worldly, not to mention out of this world. Popcorn fish and chips came in a popcorn box. Lobster was teamed with escargot. Disco shrimp had flashing lights. It was introduced on Eclipse but is spreading fleet wide. The specialty price is $35, but that's probably going to change.

And here's the kicker…the menu has not changed at all.

No identity problem here.

Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
7 nights
February 2, 2013
New Orleans (return): Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Falmouth
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57

Mais Oui! Chef Time on Wind Surf

Whenever our travels take us to Europe, we continue to have this argument…er, debate…er, discussion.

Is the food better in Italy or in France?

At various times, either one of us can be on either side of the…discussion. Now, Windstar Cruises is tempting us to do some research. As part of its $18-million fleet renovation, now just hours from completion, Windstar is introducing Stella Bistro.

This is not a woman of substantial girth, in case you were wondering, it's a "contemporary dining room with a French twist." Did we say that we loved French twists? This one is available only to passengers on the Wind Surf, which is the cruise line's flagship.

Here is the tasty description from Windstar:

"Contemporary dishes with a French flair, as exemplified by entrees such as Coquille St. Jacques Provençale, a seared, skewered scallops dish served on pappardelle and tossed with artichoke hearts, spinach and capers in a light, white wine sauce; or the Roasted Magret of duck, a duck breast and duck confit on cherry sauce paired with Parisienne potatoes and French beans...seasonings and flavors include escargots bourguignon; cream of wild mushroom soup; and goat cheese soufflé. Dessert is a decadent affair with dishes such as apple aumoniere, a combination of apples, marzipan and honey baked into a filo pastry and served in vanilla custard; or chocolate Napoleon, the famous French pastry that consists of layers of soft, creamy chocolate and praline."

They had us at "Coquille."

Carnival Splendor
17 nights
February 3, 2013
Long Beach, Cabo San Lucas, Huatulco, Puerto Quetzal, Manta, Lima, Arica, Santiago
Inside:  $949
Cost per day: $55

Dining Getting Royal Treatment


We spent last weekend in Las Vegas, because that's what people who like Jimmy Buffett do when he's playing his tunes for you and 15,000 of your closest friends. And speaking of friends, a woman of our vintage said "Did you eat lots of food?" after we returned, because that's what Vegas used to be known for, and obviously still is…to people who haven't been there for a while.

Well, Vegas has changed, if you hadn't noticed. No more $1.99 buffets — matter of fact, Jimmy's no cheap Buffett either — unless you're a high roller, in which case you don't frequent $1.99 buffets.

Cruise ships were known for the same thing, cheap food, and if you want to make the connection between slots and table games in both places, go ahead. Then cruise lines invented specialty restaurants, to "sell" copious amounts of upscale food for an extra $5 at first…now up to $30 or $35.

That's per person, of course.

Just like airlines are enjoying the fruits of all those extra charges, it seemed cruise lines were profiting, too.

And now?

Now, Royal Caribbean has changed the game. It's upgrading the free food. The icing is off the cake, so to speak. Now the customers want more than copious amounts…they want quality.

Here's what Royal Caribbean is doing:

1. Changing complimentary dining menus to include "dishes infused with regional flavors reflective of the destinations of the world the line’s ships sail to)…translation: dining room patrons want variety.

2. Improving choices for guests with dietary restrictions. For example, daily gluten-free bread offerings will be available upon request, for those with conditions like celiac disease. A new widely-recognized vegetarian symbol will appear in the appropriate place on menus.

3. Ramping up the quality. It's rare that you find dishes like these in the main dining room with any regularity — rack of lamb, surf & turf, premium beef sliders, escargot bourguignonne and “hot from the oven” blueberry peach crumble. You will now.

Royal Caribbean calls it the "next evolution" of dining concepts, which is fine. We call it trying to deliver what used to make cruise ships famous: cheap, good food.

Is Vegas next?

Carnival Miracle
8 nights
January 17, 2013
New York (return): Port Canaveral, Nassau, Freeport
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $49

Cruising and Food Can Be a Challenge

The first four-letter word that comes with going on a cruise is food. There is always so much of it, day and night, that the suspicion is everybody who goes on a cruise comes back a different size, and the tailoring of clothes requires extra material.

There is another side to the story of food and cruising.

In this era, more and more people have discovered problems with certain foods. Allergies. Intestinal issues. We have a granddaughter who has celiac disease, so eating anything with wheat in it is an enormous problem. Our daughter was vegetarian for a number of years. All of these "issues" make it more challenging in the kitchen for cruise lines…and they can make cruising an unpleasant experience for the customers.

We have friends with dietary issues — serious ones — going on a Norwegian cruise in September. On their behalf, we made a few inquiries and discovered that Norwegian tries to be proactive. There's an email address where passengers can make their dietary preferences (aka, concerns) known in advance: accessdesk@ncl.com. Our friends promise to take notes and report back.

Norwegian, like all cruise lines, encourages passengers to request specific items from waiters in restaurants. There are no guarantees, of course, but our experience has been that most waiters will do everything in their power to accommodate you. If they don't, it's usually because they can't.

One of our best "waiter experiences" was on the Norwegian Sun. His name was Dollarege Soares, he was from Mumbai and by the end of the cruise we'd become such good friends that when we had the camera out on our last night, he gathered us all together for what he called "family picture." That had nothing to do with food, of course, but it had everything to do with customer service.

And that usually means that four-letter word.

Norwegian Epic
7 nights
September 23, 2012
Barcelona (return): Naples, Rome, Florence, Cannes, Marseille
Inside: $629
Cost per day: $89

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