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Upon Reflection, People are Special

Quite by accident — or by failure to follow directions — we enjoyed our most pleasant evening on the Celebrity Reflection in the company of a junior waiter, a waiter and a sommelier. This is typical for us. We make more friends among cruise ship staff than we do passengers, which means either we enjoy working class folks, or we're anti-social, or both.

This was in the main dining room on the ship, called Opus. We were supposed to arrive at the Deck 3 entrance as part of a group, but we mistakenly went to Deck 4 and were seated in the section manned by our three amigos, so in the end we formed our own group.

The most animated was the junior waiter, whose name is Paramanandham Jayakumar — Param for short — and not all junior waiters are so outgoing. He came to Reflection from the Millennium, a favorite ship of ours, and we ran down a list of people we both knew. Yes, staff people. Param (right) is from Mumbai, India, and two of the nicest cruise-ship people we have ever met are from Mumbai. No, they didn't know each other (only 12.5 million people live there).

The sommelier was Sandeep Naik (left), who's from Indonesia. If you're surprised that a sommelier is from Indonesia, don't be. There are many, and Celebrity specializes in having lots of sommeliers. Eloquent and wine-wise, Sandeep knew two other Celebrity sommeliers we'd enjoyed on the Eclipse, only one of whom was from Indonesia. Sandeep recommended a wonderful California cabernet to go with our dinner.

And don't think, just because there are specialty restaurants which charge extra on cruise ships that you're getting a second-rate meal in the dining room. One of us had decided on seafood until our waiter, Suparsa ("Call me Superstar") recommended beef tournedos from that evening's fare.

The beef tournedos — in fact, the entire dinner — was outstanding. Just like the people in our group.

Note: We're also covering the North American debut of the Reflection for our colleague Phil Reimer this week. You'll find more from the new ship at www.ports.andbows.com.

Holland America Volendam
14 nights
March 4, 2013
Kobe, Nagasaki, Busan, Dalian, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $57

$-$-$-$teak Hot in Main Dining Rooms

When cruise lines start charging for specialty food items in the main dining room, the knee-jerk reaction is to think they’re getting just like the airlines, charging for everything but crackers, cramped seats and authenticating your ticket.

The knee-jerk reaction is that customers shouldn’t have to pay for anything in the main dining room. Some traditions — like unlimited free food on a cruise ship — should always remain.

On ships, it’s mainly because of the meat.

Two years ago, Royal Caribbean introduced steak-for-a-price in main dining rooms, and cruisers apparently complained in loud voices if not big numbers. Now Carnival is trying it (as a trial) and the response will almost certainly be the same.

Whether it’s the start of something designed to go deeper into the pockets of the people or not, the Carnival experiment deserves at least an objective examination.

First of all, it’s being done on three ships that don’t offer the quality of beef (and oh yes, lobster) that’s accessible at the steakhouses where diners pay a $25 or $30 surcharge. The three ships — Inspiration, Paradise, Triumph — don’t have the upscale restaurants. So Carnival is really trying to offer a service that’s otherwise available on most of its ships.

Secondly, prime rib and lobster tails are served at least once per voyage.

And thirdly, it is a three-month trial. By the first day of 2011, Carnival will know if it makes sense to continue. Whether it makes sense will be a dollars-and-sense decision, not how many people complain. If the number of steaks and lobsters sold justifies whatever additional investment there is, it will continue. With Royal Caribbean, it did continue.

In a specialty restaurant on one of our recent cruises, there were more maitre d’s, sommeliers, waiters and busboys than there were customers. Maybe it was just a slow night. If that were always the case, it wouldn’t make enough “cents.”

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