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Celebrities With Cruise Appeal, Too

Kathie Lee Gifford Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines/Ray Stubblebine

If you think society at large is tiring of celebrities who fail to live up to the lofty standards placed upon them by…well, society, think again.

Celebrity sells. Still. 

That’s why Carnival is partnering with Kathie Lee Gifford, known to her millions of TV fans simply as Kathie Lee. She has a winery, or at least some wines, as do a growing number of movie stars, TV stars and sports stars. Her partnership with Carnival isn’t news, but her latest wine is.

GIFFT Pinot Noir Rose.

Kathie Lee’s wines — the red blend and chardonnay are already being poured on all Carnival ships — are from Monterey County in California. If the idea wasn’t working, and if the wine wasn’t good, there’d have been no Pinot Noir Rose uncorked yesterday in Miami, an event she toasted (above) with Candeloro Donato, captain of the Splendor.

Celebrity sells. Still.

That’s why Princess is partnering with another TV personality, chef Curtis Stone. His presence will also be felt on the entire fleet, which for Princess means 18 ships. His Curtis Stonebusiness is food, naturally, so he has TV shows (All-Star Academy and Beach Eats), restaurants (Maude, in Beverly Hills), not to mention how-to books.

On the Princess ships, his “Crafted by Curtis” menus will be savored in the main dining rooms and perhaps more elaborately by passengers who sign up for the Chef’s Table or visit the new specialty restaurant, his first at sea. The fun with his food starts on the Golden Princess in a couple of months, and fleet-wide by the end of the year.

All of it to appeal to the public’s appetite for celebrities.

In the news…

• Carnival, Justice Department settle over disabilities investigation
• AIDA Cruises achieves environmental protection milestones
• Steel cut at shipyard for new Silversea ship the Silver Muse

Today at portsandbows.com: French billionaire buying into cruising?

Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam
7 nights
December 13, 2015
Fort Lauderdale (return): Half Moon Cay, George Town, Cozumel, Key West
Inside: $615
Cost per day: $87
www.hollandamerica.com

Chef’s Table A Princess Delight

Hors d'oeuvre

ON THE STAR PRINCESS — Of all the “specialty restaurant experiences” you can have on a cruise ship, the creme-de-la-creme is the Chef’s Table. That’s where you pay a fee to be part of a small group of passengers whose dining begins where the menu begins, in the galley.

It almost defies description, but we’ll give it a shot.

Princess was the first cruise line to introduce passengers to Chef’s Table. On the Star Princess, like all the line’s ships, there are regular opportunities during a week-long cruise. The cost is $95 per person and while it might be hard to think of that as a bargain, it is.

For the food…the wine…the experience.

It starts at the sink. That’s where you wash your hands with instructions from (in our case) Ignazio d’Agostinomaitre d’ Ignazio d’Agostino, who surely has the perfect name for a man in his position. With the tap water at 120 degrees (he could tell by the feel), he doesn’t sing it but he does instruct you to wash for “two verses of Happy Birthday” if you want to go deeper into the galley.

With him and executive chef Remo Bolis providing running commentary about how the galley functions, we slip on our chef jackets, which unfortunately do not come with Remo’s skillset. While answering all of our questions, he pours champagne to go with the three hors ‘oeuvres (above is the Ginger and Spicy Red Chili Cocktail, which tastes even better than it looks).

Galley consumption complete, the group is escorted to a special table. Ah yes, the Chef’s Table. You feel like the only customers they’re serving. The appetizer — isn’t that what we had in the galley? — is a Bering Sea Red King Crab and Porcini Mushroom Risotto, enhanced by the complementary white wine. Outstanding. It ’s followed by palate cleansing orange sorbet spiked (our word) with a splash of vodka.

At that point, most people in our group (10 is maximum size) are feeling satisfied but Chef Remo, another nice Italian (are there any other kind?), is just beginning. He specifically Remo Bolisdesigned the menu for the occasion…a menu that isn’t offered anywhere else on the ship, a menu that focuses on “regional cuisine or ingredients from a recent port.” Since we are in Alaska, that means utilizing ingredients such as crab and tuna. We presume the vodka was imported from the western tip of the Alaska’s Aluetians because from there, you can see Russia.

The entree is a tripleheader…Giant Prawns, Beer-Roast Veal Shank and Crusty Lamb Rack. That’s a mouthful in more ways than one, and it’s accompanied by Buttered Asparagus, Main courseMarket Fresh Vegetable and Creamy Mousseline Potatoes…and a Napa Valley cabernet. Chef Remo didn’t say whether he took his calorie counter when he went shopping. That answer is clear by the time dessert arrives — following a cheese specialty called Stilton-Mascarpone Mousse — because there aren’t any diets we know that include the wild-Dessertlooking and entirely edible (right) "Choco-Halzelnut Parfait with Torroncino Heart Englkish Sauce Coulis and Drambuie Marinated Berries" followed by coffee and Bitter Chocolate Truffles and Pistachio Macaroons.

With dessert wine, of course.

In the end — and there eventually is an end to this all-evening experience — the presentation and preparation is as impressive as the food, and the one thing you can’t do is be afraid to leave any of it on your plate. There’s nobody we know with an appetite big enough to consume it all and, as much as diners are often concerned about getting their money’s worth, smaller servings would be appropriate for so many dishes.

Before it’s time to waddle back to your stateroom, each couple receives a copy of Courses, A Culinary Journey, and a printed copy of the night’s menu. You get your picture taken with Chef Remo…alas, with no osmosis of his cooking skills.

In the news…

• Queen Mary 2 heading to dry dock for extensive refurbishing
• Royal Caribbean reverts to My Time Dining on almost all ships
• Costa setting itself apart with Italy's Finest concept

Today at portsandbows.com: Regent's first around-the-world cruise in six years

Celebrity Constellation
11 nights
October 12, 2015
Istanbul (return): Olympia, Corfu, Split, Dubrovnik, Athens, Ephesus 
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $81
www.celebritycruises.com

Sun King A Royal Food Experience

Veranika

Most cruise ships have a steak house. Some come with a fancy name and sometimes a fancy price. The idea is that on a cruise ship where you can eat absolutely all your meals with no extra costs, this is a special night out, which is probably why such eateries are called specialty restaurants.

On the Carnival Freedom, the steak house is called Sun King. On Carnival's website, the steak houses are called, simply, the steak house. Nothing fancy here.

Is it worth the cost?

If you go there twice on an 8-night cruise, as we did, that's a good endorsement. The cost is $35 per person. If you need a break from the "pace" of eating dinner, Sun King has it. There is nothing urgent about eating there. If you want food from the same source that's a little more exquisitely prepared, service that's a little more personal (like Veranika from Belarus) and an ambiance that's a little more intimate…

Apple tartWell, you get the idea.

At Sun King the first time, our appetizers were lobster bisque (unusual and delicious) and crab cake (perfectly prepared). The main course was surf-and turf, which wasn't on the menu down in the dining room. The wine, a 2004 Italian blend, was outstanding. Desserts were over the top: Washington apple tart and a line-up of more chocolate delicacies than we would normally eat in a week.

For the second visit to Sun King, we ordered surf-and-turf….one of us Turfsurf, one of us turf. Creatures of habit. This time, we'd been tipped off and advised to order a side of mac and cheese, even though it wasn't on the menu. Smart tip. A gift bottle of champagne sufficed for liquid accompaniment, especially for the "turf" diner. Throw in a couple of veggie dishes and we pretty much passed on dessert.

There's a lot of outstanding food served in cruise ship dining rooms. Sometimes the combination of extras — tangible or not — set the table for paying extra.

That's why they're special.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Lots of capacity, lots of deals

Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas
7 nights
October 5, 2014
Port Canaveral (return): Coco CaySan JuanSt. Maarten
Inside: $800
Cost per day: $114
www.royalcaribbean.com

Norwegian's Freestyle Dining 'freestyle?'

In the beginning, Norwegian's strategy of Freestyle Cruising was designed to attract passengers who didn't necessarily want to dine at a predetermined time and who didn't necessarily want to have the same dining partners every night.

That would be us.

Fast forward. Today, Freestyle Cruising is part of a marketing tool for Norwegian customers who want to book dinner days, even weeks, in advance. Now they can make a dinner reservation up to 90 days before sailing and if that seems like something of a contradiction in "freestyle dining"…welcome to the club.

Part of the attraction, at least for us, was the flexibility and saying "Okay, time for dinner" and walking down to the ship's dining room and getting a table more or less right away. The idea of "freestyle" isn't making that decision — again, for us — 12 weeks in advance.

However, that was before speciality restaurants (for fee) came along.

Had Norwegian called this promotion "Specialty Freestyle Dining" then it guarantees you won't be shut out of places like the signature steakhouse, Cagney's (above). You can decide (up to 90 days before your cruise) which specialty restaurant you want to go to for dinner, who you want to eat with (or without), and precisely what dinner time you want.

Look at it that way, and it's the ultimate in Freestyle Dining.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Holland America Oosterdam
7 nights
July 6, 2014
VancouverKetchikanJuneauSkagwayGlacier BayAnchorage
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85
www.hollandamerica.com

Norwegian's Morphing of Freestyle Into Paystyle

In the midst of today's christening of its new ship the Getaway, Norwegian has also launched a new way to eat on board, calling it the Ultimate Dining Package.

A cynic might call it Paystyle Cruising.

That's a play on Freestyle Cruising, the revolutionary concept Norwegian introduced about 15 years ago. It eventually spread to all Norwegian ships…and then to ships around the world, in one form or another. We were among the early advocates on Freestyle Cruising, which essentially offered cruise passengers an opportunity to eat dinner at any restaurant at any time.

The Ultimate Dining Package is a spinoff…except it comes with a price tag, as you may have guessed.

Passengers can now sign up to eat at a ship's speciality restaurant every night of the cruise, on any of its ships. The cost varies from $59 per person for short cruises to $349 per person for cruises longer than 36 days.

The bridge between Freestyle Cruising — which was free — and the Ultimate Dining Package is the arrival of specialty restaurants. All the cruise lines have them ncl_Epic_Rsrnt_Cagneys.psdand you pay a fee that varies, depending on the restaurant and the line. In Norwegian's case, there are five restaurants that are now fleet-wide:

Cagney's (above), the signature steakhouse
The French Bistro…think coq au vin, creme brûlée, etc.
The Italian Restaurant, which is self-explanatory
Asian Fusion, for dishes from Japanese to Pan-Asian
Moderno Churrascaria, a Brazilian spot for meat lovers

For the traditional 7-day cruise, the price is $119 per person. Norwegian says "every night of the cruise" so presumably that would mean seven nights, or two of the restaurants twice. Since an average price for a specialty restaurant would be in the $25 to $30 range, that's a good deal.

It is, however, a large step from FREEstyle Cruising.

Norwegian Jewel
7 nights
March 30, 2014
New Orleans (return): CozumelBelizeRoatanCosta Maya
Inside: $589
Cost per day: $84
www.ncl.com

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