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A Culinary Chance to Escape Completely
On Saturday, I had the opportunity to spend a fantastic afternoon onboard Princess Cruises’ beautiful Sapphire Princess at her Canada Place berth along with a handful of media from Vancouver. Our task for the day: sample some of the diverse culinary offerings that Princess Cruises serves up across their entire fleet, each and every day of the week.
With 16 ships in the fleet and another – the forthcoming Royal Princess – on the way, it takes an enormous amount of careful planning, dedication, and genuine enthusiasm to create so many meals on a daily basis, and to deliver the kind of quality Princess expects from its food, regardless of destination or provisioning ports.
Unlike me, my fellow media personnel were all hardcore foodies. I love good food and have an excellent appreciation for the kind of thought and ingredients that go into a well-prepared dish, but being the lone “shippie” on board, I have to start with some thoughts about the stunning, 2,670-passenger Sapphire Princess.
Fresh from a recent drydock, Sapphire Princess sparkles. If you’ve been on other Grand-class ships before, you’ll have no issues finding your way around; the basic general arrangement of the public rooms and decks are more or less the same across the board.
In addition to refreshed carpeting and soft furnishings, Sapphire Princess received the popular “Piazza”-style Atrium concept first pioneered in 2006 aboard the line’s Crown Princess. As a result, Sapphire Princess now boasts this popular area that includes Vines Wine Bar, the International Café, the Piazza Bar, and Alfredo’s Pizzeria.
After sailing twice aboard the Crown Princess, I can attest to the popularity of this concept; the Piazza Atrium is a veritable destination in its own right, the perfect place to sit down with a cup of coffee and listen to the ship’s string quartet perform, or perhaps watch a juggling act, stage show, or the line’s signature Champagne Waterfall event. And onboard Royal Princess, this area will be twice as large as it is now!
It certainly didn’t take me long to become comfortable in Vines, which looks stunning in its incarnation aboard Sapphire Princess. Seated around a large table designed for twelve guests, we were introduced to Pierre-Marie Leprince, Corporate Manager, Culinary Operations for Princess Cruises, who had flown up from Los Angeles to personally show us the ins-and-outs of food aboard the Sapphire Princess and indeed, across the fleet.
In Vines, we sampled the enormous amount of food that is available right in the Piazza: from pizzas to sandwiches to small bites to sushi, you almost never have to leave the Piazza! In my own personal experience, I recall skipping dinner in the dining room twice in order to feast on sushi pared with wine in Vines.
Everything was as I had remembered it: outstanding, with particular mention going to the pizza onboard, which can be very hit-or-miss on many other lines. Not so onboard Princess: excellent pizza is always at the ready!
As we ate, Leprince explained to us some of the logistics of getting food to and from the line’s ships, regardless of where they sail. In many ports, quality control becomes an issue, so the line elects to have food shipped to provisioning ports from their preferred suppliers – at great expense, no doubt. But it ensures the line can continue to deliver a consistent experience, whether you’re sailing from Vancouver, Venice or Venezuela.
We left Vines – probably for the best, as I was already eyeing the massive wine list – and headed for one of several galleys onboard the Sapphire Princess. Here, we would learn what it takes to prepare high-quality meals for nearly 3,000 guests every day.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of shipboard galleys during my days, but I’ve never experienced one quite this way, for we were going to make the bread we would enjoy later during our lunch at Sabatini’s, the line’s signature Italian specialty restaurant.
Here’s what I already knew: I’m a terrible chef. What I learned, though, was just how much work goes into preparing these meals. All we had to do was braid some bread dough, season it, and score it, yet I had to have both Pierre-Marie Leprince and Dieter Welp, Sapphire Princess’ Food and Beverage Director, help me out. And we were tied up at the dock! I can only imagine what is involved in making even the most basic meal when seas are rough.
But what I really loved was the genuine passion that Leprince, Welp and Executive Chef Nino Palma have for their roles with Princess. These talented individuals don’t just love eating great food, they love the preparation that goes into making a great meal. And that excites me. I may not be able to braid bread to save my life, but I know I am in good hands when there are people who are as passionate about the food served onboard as I am about the ships it’s served on.
My short stint as a baker may have ended in failure, but I discovered I was a much better pastry chef. Or, at least, I was able to squirt some chocolate mix into a pan without botching the job.
With the bread baking (a typical loaf like we had made takes 17 minutes apiece to cook), we moved forward to the Santa Fe Dining Room on Deck 6, where Executive Chef Nino Palma had made a veritable feast for us, creating an experience similar to what guests can enjoy as part of the exclusive Chef’s Table Dining Experience onboard.
Limited to just 10 guests for a modest charge of $95 per person, the Chef’s Table Experience begins in the Galley at the height of the dinner rush for a tour of how this well-orchestrated machine functions during its busiest period. Then, guests are escorted to their own private table by the Executive Chef, who will not only join them for dinner, but will also prepare their meals. Reservations can be made onboard for this unique experience.
During our mini-Chef’s Table experience, we were invited to feast on a variety of specially-prepared meats, including veal and prime rib that could be seasoned with one of three unique types of salt. It sounds basic, but the flavour of these dishes was anything but. Each meat was paired with a different type of red wine; one with a full, smoky, earthy flavour and another lighter, almost berry-like varietal. Pairing these succulent dishes with the right wine seemed to unlock even more flavour, and special emphasis is placed on this during the Chef’s Table experience.
Believe it or not, after that it was off to Sabatini’s on Deck 7 for our full lunch, where we feasted on some spectacular hand-made ravioli, delicious crab risotto, and yes, some more of the fine meats served to us in the Santa Fe Dining Room. Lunch concluded with Princess’ signature Love Boat Dream Dessert, which is always an excellent choice for a satisfying treat that isn’t too heavy. This, of course, was followed by the traditional Italian after-dinner drink: limoncello. Tip: budget for at least a few meals in Sabatini’s throughout your cruise; you will not leave disappointed or hungry!
I enjoyed watching my fellow journalists – all of them foodies – taste, enjoy and discuss the food onboard. A few had cruised before, but many had not. The impressive thing was that as comprehensive as this very cool media event was, it barely scratched the onboard offerings available on Princess ships.
There’s fixed or anytime dining, which lets you choose between more traditional set-time and seating dining, or anytime dining that allows you to come as you please and dine with whomever you wish. Princess does a heck of a good job with this, separating traditional and anytime dining into entirely different dining rooms.
Then, there’s the casual Horizon Court buffet, the Poolside Grill, and even the option to dine on your balcony with the line’s Ultimate Balcony Dining program; impressive, given that over 700 staterooms feature balconies onboard the Sapphire Princess alone!
After lunch, we went on a short tour of the Sapphire Princess. Even though I’d been on other ships of this class before, Sapphire still impressed with some unique features; her aft terraced pool decks are some of the finest at sea in my opinion, featuring flanking staircases that swoop and cascade from Skywalker’s Nightclub all the way down to the Outrigger Bar on Lido Deck 14.
But I really enjoyed the enthusiasm the other journalists displayed for this mammoth “Love Boat.” You don’t have to tell me how cool Movies Under the Stars is, or how many fantastic indoor and outdoor pools there are onboard – that’s preaching to the choir. But listening to the “oohs” and “aahs” as we traversed the pool deck, the Lotus Spa and the Sanctuary, I’d be willing to bet there are a few people eager to “escape completely” aboard a Princess cruise for the very first time.
I’ve already spent nearly 30 days aboard Princess ships, so I came in with a good idea of what to expect in terms of the food onboard, which I’d always found to be well-prepared and presented. But I loved learning more about their new menu offerings and how they’re continually working to tweak and improve the onboard culinary experience. And the reality is even more delicious than I had remembered.
But it was what Pierre-Marie Leprince said that made a profound impression on me. “As a chef, we have a rule: we are as good as the last meal we served. I can have 50 years of experience behind me and work at the greatest restaurant in the world, but if I serve you an overcooked pasta for lunch, I am a lousy chef. Every time our 180 cooks put a dish out, it is a representation of themselves. That’s why it’s so important to us to deliver the right quality the first time. That’s our commitment to our passengers.”
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