This week, we have the pleasure of inviting our good friend and fellow semi-nerdist @baudais to blog about her not-so-recent adventures at sea. Alicia had the opportunity to spend some quality time on board a cruise ship for a friend’s wedding for about a week. These are her stories….
I recently had the pleasure of going on a cruise in order to celebrate my partner’s best friend’s wedding (if that isn’t a mouthful, I don’t know what is). Our 7-day Carnival cruise took us through the western Caribbean, stopping in Cozumel, Belize City, Rotan, and Grand Cayman. Two days were spent at sea.
Now, you’re probably heard the jokes that they stuff you silly on cruise ships, and you should expect to gain a few pounds. These statements are true, though I vehemently denied this at first. I like to work out and eat healthy! I eat small portions! All of that went out the window the second I stepped on board our ship, the Carnival Legend. We feasted like kings every single meal, and most meals are included in the cost of your cruise (a meal at their steak house was an extra $35/head, and you had to pay for premium, Starbucks-style coffees). In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some people went on a cruise simply for the food. You can sail for less than $600/person if you share a cabin and are deal savvy—that’s $85 a day before taxes/etc. It’s a pretty good deal when you consider that it really is all you can eat.
Instead of going through every single meal I ate, I’ll discuss the hits and misses of cruise ship food.
If you go on a cruise, take advantage of the dining room as opposed to the buffet for dinner. Each night, we were served a three course meal: an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of options available each night. There was a standing menu which consisted of standard American comfort food: fried chicken, hamburgers, pasta, etc. What stood out to me was the nightly menu which always had an “exotic” choice. I tried frog legs and alligator, and though neither of these appetizers were exceptionally delicious, it was fun to check these items off my “to try” list.
Although the dinners are assembly line meals, the food was good quality and prepared well. The chicken was always moist, and the beef and fish well-cooked. My favourite main was a savoury, spiced pumpkin tart. Though the crust was a bit tough, the flavourful filling was excellent—well seasoned, the cinnamon and nutmeg apparent, but not overpowering. The fried chicken (my second favourite) was surprisingly tasty, though salty (which I’ll get into later). The coating was crisp, and not greasy; the chicken tender and moist. The accompanying mashed potatoes were real (as in not powdered!) and well seasoned. The gravy that came along with the potatoes was amazing; it was very savoury and I loved that it had a caramel/burnt sugar taste to it.
The glutton inside of me also appreciated the fact that food truly was available to us 24 hours a day. You’d wake up to a gigantic breakfast buffet. There were themed late night buffets to satisfy your drunken munchies—my personal favourite was Mexican night, during which I indulged in a burrito (tasty and filling, with surprisingly fresh ingredients) and nachos (a miss: oddly textured chips—I don’t think they were fried properly—made out of flour tortillas and slightly sweet neon cheese sauce. This being said, I’ve been spoiled by years of eating Saddledome nachos with their amazingly tasty neon cheese sauce).
Oh, and the chocolate buffet. The chocolate buffet. In which the entire dining hall became a receptacle for all things chocolate. There was a chocolate fountain. Multiple cakes. Chocolate profiteroles. Rice pudding. Chocolate covered orange peel. Brownies. Madeleines. And, my personal favourite, an amazingly rich and flavourful chocolate pudding. Some of the items for the chocolate fountain was a miss (jello rolled in granulated sugar, aka “jujubes” and this weird citrus rock sugar), but the chocolate buffet was pretty good in general. Of course, recognizing that it was close to being the epitome of gluttony.
Did I mention that, on top of all of this, there was a daily hamburger/hotdog bar with all of the fixings, as well as a 24/7 pizza stall? My partner decided that he just had to get himself a hotdog after our chocolate buffet indulgence. See what I mean about eating? You just can’t stop. I’m glad I brought my Jenny Craig pants with me.
Salty, salty, salty. I felt like most of the food was salted with a heavy hand. I realise this is ironic as Canada is home to some of the highest levels of sodium in packaged foods, but I felt like the salt masked many of the other flavours in the food.
Waste. I am one of those eat local, waste not kinda yuppies, and I found it extremely hard to finish everything on my plate. The portions are gigantic, and the standard buffet plate (seen above with the hotdog) is just shy of being a serving platter. People on cruises are not shy about taking piles of food and throwing out what they don’t eat.
Local cuisine. There also aren’t many opportunities to sample local cuisine in the Caribbean unless you plan ahead. If you partake in excursions, expect to have no time to explore on your own. Pre-planning is essential, as the areas in which cruise ships dock/tender are very touristy and cater to the unadventurous. The most exotic things I saw for sale were cashew wine (a speciality to Belize that, the locals say, is the best bang for your buck because you’ll be drunk for two days), conch, plantains, and local fish.
Out of all of the food available to us on board, the buffet was the most disappointing. There is certainly variety, but don’t expect the food to be über fresh (unless you have good timing). I can’t tell you how many pre-toasted, heat lamp warmed bagels I had for breakfast, and overcooked chicken breasts atop somewhat limp salads for lunch. Opt for the dining room as much as possible—while the food is prepared in an assembly line, at least it’s prepared to order.
All in all, the cruise was a very good time. I was pleasantly surprised. Being a bit of a food snob, I was apprehensive about the quality/preparation of cruise ship food. Don’t expect chef’s table, amazing, quality meals—but don’t expect fast food quality food either. You’ll get fed, and get fed well. Try to lose 10 pounds before you set sail so that you won’t feel too guilty about the unavoidable overindulgence you will experience.
Would I go on a cruise again? You bet. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but it’s good value for your money if you want a sun-soaked vacation. Think of it as a moving all-inclusive resort. Another myth I’d like to debunk is the fact that you have to be a retired couple to enjoy what a cruise ship has to offer. Even the most refined yuppies will eventually come to appreciate the garish charm that the decor offers…and marvel in the sheer amount of things to do on the ship.
Just skip the variety shows if you’re used to… erm… higher quality entertainment.
Until next time, good eats!