Okay, we couldn’t let this one pass without comment. As much as we agree with our good friends (and proper journalists) Susan and Simon on most things, their blog about the Top 10 Alternative Dining options at sea cannot pass without comment. Not by us, anyway.
Now, don’t get us wrong. We are all for a variety of alternatives for tiffin, and all other meals, come to that. We thrive on a good maritime mixture, especially at dinner-time, and consider the option for small-scale, speciality dining an essential adjunct to our cruise gratification.
After all, while we may be dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists, brought up on the idea of fixed, two-seating as the main way to get your victuals, we are not sea-going Luddites, for goodness sake.
Yes, we do still enjoy the company of others at our table, wherever it may be, but we also enjoy meals à deux at times, too, hence we firmly believe the modern tendency to offer dining by oneselves at every opportunity is to be applauded.
After all, if someone wants to be left to their own devices at lunch or dinner, there’s probably a good reason for it. We still remember a Caribbean cruise in the dim and distant past when the unhappy honeymoon couple on our table for eight were not on speaking terms with each other, let alone anyone else. It didn’t bode well for a long and happy marriage!
But that’s just by the by. No, what rankled our rigging in this instance was the insistence that there is ever a Top 10, or Best Of, or anysuch similar kind of viewpoint of such a subjective topic. If you have alternative dining aboard your ship, try it. It will probably be pretty good. Just don’t tell us it’s “the best.”
In the spirit of non-curmudgeonly enterprise, however, we are prepared to offer our very own thoughts on some of the best speciality dining we’ve had at sea over our 40-plus years of nautical wanderings, a kind of alternative Alternative Top 10, if you like. We’re going to take this individually, too, as it allows us to draw on experiences both singly and together.
Tenny: Very first cruise, aged nine, sailing from Durban to Southampton aboard the SA Vaal of dear old Union-Castle Line. Discovered that our cabin steward would bring milk and biscuits to our room on waking each morning. Now THIS is living! The only down side? Milk is UHT variety. Disgusting stuff. Biscuits very good, though.
Treadwell: At anchor off Portofino aboard the classic Marco Polo (then newly branded with Orient Lines), having lunch al fresco and asked the waiter what the pretty orange drink that all the locals were imbibing ashore. “No worry, madam, I find one for you.” And off he toddled. No doubt a deep discussion with the bar steward ensued, as he returned fully five minutes later, bearing a gleaming orange drink, in a beautiful glass. “Is Aperol Spritz, madam,” he proudly proclaimed. And splendid it looked, too. The taste? Just ghastly, darlings. Never again.
Tenny: Going back a few years to the inaugural season of Ocean Village, the short-lived “casual” brand of P&O, their only ship – the former Star Princess of Princess Cruises – featured the innovative-for-its-time James Martin’s Bistro, with the former BBC TV chef creating a surprisingly chic little dining bolthole, “Modern British with a hint of Mediterranean,” as he called it. Great risotto and a to-die-for White Chocolate Whisky and Croissant Butter Pudding. And all for a princely £12.50 per person supplement!
Treadwell: Hot-stone dining, anyone? Yes, dining, not massage. This was just last year, aboard the beautiful Silver Muse of Silversea Cruises. They practically had to pry me out of our suite at the end. During the day, The Grill is their lido deck dining option, with some imaginative salads, sandwiches and burgers (not a fan of the latter by the way. No-one ever needs that much meat in one go). But, at night, it becomes an exercise in DIY table-cooking, using super-heated lava stones to cook a variety of meats and veggies. Great fun. Albeit, the aprons you have to wear while cooking are the opposite of haute couture – atrocious.
Tenny: Patagonia. On a glacier in the Andes. Yes, seriously. Not so much dining as experiencing something utterly unique. We were carried up by helicopter to find a dessert spread of pastries and other fancies all laid out amid a backdrop of true scenic splendour. Let’s see any mainstream cruise line match that! Who was it? Ah yes, Nomads of the Seas, Chile’s finest.
Treadwell: Move over Tenny. I have a Patagonian delight, too. In a temporary tent next to a farmer’s out-building somewhere in the vicinity of Vodudahue (population, a few), somewhere past the Back of Beyond. A whole pig-roast prepared for all 28 passengers. Ignore what I said earlier about too much meat on one plate. This was a feast for the Gods. Yes, Nomads of the Seas again.
Tenny: Dining on a classic liner, any classic liner, always has a cachet of superiority over just about any land-based option. When Norwegian Cruise Line bought the old SS France and turned it into the SS Norway in the late 1970s, they created an experience to bring out the old sea dog in even the biggest landlubber. Then they added Le Bistro, an alternative French restaurant that, for a decade or so, was one of the best restaurants at sea. Vive la difference!
Treadwell: What could be better? How about dining in 1920s style aboard the MS Deutschland of the old Peter Deilmann Cruises? Yes, it was all very Germanic and formal, but, oh that Elegant Tea Time. The Ritz would have to raise their game several notches to match it. It’s still sailing, too, only for the totally-German Phoenix Reisen travel agency. Well worth seeking out still.
Treadwell & Tenny: Here’s the one we totally agree on. There’s simply no better ‘alternative’ dining experience than having it brought to your own stateroom. By the butler, of course. Major nods to Crystal Cruises for this one.
So there you have it. We dare you to argue with any of them. The bottom line, of course, is that there is NO bad dining experience at sea. It’s all one happy maritime munificence.
Treadwell & Tenny
So, are we right or are we right? Add your thoughts and alternative dining experiences on the Comments section below.