The Horizon Buffet
The Dining Halls
9. The Scams
Fine Art Auction
Dining on the Crown Princess works like this:
You can eat any time and dress however you like at the big buffet at the back of the ship on Deck 15 called “The Horizon Court.” It is open from 6am until 11pm every day.
At several points on the clock the food in the buffet evolves from Breakfast to Lunch to Light Snacks to a Themed Dinner, but you never need to care about that. You can show up any time, as many times as you like, eat as much as you like, for as long as you like, sit anywhere you like.
I would describe the dining experience at the Horizon Buffet as sublime and unparalleled. It is a kaleidoscopic cornucopia of culinary delights, which you get to enjoy from a table pressed against a giant glass window with a view that puts to shame the fanciest view restaurant anywhere on land. It is an extraordinary privilege to eat at the Horizon Buffet. I probably never will be adequately grateful for the experience.
That's a good enough breakfast for ME at the Horizon Buffet: Eggs Benedict, Blueberry Blintzes, sausage, bacon, watermelon, and baked apple.
And it’s not just ham and eggs they serve at the Horizon’s Breakfast Buffet. They offer lox and bagels, eggs benedict, eggs Florentine, pancakes, french toast, baked fish, yogurt, blood sausage for the Brits, every kind of bread and pastry, plus some vegan options, and some things that I'm not even sure what they are, and lots of fruit.
Although not CUT fruit; mostly whole fruit.
The strong consensus among my traveling partners was that the Horizon Buffet was “Nothing Special.”
One family member conceded that the food was "not that bad."
Another accused the Horizon Buffet of serving "The saddest little eggs benedict I have ever seen" (see above).
One family member went further still and called it “a shitty buffet.”
Reasonable minds can differ, so you should just for yourself.
Check out the side bar for some actual photos of the buffet.
The Princess Patter suggested that breakfast was also available in one of the dining halls from 7-9am, but we did not try it.
What Is Filipino Beef Tapa?
This is the view from the Horizon Buffet.
That's the Greek Isle of Santorini in the background.
We had no trouble getting window seats.
We'll let these poor Horizon Court diners eat their shitty buffet food in anonymity, but honestly, where else do you get a view like this from your table? And this restaurant doesn't just revolve -- it crosses the hemisphere!
The Dining Halls
If the Horizon Buffet is “Good,” then the big dining halls are “Better.”
The main dining halls are almost without justification called “Botticelli,” “Michelangelo,” and “Da Vinci.” ALMOST without justification, since the wall art in each dining hall does have some relationship to the artist. But since it is mostly American passengers aboard and American ship that only occasionally and coincidentally finds itself in Italy, an alert nose might smell pretense.
You can dress however you like at the Horizon Buffet, but to enter the main dining halls you have to wear pants and a collar, if you are male, and you have to avoid beach attire if you are female.
The food and service in the main dining halls are so much better than the Horizon Buffet that it is TOTALLY worth it to put on some pants -- jeans and sneakers with a polo shirt were good enough for me every day.
We were sometimes seated by the windows in the Dining Halls, so we could see the water going by, but the Dining Hall windows are nothing like the huge picture-window experience you get up on the 15th deck at the Horizon Buffet.
Botticelli Dining Hall is reserved for those who choose “traditional dining,” which means you have an assigned table at an assigned time with assigned wait staff, and it is the same every day.
Traditional Dining is a good way to add structure and predictability to your day, in case you are feeling all at sea, and it efficiently eliminates all the halting discussions about when and were to have dinner.
But we chose “any time dining,” which means that we can eat wherever we want and whenever we want, but we might have to wait for a table if things are busy.
I was very uneasy about having chosen “any time dining,” because with 3,000 passengers on the ship, I had a suspicion that things would always be busy. It’s just that I hate waiting, I hate lines, and hate crowds, and I hate unpredictability. But we never had to wait for a table, not even once.
Michelangelo Dining Room was the opposite of Botticelli -- exclusively reserved for “any time” diners.
Da Vinci was half-and-half – first shift was for traditional diners; second shift was for any time diners.
So we never got to eat in Botticelli; we always were invited to Michelangelo; and when we ate late Da Vinci was an option.
However, none of that matters, because all three dining halls are exactly identical, with the same menus, same service, same locations in the ship (aft, Decks 5 or 6) – and except for the wall paintings, the exact same décor. The décor I am thinking of in particular is panels of slow-twinkling lights in the ceiling. So, REALLY the same experience in each dining hall.
The Dining Halls offer table cloth service with a full bar, bread, appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Half of the menu at the Dining Halls is stable, and half rotates daily, so if you want to eat grilled salmon, fried chicken, fettucine alfredo, or a burger and fries (or for appetizers shrimp cocktail or Caesar salad), you can do that every single night.
But the more adventurous can go exploring the menu for orange roughy with saffron potatoes, grilled calamari in champagne sauce, duck breast in honey garlic glaze, ribeye steak, seafood pasta, or the obligatory vegetarian entrée (such as fried falafel). Those choices were for Tuesday; on Wednesday it was different again.
Everything on the menu sounds amazing. None of it is amazing. Some of it is excellent; some of it is mediocre. We did not get good at predicting the quality of individual menu items in the Dining Halls, but relying on the recommendations of the serving staff gave a better result than mere chance.
Specialty Dining -- Sabatini's and the Crown Grill
If the Dining Halls are “Better,” then the specialty dining venues – Sabatini’s and the Crown Grill – are “Best.” The fee is $29 per person, and for that you get two things: First, the best food they can summon, which really is consistently excellent; and second, a spacious and quiet place to eat. For the sake kof science, we sampled both Sabatini's and the Crown Grill.
Both Sabatini's and Crown Grill represented significant upgrades from the Dining Hall experience -- better food, better desserts, better service, better ambiance. Half of our group thought the Crown Grill was the best meal of the week; the other half was difficult to impress. Whether it's worth an extra $29/person depends on what other plans you had for the $29. On land, you couldn't get this meal for $29 anywhere.
The cruise lines make their money on beverages. Beverage prices are high enough that the packages seem like good value, and then you feel grateful if your travel agent throws in a beverage package.
What you need to know is, first, even if you have the Ultimate Beverage Package, you still get carded for every beverage at every venue because they need to figure out whether to charge you. Second, I'm told that the mixed beverages weren't very strong. Third, although fountain drinks, wine, beer, mixed drinks, specialty coffees, and even milkshakes might be included in your beverage package, bottled and canned beverages are not, and if you are into caffeine free diet soft drinks, they are only available in cans, and so not included.
Sabatini's shares it's grand entry with the bar Adagio. Because it is on the top deck over the stern, Sabatini's is more susceptible to engine vibration and rocking/rolling ship movement than most other areas of the ship. We were sailing through white caps when we ate at Sabatini's, and the motion was noticeable, although not unpleasant.
Most of what you are buying in Sabatini's is a quiet atmosphere. The tables are farther apart than in the dining halls, and the night we went most of them were empty, at least for the early seating.
Garlic-infused shrimp with cherry tomatoes and potpourri vegetables?
I don't know what that is.
I REALLY don't know what THAT is!
Lobster three ways: Lobster tail, lobster orzotto, and lobster sauce.
Chocolate Journeys dessert.
Sabatini's menu, in case you want to guess what the above dishes might be.
This is the Crown Grill's menu; note a few different types of salt, and the best dessert menu. The Crown Grill features big tables, so like Sabatini's, it also delivers a spacious, calmer dining environment.
Crown Grill claims to have a "Show Kitchen." I do not think that phrase means what Princess thinks it means.
What Crown Grill does NOT claim to have, but does in fact have, is amazingly cheesy wall murals, roughly themed around Arthurian legend. Here, a princess contemplates her orb.
The Lady of the Lake, holding her breath, hands Arthur his sword, barely six feet from the shore. Arthur and Merlin hardly needed a ship to get there. This kind of artwork might signal to a sophisticated audience that this restaurant is two cuts below them, which is the paradox of mainstream cruising, in that it purports to be for the wealthy, but is in fact for the masses, so you frequently get an onboard culture that accurately reflects what lower-middle class people inaccurately think that rich people would find appealing.
If you ask the Crown Grill for a 22 oz Porterhouse Steak, they will give it to you. Arguably not a Prime cut, but there really is no such thing as a bad Porterhouse.
The featured dessert was a Chocolate Journeys Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar...
...But the smart choice was the dessert sampler, "Crown Dependence."