"Alaska--Our cruise on the Coral Princess showed us some exciting dining and activities"

By Jeanne Bartlett

Dining on a cruise has changed quite a bit from what I remember. I recall a long table with three on each side and two at each end and like your companions or not, this was it. Now, it is a matter of choice. You can go traditional; meaning either early or late seating for dinner with the same group each night, or there is an anytime fine dining option where you eat on your own schedule.

Yet another possibility, and perhaps the most interesting, are the specialty dining venues in which on our ship meant a choice between Sabatini’s (fine Italian), or New Orleans cuisine at the Bayou Café and Steak House. Of course, there were some people who decided on casual dining and for them nine choices including the Pizzeria or the 24-hour buffet

Diana wanted to try the traditional route and what a lucky experience that turned out to be. The tables are set up so that it is more like eating in a stylish restaurant.

The service is above and beyond what you would receive at a five star restaurant. Chris, our waiter, remembered our preferences, down to which person at the table liked ground pepper and he was always looking out for us. We were seated with three couples that we did not know, all very different and very interesting.

We found ourselves sitting at the table long after the last dish had been cleared, still laughing and talking and solving the problems of the world. . One night Diana and I left our tablemates to try the specialty restaurant Sabatini’s. When we met our waiter, Alessandro, we were greeted by a rousing chorus of “That’s Amore,” and we knew the show was on. Diners going to Sabatini’s for the first time are advised to skip food the day of the dinner. This is why: you choose your entrée (and when it comes if you don’t like it, choose another) and then you try almost everything on the menu, leaving you pleading “no more.”

The Antipasti was six menu choices including, crab cakes and caviar. Next came the pizza, thankfully only one piece. For the zuppe (soup) we had the seafood cioppino, then all three pastas, spaghetti, gnocchi and cannelloni. The entrée we both chose was Aragoste allo Champagne, cold water lobster tails (4!) from Brazil, brushed with Champagne butter. Before we could escape our vocalist returned with one more chorus about the “moon hitting the sky” to present us with five magnificent desserts. Of course, we couldn’t disappoint him so we gave each one a try and returned to our cabin with a song still ringing in our ears.

We could have been entertained 24 hours a day on the ship without ever venturing ashore. Scholarship At Sea offered 30 classes to suit just about anyone. Diana and I were interested in the computer classes that gave us a start on working with digital pictures on the computer. One of our dining companions, David, chose the classes on pottery at sea and came out with new dust catchers for his home.

We could have learned about martinis but I chose wine tasting instead and Diana saw a movie. There were culinary demos and Galley Tours and backstage at the Princess Theater. If you wanted to get start scrapbooking, it was available, too.

Having had tea at the Empress Hotel we thought this would be a great place to spend a late afternoon and we were right. If it was a full day of pampering you wanted, or if you were trying to burn some of the calories you had been consuming, there was the Spa. Somehow we never made it there.

Two theaters were available each night with an exciting array of stage shows. There were comedians, singers and dancers, a comedy magician, a hypnotist and for the last evening there was a farewell variety show.

Back home, phone messages, e-mails stacked high, computer problems, sick dog. Help! Get me on the next cruises out of here so I don’t have to put my own napkin in my lap!

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