If you like to eat -- particularly seafood -- Star Princess offers solid selections without a dizzying amount of restaurant options. A full breakfast on the terrace, bistro-style sandwiches and salads, pizza and burgers by the pool, formal tea with scones, fine dining at night and pastries over coffee at twilight: All of this is included in your cruise fare. The three Mediterranean-themed main dining rooms serve up the same carefully selected menu with different seatings; lido deck selections, from the buffet to the grill and pizza counter, leave most families (and midday or midnight snackers) feeling more than full. A standout is the International Cafe with its convenient and totally free a la carte options for sandwiches, salads and sweets any hour of the day or night. It also includes a coffee bar.
Portofino Dining Room (Deck 6): The most utilized of the three main dining rooms, Portofino serves as the sit-down option for breakfast, lunch (only on sea days), afternoon tea and dinner. Breakfast is served 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and is a simple affair comprising coffee and juice, fresh fruit, compotes, cereals, yogurt, pancakes, eggs a few ways, breakfast meats like bacon or sausage, and hash browns. A page of daily specials might offer up eggs Benedict or French toast with figs, peaches and pears.
Lunch is brief -- noon to 1 p.m. -- but with much more of a selection. Try award-winning Bacardi & Coke marinated spicy chicken wings (like candy), a New Orleans muffuletta sandwich, a pot pie, a fish fry or Greek spanakopita. Pastas, burgers, soup and salad are also available, as are five delightful brunch options, including corn flake-coated French toast. Desserts are included (of course), and they range from a baked apple and custard tart or pineapple trifle to ice creams, from butterscotch to the more outrageous chocolate Curacao or kiwi frozen yogurt. Afternoon tea is served from 3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. and includes a selection of tea, scones and tea sandwiches with white-glove service.
Dinner is a multicourse affair and has enough mainstay and rotating options to please any palate. Each night has a theme, from Italian to Alaskan. On the menu's left page are starters, such as prosciutto crudo con melone or antipasto, and Princess Favorites (available every evening), which include shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, pan-seared chicken, a sirloin beef burger and, on our sailing, an Alaskan salmon with root vegetable hash by award-winning Chef Travis Haugen. Along the right is a description of the evening's theme with dishes that coincide and two suggested beverages, such as wine or a paired cocktail. Six Princess Favorites are available each evening for dessert: chocolate mousse on a brownie, French vanilla bean creme brulee, New York cheesecake, create-your-own sundae, fresh fruit or a cheese plate. A nightly selection -- perhaps something from Chef Norman Love's Chocolate Journeys (a partnership with the cruise line) -- is made, along with a sugar-free option, ice cream and a few more goodies. Coffee and tea are served, but specialty coffees and drinks like wine or soda are additional, unless you have a drink package.
Decor in all three dining rooms is understated and elegant with wooden chairs and colored cushions, table linens and fresh flowers on each table. Murals of Italian islands are painted along the back walls. Lighting above creates a starry effect.
In Portofino, an early dinner is served at 5:30 p.m., and anytime dining opens up from 7:45 p.m. until approximately 9:30 p.m.
Amalfi Dining Room (Deck 6): Amalfi is at the back of the ship, apart from the other dining rooms. Traditional dining (set seating times, same waiters and tablemates) can be found there at 5:30 p.m. and at 7:45 p.m.
Capri Dining Room (Deck 5): Your place for anytime dining, Capri is probably the most crowded of the dining rooms at dinner, due to its location off the Piazza and bars on Deck 5. Come for a meal anytime between 5:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
International Cafe (Deck 5): A surprise sweet spot during the voyage turned out to be the International Cafe, centrally located in the Piazza. With breakfast pastries; daily soups and quiche; sandwiches like tomato, mozzarella and basil with balsamic reduction or ham and cheese on a croissant; Waldorf salad and orzo pasta salads, as well as green salad; and sweets like fruit tarts, we were looking for a price. Amazingly, it's all free, and the venue is open all the time. The cafe is also a coffee bar, and specialty coffee drinks come at a price, although we were given regular coffee free of charge. (If you're a picky coffee drinker, think about purchasing a punch card for specialty coffee.) This became our go-to spot for between-meal snacks, a sandwich for an early excursion or late-night hunger pains (if that's possible on this ship). We found the food to be consistent and the service friendly.
Horizon Court (Deck 14): Star Princess' buffet has round-the-clock dining and is tucked into its own nook on the lido deck. Food stations are separated by type and are mirrored on either side of the deck. Take a quick peek which side might be less crowded before you take a plate. A Continental breakfast is served from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. and regular breakfast from 6 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., with typical morning fare. Lunch can be eclectic, with various dishes representing different international cultures; we saw sauteed bok choy with garlic and ginger, a surimi and crabmeat salad, Cantonese rice, Indian lentils and even game terrine (a British farmhouse specialty). Tamer sandwich options, such as sliced turkey, cranberry relish and tomato on ciabatta bread, are also available. A dessert counter is located on the opposite side of the buffet at its own station with its own attendant doling out individual-sized portions. Lunch is 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., when many of the dishes are cleared away in favor of a light snack served until 5:30 p.m. Dinner is served until 11 p.m.
While the quality and variety of the food at the buffet weren't issues, the area did feel cramped. Despite the multiple stations, the entrance made it seem like a one-way, single-file line at times. In our opinion, the stations could benefit from being spread out and more accessible.
Beverages can be found at back counters throughout the extensive Horizon Court seating areas (indoors and outdoors). These counters offer water, iced tea, juice, hot water, regular coffee and decaf. Lemonade can be served tableside free of charge. (Waiters will come around to take drink orders if you are seated in the area.)
The Horizon Terrace, an area in back of Horizon Court and in front of the Outrigger Bar, makes for a quieter seating area, but only in agreeable weather. Its location at the back of the ship makes it a prime location for sipping coffee while sailing into port, but beware: Ashtrays are on the tables, and smoking is permitted.
Trident Grill (Deck 14): Much of the lido deck is consumed by food options, and the grill is one of them. During the day, this small counter near the Neptune pool offers up complimentary hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken breasts, French fries and even bratwurst and knockwurst. Look for occasional specialties. As part of our sailing's North to Alaska program, a recipe was provided by Skagway Fish Company for a halibut burger with slaw that was one of the best things we ate onboard. From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Trident shifts its gears for dinner, dishing out smokehouse BBQ. Trident Grill is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., weather permitting.
Prego (Deck 14): Adjacent to the grill is the ship's pizzeria. Princess is known for having some of the best pizza at sea, and the pies were certainly creative, but for us, the slices were just OK. If nothing else, the pies are fresh, and grabbing a slice or two is pretty easy. Expect ingredients like bacon and pineapple, even artichokes and olives, but plain is always available (or in the oven). Prego is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., weather permitting.
Sundaes Ice Cream (Deck 14): We were disappointed to find that the former ice cream bar featuring Haagen-Dazs had been replaced by a clever ruse. At its own polka-dotted counter, behind a giant, pastel-colored ice cream cone, is Sundaes. It all looks very exciting, but Sundaes merely offers your standard soft-serve machines -- the ones found off to the side at any buffet -- now behind a counter with a longer line. We got a cone with sprinkles (there are minimal toppings, if that were to be the saving grace), and all we could taste was the sugar of the sprinkles. We would prefer to see a selection of brand-name hard ice creams, shakes or gelatos, and would happily pay a nominal fee for the treat. Hours coincide with the other outside deck outlets: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., weather permitting.
Room service: Available 24 hours a day, room service on Star Princess offers a limited menu of hot and cold sandwiches (tuna, peanut butter and jelly, etc.); soup of the day with saltines; mixed greens or chef's salads; hamburgers, hot dogs and hot entrees like lasagna, beef chili or a Moroccan vegetable crock pot with pita bread (a nice addition). You can also order desserts like caramel flan, fudge cake or milk and cookies. Service is consistently prompt and pleasant, and usually correct. Room service breakfast is Continental, while suites have access to full breakfasts.
There's no need to supplement meals onboard with for-fee options, although the temptation is worth the cover charge, and you won't be overwhelmed with wallet-busting choice. Crown Grill is a New York steakhouse-style restaurant with intriguing selections for every diet (not just devout carnivores). Sabatini's is not just about Italian cuisine -- it's about food spectacularly prepared and plated. Special experiences like the balcony breakfast and dinner, Crab Shack and Chef's Table need to be booked in advance (Chef's Table most of all).
Sabatini's (Deck 7); $25: As Princess' signature Northern Italian venue, Sabatini's offers a multicourse spread worth double the cover, in our opinion. Among the starters (hot and cold soups, salads and appetizers), the burrata (creamy cow's milk cheese like mozzarella) on tomato carpaccio with balsamic is a must-have; as with everything we ate at this venue, the simplicity and quality of the ingredients were standout. Pastas can be spaghetti with black mussels or braised short rib over penne. No one at our table had a bad main course, from baked branzino with a zucchini crust or a strip steak in garlic, rosemary and olive oil to the highlight of the night: lobster three ways, which we all couldn't shut up about between bites of the tail, the orzotto and the bisque sauce. Dessert is paired perfectly with a cappuccino or a cordial; choices include desserts such as an almond, hazelnut and pecan napoleon or a delicate espresso creme brulee.
We sat near the kitchen/prep counter, and we could see the chef nearest to us beaming when we complimented the dishes. Apart from the white pillars, candlelit tables and Mediterranean vistas painted on the walls, the authentic atmosphere is reflected in the tiniest details, from the sea glass-colored bread plates to the artful oil and vinegar bottles. Sabatini's is open for dinner nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Crown Grill (Deck 7); $29 per adult and $14.50 for children ages 3 to 12: New York-styled seafood and steakhouse venue Crown Grill serves an impressive selection for dinner. We were expecting the wide selection of beef cuts and cooks, but not a mussel pot or grilled tiger prawns in whiskey, chili and garlic marinade. Appetizers include carpaccio of pine nut coated lamb loin with gooseberry chutney, pan-seared scallops with fennel and apples, and onion soup with Jack Daniels. A special regional menu was included as part of the North to Alaska programming on our voyage, and it offered up six appetizer-portioned dishes local to our ports of call, including copper river salmon with spruce tips and Alaska red king crab legs. Sides are generous -- served for the table -- and range from grilled asparagus and (our favorite) sauteed wild mushrooms to loaded baked potatoes and mashed potatoes. Six dessert choices also follow, with one of them being a sampling from the executive pastry chef. While the food was more than worth the cover, service during our seating was sporadic, and our main dishes came out well after our starters.
On select sea days, a British pub-style lunch is served for free at Crown Grill. The menu features pub food favorites like bangers and mash, fish and chips and a ploughman's lunch. Varieties of beer (which can be had for an additional fee), along with decorations of the British flag, are displayed in front of the restaurant.
Crab Shack (Deck 14); $29: About every other night, a portion of the Horizon Court (Deck 14 aft and portside) turns into a traditional crab shack, with lobster bibs and brown paper on the tables. The venue isn't private, and you'll be dining near others who are eating at the buffet, but the food is fine. (Try the shrimp spiced with Old Bay.) Hushpuppies and steamer pots are menu options large enough for two people. There's nothing available for those who don't like seafood; something from the buffet or main dining room can be retrieved, but that sort of defeats paying a special cover charge. The Crab Shack is open on select days from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Chef's Table; $95, or $80 without alcohol: The Chef's Table is so exclusive that it is held only once per weeklong sailing and limited to between eight and 10 people. Reserve early if you're interested (worth the cover); you can do so through the ship's DINE telephone line or in person at the dining reservations table set up on the first day of the cruise. The event begins in the galley, where your small group will learn about the everyday workings of a cruise ship kitchen, including health and safety. You will then stand around a long table within the galley itself (decorated with stunning ice and fruit sculptures) for some Champagne and a number of small appetizers expertly explained by the master chef and maitre d' onboard. A headwaiter is also present throughout the experience and offers wine pairings at dinner. You are then whisked into a sectioned-off area of one of the main dining rooms for your elaborate five-course dinner as the chef whips up your main entree tableside and fellow diners look on agape. The plates look as wild and artistic as they taste. At the end, a single rose is given to all the ladies, while a signed cookbook (with an insert of your specific menu so you can relive those taste memories) is gifted, along with a souvenir photo of your party, the chef and maitre d' -- an unmatched experience.
Ultimate Balcony Dining; $45 per couple (breakfast), $100 per couple (dinner: If you have a balcony, take advantage of dining on it (and time it well with scenic cruising or a port arrival) with Ultimate Balcony Dining, an upgraded version of room service. Breakfast is served at a time of your choosing, and drink orders (coffee, choice of juice) and special requests can be made by leaving out the appropriate card left in your room the night before. Arriving with a tablecloth and many plates, your server will arrange your meal however you choose --inside or outside -- and expediently, a small bottle of prosecco arrives on ice (perfect for mimosas). Our breakfast consisted of king crab legs, a crab quiche and side salad; brioche bun with fresh salmon and all the accoutrements; and a plate of muffins, rolls and pastries.
A romantic balcony dinner includes a multicourse lobster (or steak) dinner and pre-dinner cocktails, as well as a souvenir photo. It's private as long as you're not in a mini-suite where balcony onlookers can crane their necks to see what's on the menu.