FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD- A CRUISING MYTH?

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Fillet steak, sir? Good choice…..

Ah, food on board cruise ships. Perhaps nothing over the years has been so eagerly anticipated by embarking passengers, or so hyped in the pages of glossy travel brochures. Few would dispute that, in terms of booking any cruise, food is right up there as the top priority as most people’s reason for sailing on a particular ship.

Whether we are talking about a basic, three star ship right up to the most uber luxurious six star floating paragon, food is always in abundant supply. And, indeed, for some, it is as much about quantity as quality.

Nowadays, thanks to an almost volcanic explosion in the size and stylings of modern ships, passengers can eat their way around the equivalent of a world wide range of tastes. From Mexican to Mongolian, Polynesian to French and classic Italian, cruise ship owners have found that offering the world on a plate is not only their oyster, but their fattened cash cow, too.

At sea, high end steak houses exist on most of the deluxe lines, and many of the premium ones as well. Further down the line, mainstream dining rooms offer more international fare. Buffets, however extensive, are often criticised as offering up the same food every day, while paradoxically finding a table in some of them seems like Mission; Impossible. Such are some of the dining conundrums of the modern cruise industry.

Of course, this diversity is a product of the cruise boom of recent decades. More people are taking to sea now than ever before, and from right across the social spectrum. In that mix, there will be those who are quite happy to stay in shorts and T-shirts all day, and eat every night from the buffet. Just as there will be others who keenly anticipate an evening of fine, themed dining every evening, and use the occasion as an excuse to put on their best glad rags. The point is, modern cruising can engage and entertain both of these viewpoints, at least by and large.

That said, the great majority of passengers fall somewhere in between these two fixed poles, and it is to the credit of the industry that it can accommodate- and largely satisfy- this teeming mass.

In truth, any line claiming to offer ‘gourmet food’ and ‘the best dining’ is putting itself in potentially stormy water. For nothing is as individually subjective on a cruise ship as taste. One passenger, sitting at a table on any given ship, might rave about their wonderful dinner while another, sat just feet away and ordering the same courses, might be disappointed, if not nigh on apoplectic. Not even the most detail accented, taste sensitive lines are going to please all of the people, all of the time.

So, just how does a prospective passenger plan for the best, food wise?

Look at the price for any cruise that appeals to you. It is obvious that the bargain, three star cruise adventure that you like the look of in the Mediterranean, is going to cost a hell of a lot less than a week of sybaritic slobbing around those same waters on a six star ship. If you pay to sail on the equivalent of a decent Hilton hotel, you just would not expect the upmarket care and personal attention to be found at a Ritz Carlton. Why would it be any different with a ship?

It’s a numbers game in other respects, too. Any ship catering for thousands of passengers at a time simply cannot provide ‘gourmet’ cuisine for the mainstream. There are insufficient staff; the per person per day food budget usually does not permit the chefs to buy the absolute top of the range, best quality ingredients while on the voyage. Practical as they are, they do the best they can within a regime constricted by such economies of scale, and the constant desire of shore side operations to pare down running costs.

It surely also follows that a much smaller ship can cater much more effectively- and edibly- to the far smaller number of passengers on board. These people pay for the best, and they expect to get it. A more high end clientele such as this, used to eating in the best restaurants at home and abroad, will not be fobbed off with second rate food and service. Quite right too, when you consider what they stump up per diem for the privilege.

Even in such a cocoon of rarified refinement, sometimes things do go wrong. Even the most talented and attentive chef can have an ‘off’ day, when all is said than done. In the words of the song, we are all human after all.

How graciously you deal with such a situation- and, indeed, how it is dealt with- well, that truly is a measure of your own, personal good taste, and that of others. Far more than a delicious dinner or an artfully flambed crepes suzette, that is what people will remember.

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