We were sad to disembark from our Pacific Wine Country cruise on Discovery Princess, partly because of the delicious leftover pizza from Gigi’s Pizzeria we had to leave behind.
That was just one of the restaurants that was worth paying extra for during our six-night cruise. We enjoyed French bistro-style fare at Bistro Sur La Mer and the amazing five-course Caymus Vineyards Winemaker Dinner.
The highlight was 360: An Extraordinary Experience, a virtual reality experience that took us through the sights and sounds and dishes of the Mediterranean from Greece to France, with seven beautifully presented courses, paired wine and champagne.
After dining in the main dining room a few times, which we quite enjoyed, we agreed to experience a few of the specialty dining options during our seven-day cruise.
We opted for an early lunch one day at Gigi’s Pizzeria, fortunately going early because there was a line of people waiting by the time we finished. We each ordered an individual Neopolitan-style pizza, which was served piping hot out of the pizza oven and was so delicious I wanted to finish every bite.
But I couldn’t finish it and couldn’t bare to leave it, so we carried it back to our room and placed it in our fridge. But surprise! When you are as busy eating as we were, there was no chance to eat the leftover pizza without veering (further) into gluttony. Thus our sadness on leaving it behind as you aren’t allowed to take any food off the ship. We learned it has been voted best pizza at sea. We agreed.
One evening we dined at Bistro Sur La Mer, the French-style bistro. Menu items include lobster bisque or smoked salmon for appetizers, seabass filet, jumbo scallops, seared duck breast or filet mignon for entrees, and egg custard, rum baba or chocolate bar with coffee sauce for dessert.
Caymus Vineyards Winemaker Dinner
Held in Crown Grill, the Caymus Winemaker Dinner was a highlight of our cruise. Chuck Wagner started the Napa Valley winery with his parents, Lorna and Charlie, in 1972, and selected the wine pairings for each of the dishes.
Two of Chuck’s children now work with him in the winery, which is known especially for two of its cabernet sauvignons – Caymus Napa Valley and Caymus Special Selection.
Our opening course included a choice of beef carpaccio or fresh oyster and wood ear mushrooms. I opted for the beef carpaccio and wow, the high quality of parmesan cheese and balsamic glaze really elevated this dish.
The first course was a super rich black truffle risotto, while the main course was a choice between tournedos Rossini or seared king salmon and a giant prawn. That was followed by a cheese and charcuterie course and the dessert, which lived up to its name of chocolate raspberry dream.
The winemaker dinner is available on every Princess ship, held either in Crown Grill or the Winemaker Table.
360: An Extraordinary Experience
You may have been lucky enough to have enjoyed an amazing seven-course meal before, but probably not like this one, a multimedia culinary delight. For me, a large part of the fun was the surprise elements of our experience, so I’m not going to go into too much detail so I don’t spoil your fun.
We met at Salty Dog and were offered a blue cocktail with the 360 logo on top and the chance to pose in front of a backdrop before being led with musical accompaniment through Sabatini’s to a small space behind the restaurant. We already felt special before even being seated in the round room with 20 chairs and an assigned seat designated by an image with our names projected on the table.
During the course of the dinner, a 360-degree movie was projected on the screen with information on destinations along with interviews with local purveyors accompanying the presentation of seven courses representing cuisine from Greece, Italy, Spain and France. I believe the server to guest ration was about 1 to 1 and service throughout the meal was excellent.
While the movie was spectacular, even more amazing were the projections onto our table, including one of a blue-and-white plate we were encouraged to “smash.” As I brought my hand down on the image, the plate splintered into pieces.
The food was artfully presented and spectacular. My favorite dish was the spaghetti limone, so creamy and rich, I savored every bite.
360: An Extraordinary Experience is offered on every Princess cruise and I strongly urge you to book this memorable experience.
Other Specialty Dining Options and Behind-the-Scenes Photos
During our cruise Chef Rudi Sodamin, Head of Culinary Arts, was on board. A highly decorated chef, Rudi is like a culinary Robin Williams, entertaining a large crowd with his high-energy jokes, antics and even juggling a huge fish during a cooking demonstration one afternoon.
The entire kitchen staff took a break and paraded into the theater to the strains of “We are the Champions of the World,” with Rudi coming in at the end like a prize fighter heading to the ring.
He spoke highly of his staff and encouraged us all to applaud for their contributions to feeding all of us so well, a nice touch I appreciated for the often under-appreciated people behind the scenes.
For another special evening, book the Chef’s Table Lumiere, which starts with a behind-the-scenes galley tour with champagne and hors d’oeuvres. After the tour guests enjoy a multi-course dinner hosted by the Executive Chef.
I was lucky enough to go on a galley tour. Executive Chef Davide Menabo led us on the tour and told us Discovery Princess has a kitchen staff of 280 onboard, representing 64 nationalities. I was fascinated by how they are able to serve 3,000 meals a day. Equally amazing was how spotless every service looked – the stainless steel was gleaming.
He showed us a large stainless steel wall where color photos of every dish to be served in the main dining rooms are displayed to ensure that a dish leaves the kitchen looking the way it’s supposed to.
Other options include Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria, which serves fresh pasta and is led by Chef Angelo Auriana who is from Bergamo, Italy. Don’t you just love the melodic way Italian names end in a vowel? He’s the executive chef of The Factory Kitchen and officine BRERA in Los Angelos.
Crown Grill is a steakhouse serving premium aged beef and fresh seafood items.
Another option if you have a balcony room is to arrange a private breakfast or multi-course dinner there served by a member of the waitstaff. What better way to take advantage of that ocean view?
– Jan Schroder, Editor-in-chief