Princess Cruises Ocean Princess Review
The smallest ship in the Princess fleet has big ideas on where to sail.
For a ship carrying fewer than 700 passengers, the range of dining options was pretty decent. There was the Club Restaurant, the main dining room, offering two seatings nightly, at 6 and 8:15 p.m. (no flexible seating option was available). Breakfast was available here daily, and lunch was offered on embarkation day and sea days.
In addition to the Panorama Buffet, serving breakfast and lunch daily (and dinner on port days), there were two specialty restaurants with a surcharge for dinner: Sterling Steakhouse and Sabatini’s. Located on opposite sides of Deck 10 aft, these venues alternated the nights they were open. With just a few dozen seats at each, we were a little concerned about getting a reservation, but securing a table turned out to be no problem. The cover charge for the steakhouse was $20 per person, the Italian Sabatini’s was $25—both were worth it. Also offered at Sterling Steakhouse on one sea day was a British-style pub lunch; there was no surcharge for this meal.
Encompassing a single deck—Deck 5 aft—the 338-seat Club Restaurant served as the main dining room aboard Ocean Princess. There was a limited number of two-tops, but otherwise shared tables dominated and there was no flexible seating plan allowing us to dine anytime. Whatever dining booking you made prior to embarkation was what you got. While meals were a bit uneven in quality, our waiter team was on the ball and engaging—together they were a cheerful yin and yang and welcomed us warmly each night.
For dinner each evening there would be a nightly selection of three appetizers, four soup/salad choices, a pasta that could be served in an appetizer or entrée portion, and a selection of six entrées, one of which was always vegetarian. In addition there was a roster of “always available” items that included shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, fettuccini Alfredo, grilled salmon and spice rubbed tri-tip roast. Every dinner started with basket of nicely varied breads.
Among the starters, some of the items we particularly liked were the red snapper mojito, a ceviche with mango and avocado served in a martini glass; a soufflé that was rich and satisfying without being overwhelming; and an appetizer portion of the ever-popular fettuccini Alfredo (the entrée size is served in a Parmesan basket). The salads we tried seemed a bit uninspired, and the gnocchi one night was starchy and unappetizing. Entrées we enjoyed included orange roughy that was lovely, delicately seasoned; chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms and root vegetable was satisfying; and prime rib arrived exactly as ordered (medium rare)—if only the half ear of corn hadn’t been steamed beyond recognition. But desserts were disappointing—panna cotta was stiff and flavorless, a cheese plate was uninspired with supermarket wedges, chocolate soufflé was a nothing—only a warm apple crumble was worth a second bite.
Breakfasts were inconsistent. One morning the frittata with mushrooms was delightful, with good Italian sausage on the side; the next, eggs ordered over-medium were hard through and through. Something called James Beard’s French toast was more akin to a donut, fried hard with a corn flake coating. Lunches were better and featured a couple pastas of the day (tagliarini primavera was surprisingly hearty). A meal of Portuguese sardines and deviled eggs followed by potato and pea samosas was a tasty change of pace.
Afternoon tea was served here, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. daily. There was a nice selection of cakes, pastries and small sandwiches.
Located on Deck 9 aft, the buffet restaurant on Ocean Princess offered a smaller lunch selection than we’re used to on most cruise ships. And although some decent food was offered, we didn’t care for the layout—cold and hot items were interspersed, desserts were located in two or three different areas. Indoor seating was on either side of the deck, while additional tables were on the outside deck—a great perch when the weather was right.
We took most of our breakfasts at the buffet, and the spread was satisfying. We found a good array of fruits—whole, sliced and poached—cold meats and fish, packaged cereal, muesli and oatmeal, yogurt; the range of pastries and baked goods was always pleasing. The omelet station had a small list of ingredients (cheese, onion, tomato, bell pepper, mushroom, ham), and there was an omelet of the day; eggs could also be cooked to order.
Lunch had a few intriguing items, but the limitations of a small selection began to emerge. Cold items included such fare as eggs “upside down” with Thousand Island dressing, roast turkey, a salad bar plus a rotating selection pre-made salads such as cucumber and dill salad, salmon salad, and Indian garbanzo bean salad. Among the hot items we saw were fried calamari, cheese and spinach quiche, a Mexican chili beef wrap (we might call it a burrito), breaded fish sticks, stir fried bok choy, Bangalore-style tilapia.
There were always two soups—such as chicken broth with spinach and rice, or Manhattan clam chowder—and several pre-made sandwiches like ham and cucumber, turkey and spinach with remoulade, garden frittata, etc. Pizzas were available by the slice—always Margherita and pepperoni, plus a slice of the day, such as prosciutto fungi. Most of the desserts we tried here were fine (better than at the Club Restaurant), including tasty little fruit tarts, cupcakes, pineapple upside-down cake, fruit crumbles, and more.
Panorama Buffet offered light afternoon snacks every day from 3 to 5 p.m., but dinner was available only on port days, with a spread that was similar to what was served at lunch.
Open four nights (out of seven) on our cruise, Sterling Steakhouse sits on Deck 10 aft, with generously spaced tables lining windows that offer a floor-to-ceiling view. While neither the food nor service was quite on par with the best steak house at home, the meal was solid, the wood-paneled ambience intimate and quiet. The $20 up-charge seemed reasonable.
We started with the seared Pacific scallops, a trio of bivalves interspersed with wafers of crispy bacon—they sat atop sautéed mushrooms and a potato confit. The dish tasted as good as it looked. The Grill Salad was a cornucopia of flavors—mesclun greens, marinated bell pepper, asparagus spears, slices of avocado, diced radish and croutons, tossed in a bold vinaigrette.
Steaks on the menu included an 8- or 10-ounce filet mignon, a 12-ounce New York strip, 14-ounce rib eye, a 16-ounce Kansas City strip, and the bone-in 22-ounce Porterhouse. But instead we ordered the lamb rack—three double chops with a breaded rosemary and mustard crust. The chops were cooked exactly to order (medium-rare), and served with sautéed mushrooms, asparagus and potatoes. We also tried the pan roasted sea bass which was served with a leek and mushroom ragout; the kitchen threw on a pair of unadvertised grilled tiger prawns, which we didn’t mind—in fact, this dish was possibly our favorite entrée for the entire cruise.
For dessert we tried the caramel cheesecake parfait, with a coconut Madeleine and candied pineapple on the side—it was another winner.
Once each cruise Sterling Steakhouse is home to a British pub-style lunch. There’s no surcharge for the meal (other than for drinks), and it offers a change of pace. We tried the fried prawns and chips which were heavily breaded, and the chicken curry, an Indian stew served atop rice. Other offerings on the short menu were fish and chips, a Scotch egg and salad, and sherry trifle—the latter was very thick and heavy.
Open on the three nights that Sterling Steakhouse was closed, Sabatini’s is a Princess staple, found on all but three ships in the fleet. Our meals here have been hit-and-miss on other ships, but our experience here on Ocean Princess was fine, heightened by the floor-to-ceiling windows offering wonderful views and the relaxed ambience, due in large part to generously spaced tables. The menu, of course, is Italian, with a good range of appetizers and desserts, and a minimum of pasta dishes.
Our meal began with a basket of bread, including focaccia, and a bottle of olive oil and vinegar. The oil was perhaps our only complaint—it wasn’t as flavorful as it could be, perhaps tainted by the bottle being refilled repeatedly (and never fully emptied out). There was also a modest plate of antipasti—prosciutto, crostini and olives. We ordered the mixed green salad, a modest dish but graced with sheets of pecorino cheese. Fried calamari was okay—tender, but not as hot and crispy as we like—served with a lemon-garlic dip. However, an appetizer-sized portion of linguini with clams was just perfect. It was as good (maybe even better) than what mom used to fix.
For entrée we opted for the branzino (striped bass) baked in an herbed salt crust, a portion large enough for two, according to the menu. The whole fish was brought to the table on a platter in its baked salt crust and filleted for us. Divided between two and snuggled up to a few veggies, it was a modest portion, but the fish was succulent. Other entrée options included grilled scampi, chicken with polenta, a 10-ounce strip steak with rosemary and garlic, and duck with pancetta and fava beans.
The desserts we had were outstanding, starting with the citrus tart, which was redolent with lemon and orange. The Sinfonia di Sapori was truly a decadent symphony of flavors—a Napoleon of almond, hazelnut and pecan with praline mousse and caramel pecan brittle. We wolfed that down in no time and only narrowly avoided licking the plate.
Located near the pool, the Trident Grill offered a limited selection of lunch items—cheeseburgers, veggie burgers, grilled chicken breast, hot dogs, beef knockwurst with sauerkraut, bratwurst and French fries. Basic fixings were available, along with a topping of the day—we tried the grill when guacamole and salsa was offered. All-in-all, a good burger and the fries were fresh.
Room service meals were available 24 hours, with no charge for delivery. The breakfast menu was continental (cold) except for an English muffin with egg, bacon and cheese, served hot in a foil wrapper. The balance of the menu was cold package cereals, yogurt, fruit, bread roll, croissant or Danish (with preserves), along with juices, coffee and tea. Breakfast was available any time from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m., and we used the door tag (set out the night prior) to order our meal. It was delivered right at the appointed hour, and there were no surprises.
The all-day menu included three salads (mixed garden greens, Caesar with chicken strips and Chef’s), soup of the day, a half-dozen sandwiches ranging from vegetarian to club house, hot dog, hamburgers, croquet monsieur, lasagna and a Moroccan vegetable crock pot with pita. Desserts included flan, chocolate fudge cake and a chocolate chip cookie. We ordered the beef chili with black beans and tortilla chips, which was topped with melted cheddar cheese and reasonably tasty (a few more chips would have been nice), along with the tuna salad sandwich, which was served on toasted white bread.
Other room service options incurred a surcharge. Twelve-inch pizzas were available 11:30 a.m.to 2:30 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m. (pepperoni, cheese or the daily special), for a $3 delivery charge. Hors d’oeuvres could be ordered with 6 hours’ notice: vegetable sticks with blue cheese dip for six, assorted canapés, chilled shrimp on ice with cocktail sauce, guacamole with chips, and chocolate dipped strawberries were available, at prices ranging $6-$14. Another option was a champagne breakfast ($32 per couple), which included a half-bottle of chilled French champagne, pastries, cold smoked salmon, fruit, and quiche. The lobster balcony dinner ($100 per couple) required 24-hour notice and includes a cocktail, a half-bottle of champagne, canapés, flower bouquet, an 8x10 photo and a four-course dinner including surf and/or turf. Given the limited counter space in our cabin, most of these didn’t make much sense to us.
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