Ocean cruising and crash-dieting have never made for happy bedfellows. If losing weight was your earnestly pledged New Year’s resolution, your personal will power faces the most formidable of tempests aboard a cruise liner. ercifully, I had made no such noble proclamations when ringing in the New Year, nor was I aiming to trim my waistline while aboard the Emerald Princess for one of her summer sorties around New Zealand and across the Tasman. To give this Grand Class ship in the Princess fleet her due, the on-board health and wellness trappings are expansive and embracing.
There’s four passenger pools and seven whirlpool spas. The Lotus Spa and Fitness Centre is absolutely superb, comprehensively equipped with state-of-the-art training facilities and first-rate fitness trainers. And I circumnavigated the promenade deck so many times, I felt as if I’d walked my way to Tasmania. All the more reason to succumb to the great slate of culinary salivation bursting forth on the Emerald Princess.
The old-faithfuls can be found throughout the ship, from the billowing buffet ballast at Horizon Court, to the more formal a la carte dining rooms of Boticelli, Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Cheap and cheerful snacks abound, whether it’s a slice or three of poolside pizza from Prego Pizzeria, hamburgers and hot dogs at Trident Grill or sweet servings on a whim from Scoops ice cream bar. In a sure sign of what a bonanza cruise ships are for local food suppliers, the Emerald Princess was fully stocked in Auckland for its 12 night cruise, chewing through a staggering 18,000 kilograms of food a day. That’s 18 tonnes!
Generously studded with 13 dining venues, it’s the specialty dining experiences that lure the gastronomes. A select handful of superlative dining destinations that make an Emerald Princess cruise an ingenious journey of culinary discovery, flavourful fun and design finesse. First stop, The Salty Dog, a playful and informal Gastropub which was cheerily garlanded in Union Jack bunting when our group called by for lunch. It’s the share-plates experience that you should plump for, whereby for an $18 cover charge, you can select two gourmet plates from the craveable menu of dishes. There’s melt-in-your-mouth Lobster Mac & Cheese, slathered with aged cheddar, Gruyere and parmesan, truffled cream and crispy crumble.
Another taste hit are the Wild Caught Calamari Frites in battered ale, crusted in cornmeal with the zesty zing of lemon curry and tartar sauce. Sensational. Then there’s “The Ernesto”, feted by Cruise Critic as the Best Burger at Sea. The Salty Dog was developed by Princess in partnership with the renowned gastropub chef, Ernesto Uchimura, who was raised in Buenos Aires and is based in Los Angeles. His eponymously named burger is a piled construction consisting of a fresh ground rib eye and short rib patty, grilled pork belly, cave-aged Gruyere, caramelised kimchi beer battered jalapeno and charred onion aioli, all housed within a smoked brioche bun.
Wrapping your laughing gear around this meaty beast, undeniably Argentine in design, is an intrepid endeavour. It certainly packed a culinary punch, but “the best burger at sea?” That’s a big call. Another unmissable gastronomic encounter can be found at the premium seafood, steak and chop house, Crown Grill. I started with Chilean Sea Bass and brioche-breaded King Prawns, served with leeks & mushroom ragout and champagne mousseline. The salivating steak selection showcased the finest centre cuts from sterling silver corn fed beef, including New York Strip, Rib-Eye and Filet Mignon.
The globally-sourced range of premium chops elicited a patriotic pick on my part, opting for the New Zealand double lamb chops in rosemary essence and served with garden fresh vegetables, including grilled asparagus and creamed spinach. It was divine. As is unfailingly impressive right across the ship, the level of customer service by the informative and personable restaurant staff at Crown Grill is impeccable. They are rightly proud of their product. But the gastronomic piece de resistance on-board Emerald Princess is the stirring 6-course degustation fine dining affair at SHARE by Curtis Stone. With supreme ocean views over the ship’s wake, the 125-seater restaurant’s fresh, instantly agreeable and homely design elements mark a huge departure from the standard cruise ship aesthetic.
Decorative curios from Curtis’ personal collection, including his first recipe, favourite books, family holiday snaps and travel souvenirs, add to its informal ambience. The space was designed to reflect Curtis’ creative verve and aspiration for memorable mealtime experiences. A star feature of SHARE is the sweeping communal table tailor-made for sharing food, while exquisite hand-blown glass pendants, etched with words like family, togetherness and travel, dangle above the table. But enough of the inviting design palette – what about the food?
The award-winning Melbourne-born chef who has made quite a splash in Tinsel Town, with two restaurant openings, has crafted a small plates menu specifically for Australasian tastes, including a charcuterie board, ricotta cavatelli and a spin on the classic canoodling of tomato and burrata. There are scallops, lightly seared with a sesame and chickpea puree, lamb loin matched with harissa scented couscous and Steelhead Trout lying in a white wine beurre blanc with a side of buttered asparagus.
The six course experience traverses starters, salads, pasta, seafood, meat with a final flourish reserved for dessert. Don’t go past the toffee cheesecake which is paired with a red wine reduction, homemade raisins and macerated grapes. You could not wish for better surrounds to explore and savour new tastes and inventive pairings, where each plate is a lesson in flavour, texture and balance of perfect execution. SHARE by Curtis Stone has just launched across three Princess ships, with the Sun Princess and Ruby Princess also sporting the venue, while a selection of Curtis Stone dishes are now served in the main dining rooms across the entire fleet of 18 Princess ships.
Beyond the sizzling dining affairs, Emerald Princess also boasts an irresistible array of sampling experiences from whisky flights to chocolate & wine tasting. The latter is a particularly decadent affair where premium wines from France, Spain and Argentina are paired with an exclusive selection of prized chocolates. Princess has partnered with one of North America’s most decorated master chocolatiers and pastry designers, Chef Norman Love, to produce the mouth-watering morsels.
The tasting session demonstratively highlights why the pairing of sweet and sour tastes produces such a hit with every mouthful. The pairing session is one of an assortment of indulgent pursuits you can take with the Chocolate Journeys programme, curated by Chef Love for Princess Cruises.
There are two other notable experiences to add to your food odyssey check list. Push the boat out and order up an Ultimate Balcony Breakfast, served in-room at a time of your choosing. What better way could there be to greet the new day than to be spritzed by sea mist as you resume the gluttony with champagne, salmon, oven-fresh pastries and freshly-brewed coffee? Finally, despite the ever-present danger of slipping under the table in a food coma in the splendid dining venues, don’t disembark without devouring a Princess Cruise Lines signature dessert, the Love Boat Dream.
This rich, fluffy mouse, flavoured with Godiva liqueur, is a sweet and fitting salute to the cruise line’s dewy-eyed television legacy. Princess Cruises operates a series of Australasian and South Pacific cruises, with five ships currently homeported Down Under. For more information and cruise bookings, see your travel agent or visit www.princess.com
By Mike Yardley.