Let’s be honest: Buffets and large dining rooms on a week-long cruise can get stale after a few nights. You’re herded into each meal, elbow to elbow with others, and pretty soon you yearn for a more intimate, special experience.
That’s why the allure of Princess Cruises’ Chef’s Table is so strong. Priced at $95 per person, the value—when factoring in the food, wine, signed cookbook, photo with the chef, kitchen tour, and more—is easily $250 per person. (An alcohol-free option costs $80.) The experience is offered on all Princess Cruises’ ships except for Australia itineraries on Sun Princess and Sea Princess.
What It’s Like
Throughout the entire process—from the flute of bubbly (which, by the way, is real Champagne from France) you’re handed in the galley kitchen, to those over-the-top desserts in the dining room—you’re treated like a VIP. This experience is perfect for foodies because you can ask the executive chef and his team questions about preparation techniques, what’s trending in dining, and wine-pairing tips. If you’re the kind of person who loves to dine at the hottest new restaurants, or likes to host dinner parties, this is your jam.
Our tour started in the galley kitchen attached to one of the main dining rooms for an in-depth tour guided by the maître d'hôtel (in French, this means “master of the house”). Here, we took pictures and sipped bottomless Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Chouilly, before we were whisked into white chef’s coats—a fun perk of the treatment.
Together with our tour companions, we oohed and aahed at the immaculate food stations and how the chef runs a tight ship—pardon the pun—in this kitchen. Every person on the tour must wear a chef’s coat and wash his or her hands at a designated station before entering the kitchen. You are invited to ask questions about anything as it relates to cuisine or the cruise itself.
After the tour, we were ushered to a corner of the galley kitchen where an impressive array of hors d’oeuvres were served. On the night of our visit, this meant Ahi tuna with spicy chili cocktail sauce, a mini quiche, roasted new potatoes with sour cream and caviar, and panko lobster with wasabi.
Throughout the dinner, which took place in one of the main dining rooms, the maître d'hôtel introduced each wine pairing by sharing the winery’s history, facts about the wine region, and why a particular bottle was chosen. Our meal started with an amuse bouche of pumpkin cappuccino soup before easing into wild porcini mushroom risotto spiked with white-truffle oil, and a palate cleanser of orange-mango sorbet before the main course. Included in this course were giant prawns, beef tenderloin (carved at the table), and beer-roast veal shank. This was followed by baked camembert featuring candied walnuts, rosemary biscotti, and port-wine reduction, then desserts in two stages: first, a chocolate-raspberry “dome” with red cherry and citrus sauce, and to close out the meal, assorted petit fours.
It’s important to know that you can’t sign up for the Chef’s Table until you board. Because it sells out fast, and is only offered once or twice per sailing, you need to get on the list shortly after sail-away. Simply make a reservation by dialing the ship’s “Dine” phone line or in person at the dining-reservations table that’s set up on the first day of the cruise.
Want to kick it up a notch? On the line’s three newer ships—Majestic Princess, Regal Princess, and Royal Princess—the cost for this experience, which is renamed Lumiere and is held in a private dining room, jumps to $115 ($100 without wine), but that’s still a bargain considering the quality and quantity of the food, wine, and tour. Try to get this same experience in Miami, New York City, or Vegas, and you’ll pay much more.
Each Chef’s Table experience accommodates 10 people. It’s okay if your party is less; just like in the dining room, you’ll be matched up with fellow passengers and might even make a new friend or two. Note that if you have dietary restrictions, they unfortunately cannot be accommodated. And while there’s not a minimum age, this is recommended for adults, due to the fine-dining food and long duration. But if you’ve got a mini Thomas Keller in your party, he or she would be welcome.
At the conclusion of the dinner, you’re provided with a copy of the menu, a signed copy of “Courses: A Culinary Journey,” and a 5x-7-inch color photo of you (and anyone else in your party) with the executive chef and maître d'hôtel.
Did we mention that this is an opportunity to put on a fancy dress or your best suit—and be the subject of everyone’s gaze in the dining room? That alone might be worth the extra cost. During our visit, many surrounding tables had their eyes on us, wondering just who we were to get this VIP treatment. Little did they know that we were just like them, but had the insight to book the intimate experience.