Food is one of the unquestionable temptations during a cruise and definitely one of the biggest success factors in the cruise industry. To me, it contributes massively to my well-being aboard and it is one of these things in life where a person´s passion and talent for his job as chef are unarguably measurable. And while the range of quality of onboard cooking can well differ from unspectacular to magnifique, I was more than happy to find out that Excellence Princess was lucky enough to have a chef that perfectly combined his talent, his passion for food and his motivation to strive for the best and who worked hard together with his team to deliver these high standards onto our plates.
If I had been given the galley tour right at the beginning of the cruise, I could have pretty much presumed that there were great things to come over the next week. We have a saying in German that pretty much goes like this: A tidy kitchen houses a tidy cook. Meaning that the chef´s work ethic may always reflect in the way he or she is taking care of his galley. And if you have a look at the pictures I made during the walk-around, it would really have been difficult to believe that anything but excellent would be created inside, right?
The master himself, Croatian chef Zoran Biljanovic, surprised every day with the freshest ingredients and a wide range of tastes. The last ship that I had experienced such an uplifting gourmet cuisine was onboard the beautiful sailing yacht Wind Star last summer in the Aegean.
He managed to transport his love and passion for cooking into beautifully arranged plates full of taste. Everything was prepared freshly by the galley team, wherever it was the appetizers, the soups, the entrées or the desserts. No traces of convenience food and always the focus on the quality. Sincerely, I have rarely had such excellent fish in this crispness like onboard Excellence Princess under the surveillance of chef Zoran.
A Culinary Journey up the Rhine River
Like mentioned before, I have dined royally during this one week river cruise. And due to the smaller portions, no one had to be afraid to actually gain weight while enjoying this supreme gourmet cuisine.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all served in the beautiful panorama restaurant. Afternoon tea, cakes and consommé inside the Sky Lounge. While breakfast and lunch were conducted in a combined buffet/à la carte way, dinner was à la carte service only.
The breakfast buffet offered a wide range of cold-cuts, cereals, yogurt, bread and bakery, fruits and muesli. Freshly squeezed juices, water and sparkling wine were also available for self-service. Warm dishes were offered made-to-order from the menu and special requests such as an egg white-only omelette were fulfilled without hesitation.
Lunch was normally served around 1pm and consisted of a self-service salad buffet that changed on a daily base. You could also help yourself to a delicious consommé or soup of the day at the soup station while the orders for the main dish and the dessert/cheese were taken at the table by the waiters.
Dinner took place inside the restaurant at 7pm in one seating. The menu was completely à la carte with up to three choices per course, always having a vegetarian alternative. Additional dietary needs could be placed upon booking.
But whatever time of day, there was no decline in the quality of the meals or any inconsistency. Whenever reading the menu, it was difficult to decide what to try next. Portions were pleasantly graphic, but you were able to ask for a larger or a half serving if you wanted to. Solely on the Gala evenings (altogether two), there was a fixed menu. But even then, the kitchen reacted spontaneously to food allergies or simply incompatibilities with the individual taste.
Day 1: Gala Welcome Dinner
Day 2: Lunch
Day 2: Dinner
Day 3: Lunch
Day 3: Dinner
Day 4: Lunch
Day 4: Dinner
Day 5 Lunch:
Day 5: Dinner
Day 6: Lunch
Day 6: Gala Dinner
Day 7: Lunch
The Steak House
As I mentioned before, Excellence Princess offers a speciality restaurant at the stern of the ship called the Steak House. Cover charge is 15€ per person. Reservations can also be made for a light lunch here, but as I learned this may be cancelled if not enough guests have signed up for it. Dinner, on the other hand, did always take place, even if (like in my case) only one person was attending.
I spared the last night aboard (an overnight in Amsterdam) for this special occasion and I came with high expectations as the general culinary level had been so overwhelming the last couple of days.
The restaurant itself is nicely decorated and offers premium views of the surroundings, particularly when you enjoy the sunset over the Amsterdam port with all the movement going on outside.
The restaurant´s concept allows either a set menu or an à la carte choice. I opted for the latter and since I was the only guest around, I received a super personal service by my personal waiter and cook. Most of the crew had Eastern European roots which strongly displayed in the friendly and hearty atmosphere aboard Excellence Princess. One thing I complaisantly noticed was the fact that I never felt rushed during dinner, even if I was the only one being there.
I have had once dinner with friends in Celebrity Cruises´speciality restaurant Qsine aboard Celebrity Infinity where at 11pm we were the last four people left dining. The staff had no issue with beginning to vacuum and preparing the place for the next day. While we had just reached the main course, window blinds were pulled down and chairs were put up the remaining tables. I have never been more indirectly told to leave asap! Impertinent!!!!
But while the staff´s service did not leave any wishes unanswered, the food itself did not really convince that much. The quality was good, but as chef´s Zoran Biljanovic´s outstanding performance in the main dining room had already raised the bar to the top, the menu of the steak house failed to surpass this level in terms of creativity and innovation.
I did pass my feedback right on to the hotel manager, as there was much room for improvement. I very much like to take advantage of speciality dining while cruising, but when I am willing to pay the extra dime, I expect something even more spectacular than already on offer.