Friday, June 14, 2013

Two Weeks In Europe and Nothing To Eat

Well actually there was food to eat, it's just that it wasn't very good, such that I actually LOST two pounds on the trip.  We're back from our two week Baltic Cruise, and there were few food highlights and many disappointments, though the trip as a whole was so enjoyable that this was merely a minor inconvenience.  This cruise from Amsterdam to St. Petersburg, Russia and back was our first cruise on the Celebrity line, and since we had thoroughly enjoyed the cruise dining on the Princess and Carnival Lines, we were looking forward even more to our trip on the premium, 4½ star Celebrity Constellation.  Furthermore our friends who took this cruise with us had taken the Celebrity Mediterranean cruise 18 months previously and had been very pleased with all aspects of that cruise, including the food.

We were so anxious to begin our culinary adventure that as soon as we checked onto the boat we headed to the lunch buffet, not even stopping to visit our room or drop off our carry on baggage.  However, shortly into our first meal it became clear that something might be amiss.  After finishing the first plate I discovered that there really wasn't anything I wanted to go back for seconds for.  Well maybe it was just the items that happened to be part of this first meal.  But as the cruise continued, neither the food in the San Marco dining room, nor the food in the buffet came close to matching our two Carnival cruises from 2012.  Where last year I sent live food reports back home as I ate, this year I didn't. And as they kept on serving the same old dishes in the buffet (the "Asian" section was invariable except for the final day), it became more and more annoying.  Here I was thinking I would need to run two miles a day in the gym to make up for all the extra food I would be eating, only to find that I wasn't eating any extra.

It wasn't long before we started comparing notes with our friends who had taken the Celebrity Mediterranean cruise and others in our tour group.  There was clearly a consensus.  The food on this trip wasn't very good and certainly didn't match up with prior Celebrity cruises.  But what would cause such a deterioration in the food?  Low quality ingredients?  An executive chef (the only female executive chef in the fleet) who couldn't handle the job?  That was the real puzzle.  The food was so bad we heard other passengers complaining as they rode the elevator.

Of course the problem is that feedback like ours seldom gets back to management.  When the maitre d' came around to the tables with the chef, everybody said that food was fine, since nobody wanted to insult the chef to his face, particularly if the problem was something out of his control.  However, a week into the cruise in St. Petersburg, most everybody decided to attend the Russian ballet, but being tired plus not being highbrow when it comes to the arts, we decided to return to the ship for the dinner.  Since we were the only one from our group at the dinner seating, the waiter had lots of spare time and asked us about the food.  Under those circumstances we could afford to be blunt, and we were.  Immediately he ran to the maitre d' to convey what he had learned, and soon the maitre d' was staring down at us at our table.  At first he was defensive, questioning whether our Asian taste buds were different from the rest of the clientele.  But we retorted we were from California and used to eating Western food.  I delivered the ultimate insult when I told him Carnival's food was better, as he did not consider Celebrity and Carnival to even operating in the same market.   Eventually we convinced him of the validity of our criticisms and he was appreciative hearing what the other guests wouldn't tell him.  The next evening he went to the other tour group members and they also made comments similar to ours.  The maitre d' tried to make it up to us by giving our tables special extra dishes, including stir fried vegetables (tasted like chop suey), fried rice, and steamed vegetables.   He also kept asking what he could do to improve things, but food quality is something you can't fix in the middle of a cruise.

It wasn't that the Celebrity dining room food was uniformly bad (as opposed to the buffet, which was, except strangely for the last day of the cruise).  However there was tremendous inconsistency, both within servings of the same dish on the same day, and similar items on different days.  My lobster tail was great but Mrs. Chandavkl's was overcooked.  Monday's tuna was delicious by Thursday's was awful.  And when you're paying  premium to sail on Celebrity, such lapses in quality just are not acceptable.

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