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Cruising for Foodie Adventures Across Europe!

Roman pleasures

Trip of a lifetime.

That always sounded like a cliché to me, but I can safely say that my husband and I embarked on a European adventure in November that we’ll remember for many years to come. Not only were the sights and sounds of Rome, Florence and Pisa in Italy, St. Tropez in France, and two spectacular cities in Spain, Barcelona and Cartagena, unforgettable and unique, the food was wonderful both on land and aboard the Navigator of the Seas. The ship housed 3,000 passengers and 1,200 crew members, a virtual floating city! It’s a good thing because we were aboard for two weeks and traveled across the Atlantic for nine straight days.

If you have been on a cruise, you also know that it can be the fast track to the gluttony gangway. That said, my goal was to enjoy every moment of the experience and still be able to button my pants.

Off we go…

From the horrible, essentially inedible food on the flight from New York to Rome to the magnificent gustatory choices in the cities around the Mediterranean, we knew we’d arrived in the culinary capitals of Europe. What's more, the Navigator of the Seas offered non-stop temptations, ranging from breakfast buffets, 24/7 cafes to full-course dinners. I was thrilled to see the daily "Vitality" menu available for dinner, with entrees all under 800 calories and absolutely delicious! One of my favorites was the watermelon/ feta salad, poached cod with brown rice and a low-fat peach cobbler.

When we were on land, our goal was to experience as much as we could in each port. One of the most memorable meals I enjoyed was in a small eatery in Florence. Amid the Paninis and homemade pasta on display in the small glass case, I spotted a plate with freshly sautéed spinach and paper-thin grilled eggplant slices accompanied by fresh mozzarella. It was filling, fresh and fabulous, quite a contrast from the more elaborate and showy presentations at the numerous outdoor restaurants in Piazza Navona in Rome. That dining experience, including the famous chocolate tartufo, a rich chocolate roll, is fun but different because I felt like we were in the heart of the tourist landscape.

Dessert in Italy

In the south of France, we encountered cold and rainy weather in Saint Tropez. Despite the dipping temperatures and inclement weather, the French Riviera is stunningly beautiful. It felt like we were on a movie set. One of the highlights of this stop was a delicious lunch at a charming village bistro. The salad of tomatoes, eggplant and cheese was the perfect starter, chicken with mashed potatoes and ratatouille were delicious, but the highlight was a decadent chocolate dessert with a hot fudge filling. The Rose wine was a lovely accompaniment to the richness of the dark chocolate sweet treat. I am still thinking about that dessert. Talk about going to your happy place!

Tapas in Barcelona

While not a buffet fan in general, I was pleasantly surprised by the wide range of choices in the ship’s dining rooms, including an array of ethnic choices—Indian, English, Japanese, to name a few. We discovered that the food reflects the ethnicities of the passengers and crew, who hail from all corners of the globe.

As we had the pleasure of exploring Barcelona, and absolutely falling in love with the cosmopolitan vibrancy of Spain’s second largest city, it soon became apparent that choices abounded for tapas tastings, especially along the pedestrian promenade called Las Ramblas. We sampled sangria and a tapas of olives, fish, beans and meatballs, all served by multilingual Asian bartender. What a city!

Our last stop on land was Cartagena, a lovely seaport city in southeast Spain, and the capital of the Spanish Navy's Maritime Department of the Mediterranean. The numerous tours we took, including my favorite, a Segway outing, worked up quite an appetite. The outdoor tapas café was the ideal setting for a splurge of meats, cheeses, seafood and an ice cold bottle of Cartagena’s legendary Rose. Glad I didn’t have to drive back to the ship.

As the ocean crossing loomed, I had the pleasure of really exploring the ship and talking with the food and beverage director, Christophe Poiteven, who oversees all aspects of the dining areas for the passengers and crew. A Bordeaux native, Christophe thrives on the fast pace of the cruise operation. The sheer volume is mind boggling: 105,000 meals are prepared per week, 300,680 desserts are made each week along with 234,000 appetizers! The most popular item consumed per week? Beef, 20,000 lbs worth, followed by 12,000 pounds of chicken and 28,000 eggs, 18,000 slices of pizza and 8,000 gallons of ice cream. Royal Caribbean sources products from all around the world, but only purchases from American agents to ensure quality and safety. Christophe said that the small amount of food waste generated is incinerated on board in keeping with the company’s environmental policy.

Fortunately a full fitness center is available on the ship. It happened to be located on the 11th deck, also the location of the ship’s largest dining room. Someone has a sense of humor.

One last point: we took a wine class on the ship and have a few recommendations for lovers of the grape, courtesy of Dalibor, the Serbian-born wine director on our cruise. If you like a medium dry white, try Gavi. You’ll taste apple and lemon peel in this refreshing vino. The Cipresetto Rose was a nicely balanced fruity wine while the Passo Delle Mule, an authentic Sicilian dry red, was my favorite. A Rocco Delle Mache Chianti was a nice alternative to more pricey reds.

The food beverages were among the many highlights of our memorable journey. I would love to hear your culinary adventures as you travel around the globe. Feel free to weigh in below. Rest assured, I am not getting near a scale anytime soon!

12/15/2011 2:06PM
Cruising for Foodie Adventures Across Europe!
What are some of the memorable meals you’ve had on vacation? If you’ve been on a cruise vacation, what did you think of the food selection?
12/15/2011 5:57PM
Love the Meals Abroad and on the High Seas
Maybe it's because I'm on vacation, but the food always tastes wonderful when I'm on vacation, particularly overseas. I rationalize the high regard for European cuisine by thinking that their foods are more natural and less chemically tainted, but I think the attitude has a lot to do with it. As far as cruises, people have a tendency to focus on the quantities rather than the quality. Cruise lines thrive on repeat business so their standards have to be high in order to bring back their clientele. This is especially true since they have a captured audience and mediocre food would be a devestating.
12/15/2011 10:26PM
Hi Brenda, Thanks for the awesome info on your cruise and suggestions! Sounds like it was an amazing trip with amazing food! I use to teach exercise on cruise ships and that's was my excuse to eat what I wanted! ha! I'm so happy I can live through you b/c I may never make this trip myself! Keep them coming Brenda! You have a wealth of knowledge and great info on food. And I love to eat!
12/16/2011 1:19PM
You are so right, Brenda
We were in Barcelona a few summers ago. It is a fascinating city, so many beautiful sights. We loved the Spanish wines and all the choices at the tapas bars. Thanks for bringing back great memories. Love the column.
12/17/2011 9:59PM
Living vicariously
I have been to France so i loved reading about the French Riviera And the other European cities sound wonderful. Thanks for the travelogue.
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