Let’s face it – we’re gay. There’s a reason we like Downton Abbey. I mean, who hasn’t dreamed of dining like that, on sumptuous meals fit for royalty?
And that’s one of the reasons we love river cruising. You can enjoy wonderful, multi-course meals served by uniformed wait staff, without having to own a drafty castle or worry about anyone finding out you’re impure.
If you’ve done ocean cruises, you’ve had one experience of dining. River cruises, on the other hand, are a completely different one. Since the total number of guests on a river cruise ship rarely exceeds about 175 (and sometimes less than 100), the food is made in far smaller batches; so the chefs can take their time with preparation and presentation.
And since much of the food on river ships is sourced locally and often daily, the food tends to be much fresher and healthier. They’re not buying a cargo container of tomatoes in Miami that were picked, green, three weeks ago.
Breakfasts and lunches on river ships are, for the most part, buffet affairs – but very well done buffets. There’s waiter service for your drinks, desserts, and anything else you need, but you serve yourself otherwise. (Caveat: depending on the ship, you may also be able to order items off the menu.) There are plenty of small-batch choices, constantly refreshed. And even simple breakfast dishes like eggs become Eggs Florentine or Smoked Salmon Benedict as opposed to a vat of generic, runny eggs. (Mind you, you can always get something less adventurous as well).
Dinner is a multi-course, Downton Abbey-type affair, usually with free-flowing wine and beer (which you can also avail yourself of at lunch, if you like to get a head start). It occurs at a set hour, and is worth the restriction of having to get your dinner outfit together on time. The chefs take great pride in their culinary art at dinner, and it shows. You can wallow in items like a country pate with apple and green pepper compote, mussel soup with curry and coconut milk, farfalle with squid ink, chili sauce and anchovies, pork stuffed with dried plums and an apple-potato beignet, or a deconstructed beef wellington with roasted mushroom and truffle jus. It’s like your mouth died and went to Julia Child heaven, and while it was there, sent out for some Gordon Ramsay.
Of course, there are “always available” entrees, like a filet of salmon, pan-roasted chicken breast or New York steak, if you’re traveling with someone who prefers food with ingredients they can spell. Harrumph.
Best of all, river cruises are known for embracing the cuisine of the area you’re traversing. On a Prague and Danube cruise, for example, you’ll encounter some Czech and Viennese options; on a Vietnam and Cambodia cruise, some Asian specialties. So even if you choose not to spend much time dining ashore, you’ll get a great taste of the cuisine of the country.
Bottom line: river cruise lines – at least, the top cruise lines that Brand g charters – spend a lot of money and manpower to make food a major focus.
Which means you can gorge yourself like landed British gentry, without having to dress like the Dowager Countess.
Unless, you know, you want to.