TRAVEL THERE: NORWEGIAN EPIC’S GARDEN CAFE, OUR FIRST MEAL ONBOARD
One of the joys of being a casual traveler, rather than a travel professional, is that I’m just like you. I don’t know all there is to know about every facet of the travel industry. This was my fifth cruise, but it was the first time I’d heard of an embarkation buffet, even though my friend Debbie assures me that they have them on every cruise.
Good Food Onboard
The Norwegian Epic serves up some good food. I’m not suggesting they provided the finest meal I’ve ever been served at sea, but there was nothing average about our dining experiences. The presentation was lovely. The portions were appropriate. And pretty much everything I put in my mouth, with a few exceptions to prove the rule, was delicious.
My first visit to the Garden Cafe was overwhelming. I’ve been to buffets on ships before. We love those breakfasts we’ve had up on the Lido deck of other ships, but I’d never seen a buffet like the Garden Cafe. I’d say it was the Energizer Bunny of Buffets.
The buffet is set up in an “H” with multiple stations for each kind of food – and there are lots of kinds of foods. There’s a deli section and an Asian section and a vegetarian section and a salad section and a grill and a pizza section and a sandwich section and a beverage station and a bar and if all that wasn’t enough, there are traditional entrees and side dishes in the Specialties area. You’ll notice I didn’t mention desserts. That’s because there are as many kinds of desserts as there are kinds of food. They have a soft ice cream machine and hand-dipped ice cream and all the fixings. They have fruits and cheeses. And that’s just the beginning. I can’t list all the pastries and other delights we had. I pretty much threw away months of diet and exercise right there at the Embarkation Buffet!
I’m not usually one for buffets. The food quality seems to go down and I never feel like I can eat enough to justify the price. Every single item on this buffet, every time I showed up, on this day and all others, begged for me to eat it and all included in the price of admission. Bill and I have both been in food service, so we notice how food is handled and service is provided. The staff behind the steam tables, grills and dessert bars were working their guts out to keep every dish looking delicious and at exactly the right temperature. At every station someone was taking orders so that passengers could have freshly prepared sandwiches, burgers, soup or whatever to their exact order. The chefs were personable, polite and quick to please.
Now truth be told, we ate more meals than we wanted to at The Garden Cafe. The buffet (as well as the Great Outdoors Cafe and the Spice H2O Cafe) are open most of the time. You can also order from the menu 24 hours a day at O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill, but for breakfast and lunch, the hours for a seated meal are very limited. My husband, who marches to the beat of an alternate food clock, found this quite frustrating. This was one of his reoccurring complaints.
One thing he did not find frustrating was how early The Garden Cafe opened for dinner. He managed to squeeze in a dessert every afternoon before our seated dinner. I had no business eating anything at that time of the day, but they had a crepe station set up and….well, I couldn’t resist it.
So I give high marks to the Garden Cafe and am so glad I’ve been introduced to the Embarkation Buffet. But we haven’t even left the dock yet!! Come back next week for more about the Norwegian Epic!