Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Travel tips: Big cruising offers lots of choice in food, fun

Going on a cruise? It's important to book ahead for some on-board amenities.

Some cruisers go big and some prefer small, while others, like myself, aren’t sure at all.

On a recent Caribbean cruise, I found the decision was made for me, after my best friend and her family invited me to join them on a cruise ship with a passenger capacity of more than 3,000 people.

I hadn’t been on a large cruise ship since 2013 and, in all honesty, I couldn’t say for certain whether going big was something I’d enjoy again since all of my cruises in the past decade were on small ships ranging from a few hundred people for river cruises to oceanoing cruise lines where numbers never exceeded more than 920 guests.

Cruising on a ship triple the size I’m used to seemed daunting, even in this era of mega cruise ships being the size of small cities. The recently launched Royal Caribbean’s “Icon of the Seas,” the world’s largest cruise ship with a maximum capacity of 7,600 passengers, just completed her inaugural voyage in the Caribbean after setting sail from Miami Jan. 27.

While my cruise date ultimately didn’t line up with my friend’s scheduled Caribbean cruise, I did end up on a large ship — Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess which had 3,140 passengers on board and a crew of 1,200. The popular cruise line has a fleet of 15 ships, with the smallest having a 2,000 passenger capacity and the largest 3,660.

My eldest daughter and I were about to get a taste of large cruise ship travel when we took a one-week Caribbean cruise, with stops in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Cayman Islands and Cozumel, Mexico, that also began Jan. 27.

In fact, we saw the Icon of the Seas, which was easy to spot on my shuttle ride to Fort Lauderdale’s cruise ship port where the Caribbean Princess was berthed. The drive between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida’s two main cruise ship terminals, is just 30 minutes so it was an easy choice for me to choose a winter cruise from one of these ports, especially now that Vancouver and Miami has direct flights under seven hours.

On the shuttle ride, I met a couple from Qualicum Beach who were cruise ship travel veterans, having already obtained their medallion pass to bypass the long lineup and head straight on board the ship.

Despite my rookie start, having to join the queue to get my medallion, I found Princess Cruises was expert in moving everyone along quickly. Within half an hour, my daughter and I were on board exploring the ships’ many decks, amenities and settling into our cabin. Though we were both basically newbies to big cruising, we now have a better idea of how to get the most from big ship cruising.

Here’s what we discovered.


My main hesitation was the ship would be so crowded we would never get to fully enjoy all of its amenities. I couldn’t have been more wrong, since the ship is spacious and has so much to do on board, it never felt too busy. Even getting a lounge chair adjacent to one of the ship’s three pools didn’t prove difficult, and we didn’t have to get up early in the morning to stake a claim.

We discovered the adults-only pool always had room and, to ensure we had a lounger on a “sea day,” booking space in The Sanctuary was definitely worth the cost. This quiet oasis is adjacent to the ship’s Lotus Spa and features a small pool and two hot tubs. For just $20 US for a half-day pass or $40 US for a full-day pass, you can select your own spot to hang out in The Sanctuary.

We opted for a comfy, swivel palm-shaped lounger we could share, that provided overhead shade and was close to the pool. It was well worth the cost and besides the guaranteed seating, we were impressed by the “serenity stewards” who brought us delicious sandwiches, desserts and drinks. My best advice is to go immediately to The Sanctuary as soon as you board to reserve your time here since these spots book up quickly, especially on “sea days” when all guests remain on the ship instead of docking and heading out for excursions.

Besides the pools there’s also an outdoor theatre called Movies under the Stars, a Lotus Spa and Fitness Centre, casino, a sports deck where you can golf putt or play basketball, a nightclub, bars, lounges, library and an internet cafe, to name some of the highlights.


When it comes to dining, a large cruise ship provides many options for passengers.

On the Caribbean Princess there are three main dining rooms, all offering the same four-course dinner menu or you can eat at the buffet called World Fresh Marketplace Cafe. I didn’t mind going to the cafe for breakfast or lunch but I prefer formal seating for dinner and the food choices in one of the ship’s dining rooms.  If you prefer a private table instead of group seating be sure to book early either prior to the trip or immediately after boarding.

There are also specialty restaurants (my favourite was the Crown Grill, a steakhouse that also had delicious seafood) and at least once per sailing, a lucky 12 to 15 guests have the opportunity to eat at the Chef’s Table.

While I met many fellow passengers who told me they were more than satisfied with the food on board, so they didn’t need to pay extra for specialty restaurants, I felt they truly missed out. Particularly the Chef’s Table, which is a pinnacle gastronomical cruise experience, showcasing the best of what the chef and his staff create. At the time of my sailing, it cost $110 US including wine, while the Crown Grill was $39 US.

Foodie and fellow traveller Jim Augustine from Bradenton, Florida, tells me while his favourite specialty restaurant is Sabatini’s, which specializes in a five-course Italian cuisine, he always tries to get a spot at The Chef’s Table on every cruise he takes.

I met Augustine, who has taken over 20 cruises to date, at The Chef’s Table, where he admits he was prepared to cancel his cruise if his travel agent wasn’t able to secure his spot among the lucky 15 who got to experience The Chef’s Table on our sailing.

“It’s such a wonderful event. The food and wine is always good and you meet such interesting people. You get to meet the head chef, the director of restaurants operations, the maitre-d’ shows up and it’s always good to know the maitre-d’, trust me. Because when you come back and he recognizes you, the red carpet is rolled out and you’re invited to things and shown to better tables,” he says.

“Yes, the food is a cut better but it’s the pageantry, and the tour of the galley. If you’ve never been in a galley on a ship when they are serving a meal you don’t know what a ballet is. Everything is in motion, everybody’s in motion and how they feed that many thousands of cruisers three or four and in some cases five times a day, you really need to be in a galley to see what it’s all about.”


Entertainment on a large ship is boundless, with options for all ages and tastes and the performance level at a higher standard than what I expected. On this particular cruise, audience members were brought to tears by a performance tribute to Whitney Houston by singer Cheaza Figueroa, from Las Vegas. Her talent obviously ran in the family since her mother was one of the legendary Ikette’s from the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

We were also impressed by the Caribbean Princess’s seven-piece band that backed her up as well as the dancers and singers who did big stage productions. I also enjoyed watching passengers, a lucky few who got to play “Deal or No Deal” and try for a $1,000 grand prize as well as catching as many performances as I could of the group called Symphonee, who played everything from the blues to hits from the 1970s. Since there is both an early and later performance of all the big acts, finding seating was never an issue in the indoor theatre.

Kim Pemberton was hosted by Princess Cruises, which did not review or approve this story. Follow her on Instagram at kimstravelogue.