But food and service, unfortunately, were the big letdowns on this cruise, an opinion that was shared with just about every repeat cruiser we spoke with. Interestingly enough (and most unusual for this ship), there were 179 newbies out of 400 guests. The newbies mostly thought it was fine.
For breakfast and lunch, we ate mostly in Lido. This was same as last time, so we're talking 'apples to apples'. Some examples: Breakfast buffet (Lido Cafe): Fruit quality and selection, cold cuts, breads, cheeses and pastries were very limited compared to last cruise. Last time, there was a really wonderful selection of breads and pastries, freshly prepared by the team headed by their Austrian pastry chef. This time, it looked like they warmed up the same 3 pastries over and over and the bread selection (mostly white) did not vary. Rolls were burnt. Fruit was hard. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Oceania Marina was way better.
Also, there was no card at the table describing what you could order separately. The server would ask (sometimes, sometimes not) if we wanted an egg dish or fresh pressed juice. The last day, I saw a lady with fresh hot oatmeal. I didn't realize you could get it in the Lido. I am sure if I had asked, I would have gotten some, but just didn't know to do that.
Food for lunch in Lido same story - same old lettuce and toppings every day - globby potato salad, cucumbers in sour cream, under-ripe tomatoes and plus a couple items of whatever was leftover from dinner (like corn or beets). There used to be a very nice selection of delicious cold 'bites' in shot glasses on the buffet - this time, there about 30 pieces of 1 or 2 things, not particularly wow. Warm dishes from buffet were okay but nothing to write home about: Again, Seabourn and Marina far better. Grill was okay (I had fresh fish a couple times and it was properly done.)
Sushi and Sashimi lunch - something that we really looked forward to - was a disaster. Rice was hard and gummy in the sushi and the sashimi was improperly cut - extremely thick, big pieces. We couldn't eat it and when we mentioned it to the server, she said "well, we don't have a Japanese chef on board". Well, they didn't have one the last time either, and it was great.
Servers in general are very young and inexperienced: nice but clueless (with notable exception of Eva - she was wonderful). It's the little things: Every morning, we ordered the same coffee. Since standard coffee is very weak, we asked for 2 shots of expresso added to the regular coffee in the canister. Unless we got Eva as a server, we had to explain the same thing each time. Twice, it was done right, the rest of the time not. 3 times we got just the expresso in the canister by itself; other times no expresso was in there. The last day took the cake: We said what we wanted and the server said: "But two shots of expresso won't fit in the canister if there is already coffee in there." So I told her: Put the two shots in first, then fill the canister with coffee. Duh.
(All this ordering took place in fluent German, BTW, so it was not a translation problem.)
Weather was not great (no surprise, it's the Baltic) but when you took away the outside seating, there not enough seats inside. For Bayrischer Frühschoppen, (very popular), we arrived 10 minutes early. But, others had arrived 30 minutes early and there was not a single seat to be had. The outdoor area close to the Cafe was also full (wind protected) and it was so extremely windy out, we ended up going to the main Europa restaurant. They had a mini Frühschoppen plus other lunch items. So we had the mini version (and it was very mini). In Lido, they were also serving complimentary beer. Guess what? In the dining room, we were charged (7 Euros, 2 beers). We knew before we ordered because they said so, but talk about nickel and diming!
We brought up all these things with the Host at a lunch with him and he said the reason was that TUI bought H-L cruises and they are having a hard time finding and keeping good help. I guess food sourcing also has changed, being part of a big cruise group. We also spoke to the Maitre d' and the Restaurant Manager about our disappointment. Apologies but no remedies.
Dinners were hit and miss. We were only able to secure 1 reservation each for Venezia and Dieter Müller at embarkation so we ate mostly in the Europa restaurant. Gala Abend in Europa was really not good; I guess kitchen and servers were overwhelmed: 1 hour between appetizer and 2nd course; 1 hour between 2nd course and main course. Lobster was completely overcooked and dry, sauce was all dried out. Looked like it had been sitting in the kitchen for quite some time. We skipped cheese and dessert to go to the show.
Venezia was another big disappointment. It is a very small restaurant, but we waited 20 minutes before we got water, then waited another 15 min. to get the wine list. (Wine list is still great, by the way.) Appetizer was lovely (Tonno e Verdura). So far, so good. Ordered their special as our main (duck breast). Really bad. Duck was overdone, sauce was thick and salty and tasted like it came from a cube or a can. (This theme with sauces carried out the whole cruise.). We only ate a couple bites but were never asked if we wanted something else. Again, very long wait between courses - 2-1/2 hours for 3 courses (appetizer, main and dessert) for the two of us. Cheeses were limited and not appealing so we skipped. Somm asked us if we wanted a second bottle of water, then never brought it. Sigh.
Europa continued hit and miss. Beef Tartar night and the Russian themed evening were very good.
We ate dinner in Lido 2 times. We had the Erlebnisküche Klassiker. That was really good: appetizers in tapas size, 2 each, of 4 different bites. Chateaubriand as main. Only problem of the evening was a wine served that was way over the hill (I think they were trying to clear out old stock) but they solved it right away - took it to the Somm, he agreed, and they brought the wine with the year listed in the wine list, which was fine.
Second Erlebnisküche (Schweden) was pretty bad, food but especially service. And dangerous for me - I have a severe shrimp allergy and after inquiring if the bisque (advertised as having snow crab) had any shrimp at all, the server said no. The first spoonful unearthed lots of lovely little North Sea shrimps! The substitute soup, beef broth, was almost black and extremely salty. Certainly not freshly made. I could go on....
Dieter Müller was the highlight of the culinary experience. Top notch quality, beautifully presented, marvelous tastes and wonderful service. We got lucky and were able to eat there a second time: We were called at the last minute to see if we wanted to eat there the last Gala evening. We said yes, and it was fabulous. (Much better than the main dining room, according to our table mates, whom we spoke to later.)
Before this trip, we had already booked a long (43 day) cruise with Europa from Acapulco to Melbourne because of the itinerary. Now, I am really not looking forward to it so much. (The one piece of good news: I didn't gain an ounce on this cruise. Last time, I gained over a kilo!) My only hope is that my fellow passengers wrote down what they expressed verbally and improvements will be made for future cruises.