What do I know about cruise ships? Not a thing, except in 2008, Bob and I were invited to join my penpal Doreen and her husband Harv for lunch aboard their cruise ship, the Amsterdam, when it docked for the morning, on Mother’s Day, 2008. Doreen and Harv had flown from Canada to Ft Lauderdale some weeks prior, and enjoyed a cruise south on the east coast and through the Panama Canal, then up the west coast until it reached San Pedro, in California.
Doreen called me the day before Mother’s Day, to ask if we would like to join them for lunch on their ship! Would we!! First, it was a golden opportunity to meet a fairly new penpal (we began corresponding in 2006) – and second, while I haven’t had any inclination to actually take a cruise—I was certainly curious to see what it was like, on board one of those ships. And, we didn’t have anything planned for that Mother’s Day.
Getting to San Pedro early that Sunday morning was a snap – traffic was light as I drove south to San Pedro. We found their ship and plenty of parking spaces. When we approached the ship, I spotted them about the same time they spotted us.
Special permission had to be obtained from the ship’s captain for us to board the Amsterdam, and we had to relinquish our California driver’s licenses in exchange for cards identifying us as guests. It was so exciting, just meeting Doreen and Harv. (*I have written before what it’s like finally meeting a penpal—it almost always exceeds your greatest expectations). Meeting Doreen and her husband—on their cruise ship, no less, having a tour of the ship and meeting some of Doreen’s relatives, seeing their stateroom and enjoying an utterly fantastic meal in the ship’s dining room—made it simply a dream come true. (I would have been thrilled to meet them in the parking lot! Being able to go aboard the ship – priceless! It also cemented our friendship.
In February of 2012, Doreen and Harv visited friends in Palm Springs; they drove out to the Antelope Valley and the three of us drove to Pismo Beach, where, the night of February 8th, under a full moon and at high tide, they accompanied me out on the pier to sprinkle Bob’s ashes into the ocean. It was also surely more meaningful to them, having met Bob in 2008.
Well, until I had eaten a sumptuous meal on board a cruise ship, I don’t think I gave much thought to the kind of meals served on them. So, imagine my surprise when my friend Betsy sent me not one—but two—cookbooks dedicated to cruise ship dining!
One is THE BUFFETS OF CARNIVAL /ENTERTAINING SECRETS FROM CARNIVAL CHEFS and the other is COOKING WITH MICKEY AND THE DISNEY CHEFS/Recipes from Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland resort and Disney Cruise Line.
Let’s take a look first at THE BUFFETS OF CARNIVAL, published in 1998. The book opens with “How it all Began” and we learn, “Carnival’s Quarter-century* of cruising fun and elegance began with one ship and a simple strategy—provide our customers with a ship-board experience they would never forget.
Based in Miami, Florida, the Carnival Cruise Lines story opened with the ship MARDI GRAS in 1972”. Carnival soon developed their own unique ‘Fun Ship’s’ concept, offering cruises so vibrant with so many exciting, unusual activities that they appealed to people of virtually every age and background. The response from the public was, they write, phenomenal. New ships followed and Carnival assumed its position as “The most popular Cruise Line in the World”\
“As in every element of the cruise experience, Carnival is committed to providing guests with a unique unforgettable dining experience…” they have found that guests like things elegant, yet easy, a wide variety of food, exquisitely presented, available in a relaxed convenient format. Their answer to this has been the Buffets of carnival—“A feast of globally inspired culinary delights, sprinkled with the elegance, fun and magic that their guests have come to expect from Carnival Cruise Lines. There is even a chart which provides statistics for the amount of food guests will consume in the course of a 7-day cruise—everything from 1400 pounds of prime rib to 3000 pounds of shrimp—but not just glamour food! Guests will also consume 9000 hamburgers and 600 pounds of hot dogs, 42,000 eggs and 45,000 slices of bacon!
Next is a section on food sculpture, with extraordinary photographs and detailed diagrams for converting your own yellow squash into birds or creating a watermelon seahorse! You can create beautiful birds out of apples and fascinating underwater reef fish, made out of parsnips. There is a rooster made from a pineapple and incredible flowers made out of onions! There is also a “Carnival Village” made with green bell peppers (a palm tree), radish and zucchini flowers and zucchini leaves. There is a carrot flower bouquet! Any of these food sculptures would be a delightful centerpiece at your own party or buffet
The next chapter is “Ice Carving”—Dolphins, and love birds and Lake Swans, oh my! (I can’t imagine being able to create any one of these but diagrams and directions accompany all of these spectacular center pieces.
Next are the buffets –an Outdoor Buffet, the Gala Buffet. The Dessert Buffet and Buffet International.
Traditionally, we learn, the highlight of a Carnival Cruise is the Gala Buffet, which marks the culmination of over 70 hours of work by 50 to 60 chefs and assistants, each drawing from the culinary traditions of their own country. The food for the Gala Buffet is traditionally served at the stroke of midnight on the Captain’s Gala Evening. For first time guests, nothing can prepare them for what they see at the stroke of twelve—the stuff of fantasy, a feast for both the eyes and the palate. There are carved and decorated hams, turkeys, chickens, terrines, and lobster. The extravagant “flock of birds” is made completely from fresh vegetables. And because of the pride they take in their work, the Carnival chefs continually attempt to outdo their last masterpiece, making the next Gala Buffet the most fantastic ever.
It is estimated that Carnival guests take over 6,000 photographs of the stunning Gala Buffet every week. And the exclamations of awe and wonder at the Gala Buffets is often followed by questions about the secrets of the Carnival kitchens. This book was designed to give Carnival guests some insight into the foods and designs that make up their Gala Buffets.
The recipes provided in The Buffets of Carnival are volume recipes, designed to serve about one hundred people—helpful recipes and information should you ever find yourself wanting to create a buffet for a large number of guests. There are recipes for West Indian Pumpkin Soup, Grilled Quail over Saffron Polenta, Romaine Lettuce with Warm Brie Dressing and Pecan Pie (to make twelve 10-inch pies (Think: large family gathering!)
For more down to earth recipes, there is a recipe for New England Style Boiled Lobster (if you are capable of putting live lobsters into boiling water—I helped one of my sons do this once. More to my speed is the Scampi Marinati alla Griglia or the Smoke Chicken Quesadillas, Eggplant Napoleon and Shrimp Salad, Pickled Herring and Gravlax (a Swedish salmon dish), Paella Valencia (very doable) and Honey-Glazed Baby Back Ribs.
For desserts to die/or diet for there is a recipe for Chocolate Gateau along with recipes for making chocolate sponge cake, chocolate ganache and chocolate buttercream. Yum!
Amazon.com has Buffets of Carnival starting at $5.36 for a new copy or $2.01 for pre-owned. Alibris.com also has pre owned copies starting at $2.01.
The second book I want to share with you is COOKING WITH MICKEY AND THE DISNEY CHEFS/Recipes from Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort and Disney Cruise Line. This is a well done cookbook with a laminated cover to wipe off spills, and hidden spiral binding.
In the Foreword (written by John Mariani) we learn how Walt Disney wanted to change “every notion of what American amusement parks had always been, which was more often than not a bit rickety, even tawdry, with generally low-grade concession food.”
We learn that “Disneyland Park’s food service changed all that, not just by improving the quality of the most basic food items at the park but by adding the pristine, impeccably researched atmosphere of a Western saloon, a fairy-tale castle, and a Victorian ice-cream parlor. Disney may not have created the theme restaurant—places like the Hollywood Brown Derby and White Castle in Wichita, Kansas, had already done that years before—but he tied the enjoyment of food to the enjoyment of the space so seamlessly a visitor might really believe that was what everything would look and taste like if he were back at Camelot, the Wild West or on Main Street, U.S.A. at the turn of the last century…”
We read that by the time Walt Disney World Resort opened in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, in 1971, the expectations for exciting and better restaurants were fully realized in a much more sophisticated form at Epcot, where, in the tradition of the great world’s fairs of New York and Chicago, various European and Asian pavilions proudly demonstrated their gastronomies in restaurants of quaint, sometimes daunting design, from the baroque Venetian dining room of Alfredo’s in the Italy pavilion to the amazing volcano room of the Mexico pavilion’s San Angel Inn. There were English pubs and German beer gardens, a French bistro, and a Chinese restaurant called Nine Dragons. At the Coral Reef Restaurant, one dined as thousands of fish swam by in one of the largest aquariums in the world. At Disney MGM Studios, one actually could eat at a replica of the Old Brown Derby and enjoy an original Cobb salad.
Mariani says “As someone who has been to the Walt Disney World Resort numerous times since it opened, with young children in tow and teenagers on the run. I have seen the remarkable evolution of food service throughout every section of the enterprise from the independently run restaurants in the outlying hotels to the extraordinary haute cuisine of Victoria and Albert’s at the Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa which I consider to be one of the finest restaurants in America right now…” (High praise from John Mariani! In case you are wondering, John Mariani has been a restaurant critic for Esquire magazine for three decades and has been writing a wine column for Bloomberg News for the past five years. He has a website, www.johnmariani.com.)
Mariani admits he isn’t “mad about’ everything served at every eatery in Walt Disney World Resort but as someone eats out to make a living and is very familiar with food service from – in his words “from Kennebunkport to San Jose” he has long been impressed with the extraordinary variety, diversity and wholesomeness of Walt Disney World Resort’s vast cornucopia of good things to eat.
Now, I can write reams about Disneyland’s theme parks but would like to stay focused on the Disney Cruise Line. We learn that “When the fanciful Disney Magic Ship and Disney Wonder Ship set sail, guests enjoy a different dining experience every night as they rotate through one of three theme restaurants. At Animator’s Palate, fine food teams with classic Disney animation in a restaurant that literally transforms from black and white to full color as dinner progresses. Parrot Cay offers a taste of the islands. On the Disney Magic Ship, Lumiere’s is the spot for fine dining; on the Disney Wonder Ship, Triton’s. but the crème de la crème on both ships is Palo, an elegant dining room exclusively for adults..”
Recipes in the Disney Cruise Line section of this cookbook are specialties like Eggs Benedict with an easy to follow recipe for Hollandaise Sauce, Mozzarella and tomato Salad, “Stack of Vegetables” from Lumiere’s (sounds delish!), Roma Tomato Sauce, Wild Mushroom Risotto and Baked Lobster Tail with Saffron Rice. There is a recipe for Crème Brulee Cheesecake and another for Chocolate Souffle –but there are numerous other recipes, the finest the various Disney restaurants have to offer. I even found the Hollywood Brown Derby Cobb Salad as well as the Brown Derby’s Grapefruit Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting—both recipes the authentic originals as served at the Hollywood Brown Derby for many years. (See my article about Harry Baker and his Chiffon Cake, previously posted on this blog).
COOKING WITH MICKEY AND THE DISNEY CHEFS is available on Amazon.com, pre-owned starting at $4.05. Some copies are rather steeply over- priced for some reason. The original book price on Cooking with Disney is $19.95.
Review by Sandra Lee Smith