Embark on a High Tech and Culinary Expedition with Discovery Princess

The mood was set as soon as we boarded the Discovery Princess in Los Angeles. In the stunning, three-level atrium of this large 4,000-passenger cruise ship, a lively mariachi band was playing. It provided a fantastic introduction to our seven-day cruise to the Mexican ports of Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta.

Mariachi band in Discovery Princess atrium | Photo: John and Sandra Nowlan

The Discovery Princess, launched in 2022, is the sixth and final Royal Class ship built in Italy for Princess. As a technical marvel, it offers guests a unique experience. Princess provides every guest with a 25 cent coin-sized medallion, typically worn on a neck lanyard, which serves multiple functions. Without any physical contact, this medallion unlocks your stateroom door and is instantly recognized by computers in all bars, restaurants, shops, and the casino. By utilizing the medallion and the Princess app, you can conveniently order food or drinks from anywhere on the ship, access the daily program, and review your account. Additionally, unlike some other ships, a printed schedule of events for each day is also placed in the rooms during the evening.

The main theatre, with a capacity of 1,000 guests, is also equipped with state-of-the-art features. It showcases impressive LED curtain backgrounds, stunning lighting effects, and creative sets for the talented ensemble of singers, dancers, and musicians. The two productions we had the pleasure of witnessing were amongst the finest at sea.

With guided tours in every port, good Wi-Fi, and a vast array of entertainment and enrichment choices on both port and sea days, we always had something to do (there’s no library onboard, but we didn’t miss it as we were usually too busy to read). However, one of the main reasons we chose this cruise was to explore the dozen or more dining options now available on newer Princess ships.

Discovery Princess still offers many excellent ‘meals included’ options, such as the expansive World Fresh Market Buffet and the three main dining rooms – Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway. However, we were eager to experience the six principal ‘extra cost’ specialty restaurants that have raised the bar for cruise ship cuisine.

The Greek appetizer | Photo John and Sandra Nowlan

The most astonishing example, which combines high technology with high-end cuisine, is the unique 360 Dining Experience. Complimentary for suite guests and available at an extra cost of $149 for others, 360 provides an interactive, immersive, and multi-sensory culinary adventure. Twenty guests are seated in a circular arrangement, surrounded by LED walls and animated projections on tables and plates. This 90+ minute celebration of the senses transports visitors through Greece, Italy, Spain, and France, engaging sight, sound, and smell. The host, three chefs, and ten servers serve a seven-course gourmet meal featuring regional dishes from each Mediterranean country, while Brooke Shields narrates a story about real farmers and fishermen. For example, when exploring Greece, a blue and white dinner plate is projected in front of each guest, and following the Greek tradition, diners are invited to shatter the plate with a fist. Each plate magically transforms into splinters, after which an appetizer of grilled octopus and feta cheese is served. The experience includes excellent wine pairings, such as a Spanish grenache aged for an additional six months in the sea. The final course takes guests to Provence, France, for a decadent mousse dessert topped with lavender honey, while bees appear to buzz around each plate and the scent of lavender drifts through the air. The highly structured and immensely entertaining show culminates with Champagne and a visit from the entire 360 team.

The honey/lavender dessert at 360 | Photo: John and Sandra Nowlan

The multi-million dollar 360 Dining Experience was created by a Princess team, in collaboration with a Disney Imagineering veteran. It is now offered twice daily on Discovery Princess, as well as on Enchanted Princess, and sells out quickly.

Though less technologically advanced, two other intimate dining venues showcase Princess’ culinary commitment in a different way. The Chef’s Table Lumiere ($95) includes a private tour of the sparkling stainless steel galley, followed by a sumptuous six-course feast presided over by Executive Chef Davide Menabo and Director of Restaurant Operations, Catalin Ionel. Twelve fortunate guests savor dishes such as Salmon Gravlax, Foie Gras, Seafood Bisque with Brandy Cream, a choice between Salmon Fillet or Veal Oscar, and Lemon Mousse for dessert. The Executive Chef describes each course and assists in the pouring of Veuve Clicquot Champagne into Lemon Sorbet as a palate cleanser. Guests also receive a photograph with the Executive Chef, serving as a cherished memento.

The Executive Chef gives a tour of the galley for the Chef’s Table guests | Photo: John and Sandra Nowlan

Even more exclusive is the Caymus Winemaker’s Dinner ($140), an extravagant multi-course experience featuring fine wines from Napa Valley’s Caymus Vineyards, hosted by the Head Sommelier. In a private room, only ten fortunate guests indulge in outstanding vintages such as The Walking Fool Red Blend, Sea Sun Pinot Noir, and Emmolo Sparkling Wine. These exquisite wines pair perfectly with dishes including Marinated Oyster Mushrooms, Black Truffle Risotto, Prime Beef Tenderloin, and King Salmon with Giant Prawns. Unfortunately, only six of us were able to savor this treat due to the overindulgence in tequila by the four other guests who had initially booked the meal during our stop in Mazatlán, Mexico!

We also had the pleasure of dining in three other specialty, extra-cost restaurants, which were located in larger dining rooms and attracted a following of enthusiastic guests. The Crown Grill ($39), featuring an open kitchen, is renowned as one of the best steakhouses at sea. Our meal commenced with Seared Jumbo Scallops with Salmon Caviar and Black & Blue Onion Soup, made with fresh thyme, Jack Daniels, and a roquefort crust. The Filet Mignon was exceptional, especially when paired with a choice of three exotic salts – Hawaiian Black Salt, Smoked Applewood Salt, or Himalayan Mountain Pink Salt. The thin Rib-Eye steak was less impressive.

The Winemakers Dinner | Photo: John and Sandra Nowlan

Sabatini’s ($35), a favorite among Princess ships, offers delectable Italian dishes such as Lobster Tortelloni, Ossobuco Minalese, and Veal Tenderloin in Marsala Wine.

On our final night, we made a reservation at the French restaurant, Bistro sur la Mer ($39) on Deck 7. With its menu designed by a three-star Michelin chef, we were thoroughly impressed by its offerings, including Crispy Escargot and Braised Veal Shanks. One of the highlights was the Quenelles – egg-shaped dumplings made from red snapper and scallops, served with a sauce made from lobster bits. This dish truly stood out as one of the best we’ve had on any cruise. Unfortunately, Bistro sur la Mer is currently being phased out and will be replaced by The Catch by Rudi, Chef Rudi Sodamin’s seafood restaurant. Given his reputation as a Master Chef, we are confident that Rudi’s fresh, healthy, and sustainable seafood will be a huge hit. However, the placement of The Catch, on an open deck just above the atrium, may deter some guests. During our meal at Bistro sur la Mer, we found the noise level quite high, with music and loud conversation coming from the lower decks.

Guests on Discovery Princess can expect to be well served and well fed if they choose to dine at the complimentary restaurants. However, the quality and variety offered by the extra-cost specialty restaurants make the splurge well worth it. In early 2024, Princess plans to launch its newest and largest ship, Sun Princess, which promises even more technical innovations and continued emphasis on high-quality dining options, both traditional and specialty.

John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in the port city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Cruising has been their passion for the past two decades and they have traveled to and written about all seven continents. Their articles and photographs have appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout Canada, the United States, and Australia.