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It wasn’t so long ago that there was only one place to dine on a river cruise ship: the main dining room, with buffet/table service at breakfast and lunch and formal courses at dinner. You could get a very light breakfast or a lunch of salad, soup and sandwiches in the lounge — otherwise, you were pretty much on your own.
Things are changing dramatically. River cruising has found creative ways to fit in alternative dining, served complimentary or at a fee, with some eateries open for 24 hours. Following are some of our favorites.
Front Porch Cafe, American Queen Steamboat CompanyAmerican Queen Steamboat Company’s Front Porch Cafe started as a light meals alternative dining venue, with cereals, breads, juices and the like for breakfast and mostly cold cuts at lunch. But the great view and relaxing ambiance made it so popular that it gradually morphed into a 24-hour cafe with an extensive set of hot and cold dishes.
Selections at breakfast include oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, eggs, cereals, pastries and juices. Lunch and dinner selections include po’boys, hot meat and potatoes, cold cuts, creative salads, soups, breads and tempting desserts. Even at odd hours, the cafe offers a hot popcorn machine, ice cream and cookies. Passengers stake out porch swings and Adirondack chairs in the outdoor section or bring books, sketchpads and cameras with them to the tables inside.
Chef’s Table, AmaWaterwaysGuests on several AmaWaterways ships can reserve one complimentary dinner at the 28-seat Chef’s Table at reception, and it’s a good idea to do so upon arrival.
The eatery serves a tasting menu with three appetizers, a champagne sorbet intermezzo, three main courses and three desserts, paired with regional wines. The menu, which was enhanced a couple of years ago, changes weekly and includes dishes with locally sourced ingredients such as cod fillet in saffron sauce, Charolaise ox short ribs and Medoc red wine sauce and peach and lavender cake.
Sky Grill, Avalon WaterwaysAvalon Waterways’ Sky Grill is in its own area; it’s sectioned off from the lounge chairs and whirlpool, and under a shaded cover on the top deck with the best view.
Chefs serve up lunch selections with grilled meats, fish and chicken — local specialties when possible — as well as fresh grilled vegetables, salad, breads and more. Desserts and beverages are included.
Bistro, Crystal CruisesCrystal’s Bistro is like a full-fledged, traditional coffee house, which makes it a magnet for guests, who happily sample its freshly baked pastries, fruits and snacks. And it never bores, with an entire cruise’s worth of coffees, teas, hot and cold chocolates to sample.
Shaken Hot Chocolate features Zotter chocolate and steamed soy milk; the Vienna Eiskaffee (ice coffee) combines espresso, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream; and the French pressed coffee combines exotic Mocca Sidamo and King Hadhramaut coffee blends. The huge selection of tea runs the gamut of Earl Grey Blue Blossom with a touch of fresh citrus from Idalgashinna, Sri Lanka, to amazing iced teas with caramel, vanilla, hazelnut, praline and raspberry syrups.
Portobellos, Scenic On select Scenic river ships, the 25-seat Italian specialty restaurant Portobellos is tucked away in the main lounge; it’s complimentary, but reservations must be made.
Typically, red wines from northern Italy and whites from central Italy, along with freshly baked focaccia bread, accompany the five set courses, with entree choices such as seared sea bass, vegetable cannelloni filled with spinach ricotta and Milanese-style osso buco (veal).
Make room for dessert temptations such as raspberry panna cotta and tartufo chocolate tiramisu as well as the perfect chilled limoncello. L’Amour is the corresponding specialty restaurant on Scenic’s French vessels.
Arthur’s, Tauck Tauck serves lighter selections for breakfast and lunch in this venue named after Arthur Tauck, Jr., current chairman and son of the founder. At dinner, Arthur’s becomes the home of ultimate classic dishes, comforting and familiar. Guests can make choices from Caesar and cobb salads to oven baked mac and cheese, hot dogs or burgers. There are also grilled fish, chicken breast, New York strip steak with all the trimmings and, for dessert, American cheesecake and a variety of ice creams.
La Cave des Vins, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise CollectionUniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s Joie de Vivre houses a tiny culinary gem: La Cave du Vins. The exclusive 10-seat venue offers seven-course meals, featuring dishes such as Bea Tollman’s Chicken Liver Pate Cornichons and skewered French Bread, along with regional specialties including Normandy French soup and beef tenderloin with bernaise sauce.
An impressive wine list accompanies the courses. It’s considered an onboard shore excursion and is the only dining venue with a fee ($116 dollars).
Aquavit Terrace, Viking River CruisesViking River Cruises’ serene indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace at the bow of its Longships serves a satisfying breakfast and a lunch menu with salads, cold cuts and very popular burgers and fries. The dinner menu has relied on favorites from poached salmon to steak.
But next year, onboard all Longships sailing on the most popular itineraries on the Rhine and Danube rivers, guests will see a dinner menu drawing from Manfredi’s Italian restaurant on Viking’s seagoing ships. It will feature the likes of fried calamari, bucatini alla carbonara and parmigiana de pollo, with red and white house wines, beer and soft drinks.