Cruising: See food - don't eat it all

By Rod Pascoe

With islands of haute cuisine, the Celebrity Solstice can be scary for the diet-conscious, writes Rod Pascoe.

The Grand Epernay Restaurant on the Celebrity Solstice cruise liner offers haute cuisine. Photo / Supplied
The Grand Epernay Restaurant on the Celebrity Solstice cruise liner offers haute cuisine. Photo / Supplied

Putting on weight. When you're on a luxury liner such as the Celebrity Solstice, with 160 chefs and cooks producing stunning and often guilt-inducing food every day of your 14-day cruise, adding to your waistline can become quite a worry.

Cruise lore has it that many voyagers put on a pound a day. And the reason is obvious from your very first visit to any of the ship's 10 dining venues.

On a liner as big as the Solstice (it carries 3145 passengers), every taste imaginable is catered for. And if it's true that the eyes are the window to the soul, then they're also the entry point to the stomach. They lead us into culinary temptation - big time.

Even in the ship's basic buffet cafe, the 620-seat Oceanview, the staff put a lot of emphasis on presentation.

The different food types - Mexican, Indian, Italian, Japanese, salads, roasts, stir fry, barbecue, cakes, desserts and so on - are laid out on "islands", so you can duck and dive from one to the other, depending on what you want, nearly always without queuing.

And food's available there almost around the clock, from 6.30am, when breakfast starts, until 1.30am, when supper for the late-night party animals and casino gamblers ends. (And if you miss out then, the complimentary room service runs 24/7.)

Voyagers wanting a more-formal dining experience without having to pay extra can head to the full-service Grand Epernay.

This place, which seats 1430, is a real challenge for the weight-conscious because the fare is haute cuisine. And again, you can have as much of it as you want. If you want a second main course, for example, just ask.

It's here, also, that you can put the chefs to the test if you have special requests. Even though the kitchen runs like a military operation serving up to 1000 meals in just 18 minutes, it can cope with diners' out-of-the-ordinary needs, such as kosher, vegan, Jain or diabetic meals; there's a separate mini-kitchen where these are prepared.

One of the things that struck me in the Grand Epernay was the paucity of vegetables. The Solstice is US owned, and apparently Americans prefer protein, not veges, to dominate their plate, whereas Kiwis and Australians are the opposite. The veges are ready if you want more of them, but you have to ask.

Although the food was, understandably, the main attraction in the restaurant, another standout feature was the service. The staff were incredibly attentive.

One small example: Lara from Belarus, our drinks steward on the first night, noticed that although I didn't drink my Diet Coke through the straw provided, I did twiddle with it almost nonstop (a lifelong nervous habit when I'm eating with strangers). She told me that every night from then on, I'd be getting a straw to tie knots with, regardless of what I was drinking. And sure enough, that's what happened.

With so much fabulous food constantly available - oops, I almost forgot to tell you also about the unlimited free icecream in the Oceanview cafe from noon until 10pm - it would be so easy to pile on the weight. But if you set your mind to it, you can avoid this.

Being a type-2 diabetic, I sought advice from diabetes experts before the cruise, and was told that the key factors to staying well were being careful with portion sizes and the type of food eaten, and remaining active.

About half the guests on the Solstice were Americans, and because they're famously into "super-sizing" meals, I had expected to witness a fair amount of gluttony, with plates piled high, but I didn't see a single instance. Maybe the good-health message is getting through.

It certainly is with the ship's kitchen staff. Executive chef Geoff Haviland, an Australian, told me there's a big push these days for reduced salt, lower sugar and smaller portions ("but if you want more, just order another").

I tried to make exercise a constant part of my time cruising. I avoided the lifts in favour of using the stairs, especially if I was going only three or four decks, and made sure I got to the gym at least once a day to use one of the 16 treadmills.

The end result of enjoying all the wonderful food (except the desserts) and being careful at the same time was that I actually lost weight - half a kilo - while on board.

So when, at breakfast on the last day, I heard a woman tell her man, "It's going to take me weeks to get this weight off," I could at least feel happy that I didn't have the face any such post-cruise blues. Neat, eh?

CHECKLIST

Celebrity Solstice arrives in Auckland on October 19 for the 2014-2015 season and will do nine sailings in New Zealand waters during the season as well as itineraries around the islands of the South Pacific.

The writer travelled as a guest of the Celebrity Solstice.

- NZ Herald

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