By Gerry Barker
Photos and Video by Gerry Barker
In the late Eighties, there was a famous commercial for bath products that coined the line, “Calgon, take me away.”
That could easily apply to what Princess Cruises has achieved in creating “360,” an immersive and interactive dining experience like no other, where a select group of guests are virtually transported to a tour of European food meccas.
Launched last November on Discovery Princess, it debuted on Enchanted Princess in January, and this week, invited media got their first look, and taste, of what 360 is all about. As we entered Sabatini’s, the specialty Italian restaurant where 360 is located, we were treated to a unique cocktail, with “360” embedded in the foamy top, and our photo taken against a red-carpet worthy backdrop. We were off to a good start.
Soon, 360 manager and our host, Johannes, gave us each a number. Afterwards, accompanied by the manager and two talented violinists, we were led into a darkened room with two, semi-circular tables and assigned a spot based on the number we were given. After being seated, we had our first surprise: A personal welcome message appeared in front of us on the tabletop. Nice touch.
Then the walls came alive with images as Johannes magically opened a travel diary to start our gastronomic journey, narrated by actress Brooke Shields. And just like that, we were off to Greece. Over the length of our multi-course experience, we would also travel to Spain, Italy and France.
While the visuals were stunning, they were also educational, as we were introduced to the locals who produce the food with love and passion, from processing olive oil and harvesting lemons, to aging wine underwater, tending lavender fields and hunting for truffles. It really gives you an extra appreciation for the courses we enjoyed, and was similar to taking an immersive shore excursion without leaving the ship.
And about the food: Remarkable, both in taste and presentation. After appetizers of marinated olives and grilled octopus, we sampled delicious buffalo cheese, followed by an incredible lemon-flavored pasta. Then came a charcuterie sampler and an entre of steak and roasted vegetables. Dessert was a heavenly, lavender-inspired work of culinary artistry.
Each course was paired with a cocktail or wine, including wine from Elixsea, an underwater winery located in Spain, where their wines are aged in the Mediterranean Sea. Guests also get to participate in the magic, as we “broke” our plates, were covered with buzzing bees and waved our hands to make lemons swirl around.
Throughout the meal, you have a personal server. Ours was George, from Turkey, who took good care of us. At the meal’s grand finale, we gave all the servers and chefs a well-deserved round of applause as champagne bottles danced on the walls and fireworks exploded.
For an encore, there was one last surprise to go with our glass of champagne: The photos they took of us were framed and presented all over the walls of the room. They really do think of everything to make for an unforgettable meal.
As noted, 360 is only available for guests booked in suites on Discovery Princess and Enchanted Princess, including guests that book a suite on a future cruise aboard those ships. There are two seatings scheduled daily.
While the current programming is repeated for each meal, it’s easy to imagine future presentations that might spotlight foods of the Caribbean or other regions of the world. It really is the next best thing to actually being there.
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