Usually when I write about a restaurant it’s a restaurant that serves about 100 to 300 meals a day. A few might serve 500 meals on a special day, or some fast food places might serve 1,000 people on a busy day. But I’m on the Queen Mary 2 in mid-Atlantic, and on this ship they’re serving about 12,000 meals a day! That’s a lot of food to serve when you can’t even go out to the market to shop.

For those of you that have never been on an ocean liner, it’s quite an experience. Some passengers go on long cruises for the itinerary to see exotic places. Some go just to get from one place to another, which is one reason to take the Queen Mary from England to New York. Some go for the on-board spa, which here is operated by the famous Canyon Ranch Spa. But, when you get right down to it, the main attraction turns out to be the food and drink.

And the food is fantastic!

There are at least eight restaurants on board. The main restaurant seats almost 1,000 people, and serves breakfast, lunch, and two seatings at dinner.

Then there’s a British pub serving dishes such as fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and various other pies. There are two other gourmet dining rooms, and four buffet style venues, one Asian, one sandwiches and salads, one Italian, and one “carvery.” Somewhere there’s always a large piece of British beef served with Yorkshire pudding, and usually there’s a chicken, turkey, or duck carved to order.

Drinking is a favorite pastime on board, and there must be at least one dozen bars scattered around the ship, some around the various swimming pools and outside sundecks, some where the jazz and dance music is played all day and night, and some near the large auditoriums where movies, Las Vegas type shows, and classical concerts are scheduled on a daily basis. And of course on the way to dinner one passes a champagne bar and several others where friends meet for a pre-dinner drink. And then after dinner for an after dinner drink. And later for a nightcap.

But the most unexpected part of the trip for me is the discovery of an international sub-culture that I didn’t know existed: cruisers. Some of the passengers on board spend nine months out of the year on large cruise ships. Some cruise one to three months every year and have done so for 20 years or more. One British woman told me that it’s cheaper for them to close up their house for three months in the winter and go on a cruise than it is to pay the heating bills in the north of England.

I could get used to this lifestyle. The service is excellent, and it’s like having your own private chef. You don’t have to drive anywhere, and you don’t need any cash. I walk to meals, entertainment, my daily computer class, my daily ping-pong tournament, my duplicate bridge game, and a number of interesting lectures and musical events. And while I expected the food to be like hotel food, I’ve been surprised that in fact it’s much better than that. I’ve had top quality beef, lamb and pork dishes, salmon en croute, beef Wellington, excellent risotto, pasta and pizza made to order any time of the day or night — really all my favorite dishes.

Take a break from the local restaurants and try a cruise.

Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at mervynhecht@yahoo.com

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