When the alternative dining competition heated up among the cruise brands Princess Cruises created its own variety: Anytime or Personal Choice Dining (PC Dining). A cruise on the Golden Princess gave us an opportunity of sampling this arrangement and experience the Grand Class of ships that Princess spawned a few years ago.

As the 2004 European cruising season is in full swing, the market has changed dramatically from 2003 and 2002. Instead of a variety of European companies competing mostly in national markets and some on a pan-European basis, most of the strongest national brands are operating under the Carnival Corporation umbrella, with a combined fleet of 22 ships and a passenger capacity of 1.3 million passengers, commanding a 43.3 percent market share.

Rudi Sodamin"Ingredients are like kings; chefs are the servants," according to Rudi Sodamin, master chef for Royal Caribbean International (RCI). Sodamin attributed the quote to Brillat-Savarin who he said is the greatest gastronome the world has ever known. "Following this credo, we are using aroma and fresh products while offering fine service," Sodamin continued. "Our menus reflect tradition, history and innovation." This bold statement, which was made in conjunction with the introduction of RCI's Jewel of the Seas, is setting the tone for food services aboard today's cruise fleet.

The bar is constantly moving upward for the cruise experience. The latest big wow factor was introduced by Princess Cruises aboard the Caribbean Princess - an outside movie screen allowing passengers to watch their favorite flicks poolside under the stars. Sporting events and other programming are shown during the day. Royal Caribbean International meanwhile has installed rock climbing walls on all of its ships following their successful reception on the Voyager class. The trend is toward more choices and activities for passengers - whether in dining, entertainment, sports or shore excursions.

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