Above: a serving of very substantial sandwiches.
Above: An offering of cakes.
Above: Columns of cookies.
Above: A full plate.
Although Princess Cruises began in North America and advertises itself as “American style luxury,” it also has a British heritage. For many years, it was a subsidiary of the venerable British shipping line Penisular & Orient Line (a.k.a. P&O). Several vestiges of this British heritage can still be seen on Princess ships such as the very British Wheelhouse Bar and in the fact that afternoon tea is served each afternoon.
Credit for inventing the formal afternoon tea is generally given to Anna Marie Russell who was Duchess of Bedford during Queen Victoria's reign in the 19th century. She wanted to have some refreshments when she gathered with her aristocratic friends in the afternoon in the salons of palatial Woburn Abbey. In Victorian times, the upper class only ate two meals a day and the duchess wanted something that would hold her friends over between breakfast and their late night dinner.
Although the tradition of having a formal afternoon teas began with the British upper class, it is a mistake to call such a repasts “high tea.” A high tea was actually a much different event - - more like a full meal - - that working class people ate in the evening. It was called high tea because it was eaten at high table, i.e., the dining table.
On Caribbean Princess, the afternoon tea is held in the Coral Dining Room. However, it follows the formal model that began with the Duchess of Bedford.
The title character in these events is the tea. On Caribbean Princess you can select from a variety of different teas but most guests opt for the house tea. A waiter circulates among the tables pouring it from a large white china tea pot. It is a stronger brew than Americans usually have but most U.K. residents would not find it overpowering.
Afternoon tea, however, is not really about the beverage. Rather, the stars are the accompanying food. This can either be served all at once on a multi-tiered silver platform with each tier dedicated to a specific course or, more often these days, by waiters circulating around the tables with silver trays dedicated to one particular course. Caribbean Princess takes the latter approach.
To begin, you have sandwiches. The sandwiches on Caribbean Princess are more substantial than the thin, crustless finger sandwiches that are traditionally served at tea. Most were full sandwich quarters with plenty inside. In addition, there was more variety than is traditional including club sandwich-inspired offerings. While this may not be traditional, they are very tasty and I did not hear anyone complain.
Next up is the scones. There are traditionally eaten with clotted cream or sometimes whipped cream and strawberry preserves. Caribbean Princess' scones follow the traditional model and are served warm and fresh from the oven. I found myself requesting seconds and thirds.
Traditionally, cakes are the final course. In keeping with tradition, Caribbean Princess offered an array of square slices of a variety of cakes.
But Caribbean Princess went a step beyond presenting yet another tray with long columns of different types of cookies. Chocolate cookies, butter cookies, cookies with toppings, a good selection..
If the service had any fault, it was that the waiters were too eager to please. Each course arrived quickly, almost immediately after I sat down. Consequently, my plate was full of sandwiches, scones, cream, preserves, cakes and cookies from the start. I would have preferred a more relaxed pace where the next item was not served until after the previous one was finished.
This was not a case, however, of everything arriving at one time and then never seeing the server again. The servers were always nearby offering more tea or seconds of any item that they had noticed the guest particularly enjoying. As above, they were eager to please.
In sum, the afternoon tea on Caribbean Princess is based upon the traditional English model. Adjustments have been made to suit American tastes. However, they have been done with style.
Although the Duchess originally conceived of afternoon tea as a between meals snack, it should be borne in mind that people in her set typically did not eat lunch. Thus, if you are planning on going to afternoon tea, think about foregoing lunch. It is difficult to resist the temptation offered by the trays full of goodies. As a result, few, if any guests, leave hungry.
Cruise ship dining review - - Princess Cruises - - Caribbean Princess - - Afternoon Tea