A Greek plate suddenly smashes in front of me – then mends at the seemingly magical wave of my hand – bees buzz around, Champagne bottles dance on the walls and a miniature Italian scooter weaves around the table. I’ve never had such an action-packed meal, and that’s before you even mention insightful talks from various artisan producers, subtle scents in the air and the opportunity to try various wines including one matured beneath the sea.
I’m aboard Princess Cruises’ Enchanted Princess in Barcelona to sample 360: An Extraordinary Experience. To date the one-of-a-kind dinner has only been available as a complimentary perk to guests staying in suites on Enchanted Princess and its sister ship Discovery Princess.
Now the multi-sensory culinary journey has now been extended to all passengers, subject to availability, for $149 – a very reasonable price for an immersive, entertaining and unforgettable evening that has plenty of surprises along the way.
After having our photos taken, the experience begins with two violinists leading us through The Catch, one of the speciality restaurants on Enchanted Princess. A secret door opens to reveal a circular dining room set for 20 guests. We’ve all been given a number and a member of staff escorts me to my allocated place. I’m told to move my hand over the table. A personal place setting and greeting appears in front of me and there are exclamations around the room as fellow diners see their own names appear.
This sets the scene for the next 90 minutes, as our seven-course Mediterranean-themed meal transports us through Greece, Italy, Spain and France with a multitude of different things happening along the way. My eyes waver between the table, where various animations are screened down from the impressive looking technical kit lining the ceiling (360 is the most expensively equipped restaurant on both ships) and the film wall where actress Brooke Shields narrates a story in between sweeping scenery from the different countries.
Energetic host Magdalena is the ‘ring master’, standing in the centre of the room and introducing wine and food as synchronised staff serve dishes and pour wine with a theatrical flourish. One of the most unusual comes from ElixSea, which produces Catalan wine that’s aged underwater. As we take our first sip we’re swept beneath the waves as divers circle the room and we see the wines gently rocking in their subterranean cellar.
It’s an incredible feast for all the senses as each course – starting with Greek mezze and ending with a Provençal honey and lavender dessert, complete with animated bees, is set before us. Before each dish there are fascinating interviews with some of the food producers, including a truffle hunter, mozzarella cheese maker and lemon grower. I quickly try and take a photo of the pasta with lemon recipe, one of my favourite courses, when it appears on the wall. At other times subtle aromas of lemon, lavender and rock salt fill the room.
While there are other animated restaurants at sea, such as Le Petit Chef on Celebrity Cruises and Wonderland on Royal Caribbean, 360: An Extraordinary Experience takes immersive dining to new levels.
There are a few other surprises, too, but I don’t want to give everything away in case you decide to book it for yourself.
Elsewhere, Sun Princess, the line’s first new Sphere-class ship launching in February 2024, will not have the 360 experience. However, Princess has hinted on social media that something different and equally extraordinary will be coming to the line’s biggest-ever vessel.
The teaser adds: “this is not an illusion” and poses the question: “are you ready to believe in magic?” Vicki Johnson, SVP of Communications for Princess Cruises, would not be drawn on the details of the latest experience, but suggested: “We have plenty of things up our sleeve.”
For now, it’s a case of watch this space.
Known as the ‘River Cruise Queen’, Jeannine Williamson is an award-winning travel writer, cruise expert and our cruise correspondent, who has clocked up thousands of nautical miles.
Photographs courtesy of Princess Cruises and by Jeannine Williamson