I know, because I spent such a day on the Italian coast, returning to my table at the piazza several times to take in the play of life. I watched acrobats flip, jugglers toss, musicians play and crooners send their soft melodies to the far reaches of the square. The world was indeed a stage that day, just as it is every day at the piazza.
What made my experience highly unusual, however, was that my piazza was floating. No, I was not in Venice. I was on a ship, the Emerald Princess.
As I write these words, I am seated at a circular marble-top table with three small scoops of gelato in front of me. I hear the hiss of the espresso machine at the coffee bar, where baristas serve up specialty coffees. A magician entertains in the heart of the piazza, looping rings as a gathering audience looks on. All eyes fall on the center of the piazza, and those on the second and third decks, stand against the railing, on the stairs or at the balcony perches to watch the magician.
“The piazza is the heart of the Italian lifestyle,” says Generoso Mazzone, the ship’s maitre d’ hotel. “And on Emerald Princess, the piazza is the Italian heart of the ship.”
The Ship’s Heart And Soul
It is 2 p.m., and the Emerald Princess is en route to Venice. The piazza is abuzz with activity. At the International Café, couples linger at tables. Some are lunching on mozzarella and tomato panini (the Italian sandwiches); a mother and daughter whisper over glasses of wine; a young man sips a foamy cappuccino; a waiter pours sparkling Pelligrino. Others, like me, are working on their laptop computers, using the wireless internet service (for a fee). The piazza has the feel of a working village.
“I tell everybody I work downtown,” jokes Romanian-born Eugen Feraru, food and beverage supervisor on Emerald Princess. “The piazza is the heart of the ship. Everybody’s passing by here, no matter where they’re going.” Indeed, sit in the piazza long enough, and you’ll see the whole of the ship pass by.
The piazza is also the place to grab a snack. Freshly baked goods are served, along with delicious cashew chicken salad (free of charge). Evenings, tapas are served. A variety of deserts are available — some at no charge, such as fresh fruit tarts, Swiss chocolate cake, carrot cake — and others for nominal charges: fruit with chocolate fondue, $5; apples dipped in chocolate or caramel, $4. Seven flavors of gelato are served, including my favorite, stracciatella, and for $1.50, you get three scoops. Cold milk and hot cookies are served each afternoon from 3:30 until 4:30 free of charge both at the International Cafe and on the pool deck as well.
Across the piazza is Vines, which specializes in wine, sushi, raclette. The latter is dish whereby the eponymous cheese is heated, then scraped onto potatoes and served with gherkins, pickled onions and prosciutto. Flights of wine are available so that you can sample three wines for a fixed price (beginning at $7.50 for a flight on my cruise). Or leave the choice to Stefano Bart, the excellent sommelier on Emerald Princess.
“Princess is Italian born,” says Corporate Executive Chef Alfredo Marzi. An Italian by birth, Marzi has worked for Princess since 1974. “There’s more of an international flavor now than there was then,” he says. “But we’re still very Italian.”
And perhaps nowhere is Princess more Italian than in the kitchen. The pizza at poolside Prego is as good as what you might get in Rome. The Italian dishes are inspired by family recipes. Sabatini’s, deck 16 aft, has the feel of an Italian trattoria, with beautiful views of the sea and an ever-changing landscape. And Chef Marzi’s lemoncello, the popular Italian liqueur made from fresh Sorrento lemons and vodka, is about as authentic as it gets.
In fact, Princess Cruises makes its own lemoncello. And it’s served free of charge. There’s a catch, however. You must pay $5 for the glass. The lemoncello is as bright as the sunshine of the Amalfi Coast. It’s healthy too, Chef Marzi says, aiding digestion while refreshing the mouth.
The piazza is so pleasant and so convincingly Italian that you may not want to get off the ship, even as you call at Italian ports on your Mediterranean cruise. You don’t need to. Experience Italy at its best — at the piazza on Princess.