When I was a child, I visited the Queen Mary. It was so romantic to think of sailing away to foreign locales aboard a ship filled with fascinating people leading adventurous lives. Yet it seemed like an experience I would never be able to have, packed away with the dreams of a bygone era. Today the cruise ships that sail the world are significantly larger than the Queen Mary with entertainment, shopping, gambling, and a steady flow of drinks. They can seem more like a floating Las Vegas than a ship. However, on a recent Culinary Cruise with Princess Cruises, I was able to experience something similar to what I had imagined when I was a child: dinners each night with celebrities and people who lead interesting lives, elegant multi-course meals, and trips on land to unusual places, all while sailing along the California coastline. And sailing along with us was a ship well stocked to create a variety of gourmet dishes: 70 different types of fruits and over 100 different types of vegetables sourced from 40 local producers, bread baked in an on-board bakery, and ice cream made fresh daily. Needless to say, a shortage of food wasn’t going to be a problem.

Day One: Sitting on the Dock of a Bay

After checking in and arriving in my stateroom, it seemed only logical to take a walk around the ship to get the lay of the land, so to speak. First bit advice when on a ship: learn the difference between starboard and port (one is left and one is right, beats me which is which). Second bit of advice: remember where you room is (this one is pretty important). After wandering around somewhat aimlessly through a casino, nightclub, spa, gym, and several pools, I finally found what I was looking for: the coffee shop. This is about the time I found the map of the ship provided in my check-in packet. Turns out they give you those maps of the ship for a very good reason: it’s a big boat. This particular ship, the Ruby Princess, can carry over 3,500 passengers and 1,200 crew. It has 19 floors and is nearly 1,000 feet long. There’s even an on board text messaging service you can use on your phone to find your loved ones who you will inevitably lose at one point or another. This isn’t the largest cruise ship out there but, when you are one person literally of thousands, it’s easy to feel like a small fish in a big pond. However, that all changed the evening we had cocktails and then dinner with other foodies and chefs who we would be spending the next few days with as part of the culinary cruise. After setting sail, we had dinner at The Salty Dog Gastropub onboard the ship with our new foodie posse. With a menu developed by Chef Ernesto Uchimura, who is also responsible for Umami Burger, it’s a menu of small plates with the intention that each diner selects three different items to sample. This is a great idea for people like myself who can never make up their mind and feel pressure to choose just one thing.The burger, unsurprisingly given the genius behind Umami Burger’s involvement, got rave reviews.

Princess Culinary Cruise 2016

Day Two: Come Sail Away

Waking up at sea en route to Santa Barbara came with the initial shock, of “wait, where am I?” Followed quickly by, “and what’s all that blue stuff out there?” Then the somewhat scary realization of being on a ship at sea with literally nowhere to go which in turn, is actually axing notion in and of itself. After a leisurely breakfast outside, it was time for the cooking demonstration by the celebrity chefs on-board for this voyage: Joel Miller, Executive Chef at The Wallace and Ted Hopson, Executive Chef and Owner of The Bellwether. These two chefs from LA traveled along this cruise (and were part of our foodie posse) to lend their flavor to some of the menus on board as well as demo items from their restaurants. The cooking demo was hosted by Jill Whelan of Love Boat fame and honorary member of the foodie posse. Watching the two of these chefs work together to cook in front of an audience was like watching a live taping of a Food Network show. Joel delivered a cauliflower throw-down (watch out Bobby Flay) by challenging Ted to cook his dish as perfectly as he had cooked a cauliflower steak. Unfortunately, just as when you are watching on TV, there were no samples but unlike TV, I can confirm that it sure did smell good.

Dinner that evening was at Curtis Stone’s on-board restaurant, Share. In a word, this meal was brilliant. From the Super Toscana wine served to the many small plates meant to be, well, shared, I would like to eat the entire meal over again. Homemade cavatelli with beets and sunchoke, roasted turbot with gruyère, and buttered poached lobster with caramelized endive were just a few of the 12 dishes served. Then there was a cheese course followed by dessert. Most amazing was the dark chocolate crémeux with toasted hazelnut feuilletine. More than once in reading the menu I had to ask, “Um, what in the world is that?” It didn’t matter, the answer was always delicious.

Day Three – Land Ho!

Princess Culinary Cruise 2016

Day Four – ¡Viva Mexico!

They have a variety of fish to choose from: tuna, salmon, crispy salmon skin, shrimp, marlin, whatever you like, all set in a homemade tortilla, which you then take over to their topping bar and go to town: half a dozen different sauces, cilantro, onions, pickled vegetables, lime, pico de gallo, other things I’m not even sure what they are but, trust me, it’s all good stuff. But with no time to waste, we had to push on to eat more food!

Next was Sabina, the queen of ceviche. One of the local specialities here: paté de pescado on a tostada. Add on some scallops and avocado and then top it again with one of a myriad of items available at the toppings bar. I had some sort of sauce with peanuts and olive oil that was delightful but am still a bit fuzzy on what was in it. This is the place to eat first and ask what it is afterwards; a place for experimentation with atypical flavor combinations. Try one, two, or 10 different items together to find out what you like best. Wash it all down with cebada, a horchata-like drink but made with barley instead of rice. It’s so much creamier than horchata and honestly, even if you don’t like ceviche, stop in for a cup of this magic cinnamony elixir.

From here (because we weren’t done eating yet), we headed off to Restaurant 645 which is run by two young brothers in their 20s (with assistance from their mom). With homemade, well, everything, there was nothing that disappointed. This is around the time when I started to regret having eaten breakfast considering we this was our third food stop and it was just barely noon. After all this eating, a walk was most definitely needed. Heading through the fish market and then along the coastline, it was time to head back to the ship in order to get ready for more food, because we still had yet to eat dinner.

Dinner in the Crown Grill steakhouse was thankfully later at night at a point when I was actually starting to get hungry again. In addition to the steaks, there was a wide variety of seafood options including Maine lobster tails, something that is not nearly as common as the langosta or Pacific lobster we see here on the west coast. After a meal full of laughter and fun that lasted hours (with lots of talk with our foodie posse), it was finally time to turn in and get ready to disembark the following day. With nearly a week of eating amazing food, drinking wonderful wine, and meeting a fantastic group of people, it made me realize that those bygone days of the romantic adventurous cruise might not be so far gone after all.

Article originally appeared in Locale Magazine.