Clocking up calories is all part of the cruise experience - but beyond the buffet, can food provide an insight into local ports of call? Roger Crow sets sail for Italy to find out
It’s a sun-kissed morning in Italy as our vehicle navigates a series of photogenic bends.
‘On days like these...’ - the opening theme tune to Michael Caine classic The Italian Job is playing on my mental jukebox as I soak up the experience.
Our mission is not to abscond with a load of gold bullion like Caine’s anti-hero, but retrieve a few of the edible treasures on display in Sorrento’s markets.
My accomplices in this pioneering venture are Chef, a Spanish native who has come prepared with a cool bag; our witty guide; my wife, and a coach-load of fellow tourists.
None seem too worried as we skirt close to the edge of the cliff side.
During a previous day at sea, sailing from Chania, Crete to Sorrento, we experienced some of the best dining cruise ship Celebrity Reflection had to offer.
It’s easy to treat most luxury ships as floating buffets, especially when there’s such a variety available at most hours of the day or night.
Fancy a fusion of curry, nachos, mashed potato and pasta? No problem. The assorted on board kitchens turn out fresh meals to cater for the 3,000-plus passengers.
Aside from the buffet, we also enjoyed dinner at one of the main ‘everyday’ restaurants as part of the all-inclusive deal. It was so good, we felt we’d wandered in to one of the high-end eateries by mistake.
But our foodie adventure was only just beginning.
Sorrento Gastronomy Discovery is a new excursion offered by Celebrity cruises (for an extra £258 per person). Whether you can give Blumenthal or Ramsay a run for their money in the kitchen, or are just passionate about good food, the experience of sourcing ingredients in Sorrento is a delicious diversion.
Stopping at a fruit and veg stall, Chef squeezes giant lemons, and smells them like a forensic investigator. In Spain, he told us he’d eat them with salt, but here he is searching for something to add a zing to our meal and reflect the flavour of Sorrento.
While he goes off to collect the rest of his ingredients before returning to the ship to prepare dinner, Team Crow and our fellow tourists take a short trip into the hills where we fall in love with a rustic olive farm.
Our guide, Gina Buglione, greets us with a warm smile. I expect her to launch into a rich Italian-English patter, but instead she responds with dulcet Derby tones, making me feel right at home.
Gina relocated to Italy in 1991 and raised a family. It’s not hard to see why she stayed. A picture postcard olive farm with trees of up to 500 years old; plump lemons hanging off branches, and a dazzling view overlooking the Amalfi coast. The place is bursting with vitality.
After a quick demonstration of ricotta and mozzarella making, a lunch featuring all three, and lemon cake so light it could have been injected with helium, we sample different varieties of limoncello. Chocolate and melon are instant favourites, though you can’t beat the zesty original.
Next, we’re Positano-bound, driving up a snaking road with more twists than a bowl of tagliatelle. The views are glorious: houses, hotels and shops layered on top of each other like an enormous 100-tier wedding cake descending down to the Amalfi coast.
Back on board, at The Porch restaurant, we get to taste to products of Chef’s efforts. A limoncello balsamic reduction served with our mozzarella starter sums up Sorrento in a mouthful.
But there are many more dining options to explore, including the especially memorable Qsine. Ordering from an iPad, we view the stunning Italian coast as the dishes arrive. From Sushi Lollipops, to Popcorn Fish ‘N’ Chips, it’s the perfect antidote to eateries that take themselves too seriously.
I order The Cupcake Affair from a colourful, cube-shaped dessert menu and receive a mini decorating kit to add personal touches to my red velvet and vanilla cakes.
As for the ship itself? Well, the award-winning Reflection, one of the newest in Celebrity’s fleet, boasts a breathtaking atrium: a real tree suspended halfway up with metal ‘roots’ pointing to the lobby.
The 1000ft-long vessel has been ferrying passengers around the globe since 2013, and has the usual features: casino, shops, restaurants, posh coffee region (Cafe al Bacio), theatre and an obligatory pampering/gym area.
The staterooms are relatively spacious and comfortable (we tried two), with room to potter around, whether lounging on the sofa, sitting on the balcony or getting ready for dinner in the well planned-out bathroom.
Facilities on the ship are generally good. A packed itinerary of dance or language lessons, art classes, yoga or wellness seminars easily fills sea days.
Alas, the cinema is a let down compared to rivals Disney and Princess. It’s more like a lecture theatre, which might explain why it’s so empty during a screening of a humdrum Robert Redford movie.
However, we love jukebox musical Broken Strings, featuring all-singing, all-dancing entertainers. A backstage tour revealing an array of glittering costumes adds to the fun.
Sadly, our feast of Italian culture is over too soon. But the sights, smells - not to mention the tastes - are treasured souvenirs to take home.