I have had very good food on both in the dining rooms, and somewhat mediocre food in the buffets of both. In my opinion, overall, the food quality is equal in most respects. I found the lobster on Princess much better, and I am a lobster freak LOL.
For the most part, Celebrity food is supposed to be better. Buffets are generally mediocre on most cruise ships. I know what you mean about the free style seating though. We thought that was great on NCL and now Princess is doing it! I hope they all catch on to this!
Celebrity food is supposed to be better, at least according to Celebrity. However, after cruising on more than 60 different ships (11 cruise lines) we have found that food quality is more dependent on the specific ship, cruise, and the current executive chef. In the past 18 months we have cruised with RCI, Celebrity, HA and Princess. Based on those recent cruises, the food on HAs Noordam was heads and shoulders above the rest. Our 14 day cruise on the Infinity was really disappointing (in the food category) and our tablemates (29 Celebrity Cruises) called it the worst food they had ever had on any ship (I think this might have been an exaggeration). On our most recent RCI cruise (15 day transatlantic) the budget cut-backs were very obvious in the food department where they did not even have lobster, real veal, and the shrimp was smaller than we have seen on other ships. We are still trying to understand if this reflects a complete degradation of quality on all RCI products, or if it was just those specific cruises. We will soon be going on Azamara (March) and will be very curious to see the quality on that Celebrity off-shoot. One other interesting tidbit was that while on the Brilliance of the Seas, we were told by one of the entertainers that RCI had also cut-back their entertainment budgets for next year (that would be 2008) on all ships and might even have some "dark nights" on a few cruises. We hope this is not true.
I have to say I was disappointed with the quality of the food on Celebrity (we cruised on the Constellation last month), but delighted by the service. My main complaints were: 1) the dishes served were not correctly described by the menu - e.g. some ingredients were missing or misidentified; and 2) I think the quality of the starting materials were not as good as other cruises - e.g. cuts of beef were tough even if cooked properly. It wasn't bad food, but HAL's was better. Funny, I did not know that Celebrity was bought out by RCCL, but that is what I would have equated the food to.
On the topic of room service, Celebrity had - by far - the fastest room service I have ever seen on a cruise ship. Ordering was done on your TV and delivered by your cabin steward. Just amazing speed.
But in general, the best way to find out which line's food is to your preference...guess you just have to try them all and sort it out for yourself. DARN!
I've had different couples on the exact same ship that both filled out the survey we send out from our agency at the completion of a cruise. It evaluates our performance and the cruiselines performance and includes dining and service among the questions with a dialog box for comments. More than once I've had different clients with totally different cruise experiences. Same ship, same sailing date, same dining room, everything. This is just to say that food is subjective and service can vary by simply having a different waiter than someone at another table or a different cabin steward.
I agree with the post I copied above. Sail 'em all and find which is best for you. Then start the process over in case you didn't get the right waiter the first time!