I once felt apprehensive about anything cruise-related on the Harbourfront.I attributed the experience as a benign novelty of booze-induced fiestas everyone only chattered about when they were in school. "No one's really there for the scenery and food, right?!" Just the free flowing libations all night long, with raucous behaviour ever-climbing upwards. However, it appears things have changed -- including my perceptions.
Gone are the days of swimming in one's alcoholic beverages. Instead, there are plenty of hangover-free experiences to partake in. And since 1987, Mariposa Cruises has offered a line of Public and Private Cruises for tourists and locals to experience. What I enjoyed is choosing from the numerous tailored and themed events on offer to suit one's budget and time constraints. And consider this: instead of a baseball game and snacks, for the same cost (if not cheaper), you can sail the open waters while dining on a dinner and dessert buffet. It's one of the many ways the cruise line has been redefining date night. Not too shabby, in my opinion; in fact, this is how I chose to spend one of my recent Friday evenings.
I boarded Mariposa's Northern Spirit ship the for a themed dinner and sail party. The company has a legion of flotillas, six in total, and in varying sizes to accommodate large or intimate parties. The Spirit is the second largest of the fleet and is able to hold 575 passengers. With three spacious decks, we could wander up to the open air top and soak up the evening's skyline.
In its 28th season, Mariposa hired Executive Chef Damien Wlodarczyk* to make a splash with their cuisine and revamp all of the menus. He cited that his experiences from working at the Westin Harbour Castle and Novotel hotels allowed him to understand the importance of delivering volume without compromising quality. Understandably, it is no easy feat to prep food in a galley compared with a typical restaurant kitchen -- but the dishes we dined on that evening didn't speak truth to his words.
While we lapped up the sunset vistas, we settled into our meal. Unfortunately, I cannot say I enjoyed the food as much as the views because many of the proteins suffered from textural issues. The herbed chicken-- while flavourful -- was tough and mealy, devoid of any juiciness. The salmon suffered the same fate -- it was overcooked -- and worse, it had a fishy taste to it. Fortunately, not everything was adrift in a stormy wreck. The AAA Prime Roast Beef -- while unevenly cooked -- was beefy succulence if you were one of the fortunate passengers to receive a medium-rare slice. Otherwise, you'd have to contend with a grey-gnarly piece. The Rotolo was a hidden gem of enjoyment. Grilled vegetables and ricotta were surrounded by a pasta dough roll. Akin to a stuffed roulade, it was tender and flavourful.
For our sweets, all the cakes were supplied by Dufflet. While they were enjoyable -- admittedly, I was disappointed that nothing was made in-house. Meanwhile, the milk chocolate fondue for the fruits and marshmallows made for an interactive dipping session that drew out everyone's inner-child.
The rest of the evening was awash in 80s and 90s themed songs and dancing courtesy of our DJ, who also judged the costume contest. Those in a playful mood could don colourful accessories and pose away in Photobooth set up on the main floor.
Despite the dinner issues of the evening, if I took anything away from this experience, it is that it rejuvenated my love for the City of Toronto. It sparkles at night and would woo even the biggest cynic into admiration of our skyline and our CN Tower's twinkling lights.
All photos courtesy of Tiffany Leigh
* Faye Valenzuela is now the current Executive Chef of Mariposa Cruises.
Correction: A previous version of this blog mistakenly referred to The Northern Spirit as the largest cruise ship in Mariposa's fleet, when it is in fact the second largest.
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