The Best Food on Every Major Cruise Line
Cruise travel used to be all about quantity over quality when it came to dining and other culinary experiences, but that’s most definitely not the case today when it comes to eating and imbibing at sea and on the world’s rivers. Celebrity chef-helmed onboard restaurants, cooking classes, food-centric shore excursions and themed culinary cruises mean shipshape culinary experiences abound.
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Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruise Line is renowned for its family-friendly options, but when parents or doting grandparents need an evening off, all four ships in the fleet feature adults-only Palo restaurants, with two-top tables and flavorful Italian dishes like sea scallops with a prosecco and black truffle reduction, dover sole served with Italian staples (like capers, anchovies and sun-dried tomatoes) and a lemoncello tart or chocolate soufflé for dessert (why not order both?). Two Disney ships (Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy) also offer adults-only Remy restaurants, with an elegant French-leaning dining experience.
With SHARE by Curtis Stone — the chef’s first restaurants at sea — Stone combines his three loves: travel, food and the ocean. Currently situated on three Princess ships (Ruby Princess, Emerald Princess and Sun Princess), the specialty restaurant features a six-course menu, including Stone’s favorite preparation for prawns, and a wine list curated by Stone’s personal sommelier. Princess also offers a special Crafted by Curtis menu designed by Stone, which is available in the main dining room of all other Princess ships.
Holland America Line
With a long history of fine dining at sea, Holland America Line is constantly adding new restaurant concepts to their ships. Created and crafted by the line’s culinary consultant, Master Chef Rudi Sodamin for Holland America’s two newest ships (Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam), Rudi’s Sel de Mer is a French-Mediterranean seafood brasserie like those found in and near Marseille. Dishes include fresh oysters, a seafood tower, seared scallops and classic Bouillabaisse Marseillaise. Those sailing on Holland America’s classic older ships don’t have to miss out — there is a Sel de Mer evening in the specialty dining room, Pinnacle Grill.
Carnival Cruise Line
Poolside burgers are popular on many ships, but leave it to the Fun Ship® folks at Carnival to up the ante with Guy Fieri for next-level combinations. Paired with fresh-cut fries, a tasty toppings bar and Carnival’s own beers, the Fieri-curated burgers (including the Pig Patty and a version topped with a huge onion ring) make this a popular joint come lunchtime. Plus, Carnival Cruise Line will kick it up another notch on their new ship, Mardi Gras, in 2020, with Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans-inspired concept, Emeril’s Bistro 1396.
Norwegian Cruise Line
All Norwegian Cruise Line ships (over two dozen and counting) feature a multitude of dining options to please any palate, but Food Republic has become a favorite since being introduced on Norwegian Escape in 2015, with several rollouts since. The Food Republic menu reflects the cultural and culinary diversity of the planet, with small-plate-style dishes from Asia, the Mediterranean, Europe, Latin America and elsewhere, including chicken teriyaki, duck and pumpkin dumplings, bulgogi pani puri, beetroot murabba croquettes, ahi tuna behi, baklava and more.
When Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Edge debuted in 2018, it marked an overhaul for the line from bow to stern, including cuisine changes for the long-time food-focused line. That’s especially true at the dimly lit Le Petit Chef and Friends experience at Le Grand Bistro. Fusing fine cuisine and entertainment, the tabletops themselves come to life for dinner through a partnership with TableMation Studios featuring Skullmapping’s world-famous Le Petit Chef, an animated 3D character who appears on diners’ plates and "prepares" the courses right before their eyes.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade has become the on-point go-to destination on four of Royal Caribbean International ships and counting, as they add the popular hotspot to other ships. The menu features classic American bar food with a Royal Caribbean twist, including wings with a variety of sauces, burgers with Playmakers fries (steak fries drizzled with Caesar dressing and sprinkled with parmesan) and the colorful Touchdown Sundae, with five types of ice cream served in mini Playmakers football helmet.
Can’t get a table at a Thomas Keller restaurant on land? Luxury line Seabourn awaits, with fare from the culinary legend behind The French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon at The Grill by Thomas Keller. Keller’s influence also shines in theme nights at The Colonnade and select dishes during lunch at The Patio. Items include tableside Caesar salads, steakhouse favorites like Lobster Thermidor and Keller’s legendary coconut cake.
With just six vessels, beloved small ship line Windstar Cruises can focus its attention on food. Windstar is the Official Cruise Line of the James Beard Foundation (JBF), hosting several JBF Culinary Cruise Collection cruises each year, as well as offering cooking demonstrations and classes, and serving chef-driven dishes on the menu every night. All of the Collection sailings are led by James Beard Foundation-recognized guest chefs, sommeliers and beverage experts.
Known for an all-things-Italian focus, Costa Cruises features more than 500 Italian dishes from 18 of the country’s regions, along with partnerships with popular Italian food and beverage brands, including Barilla pasta, Illy coffee, Aperol, Ferrari Trento sparkling wine, Agrimontana ice cream and many more. Costa even serves their own ship-made mozzarella di Bufala onboard (using curds from Sele) for the fleet’s Mozzarella Gourmet Bar and classic Pummid’Oro pizzerias, including dough based on natural yeast in collaboration with the University of Gastronomy Sciences in Pollenzo. Costa has also collaborated with Michelin-starred chef Bruno Barbieri on a dozen Italian dishes offered on all cruises.
Crystal Cruises has always featured the Pacific Ocean and Asia in its itineraries — and on its ships. Try a taste at Master Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s only restaurants at sea. Situated onboard Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, Umi Uma & Sushi Bar serves Matsuhisa’s signature contemporary Japanese dishes, prepared by chefs that he trains to prepare dishes like black cod with miso or his yellowtail sashimi.
Situated on two ships from MSC Cruises (MSC Seaside and MSC Seaview), the Asian Market Kitchen by Roy Yamaguchi features three distinct restaurants and culinary experiences — a Pan-Asian offering, fresh sushi and sashimi with a Hawaiian twist, and Teppanyaki by Roy Yamaguchi, which serves the chef’s East-West cooking made on four teppanyaki grills. The menus celebrate Yamaguchi’s Asian- and Hawaiian-leaning passions in dishes like the Surf n’ Turf Roll (Kobe beef, king crab, asparagus and black sesame oil) and his steamed dumplings with pork, shrimp and crab.
Though they now cruise around the world (including to Antarctica), Hurtigruten’s roots, heart, soul and stomach are in Norway. Focusing on adventurous coastal Norway destinations, the line and its chefs are dedicated to procuring and preparing locally produced, raised and caught ingredients. They work with local suppliers along the entire coast, meaning passengers can anticipate lamb from Geiranger, king crab from the Barents Sea, fresh Norwegian clipfish, cheese and fresh cod from Lofoten, reindeer from Finnmark and apples from Hardanger.
Luxury line Silversea recently launched a new culinary program called S.A.L.T. ("Sea and Land Taste") after two pilot cruises in Asia onboard the flagship Silver Muse indicated a strong demand for immersive culinary travel. The concept features eight restaurants, including the new S.A.L.T. Kitchen, where they’ll showcase regional fare appropriate to the itinerary, and S.A.L.T. Bar, with regional libations. In addition, the new S.A.L.T. Lab will host workshops, demonstrations and tastings, with the help of expert local chefs and industry authorities — such as Maya Kerthyasa, a Balinese food expert and member of Ubud’s Royal Family, sharing her grandmother’s original recipes and hosting a spice-paste workshop.
Food is anything but an afterthought on Oceania Cruises, a company that has branded itself as providing The Finest Cuisine at Sea™. Trips include no-fee specialty dining in restaurants like Jacques (as in Pépin, the line’s long-time Executive Culinary Director), Red Ginger, Polo Grill, Tuscan Steak, Toscana and others (depending on the ship), as well as one-of-a-kind culinary experiences ranging from cooking classes in kitchen classrooms to food-focused shore excursions and for-fee dinners curated by Pépin or featuring over-the-top wine pairings, like the Dom Pérignon Experience, which pairs six courses with vintage Champagnes.
With regal ships and a previous-passenger list that includes many generations of royals, Cunard knows how to treat passengers like royalty. All three ships feature separate dining rooms called the Queens Grill and Princess Grill, reserved for those who have booked larger and more luxurious suites. Each dining room has its own menu, and Grill chefs are happy to tweak any dish or even cook something off-menu with advance notice. British and continental influences are prominent, including a variety of seafood dishes, Romney Marsh lamb, chateaubriand, roast duckling and crepes Suzette (flambéed tableside). And, of course, while many lines host high tea at sea, Cunard may do it best.
American Cruise Lines
With an expanding fleet of 11 ships sailing North America’s waterways, American Cruise Lines is the largest cruise line in the United States, offering 35 itineraries in more than 25 states for 100 to 200 passengers. Chefs focus on the season and region where they’re cruising and use local ingredients wherever possible. Generally featured on every sailing of five to 22 days, their classic Surf & Turf features roasted tenderloin of beef, Maine lobster claws, pan-seared scallops and grilled asparagus.
The intimate expedition vessels and boutique yachts of UnCruise Adventures head to the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, the Galapagos, the Hawaiian Islands and Central America on boats that can accommodate from 22 to 90 passengers. Wherever they go, UnCruise Adventures chefs focus on local cuisine, which is especially true in Hawaii, almost everything except the seafood (including their popular Pacific ono and much more) comes from the island of Molokai.
Food & Wine Trails
Those searching for a wide range of food- and wine-focused cruises need look no further than Food & Wine Trails. Their team expertly plans tasty and tasteful upscale cruises and in-depth shoreside programs in practically every corner of the world, curated for discerning palates. Utilizing some of the most elite cruise lines afloat, including Oceania, Regent, Celebrity, Crystal, Silversea, Azamara and Uniworld, these themed culinary cruises feature onboard hosts who are nationally recognized winemakers, winery owners and chefs. The cruises offer many private programs onboard and ashore—receptions, fun and informative seminars, wine tastings and special wine-paired meals.
Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours
Featured on Scenic Rhône and Bordeaux itineraries, the complimentary — and typically daily — Scenic Culinaire experience features a small group French cooking class in a fully-outfitted kitchen with a bursting-at-the-seams larder. When possible, the chef also takes participants to a local market to shop for ingredients used in the class that day. Guests get to enjoy the results and also receive recipe cards. Most Scenic ships also offer a special six-course, wine-paired chef’s table experience (Table la Rive) to suite guests and return passengers.
Discoveries Restaurant is the main dining room on destination-focused Azamara, but it’s anything but mainstream when it comes to culinary discoveries. The restaurant features a nightly Destination Immersion dinner buffet, as well as Destination Immersion dishes on the menu, that focus on itinerary-based local ingredients and dishes as Azamara’s ships sail to almost 300 ports of call in more than 75 countries. Whether it’s chana masala vegetable biryani, tempura vegetable tacos or filet mignon with black truffle sauce, culinary discoveries are a keynote of the Azamara experience.
Viking Ocean Cruises
Well-known for their popular river cruises in Europe and beyond, Viking also offers ocean cruises across the seven seas. All Viking Ocean Cruises ships feature a dining concept called Mamsen’s, which is named for company chairman Torstein Hagen’s mother. The menu reflects traditional Norwegian home-cooked seasonal fare, including Norwegian cheeses, smoked meats, fresh fish, hearty soups and Scandinavian pastries.
Alaskan Dream Cruises
With a focus on fresh Alaskan seafood on every sailing, Alaskan Dream Cruises’ chefs prepare fresh crab, salmon, spot prawns, black cod, halibut, rockfish and more on each cruise from spring to fall. Every Alaskan Dream Cruises passage includes an evening at a private lodge or beach featuring seafood and more, like King crab legs and flame-grilled salmon, as well as a beachside fire to roast s’mores and share stories.
With a focus on regional cuisine and wine, family-owned AmaWaterways sails more than 20 river ships in Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa. Their signature Chef’s Table restaurant in Europe provides a perfect example of their culinary offerings, with an intimate setting and a multi-course menu highlighting local and regional flavors on the plate (like the caviar-topped grilled prawns) — as well as in the wine glass. The demonstration kitchen is part of the experience, where guests watch the chefs prepare the meal, which is paired perfectly with unlimited hand-selected regional wines.
Uniworld features luxury river ships on 23 rivers in two dozen countries worldwide, with all-inclusive itineraries in Europe, Russia, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, India and Egypt. Their newest ship, the transformed S.S. Bon Voyage, focuses on French and European culture, art, cuisine and wine, including Le Salon Champagne — inspired by Yves Saint Laurent’s Villa Majorelle — Parisian La Brasserie (inspired by famed Bouillon Pigalle in Paris), Le Grand Fromage, which focuses on locally-sourced ingredients reflective of itinerary’s cuisines and La Cave du Vin, an intimate space where connoisseurs can gather for food and wine pairing dinners, upon request.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Regent Seven Seas Cruises kicks it up a notch with their cooking school at sea, Culinary Arts Kitchen. The program features more than 20 different cooking classes, with themes like Bounty of the Sea, Fiesta on the High Seas, From the Healthy Comfort Kitchen, A Taste of Spain and many more. Situated on Seven Seas Explorer and Seven Seas Splendor, the Culinary Arts Kitchen features 18 workstations with top-of-the-line induction cooktops, stainless steel sinks and a comprehensive collection of cooking essentials, all with an ocean view. Seven Seas Explorer also offers Gourmet Explorer Tours, and Seven Seas Splendor will add even more of these tours when the liner launches in 2020.