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The best value specialty dining venues at sea

Atul Kutchar with P&OA dish at SindhuBritain's Queen Elizabeth looks at cakes and sweets on the patisserie counter with chefs Marco Pierre White (L) and James Martin, on board P&O's new cruise liner "Britannia", during the ship's official christening in Southampton, southern England March 10, 2015. REUTERS/Richard Pohle/pool (BRITAIN - Tags: TRAVEL ROYALS ENTERTAINMENT) - RTR4SSZ3Mark Best with Dream CruisesJamie Oliver with Royal CaribbeanAntipasto plate at Jamie's ItalianLuke Mangan and P&O President Sture MyrmellLiquorice Parfait at Salt GrillRichard Chen on Majestic PrincessA dish from HarmonyCurtis Stone with Princess CruisesSeafood stew at SHARE

Can’t decide between the main dining room and that fancy celebrity restaurant? Both sound delicious – and one of them is free.

Cruise cuisine has come a long way. And today, a look through what’s on offer aboard your ship reads more like a Who’s Who of food.

To prevent a gastronomic gold rush, many lines have introduced a cover charge. But cruise cuisine is offering astonishing value – particularly when you compare a famous name venue from ship to shore.

Take Curtis Stone – Princess’ latest pin-up boy.  His SHARE eatery charges $39 – 30 per cent of what a meal would cost at this Los Angeles restaurant – and without the six month waiting list. On Princess Cruises, you can also enjoy Michelin-starred Cantonese food at Richard Chen’s Harmony for $39, and traditional Italian with some non-traditional ingredients at Angelo Auriana’s Sabatini – $25 will get you five courses.

But there is one other dilemma for cruise foodies.  Sometimes, unbranded “house” restaurants like Princess’ The Crown Grill Room superb food at far less.

The Grill Room is just $29.  Ok, you don’t have the Curtis Stone name – but you do get the best lobster, steaks and desserts anywhere on the ship.

If you’re on a P&O cruise, you’re going to be really busy. For the price of a main course, you’re getting a full meal designed by the youngest chef ever to receive three Michelin stars, Marco Pierre White. Chef White operates six restaurants on the fleet. The cover charge at his Ocean Grill is up to $53 for three courses, including the top-rated classic crayfish cocktail.

For $49, also on P&O, you can enjoy three-courses of Luke Mangan goodness at Salt Grill. On land at the Glass Brasserie at Sydney’s Hilton Hotel, that wouldn’t even cover his signature famous organic crab omelette as entree ($32) and his legendary liquorice trifle ($21) as dessert. And what about those delicious mains?

Atul Kochhar offers Indian cuisine with a British twist in P&O restaurant Sindhu, on board Azura. On Ventura, his East restaurant offers dishes from all over Asia including Thailand, Malaysia and Burma. Both have a cover charge of up to $43.

On land, Jamie’s Italian doesn’t cost much more than the average Australian café so the cover charge of $30 for dinner on Royal Caribbean may look a bit steep. However you’re still getting a great deal. Not only is his famous ‘anti plank’ just one of the items on the four-course menu (and usually $15 per person on land), it’s also one eatery which the kids will love, with a dedicated kids menu and a relaxed, family vibe.

Michael Schwartz’s Gastropub is very popular on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum ships and offers snacks, sweets and beer a la carte. But his two six-course meals at 150 Central Park at $45 per head really are something, made from ingredients sourced on local Florida farms. You’ll start with a signature martini, end with a table-side cheese cart, and in between feast on lobster gnocchi and even tuna tartare. Of course, you’re still going to have to drag yourself away from all the other inclusive options on board, including three main dining rooms and twenty-four hour eateries.

Aboard the Norwegian Escape you can enjoy seafood with a Latin twist at Bayamo, a creation of Iron Chef Jose Garces – $50 for three courses. Elsewhere on board, you get to choose from three dining rooms, a café, a bar and grill, and a range of no-charge speciality restaurants.

On our travels, we also found the highest price tag for dinner at sea. A meal at Disney Cruise Lines Remy restaurant will set you back $95 per person.’s adults-exclusive. But it also offers a unique collaboration between two chefs (Arnaud Lallement and Scott Hunnel) in a space fashioned to look like Paris, with hints of Disney Pixar character, Ratatouille, in the decor. On land, Lallement’s signature Langoustine Royale will set you back $130. This is just one of the dishes on offer in Remy’s dinner menu. Hunne’s prix fixe menu at his Victoria and Albert’s restaurant in Orlando is a cool $250. Remy is exclusively for adults so on a family cruise, this means sending the rest of the family off to a babysitter.

There also doesn’t need to be a cover charge at all. If you’re a passenger with Seabourn, Crystal Cruises, Dream Cruises or Oceania Cruises, you can dine out on fare from chefs like Thomas Keller, Jacques Pepin, Mark Best and Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa.  It’s included.

Whether you’re an avid foodie or just want to go somewhere different for dinner, onboard celebrity chef dining is the sort of experience can’t buy, whether it costs you an extra $95 or is included in your cruise. And with all the other great offerings, you really are spoilt for choice. It’s a nice problem to have. And once you’ve taken your pick, you’ll be faced with another dilemma – how soon do I go back?