Fancy a smoothie for breakfast filled with fresh berries at 7am after yoga, followed by a mouth-watering burger and parmesan truffle fries for lunch by the pool, cheese platter in the late afternoon from the lounge chairs or tempura prawns, fresh sushi and sashimi and green-tea gelati at dinner?
Welcome to the lip-smacking world of cruise cuisine.
The buffet most certainly isn’t dead – it’s still alive, well and everywhere. But the new world of waterborne food features big-name chefs, specialty restaurants and fine dining venues – many included in your ticket price.
Many ships hand-cook every meal from scratch, including those on the buffets.
So where should a foodie begin?
All the big contemporary and premium lines now offer a huge choice outside their main dining rooms. Royal Caribbean offers dishes by Jamie Oliver and Jamie’s Italian. Princess Cruises boasts Bistro Sur La Mer created with Chef Emmanuel Renaut and then there’s the “Duck Master”, Chef Richard Chen, in Harmony. Italian-inspired specialty restaurant Sabatini’s has gained a cruise cult following, plus there’s the famous award-winning steak house Crown Grill.
Premium and upper premium ships also work hard on their food offerings. Holland America Line offers an abundance of choice from Chef Rudi Sodamin’s Rudi’s Sel De Mer and Nami Sushi in partnership with Master Sushi Chef Andy Matsuda. These are among many specialty dining options on board available at additional cost.
Azamara meanwhile offers a reduced-price culinary package for diners who wish to indulge at specialty restaurants Prime C and Aqualina with Chef’s Table meals or five-course paired menus.
Our own Readers’ Choice Best for Food title winner, Oceania, prides itself on claiming the best cuisine at sea and offers cooking classes and chef’s produce tours as well as elegant dining in its main restaurant, The Grand Dining Room.
No surprise many luxury ships, including those from Regent Seven Seas Cruises, have built their reputations on food. Diners indulge in sumptuous fare served on Versace plates at Regent’s Compass Rose, one of the largest specialty restaurants at sea. Dishes such as black Angus beef carpaccio and lobster bisque are at their finest. Regent’s specialty dining includes the Pan-Asian restaurant Pacific Rim and its newest offering, Chartreuse, with chic Parisian fine dining.
Cunard has Grill Class and is running a special cruise this year for five of our top chefs. And French cruise line Ponant serves up the very best of its country’s gastronomy can provide. Think langoustines with pepper, tender fennels and a light broth or beef Rossini with Anna potatoes, candied shallots and sauce Périgueux on the menu. If you’re lucky enough to cruise on Le Commandant Charcot you can experience La Nuna, the newest specialty dining experience by celebrated French Master-chef Alain Ducasse.
Most river cruise lines such as Avalon, Scenic, APT and Uniworld will have the main dining room serving a la carte, and a chef’s table of specialty dishes paired with wines. Their shore excursions are often foodie delights and local produce will feature on the dining room menu.
As well as celebrity chefs and fine dining, sustainability is now the dish of the day. Serving up three meals a day and snacks on top means a military operation. Not only does it mean that your meals taste better, look better and are better for you; but it also means the local producers benefit from the extra business.
It means there’s less waste as ships aren’t storing food for long periods and passengers aren’t eating foods that have been sourced and shipped from the other side of the world.
Many lines now offer “all-inclusive” packages, which means specialty dining and wine are available throughout the cruise.
If food is your thing, then compare. Not all “all-inclusive” actually include everything. But we do recommend that those who like a chilled glass of white at lunchtime and a bottle of red at night consider either all-inclusive lines or drinks packages.
Those truly inclusive lines come with a higher price tag, of course, with shore excursions, exclusive access and sometimes butler service. But when you factor in the cost of your breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks and snacks at a hotel, plus accommodation and travel, you’ll generally see greater value on the water.
Overall, be it the healthy buffet, the boutique pool-side burgers, the in-cabin cheese platters or the fabulous French restaurant for that five-star filet mignon, cruise ships deliver all of the above and more.
And for the health-conscious, there are plenty of allergy-aware, vegan-friendly, super sustainable, seasonally sourced and hand-baked options, too.
The five rules of fine dining at sea
If you are new to cruising and want inside tips on how to make the most of your cruise-dining experience, then here are our top five foodie hints.
• Book ahead for your specialty dining, especially on the bigger ships.
• Double-check what’s included and what’s additional.
• Be sure to read the reviews – there are some real gems among the dishes and you won’t be disappointed.
• Where possible, eat local – see what’s available that’s been brought from the shore.
• Don’t be afraid to try something different – there are lots of options from around the world and this is the perfect time to discover a new taste sensation.