Best Cruise Ship Food
Celebrity chef–crafted menus, dramatic dining rooms, and exotic ingredients: cruise-ship dining is seeing a wave of improvements.
The carefully sauced quail with truffle stuffing is a savory delight. The wait staff is both
friendly and unobtrusive. And the contemporary restaurant with water views features a striking
two-story glass wine tower. Where is this fine culinary experience? Not on land, but at sea,
in the main dining rooms on the new Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Equinox ships.
Cruise-ship cuisine has come of age, with spectacular new dining rooms, ultra-creative menus,
specialty restaurants, and even creations from some of the world’s top chefs.
So forget the cruise-ship buffet. Foodies at sea can now enjoy the innovations of Charlie Palmer
of New York City’s acclaimed Aureole restaurant on the Yachts of Seabourn, including tasting
menus. And on Crystal Cruises’ Serenity and Symphony, passengers can experience
the sushi extravagances of famed chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa without the hassle of
waiting weeks for reservations at his landside restaurants (and passengers in Penthouse suites can
even order Nobu from room service).
Palmer, who has worked with Seabourn for six years, says shipboard dining has advanced to the
point where he can now prepare anything on a Seabourn ship that he can on land. “And maybe
more,” he adds. At his urging, the line added a larger-than-normal galley space, ordered
equipment designed to Palmer’s specifications, and introduced a dedicated small-plate
tastings restaurant on its newly debuted 450-passenger Seabourn Odyssey.
The new facilities and new attitude have helped Palmer attract talented young chefs to work
shipboard, further enhancing the offerings. Cruise lines like Seabourn, he says, now understand
they can remain competitive by focusing creatively on cuisine.
Jacques Van Staden, vice president of food and beverage operations for Celebrity, agrees the
cruise industry can toot its horn much more loudly when it comes to food these days. On the new
Solstice and Equinox, options encompass not only dramatic main dining rooms but
specialty restaurants serving up Italian grill, classic Continental, Asian fusion, and even
“clean cuisine” (healthy gourmet).
On shipboard menus, “elements of surprise” are in, though you can still get meat and
potatoes if you want to, says Van Staden. Preparing dishes to order is more common, too, though, he
adds, it’s not an easy task when you’re talking 1,000 guests per seating. Old-style
hotel catering is out.
That cruise ships have taken a giant leap forward in wooing gourmet palates is evident even on
Carnival ships, known for raucous fun but now offering pleasantly upscale steak houses featuring
aged beef, fresh seafood, and music for dancing.
But perhaps the new status of shipboard cuisine is best exemplified by the fact that master chef
Jacques Pepin (whose several PBS TV shows include Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home with
Julia Child), at age 73, is opening his first namesake restaurant ever next year, a French bistro,
at sea, on Oceania’s newest ship Marina. And the timing couldn’t be more
perfect—cruise-ship passengers everywhere are saying “bon