Best Cruise Ship Food
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 appétit.”
Yachts of Seabourn: Charlie Palmer
The Experience: NYC celebrity chef Charlie Palmer oversees the international cuisine on this line’s super-luxurious yachts; his tasting menus focus on fresh ingredients—herbs, fruits, vegetables, whole fish—gathered at port from local markets.
Favorite Dishes: Lobster roll with yogurt caviar sauce; Shiraz-glazed oxtail presse with Manchego pot stickers; espresso-citrus panna cotta.
Sample Price: Weeklong Caribbean cruises from $2,099 per person.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises: Le Cordon Bleu
The Experience: Regent gets culinary advice from France’s most famous cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu, which runs the Signatures restaurants on the Voyager and Mariner; the formal and romantic spaces feature French cuisine with creative twists.
Favorite Dishes: Sevruga caviar on celeriac with foie gras rémoulade; rack of lamb with mushrooms and “melted” potato garnishes; warm chocolate tart with raspberries.
Sample Price: Weeklong Caribbean cruises from $2,495 per person, including airfare and shore excursions.
Carnival Cruise Lines: Best Steak Houses
The Experience: These real-deal New York–style steak houses with sumptuous old-school décor specialize in surf and turf—prime cuts of age-dried beef and fresh-from-the-water seafood.
Favorite Dishes: Classic Caesar salad; 24-ounce porterhouse; citrus cheesecake.
Sample Price: Weeklong Caribbean or Mexican Riviera cruises from $599.
Celebrity Cruises: Best Dining Rooms
The Experience: Beyond their excellent cuisine, the most visually stunning dining rooms on the high seas are on the Solstice and Equinox. The dramatic, soaring spaces both feature two-deck glass wine towers designed by Adam Tihany (whose land-based work includes Le Cirque, in New York City).
Favorite Dishes: Roasted California quail with wild rice and black truffle stuffing; signature mozzarella-filled meatballs over linguine with marinara sauce; crème brûlée.
Sample Price: Weeklong Caribbean cruises on Solstice from $779.
SeaDream Yacht Club: Best Private OutdoorDining
The Experience: Yachting romantics can book a table for two in a private outdoor nook and dine under the stars. Plus, there’s a champagne-and-caviar beach barbecue each cruise (with caviar service on a surfboard).
Favorite Dishes: Homemade terrine of foie gras with fresh fig compote; fillet of cod with herb crust and tomato chutney; fresh lemon tart.
Sample Price: Weeklong Caribbean cruises from $1,999 per person.
Oceania Cruises: Jacques Pepin
The Experience: Affordable cruises with first-rate cuisine overseen by noted master chef, cookbook author, and PBS cooking-show host Jacques Pepin, who gets his first namesake restaurant, a French bistro, on the new Marina (debuting in 2010).
Favorite Dishes: Colossal chilled shrimp trio with spicy cocktail sauce; filet mignon with sautéed artichokes and smoked mozzarella in a Piedmont truffle sauce; chocolate mousse burger.
Sample Price: Ten-night Caribbean cruises from $1,499.
Crystal Cruises: Nobu
The Experience: Renowned and inventive Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa has restaurants on Crystal’s two ships, and Penthouse guests can even order his creations from room service.
Favorite Dishes: Spicy creamy king crab with masago (Capelin roe) and scallions; Nobu-style miso-glazed black cod; trio of crème brûlées (ginger, sweet guava, and passion fruit).
Sample Price: Weeklong Caribbean cruises from $2,480 (plus a $500 shipboard credit after payment).
Cunard Line: Todd English
The Experience: Todd English, the Boston-based celebrity chef known for his Olives restaurants, serves up his deliciously creative take on Mediterranean in plush, Moroccan-inspired spaces on both the line’s ships.
Favorite Dishes: Pumpkin-filled “love letters” (stuffed pillows of envelope-shaped pasta); roasted duck breast, duck-leg confit, and ginger carrot cannelloni; “chocolate fallen cake.”
Sample Price: Six-night transatlantic cruises from $1,115.
Silversea Cruises: Best Wine Restaurants
The Experience: Special Le Champagne restaurants serve creative cuisine, with each course accompanied by fine wines and champagnes (think 1998 Moet & Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon) selected by experts from Relais & Châteaux.
Favorite Dishes: Swordfish carpaccio; glazed veal shank with gremolata; slow-roasted pear stuffed with Gorgonzola.
Sample Price: Ten-day Africa sailing from $4,238, including airfare.
Windstar Cruises: Best Alfresco Breakfast
The Experience: Guests enjoy bountiful breakfast buffets with outdoor seating under the billowing sails of these (motorized) sailing yachts. Take your coffee with breathtaking ocean views.
Favorite Dishes: Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, Boursin cheese, and asparagus; chocolate-filled French toast; fresh-fruit kebabs with almond crème.
Sample Price: Weeklong Caribbean cruises from $2,249 per person; European cruises from $2,799 per person.