Cruise ship restaurants just got a lot more interesting.
Credit: Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

It says a good deal about the shifting reputation of cruise-line food when legendary 74-year-old chef Jacques Pépin decides to open his first restaurant—ever—aboard a ship. Jacques, his Parisian-style bistro on Oceania’s Marina (launching in January), will feature classics such as rotisserie chicken and moules frites. (Julia Child would surely approve.) “It’s a reflection of Pépin’s taste,” says Bob Binder, president of Oceania Cruises. “We’re using 18th-century French antiques from his hometown of Lyons.” Pépin also designed the dinnerware and the menu covers.

An ambitious French bistro is no anomaly. Cruise lines are updating their food service to keep pace with current tastes. The new Celebrity Eclipse was the launching pad for a reimagined dining concept that Celebrity calls “Qsine.” Menus are delivered on iPads, and feature videos of chefs preparing inventive dishes such as sushi “lollipops.” Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa has brought on Dieter Müller, whose restaurants in Germany have earned Michelin stars. He plans to spend 70 days a year on board. Crystal Cruises’ latest venture is inspired: a commitment to serving only sustainable seafood throughout its fleet. Ingredients for many dishes—such as grilled shrimp on a slow-roasted Mediterranean vegetable salad—will be sourced from local markets in ports of call.

Innovation isn’t confined to high-end dining, either. On the Wind Surf, Windstar Cruises endeavors to solve that old port-day conundrum of whether to race back to the ship for a free lunch: there’s now a tantalizing pack-your-own sandwich bar, with fresh-baked bread, Italian charcuterie, and portable coolers to carry ashore.