Floating Feasts: A Guide to Cruise Ship Food

A guide to the best cruise ship food and experiences.

Lobster pasta on Crystal Cruises

Photo: Crystal Cruises

Cruise Ship Food

You already know you won’t go hungry on a cruise. But you may not know that cruise ship food has become much more than an all-you-can-eat buffet. Cruise lines are, as Emeril Lagasse might say, kicking it up a notch when it comes to specialty dining, cooking classes and demonstrations, food-focused shore excursions, themed culinary cruises and more.

Specialty Dining

Alternatives to traditional cruise ship food dining have greatly expanded, with specialty dining experiences available on virtually every line. These options may be themed by cuisine, décor or any number of ideas. They may also feature celebrity chef collaborations—for example, Jacques Pépin has partnered with Oceania Cruises®, Nobu Matsuhisa with Crystal Cruises® and Thomas Keller with Seabourn Cruise Line, and Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint and varied steakhouses can be found on select Carnival Cruise Lines® ships.

Cooking Classes

Improving your cooking skills while on a cruise is easier than ever. For instance, Oceania Cruises® takes cooking classes at sea to new heights with its groundbreaking Culinary Center aboard Marina and Riviera. The sprawling teaching kitchens feature fully outfitted two-person workstations with induction cooktops. Scores of new classes include recent additions to the Gourmet Explorer Series, which incorporates techniques inspired by the cultures and regions the ships visit. Themes include “At Home in Sicily” and “Viva Tapas.” Holland America Line also has a long history of serving up fanciful fare. Set in a theater-style “show kitchen at sea,” the line’s trailblazing Culinary Arts Center, presented by Food & Wine magazine, is available fleetwide, and it focuses on fun demonstrations and classes, which are led by culinary staff and an onboard party planner. Itinerary-themed classes include fresh seafood in Alaska, jerk chicken in the Caribbean, and Eastern fare in Asia.

Fine dining on Paul Gauguin Cruises

Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises

All Ashore!

Most cruise lines also offer food-focused possibilities during land activities. Along with onboard cooking demonstrations, Seabourn features Shopping with the Chef excursions in various ports. These chef-led trips are generally limited to 15 people and head to local markets for the freshest ingredients. The new, complimentary Private Events offerings from Windstar Cruises often have a culinary component; themes include “Phuket: A Feast for the Senses” and “Rhodes: The Tantalizing Tastes of Greece.” In addition, Windstar sailings typically include a tour to a local market with the executive chef. Oceania Cruises also offers Culinary Discovery Tours, which are shore excursions for foodies. Some of the possibilities include “The Exquisite Flavors of Provence” in Marseille, France; “Fish and Spice Markets with Turkish Luncheon at Grand Bazaar” in Istanbul; and “Biodynamic Farm & Island Foods Tasting” in the British Virgin Islands. Azamara Club Cruises®’ Cruise Global, Eat Local outings point guests toward culinary gems that offer authentic local dining experiences around the world. Passengers can pair lunch with a tour, take a private car or go to the restaurants independently.

Culinary Theme Cruises

Many lines now offer themed culinary cruises. For instance, Celebrity Cruises® has partnered with Bravo’s Emmy® Award-winning Top Chef to create the popular Top Chef at Sea experience on board their ships. Almost every sailing includes Top Chef at Sea programming, like interactive quickfire challenges and Top Chef night in the main restaurant. Plus, on a special Top Chef Signature Sailing, guests can vacation with popular cheftestants from the show.

Healthy Delights

Of course, the focus on quality cruise ship food over quantity means many more choices for health-conscious guests on board, ranging from light to gluten-free and vegetarian fare. Crystal Cruises® caters to a variety of dietary needs, offering diabetic, vegetarian, vegan and gluten- and trans-fat-free options with an emphasis on beautifully presented, fresh, flavorful and satisfying meals. Oceania Cruises® features delicious Canyon Ranch SpaClub® signature dishes, as well as Culinary Discovery Tours that promote healthy eating, such as its biodynamic farm visit and tasting on Tortola. Regent Seven Seas Cruises® also offers flavorful vegetarian and nutritious Canyon Ranch SpaClub® specialties in the Compass Rose restaurant, including steamed Shanghai dumplings, broiled Cornish hen, steamed Maine lobster tail and chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce. Paul Gauguin Cruises serves vegetarian, gluten-free and low-carb options on both of its small ships, and additional options are available on request to accommodate dietary restrictions.

The Chef’s Table on Azamara Club Cruises

Photo: Azamara Club Cruises

Hot Plates

The mouthwatering variety of global cuisine options at sea is extensive. Here’s a sampling of cruise ship foods with standout bites:

Azamara Club Cruises®

  • AQUALINA – seafood/Mediterranean
  • CHEF’S TABLE – five-course specialty dinner

Crystal Cruises®

  • SILK ROAD and THE SUSHI BAR – Japanese, with European and Peruvian influences

Oceania Cruises®

  • JACQUES – French
  • RED GINGER – Japanese/Vietnamese

Seabourn Cruise Line

  • RESTAURANT 2 – Mediterranean

Holland American Line

  • PINNACLE GRILL  – Pacific Northwest/American

Paul Gauguin Cruises

  • LA VERANDA and L’ETOILE – French/International

AAA Travel offers a variety of cruise options to destinations worldwide. Call 877-396-7159 or contact a AAA Travel Counselor for details on the latest deals.

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Janice Yip-Hudson, AAA Travel Counselor, Daly City, Calif.

Today, people's lives are so busy. We're thinking three days ahead just to get through our to-do lists. I love helping my clients plan vacations where they have nothing to do but relax; where time stands still, and you're just on vacation.

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