The Best Cruise Food

Feb 21, 2020

While top-end cruise lines have long catered to gourmands, the wider industry gets that we're all foodies now—and is working hard to earn its culinary chops, both on board and off. From partnerships with the world's top chefs to deeply local food excursions, here's how your next cruise will double as a moveable feast.

Celebrity chef partnerships 

Though certain cruise lines have partnered with celeb chefs for decades, the industry keeps upping the ante. Celebrity Cruises—one of the first to bring in a top toque with Michel Roux back in 1990—recently named double Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud global culinary ambassador. Every Celebrity ship now hosts a five-course Chef's Table by Daniel Boulud twice per voyage, and his three-course menu graces Luminae restaurants fleetwide.

Another celeb chef early adopter, Crystal Cruises has announced that its longtime partner Nobu Matsuhisa will join a 16-night voyage from Indonesia to Australia aboard Crystal Endeavor this October, when he'll be hosting three limited-availability omakase (or chef's choice) dinners, leading cooking demos, signing books and more. And for anyone who can't get enough of his culinary genius, there's always a meal (or several) at the line's Umi Uma & Sushi Bar, where you should try the Crystal-exclusive miso black cod.

And for those who can't get enough of superchef Thomas Keller—a partner of Seabourn Cruises for the past few years—the line has added Regiis Ova caviar to the mix. (The Grill by Thomas Keller has won loyalists fleetwide).

One of the youngest chefs ever granted a Michelin star, Anthony Sasso, is creating the menu for Windstar Cruises' Cuadro 44—a Spanish restaurant slated to debut on Star Breeze in May, and sister ships Star Legend and Star Pride after that. Among the specialties to come, his paella croquetas topped with nori panko crust, saffron sofrito and chorizo aioli can't get here fast enough, as far as we're concerned.

Firmly planted menus

Our ever- increasing appetite for plant-based food hardly stops at the shore, and all kinds of cruise lines have taken heed. In one of the industry's strongest showings of vegan love, Royal Caribbean now offers a three-course vegan menu across the fleet's main dining rooms, where you'll find everything from a meat-free take on a classic Spaghetti bolognese to a dairy-free take on toffee cheesecake.

For its part, Oceania Cruises recently added more than 200 plant-based dishes to its menus fleetwide. Options span the globe and virtue-meter, from poke bowls to truffle mac and cheese and to coco-vanilla cashew crème brûlée. Not to be outdone, sister line Regent Seven Seas Cruises has also rolled out new plant-based dishes across its fleet, where you'll find everything from cashew yogurt with fruit and granola to chickpea pancakes with vegan feta and veggies.  

Vegan and vegetarian fare features prominently at Razzle Dazzle, the striking signature restaurant aboard the newly launched Virgin Voyages, where —in a clear nod to Sir Richard—the menu includes vegan "Fish" and Chips. Even Virgin's onboard tattoo shop uses only vegan ink, though we recommend you abstain if you've just taken part in two other onboard specialties: craft cocktails (the line has collaborated with the likes of Julia Momose) and champagne. In fact, the latter achieves cult status on board with everything from a Moët & Chandon-partnered champagne lounge to in-cabin, industry first champagne tables. There's even champagne on demand service, wherever you happen to be on the ship.

Deeply local food tours

One of the most thorough and thoroughly enjoyable dives into local gastronomy is Viking Cruises' The Kitchen Table, wherein a small group of passengers accompanies the ship's chef to a local market in the morning. Later, the chef leads the group in preparing dinner from the day's bounty.

Meanwhile, Bon Appétit magazine has curated a selection of local food excursions for a number of Princess Cruises. A Journey Into Portugal's Flavors, for instance, includes shopping at a bustling Lisbon market to gather ingredients, then sharing a freshly prepared Portuguese meal. Another great: Baking at Ballyknocken, which teaches you the fine art of Irish scone making.

Azamara Cruises offer a dizzying (and seriously mouth-watering) array of local culinary excursions, from bread making in Lithuania to tomato tasting in Tuscany to vodka tasting with the ship's chef in St. Petersburg.

In August, Silversea will launch the S.A.L.T. (Sea And Land Taste) program aboard the new Silver Moon. Under the curatorship of Adam Sachs (former editor of Saveur), S.A.L.T. will reflect the line's destinations through food—both onboard and off. Highlights will include market excursions, cooking demos by local guest chefs and locally-sourced, traditionally prepared meals.

Street food at sea

Too big a trend to be dissuaded by the small matter of no actual streets at sea, street food is as hot on board as on land. Along the Mekong River, for example, Scenic Cruises' Scenic Spirit replicates a Cambodian and Vietnamese street food market in place of a standard lunch buffet, with everything from the easily approachable (Cambodian chicken soup) to the truly adventurous (a selection of fried local creepy-crawlies). And U River Cruises—a recently launched, young-at-heart offshoot of Uniworld—serves local street food favorites whenever possible (think stroopwafels in Amsterdam and cheese-spiked Käsekrainer sausage in Austria).

But one of the largest scale variations on the theme will be Street Eats aboard the soon-to-launch Carnival Cruise Line's Mardi Gras. This ever-changing array of grab-and-go dishes will include a steamed station where you'll find the likes of bao buns and shu mai, a skillet-cooked station—you know there will be satay—and a third for fried favorites like empanadas and falafel.

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