Best Cruises for Food Lovers
Norwegian Cruise Lines
Norwegian Cruise Line's The Breakaway is one of the few cruises departing from New York City harbor. The onboard experience pays tribute to Manhattan with performances by the Rockettes and three seafood-centric spots by NYC chef Geoffrey Zakarian. From $999; breakaway.ncl.com.
Norwegian Cruise Line Getaway
Food Attraction: Chopped judge and star chef Geoffrey Zakarian oversees the seafood restaurant Ocean Blue.
What to Taste: Zakarian’s whole roast Dover sole with meunière sauce.
Best Onboard Amusement: Legally Blonde, the musical.
Most Striking Design Detail: The Waterfront, a boardwalk-like, quarter-mile-long open-air promenade lined with bars and restaurants on one side and water on the other. ncl.com
When a ship is hundreds of miles from shore, sticking to the locavore creed isn't easy. But Miami chef Michael Schwartz has been creating a mostly Florida-sourced menu for Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas since 2011. This spring, Schwartz brought the menu to sister ship Allure of the Seas, the world's biggest cruise ship. From $799; royalcaribbean.com
Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas
Food Attraction: British chef Jamie Oliver (pictured) and Miami star Michael Schwartz have casual spots on board: an outpost of Jamie’s Italian restaurant and Schwartz’s first gastropub at sea.
What to Taste: Modernist dishes—like a corn soup that’s half hot and half cold—at Wonderland, the experimental restaurant.
Best Onboard Amusement: A high-thrill, low-risk skydiving simulator.
Most Striking Design Detail: A glass aerie that ascends 300 feet into the air for amazing views of each port. royalcaribbean.com
The MSC Preziosa, debuting in fall 2013, will include an onboard iteration of the gourmet superstore Eataly that will be home to an Italian restaurant and a shop featuring artisanal products like olive oils, aged balsamic vinegars and natural wines. The Preziosa will sail a Mediterranean route departing from Genoa, Italy, and stopping in Barcelona, and Marseille, France. MSC also goes to more exotic destinations, including the United Arab Emirates and the Red Sea. msccruisesusa.com
Food Attraction:The Italian megastore Eataly offers Ristorante Italia, the Manzo steak house, and a market selling pastas, tomato sauces and cookbooks.
What to Taste:A wine you make yourself at a custom blending class.
Best Onboard Amusement: The Balinese spa with massage therapists, yoga instructors and personal trainers.
Most Striking Design Detail:The Sophia Loren Royal Suite, designed by the actress herself and decorated with photographs of her most memorable moments. msccruisesusa.com
Known for its mega-ships, Princess just introduced the Royal Princess, a new 3,600-passenger luxury liner. The Duchess of Cambridge (a.k.a. Kate Middleton) christened the ship, in a ceremony that included smashing a 15-liter Nebuchadnezzar of Moet & Chandon against the ship's hull. The Royal Princess features an onboard television studio where guests can watch live cooking demonstrations; it also has a gelateria and a pizzeria that serves freshly baked Neapolitan-style pies. princess.com
Food Attraction: Chocolatier Norman Love constructs beautiful desserts and serves chocolate pops and a whole chocolate drink menu at restaurants aboard the ship.
What to Taste: A chocolate-wine pairing flight, created by Love.
Best Onboard Amusement: The ship’s TV station, featuring interactive cooking shows, comedy and concerts all produced in an onboard studio.
Most Striking Design Detail: The Princess SeaWalk, a glass-bottom walkway extending nearly 30 feet beyond the edge of the ship. princess.com
Uniworld has new itineraries in Italy, including a 13-day trip from Venice to Rome. The wine list features great producers from the Veneto, and there are food-centric activities onshore almost daily, including a pasta-making class in Bologna. From $2,899; uniworld.com
With room for just 90 guests, the Tere Moana is more like a yacht than a cruise ship. As on its sister ship, the Tahiti-based Paul Gauguin, the consulting chef is Jean-Pierre Vigato, who has two Michelin stars for his Paris restaurant Apicius. The ship's small size means it can dock in ports where bigger boats can't. On the tiny Italian island of Elba, passengers can visit La Chiusa winery; in Croatia, they can tour great limited-production wineries, like Milos and Grgich, near Dubrovnik. From $2,895; pgcruises.com
With some of its ships maxing out at 100 guests, Silversea's fleet is able to dock in smaller ports like Ajaccio on the French island of Corsica. The line has just introduced short four- to seven-day European cruises that may appeal to some first-time cruisers. On certain voyages, Silversea runs a cooking school program that incorporates basic knife skills classes, and guided tours of port markets followed by onboard demonstrations using local ingredients. silversea.com
Crystal Cruises' Connoisseur Beer Program features all kinds of intriguing brews. Crystal’s beverage guru, Toni Neumeister, names a few favorites:
Priciest: Samuel Adams Utopias. "They make only a limited number of bottles a year, and the wholesale cost is over $100. It’s very high in alcohol and intensely flavored."
Most Refreshing: La Trappe Blond. "This Belgian-style blonde ale is actually made in Holland, and it’s clear, sparkling and refreshing."
Strongest: Rochefort Trappistes 10. "This dark, complex Belgian beer clocks in at 11.3 percent alcohol—that’s closer to a wine than a beer."
Rarest: Samichlaus Bier. "Made once every December in Austria and aged for 10 months before bottling, this beer resembles a chocolaty port."
American Cruise Lines
Powered by a paddle wheel, American Cruise Lines' Queen of the West travels on the Columbia River through Washington and Oregon. The ship's sommelier pours regional wines and leads tours of five wineries. From $3,750; americancruiselines.com.
The luxury line Seabourn recently added Antarctica to its list of destinations, making it possible to explore the southernmost continent while enjoying foodie perks like menus featuring Siberian osetra caviar, cooking classes and a konditorei (a German-style coffee shop and patisserie). In 2013, Seabourn also expanded its guest-conversation series to include onboard talks with chefs like Miami's Michelle Bernstein, and Robert Irvine of the Food Network's Dinner: Impossible. seabourn.com
Tauck River Cruises
With just 14 suites, the high-end Tauck ships specialize in rarefied experiences: A 10-day Rhône River culinary cruise includes a Beaujolais tasting at Château de La Chaize and a private dinner at Paul Bocuse's L'Abbaye de Collonges, near Lyon. From $5,290; tauck.com
A river-bound version of the Grand Tour, Viking's European Sojourn hits nine countries as it sails from Amsterdam to Bucharest. Activities shift along the way: In Holland, there are genever tastings; in Austria, the chef leads a strudel class. From $6,667; vikingrivercruises.com.
AmaWaterways' river cruises—which are limited to a relatively intimate 164 passengers—make daily stops in remote towns like Cai Be, Vietnam, where guests can explore the floating market and learn how to make traditional Vietnamese candies and rice paper. The small ship size allows the company to offer a number of wine-themed cruises through the Danube, Mosel, Douro and Rhine river valleys, featuring tours of local wineries guided by experts like Barry Wiss of Napa's Trinchero Estates. amawaterways.com
Holland America Line
When the Holland America Line added a vegetarian menu last year (including a mushroom quesadilla) it had to start ordering much more produce. Here’s how much a large ship goes through in a week:
• 600 pounds of mushrooms
• 900 pounds of carrots
• 550 pounds of zucchini
Celebrity Cruises' new expert panel, called "Global Insiders," provides travel tips for 150 ports. Here, chef Marc Murphy suggests where to eat in Miami, one of Celebrity’s main ports:
Mandolin Aegean Bistro "I love to get a lot of mezes to share, like sucuk, a Turkish chorizo, and stuffed zucchini with eggplant." mandolinmiami.com.
Macchialina "They hand-make all their pastas, and my absolute favorite is the tagliolini ai funghi with abalone mushrooms and Parmigiano." macchialina.com.
Joe's Stone Crab "On occasion, I'll splurge on the Alaskan king crab, but my favorite is the stone crab. It's fresh and juicy, and it never disappoints." joesstonecrab.com.
Oceania's midsize ships feature dishes created by the legendary chef Jacques Pépin, like steak frites with garlic butter and poached salmon in sauce Choron (a béarnaise variation that incorporates tomato). Pépin has also launched a bistro, Jacques, onboard the ship Marina, which debuted last year. Oceania recently introduced longer voyages that can last up to 64 days, traveling between far-flung locations like Cape Town and Beijing. oceaniacruises.com
The suites on Avalon's river cruisers (222 staterooms) have unusual floor-to-ceiling windows that open directly to the outdoors, giving passengers an up-close look at the local scenery (one of the benefits of avoiding the open sea). Traveling everywhere from the Mississippi to the Yangtze, Avalon is offering a nine-day beer-tasting cruise of Austria and Germany in 2014. avalonwaterways.com
Azamara recently revamped both of its midsize luxury ships, which undertake transoceanic voyages and shorter cruises throughout Europe, Asia and South America. Azamara's over-the-top dining program includes a caviar-and-Champagne bar offering blow-out bottles like a 1995 Taittinger Blanc de Blancs and a 1998 Dom Pérignon. There's also a new chef's table with wine-focused menus that highlight pairings from France, Italy or California, from the 8,000-bottle onboard cellar. azamaraclubcruises.com
Cunard's three classic ships (Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth) are throwbacks to the golden age of cruising, when guests dressed for dinner, and balls were regular events. All of the ships still host a number of balls during each voyage, with themes like Black and White and Royal Ascot. The kitchens on Cunard's ships make everything from scratch, from fresh croissants to the scones served during the traditional afternoon tea. The next generation Queen Mary also includes modern upgrades like a 3D movie theater, a planetarium and a restaurant by Todd English. cunard.com
Fans of Disney's hit film Ratatouille, about a rat in Paris with an unlikely talent for cooking, can dine in a re-creation of the movie's classic French restaurant aboard two of Disney's ships. Chef Arnaud Lallement, of the Michelin-starred l'Assiette Champenoise, near Reims, France, created the menus. The restaurant includes a 900-bottle wine cellar and tasting room, where guests can interact with the onboard sommelier (the restaurant is limited to adults). disneycruise.disney.go.com