8 Reasons Your Next Great Meal Should Be Aboard a Cruise Ship
We thought 2016 was the year of star chefs at sea, with The Grill by Thomas Keller debuting on Seabourn and Share by Curtis Stone on three Princess ships, but the wave of activity continues. On board the new MSC Seaside, there’s Roy Yamaguchi’s Asian Market Kitchen, an airy top-deck eatery that’s like the food hall of our dreams. It has a teppanyaki room, a sushi counter, and a pan-Asian restaurant where you can order pork, shrimp and crab dumplings and Vietnamese-style lamb chops with a red wine curry sauce. Meanwhile, the Norwegian Escape is now home to Jose Garces’s first floating restaurants, Bayamo and Pincho Tapas Bar; and the 5,479-passenger Harmony of the Seas, famous for its robotic bartenders and status as the largest cruise ship in the world, counts Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian and Michael Schwartz’s 150 Central Park among its roster of 20 restaurants.
You Can Eat Like a Local
Once virtually unheard of on ships, the term “locally sourced” is now a cruise-world mantra. On the new Holland America Koningsdam, the seafood brasserie Sel de Mer often features a catch of the day picked up fresh in port. The concept has proved so popular, it’s being rolled out as Rudi’s Sel de Mer (named for Holland America’s master chef Rudi Sodamin) on six other ships this year. Also a first for the cruise line: a glass-enclosed garden of microgreens smack-dab in the center of the Culinary Arts Center on its two newest ships. The center is a cooking school that doubles as a farm-to-table restaurant.
Because of their smaller passenger rosters and almost daily access to farmers’ markets in various ports, river cruises on lines such as Crystal, Uniworld and Viking are able to feature menus filled with fresh, local ingredients from the places they sail through. And taking it a step further, Lindblad Expeditions now works directly with a farm in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos to create unique field-to-table options at sea. The farm utilizes a special growing system for produce such as kale, chiles and tomatoes that requires less water and has self-composting capabilities. The lunch buffets on Lindblad’s new ship, the National Geographic Endeavour II, are now made almost entirely from Ecuadorian ingredients, from the pork, sugar and produce to the coffee, craft beer and cocktail mixers.
Restaurants Are Going Niche
There’s nothing new about Italian restaurants on ships, but only MSC’s Preziosa, Divina and the new Meraviglia have their own Eataly Steakhouse, Eataly Pizza and Ristorante Italiano. (Bonus: You can even have the pizzas delivered to your room.) Viking Ocean Cruises, which just launched its third and fourth ships, Sky and Sun, nods to regional Nordic cuisine with Mamsen’s, a Norwegian deli serving recipes from Viking founder Torstein Hagen’s mother. In the morning, there are cardamom-spiced waffles with gjetost, Norway’s caramelized, amber-colored goat cheese, and in the afternoon chefs roll out a spread of Scandinavian open-face sandwiches. Holland America’s Koningsdam looks to its roots with the new Grand Dutch Café, serving Dutch lagers, herring and pannekoeken (pancakes).
Taking à la minute to the next level, many Silversea ships, including the new Silver Muse, invite passengers to cook their own meat or seafood right at the table using a hot volcanic rock. And at the Lawn Club Grill on Celebrity’s Silhouette and Reflection, guests can select a cut of meat and grill it themselves on tableside hibachis. For those who want to be involved but prefer to leave the cooking to the experts, Princess has a new Cook My Catch program on its Alaska cruises: Guests who reel something in on a fishing excursion can have it cooked any way they’d like for dinner.
One Word: Wine
The river cruises that crisscross Europe offer some of the most memorable ways to travel through top wine regions. AmaWaterways does special wine cruises along the Garonne, the Seine, the Rhône and more, with a resident wine expert who curates tastings, talks and trips to vineyards. Holland America gives guests the chance to create signature blends on board with a dedicated wine-blending space and tasting room created with famed Washington producer Chateau Ste. Michelle. And on Uniworld’s Connoisseur Collection itineraries in Burgundy and Provence, passengers can hike the steep Hermitage vineyards before stopping for tastings. Even cruises that are not specifically wine-themed can be a dream for oenophiles: Viking’s itinerary through Bordeaux includes classes with a sommelier, wine tastings, and tours in Margaux, Sauternes and Saint-Émilion, as well as a chance to blend your own Cognac.
Not only are big-name chefs overseeing ship restaurants, they are also regular headliners on food-focused sailings. As the culinary director of Oceania’s restaurants, Jacques Pépin hosts meals on board its vessels, while Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, the consulting chef on Aqua Expedition’s Aria Amazon, is joining two itineraries on the Amazon river this year. Now in its fourth year, Celebrity’s series of Top Chef at Sea cruises will feature two alums of the cooking competition, Mike Isabella and Marjorie Meek-Bradley, in 2018. Windstar, the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation, has invited several James Beard Award–winning chefs to cook on recent and upcoming sailings, including 2002 F&W Best New Chef Hugh Acheson; in January, Lee Anne Wong will lead guests on eating tours from Bangkok to Hong Kong.
Raising the Bar
It’s not just restaurants that are upping their culinary game. Each night on the Ruby Princess, Crown Princess and Emerald Princess, the Wheelhouse Bar transforms into the Salty Dog Gastropub, with a menu designed by Ernesto Uchimura of Umami Burger fame. (The Ernesto—a rib eye and short-rib burger with grilled pork belly, Gruyère, caramelized kimchi and beer-battered jalapeños—has become a cult favorite.) Michael Schwartz has his own gastropub on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum-class ships, serving bourbon flights and Scotch eggs with curry mayonnaise. And while the main reason to visit the clubby District Brew House on the Norwegian Escape is the 24 craft brews on tap (and another 50 by the bottle), you’ll also find haute bar food like chorizo-stuffed dates and gochujang-glazed Korean chicken wings.
Roam If You Want To
Even more good news for food obsessives is the fact that cruise lines are now paying as much attention to culinary offerings off the ship as on. Windstar, Seabourn, Celebrity, Holland America and Silversea all give guests the chance to visit local food markets with the ship’s chef. On the hyper-luxe new Regent Seven Seas Explorer, passengers can take advantage of stops in Sicily to sign up for a cannoli-making lesson with a local pastry master or attend a winemaker dinner, while Oceania offers “culinary discovery” tours in practically every port. For example, guests visiting Liguria can start with an olive oil tasting in Rapallo before heading to Recco to make their own pasta, giving them an immersive experience in the local food culture.