August 20, 2018

Cruises for Foodies

It's not all burgers and buffet fare aboard these tempting ocean liners

By Kathryn E. Worrall

Vacations Magazine: Cruises for Foodies
Rob Fiocca/Norwegian Cruise Line
When I'm by a pool while on vacation, I want chicken strips. Not just any chicken strips -- the ones from the kids menu, probably from a freezer, with salty fries on the side. It takes me back to childhood trips and simpler times. The only difference is that now I want to enjoy them with a pina colada.

Almost any oceangoing cruise liner can satisfy my childhood craving. But a couple of days into the journey, I'm ready to go back to grown-up food. I want a nice glass of wine in a beautiful setting while trying a trendy restaurant. This is a vacation, after all, so I want to splurge on what I eat -- not just on fried chicken, but on innovative meals concocted by top gourmets with fresh ingredients.

With today's offerings, both desires easily are fulfilled. Cruise lines create intriguing dining venues to attract a new clientele while employing celebrity chefs to revamp menus. Specialty restaurants surprise the palate and deliver novel approaches to familiar foods, and shore excursions immerse passengers in local culinary trends.

Whatever you crave, the following cruise lines offer top-notch cuisine. Contact the cruise discounters at Vacations To Go for itineraries and prices.

Enjoy the sweeter things in life with Princess Cruises' Chocolate Journeys program, designed by chocolatier and pastry chef Norman Love. His treats -- think muffins, flaky Danishes and rich slices of cake -- are available fleetwide in the main dining rooms as well as several specialty restaurants. Indulge a step further with a dessert and wine pairing, or visit the Lotus Spa for a hydrating, chocolate-infused body treatment.

Princess liners boast several specialty picks, like the craft cocktails and small plates of The Salty Dog Gastropub (available on the Crown Princess, Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess) and pastas at Sabatini's Italian Trattoria (aboard five Princess ships, including the recently renovated Star Princess).

In 2016, Princess introduced Share by Curtis Stone, the chef, restaurateur and reality TV competition vet. Ruby Princess and Emerald Princess patrons sit down to a six-course meal with offerings like ravioli stuffed with curried pork and topped by a lemongrass sauce or a poached lobster tail with roasted potatoes and crispy pancetta. Meanwhile, Stone's menu for the Sun Princess, which sails in Asia and his native Australia, includes roasted crab legs with chili aioli and beef cheek pie.

Select Princess shore excursions allow guests to be more hands-on with their meals. On Alaskan itineraries calling on Juneau or Ketchikan, cast a line during a fishing expedition and bring whatever you land back to the ship. As part of the Cook My Catch program, chefs will prepare your fish and serve it to you that night, "ocean-to-table" style. This summer, Ruby Princess sails round trip from Seattle and spends seven nights exploring the Inside Passage.

Royal Caribbean International is a cruise industry giant -- it operates 25 ships and runs the gamut on dining, entertainment and destination options. The line uses its brand recognition to employ other big shots, notably British chef Jamie Oliver and James Beard Award winner Michael Schwartz. Oliver delivers la dolce vita to four vessels in the fleet (soon to be five after the April debut of the Symphony of the Seas). Jamie's Italian serves up pastas made on-site and his popular planks -- antipasto boards piled with prosciutto, cheeses, jams and olives.

Simplicity is key for Schwartz's cozy Michael's Genuine Pub. Expect bar fare with a twist -- sliders made from slow-roasted pork or thick-cut potato chips served alongside pan-fried onion dip -- as well as charcuterie selections. Craft beer reigns in this gastropub, but specialty cocktails and bourbon flights also tempt travelers. A second Schwartz contribution is the swanky steakhouse 150 Central Park on the Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas. Sip a house martini with cucumber, basil and lemongrass syrup while beef tenderloin is carved tableside.

Another name of note aboard select Royal Caribbean vessels: Wonderland. In this eclectically furnished restaurant, chefs employ unusual elements like dry ice and edible foam; a popular appetizer is plated to appear as if fresh baby vegetables are sprouting from the earth. Try this topsy-turvy eatery aboard the new Symphony of the Seas during its maiden season in the Mediterranean: Weeklong voyages from Barcelona to Rome and Naples in Italy, Palma de Mallorca in Spain and other ports start at $1,019.

At Celebrity Cruises' Qsine, on seven ships, chefs aim for a surprise element on each plate. Raw fish could come as a sushi lollipop: Rolled nigiri are placed on sticks and served alongside wasabi mayo and a pickled ginger and radish salad, a whimsical spin on a Japanese classic. The menu also includes takeout favorites like orange chicken and sweet and sour pork, but each is presented in a martini glass as a "Chitini" (a combination of "Chinese" and "martini"). Sample the eatery while cruising a man-made marvel, the Panama Canal, between San Diego and Fort Lauderdale, FL; rates aboard the Celebrity Infinity start at $1,339 for 15 nights.

Across the Silversea Cruises fleet, The Grill flips gourmet burgers during the day. By night, it transforms into an innovative do-it-yourself environment, with patrons searing raw meat, fish or veggies on hot lava stones. Be careful not to accidentally brush the volcanic rock on your tabletop -- temperatures shoot up to about 750 degrees Fahrenheit.

Silversea is partnered with Relais & Chateaux, a prestigious international culinary association whose chefs designed the menu at La Dame, available aboard six ships. Multiple courses of regional delicacies -- envision caviar and airy souffle -- are complemented by sparkling wines from the likes of Moet & Chandon and Dom Perignon.

Or, combine an epicurean education with a Silversea theme voyage. You can hone your knife skills, attend demonstrations and enjoy the expertise of a top-rated chef during Relais & Chateaux's L'Ecole des Chefs itineraries. A 13-night trans-Atlantic crossing aboard the Silver Whisper departs Lisbon, Portugal, on Oct. 18, making stops in Casablanca, Morocco, and the Portuguese island of Madeira before arriving in Fort Lauderdale. Prices start at $5,310.

Oceania Cruises brags of the finest dining at sea, and it's believable with legendary French chef Jacques Pepin at the helm. Pepin, Oceania's executive culinary director, has published several cookbooks, starred in TV programs -- including "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home," co-starring his close friend Julia Child -- and received the French government's highest civilian honor.

Pepin also has his namesake restaurant, Jacques, on the Marina and Riviera. Duck foie gras, buttery escargots and sauteed frog legs are on the menu, and for dessert, tarte aux pommes a la frangipane (apple tart) is Pepin's favorite. Aboard the Sirena, the main dining room transforms into the casual Jacques Bistro for lunch. Other venues include Red Ginger, a Pan-Asian eatery with an intriguing tea list, and La Reserve by Wine Spectator, an intimate 24-patron dining experience.

On July 30, Claudine Pepin -- Pepin's daughter, cookbook author and godmother to Oceania's 684-passenger Sirena -- will host a culinary theme cruise. Special menus, guest lectures and cooking demonstrations are among bonuses of this 10-night Mediterranean sailing, which departs Rome to visit Malta, Greece, Montenegro and more. Prices begin at $3,099 for ocean-view accommodations.

Celebrity chefs abound in the cruising industry. Master chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa, proprietor of the exclusive Nobu restaurants, launched Silk Road on Crystal Cruises. Carnival Cruise Line works with Food Network's Guy Fieri, and Iron Chef Jose Garces developed two Latin-influenced restaurants on Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Escape. Seabourn Cruise Line has Thomas Keller, a restaurateur with three Michelin stars and eateries like The French Laundry, Bouchon and more.

Speaking of celeb chefs, MSC Cruises launched the MSC Seaside in December with two spots by Roy Yamaguchi. The James Beard Award winner has based his career on Pacific Rim cuisine, and his creations on Seaside reflect it: Asian Market Kitchen is a Pan-Asian joint, while a teppanyaki eatery showcases cooks who prepare dishes on a flat, iron-plated grill. Going back to its Italian roots, MSC has partnered with Venchi, a gelateria dating to 1878 -- the onboard Venchi Cioccogelateria & Coffee Bar is the spot to cool off post-pool. The MSC Seaside embarks on weeklong trips to St. Maarten, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas from Miami.

A beloved perk from SeaDream Yacht Club is the Champagne and Caviar Splash, featured on Caribbean routes, with guests gathering on a white-sand beach for a five-star cookout. After the ship sounds its horn, bottles of bubbly are opened, caviar is passed around and the party begins.

SeaDream's wine-themed voyages feature complimentary tastings, special shore excursions and dinner with a visiting vintner. Toast the yachting lifestyle on a seven-night Caribbean wine voyage that travels round trip from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, departing Nov. 17.

Passengers can test their skills on the Seven Seas Explorer, one of four ships from Regent Seven Seas Cruises. The Explorer debuted the company's first culinary center, the Culinary Arts Kitchen. Eighteen cooking stations have top-of-the-line appliances, and students can select classes like "Modern Nordic" or "Viva Espana," a guide to Spanish tapas and paella. The line's Gourmet Explorer Tours dive into local culture in certain ports. In St. Lucia, tour the open-air food market in Castries and learn how to incorporate local ingredients and Caribbean spices into your cooking repertoire.

The Seven Seas Explorer traverses many regions, from Africa to the Baltic Sea to South America and beyond. Three weeklong Mediterranean trips depart from Rome, Monaco and Barcelona this May, priced from $4,799.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Spring 2018. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962 for current rates and details.


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