Today, cruise passengers can literally eat and drink their way around the world. Fine Italian, traditional Japanese, addictive Asian, authentic Indian, fabulous French and innovative international fare can all be enjoyed on the high seas. Cruise companies know bookings are made or lost depending on the calibre of a ship’s cuisine and special culinary experiences. Most meals are included in the fare, but specialty restaurants often carry a surcharge and require reservations. All dietary needs can be met.
For years now, luxury liners have lured discerning patrons with celebrity chefs and exclusive dining options, such as the intimate Le Champagne onboard all Silversea Cruises classic ships. It’s the only Relais & Chateaux-accredited restaurant afloat; pre-cruise bookings are recommended. Avid cruiser Vivien Delvin says: “On Silversea, with a day’s notice, you can ask for just about anything – the chefs are always happy to oblige. I have a passion for linguine Genovese and I requested this in La Terrazza the day before we dined there. On a recent world cruise, a group of six of us requested an Indian banquet while heading towards Kochi.”
On Seabourn’s Taste of Asia Food and Wine Cruise in January, guests will have the opportunity to go shopping with the chef at the colourful “wet” and produce markets in Hoi An, Hue and Ho Chi Minh City, explore regional street food specials and learn how to make noodles, sushi and typical Vietnamese dishes. Seabourn has also partnered with award-winning chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller, the only American to hold multiple three-star Michelin ratings. His signature restaurant will launch on Seabourn Quest in 2016 before being rolled out across the fleet.
On some Uniworld river cruises, fresh produce is delivered direct to the galley kitchen from farmers’ markets and local suppliers, and when P&O ships replenish in Sydney, fresh salmon, barramundi and snapper from the Sydney Fish Market arrive to the ships’ galleys within hours. French chef Jacques Pepin has long been charming guests on Oceania Cruises through his Jacques restaurants on Oceania Marina and Oceania Riviera, while Cunard has had an 11‑year relationship with US chef Todd English – his signature restaurants are on the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria. English knows the value of food on any cruise and insists: “It is one of the most important activities onboard. The experience is very much how a ship is rated.”
UK-based P&O Cruises has a stable of Food Heroes, including Michelin-starred chefs Marco Pierre White and Atul Kochhar, French pastry expert Eric Lanlard, and British chef and TV presenter James Martin, curating the food experiences on its international fleet. “Since I joined P&O, I feel like I’ve seen the world. For so many people, cruises are all about the food,” White says. Australian chefs are also making their mark on cruise dining. Curtis Stone is the latest local to hit the high seas, launching a partnership with Princess Cruises that will see him design a range of culinary offerings across the 18-ship fleet. Mark Best has joined the Holland America Line Culinary Council of top chefs from across the globe, P&O features Salt Grill by Luke Mangan “to showcase and promote Australian produce”, while APT has signed up charismatic Luke Nguyen as its culinary ambassador throughout Asia.
For freshest Japanese flavours, cruise on Crystal Symphony or Crystal Serenity to savour Nobu Matsuhisa’s sushi, sashimi, seafood ceviche or black cod with miso at his Silk Road and Sushi bars. Jamie Oliver’s Italian on Royal Caribbean is the first gig afloat for the popular British TV chef. Aqua Expeditions amaze with exciting regional menus designed by Lima’s first Michelin-starred chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino on the Peruvian Amazon and equally inspired dishes on the Mekong by Thai culinary supremo David Thompson.
Other cruise lines boasting celebrity chefs aboard include Hurtigruten, where TV chef Andreas Viestad demystifies Nordic cuisine; and Paul Gauguin Cruises, with French chef Jean-Pierre Vigato on MS Paul Gauguin. Prime 7 onboard Regent’s Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner prides itself on serving arguably the best steak at sea with USDA Prime-certified and 28-day minimum dry-aged beef.
But let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like a great poolside hamburger for lunch. Guy’s Burger Joint on Carnival Cruise Lines serves near-addictive burgers with super melty cheese and spicy fries. Now, how many times around the deck?