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The Best Meals at Sea: A Food Lover’s Guide to Cruising

By Eric Rosen

01.16.20

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French pâtissier Eric Lanlard is the mastermind behind the afternoon tea service for British line P&O Cruises.

Courtesy of P&O Cruises

French pâtissier Eric Lanlard is the mastermind behind the afternoon tea service for British line P&O Cruises.

Forget midnight buffets and happy hour on the Lido Deck. Cruise lines now offer passengers the chance to enjoy gourmet meals from some of the world’s best chefs.

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Dining at sea hasn’t always been a selling point when you go to book a cruise, but when talents like the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, and Nobu Matsuhisa get involved, the dishes they create are as exciting as the itineraries themselves. Some cruise lines are sourcing amazing local culinary talents as well, like Peruvian chef Pedro Schiaffino, who weave authentic regional flavors into the shipboard culinary scene.

After searching high and low, we uncovered some of the best dishes currently being served on ships. We won’t blame you if you plot your cruise plans around them—we might be at the table right there with you.

Amazonian escargot

Chef Pedro Schiaffino creates dishes that incorporate ingredients from the Amazon for Aqua Expeditions.

Chef Pedro Schiaffino made a name for himself at his landmark Lima restaurants, Malabar and ÁmaZ, by incorporating exotic Amazonian foods into inventive dishes. You can sample some in their natural habitat aboard Aqua Expeditions’ Aria Amazon, a sleekly designed and intimate ship that sails the Peruvian Amazon. Sensational and spicy, the river snails, or Churos, come sizzling in bronze-hued shells with a turmeric-tapioca sofrito.

Moroccan soul

Book a suite on a Celebrity ship and you’ll have access to chef Daniel Boulud’s applauded cuisine.

You have to book a suite aboard one of Celebrity Cruises’ ocean ships to dine at the exclusive Luminae restaurant, but you might want to do so to try dishes created by the line’s global culinary brand ambassador, world-renowned chef Daniel Boulud (known for his Michelin-starred flagship, Daniel, in New York). The restaurant’s chicken tagine flavored with some dozen spices and olives, preserved lemon, raisins, tomato, and couscous “is delicate, fragrant and light—a soulful dish inspired by the cuisine of Morocco,” according to Boulud himself.

Say yes to Nobu

Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s famous miso-marinated cod is available at Umi Uma & Sushi Bar on three Crystal ships.

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Even if you can’t snag a berth aboard Crystal’s October 2020 culinary cruise with master chef Nobu Matsuhisa, you can still enjoy the chef’s iconic miso-marinated black cod at Umi Uma & Sushi Bar anytime on the Crystal Serenity, Crystal Symphony, and the new Crystal Endeavor expedition ship, which is launching this year. The juicy piece of fish is marinated for days in an umami mix of white miso, mirin, sake, and sugar, then broiled to golden-tinged tenderness and served with a sliver of pink ginger. Most passengers can book one complimentary meal at Umi Uma during their cruise with additional visits costing extra. Make your reservations in advance since seats tends to go quickly.

High tea on the high seas

High tea on the “Queen Mary 2” is a bucket-list culinary experience.

Afternoon tea in the Queens Room aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Victoria is a nod to the golden age of cruising (minus the iceberg collisions, that is). White-gloved waiters dash hither and yon serving Twinings tea selections along with dainty delicacies like feta-mushroom filo tarts and fresh-baked scones with clotted cream and jam.

Surf ’n’ turf

What can go wrong when you marry Kobe beef and sweet king crab?

Slip into the Asian Market Kitchen (a specialty restaurant where meals are extra) aboard MSC Cruises’ Seaside to try the pan-Pacific cuisine of chef Roy Yamaguchi, known for his eponymous Roy’s restaurants and championing elevated Hawaiian cooking. The surf ’n’ turf rolls with Kobe beef, sweet king crab, crisp asparagus, and a drizzle of aromatic black sesame oil feature the best of land and sea in one satisfying bite.

Seriously sinful Sachertorte

AmaWaterways has given us another (delicious) reason to sail the Danube River.

Fancy a spoonful of history with your afternoon coffee? Dig into AmaWaterways’ luscious Sachertorte on any of the line’s Romantic Danube, Melodies of the Danube, or Blue Danube Discovery sailings. The pedigreed pastry dates back to 1832 when Austrian confectioner Franz Sacher sandwiched ganache and apricot jam between layers of fluffy dark-chocolate cake. This has become such a beloved treat among passengers that AmaWaterways has posted its recipe online.

A touch of Italian

Spaghetti—it’s so simple and yet so good.

Norwegian Cruise Line partnered with modern Italian restaurant Scarpetta to debut Onda aboard the new Norwegian Encore, which launched this past fall, and the Norwegian Spirit, which launches in February. The signature dish—slender spaghetti tossed with San Marzano tomato sauce, basil, red chili flakes, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese—is a simple one. But when it tastes this good, who needs anything more complicated? Onda is considered a specialty restaurant, so depending on the type of dining package you purchase, meals there might or might not be included in your fare.

Food from a French master

Any chance to experience Jacques Pépin’s creations, we’re in.

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Oceania Cruises boasts no less a luminary than Jacques Pépin as its executive culinary director. Almost as beloved as the chef himself is his sautéed duck foie gras escalope seared to unctuous perfection and accompanied by a counterpoint of roasted pineapple and lemon confit. You can find the dish at his namesake restaurant, Jacques (on Oceania’s Riviera and Marina ships), where meals cost extra and advance reservations are a must.

Afternoon delight

Tip: Skip lunch to save room for this afternoon tea service.

French master pâtissier Eric Lanlard has created a special afternoon tea service for British cruise line P&O Cruises, which costs £15 (US$20) per person. Among the pastries he dreamt up for the occasion are luscious little lobster rolls and chocolate spheres flecked with gold that diners can crack open with a spoon to enjoy the mousse inside.

Bite into this burger

The real question is, can we eat this without making a royal mess?

Passengers tend not to go hungry on cruises, and that’s especially true if you can get your hands on chef Ernesto Uchimura’s self-styled “Ernesto” burger at the Salty Dog restaurant aboard Princess Cruise Lines ships. Heaped high with a beef patty of short rib and rib-eye meat, grilled pork belly, caramelized kimchi, beer-battered jalapeño, charred onion aioli, and gooey cave-aged Gruyère, this gut buster will keep you going for any number of active excursions or induce a food coma by the pool. Reservations aren’t necessary, but meals at Salty Dog cost extra. The gastropub can be found on the Crown Princess, Emerald Princess, and Ruby Princess vessels.

Table-side sole meunière

Passengers are eligible for one included meal at The Grill by Thomas Keller on Seabourn ships.

You don’t have to wait months for a reservation at the French Laundry or Per Se to taste Thomas Keller’s legendary cuisine. At the chef’s the Grill by Thomas Keller on Seabourn’s luxury cruise ships, passengers can select from classics like sole meunière served table side, evoking a scene out of Julia Child’s memoirs. Passengers are eligible for one included meal per sailing, but make your reservation requests prior to departure if you want in.

Breakfast for those in the know

These plate-sized waffles are made using the recipe of the mother of Viking chairman Torstein Hagen.

Although Viking Cruises’ ocean ships feature multiple restaurants, return cruisers know to hit up the café-style Mamsen’s for breakfast. There, they can scarf down plate-sized waffles made using Viking chairman Torstein Hagen’s own mother’s recipe and topped with curlicues of gjetost, a salty-sweet brown Norwegian goat cheese.

Depending on the cruise line and the fare you purchase, some or all of your meals might be included with your sailing. However, certain specialty restaurants incur additional charges and require reservations. The items listed above are included with most fares unless otherwise noted.

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