April 14, 2024

CPS

Travel Adventure

9 Cruise Lines With the Best Food

16 min read

Taking a cruise vacation transports you to coveted destinations in places around the world. For many people, though, it’s all about the culinary experience, especially for those who return time and again to dine at their favorite onboard venues – many of which rival the best restaurants you’ll find on land. While most cruise lines still offer all-you-can-eat buffet-style venues, some also feature next-level culinary experiences with world-renowned chefs at the helm, menus curated by Michelin-starred chefs, and immersive food and beverage programs.

If you’re a foodie looking for the cruise lines with the best food, U.S. News has compiled this list of cruise lines focused on delivering an extraordinary dining experience, based on expert opinion and reviews. We’ve also highlighted two of the venues on each line that receive accolades for outstanding food and service.

Oceania Cruises

The Red Ginger restaurant on an Oceania Cruises ship.

(Courtesy of Oceania Cruises)

Oceania Cruises’ culinary program has long been regarded as one of the best of any cruise line – and the company has even trademarked the term “The Finest Cuisine at Sea.” Jacques Pépin, the renowned French master chef, has been the executive culinary director since 2003; he has inspired the menus and cuisine on board the line’s seven small luxury ships since that time, including the newest vessel, Vista. Oceania is also committed to sourcing the best ingredients from destinations around the world. In addition, the line has a high ratio of culinary staff to guests, and the ship’s galleys are outfitted with equipment you’d typically see in Michelin-starred restaurants.

Guests can book exclusive Culinary Discovery Tours on two of the ships, Marina and Riviera. Hone your culinary skills or learn to prepare new types of cuisine at The Culinary Center, found on Marina, Riviera and Vista. You’ll also find special wine-tasting and Champagne events in partnership with La Reserve by Wine Spectator. In addition, the line has just announced its first Culinary Masters’ Cruise featuring Oceania’s two French master chefs aboard Marina in October 2024.

Most of the dining venues are complimentary on Oceania Cruises (except for Privée and La Reserve), and options run the gamut from French and Asian cuisine to Italian fare and steakhouse specialties. There are also new culinary concepts on board Vista – including Ember, which features American classics, as well as Aquamar Kitchen, a venue focused on healthy Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.

Here are two of Oceania’s best restaurants:

  • Red Ginger: Red Ginger’s colorful red and gold interiors, designed with feng shui in mind, draw guests in when they enter the restaurant, but it’s the bold Asian flavors that keep them coming back for more. With Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese specialties to choose from, diners will enjoy selections such as caramelized tiger prawns, crispy ginger calamari, red and green curries, and bulgogi rib-eye steak. Red Ginger is available on Marina, Riviera, Sirena and Vista.
  • Toscana: The hearty cuisine inspired by Tuscan and northern Italian flavors at Toscana is served on Versace china that’s custom designed for the restaurant. Diners should come with an appetite to enjoy several courses before the main event, including a hot or cold antipasti or soup, a selection of pastas, and a classic version of Caesar salad prepared tableside. Traditional main dish favorites include osso buco alla Milanese, veal scaloppini, lobster fra diavolo and Dover sole. Toscana is available on Regatta, Insignia, Nautica, Marina, Riviera and Vista.

Silversea Cruises

S.A.L.T. Kitchen aboard the Silver Nova.

(Courtesy of Silversea Cruises)

Silversea is another cruise line known for its culinary excellence. Guests will find a selection of international venues featuring Italian, Asian and French cuisine on board the line’s fleet of 12 ships.

S.A.L.T., an immersive dining experience that stands for “Sea and Land Taste,” is available on Silver Nova, Silver Moon and Silver Dawn. The S.A.L.T. program was created by Adam Sachs, former editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine and three-time James Beard journalism award winner. The innovative program invites guests to experience the destination and local food culture through on-board hands-on activities, including making local recipes in the S.A.L.T. Lab. You can also attend cooking demonstrations and lectures, or book in-depth culinary excursions to working organic farms, Sicilian pasticcerias (where you’ll learn how to make pastries) and vineyards in destinations around the world.

The all-inclusive luxury line’s restaurant venues are complimentary with the following exceptions: French fine dining restaurant La Dame; the S.A.L.T. Chef’s Table experience available on Silver Nova; Seishin Restaurant, which serves Asian fusion dishes on Silver Spirit; and Kaiseki, the Japanese, sushi and teppanyaki venue available on five Silversea ships.

These are two standout dining venues on Silversea:

  • S.A.L.T. Kitchen: S.A.L.T. Kitchen’s menu changes daily inspired by the destination, but diners will also find a “Voyage” menu that reflects the influences from the overall region of the itinerary. The daily “Terrain” menu in Italy might include dishes likes prawns cooked in a cherry tomato sauce with garlic, white wine and parsley or a classic risotto with clams topped with a pan-fried filet of sole. The “Voyage” menu on an Eastern Mediterranean sailing would feature dishes from Greece, Croatia and Italy. The immersive dining experience is available on Silver Ray, Moon, Dawn and Nova.
  • La Dame: The curated menu at La Dame was created by Silversea’s top chefs and is served in an elegant contemporary space with white-glove table service. The cuisine pays homage to classic French gastronomy along with modern techniques and flair. Guests can expect to dine on traditional French dishes such as seared duck foie gras, French onion soup, lobster bisque, Dover sole and souffles for dessert. La Dame is available on all the line’s ships, except for Silver Origin.

Explora Journeys

The Sakura restaurant on the Exlora I.

(Courtesy of Explora Journeys)

MSC Group’s new luxury brand, Explora Journeys, features a top-notch culinary program with a team of international chefs at the helm. Acclaimed chef Franck Garanger, the line’s head of culinary, has been recognized as a French master chef since 2008; he has also overseen the culinary programs for both Silversea and Oceania cruises before joining Explora.

According to Garanger, Explora Journeys has one of the highest chef-to-guest ratios and food costs of any cruise line, which is why you’ll see offerings like freshly shucked oysters on the half shell, ceviche, free range and organic chicken, made-to-order grilled fish, and other freshly prepared items in Emporium Marketplace, Explora’s globally inspired all-day dining venue. There’s also a large focus on plant-based dishes, wellness and healthy menu selections in venues across the ship.

The first of six 922-guest superyacht-style vessels, Explora I, offers guests a choice of six restaurant venues, including the French-inspired Fil Rouge; Marble & Co. Grill, an elegant European steakhouse; and Med Yacht Club, which features delightful Mediterranean cuisine. Guests will also enjoy boutique international and regional wines; try a glass of Moët & Chandon, Explora’s “house” Champagne.

During your “journey,” you can also attend cooking classes at the Chef’s Kitchen, a private dining and culinary school with lead enrichment chef Jean-Louis Dumonet at the helm. Another world-class chef, Dumonet received the distinction of becoming a French master chef in 1994 and has had a very successful culinary career, including achieving his first Michelin star at age 28.

Explore these standouts in Explora’s culinary program:

  • Sakura: This beautiful Pan-Asian restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. The bright and airy design features cherry blossoms suspended from the ceilings and Asian-inspired decor. The authentic dining experience also boasts an open kitchen and a sushi bar with many ingredients sourced from Japan, and the venue has outdoor seating and indoor tables with floor-to-ceiling ocean views. Begin your evening with an Asian-inspired cocktail and a starter of crispy duck leg confit, wagyu beef tataki or soft-shell crab tempura. Main dish highlights include a miso black cod fillet, 72-hour slow-cooked short rib beef panang and an addictive lobster pad Thai.
  • Anthology: The innovative concept at Anthology “is imagined as a unique culinary stage showcasing global cooking talents and cuisines, provenance and rare ingredients along with wines by highly coveted winemakers.” The tasting menus are curated by a rotation of top chefs that changes throughout the year. The first chef who opened the new ship, Mauro Uliassi, has a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in the coastal town of Senigallia, Italy. The second chef (through April 2024) is Swedish-born Emma Bengtsson, executive chef at the two-Michelin-starred Aquavit in New York. Anthology is the only dining venue on Explora I that comes at an additional cost. There’s also an optional wine pairing.

Regent Seven Seas

Regent Seven Seas’ culinary program, “Epicurean Indulgence,” features top-notch dining experiences on board the luxury line’s six ships. Guests will also find educational hands-on cooking classes in the Culinary Arts Kitchen and Epicurean Explorer tours focused on the wines, spirits and regional foods in destinations around the world. Regents’ all-inclusive cruise fares include as many as seven dining venues (depending on the ship), that feature French, Italian, Pan-Asian and steakhouse restaurants as well as 24-hour in-suite room service. You can also enjoy fine wines and spirits in all the restaurants, bar and lounges.

Regent Seven Seas boasts a variety of excellent restaurants, but here are two top options:

  • Pacific Rim: The entrance to Pacific Rim is just as impressive as its food with the floor-to-ceiling bronze Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheel that sits just outside the venue. Inside, your evening experience in this beautiful zen-like space begins with a signature cocktail and a difficult decision of which Thai, Japanese, Korean, Chinese or Vietnamese dishes to order for dinner. Begin your meal with a selection of sushi and sashimi, then sample pork and shrimp siu mai or thom kha gai soup. For a main dish, don’t miss elevated dishes like miso black cod, Canadian lobster tempura or aromatic duck.
  • Compass Rose: Compass Rose is the largest specialty restaurant on Regent’s ships, and you’ll find the elegant venue across the fleet. The menu features classic favorites and dishes that are always available, including foie gras, escargot, Alaskan crab salad, black Angus cuts of beef, New Zealand lamb chops and a daily choice of pasta. The additional chef’s gourmet menu changes daily. If you prefer lighter fare, choose one of the healthy Serene Spa & Wellness selections. Guests can also customize their dining preferences and order from any of the menus.

Viking

Manfredi's Restaurant onboard the Viking Octantis ship.

(Courtesy of Viking)

Viking’s nine 930-guest and adults-only ocean-going ships offer destination-focused dining highlighting regional cuisine and local specialties. In addition, cruisers will find their favorite classic dishes (some with a twist), such as a Norwegian baby shrimp cocktail, beef tenderloin and linguine with clams in The Restaurant, Viking’s main dining venue.

Other dining options include an open kitchen and international fare at World Café, which also has a large alfresco dining area called Aquavit Terrace. For more casual fare, head to Mamsen’s, a favorite spot for Norwegian specialties, or stop by the Pool Grill, where you’ll find made-to-order burgers and light bites. All of these venues – plus two specialty restaurants, Manfredi’s and The Chef’s Table – are included in the cruise fare.

Guests on board Viking’s ships are also treated to a daily afternoon tea in the Wintergarden, a Scandinavian-inspired, light-filled space located next to the main pool. If you’re interested in learning more about destination-focused cuisine, reserve a spot in one of the hands-on cooking classes at The Kitchen Table to learn how to prepare some of the local dishes. These special excursions and culinary classes begin with a visit to a local market and end with an evening of cooking (or watching the dinner preparation) – plus multiple courses of food and wine pairings. There is a fee for the class.

The two specialty restaurants provide an exceptional experience with Viking:

  • Manfredi’s: Plan to make a reservation at Manfredi’s, Viking’s Italian restaurant. It features an impressive menu of Italian specialties, including dishes with influence from Tuscany and Rome. Start the evening with a selection of antipasti for two and pasta e fagioli or crème of porcini soup. Then, choose between traditional offerings like osso bucco alla Milanese, rosemary parmesan-crusted lamb or the Tuscan favorite dish bistecca Fiorentina (Florentine-style steak). There are also wonderful fresh pasta dishes and several types of risotto.
  • The Chef’s Table: The Chef’s Table menu changes several times throughout the cruise, allowing guests to sample a variety of multicourse tasting menus that highlight international and regional specialties. The beautiful venue is perfect for a special evening and a “food journey” where you’ll savor a selection of Asian, Norwegian, French or other cuisines paired with wines by the ship’s master sommelier.

Holland America Line

Surf n' Terf at the Pinnacle Grill on a Holland America Line ship.

(Courtesy of Holland America Line)

Holland America’s master chef and creative culinary artist, Rudi Sodamin, has been with the line for around 20 years. He also heads up the Culinary Council, a group of well-known chefs who will be on board for culinary cruises scheduled throughout the year. During these special voyages, guests can attend cooking demonstrations and coffee chats and make reservations for exclusive chef-hosted dinners and events throughout the cruise.

Holland America also has a new initiative with Fresh Fish Ambassador, chef and TV personality Masaharu Morimoto (you’ll recognize him from “Iron Chef”). The Global Fresh Fish program affords the line the ability to source more than 80 varieties of fresh fish in destinations around the world. In addition, you’ll find certified sustainable Alaskan seafood on the menu during Alaska cruises.

Wine aficionados can look for wine tastings and wine blending sessions on board the ship and excursions to wine regions ashore, some in partnership with Food & Wine magazine. Rudi’s Sel De Mer is an excellent choice for a fine dining evening, but the French brasserie-inspired venue is only available on three ships.

Here are two of Holland America’s top specialty restaurants:

  • Pinnacle Grill: Pinnacle Grill, an upscale steakhouse, is a specialty restaurant (with an additional fee) that’s available on all of the line’s 11 ships. It’s a favorite spot for couples to enjoy a romantic evening and features classic dishes like shrimp cocktail, jumbo lump crab cakes, lobster bisque, filet mignon, surf and turf, and grilled lamb chops. Seafood lovers will also find Alaskan king salmon and halibut. Be sure to save room for a twist on a timeless dessert – the not-so-classic baked Alaska with Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream.
  • Tamarind: Tamarind’s elegant atmosphere and flavorful Pan-Asian cuisine make this another top pick for Holland American cruisers. The specialty restaurant is available on four ships (for an additional fee) and features dishes from Thailand, Japan, Indonesia and other Asian countries. Appetizers include specialties like crispy duck with a steamed bao bun, shrimp tempura and Chinese five-spice baby back ribs. For the main course, choose from several types of curries, sample Mongolian barbecue lamb chops, or feast on wok-seared shrimp and lobster. Plan to come early to Tamarind Bar to enjoy a cocktail such as a saketini while watching the sunset over the ocean.

Disney Cruise Line

Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure on a Disney Cruise Line ship.

Mark Ashman|Courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line offers excellent family-friendly dining options with over-the-top Disney- and movie-themed venues with live character performances and shows. The ships also have upscale adults-only lounges, bars and restaurants that are perfect for a romantic date night. Disney Cruise Line’s unique rotational family dining concept allows guests to experience three different restaurants while having the same dedicated servers every one of those evenings, so the service is personalized throughout your voyage.

Guests on board Disney Wish can dine in the fictional kingdom of Arendelle at Arendelle: A Frozen Dining Adventure. The “Frozen”-themed evening includes Nordic-inspired dishes, musical performances by the characters and even singalongs for the audience. On Disney Wonder, guests are treated to a night filled with New Orleans-style jazz and street parties plus Southern-influenced fare at Tiana’s Place. You can also meet Princess Tiana from Disney’s animated feature “The Princess and the Frog.”

Other top dining venues on Disney Cruise Line include:

  • Palo: This adults-only Venetian-inspired venue is an upscale spot ideal for a quiet evening without the kids (who will be very happy to spend time at the onboard kids club). The fine dining experience features northern Italian cuisine and floor-to-ceiling windows offering views from nearly every perspective. The specialty restaurant also serves brunch on longer cruises. The prix fixe (or “prezzo fisso”) menu includes four courses, or you can opt to choose from the regular menu with a selection of appetizers, salads, pizza, pasta and main dishes that are individually priced. Guests will find Palo on Disney Magic, Wonder, Dream and Fantasy.

    On Disney Wish, there’s an updated version of the dining concept, Palo Steakhouse. The modern steakhouse and Italian restaurant – inspired by Cogsworth, the enchanted clock from “Beauty and the Beast” – offers cuts of Australian wagyu, Japanese Kobe and Miyazaki beef as well as delightful Italian cuisine and spectacular ocean views. Be sure to splurge on a cocktail at The Rose before dinner if you’re dining at Palo Steakhouse. Note that meals at Palo and Palo Steakhouse come with an additional charge.

  • Remy: The exquisite dining experience at Remy is a collaboration between French chef Arnaud Lallement from l’Assiette Champenoise (a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in France) and Walt Disney World Resort’s chef Scott Hunnel from the renowned restaurant Victoria & Albert’s. Your leisurely evening of fine wines and a tasting menu of French fare begins with a signature Taittinger Champagne cocktail prepared tableside.

    Special touches in the “Ratatouille”-inspired venue include Frette linens, Christofle silverware, exclusive Bernadaud china made for Remy, Riedel glassware, tableside international cheese service and decanting stations for wines. A Champagne brunch is served on sea days and select port days. There is an additional charge to dine at the restaurant, which is available on Disney Dream and Fantasy.

Virgin Voyages

The Razzle Dazzle restaurant onboard a Virgin Voyages ship.

(Courtesy of Virgin Voyages)

Virgin Voyages’ creative approach to cruising can be found in nearly every aspect of the line’s three ships, including its adults-only vibe and fresh approach to dining. Virgin Voyages does not have a traditional main dining room – and there’s no onboard buffet or large dining halls. What you will find is more than 20 eateries with menus created by Michelin-starred chefs that are included in the cruise fare. These smaller and more intimate venues include The Galley, a food court-style spot for casual and grab-and-go fare like bento boxes, tacos, salads, sushi, burgers, noodle bowls and desserts.

Meat lovers and vegetarians will love the veggie-forward dishes and indulgent pork or chicken specialties at boldly designed Razzle Dazzle. At Extra Virgin, sample trattoria-style Italian fare like crispy artichokes, seafood pasta, grilled Mediterranean sea bass and a special tableside preparation of affogato for dessert. For a Korean barbecue experience, head over to Gunbae, a fun spot where your evening begins with a shot of soju – Korea’s national drink and the best-selling liquor in the world. The Wake is the largest venue on board and the closest restaurant to a main dining room; it sits at the back of the ship and features a raw bar in addition to a selection of steaks and seafood (some offerings come with an upcharge).

There are many excellent options for dinner, but these are two cruiser-favorite venues:

  • The Test Kitchen: Inspired by Auguste Escoffier’s “Ma Cuisine,” The Test Kitchen is a favorite spot for its laboratory-like eatery and cooking school. The interior decor features metal furniture, beakers and test tubes to get diners in the mood for the exploratory culinary evening. Menus at this innovative venue are presented as a list of ingredients, and guests get to watch the chef combine the selected ingredients of the day for the six-course tasting menu. The upscale experience takes about 2.5 hours. Wine, beer or cocktail pairings come at an additional fee.
  • Pink Agave: Virgin’s stylish Mexican dining venue, Pink Agave, was inspired by the vibrant streets of Mexico City – and the restaurant features what the line calls the most extensive selection of mezcal and tequila at sea. The menu offerings include small, medium and large plates plus desserts. To begin the evening, order a few small bites to share, including esquites (a grilled corn dish) and aguachile, which is a ceviche made with raw tuna, avocado and jicama. Then, for the main course, choose between options like roasted duck or chicken, achiote marinated pork, or a vegetarian stuffed poblano pepper.

Celebrity Cruises

A waiter placing food on a 3D dining table at Le Petit Chef onboard a Celebrity Cruises ship.

(Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)

Celebrity’s selection and quality of restaurant venues – and attentive service – have made the line a favorite for food-focused cruisers for many years. If you’re sailing on one of the Celebrity Edge-class ships (Ascent, Beyond, Apex or Edge), you’ll have up to 32 restaurants to choose from with globally inspired menus created by Michelin-starred chef Cornelius Gallagher.

You can also look for special culinary cruises and onboard events designed in partnership with renowned Michelin-star French chef Daniel Boulud, the line’s global culinary brand ambassador. Some of the onboard programs include wine-blending classes, whiskey and scotch tastings, mixology classes, and food and wine pairing workshops.

With so many complimentary dining and specialty options on Celebrity ships (making it hard to choose where to dine), here are two of the unique experiences not to be missed:

  • Le Voyage by Daniel Boulud: Daniel Boulud’s first signature restaurant at sea is inspired by the chef’s global travels. The interior of the specialty restaurant, designed by the Parisian architect-design team of Jouin Manku, is as much of an experience as the meal with its intimate decor and banquette seating. Guests can choose between a standard dinner menu, a regular five-course tasting menu or a plant-based tasting menu. Le Voyage is available on the new Celebrity Ascent and Celebrity Beyond and costs an additional fee.
  • Le Petit Chef: The innovative and fantastical 3D dining experience at Le Petit Chef is one of the most unique ways to spend an evening at sea. The immersive meal, which is either served in the quirky Qsine restaurant or Le Grand Bistro, depending on the ship, will delight cruisers of all ages, especially younger children. The tiny, animated chef (think about the size of your hand) entertains guests while preparing each dish. You may see him firing up a grill to sear a steak, picking fresh vegetables from a garden or even going on a fishing adventure in search of lobster. After each dish is prepared by “the chef,” waiters will arrive with the actual dish. The 1.5-hour-long experience is an additional cost.

Why Trust U.S. News Travel

Gwen Pratesi has been an avid cruiser since her early 20s. She has sailed on nearly every type of cruise ship built, including the newest megaships, paddle-wheelers on the Mississippi River, and an 18-stateroom river ship on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia. She has also cruised on a traditional masted sailing ship and on a small luxury expedition vessel in Antarctica crossing the notorious Drake Passage twice. She covers the travel and culinary industries for major publications including U.S. News & World Report.

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