Anna King Shahab takes a look at some of the gourmet experiences available on cruise ships.
When it comes to cruise dining the spectrum is wide, very wide. Though a daily routine of egg and chips might suit some guests, on many ships there is now a whole world of cuisine to be enjoyed. Some of the most celebrated chefs have put their name and skills behind onboard restaurants, whether they be extra-charge specialty venues or the main dining room. There are luxurious offerings to be sought out, as well as those that leave us feeling fitter rather than merely fatter. And some superb onshore dining excursions make the most of exotic scenery around the globe.
Thomas Keller, is the man behind a stellar lineup of restaurants including French Laundry and Per Se and the only American chef with multiple restaurants with three-star ratings from Michelin. He has now partnered with Seabourn to offer three dining experiences. The Grill by Thomas Keller evokes the all-American diners of the 50s and 60s, serving up an a la carte menu with classics like premium steaks, caesar salad, the fittingly luxurious lobster thermidor, and icecream sundaes. On the patio, you can opt for Keller's signature hot dog or Napa burger, while additional theme nights pay homage to the chef 's childhood favourites — dishes like clam bake and barbecue ribs are served family- style on platters to make for a relaxed experience.
Chef to former French president Charles de Gaulle, Jacques Pepin has a hand in ensuring Oceania Cruises' claim to have "the finest cuisine at sea" rings true. His touches are evident across the fleet of six — details like flying flour in from France. The main dining room on Sirena, Jacques Bistro, treats guests to Pepin's own family recipes, while on the Riviera and Marina, Parisian bistro- inspired Jacques wows by perfecting the classics, from duck a l'orange to bouillabaisse.
On Crystal Cruises, renowned chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa of Nobu restaurant fame has stamped his innovative and exacting Japanese-Peruvian mark aboard Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity with restaurant Umi Uma and Sushi Bar staffed by Nobu-trained chefs. The partnership between Crystal and Nobu has been going strong for 16 years, and he will soon add a third restaurant to the lineup when Crystal Endeavour, a Polar-class vessel, sets sail next year. Among signature dishes to try are Nobu's yellowtail with caviar, "new style" sashimi, ceviche, lobster tacos, and wagyu tataki.
Marco Pierre White imbues the P&O ship Britannia with his stellar touch, built up in his more than 30 years of pushing culinary boundaries. As patron of the Cookery Club, White hosts bookable masterclasses, limited to 24 people and giving guests a chance to get up close and personal, and glean from White's formidable culinary knowledge. Classes run for two hours and see guests learning intimate tips and tricks, like his view on how to ensure a foolproof bechamel. He hosts dinners, cooking a three-course meal for guests as his anecdotes flow. He also leads onshore foodie excursions. Of course, places are limited and booking early is essential. On other ships in the fleet, guests can experience a touch of White at special Gala dinners, as well as at the Ocean Grill on Arcadia.
Closer to home, guests on Princess Cruises' Ruby Princess, Emerald Princess, and Sun Princess can partake in the tasty offering at Curtis Stone's Share eateries. The Aussie chef, who has also made it big in the US, presents a way of dining that's both family-style and convivial, with pass-around appetisers and handmade pastas, but also ticks the fine dining box with dishes like butter-poached lobster, and twice-cooked duck. On ships that don't feature Share, guests can try Stone creations in the main dining room.
In what must be the ultimate getaway within a getaway, all guests aboard Aranui 5's 13-day roundtrip cruise from Papeete to the Marquesas are invited to picnic on Aranui's private island Motu Tapu in Bora Bora — an experience that's inclusive in the fare. With gently swaying palms and silky white sand skirting the electric blue lagoon, the location is nothing short of picture-postcard.
Known for their vegetarian restaurant and cooking school Wrenkh in Vienna, Austrian chef brothers Leo and Karl Wrenkh are the brains behind the refreshingly different Avalon Fresh dining option on Avalon Waterways' river cruises. The Fresh cuisine options make use of the best produce, sourced from local growers and used to create innovative dishes hingeing on clean flavours and boosted nutrition: think the kind of food A-listers have their personal chefs whip up, from energising morning juices to protein-driven dinner bowls. To balance out the virtue, there are sommelier-selected regional wines begging to be sampled on these luxury European river cruises — offering up with each sip the different personalities of the waterways, from the Rhine to the Seine.
For those who like to blur the lines, there are a growing number of interactive and multi-sensory dining experiences aboard cruise ships. Celebrity Cruises is a pioneer with its Petit Chef and Eden dining experiences. Seven Celebrity ships boast the former offering, which sees custom 3D table animated art literally bring your meal (which is cooked by a Michelin star chef, in this case) to life. Eden, a dining option only on Celebrity Edge, sees theatre meet cuisine: a buzzing open air kitchen plays host to an experiential dining experience guided by skilled performance artists.
Guests on six Royal Caribbean ships are invited to "venture down the rabbithole" courtesy of the Wonderland experience, where chefs create "elaborate dreamscapes" of cutting-edge cuisine. It all starts with guests "brushing the menu" to reveal their element — sun, ice, fire, water, earth, or dreams. It's the stuff of fairytales, brought to life.