Long lines on the Lido deck? Buffets churning out plates of bland fare? That ship has sailed. These days, haute cuisine is all the rage at sea, as celebrated chefs partner with cruise lines to create gourmet menus, offer tasting experiences and set up specialty restaurants where swank settings rival the epicurean delights.
Here are some of the very best.
Celebrity Silhouette and Reflection
Long known for menus designed by James Beard chefs, Celebrity Cruises continues expanding its gastronomic pleasures with its Solstice class fleet. The latest innovations: Lawn Club Grill and Qsine. The enclosed patio grill gives cruisers a chance to create flatbread pizzas as starters before choosing their chops and grilling ’em up in the open kitchen. Qsine takes you on a culinary voyage that puts a whimsical spin on fine dining. Fusions you may never have dreamed of (white truffle BBQ sauce, anyone?) arrive in presentations that include heated stones, beds of grass, or flashing ice cubes.
Lawn Club Grill: Filet mignon, red snapper, tandoori chicken kabobs
Qsine: Sushipops, lobster-escargot fritters, ice-your-own cupcakes
Lawn Club Grill: Outdoor barbecue surrounded by real grass
Qsine: Dinner party fun amid posh kitsch
Lawn Club Grill: $40
Qsine: $45 (also available on Celebrity Eclipse, Infinity, Summit, and Millennium)
Multi-Michelin-starred restaurateur Nobu Matsuhisa is a stickler for standards: The chefs who preside over his distinctive Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine aboard Crystal Cruises are all Nobu-trained. Joining the highly regarded Silk Road restaurant and sushi bar this year on Crystal Serenity: Tastes, a creation from Azmin Ghahreman of the acclaimed Sapphire Laguna restaurant in Laguna Beach. Chef Ghahreman introduced his global street food after Serenity’s 2013 remodel, and it’s a fitting voyage of tastes. His cultural specialties and fusions are meant to be shared, like a slideshow of your best vacation pics.
Silk Road: Black cod with miso, lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce, chocolate soufflé cake with shiso syrup and sesame ice cream
Tastes: Tunisian crab warka, North African lamb dumplings, Scottish-cured salmon with oatmeal crumble, chimichurri steak
Silk Road: Candlelight, Nobu-designed dinnerware, sheer elegance
Tastes: Vertical gardens, open kitchen, blue lighting enhanced by candlelight
Cost: None; early reservations are a must for Silk Road
Princess Royal Princess and Regal Princess
Of course a ship with a “royal” moniker should be christened by a royal — in this case, a then-very pregnant Princess Kate. Turns out that dining onboard Royal Princess — and her sister ship to be launched in May, Regal Princess — is also fit for royalty. That includes the Chef’s Table Lumiere, where a handful of diners congregate around a glass table encircled by a curtain of fiber-optic light to indulge in a specially prepared, French-inspired menu. Also private, and set amid a circular wine cellar, is the Wine Maker’s Dinner. Less posh options, but just as tasty: the premium steaks in the Crown Grill, and the Ocean Terrace seafood bar, serving oyster shooters, caviar and other ocean delicacies.
Chef’s Table: Lobster and scallops paired with filet mignon, porcini mushroom risotto, Grand Marnier chocolate mousse
Wine Maker’s: White bean veloute and chorizo soup, Asiago-stuffed gnocchi, tournedos Rossini, three-mousse Napoleon
Atmosphere: Murano glass, gold-plated cutlery, fine china, privacy
Chef’s Table: $115
Wine Maker’s Dinner: $40
Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam
One of the first cruise lines to introduce specialty dining — and one of a scant few offering hands-on cookery classes in its Culinary Arts Center — Holland America upped its game by creating singular nights in its highly regarded Pinnacle Grill. Along with the Pinnacle’s regular upscale menu, foodies can indulge in dishes created by New York’s Le Cirque restaurant one night, and another night enter the exclusive Master Chef’s Room to enjoy a seven-course feast with wine pairings. If that’s not enough to please a gourmand’s palate, Nieuw Amsterdam joins the Eurodam in featuring Tamarind Restaurant, a pan-Asian restaurant with a lunchtime dim sum menu and, come evening, entrees that represent the five Chinese elements.
Le Cirque: Chateaubriand, rack of lamb
Master Chef’s Room: Veal sweetbread and loin with black truffle-artichoke purée
Tamarind: Vietnamese-style lamb with mint, wasabi and soy-crusted beef tenderloin
Le Cirque: Whimsical colors and table settings
Master Chef’s Room: old-school elegance
Tamarind: Contemporary Asian decor, top-deck views
Le Cirque: $49
Master Chef’s Room: $89
Tamarind: $20 (dinner only)