Much maligned for many years, cruise ship food has become sophisticated, while the latest restaurants look (and taste) as good as those on land.
These are the foodie trends that are transforming the way people eat afloat, says Cruise Weekly editor Louise Goldsbury.
1. Ditch the dining room
Royal Caribbean was the first to announce that its next ship (Quantum of the Seas) will have no main dining room. Instead, it is installing 18 smaller restaurants and cafés (maximum 500 passengers) with flexible dining times – aka Dynamic Dining. Traditionalists are crying into their French onion soup.
2. Celebrity chefs on rivers
Even river cruising is getting in on this signature trend. Australia’s Michelin-starred culinary identity, David Thompson, has been appointed as executive chef of the Aqua Mekong (launching 30 September 2014), and next year, APT is planning the French-Vietnamese ‘Indochine’ by Luke Nguyen on its new ship, MS Anastasia, in Russia.
3. Chef’s table
From the budget end of Carnival to the high end of Seabourn, many ships offer this exclusive experience for an extra cost. The special occasion usually involves a multi-course dinner with matching wines served at a private table, hosted by one of the ship’s master chefs, along with a champagne reception and tour of the galley.
4. Catch your own
On expedition cruises, passengers can fish for barramundi in the Kimberley (True North or Great Escape), catch and release a piranha in the Amazon (Delfin or Aqua Expeditions) or snag a Spanish mackerel in Fiji (Captain Cook Cruises or Blue Lagoon Crusies). Sometimes, the chef will even cook it for you. Can’t get fresher than that.
5. Separate sushi
Gone are the days of shoving the sushi bar down the back of the buffet for a few hours a night. When Carnival Legend comes to Australia this spring, it will introduce Bonsai Sushi, where diners sit among bonsai trees while enjoying festive koi kite celebrations, sit-down service and a menu of sashimi, sushi boats, sake and more. Also, Princess Cruises recently replaced the Champagne Bar on the Australia-based Sun Princess with Kai Sushi, where you can sit at tables or at the bar. Of course, the all-inclusive Crystal Cruises has long had excellent sushi bars, alongside its Silk Road restaurants on Symphony and Serenity, where the dishes are prepared by Nobu-trained chefs.
6. Al fresco
Finally there are more open-air dining options on both oceans and rivers. Most of the new river vessels in Europe have indoor/outdoor cafés serving snacks, pizza and salads. Moving on from a burger at the poolside grill, NCL has “The Waterfront” boardwalk of eight eateries. Seabourn and Silversea serve romantic dinners on the pool deck. Carnival Spirit has Fat Jimmy’s C-Side BBQ. Celebrity Solstice has picnics on the top-deck lawn.
7. Fresh produce
River vessels dock within walking distance of the local village’s farmers markets, so crew can buy the freshest ingredients for each day’s regionally-relevant meals. Uniworld and Evergreen/Emerald Tours are among those who do it daily.
8. Dietary restrictions welcome
Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, salt-free, sugar-free, low-cholesterol, diabetic, raw food, slow food, Kosher or Halal – you name it, a cruise line will do it.