Eating well at a great restaurant is one of life's finest indulgences, whether it's leave-you-speechless haute cuisine or greasy, salty guilty pleasures. The good news for cruisers is you don't have to leave dining choices behind on dry land when you set sail. Cruise ships are continually upping the ante with specialty restaurants that feature international dishes, celebrity chefs, intimate venues, innovative menus and all-round delicious food.
Partnerships with such storied chefs as Jacques Pepin, Jamie Oliver and Nobu have certainly raised the food bar at sea, but even in-house culinary teams are turning out novel cruise ship fare. Look for onboard venues embracing the gastropub movement, advanced cooking technologies and even molecular gastronomy.
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Many, but not all, of these dining venues come at a price, but the extra fees are often worth it. If you're an avid foodie, a couple looking for a romantic splurge or to celebrate a special occasion, or anyone wishing to cap a vacation day with an especially memorable dinner, you will relish this list of our favorite onboard alternative restaurants.
|Guy's Burger Joint||American||Carnival|
|Pinnacle Grille||Pacific Northwest/American||Holland America|
|Red Ginger||Asian fusion||Oceania|
|The Epicurean||Molecular gastronomy||P&O Cruises|
|Jamie's Italian||Italian||Royal Caribbean|
|Manfredi's||Italian||Viking Ocean Cruises|
At the Helm: Executive Chef Robert van Rijsbergen
Why We Love It: Rotating menus mean passengers can have two different dining experiences in the same space.
The Dish: Aqualina offers two menus, its original Mediterranean bill of fare and an Italian menu that was introduced in 2014. The newer menu -- which includes gnocchi, prosciutto with melon and limoncello souffle -- is swapped with Mediterranean offerings (such as osso buco, lobster thermidor and filet mignon) every few days.
Cost: A surcharge of $25 per person applies; there's no charge for suite passengers. Reservations are recommended but not required.
Restaurant: Guy's Burger Joint
At the Helm: Restaurateur and Food Network personality Guy Fieri
Why We Love It: Carnival proves you don't need fancy clothes or lap napkins to enjoy a high-quality meal.
The Dish: Found on a number of ships after Fun Ship 2.0 upgrades, Guy's Burger Joint serves fresh-off-the-grill burgers and hand-cut fries in a fun, laid-back poolside setting. Diners can order prepared menu items or head to the toppings bar to customize their burgers.
Cost: It's free. To grab some grub, you'll need to wait in line.
3. Celebrity Cruises
Restaurant: Tuscan Grille
At the Helm: Celebrity's culinary team
Why We Love It: In addition to scrumptious fare, the venue offers the best views of any restaurant onboard each ship, thanks to an entire wall of glass.
The Dish: The line's Italian steakhouse serves up traditional regional fare with a contemporary flair. The menu features steaks, seafood and pasta, all with corn-fed USDA Choice beef. Diners can start off with plates of antipasto and top their meals off with chocolate fondue and limoncello. Lunch is served at least once per cruise.
Cost: You'll pay $45 per person. Reservations are required.
Restaurant: Silk Road and the Sushi Bar
At the Helm: World-renowned master chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa
Why We Love It: The onboard chefs were all personally trained by the master himself -- and it shows.
The Dish: Nobu's menu is a blend of classic Japanese, Peruvian and European cuisines. Some of his popular entrees include lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce and the Nobu Box, a sampler of his famous beef, cod and rock shrimp dishes. Don't miss the sushi and sashimi at the sushi bar.
Cost: The first reservation is complimentary and can be booked pre-cruise; additional reservations are $30 per person, based on availability, and they must be made onboard.
Restaurant: The Verandah
At the Helm: Cunard Global Culinary Ambassador and Michelin-starred chef Jean-Marie Zimmermann
Why We Love It: The Verandah restaurant pays homage to the exclusive Verandah Grills found on the original Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary. A meal there will upgrade any cruise into a luxury one -- at least until the last crumb of dessert has been devoured.
The Dish: The dishes represent France's culinary heritage, with options from various regions: the Pyrenees, Alsace, Burgundy, etc. Dishes might include a crab meat starter with tomato caviar, monkfish and rascas fish bouillabaisse, magret duck served with baked brie, and hot vanilla souffle infused with Edmond Briottet peach liqueur. The menus on each ship vary slightly.
Cost: It's $29 per person for dinner, with supplemental fees for select menu items. Lunch ranges from $5 to $12 per dish. Reservations are required for all passengers, including World Club members.
At the Helm: Chef Arnaud Lallement from l'Assiette Champenoise -- a Michelin two-star restaurant in France -- and Chef Scott Hunnel from the award-winning Victoria & Albert's at Walt Disney World Resort
Why We Love It: Exquisite service, rich French fare and luxury touches will wow even the toughest food critics.
The Dish: Remy takes its name from the lovable rat, who stars as a chef in the hit Disney Pixar film "Ratatouille." Start out with a Taittinger Champagne cocktail made tableside. Then choose from dishes that include smoked bison with melted fennel and leeks, Alaskan king crab cannelloni and Tanzanian chocolate timbale.
Cost: At $85 per person, it's the most expensive restaurant at sea. Even more of a splurge, diners may choose the Wine Experience for an additional $99 ($184 total), during which the sommelier selects wines to pair with the tasting menus. Reservations can be made online in advance or onboard. Certain sailings offer a Champagne Brunch at Remy for $55 per person, where diners may also opt for the Champagne pairing (an additional $25 per person).
7. Holland America Line
Restaurant: Pinnacle Grille
At the Helm: Rudi Sodamin, master chef and culinary consultant for Holland America Line, and member of the Academy Culinaire de France, Master Chef Society and Club des Chefs des Chefs
Why We Love It: Combine a gorgeous setting and fantastic food, and you've got a go-to destination for romantic dates and special-occasion dinners.
The Dish: The Pacific Northwest-inspired Pinnacle Grill boasts creative menus prepared with regional ingredients and hand-selected aged Sterling Silver beef and fresh seafood. Try the spicy chicken coconut soup or filet mignon with a choice of complementary sauces. It also has an extensive wine list, featuring wines from the Pacific Northwest, where the line's headquarters are located. Once per cruise (or once per week on longer sailings), the Pinnacle Grill transforms into An Evening at Le Cirque, featuring dishes and wine selections from Sirio Maccioni's famous New York restaurant of the same name.
Cost: There's a $10 per-person cover charge for lunch; it's $29 for dinner ($12.50 for children ages 13 to 18). The surcharge for An Evening at Le Cirque is $49 per person. Dinner reservations are required in advance, while lunch can be reserved onboard.
Restaurant: Ocean Blue
At the Helm: New York-based Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian
Why We Love It: Considering Ocean Blue's high-quality food and upscale ambience, dining there is a steal. The cover charge alone is less than Zakarian's famed Dover sole, sold at his NYC establishment for $68.
The Dish: Ocean Blue is Norwegian's most upscale dining venue. Its emphasis is on seafood; diners can choose from eight starters and eight main choices that include a daily special, black sea bass, monkfish, salmon, crab risotto and scallops. The restaurant also has an adjacent raw bar, which features primarily crustaceans and wine by the glass, as well as a la carte pricing.
Cost: The surcharge there is $39 per person. Reservations are not required but are recommended.
Restaurant: Red Ginger
At the Helm: Master Chef Jacques Pepin, personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle
Why We Love It: The Feng Shui-inspired decor, which includes three glowing Buddha heads adorning each table, sets the stage for a memorable Asian-fusion meal.
The Dish: Red Ginger offers contemporary interpretations of Asian classics, such as claypot caramelized chicken and miso-glazed seabass. Extensive tea, wine, sake and dessert menus add to the experience.
Cost: It's complimentary. Reservations are not required but are strongly recommended, as the venue tends to fill up quickly.
Restaurant: The Epicurean
At the Helm: There's no celebrity chef associated with this; just P&O Cruises' in-house team of executive chefs. However, master patissier Eric Lanlard does oversee the Afternoon Tea.
Why We Love It: Britannia's fine dining restaurant offers classic British dishes with a modern twist, using the principles of molecular gastronomy and techniques such as precision temperature cooking, freeze drying and liquid nitrogen. Cynics might dismiss this as style over substance, but the dishes justify the theatrics.
The Dish: Appetizers might include chicken liver parfait, brought to your table with wood smoke pouring out; or Spanish cured ham (jamon pata negra), sliced from the leg with Manchego cheese and olives, or a duo of cured smoked salmons. The mains are equally interesting, all sourced from British farms: Double Gloucester Old Spot pork fillet, loin of wild boar, butter-poached lobster tail and salt marsh rack of lamb.
Eric Lanlard's Afternoon Tea is equally fun: expect such delights as smoked salmon on spinach bread and cherry tomato and baby mozzarella tarts.
Cost: £28. Reservations are essential. For Eric Lanlard's Afternoon Tea (sea days only) it is £15 per person.
11. Princess Cruises
At the Helm: Princess' culinary team
Why We Love It: Sabatini's offers some of the best dining value for your money at sea.
The Dish: Sabatini's serves up Italian and Mediterranean fare with an emphasis on seafood. Choose from antipasti like hand-formed cow's milk burrata cheese on tomato carpaccio or crisp buttermilk soft-shell crab over baby arugula. Second courses include baked striped bass in zucchini crust and a roasted veal rack with mushroom ragout. There's also a variety of pastas.
Cost: The fee is $25 per person for adults and $12.50 for children ages 3 to 12. There's no charge for children younger than 2. The venue books up quickly, so reservations are encouraged.
Restaurant: Prime 7
At the Helm: Regent's culinary team
Why We Love It: Prime 7 epitomizes a classic steakhouse, and its U.S.D.A.-approved beef has all been dry-aged at least 28 days. While meat-lovers will pay hefty surcharges for this kind of fare on other lines, Regent's best beef is complimentary.
The Dish: Like any steakhouse, the menu features steaks and seafood. We recommend the ahi tuna tartare or jumbo lump crab cake starters, huge entrees like prime porterhouse (carved tableside), whole Maine lobster or surf and turf (6 oz. filet mignon with your choice of lobster tail or Alaskan king crab legs). For dessert, treat yourself to Regent Seven Seas' famous 14-layer Valrhona chocolate cake with roasted pistachio sauce.
Cost: It's gratis, but reservations might be limited to once per cruise so every passenger gets to try the venue.
13. Royal Caribbean International
Restaurant: Jamie's Italian
At the Helm: Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, one of Britain's most acclaimed chefs
Why We Love It: Unique twists or traditional fare, indoor or alfresco seating -- you decide how you want to dine at Jamie's Italian. Either way, you can't go wrong with high-quality ingredients and delicious dishes.
The Dish: Debuting on Royal Caribbean's first Quantum Class ship, Jamie's Italian serves up dishes like Oliver's famous wood plank with cured meats, pickles and cheese; pumpkin panzerotti; and zingy prawn linguine, as well as a variety of small plates.
Cost: You'll shell out $30 for dinner and $15 for lunch, per person. Reservations are not required, although we recommend them, especially if you plan to dine during peak hours.
At the Helm: Executive Chef Anthony Mauboussin, with some help from Manfredi Lefebvre -- Silversea Cruises' head honcho, Italy native and pal of Viking's CEO Torstein Hagen -- who helped develop the menu from his favorite childhood dishes.
Why We Love It: Even with just one menu at Manfredi's, it's rich enough with options that you could visit numerous times and never run out of new dishes to try.
The Dish: The rustic Tuscan menu offers hearty fare, traditionally prepared, in a trattoria-style setting. Highlights of the starters include a caprese salad, octopus carpaccio, asparagus and polenta, pasta e fagioli soup and a surprisingly light fried calamari. An entirely separate section of the menu details the pasta offerings like gnocchi alla romana, fettuccine carbonara and mushroom risotto; you can order these (and others) as a main course or as a smaller appetizer. For mains, a melange of fish and meat options, the bistecca Florentine, veal scaloppini and osso bucco are standouts. For dessert, the tiramisu is, as expected, a cornerstone offering, but don't miss the decadently delicious Nutella panna cotta.
In addition to the menu's regular offerings, the restaurant features entree and pasta specials each night. And don't miss the cured meats and cheeses station at the entrance to Manfredi's -- the chefs there whip up a marvelous antipasti.
Cost: No extra surcharge is levied for Manfredi's. Reservations are highly recommended.
Restaurant: Le Champagne
At the Helm: Silversea's culinary team
Why We Love It: It's the only restaurant at sea belonging to Relais & Chateaux (a network of more than 500 luxury hotels and restaurants around the world).
The Dish: Le Champagne is upscale, even by Silversea's luxury standards. The small French-inspired restaurant, which can host only a limited number of diners per night, offers six-course meals inspired by wine regions around the world. While menus change continuously to reflect itineraries, dishes might include meat-filled pastries and foie gras, shellfish with asparagus sorbet and roasted Bresse chicken.
Cost: It'll set you back $40 per person. Reservations are required.
--By Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor; updated by Gina Kramer, Associate Editor