Coffee drinkers rejoice! You don't have to give up great coffee when you're on a cruise. The barista bar has been raised and bad cruise coffee is quite unusual these days -- especially if you're willing to pay for lattes, cappuccinos and other specialty coffee beverages. With well-known brand names onboard, like Seattle's Best, Nespresso and Starbucks, cruise ship coffee has most definitely improved.
The best cruise coffee shops offer more than just a great cup of plain coffee. Each cafe's unique vibe, setting and amenities combine to create a relaxing at-sea hideaway or an onboard space you return to again and again. Whether it's the sound of beans grinding, milk frothing, fellow passengers chatting or simply the sea below, the top cruise ship coffee spots can be quite atmospheric.
If you're a serious coffee connoisseur, you don't want to be stuck at sea with no cafe culture. To help you out, here are the 9 best cruises for coffee, combining savory sips with a welcoming ambience.
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Holland America: Explorations Cafe, powered by The New York Times
This top spot for coffee seemingly has it all. Included on all of Holland America's ships, this seagoing bistro offers reasonably priced coffee drinks (try the caramel-flavored Carmello Latte), complimentary pastries and snacks, an extensive library, condensed international newspapers, internet terminals (including some free sites) and Wi-Fi, desks, cool tables with reusable wipe-off NYT crossword puzzles and lots of plush chairs and sofas (many with great views). With so much going on, Explorations Cafe has set the standard for top coffee spots at sea.
Royal Caribbean: Starbucks at Sea
First introduced on Allure of the Seas and now onboard sister ships Oasis of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean's Starbucks at Sea venues are the only Starbucks on any cruise ships. The stores are located on the bustling Royal Promenade on Oasis and Allure, and in the Boardwalk neighborhood on Harmony, with plenty of people-watching tables and chairs nearby. Inside, trained baristas sell signature and seasonal beverages and food, as well as the complete line of Starbucks VIA Ready Brew products. The company's loyal -- and wide-awake -- devotees will be grateful to see the green-and-white logo onboard, denoting the presence of familiar caffeinated offerings. (Coffee fans on other Royal Caribbean ships won't entirely miss out, as Seattle's Best Coffee, a feature brand in the Starbucks portfolio, has been a fleetwide Royal Caribbean selection for more than 10 years.)
Crystal Cruises: The Bistro
Like a small French patisserie or Viennese cafe where the locals gather for hours, Crystal Cruises' The Bistro is the place to be for great coffee and good company. Large picture windows provide sea or port views, and there's plenty of cafe seating. Thoughtful touches include a stack of magazines to browse, the occasional string quartet, complimentary fresh European-style pastries and other snacks, and even special Bistro china designed by Guy Buffet. (Takeout cups are available, but The Bistro's setting, coffee and food are all hard to beat.)
Cunard: Cafe Carinthia
Due to its popularity when it was introduced on Queen Victoria, Cunard's Cafe Carinthia concept was expanded on Queen Elizabeth, almost doubling the capacity of cafe seating and popular bar stools in the second helping. Likewise, a similar space, the Carinthia Lounge, was added to Queen Mary 2 in 2016. Cafe Carinthia and the Carinthia Lounge have an elegant atmosphere that is light and open, thanks to a leaded glass ceiling, chandeliers, lush drapery, warm woods and lots of welcoming armchairs and sofas. There are the typical hot and cold coffee options, along with chocolate drinks and oh-so-British Wedgewood teas. Food offerings include freshly baked pastries, tasty blueberry muffins and brioche in the morning, plus gourmet sandwiches and quiches at lunchtime and deep-dish cheesecakes and varied tarts in the afternoon. Cafe Carinthia and the Carinthia Lounge are transformed into popular cocktail lounges at night.
Windstar Cruises: Yacht Club
Found aboard all Windstar ships, the Yacht Club (also called the Yacht Club Sandwich & Espresso Bar) brews tasty coffee and an array of specialty coffee drinks. Whether the ship is under sail, anchored or docked, passengers can enjoy complimentary coffee beverages while relaxing on leather chairs and sofas, watching movies, reading or enjoying games of chess. And, of course, there's the favorite sailing pastime of simultaneously savoring the sea view and a nice brew.
Disney Cruise Line: Cove Cafe
Disney Cruise Line's Cove Cafe is a cozy and peaceful adults-only retreat where passengers can sit back, sip gourmet coffee or refreshing alcoholic beverages, and indulge in a sweet snack. Located in the adults-only area up on Deck 11 of Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy -- and on Deck 9 of Disney Magic and Disney Wonder -- the cafe offers magazines and books for reading, a large flat-screen television showcasing the latest in news and sports, and Wi-Fi access for guests looking to surf the internet and check e-mail while at sea. With a warm and welcoming design, this intimate haven provides both air-conditioned indoor seating, and ocean-breeze outdoor seating.
Costa Cruises: Coffee and Chocolate Bar
Leave it to an Italian line to combine the pleasure of coffee and chocolate into a tasty Italian bar/cafe experience. Costa uses the dark Lavazza Italian brand for its coffee and coffee drinks throughout much of ship, while the E' Tricaffe Italian brand is used in Costa Cruises' Coffee and Chocolate Bar. Indulge with hot and cold chocolate drinks, a sweet-smelling chocolate fountain and pastries (including lots of chocolate options, of course). It's all served in an oh-so-Italian corner cafe setting. When in (or cruising to) Rome, say "si" to that espresso.
Celebrity Cruises: Cafe al Bacio & Gelateria
Cafe de Bacio & Gelateria is a stylish espresso bar with ample ocean vistas, found onboard every Celebrity ship. Cafe patrons can enjoy a wide array of specialty coffees, teas and liqueurs for a fee and freshly baked pastries for free while lounging in an Italian-inspired space with ocean views. The adjacent gelateria provides gelatos and ices (for an extra charge), so you can choose to go hot or cold.
Azamara Club Cruises: Mosaic Cafe
Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey feature the Mosaic Cafe, where passengers enjoy complimentary specialty coffee and coffee drinks, liqueurs, biscotti, tea sandwiches, European pastries or scones. The cafe sells Nespresso coffee drinks for a fee. Centrally located on Deck 5, Mosaic's congenial service and atmosphere make it a favorite gathering spot for conversation, cards and trivia games.
More Coffee Ideas: Any Ship, Anywhere
Cruise Critic message board posts reveal lots of tips from the obviously caffeine-fueled BYOB ("Be Your Own Barista") set. These coffee addicts recommended bringing your own French press and preferred coffees (anyone for Jamaican Blue Mountain?) onboard to set up a private coffee shop in your cabin. (Check with your cruise line before bringing electric coffee makers and grinders, as bringing small appliances into cabins is often frowned upon.) If you have a balcony for enjoying your own freshly made cup, it's all the better. Other reader tips include:
For instant coffee-drinkers ... "My preference: Folgers singles. You can get hot water anywhere at any time and make your own." -- coolestwife
For all java fiends, whether you're bringing coffee back or drinking it out ... "Remember that on any ship, if you go late, the coffee has probably been sitting on the warmer, and won't be as good. I go early in the morning, so maybe that's why I've had better luck." -- flashdog_1
For independent explorers… "One of my joys when traveling is to search out coffee shops in port -- especially when we are doing our own thing. I often do it before we go and print off maps. Had some great experiences." -- Alaskanb