15 Best Cruise Ship Alternative Restaurants

The Verandah

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-around delicious food.

Partnerships with such storied chefs as Thomas Keller, 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.

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 cruise ship restaurants.

Restaurant Cuisine Cruise Line
Guy's Burger Joint American Carnival
Tuscan Grille Italian Celebrity
Silk Road Japanese Crystal
The Verandah French Cunard
Remy French Disney
Pinnacle Grille Pacific Northwest/American Holland America
Moderno Churrascaria Brazilian Steakhouse Norwegian
Red Ginger Asian fusion Oceania
The Epicurean Molecular gastronomy P&O Cruises
Sabatini's Mediterranean Princess
Prime 7 Steak/Seafood Regent
Jamie's Italian Italian Royal Caribbean
The Grill by Thomas Keller American Seabourn
Le Champagne French Silversea
Manfredi's Italian Viking Ocean Cruises

1. Carnival Cruise Line

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 16 (of 25) Carnival ships, 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. (Vegetarians can order a veggie burger so as not to miss out on the delectable toppings.) Guy Fieri has also brought on another free-of-charge venue on Carnival Magic, Dream, Vista and, soon, Breeze: This open-air smokehouse and barbecue concept -- dubbed Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse -- dishes out smoked-onboard cuts along with classic barbecue sides like mac 'n cheese, collard greens and slaw.

Ships: Carnival Breeze, Carnival Conquest, Carnival Dream, Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Freedom, Carnival Glory, Carnival Imagination, Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Magic, Carnival Pride, Carnival Sunshine, Carnival Triumph, Carnival Valor and Carnival Vista

Cost: It's free. To grab some grub, you'll just need to wait in line.


Menu item at Tuscan Grille

2. Celebrity Cruises

Restaurant: Tuscan Grille

At the Helm: Celebrity's culinary team

Why We Love It: While the Tuscan Grilles on all ships offer scrumptious fare, the Solstice-class venues additionally offer the best views of any restaurant onboard, thanks to an entire wall of glass.

The Dish: Celebrity's fleetwide Italian steakhouse serves up traditional regional fare with a contemporary flair. The menu features dry-aged steaks, butcher-cut meats, seafood and homemade pastas. Diners can start off with plates of artisanal salumi and top their meals off with authentic Italian cocktails and beers, or housemade limoncello. Lunch is served at least once per cruise.

Ships: Celebrity Constellation, Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Equinox, Celebrity Infinity, Celebrity Millennium, Celebrity Reflection, Celebrity Silhouette, Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Summit

Cost: You'll pay $45 per person for dinner ($25 for lunch). Reservations are recommended.


3. Crystal Cruises

Restaurant: Silk Road and The Sushi Bar

At the Helm: World-renowned master chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa

Why We Love It: Crystal's 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.

Ships: Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony

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.


4. Cunard Line

Restaurant: The Verandah

At the Helm: Twin British chefs Nicholas and Mark Oldroyd

Why We Love It: Cunard's 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 traditional and contemporary cuisine, with options from various regions: the Pyrenees, Alsace, Burgundy, etc. Dishes might include a sea scallop and ceviche salad, licorice-glazed magret duck and hot pistachio souffle with pomegranate and rose-scented ice cream. The menus on each ship vary slightly.

Ships: Fleetwide

Cost: Fees are $25 at lunch and $35 at dinner on Queen Elizabeth; $20 at lunch and $49.95 at dinner on Queen Mary 2; and $15 at lunch and $49.95 at dinner on Queen Victoria.


5. Disney Cruise Line

Restaurant: Remy

At the Helm: Chef Arnaud Lallement from l'Assiette Champenoise -- a Michelin three-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 cruising Disney.

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.

Ships: Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy

Cost: At $95 per person, it's among the most expensive restaurants at sea. Even more of a splurge, diners may choose the Wine Experience for an additional $105 ($200 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 $60 per person, where diners may also opt for the Champagne pairing (an additional $30 per person).


Steak Dinner at the Pinnacle Grill on Noordam

6. Holland America Line

Restaurant: Pinnacle Grill

At the Helm: Rudi Sodamin, master chef and culinary consultant for Holland America Line, and member of the Academie 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 Double R Ranch beef and fresh seafood. Try the cedar-planked halibut with shrimp scampi, roasted Jidori chicken with porcini mushrooms or filet mignon or rib eye steaks. It also has an extensive wine list, featuring varietals from the Pacific Northwest, where the line's headquarters are located.

New for summer 2017, once per cruise (or once per week on longer sailings), the Pinnacle Grill will transform into pop-up French seafood brasserie Sel de Mer on six Holland America ships (Nieuw Amsterdam, Noordam, Oosterdam, Eurodam, Westerdam and Zuiderdam), featuring seafood-centric dishes like seafood chowder, fresh-caught fish and bouillabaisse. Note on the 2016-debuted Koningsdam, Sel de Mer already has its very own venue, in addition to a dedicated Pinnacle Grill.

On sailings of 14 days or more aboard seven HAL ships (Amsterdam, Maasdam, Veendam, Rotterdam, Volendam, Zaandam and Prinsendam), the Pinnacle also turns into "An Evening at Le Cirque" pop-up, featuring dishes and wine selections from Sirio Maccioni's famous New York restaurant of the same name. Finally, the Pinnacle Grill on the Koningsdam, Rotterdam and Eurodam hosts a special "Taste of Librije" five-course menu one night per seven-night sailing (twice on 10-day or longer sailings, if there's interest), featuring dishes designed by Dutch Michelin-starred chef Jonnie Boer.

Ships: Fleetwide

Cost: There's a $10 per-person cover charge for lunch; it's $35 for dinner. The surcharge for Sel de Mer is still being determined, though it's priced on an a la carte basis at its fixed dining venue on the Koningsdam. The Le Cirque surcharge is $49 per person, while the Taste of Librije surcharge is $69, including wine. Advance dinner reservations are highly recommended, while lunch can be reserved onboard.


7. Norwegian Cruise Line

Restaurant: Moderno Churrascaria

At the Helm: Norwegian's culinary team

Why We Love It:  Not only can you tuck into delicious tableside-carved cuts of slow-roasted meats at this Brazilian-style steakhouse, but the meat-lover's eatery also touts alfresco oceanfront seating on Norwegian's Breakaway and Breakaway Plus-class ships.

The Dish: Kick things off at the extensive salad bar, filled to the brim with imported cheeses, cured meats, shrimp, fresh salads, olives and ceviche, then get ready to partake in a carnivore's delight. Order up unlimited skewers of South American-style rotisserie meats -- including beef, lamb, pork, Brazilian sausage or chicken -- carved up right at your table by a "passador." Pair it all with a traditional caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail, made with Leblon Cachaca, lime slices and simple syrup.

Ships: Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Jade, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Star, Norwegian Sun and Pride of America

Cost: The restaurant is open for dinner only, with a surcharge of $24.95 per person. Reservations are not required but are recommended.


8. Oceania Cruises

Restaurant: Red Ginger

At the Helm: Master Chef Jacques Pepin, former personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle

Why We Love It: The Feng Shui-inspired decor, which includes a soothing waterfall and modern Asian artwork, sets the stage for a memorable Asian-fusion meal.

The Dish: Oceania's Red Ginger offers contemporary interpretations of Asian classics, such as chicken satay and miso-glazed seabass. Extensive tea, wine, sake and dessert menus add to the experience.

Ships: Marina, Sirena and Riviera

Cost: It's complimentary, but reservations are required.


9. P&O Cruises

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 designed the Afternoon Tea, which he personally hosts when on board.

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 Gloucestershire 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 Gruyere cheese eclairs with Brie and dark chocolate cannoli with caramelized apple.  

Ships: Britannia, Ventura and Azura

Cost: Dinner costs £28. Reservations are essential. The fee for Eric Lanlard's Afternoon Tea (sea days only) is £15 per person.


10. Princess Cruises

Restaurant: Sabatini's

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 fried baby squid, served in a cone with a lemon garlic dip. Second courses include baked striped bass in zucchini crust and a roasted veal rack with mushroom ragout. There's also a variety of pastas.

Ships: The venue is found on all Princess ships, except for Emerald Princess, Ruby Princess, Sun Princess, Sea Princess and Dawn Princess.

Cost: The fee is $29 per person for adults and $14.50 for children ages 3 to 12. There's no charge for children younger than 2. The venue books up quickly, so reservations are encouraged.


11. Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Restaurant: Prime 7

At the Helm: Regent's culinary team

Why We Love It: Prime 7 epitomizes a classic steakhouse, and its USDA prime 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 crabcake 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' decadent molten Callebaut chocolate cake.

Ships: Fleetwide

Cost: It's gratis, but reservations might be limited to once per cruise so every passenger gets to try the venue.


Jamie's Italian on Anthem of the Seas

12. 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: Having debuted 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; truffle tagliatelle; and zingy prawn linguine, as well as a variety of small plates.

Ships: Quantum of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas

Cost: Pricing varies slightly across ships, ranging from $15 to $25 for lunch and $25 to $35 for dinner. Reservations are not required, although we recommend them, especially if you plan to dine during peak hours.


13. Seabourn Cruise Line

Restaurant: The Grill by Thomas Keller

At the Helm: Lauded American chef Thomas Keller, behind Michelin-starred restaurants Per Se, Bouchon and The French Laundry

Why We Love It: A classic American chophouse-inspired venue, The Grill by Thomas Keller, which debuted in 2016 and was designed by Adam D. Tihany, affords a sophisticated sensory dining experience, from the warm, elegant atmosphere to palate-pleasing plates.

Chef Keller also brings his sophisticated French/American fare to Seabourn's fleet through a slate of menu items -- spanning appetizers, entrees and desserts -- that he's created for the main restaurant, the Colonnade and the Patio.

The Dish: Try surf-and-turf classics like lobster Thermidor with creamed spinach or the roasted free-range chicken with thyme jus (for two). The Grill's wine list was curated by Chef Keller himself to complement each dish.

Ships: Fleetwide

Cost: The Grill by Thomas Keller is complimentary and open for dinner daily; advance reservations are recommended.


14. Silversea Cruises

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 specific voyage destinations, dishes might include meat-filled pastries and foie gras, shellfish with asparagus sorbet and roasted Bresse chicken.

Ships: Silver Cloud, Silver Wind, Silver Spirit, Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper

Cost: Dinner will set you back $40 per person. Reservations are required.


15. Viking Ocean Cruises

Restaurant: Manfredi's

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 octopus carpaccio, 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.

Ships: Fleetwide

Cost: No extra surcharge is levied for Viking Ocean Cruises' Manfredi's. Reservations are highly recommended.