Are you a lobster-lover? A crab connoisseur? A fish fanatic? When it comes to seafood, cruises do it right, from casual catch-of-the-day dinners to specially prepared and delivered dishes to satisfy any foodie. Check out our list of nine onboard restaurants that take cruise ship seafood to new culinary heights.
- Holland America's Sel de Mer
- Norwegian's Ocean Blue
- Carnival's Seafood Shack
- Azamara's Aqualina
- Royal Caribbean's Hooked
- MSC's Ocean Cay
- Honorable Mention (Buffet): Viking Ocean Cruises' World Cafe
- Honorable Mention (Steakhouse): Regent's Prime 7
- Honorable Mention (Main Dining Room): Paul Gauguin's L'Etoile
Sel de Mer
Ships: Holland America's Koningsdam
Experience: This restaurant, whose name means "sea salt" in French, is Holland America's new seafood brasserie. When possible, chefs choose fresh daily catches from local markets in ports of call. Sample menu items include salted fish, seafood chowder, scallops, crab salad, baked escargot and various types of shellfish including lobster and oysters. On select Holland America ships without the restaurant, Rudi's Sel de Mer pop-ups take place one evening of the cruise (typically in Pinnacle Grill).
Price: Fees apply on an a la carte basis, with appetizers starting at $6. But if you're planning to order a whole meal with wine, the experience can easily set you back $100 or more for two people. Pop-up venues have a set cover charge of $49 per person.
Photo: Cruise Critic
Ships: Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway
Experience: Formerly affiliated with Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, Ocean Blue is a for-fee, sit-down restaurant on select Norwegian ships. Here, passengers will find everything from lobster bisque, crab cakes and calamari to sea scallops, whole lobsters and a variety of crab legs and fish (snapper, sea bass, grouper, sole).
Price: Prices range from $3.99 for conch chowder to $39.99 for the "Seafood Extravaganza," which includes a whole lobster, king crab legs, clams, mussels and shrimp.
Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line
Ships: Carnival Vista, Carnival Conquest, Carnival Spirit, Carnival Freedom, Carnival Glory, Carnival Horizon, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Triumph, Carnival Valor, Carnival Victory
Experience: Carnival has removed free lobster from the menus in its main dining rooms on short cruises (sailings of five nights or fewer), and it has done away with its free fish 'n' chips venue on at least one ship. On the bright side, the line has introduced the new alfresco restaurant Seafood Shack, and although it's a for-fee establishment, it offers a markedly better experience than the previously included options. Seafood Shack's menus feature clam chowder, lobster rolls, crab cake sliders and fish 'n' chips, and, in a unique twist, passengers can even order fresh fish, prepared to their liking and delivered to any restaurant onboard. On Australia's Carnival Spirit, the venue is located in a smaller area of the buffet and called Seafood Corner, but it has the same menu and local prawns from Sydney's fish market.
Price: Prices are a la carte and range from $4 for clam chowder in a bread bowl to "market price" for items such as individual oysters, and lobster, crab and shrimp by the pound.
Ships: Fleetwide on Azamara Club Cruises
Experience: Standard menu items at this Azamara for-fee restaurant might include lobster bisque, seafood bouillabaisse, lobster various ways, a seafood platter and several types of fish including salmon, halibut and tuna. We were particularly impressed when, during one cruise off the coast of Iceland, the chef pulled out a fishing rod and later served up what he'd caught.
Price: Aqualina is free to cruisers booked in suites. For everyone else, the flat-fee cover charge is $30 per person.
Photo: Azamara Club Cruises
Ships: Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas
Experience: Modern decor embraces the tradition of New England seafood in Hooked, Royal Caribbean's first dedicated seafood restaurant. A beautiful raw bar is the focal point of the room, offering shooters and oysters picked up in local ports. From the lobster roll to the Boston cream pie, the menu sticks to its New England inspiration while still offering upscale seafood dishes like surf and turf. The crowd favorite, however, goes by the name of the messy fish sandwich. If you like a good cocktail, don't miss the signature drink, the Saint Peter's Spritzer.
Price: Hooked costs $39 per person, with upcharges for select menu items like a whole Maine lobster ($30).
Photo: Royal Caribbean
Ships: MSC Seaside and MSC Seaview
Experience: MSC's seafood restaurant, which debuted on Seaside, features ocean views and an elevated take on nautical decor. The food is the true highlight, and diners can expect options like rockfish soup, linguini with white wine and clams, oysters and soft-shell crabs onboard Seaside. The crowning dish is a fresh, 25-ounce salt-crusted Mediterranean sea bass ($60). On Seaview, the menu is curated in partnership with Spanish chef Ramon Freixa. The option to pay a cover or order per item gives diners the freedom to customize their experience.
Price: Ocean Cay is $50 per person for a prix fixe menu or priced per item, a la carte.
Photo: Cruise Critic
The World Cafe
Ships: Fleetwide on Viking Ocean Cruises
Experience: It's not often you hear of a cruise ship's buffet being called out for exceptional seafood, but Viking Ocean Cruises has changed the game. The spread includes jumbo shrimp, crab legs and sushi nightly.
Price: It's free.
Photo: Cruise Critic
Ships: Fleetwide on Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Experience: This restaurant is known as a steakhouse, but seafood-lovers will find plenty to indulge in as well. Menu items include ahi tuna, jumbo lump crab cakes, clam chowder, lobster tail, king crab legs, and surf and turf.
Price: It's free.
Photo: Regent Seven Seas
Ships: Paul Gauguin
Experience: Paul Gauguin Cruises's only vessel, the namesake Paul Gauguin, sails Tahiti itineraries, giving passengers access to some of the freshest fish at sea. When possible, the chef ventures into port to bring back the catch of the day, which often shows up on the menu at L'Etoile, the ship's main dining room.
Price: It's free.
Photo: Paul Gauguin Cruises
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. For example, fall foliage enthusiasts will find September and October the best time to cruise Canada/New England, whereas families prefer to sail in summer when temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.