Oceania Cruises has nailed its dining options onboard its ships, but passengers who want to crank it up a notch can try out the company's Culinary Discovery Tours, which takes travelers into the towns, homes, shops, restaurant and markets to learn about authentic, local cuisine. Tours are designed to provide a bit of education, a dash of hands-on learning, a smidge of shopping and a heaping helping of eating.
Culinary Discovery Tours are offered on a number of itineraries, but if you really want to make sure you can partake, book a Mediterranean cruise, which has the most tour opportunities. Italy, France, Greece and Spain provide a wealth of excursion options. Oceania also offers food tours in Northern Europe ports, such as Helsinki, Oslo and Tallinn.
Your day begins with a group meetup onboard, where passengers get a taste of what's to come. Here, you'll receive instructions from your guide -- the ship's chef instructor -- who will join you ashore. Your morning session will provide a run-through for the day. Chances are, you'll be the first passengers off the ship, as the tours can be long and require a fair amount of time in port.
Once ashore, you'll meet with a local tour guide as well as a driver (if one is necessary). The tour guide and chef instructor work in tandem, with the guide providing a history of the region, pointing out interesting or notable sites and answering questions from passengers as they arise. The chef instructor talks about food: what is important to the region, how it developed and what you should look out for should you want to take home a food souvenir.
You'll probably visit more than one location, so you get a better idea of what makes up the locale's food vibe. For example, a trip to Portofino might start at a local olive oil shop, where you sample a variety of oils and learn about how they're made and what makes them different. Up next: a visit to the market, where you'll see how locals shop and barter. Afterward, you might take in a demonstration of pesto making, followed by a gourmet lunch comprising regional specialties and made with local ingredients. In between, there will be time for shopping and sightseeing. Passengers are encouraged to spend on local cuisine; chef instructors hand out envelopes with small amounts of cash to the tour participants so they will be more open to buying treats.
At the end of the tour, passengers return to the ship with the chef instructors.
You don't have to be a lover of food to enjoy Oceania's Culinary Discovery Tours, but it sure helps. Many of the passengers who participate in the tours are the same people who take courses in Oceania's Culinary Center, an onboard space (on Riviera and Marina) where passengers take cooking and preparation lessons. Food is the primary focus of the tours, and discussion among the participants is mostly about dining and wine.
Tours can, for the most part, accommodate passengers who have some allergies or food preferences, but notice is required. It also helps to be open to trying new foods -- and maybe straying from your comfort zone. Even if you don't eat oil-packed sardines at home, you should give them a try in Sicily.
Chances are, you'll learn a thing or two and take home tips you'll want to use in your own kitchen.
Prices vary pretty widely depending on the length and activities involved in the tour, but expect to pay upward of $200. Tour groups generally have fewer than two dozen passengers, and they could be canceled if fewer than six people sign up. Tours can be booked online ahead of your cruise or onboard, through destination services.
Updated August 09, 2018