Nearly every cruise line offers an exclusive dining experience known as the Chef's Table. But what is it, and is the Chef's Table worth the price of admission?
A gastronomic journey and the pinnacle of cruise cuisine, the Chef’s Table is a multi-course tasting menu with wine pairing. This dinner is different from a specialty restaurant meal as it is only offered a few nights during the cruise and is by reservation only for a small group of diners -- averaging between 12 and 16 guests.
The dinner is presented by the Chef de Cuisine and Head Sommelier, the most knowledgeable people onboard the ship when it comes to food and wine. The menu may be continental or themed to the destination the ship is cruising through. But most of all, all menu items are created exclusively for the Chef’s Table and aren’t found in any other restaurants on the ship.
Diners are met and escorted to the venue -- on some ships, it is located in a special alcove of the main dining room, while on others, it may be in an intimate, dedicated space away from other diners. Some cruise lines, like Princess, even start their exclusive Chef's Table experience in the ship's galley, where the food preparation takes place, for canapes and champagne before moving on to the dining room.
As each course is presented and the wine is poured, the Head Chef will explain how the dish was designed and speak about the ingredients and its method of preparation. The sommelier will also provide information and tasting notes of the accompanying wines. With multiple courses, a descriptive presentation of each dish, and chit-chatting with your table mates, the Chef’s Table dinner experience can easily last three to four hours.
Each cruise line sets its own pricing for the Chef’s Table dinner, and there may be an option to upgrade the standard wine pairings for top-end vintages. Should you do it? It’s a no-brainer for foodies and wine aficionados, but it’s an informative and delightful experience if you want to give yourself a special treat or are simply epicurious.
The Chef’s Table dinner is offered onboard numerous cruise lines. The list below isn’t exhaustive, but it will give you some ideas and perhaps entice you to try one the next time you are onboard. We leave you with one tip: Chef’s Table dinners always sell out, so if you’re interested, try to snag a reservation as soon as you are onboard, or check with the cruise line to see whether you can pre-book it before you even leave home.
The Chef’s Table dinners onboard Azamara's small, destination-focused ships are themed to the regions the ship visits -- think French, Italian, or Middle East, etc. The exact menu offered is dependent on the voyage itinerary and at the Chef’s discretion.
Each menu features signature dishes from the theme country along with vintages from its wine-producing regions.
Offered onboard all Carnival ships, The Chef’s Table is unique as it combines a galley tour with the meal experience, so in addition to learning about the food and wine you’re consuming, you can also see the chefs in action and further appreciate how your meal is being prepared. Hosted by the Master Executive Chef and only seating 14, this wine-pairing dinner is definitely one you’ll want to reserve quickly.
The Chef’s Table Lumière is offered onboard Princess’ Royal-class ships -- Royal Princess, Regal Princess, Majestic Princess, Sky Princess, Enchanted Princess, and Discovery Princess. The exclusive dinner is held at a private table in the main dining room for up to 12 guests. Guests are escorted to the table by the Director of Restaurant Operations, and the Executive Chef explains the preparation and flavors of each course. The Chef joins the table during dessert to discuss the meal and answer any questions. Diners also receive a complimentary photo with the Chef as a memento of this special meal.
The Chef's Table dining experience is also offered on other Princess Cruises ships, but at a large table in the main dining room instead of a separate space found on the Royal-class ships.
Offered onboard all Royal Caribbean ships except Symphony of the Seas and Wonder of the Seas, this 5-course formal dinner is hosted by the ship’s Chef de Cuisine and paired with carefully chosen wines by the sommelier. The continental menu blends seafood, meats, and decadent sweet treats.
The Chef's Table is only available on select sailings, and can be reserved in advance using Royal Caribbean's online cruise planner.
Culinary-focused premium line Oceania offers an impressive lineup of Chef’s Table dinners. Offered onboard Oceania's Riviera and Marina, La Reserve by Wine Spectator is an exclusive wine pairing dinner that celebrates Oceania’s partnership with the prestigious wine magazine.
Up to three special dinners, each featuring a different menu, may be offered during a given voyage. The most indulgent of these is Oceania's lavish Dom Perignon Experience, where each of the six gourmet courses is paired with an exquisite vintage of Dom Perignon champagne. A special treat indeed!
AmaWaterways is the only river cruise line that offers a dedicated Chef’s Table dinner. The dinner is such an important part of the Ama culinary experience that the company has dedicated a restaurant just for it. Surrounded by windows so you can enjoy the river views while cruising, the restaurant also has a glass-enclosed open kitchen so you can watch the chefs prepare your meal.
The best part about this exclusive experience is its price: unlike most oceangoing Chef's Table experiences, AmaWaterways offers its own version complimentary for all guests. The menu is an epicurean delight of regional food, including river-caught fish and local produce in season.
And since just about every European river flows through a wine-producing region, the accompanying pours are from nearby wineries. The dinner is offered several nights during the cruise so that every guest has a chance to experience it.
Updated November 23, 2022