Cruising and enjoying fresh air go together like a nice steak and fine wine. That's why making use of a cruise ship's stunning ocean views and open decks makes complete sense when creating the atmosphere for an onboard restaurant.
Alfresco, or outdoor, dining is not a new concept but has seen more recent innovation at sea. Moving beyond just the pool grill, cruise ships embrace everything from backyard-style grill venues to pop-up restaurants that create a unique and romantic ambiance on the open decks. One cruise line even offers an entire promenade of restaurants with open-air seating.
If savoring a meal under the sun or stars appeals to you, read on to find out which cruise ships offer the best alfresco restaurants at sea and why.
1. The Waterfront (Various Restaurants) on Norwegian Cruise LineThe Waterfront, a promenade featuring open-air bars and restaurants, debuted on Norwegian Breakaway in 2013. It has grown with successive ships including Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Encore. The neat thing about Norwegian's Waterfront is the choice of alfresco seating at passenger's favorite fleetwide restaurants. These might include La Cucina for Italian cuisine; Cagney's, Norwegian's signature steakhouse; Ocean Blue, a modern seafood-forward fine dining venue; and Brazilian-style churrascaria, Moderno.Onboard Norwegian Escape exclusively, diners will find Bayamo, a Latin-inspired establishment that focuses on seafood like ceviche and lobster, with stylish seating overlooking the ocean. On Norwegian Encore, exclusively, cruisers will find Onda by Scarpetta on the Waterfront, an at-sea iteration of the land-based Italian eatery found in some of the best hotels around the world. All Waterfront restaurants serve an a la carte menu, not included in the cruise fare.
2. Earth & Ocean at The Patio on Seabourn Cruise LineThis dining experience, which takes place outside at Seabourn's poolside grill The Patio, aims to bring cruisers elegant but simply prepared dishes from around the world. Paired with its own distinct table settings and background music, Earth & Ocean impresses diners with attention to detail and dishes like bao buns, shareable oven-baked Brie with rustic bread and a pot of honey mustard, and a daily tagine (dish cooked in a ceramic Moroccan pot).While the atmosphere is decidedly casual for this luxury brand (blankets are on hand for chilly nights), the food and service still aim to exceed expectations -- and the menu changes each evening. As with all of Seabourn's onboard dining, Earth & Ocean is included in the cruise fare.
3. Lawn Club Grill on Celebrity Reflection and Celebrity SilhouetteAnyone who has sailed onboard a Celebrity ship with a Lawn Club understands the enchanting dynamic of a lush green expanse of grass floating through the middle of the sea. On two of Celebrity's ships, cruisers can soak in these unique top-deck surroundings while mastering their grilling techniques.The Lawn Club Grill is open for dinner (and at least once per sailing for lunch) to allow passengers to work with a chef on preparing steaks, kabobs and more for their table; or, kick back like you're truly on vacation and order to your stomach's content. Crowd favorites include the lobster mac 'n' cheese, build-your-own flatbreads and warm fruit cobbler. The Lawn Club Grill also serves beer flights and bloody marys. This outdoor, interactive venue carries an additional cover charge.
4. Rock Grill on Bahamas Paradise Cruise LineA two-ship cruise line known for weekend getaways, Bahamas Paradise makes our lineup of alfresco hot spots with its take on lava stone gastronomy. At night, the majority of the outdoor seating area used by the buffet transforms into the interactive Rock Grill, an alfresco restaurant where the diners cook their meal via hot stones placed in the center of the table.Appetizers come prepared and include tantalizing options like Korean spareribs or Hawaiian tuna poke. The entrees comprise a selection of meats and seafood, cooked exactly to your liking -- because, well, you're doing it. Chicken satay with plum sauce is a highlight, though you can choose from any of the seven dipping sauces.The venue charges a cover, and upgraded surf and turf options carry an additional fee. However, those who don't feel up to cooking can order ready-made specialty burgers to their table from The Bull, a nearby casual eatery.
5. Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse on Carnival Cruise LineNot exactly a traditional Lido Deck-style eatery, Guy's Pig & Anchor, which can be found on select Carnival ships, offers up some of the best barbeque you can find at sea thanks to outdoor smokers. The venue is open only for lunch across most ships, and diners can nosh on pork butt and smoked brisket all afternoon, along with comfort-food sides like potato salad and collard greens -- all at no extra charge.Two ships -- Carnival Horizon and Carnival Panorama -- offer a microbrewery version of the eatery (the word "Brewhouse" is even added to the name of the venue) with an expanded dinner menu, but the only alfresco option is during lunch.
6. The Grill: Hot Rocks on Silversea CruisesA second hot lava rock eatery makes our list of the best alfresco restaurants, this one from luxury line Silversea Cruises. Located in the space occupied by the pool grill during the day, The Grill transforms into Hot Rocks at night, and passengers are given a bib, heated volcanic rock plates and a choice of meats to try their hand at cooking.Options include steaks, veal, chicken, pork chops, fish and prawns; a vegetarian option is always available, as well. Nibble on sides like sweet potato fries, battered mushrooms or baked potatoes while your meat cooks. And, whatever you do, save room for the apple crumble.Heat lamps keep the area warm, but you can always ask for a blanket as well. There is no cover charge to dine at Hot Rocks.
7. Candles on Windstar CruisesFor dinnertime romance, there's nothing like a setting sun, a warm breeze ruffling your hair and the twinkling lights of a recently visited port fading into the distance. You'll get all that at Candles, the outdoor dinner-only venue on Windstar cruise ships, which specializes in seafood and steak.Start your meal with appetizers like lobster carpaccio or roasted portobello mushrooms, then dig into sea bass, lamb chops and a variety of steak cuts.Candles is open every night, but we prefer it during late night port visits, when the ship is still in port or just departing and the wind hasn't yet picked up. Reservations are necessary, and cruisers are usually only permitted to dine here once per cruise.