Just like any other business dealing with competition and demanding customers, cruise lines need to constantly rethink their approach to please vacationers. Following the trends and innovations of the food industry on land, they must also come up with new concepts to remain competitive and attract a broader audience – especially after enduring bad press from recent, unfortunate on board food situations. Coming up with new ideas, innovations and amenities in order to provide vacationers with an improved and exciting culinary experience has never been more needed. Nowadays, the one-size-fits-all main dining room and buffets belong to the past, turning chef’s tables into innovative and luxurious specialty restaurants.

Gourmet At Sea

One can’t deny that, for a long time, cruises weren’t associated with the most enjoyable dining experiences out there. From boring to mass marketed, and potentially hazardous wavessidefood, cruise lines had to overcome a few stereotypes and prove that they could also be a part of the fine culinary world with options that would satisfy their broad and ever-evolving audience. The good news for true gourmands who enjoy cruise vacations is that ships are continuously upgrading with specialty restaurants featuring international cuisines, craft drinks, specialty coffees and all varieties of delicious food.
With a focus on gourmet cuisine at sea, restaurants now rival top eateries on land. By investing in their dining options more than ever before, cruise lines are allowing travelers to partake in upscale and specialty cuisine. Some of the biggest ships now have more than a dozen eating sites onboard. What cruise goers like the most about these restaurants is not only the variety of choices they offer but also the cozier, more romantic alternative to the huge main dining room and large buffet restaurants.
Awarded “Best Culinary Cruise Line” in the 2014 SAVEUR Culinary Travel Awards, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is all about putting cuisine and culture at the forefront of its travelers’ experiences. Including opportunities to explore old culinary traditions, hands-on preparation and wine tastings, the cruise line’s secret is to rely on its local experts and artisans, including chefs, bakers, cheese makers and chocolatiers to create fine cuisine on board.

Let’s look at the latest trends that are making waves now that the days of dining on a cruise ship is no longer limited to continental classic entrées followed by traditional desserts. In order to cater to unique, modern and varied palates, cruise lines find more and more inspirations for their menus and restaurants from celebrity chefs. Today, ships such as Carnival or Norwegian Cruise Line are bringing celebrities onboard as well. According to, Carnival Cruise Lines started by launching Guy’s Burger Joint in 2011 aboard Carnival Liberty in partnership with platinum-haired TV Chef Guy Fieri, and has been working on extending the concept to its floatilla ever since. In 2013, Norwegian Cruise Line’s collaborated with Food Network Iron Chef and New York Restaurateur Geoffrey Zakarian to offer an elegant seafood dining experience onboard Ocean Blue. Celebrity chefs not only designed the food and cocktail menus, but also participated in meet-and-greets on selected trips.
For all the foodies who like to associate their vacation with their passion and who cannot miss an episode of Bravo TV’s “Top Chef”, there is now a way to be part of the show’s experience at sea. This year, Celebrity Cruises brought four chef contestants from the show onboard to offer cooking demonstrations, tastings and private cooking classes. On the menu among other culinary activities: Star Chefs Cooking Competition, Mixology 101, Food & Wine Pairing, Fine Art and much more.
All-Inclusive Upgrades

One of the great advantages of cruise vacations is the all-inclusive package that comes with it. But until recent, while all meals – except for some fancy meals at dedicated restaurants – were included in the package, vacationers still had to pay extra for their beverages. The latest upgrade to these packages is to add unlimited drinks to the deal. But the big question being raised around blogs is: are they worth it? Well, cruise critic Andrea M. Rotondo explains in her article “Cruise Ship Drink Packages: Are They Worth It?” that the benefits of drink packages can be twofold. Passengers get a greater discount on their overall bar bill and also enjoy the convenience of not having to sign a check for every soda or glass of wine ordered. Cruise goers are also likely to experience new flavors, being less hesitant to sample drinks, if they don’t have to pay for it to go to waste. The catch? Many cruises require that if one person in the room buys a package, everyone sharing the room has to buy it as well.
Carnival Cheers Beverage Program offers flat rate pricing ranging from $189.75 for a 3-day cruise to $345.00 for an 8-day cruise. This includes alcoholic drinks, non-alcoholic drinks, wine by the glass and soda. While the unlimited portion of the program covers the non-alcoholic drinks and sodas, the drinks for adults are limited to 15 per day.

Creative Alternative Options

wavesside2Alternative dining venues are the latest and greatest trend on ships. The first for-fee dining restaurants were steakhouses, Italian trattorias and French bistros. But lately, concepts have been branching out and offering a bit more experimental cuisine. Celebrity launched Qsine, an international venue where dishes are served in odd containers. Fox News recently featured Pinnacle Grill, a restaurant on America’s Pinnacle ship that recreates the menu of famous New York restaurant “Le Cirque” where vacationers can enjoy caviar, fois gras and other delicacies for a $100 fee per person. Remy, Disney’s newest restaurant concept, is bringing a gala-like experience with an ultra-formal dress code, a menu created by a Michelin two-star chef and a $75 industry-high service fee.
More than a dinner, cruise lines are focusing on the experience with this concept. Alternatives are now plentiful on most ships. From sushi and hibachi to gourmet French fare and spicy Tex-Mex, passengers can indulge in their favorite cuisine style and do not mind paying extra for it.
Dietary Customization

People with restricted diets can have a hard time finding items that fit their needs on a cruise, as it can be difficult to tell whether dishes contain ingredients such as dairy, gluten and nuts. But cruise lines are making strides to accommodate passengers with food restrictions and allergies. Options now include low-calorie, vegetarian and vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free offerings daily in the main dining rooms and some alternative restaurants. To add to the convenience factor, these items are usually clearly marked on the menu.
Royal Caribbean, for instance, started to label gluten-free, vegetarian and dairy-free items on its menu and buffets. We’re seeing more and more attention of this kind of labeling industry-wide. Holland America and Seabourn are highlighting their vegetarian dishes in their menus and SeaDream has added a raw food menu featuring organic and vegan foods to its main dining venue. Passengers also always have the option to call the cruise line upon reservation so the cruise line can accommodate their dietary restrictions accordingly.
The food industry, coupled with consumers’ insatiable needs and wants, is leaving no stone unturned when it comes to the venue in which food is served. From regional and international cuisine inspiration to craft beers, specialty coffees and teas, cruise lines must seek the same quality offerings as restaurants on land. By expanding their menu options and partnering with some of television’s most popular chefs, cruise lines are embracing a more customizable gourmet experience onboard. The next chapter in the evolution of dining on cruise ships is here to stay. Are you ready to embrace it?