Cruise Ship Dining Options Demystified
Two decades ago, dining aboard a cruise ship was a straightforward affair: Dinners were either early-seating (served at around 5:30 p.m.) or late seating (at around 8 p.m.) Tables were set, and you dined with the same guests and enjoyed the same wait staff for the duration of your voyage.
Today, the dining landscape aboard cruise ships differs vastly from the days of old. Cruise ships can — and often do — feature dozens of specialty restaurants, ranging in style from Brazilian Churrascaria to Japanese Sashimi. Even the tried-and-true hamburger has taken on a new twist. It’s either gone gourmet, such as those cooked up at Guy’s Burger Joint on Carnival Cruise Lines, or served with creamy milkshakes at Johnny Rockets on Royal Caribbean.
With all the variety on ships today, you can open your mind and your mouth to try new cuisine at some of the most innovative dining venues at sea. Always wanted to dine at a Teppanyaki restaurant? Prefer the formality of a French-inspired dinner? Have a taste for tacos? The choices are sure to please your palate.
Here’s a look at what a few of the major cruise lines are offering to their guests.
Azamara Club Cruises
When Azamara Club Cruises was founded back in 2007, it became the unofficial upscale arm of Celebrity Cruises. And as the company evolved, so did its dining offerings, which today are surprisingly diverse considering the intimate size of Azamara’s ships.
Azamara’s blue-hulled ships feature two specialty restaurants, Aqualina and Prime C. Specialty dining is complimentary for suite guests (Club World Owner’s Suites, Club Ocean Suites and Club Continent Suites), and available for all other guests for US$25 per person.
Aqualina serves up Mediterranean seafood and related cuisine in an environment clad with floor-to-ceiling windows and a color scheme that seems to be lifted right from the streets of Santorini, with soothing blues set amid crisp white accents. Starters including seafood bouillabaisse, lobster-asparagus salad, and wild mushrooms with parmesan and white truffle cream. Main courses may include seafood paella with saffron couscous, black truffle and mushroom risotto, and rack of lamb. Be sure to save room for the Grand Marnier Soufflé or Crème Brûlée.
In Prime C, the menu includes steaks in a variety of cuts cooked to perfection, along with starters like crab cakes with remoulade, lobster bisque, wedge salad with bacon and blue cheese — and more. Other entrée choices may include lamb, pork, veal chops, game hens and seafood. Prime C is also notable for its famous mini cinnamon-sugar donuts served with a trio of dipping sauces. The room is elegant, with low lighting and attractive wood paneling.
If you’re looking for the perfect wine to pair with any meal, make an appointment to visit the onboard Wine Cellar, which boasts more than 8,000 bottles of wines from around the globe.
Dining has always held important focus for Celebrity Cruises. Celebrity was one of the first lines to partner up with “Star Chef,” rounding up Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux to develop its onboard culinary offerings. That relationship fizzled out in 2007 after nearly two decades, when Celebrity began to diversify its onboard offerings.
Aboard the line’s Millennium-class vessels (Celebrity Constellation, Infinity, Millennium, Summit), speciality dining conspires with the grand days of the transatlantic ocean liners. Elegant and attractively appointed dining rooms situated just off the sweeping three-story atrium are modeled after the RMS Olympic, SS Normandie, SS United States, and a collection of liners aboard the Constellation. The RMS Olympic Restaurant aboard the Millennium even features original paneling from Titanic’s long-running sister ship.
Meals are French and European in flair. Reservations can be made online or onboard for a per-person cost of US$45.
Aboard the line’s newest vessels (Celebrity Equinox, Reflection, Silhouette, Solstice), Celebrity has even more offerings than on its classic ships. In Qsine, Celebrity’s James Beard featured Master Chef created Qsine to give guests an entirely new experience, with unique menu combinations coupled with an interactive iPad menu ordering system. Some of the offerings: Painter’s Mignon; Persian Kebob; and Meatball Trilogy.
The new vessels also feature the Tuscan Grille, which offers the traditional style and artisanal flair of Italy. There’s also the Bistro on Five, open from 6 a.m. until late night and featuring casual crepes, paninis, soups, salads and desserts.
Guests in AquaClass staterooms can enjoy Blu, an exclusive restaurant for AquaClass guests for breakfast and dinner. Built around the concept of healthy meals served without pretense, Blu features eating well taken to an art. Tender steak is served with a flavorful truffle vinaigrette instead of a heavy béarnaise. Celebrity calls it “clean cuisine.”
Crystal Serenity andCrystal Symphony each feature two specialty restaurants: Prego and Silk Road.
Prego offers up Italian cuisine coupled with a seasonally changing menu that features signature dishes such as Scaloppine Di Vitello Servite Con Capelli D’angelo and Linguine Con Aragosta E Zucchini. Meals are paired with the same exquisite wines that are served at Chef Piero Selvaggio’s revered Los Angeles and Las Vegas restaurants, Valentino. Prego is open for dinner only.
At Silk Road, world-renowned master chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa works his magic. Regarded for his innovative approach to sushi, Nobu blends classically styled Japanese foods with distinct Peruvian and European influences. While The Sushi Bar offers an assortment of Nobu’s inventive sushi and sashimi, including Salmon Tartar, Tiradito Nobu-style and Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeño, Silk Road presents his celebrated dishes such as Lobster with Truffle-Yuzu Sauce, Grilled Wagyu Beef Rib-Eye with Wasabi Pepper Sauce, and his signature dessert, a Bento Box filled with Chocolate Soufflé Cake with Shiso Syrup and Sesame Ice Cream.
Dining in both restaurants was complimentary until this past January, when a new policy went into effect stipulating that guests may dine at each of these restaurants for no additional charge only once (more often on voyages exceeding 14 days). Those who dine more than once at each will need to pony up US$30 per person. It’s still a relative bargain when you consider what Nobu costs on land, but a sore spot nonetheless among some guests on the “all-inclusive” cruise line. Read more: Crystal Serenity’s New Dining Programs: Some Changes You May Love, Some You May Not
Cunard’s high-end staple has always been its Grills class of accommodations, which includes dining in private restaurants known as “The Grills.”
Intimate and located in prime shipboard positions, two separate Grills restaurants are available for guests booked in Princess Grill Class staterooms or Queens Grill Class staterooms: the Princess Grill and Queen’s Grill.
Only guests booked in these category staterooms may dine in The Grills for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meals are served open-seating, a trend which is becoming more and more popular, particularly for upscale offerings. Menus in all restaurants are designed by Cunard’s Global Culinary Ambassador, Jean-Marie Zimmermann.
Guests booking standard staterooms are assigned dining in the massive (and beautiful) Britannia Restaurant. A slight modifier to this can be found in Britannia Club Class, which allows guests the use of the open-seating private anteroom of the Britannia Restaurant. Seating in Britannia Club is fixed, but dining times are flexible.
Cunard’s flagship, the venerable Queen Mary 2, also features the Todd English specialty restaurant. Located all the way aft with sweeping views over QM2’s stern, Todd English features its own unique décor set amid cozy booths and window-side seating. Cuisine is Mediterranean in style, and features specialties like Pumpkin Puree Love Letters and Porterhouse of Lamb. It is also open for lunch on certain days (consult the program once on board).
One complimentary option that is popular with guests is the Golden Lion Pub, which serves up an authentic English pub lunch each day. Specialties include Bangers & Mash, fish and chips with traditional “mushy peas” and cottage pie. Lunch here is complimentary, and pints of English and Irish beers are available from the tap for an extra charge.
Holland America Line
One of Holland America’s staple dining experiences has always been the Pinnacle Grill. Available for lunch and dinner for a surcharge, steaks and seafood meals are graced by luxurious appointments such as Bvlgari china, Riedel stemware and Frette linens.
Lunch at the Pinnacle Grill is arguably one of the best values on Holland America Line ships at only $10 per person. In exchange, you get gourmet cuisine served in an intimate and relaxing setting with a dedicated wait staff. Dinner is still an excellent value at $25 per person. Bookings can be made online before your cruise, or once onboard. It’s best to reserve early; this restaurant can be extremely popular, particularly on formal nights.
Holland America has also dabbled with other culinary offerings, including Canaletto, an Italian-themed dining experience that takes over a portion of the ship’s Lido Restaurant each evening. Aboard the line’s Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam, guests can enjoy the Tamarind Restaurant, with food evoking the rich culinary traditions of Southeast Asian, China and Japan.
The popular Italian cruise line has a few options when it comes to specialty dining. A Tex-Mex Restaurant serves up authentic Mexican cuisine, including enchiladas, tortillas, fajitas and tacos. You can also order beer imported from Mexico or indulge in a tequila or margarita, within sight of the full-view kitchen.
Aboard MSC Poesia and MSC Musica, traditional Japanese dishes are offered in the line’s popular Kaito Sushi Bar. Authentic cold and hot Japanese cuisine is prepared here, including sashimi, sushi and tempura dishes served up in a Japanese-themed environment. Of course, no Japanese meal is complete without a glass of authentic Sake.
On its two newest vessels (Riviera and Marina), Oceania Cruises features Jacques, the first such restaurant on land or sea to feature famed restaurateur Jacques Pépin’s name. Handsomely decorated with rich fabrics, heirloom antiques, pickled wood furnishings and art from Jacques’ personal collection, Jacques resembles a classic Parisian bistro transplanted on the high seas.
Oceania also features Red Ginger, serving Asian-inspired dishes, in a specialty restaurant where three multi-colored Buddha heads serve as the room’s centerpiece. Carved form a single piece of glass and backlit, they provide the perfect contrast to the room’s quietly elegant woods, bronze, and hand-blown glass light fixtures. The food is every bit as feng shui, with dishes like Salad of Roast Duck and Watermelon with Cashes, Mint and Thai Basil; or Asian-spiced Rack of Lamb with Kohl Robi, Cream Spinach and Truffle Oil.
At Toscana wines are paired to complement dishes like Carpaccio of Beef topped with Aged Reggiano Parmigiano or Sauteed Jumbo Scampi. If you’re extra hungry — or feel like sharing with the family and possibly the family at the table next to you — the Polo Grill serves a 32-ounce, Bone-in King’s Cut Prime Rib, dry-aged for at least 28 days.
While all of these restaurants are free of charge for Oceania guests, you can dole out US$250 to bring up to nine of your family and friends to Privée, which offers a private dining experience with courses served from the Polo Grill, Toscana — or a combination of both. Opulently decorated with Ferrari Red carpeting, oversized white baby crocodile throne chairs, ornate Baroque millwork, and flanked by backlit onyx-clad walls, the setting for Privée is wholly unique.
Princess Cruises struck gold in 2006 when it launched Crown Princess, which would largely provide the roadmap for the line’s future entertainment, beverage and culinary offerings. The line’s key alternate dining venues include the Crown Grill, Princess’s steakhouse experience. The steakhouse is sometimes referred to as the Sterling Steakhouse aboard some Princess vessels, but the menu and options are largely the same, with a wide variety of steaks, seafood and surf-and-turf combinations to be had, each of which can be paired with delicious wines.
If you’re dining in Sabatini’s, skip lunch: Portions at Princess’s trademark Italian restaurant are so generous even the most disciplined diners are likely to leave their tables stuffed. The line describes the restaurant as “refined yet casual.” Richly decorated, Sabatini’s places special emphasis on Italian and Mediterranean dishes, with a particular focus on excellent seafood. Don’t expect Olive Garden-esque Americanized versions of Italian dishes here: These are the real deal, prepared largely as you would find them in southern Europe.
Sushi has long been offered aboard Princess ships, but it takes on renewed focus aboard Diamond Princess and Sun Princess in the form of Kai Sushi. Kai Sushi is a traditional sushi bar, serving up fresh sushi, seafood and other delectable Japanese cuisine. On other Princess vessels, sushi offerings can typically be found at Vines, the line’s dedicated wine bars.
Aboard Coral Princess and Island Princess, the Bayou Café & Steakhouse offers up the first New Orleans-style restaurants at sea, with Jambalaya and Gumbo dishes on offer. Why New Orleans? We’re not entirely sure. But if you enjoy Jambalaya, is the next best thing to being in The Big Easy.
Regent Seven Seas
It’s All Included. That is how Regent brands its seven different types of dining, ranging from room service to the Pool Grill to the iconic Prime 7 and Signatures specialty restaurants.
Open only for dinner and requiring reservations, Prime 7 offers everything you might expect of a steakhouse-at-sea, and then some. Jumbo Maryland Lump Crab Cakes, Oysters Rockefeller, and French Onion Soup Gratinee serve as starters, with USDA Prime, Dry-Aged beef taking center stage for the main courses. “Cote de Boeuf” Bone-in Rib Steak, Porterhouse Steak and Filet Mignon only touch upon the selections. If you’re not into steak, Prime 7 also offers up Colorado Double-Cut Lamb Chops and Oven-Roasted Organic Free-Range Chicken.
Signatures is dedicated to the veritable art form that is French Cuisine. Classics like Quiche au Camembert and Foie Gras Terrine with Plum Marmalade are featured alongside main courses like Rack of Lamb with Morel Mushrooms and Melted Potato Garnishes, which are then paired with a French vintage recommended by the onboard sommelier. Regent claims the experience is so authentically French that it rivals the finest restaurants in Paris. It is open for dinner only, and is featured aboard Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Voyager.
On Sundays, a Champagne & Caviar Brunch is offered in La Veranda and Compass Rose.
Royal Caribbean is testing a completely new style of dining aboard the forthcoming Quantum of the Seas. Instead of main dining rooms, the ship will feature 18 different dining venues, seven of which carry no surcharge. Four of the seven will be full-service, while the other three are being pitched as casual eateries. Guests will use an onboard reservations system to decide when, where, and with whom they’d like to dine.
What’s gone is the traditional early-or-late seating dinners and the soaring, multi-story main dining rooms found on the line’s other vessels.
This new approach to dining also has a new name: Dynamic Dining. And part of Dynamic Dining is choice, from Michael’s Genuine Pub to the overly verbose Devinly Decadence at Solarium Bistro. It’s not a spelling mistake, but rather a play on words: Devinly will be headed up by Devin Alexander, of Biggest Loser fame.
Wonderland promises to be an “elaborate feast for the senses” run by chefs who “twist their culinary kaleidoscopes to invent a dreamscape of never-before-seen fare.” We’re not entirely sure what that means, but it’s not hot dogs: Wiener duty goes to the SeaPlex Dog House, an honest-to-gosh food truck at sea serving up “gourmet” hot dogs. Of course, Johnny Rockets will return aboard Quantum of the Seas.
For those who might not know about the famous American chain, Johnny Rockets serves up classic, diner-style burgers, fries and shakes, which can be enjoyed for roughly US$5. At the Promenade Cafe, pastries and light bites are available to enjoy around-the-clock. Starbucks or Illy coffee is also served (brand depends on the ship you’re sailing on.)
The four complimentary “main” dining rooms are:
- The Grande: a formal, dress-up affair where lobster is always on the menu.
- American Icon Grill: a modern take on classic American cuisine
- Chic: a contemporary eatery serving up dishes like potato-crusted black cod and lamb chops.
- Silk: think Asian-fusion cuisine.
Time will tell if Quantum’s new dining structure will be a hit or miss, but one thing is for sure: With 18 dining venues, there will be no shortage of choice.
In addition to the main Restaurant, Seabourn offers the aptly named Restaurant 2 as an intimate alternative to the line’s main dining venue. Serving up small-plate tasting menus each evening, Restaurant 2 requires advanced reservations due to its small size but carries no additional surcharge. It’s the perfect alternative for cruisers seeking something out of the ordinary.
Seabourn might be an ultra-luxury line, but it also offers up a wide array of casual dining options, including the poolside Patio Grill, which serves up grilled specialties and sumptuous sides for lunch and dinner. Rounding out the casual alternatives aboard Seabourn’s vessels is The Colonnade, buffet style for breakfast and lunch, and offering regional-themed alternatives and bistro-style dinners with nightly table service.
You might also be interested to know that on one day of each cruise, Seabourn serves up Black River Ossetra Sturgeon Caviar — sustainable and delicious.
For an ultra-luxury line with small, intimate vessels, Silversea’s dining options are more varied and diverse than you might think. Each ship includes the main Restaurant, which is always open-seating and serves up cuisine prepared in conjunction with Relais & Chateaux; the only seagoing Relais & Chateaux partnership at sea.
Most ships also feature Le Champagne, Silversea’s intimate specialty restaurant featuring French-inspired cuisine designed by Relais & Chateaux; and La Terrazza, which is transformed each evening into an elegant Italian venue.
On the casual front, the Poolside Grill serves up chicken and beef burgers during lunchtime, as well as a selection of hot dogs, including the “Transatlantic Double Dog.”
One of Silversea’s staples, however, is its Poolside Grill featuring “hot rock” dining. Featuring a variety of surf and turf options, meals come served atop a slab of black volcanic rock, allowing you to cook your own meal to perfection right in front of you, and season it with a variety of sauces. A selection of salads are available as starters, and the line’s Apple Crisp dessert is to-die-for. What started as a one-ship offering aboard the line’s Silver Spirit became so popular the line has rolled it out across the fleet — including on its three expedition vessels.
If you’re in search of some quiet time, you can even order a full breakfast, lunch or dinner served in your suite by your butler – from the room service menu, or from the dining room menu during operational hours.
The first ship from the oceangoing arm of Viking River Cruises won’t launch until next spring, but Viking Ocean has already decided it is going to be doing things a little differently aboard Viking Star.
Viking Star will feature a main dining room that, much like its river cruising brethren, is always open-seating. You’ll also be able to dine al fresco, thanks to series of rail-mounted floor-to-ceiling windows that can be opened to let the fresh sea air into the dining room when conditions are right.
Rounding out the mix, Viking will offer the Aquavit Terrace and Wintergarden for casual meals and drinks, along with the intimate Chef’s Table and the Mediterranean-inspired Italian Grill. Thanks to Viking’s increased focus on overnight port calls for its oceangoing offerings, the ship’s Concierge can also recommend great local restaurants for a memorable dinner ashore.
The Evolution of Onboard Dining
Cruise lines have come along way since the days of two-seating traditional dining, and cruisers today have more choice than ever before about how they want to dine. Sadly one tradition may have been lost in the quest for more varied cuisine: the Baked Alaska parade, replaced by Ben and Jerry’s and Starbucks on board.