No single component of a cruise generates more comments than the food and wine served on board — and those comments usually run the gamut from groans to ovations. Passengers expect exceptional dishes and vintages while at sea, and cruise lines know this. In recent years, nearly all vessels expanded their menus and wine lists, with some reaching into truly gourmet realms. Luxury lines such as Silversea and Seabourn provide the most consistently savory offerings. The price of a cruise often includes superb meals designed by well-known chefs and premium wines selected by certified sommeliers. Michelin-starred and celebrity chefs frequently put their brands on the top luxury lines. Jacques Pepin, executive culinary director, Oceania Cruises, devised some contemporary interpretations of Asian classics for Oceania’s Red Ginger restaurant. Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa, a master chef renowned for his fusions of Japanese, European and Peruvian cuisines, personally trained the chefs at Crystal Cruises’ Silk Road restaurant. Silversea Cruises runs the sole Relais & Châteaux restaurant at sea, Le Champagne, with a six-course French-inspired menu.
So which cruise line serves the best food and wine? Palates vary too widely to declare a winner, but passengers seeking something special might consider a culinary-themed cruise. Crystal Cruises offers Culinary Arts & Wine Voyages across the Mediterranean. Windstar Cruises adds James Beard Foundation award winners Matt and Kate Jennings to its Aug. 9 European sailing this year. SeaDream Yacht Club, renowned for its cooked-to-order meals and gourmet beach barbecues, presents no fewer than nine Mediterranean wine voyages in 2017. Silversea Cruises conducts special wine series voyages around the world featuring private tastings from Bordeaux to Barossa. American Queen Steamboat Co. cruises through the Pacific Northwest wine country routinely partner with local vintners such as Waterbrook, a family operation which produced more than 100 wines garnering scores of 90-plus. Meanwhile, less luxurious cruise lines are catching up. Holland America Line’s Pinnacle Grill, boasting fresh Northwest seafood, stages An Evening at Le Cirque weekly, with dishes and wines from Sirio Maccioni’s New York City restaurant. Celebrity Cruises, one of the first non-luxury lines to offer shore excursions led by onboard executive chefs (a concept pioneered by Seabourn) enables passengers on European cruises to accompany its chefs to local markets to gather the fixings for fine dining aboard. Disney Cruise Line hardly “Mickey Mouses around” with its culinary offerings, either. Disney’s Remy, billed as the most expensive specialty restaurant at sea, is presided over now by two award-winning chefs whose French cooking kicks off in grand style with a Taittinger Champagne cocktail. No matter where you drink or dine at sea these days, bon voyage becomes bon appétit.
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