For foodies and gourmets alike, a gastronomic experience on a luxury liner is not to be missed. Luxury cruise lines often enlist the knowledge and expertise of a lauded chef to deliver an exciting menu that’ll tantalize your tastebuds and enhance your journey along the way.
These are the hottest tables on the water — and their ocean views are pretty darn good too.
Best for curious palettes with a penchant for elegant pairings: Viking Ocean Cruises
Viking — which bills itself as the thinking person's cruise — tailors its menus around each port. Expect a nice balance between regional cuisine and classic dishes, so you can pick and choose between old favorites and new tastes.
Its Aquavit Terrace features al fresco dining.
Herbs sourced from onboard garden.
Complimentary wine and beer with meals.
On its ocean cruises, Mamsen's highlights Norwegian specialties on every ship.
Best for foodies who appreciate behind-the-scenes insight and hands-on activities: Windstar
As the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation, Windstar has a rotating selection of dishes from celebrity chefs around the world. The food is sourced fresh and inspired by the regions through which you sail, with locally-sourced wine paired by a sommelier.
Culinary shore excursion like cooking classes, tastings and tours.
Themed cruises for foodies and wine lovers.
Accompany the chef on a market tour to shop for ingredients used in your evening meal.
On Avalon ships, you'll find the perfect balance between flexible dining arrangements — that is, you can eat when and where you like — and fresh, locally-sourced cuisine. Heavy buffets are nowhere in sight.
Instead, you'll enjoy meals prepared with ingredients grown and raised in the towns and villages passing by, with wine and beer purchased from vineyards outside your window.
Menus designed by Viennese celebrity chefs Karl and Leo Wrenkh.
Wine appreciation, culinary and beer-themed river cruises.
Best for gourmet diehards who appreciate artful plating: Seabourn
It doesn't get more gourmet than Seabourn — anywhere on the seven seas. Not only is everything unlimited and complimentary, from caviar to champagne, it features the Grill from Thomas Keller, a chef who owns three Michelin-star restaurants.
Member of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the world's largest and oldest gastronomic society.
Casual and fine dining options.
Unlimited complimentary alcoholic beverages.
Order meals to your cabin round-the-clock with complimentary room service
Best for hip millennials that crave global flavors: Virgin
If you care most about what your food looks like — and your Instagram is full of drool-worthy dishes — you'll love Virgin Voyages. The more than 20 restaurants on each ship are designed with self-proclaimed foodies in mind and with global influences: from Gunbae Korean BBQ to Razzle Dazzle vegetarian, Pink Agave upscale Mexican, Extra Virgin elevated Italian and more.
24/7 dining options.
Michelin-star chefs helped plan the menus.
Alcoholic beverages aren't included, priced $5 to $6 for beer, $9 for basic cocktails and most wines cost less than $10 a glass.
Fans of Nordic culture and Scandinavian food will be in paradise. Hurtigruten is an undersung hero of the cruise industry when it comes to food. You'll find fabulous dishes cooked with ingredients from purveyors in the port towns you visit, along with fresh-caught seafood, free-range reindeer meat, local cheese and homemade bread.
Excursions to local breweries, distilleries, wineries and farms.
Emphasis on seasonal ingredients and sustainability.
The cruise lines listed above aren’t known for being cheap. If you’re looking for a less pricey mid-tier cruise line, these are known for having a wide array of dining options — with gourmet restaurants available if you’d like to splurge just for a night.
Top restaurants: Wonderland, Jamie’s Italian, Izumi, Sabor, Chef’s Table and Mystery Dinner Theater.
And of course, Guy Fieri fans should head to Carnival, where food from Guy’s Burger Joint — and a one-way ticket to Flavortown — is included in your fare.
How we chose these cruises
When choosing cruises for this list, we looked at lines known for sourcing fresh food that showcases regional flavors and offering complimentary beverage choices. We prioritized companies that use locally-grown ingredients purchased at port stops along the way. We always weigh price point against value, opting for ships that include dining at the best restaurants as part of the fare — because food that’s complimentary tastes extra delicious.
We also factored in industry recognition and sought out customer reviews on travel websites and personal travel blogs, considering first-person experiences and each company’s overall reputation for serving delicious cuisine.
Cruising with dietary restrictions
If you have dietary restrictions, cruise lines will generally be happy to work with you. Just be be sure to notify the cruise line at least 45 to 90 days in advance, so it can plan to arrange for special ingredients as necessary.
Once aboard, it’s a good idea to meet with someone in charge of the dining department — a host, restaurant manager or chef — to introduce yourself and confirm that they’re prepared. You may want to stick with the same wait staff if possible, so that the person serving your food is up-to-speed. Consider asking if you can preorder meals, to ease the pressure each time you sit down to eat.
You may also want to browse themed cruises that cater to a specific way of eating. For example, Vegan Travel is a company that hosts small ship cruising around the world, with an emphasis on plant-based dining.
Whether you’re passionate about fresh-caught seafood or buzz-worthy plating, cruise lines today cater to a huge variety of palettes. We don’t blame you for taking ample time to deliberate.
Windstar and Celebrity Cruises both feature excellent food and top-notch Caribbean itineraries. The only reason Celebrity didn’t make the list on this page is because its best restaurants cost extra. If you’re looking for simple, yet fresh food — that is, delicious but not necessarily gourmet — check out Sea Dream Yacht Club.
Amy Stoltenberg is a staff writer covering all things travel, shopping and lifestyle. After earning a BA at Savannah College of Art and Design, she worked as technical designer in corporate fashion before opting for a career with unlimited travel time. When her laptop's closed, you can find her wandering around Los Angeles looking for hole-in-the-wall eateries and plotting her way to all 50 states (she's currently at 28).
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