Best Cruise Lines and Ships for Cruise Ship Dining

By ,   May 9, 2016 ,   Food & Drinks

Cruise ship dining can compete with some of the finest land-based restaurants. Today's top lines make it easier than ever to enjoy top-notch cruise dining experience with menus featuring produce which reflects each destination and restaurants created by celebrity chefs. The restaurants aboard the following lines will take your palate on a voyage with Italian spices, Asian flavors, Polynesian-inspired dishes, and beyond. Just bring your appetite to experience the best of cruise ship dining.

The following review is integrated with Cruise Ship Dining Options and Cruise Food on the Largest Cruise Ships by the Numbers.

Top 10 Cruise Lines for Specialty Cruise Ship Dining

  1. Celebrity Cruises. While Celebrity's restaurant choices vary from ship to ship, each cruise ship dining experience is unique on a cruise by the line. More than a dozen dining venues throughout the fleet provide a wealth of specialty dining, from Tuscan Grille offering nouveau Tuscan steakhouse menu to Murano serving contemporary French continental cuisine. Guests can explore Qsine's global fare, or cook their own meals with the chef's help before dining above onboard lawn. The Normandie, which is exclusive to Celebrity Summit, boasts original décor details from SS Normandie. Ocean Liners restaurant lures passengers on Celebrity Constellation with tribute to the golden age of cruising. Blu features creative spa cuisine which is complimentary for AquaClass guests. Celebrity Cruises' specialty dining ranges from US$30 to US$45 per person. Reservation requirements vary depending on the choice of restaurant.
  2. Crystal Cruises. The line has teamed with top restaurateurs and chefs to bring haute cuisine at sea. Along with Crystal's Perfect Choice Dining, allowing passengers to customize their dinner experience in the Crystal Dining Room (MDR), the line also features a couple of specialty restaurants. At Prego, romantic ambiance sets the mood for seasonally changing menu named "Valentino at Prego", which features signature Italian dishes from the acclaimed Valentino restaurants of Piero Selvaggio. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa brings the unique fusion of Peruvian and Japanese influences to The Sushi Bar and Silk Road, where Nobu-trained chefs prepare dishes like lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce or bento boxes with chocolate souffle cake and sesame ice cream. No extra charge is applied for specialty cruise dining. However, reservations must be made in advance before boarding, or with the maître d' once onboard.
  3. Cunard Line. The legendary line behind storied ships like Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, Cunard makes waves with specialty dining options aboard its three cruise liners. Of note are Todd English eponymous restaurants onboard Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria. These elegant venues pamper guests with innovative Mediterranean cuisine from one of the leading celebrity chefs in the world. Those who expect a more interactive experience on Queen Mary 2 would do well in the Chef's Galley. Cooking becomes performance art there as chefs prepare meals in ship's state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen. The fine dining restaurants aboad the new Queen Elizabeth have been tailored to suit all tastes and range from the Mexican cuisine of Aztec to the Asian flavors of Jasmine. Additional fees per person may be applied for some restaurants. Reservations are recommended. cruise dining
  4. Holland America Line. In addition to elegant main dining rooms, Holland America ships feature signature dining programs, "As You Wish", that offer a variety of choices. Specialty restaurants include Pinnacle Grill, specialized in aged beef and fresh seafood; Canaletto, serving Italian cuisine; and Tamarind, with a menu of pan-Asian fare and dim sum. For a more exclusive experience, guests can book "An Evening with Le Cirque" at The Pinnacle Grill, showcasing the setting and dishes from the legendary New York restaurant of Sirio Maccioni. Given HAL's culinary council, including David Burke (David Burke Townhouse in NYC), and its Culinary Arts Center programs by Food & Wine magazine, it is no wonder this line is a favorite with cruisers who appreciate good meals just as much as they do sightseeing. Dinner reservations are US$10 per person at Canaletto, US$20 at Tamarind and US$29 at The Pinnacle Grill. A single Evening at Le Cirque costs US$49 per person.
  5. Oceania. With Executive Culinary Director like master chef Jacques Pépin, Oceania's claim to the "finest cuisine at sea" is not as audacious as it seems. The menus in the Grand Dining Rooms change daily, including at least 9 entrées with dinner and ranging from healthy Canyon Ranch spa dishes to European-inspired continental fare. Whether you are craving broiled butterfly tiger shrimp, poached Norwegian salmon, or just a slice of fresh artisan bread, your appetite will be satisfied. Additional dining venues vary from ship to ship and include Toscana, showcasing Tuscany's flavors; Red Ginger, offering Asian classics with contemporary twist; and Jacques, where master chef Pépin refines the art of French cooking in dishes like coq au vin and prime rib in herbs de Provence. All Oceania's specialty dining restaurants are complimentary. Reservations can be made online, in advance (for select restaurants) or onboard.
  6. Paul Gauguin Cruises offer intriguing excursions across French Polynesia, Tahiti and South Pacific. One of the esteemed master chefs designing dishes for the line is Jean-Pierre Vigato, chef proprétaire at restaurant Apicius, Paris. At the elegant L'Etoile passengers can dine on French cuisine infused with ingredients from the islands. An array of epicurean delights is featured each night on the menu, like white truffle sabayon on steamed mahi-mahi. Paul Gauguin's La Veranda serves breakfast and lunch items daily. In the evening, it offers Chef Jean-Pierre's gourmet creations. For a more casual ambiance, guests can enjoy a meal at Le Grill. This poolside restaurant features a buffet-style breakfast, afternoon tea and small bites, as well as Polynesian specialties at night. Dinner reservations are required for Le Grill and La Veranda. All dining options are included in cruise fare. 
  7. Princess Cruises. Princess invites its guests to eat like royalties with a selection of dining experiences. Various complimentary options range from the casual Piazza café to a traditional pub and 24-hour room service. The company has partnered up with chef Curtis Stone for SHARE restaurant, offering handmade pasta, charcuterie and top-quality meats on select ships. Passengers can get a taste of chef's savory creations with "Crafted by Curtis Stone" menu, available in the MDR on all of the line's 18 ships. Guests shouldn't pass up a meal at Salty Dog Gastropub, created in collaboration with renowned chef Ernesto Uchimura. His signature "Ernesto" creation is a juicy ribeye burger produced exclusively for Princess Cruises. Restaurants vary by ship, but other specialty dining venues may include the authentic Italian eatery Sabatini's featuring seafood and pasta specialties in a setting reminiscent of Tuscan villa. There is also the classic American restaurant Crown Grill, with a theater-style kitchen focused on fresh seafood and aged beef. Reservations are recommended at all specialty restaurants. Nominal cover charges apply.
  8. Seabourn. Seabourn's dining venues are always striving for culinary grandeur and offer freshly prepared cuisine that incorporates authentic regional flavors. Seabourn cruise company is a member of the world's most famous gastronomic society, Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. The Restaurant offers innovative dishes designed by highly skilled chefs: main courses like grilled double-cut lamb chops with premium vintages. For more intimate cruise ship dining experience, a table at Restaurant 2 should be reserved for tasty small plates. Partnership with acclaimed restaurateur and chef Thomas Keller elevates cruise line's gourmet experience further. Chef Keller shares his American and French cuisine on select ships. No extra charge is applied to dine at Seabourn's specialty restaurants. Wines with lunch and dinner are complimentary. Open seating is available at almost all dining venues.
  9. Silversea. Specialized in sophisticated voyages to destinations all over the world, Silversea boasts fine dining options that are global-minded. At the only Relais & Châteaux at sea, Le Champagne, guests on all Silversea Cruises ships can indulge in a 6-course tasting menu pairing dishes crafted from locally sourced ingredients and artisan products with fine wines. Exclusive to Silver Spirit, Seishin servees Asian fusion cuisine either in bento boxes, à la carte, or as part of a 9-course degustation meal. The restaurant's centerpiece is chef's table, so that diners are able to observe the fine art of sashimi and sushi making. Sake pairings are also available. Reservations for both Seishin and Le Champagne can be made onboard for US$40 per person.
  10. Windstar Cruises. Enjoy the intimate cruise ship dining experience aboard a Windstar Cruises yacht. Savor dishes made with seasonal produce and fresh local ingredients. Executive chef Michael Sabourin brings to the cruise line his eclectic cuisine, creating menus inspired by regional flavors of ports visited. AmphorA elevates fine dining experience with gourmet specialties, such as lobster ravioli and duck a l'orange, accompanied by extensive wine list. Wind Surf guests may have a meal at Stella Bistro to try cuisine with a French twist and a variety of wines and desserts. Gourmands are encouraged to cruise aboard one of Windstar Cruises themed voyages created in collaboration with James Beard Foundation. Each sailing features a guest chef who hosts cooking demonstrations and off-ship excursions. No reservations are required to dine onboard; no extra fees are applied.

Best Cruise Ships for Dining

The new era of cruise ship dining has come: old-school cruise cuisine was tossed overboard. Top cruise lines now partner with celebrity chefs, revered cooking schools and iconic food magazines. Shipboard chefs obsess over the latest trends and primo ingredients. Now, many at-sea dining venues are as quality-driven and cutting-edge as the crème de la crème on terra firma. Next time you are planning a bon voyage, consider one of these ships. You will never wish to go ashore.

Top 5 Cruise Ships with 5-Star Cruise Ship Dining

Crystal Serenity, Crystal Cruises.

Crystal's guests have the option of the usual early or late seating for dinner, or Perfect Dining Choice, where they can choose when and with whom to eat. The Vintage Room hosts wine-themed dinners, while Nobu-trained chefs cook Japanese cuisine at The Sushi Bar and Silk Road. Tastes is unique to Crystal Serenity - it is a globally inspired venue serving Late-Risers fare. Crystal Cruises was the first to ally with superstar restaurateurs and chefs, promising top-notch dining. The main restaurant, Crystal Dining Room, nails elaborate preparations nightly and rarely repeats menus. Prego boasts dishes from Valentino Los Angeles' and Vegas' venerable Italian restaurants by Piero Selvaggio, as well as the best Caesar salad at sea. Winemakers' dinners in Serenity's Vintage Room are simply over-the-top blowouts, with exclusive bottles like 1959 Château Lafite-Rothschild. During Wine & Food Festival voyages, Alan Wong (his Honolulu restaurant is a President Obama fave) is one of the star acts. Shore excursions stand out from the pack featuring classes with Italian countess and exploring Europe's great vineyards. However, even the simplest food may impress guests at casual venues. Crystal Cruises is all-inclusive, which means that fine wines and spirits, all dining and gratuities, are bundled in.

Oceania Cruises Marina

MS Marina is not a luxury ship: she is ranked "upper premium", but rocks food fashion. Ship's Bon Appétit Culinary Center which is affiliated with Epicurious' sister magazine, provides hands-on instruction and 24 fully equipped cooking stations. The long counters allow guests to tackle everything from fettuccine to chocolate ganache tart in a single or multiple sessions. Gustatory rewards can be tasted without donning an apron at all Oceania restaurants. The cream-and-gold Grand Dining Room offers both contemporary continental cuisine and fare from spa partner Canyon Ranch. Another magazine partnership, La Reserve by Wine Spectator, features wine tastings and 7-course wine-pairing dinners. The Jacques bistro, named for consultant Jacques Pépin, plays French chansons and shows art from the personal collection of the master chef. Duck leg cassoulet and rotisserie veal rack with olive tapenade are standouts. At Red Ginger, orchids, ebony wood and multicolored glass Buddha heads dazzle up the décor. The menu is inspired by Asia, with tempura sole, clay-pot caramelized chicken and Thai vegetable green curry. And there is even more: Waves for upscale poolside treats; Toscana for Italian cuisine, with regional olive oil and balsamic vinegar menus; Polo Grill for aged 28 days USDA Prime roast beef. Dinner in Privée is a US$1,000 up-to-8-guest extravaganza in the all-white room with marble table and crocodile-skin chairs: Marina's crowning cruise ship dining experience.

Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Cruise Line

Almost all dining venues aboard Seabourn Odyssey are open-seating, allowing passengers to eat when and with whom they choose. The Restaurant serves as ship's MDR, while The Restaurant 2 features small plates in an intimate setting. A lot of the dishes served on Seabourn Odyssey come from the man behind Michelin-starred restaurants Bouchon, Per Se and The French Laundry - Chef Thomas Keller. Seabourn Odyssey put the sexy back in dining. Ship's main Restaurant sports white drapes, theatrically descending from the soaring ceiling. Restaurant 2 features red banquettes, purple pillows and black leather chairs. The typical cruise ship buffet restaurant is called The Colonnade and resembles a smart Miami eatery with amazing ocean views. But don't think that the 450-passenger, all-inclusive, all-suite Odyssey rests only on its movie-star looks. In Restaurant 2, porcini and chestnut mushroom soup, reduced to essence, is paired with honey-spiced squab-fig empañada. The Restaurant pampers with house-made ice cream bonbons on wooden sticks. In the morning guests linger over golden brioche and foamy cappuccinos at the barista-manned Coffee Bar. Lazy afternoons are spent on deck with complimentary Champagne and caviar. Evening indulgences include more caviar and Champagne, on guest verandas, in lounges, and back on deck.

Seven Seas Mariner, Regent

The first all-suite, all-balcony ship in the world affiliates with a Parisian legend, Le Cordon Bleu. This culinary academy trains Regent's Signatures restaurant chefs and consults on the menus for all other dining venues. Signatures feels Parisian and posh, with tall tapered candles and floral upholstered chairs. Its classic fare, like celery, Camembert, walnut quiche, rack of lamb with morels, is perfect. And on select sailings, line's chefs teach classes at Le Cordon Bleu Workshops. At Prime 7 gears switch dramatically as travelers tuck into prime steaks. The clubby room has an intoxicating scent of juicy steaks and buttery leather. The jewel of the joint is the 36-ounce porterhouse. Indulgence is balanced at Compass Rose, the main dining venue, by Canyon Ranch SpaClub dishes: enjoy a foie gras slider starter and then splurge on truffle fries. In La Veranda, passengers are amazed by blistering-crust Margherita pizzas prepared in wood-burning ovens. This Seven Seas Mariner's buffet restaurant gives the sense of where you are with the cuisine reflecting ship's locale at the very moment guests are enjoying it. Past and present converge at the Pool Grill where oversize burgers are grilled to order, milk shakes are blended in old-fashioned ice cream parlor machines and ice cream is hand-dipped.

Silver Spirit, Silversea Cruises

An all-suite line with all-inclusive fares, Silversea upped luxury-ship ante by the debut of Silver Spirit back in 2009. The 540-passenger ship touts 6 fine-dining venues, a cruise industry first. There is no chance of gastronomic annoyance as restaurants differ radically. Seishin, which is a teeny Zen sanctuary of rich wood and polished marble, presents fanciful Asian fare. The 9-course tasting menu is a boat-rocker, with tempura oysters, teppan-grilled Wagyu beef and Petrossian caviar sorbet. Stars is a lively Deco-inspired supper club. Its guests party over small plates and can play with table condiments, such as Himalayan rock salt. The open-air Grill welcomes passengers under starry skies to sear Colorado prime rib eye and Berkshire pork chops over red-hot lava rocks. The Brazilian, octagon-shaped cherrywood knockout, is named Le Champagne. The room, wine list and menu were designed with Silversea Cruises' culinary partner, the prestigious Relais & Châteaux. Guests are offered an elaborate 6-course menu with exquisite wine pairings. The Michelin-starred chefs of this exclusive hotel-and-restaurant association are featured by line's Culinary Arts Voyages. Silver Spirit ship's main Restaurant excels in contemporary international cuisine, while La Terrazza, showcasing the Slow Food philosophy, offers hand-sliced prosciutto that is the stuff of dreams. Perhaps guests' biggest rush comes with fancy room service, served by butlers with polish and aplomb course-by-course - the allure of cruise ship dining.