20 Best Cruise-Ship Dining Experiences

© Michel Verdure/Celebrity Owned

These days, cruise ships come packed with more restaurants than most beach resorts—as many as 25 on the newest megaships. And while dining-room and buffet-style venues are still options on most vessels, more intimate specialty restaurants offer both inviting atmospheres and inventive cuisines. Which floating dining experiences are the ones you shouldn’t miss? Here are our picks for the 20 most delicious places to eat while at sea.

By Donna Heiderstadt

(c) Rick Diaz Photography

Ocean Blue by Geoffrey Zakarian

Ship: the new Norwegian Getaway (Breakaway, too)

Experience: The best of New York City and Miami deliciously mix in this sleek eatery by savvy Big Apple restaurateur and Food Network star Geoffrey Zakarian. The Ocean Blue menu satisfies seafood lovers with locally sourced Getaway-only entrees such as Caribbean lobster risotto and Florida grouper (the ship is based in Miami year-round; New York-based Breakaway’s menu features crab risotto and monkfish) and the charred broccoli side dish is addictive. Reservations required; surcharge.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Norwegian Cruise Line Review

© Michel Verdure/Courtesy of Seabourn

Restaurant 2

Ship: Seabourn Odyssey, Sojourn, and Quest

Experience: Enjoying a meal in Restaurant 2, Seabourn’s intimate specialty eatery bookable at no extra charge, is indeed an experience: The small-plate tasting menu is a symphony of creatively executed culinary high notes, from foie gras crème brulée to lobster and lemongrass presse with lobster herb ravioli, complemented by fine wines and exceptional service.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Seabourn Cruise Line Review

(c) Tim Bieber 2012/Celebrity Owned

Qsine

Ship: Celebrity Silhouette, Reflection, Eclipse, Infinity, Millennium, and Summit

Experience: The novelty here is threefold: The menu is on an iPad, the small-plates are presented in quirky ways—sushi lollipops, popcorn fish ‘n’ chips, and lobster and escargot fritters—and the flavor combos may make you go hmmm, until you try them. Order a little of everything at Qsine and be delightfully surprised. Reservations required; surcharge.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Celebrity Cruises Review

Courtesy of Princess Cruise Lines

Alfredo’s Pizzeria

Ship: Royal Princess, Grand Princess, Sapphire Princess

Experience: Pizza at sea can be an iffy proposition, mostly served poolside and of the too chewy/too cheesy variety. Not so at this sit-down dining venue where hand-tossed, individual-sized, Neapolitan-style pizza available with crispy-thin crusts and a variety of topping combos makes a satisfying casual lunch or dinner option. Authenticity takes time, so don’t dine here when in a rush.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Princess Cruises Review

Tad Ware/ © RCCL /Royal Caribbean Owned

150 Central Park

Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas

Experience: The pre-eminent specialty restaurant onboard the world’s largest cruise ships, 150 Central Park recently went “farm-to-ship” sustainable and seasonal with a pair of six-course tasting menus by Miami chef Michael Schwartz that incorporate ingredients from small South Florida farms. Taste treats include Florida lobster and lychee salad, red pepper soup with goat cheese crostini, and jumbo lump crab cake with carrot butter sauce. Reservations required; surcharge.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Royal Caribbean International Review

Valentina Fusco/Courtesy of MSC Crociere

Eataly Steakhouse and Ristorante Italia

Ship: MSC Divina

Experience: You may be cruising the Caribbean but onboard this Italian-owned ship the distinctive cuisine of the Mediterranean delights the senses in the Steakhouse (modeled after Turin-based Eataly’s Manzo in New York) and the Ristorante (offering a gourmet “table d’hôte” menu at night). If you crave flavor-rich prosciutto, freshly made pasta with luscious seafood sauce, and authentic cannoli, just head for Deck 7. Reservations required; surcharge.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s MSC Divina Review

Courtesy of Crystal Cruises

The Crystal Dining Room

Ship: Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony

Experience: Cruise ship dining rooms are ambitious undertakings—serving multiple courses to hundreds of passengers at a time is no easy feat—and some fall short. Not in this venue, which consistently ranks among the best at sea. You’ll realize why the moment you taste such extraordinary offerings as truffled chicken liver parfait with pear confit and roasted wild pheasant breast with pistachio stuffing on champagne sauerkraut—all served on Villeroy & Boch china.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Crystal Cruises Review

© Michel Verdure/ Courtesy of Silversea Cruises

Le Champagne

Ship: Silversea’s Silver Spirit, Silver Cloud, Silver Wind, Silver Shadow, Silver Whisper

Experience: Special occasions call for fine champagne, and this lovely dining venue lives up to its pedigree as the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant at sea. It’s intimate and artisanal and as you uncork Le Champagne's sophisticated tasting menus that feature locally sourced ingredients, you’ll already be booking a second reservation. Reservations required; surcharge.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Silversea Cruises Review

© Pacific Beachcombers/Paul Gauguin Cruises

La Veranda

Ship: Paul Gauguin

Experience: Transformed post-sunset from a sunny breakfast and lunch venue with sweeping views of French Polynesia’s lagoons into a seductive dining room offering a degustation menu from Chef Jean-Pierre Vigato’s two-Michelin-star Paris restaurant, Apicius, La Veranda blends sophisticated culinary technique and locally sourced goodness. Menu items include seared foie gras with tuna sashimi and fresh apple and ginger, and steamed mahi mahi with white truffle sabayon.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Paul Gauguin Review

Courtesy of Oceania Cruises

Jacques

Ship: Oceania Riviera

Experience: If you crave classic French cuisine in a cheery Provencal-inspired setting this signature eatery by acclaimed chef Jacques Pépin delivers satisfying portions of both. Standouts include truffle and pistachio warm sausage over Lyonnais potato salad and gratinated traditional scallops in the shell with mushroom duxelle. Save room for classically caloric desserts: crème brulée, mille feuille framboise, and chocolate mousse. Reservations required.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Oceania Riviera Review

Courtesy Azamara Club Cruises

Aqualina

Ship: Azamara Journey and Quest

Experience: One of you loves surf and the other adores turf? No problem—this Mediterranean-inspired specialty restaurant, Aqualina, on Azamara Club Cruises' two mid-size ships, has you both covered with appetizers such as seafood bouillabaisse and olive poached veal loin followed by entrees that include lobster thermador and a duo of duck in a port wine glaze. Reservations required; surcharge.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Azamara Club Cruises Review

© Michel Verdure/Royal Caribbean Owned

The Boardwalk Dog House

Ships: Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas

Experience: Sometimes nothing but a perfectly grilled hot dog will do, and when that moment strikes onboard Allure of the Seas, all you have to do is stroll to this al fresco eatery offering seven international sausages and wieners—from a German bratwurst to a Coney Island dog—each served on its own style of bread. You don't have to be a kid to be a fan of The Boardwalk Dog House.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Allure of the Seas Review

Roger Paperno

AmphorA

Ship: Windstar’s Wind Surf, Wind Star, and Wind Spirit

Experience: Named for ancient vessels designed to carry wine, the classic-meets-contemporary open-seating main dining room (formerly known as The Restaurant) on Windstar Cruises’ trio of intimate sailing ships features an international menu. Popular items at AmphorA include lobster ravioli and duck à l’orange, each presented on Rosenthal china with suggested wines served in Riedel stemware.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Windstar Cruises Review

Courtesy of Crystal Cruises

Silk Road & The Sushi Bar by Nobu Matsuhisa

Ship: Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony

Experience: Sushi aficionados or anyone who hasn't had a chance to try the Asian-fusion mastery of Chef Nobu Matsuhisa (in his Nobu restaurants on land) can reserve a table in this elegant venue to savor world-famous favorites such as salmon tartar with Sevruga caviar, black cod with miso, and lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce. Another Silk Road & The Sushi Bar highlight: the dessert bento box that blends East and West taste sensations for sweet yet savory finale. Reservations required.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Crystal Cruises Review

© Michel Verdure/Celebrity Owned

Blu

Ship: Celebrity Solstice, Silhouette, Reflection, Equinox, Eclipse, Infinity, Summit, Millennium and Constellation

Experience: Proving that healthy does not have to be boring, this specialty restaurant on Celebrity’s Solstice-class (and “Solstice-ized”) ships offers “clean cuisine” prepared with a light touch and enjoyed in an airy Greek-isles-inspired setting. You need to book an AquaClass cabin to dine at Blu and enjoy delicious lower-calorie treats such as BLU cheese soufflé and pan-seared fillet mignon.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Celebrity Cruises Review

Courtesy of Oceania Cruises

Red Ginger

Ship: Oceania Riviera and Marina

Experience: Visually seductive décor enhances the flavorful twists on preparations of pan-Asian favorites—caramelized tiger prawns, crispy ginger calamari, spicy duck and watermelon salad, and Asian-spiced lamb tenderloin—at this contemporary eatery that also has an impressive tea menu. Reservations required.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Oceania Cruises Review

Courtesy of Crystal Cruises

Tastes

Ship: Crystal Serenity

Experience: The world comes to you at this brand new Crystal Serenity casual dining venue created in conjunction with Laguna Beach, CA-based restaurant Sapphire and offering global cuisine—Greek octopus salad, tuna poke, Lebanese flatbread, Alsatian tart—in a try-as-many-as-you-like small-plate format. How do you say delicious in Turkish?

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Crystal Serenity Review

Courtesy of Princess Cruise Lines

Sabatini’s

Ship: Royal Princess (and most other Princess Cruises ships)

Experience: The flavors and freshness of traditional Italian cooking permeate this welcoming specialty restaurant, from the herbed focaccia and creamy burrata to the nightly pasta special served family style and tender branzino (striped bass) in a salt crust. Finish off your Sabatini's meal with espresso brulée or a chocolate semi-freddo. Reservations required; surcharge.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Princess Cruises Review

© Michel Verdure/Royal Caribbean Owned

Samba Grill Brazilian Steakhouse

Ship: Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas

Experience: It helps to be an unapologetic carnivore if you opt to dine at this savory churrascaria-style steakhouse, where sizzling cuts of seared beef, pork, and chicken are carved tableside. The only limit on how much you can eat at Samba Grill Brazilian Steakhouse is how expandable your belt is. Reservations required; surcharge.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Allure of the Seas Review

IVANSARFATTI.COM/MSC Crociere

Venchi Gelateria

Ship: MSC Divina

Experience: An Italian-owned cruise ship should be able to source the best gelato at sea. The ridiculously creamy and just-sweet-enough flavors from Turin-based Venchi gelato that are scooped up poolside and in the atmospheric Piazza del Doge on this glitzy diva of a ship do not disappoint. You’ll need to hit the treadmill every day to atone for your indulgence.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s MSC Divina Review

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