Dinner on a cruise has traditionally meant set dining hours and big banquet tables, but that experience isn’t ideal for every traveler. Fortunately, cruise lines are increasingly offering specialty dining options that bring a new standard of excellence to the seas. Though not included covered by the all-inclusive rate, these restaurants offer high-end, intimate dining experiences at reasonable prices. In addition, more and more ships now feature menus that have been created by celebrity chefs and include luxury ingredients like caviar and truffles. For your next cruise, consider skipping the banquet hall and making a reservation (at a time of your choosing!) at one of these outstanding cruise-ship restaurants.
By Zachary Laks
150 Central Park
Found on: Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas
As you board the world’s two largest cruise ships, prepare for an endless feast. But for a truly exceptional experience, book early for 150 Central Park ($40 per person), James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz’s culinary masterwork. An exquisite hideaway in the ships’ Central Park area, the restaurant features a seasonal menu of local ingredients served as a five- or six-course tasting menu; vegetarian options are available and substitutions can be accomodated if requests are made in advance.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Royal Caribbean Cruise Guide
Found on: Holland America Line's entire fleet
A New York City institution since 1974, Le Cirque ($49 per person) brings its signature, whimsical ambiance and contemporary French cuisine to Holland America Line’s entire fleet. Colorful flourishes accent the transformed Pinnacle Grill room, and Le Cirque’s playful china sets the tone for an exotic array of flavors and textures. From the rotating menu that includes rack of lamb and seared sea bass, expect to see signature dishes like Lobster Salad Le Cirque and their pièce de résistance, the Crème Brûlée Le Cirque, on the menu.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Holland America Line Cruise Guide
Found on: Azamara Club Cruises' Azamara Quest and Azamara Journey
Sailing on the smaller, intimate cruise ships of Azamara is the perfect match for the traveler seeking a low-key experience and more attentive and personable service. When it comes to fine dining, Azamara ships do not disappoint. For the best meal on board, book ahead at Aqualina (complimentary for suite guests, $25 per person for others), one of the ship’s two specialty dining options. A three-course meal at Aqualina is Italian-inspired, as favorites from the menu include the chef-crafted pasta of the day, lobster ravioli, and a Venetian seafood platter.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Azamara Cruise Guide
Found on: Princess Cruises’ entire fleet
Capturing the essence of an upscale steakhouse, the Crown Grill (complimentary for suite guests, $25 per-person for others) is an experience no carnivore should miss. The basics are perfectly executed dry-aged cuts including New York strip, filet mignon, and porterhouse with sides that include garlic-and-herb fries and sautéed wild mushrooms.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Princess Cruise Guide
WHERE: Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas
There’s much to celebrate as celebrity chef Jamie Oliver gets his sea legs onboard Royal Caribbean’s newest ships, Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas. An extension of the hugely popular chain with locations around the world, Jamie's Italian ($30 per person) serves fresh Italian food to a bright and playful setting. Italian-spiced chicken wings set the palate buzzing before one of the fine daily-made pastas, like truffle tagliatelle or baked lasagna.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Royal Caribbean Cruise Guide
Bayamo by Jose Garces
WHERE: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Escape
This November, Norwegian Cruise Line debuts its newest ship, the Norwegian Escape, with plenty of Norwegian firsts geared to meet the exceeding demand for adventurous cruise getaways. Leading the culinary charge, Iron Chef Jose Garces joins the ranks of celebrated chefs offering a dining experience on the seas with Bayamo (à la carte menu pricing). Expect Latin dishes with a fun Cuban influence: Menu highlights will include fresh fish and vegetarian dishes, like black cod with squid-ink glaze and roasted eggplant with a saffron emulsion. The dining experience extends out onto the waterfront deck, where you can enjoy idyllic views and fresh ocean air.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Norwegian Cruise Line Guide
WHERE: Disney Cruise Line’s Dream and Fantasy
Drop the little ones at the kids’ club and prepare for a meal to delight the senses. The adults-only Remy ($85 per person) is jokingly named after the lovable, furry chef in the movie Ratatouille but the menu is very serious: It was created by Arnaud Lallement, a game-changing French chef best known for his restaurant l'Assiette Champenoise in northern France. With a nod to its namesake, expect a savory ratatouille, while favorites include the scallops and Kobe-style beef.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Disney Cruise Line Guide
WHERE: Cunard Line's Queen Mary 2
Cozy tables for two set the mood for a romantic night onboard theluxury liner Queen Mary 2. Todd English Restaurant ($26 per person) brings his signature Italian and Mediterranean flavors to the fore in a decadent three-course meal. Entrée selections include crispy duck with a ginger sesame glaze, rack of lamb, and seared jumbo sea scallops.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Cunard Cruise Guide
WHERE: Silversea’s Silver Spirit, Silver Cloud, Silver Wind, Silver Shadow, and Silver Whisper
On a fleet of smaller cruise ships where service is immaculate, luxury is standard, and rates are all-inclusive, it takes an impressive specialty restaurant to warrant any additional charges. Rising to the challenge is Le Champagne ($40 per person), the only Relais & Châteaux restaurant at sea. Make sure to reserve immediately upon booking your cruise—tables are kept to the single digits and demand far exceeds capacity. The menu continuously changes based on ports of call and the local, seasonal ingredients, and each gourmet meal is paired with a lovely wine.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Silversea Cruise Guide
WHERE: Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Solstice, Celebrity Silhouette, Celebrity Equinox, Celebrity Reflection
Murano ($50 per person, $89 for Five Senses Menu) manages to strike a balance between sophistication and fun. Bringing the art of cooking tableside, the restaurant offers a rare cruise experience: flambé trolleys that show the fast and fiery preparation of two menu favorites, lobster Murano and the châteaubriand. If you’re having a hard time deciding, opt for the Five Senses Menu, a six-course culinary feast complete with wine pairings. The experience is designed to awaken all senses through bursts of color, unique textures, and most notably, sophisticated flavors.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Celebrity Cruises Guide