Italian restaurants at sea are a far cry from what you see in those bubbly Olive Garden commercials. They're diverse, ranging from laidback trattoria-style cafes to upscale, modern spaces serving up Italian fusion. While many of them stay true to their roots with menu items like freshly sliced prosciutto and spaghetti and meatballs, it's not uncommon to see a unique twist on a traditional favourite.
We've chosen seven cruise ship Italian restaurants that will make you hungry, even on a full stomach. Whether you're a foodie or simply love the culture, you're bound to find one "that's amore."
1. Royal Caribbean's Jamie's Italian
Why We Love It: British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's first seafaring restaurant recreates some of his most-loved dishes from land in a casual, family-style atmosphere. The space is light, airy and colourful with a hint of rustic charm. Start out with crab and avocado bruschetta or spicy Italian chicken wings, then indulge on pasta (made in-house every day) or one of Jamie's main course recipes -- such as the Italian burger or porchetta.
2. Celebrity's Tuscan Grille
Why We Love It: Craving lobster linguine or blackened Angus rib eye? Celebrity's Italian steakhouse affords a casual yet contemporary ambiance and sumptuous regional fare focusing on meat and seafood -- all for $45 per person. One of Celebrity's more upscale specialty restaurants, Tuscan Grille beckons you to dress up for dinner. But what we love most are the views -- the best of any restaurant onboard each ship.
3. Oceania's Toscana
Why We Love It: Toscana offers Italy's Tuscan cuisine -- with a few Northern Italian influences -- at its most elegant and refined. We love the olive oil bar; this is the only restaurant in cruising where choosing the olive oil to go with the (exceptional) bread basket takes more consideration than reviewing a wine list. If you're in for a long, leisurely supper, you can sample more than seven courses (not including dessert!), each offering ample options. There's hot antipasti, cold antipasti, soup, pasta, risotto, salad and, oh yes, entrees. Our ideal dinner at Toscana would include the prosciutto-wrapped shrimp, a small portion of the linguini cioppino, a seafood stew and the pan-seared sea bass. There's no additional charge to dine at Toscana, but reservations are strongly recommended.
4. P&O Cruises' Angelo's
Why We Love It: First of all, it's free -- and yet food is superb and the ambience is so classy. There are no checkered tablecloths or countryside decor; Angelo's cream leather layout looks more luxurious than other restaurants with a surcharge. On the walls you'll see portraits of legends like Sophia Loren, taken by one of Italy’s most famous photographers, Angelo Frontoni. The menu has five sections: antipasti (appetisers), primi (first course), secondi (second course), contorni (side dishes), dolci e formaggi (sweets and cheese). Enjoy perfectly cooked pastas, eight-hour braised veal osso bucco, slow-cooked pork neck, roasted sardines (from Fremantle), and delicious tiramisu and cannoli cones. Angelo's is only open for dinner, so be sure to make reservations.
5. Viking Ocean Cruises' Manfredi
Why We Love It: Imagine a sleekly decorated Italian bistro that serves hearty Tuscan cuisine with that home-cooked feeling, and you've nailed the concept of Viking's Manfredi's. It's named after Silversea Cruises owner Manfredi Lefebvre, a good pal of Viking CEO Torstein Hagen, because he contributed many of the recipes from his mother's kitchen. Upon entering, you'll stroll past the antipasti station, where chefs are slicing super-thin chunks of prosciutto and salami. You can choose your own selection if you wish. Favorite meals at Manfredi's have included the bistecca Florentine, a deliciously prepared steak with a hint of rich balsamic; the osso bucco, an Italian tradition; and the bolognaise lasagna. The daily specials are a highlight, and we recommend sampling that day's pasta offering (with noodles made on site). There is no charge to dine at Manfredi's, but it's popular, so do make reservations.
6. MSC Cruises' Eataly
Why We Love It: Founded in Italy (so it must know its food, right?) European cruise line MSC teamed up with the world-renowned Italian food chain Eataly to offer high-quality cuisine in a modern marketplace-style setting. It's everything you'd expect from the Eataly brand; the food is cooked to perfection and the style is simple yet sleek. Named Eataly Steakhouse on Divina and Eataly Restaurant on Preziosa, the venues serve similar a la carte dishes such as assorted cold cuts ($10) and sliced steak from Piedmont beef ($16). On Divina, you'll find more meat and protein options that cater to its North American demographic. Both ships also feature an adjacent wine bar and pizzeria, where pizzas are made with Eataly ingredients. For those who wish to savour the memory with a souvenir, Italian olive oils, dried pastas and wine are available for purchase.