Most Australian cruise passengers don't just want to experience a holiday; they want to dive in and devour it. They want to follow the lead of locals to find the best hole-in-the-wall place making roti, sample Singapore's finest Hainanese chicken at a hawker's stall, learn to make pasta alongside an Italian nonna and learn about gin from a master distiller.
When scrolling through cruise itineraries, Aussies salivate at the thought of enjoying a dream degustation dinner, being led down a jungle path to feast with a local tribe or enjoying a refined barbecue on a stretch of remote beach in the Philippines.
But these ideas are not just foodie fantasies. In addition to these offerings, which are fairly commonplace onboard a modern-day cruise ship, passengers can sample food and wine pairings curated by celebrity chefs and sommeliers, get hands-on with a cooking class led by renowned locals, or enjoy a foray into a food market.
Australians care about the provenance of their food and the attention paid to its preparation. Forget the all-you-can-eat buffet and take a look at our guide the most exciting local cruises for foodies.
Local Ship: Crystal Endeavor
Why: Master chef Nobu Matsuhisa will be onboard Crystal Endeavor’s Indonesian Immersive & Great Barrier Reef itinerary, sailing out of the port of Benoa in Bali on October 15, 2020, bound for Cairns. The culinary legend has been behind the line’s Umi Uma & Sushi Bar since 2003 and he will join the 16-day voyage to host an array of special events and dining experiences.
Food groupies will get to watch Nobu in action at omakase chef's choice dinners. After admiring his exacting approach to food onboard, passengers can venture to local villages to sip on fresh coconut drinks, admire terraced neon-green rice fields and sample nutmeg and mace in the fabled Spice Islands in the Banda Archipelago.
Nobu’s signature Japanese-Peruvian fusion fare will be served as part of the all-inclusive Crystal Experience, which will debut onboard Crystal Endeavor when the German-built expedition yacht launches in August 2020.
Cooking Classes: Prepare to ace your next dinner party after standing alongside Nobu during an immersive cooking class. The chef will host a complimentary cooking demo followed by a cookbook signing and photo session that concludes with an informed sake tasting.
Chef's Table: The Omakase Sushi Bar & Ultimate Vintage Connoisseur Wine Dinner is an intimate multi-course dinner for nine passengers only. Passengers who can afford to take a seat around a table set up in the expedition yacht’s Vintage Room can rub shoulders with host Nobu, sake master Hazu and Crystal’s own head sommelier.
Fee or Free: All dining onboard Crystal ships is complimentary with the exception of specialty restaurants that charge a nominal fee of US$30 per person, per dining experience. The Vintage Room wine-pairing dining experience is US$1000 per guest. Umi Uma & Sushi Bar will hold two exclusive seatings for 60 guests total (US$200 per guest), who will enjoy a sumptuous culinary experience and receive a signed Chef Nobu cookbook.
Local Ship: Silver Muse
Why: Dining onboard Silver Muse takes on new meaning after passengers visit a destination as some of the local ingredients and specialties will always find a place on the table. The ship, which sails from Australia three months a year, is set to woo gastronomes with signature Silversea staples such as grilled seafood and Italian cuisine. The cruise line has Italian heritage so the pizzeria, gelataria, mozzarella bar, olive oil cellar, seafood station and salumeria are reason enough to sail with Silversea.
Silver Muse will also visit foodie capitals of the world such as Hobart. After browsing the artisanal produce on offer at Salamanca Markets, you can eat fish and chips at the wharf, taste craft beer at the country's oldest brewery, and sip on acclaimed wines and whiskey.
In many ways, the menus onboard Silversea have no borders; while the chefs have their sights set on what's available at each destination, they also conjure memories of great travels with dishes at restaurants such as Indochine inspired by Marco Polo's travels through Asia.
Healthiest Cuisine at Sea: With a bounty of fresh seafood available from the Pacific Ocean, plus all kinds of pristine produce plucked from local growers, Hot Rocks offers a dining experience that is DIY. Guests at Hot Rocks dinner service are invited to cook their own meat, fish or vegetables to taste on the top of a grill lava stone.
Best for Sashimi: Kaiseki's varied and balanced menus feature sushi, sashimi and other seasonal Japanese dishes during the day and teppanyaki at night. The best part is that this is a social occasion: take a seat at the communal table to watch the chefs at work conjuring up a convivial vibe while slicing, dicing and serving sushi and sashimi made to order.
Best for Seafood: There is a constant ebb and flow of diners coming in and out of Atlantide to enjoy dishes such as royal crab, blue lobster and Verbena-infused red snapper in a sea salt crust. The umami flavours of a steak done to perfection also work well with a plate of piquant greens. It's a wonderful place for a special evening.
Best for Wow Factor: Silver Muse offers All Around Dining, a service that allows passengers to order food from the room service menu in any spot on the ship when restaurants aren't open. Fancy a grilled New York sirloin at 1 a.m. in the Panorama Lounge? Well, go for it.
Fee or Free: Silversea's fares include cuisine from around the world, complimentary beverages and butler service for each suite. Passengers can eat at any restaurant they wish as often as they'd like, though reservations are encouraged at all venues except Atlantide and Indochine (because several of the restaurants are quite small). There is a fee for specialty restaurants. Kaiseki (Deck 4); free for lunch, US$60 for dinner: La Dame by Relais & Chateaux (Deck 4); US$60.
Local Ships: Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Eclipse (from summer 2020/21)
Why: As part of its commitment to food, Celebrity Cruises partners with the James Beard Foundation -- a New York-based not-for-profit organisation that aims to educate and inspire people about culinary culture. A James Beard-featured chef is in charge of the menus across Celebrity's wide range of restaurants -- and the Sydney-based Solstice has 10.
Celebrity also boasts one of the largest teams of sommeliers in the world and takes great pride in its wine selection. It has added more than 100 new bottles of wines to its cellar, taking its collection to more than 500 choices. On offer are a number of programs for wine enthusiasts, including a private worldwide wine tour conducted by a sommelier.
Best for Hot Pots: Sushi on 5 is an la carte affair where passengers can choose between a variety of rolls, sashimi and other entrees, all priced per item. It's also a hot spot for hot pots: try the udon noodles and seared shrimp in a katsuo soy broth. Also irresistible is the lobster ramen with miso butter lobster tail, green onions and a dashi bisque.
Best for French: The Five Senses six-course tasting menu at Murano is a challenge that every passenger aboard Solstice should attempt. Dishes such as lobster bisque and salmon and crab parfait are paired with carefully selected wines. Murano is best for classic French cuisine with a contemporary twist.
Best for Wow Factor: The food in the Main Restaurant is cause enough for excitement -- expect dishes such as Celebrity's signature beef tournedos and roasted quail with wild rice and black truffle stuffing. The wine tower at the restaurant's heart is also a showstopper: the striking glass and steel structure holds 1800 bottles of wine, all at the perfect serving temperature.
Cooking Classes: As part of the Top Chef at Sea experience, Celebrity offers interactive Quickfire Challenges and the chance to compete against your fellow passengers. A Celebrity chef will guide you through the process of cooking an entree, testing and developing your culinary skills.
Foodie Excursions: The cruise line offers a range of visits to Australia's wine regions as part of its shore excursion program. Then there's the opportunity to take a cooking class in Bali in the open-air kitchen of an expert chef, an exploration of the historic pubs of Port Chalmers during a visit to Dunedin as well as an oyster discovery tour in Tasmania.
Fee or Free: There's a US$50 surcharge to dine at Murano, which rises to US$89 if you opt for the Five Senses Menu. Hot pots at Sushi on 5 are priced around US$11; sushi, sashimi and nigiri range from US$4 to US$12.
At Sushi on 5 you can order edamame to snack on for US$4, lobster ramen for US$12, spicy tuna roll for US$10 and chicken ginger gyoza for US$7. Aqua restaurant is exclusively for Celebrity's AquaClass guests, serving up breakfast and dinner.
Why: It's fitting that Australian chef Curtis Stone's restaurant at sea, Share by Curtis Stone, has ever-changing ocean views, as the affable chef first gained attention as co-host of Surfing the Menu, an ABC TV celebration of the ocean and its bounty.
Stone has a Michelin-starred restaurant, Maude, in LA and his restaurant at sea, Share by Curtis Stone, is one of the reasons Australians love cruising onboard local ships Sun Princess and Ruby Princess. Share by Curtis Stone is onboard Sun Princess, which will cruise from Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth during the 2019/2020 season; and Ruby Princess, sailing from Sydney for 2019/2020 season.
Share by Curtis Stone does not adhere to the roll-up-your-sleeves tradition of communal eating (although you can do that, too). Rather, it's about sharing a standout meal at sea for intimate tables set for two, four or more. The thread that holds Stone's cooking philosophy together is his passion for fresh cuisine.
Stone's personal recommendations are the Baja-style prawns and the Alaskan king crab poached in butter and served with a confit egg yolk, both dishes that sing of the sea.
Passengers on other Princess ships won't miss out completely as a small selection of 'Crafted by Curtis' dishes are offered, free of charge, in the main dining room on all of the Princess ships.
Another more casual option can be found onboard the Majestic Princess, which began its biggest-ever Australian season in October 2019. We love the al fresco Lobster & Dim Sum Bar for salt and pepper lobster, kung pao lobster and fragrant dim sums.
Chef's Table: A special Chef’s Table by Curtis Stone experience, paired with wines, is also available at an extra cost. Bookings essential.
Specialty Restaurants: Princess knows that Aussies love their seafood and the Kai Seafood Bar on Sun Princess reflects that gastronomic obsession. Freshly shucked Australian oysters, prawns, sashimi and shellfish are some of the seafood-centric menu items on offer.
Best for Steak: Princess Cruises offers passengers some of the best steaks at sea, from a traditional thick-cut New York strip steak to a classic tender filet mignon to a rib-eye rich with heavy marbling. Whether it's the Sterling Steakhouse or Crown Grill, the surcharge is well worth the quality cuts and American-style sides.
Best for comfort food: The Salty Dog Gastropub, set within the Wheelhouse Bar onboard Ruby Princess, is the casual go-to for comfort food. The menu, by Argentinian celebrity chef Ernesto Uchimura, modernises gastro pub classics with dishes such as beef short ribs poutine (braised in cabernet wine, rosemary gravy, potato frites and cheddar cheese curds) and a Maryland-style jumbo lump crab cake.
Fee or Free: Dishes are priced separately at Share by Curtis Stone, so you can drop in for a very reasonably priced charcuterie plate (three items cost about $AU12) or dessert plate after a show (AU$3.50 to AU$4.50). Design your own three-course 'prix fixe menu' for AU$39 per person (for adults and children over 12 years of age). The Salty Dog Gastropub also has a cover charge (AU$12 per person). Kai Seafood is a la carte pricing, and it costs AU$29 per person to dine at Sterling Steakhouse and AU$35 per person at Crown Grill. The main dining room, Horizon Court and Amuleto Cafe are free. Chef's Table Lumiere (Majestic Princess Only) is AU$115 per person with wine; AU$100 per person without wine. For all other ships, it is AU$95 with wine; AU$80 without wine.
Carnival Cruise Line
Why: Not all foodies want starched tablecloths, linen napkins, foam emulsions and waiters with airs and graces as part of their dining experience. While Carnival Cruise Line does include a few high-end offerings onboard its ships, it specialises in a more democratic form of dining, minus the fee. Carnival Splendor is set to call Sydney home in December 2019, joining sister ship Carnival Spirit, which sails from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
Let's start with Guy's Burger Joint. There's a reason passengers onboard Carnival Spirit go crazy for the pillow-soft buns stuffed with spice-laden patties at Guy's Burger Joint: this fistful of carbs in the form of a cheeseburger is meaty manna from heaven.
American chef and restaurateur Guy Fieri is the brains behind the Guy's Burger Joint brand, which is famed for its authentic all-American burgers. But the chef, one of the stars of the American Food Network TV channel, has made a concession for Australian passengers with the advent of the Boomerang Burger stuffed with a spice-laden patty, tasty cheese, bacon, tomato, grilled onion and the ubiquitous tang of beetroot in the form of a delectable relish.
Passengers can also indulge their penchant for the finer things in life at Fahrenheit 555 where they will find the finest aged beef, seared to exact specifications to lock in the flavour at -- you guessed it -- precisely 555 degrees Fahrenheit.
All up, there are a total of 25 bars, lounges and dining options onboard the Carnival ships. If you do fancy frocking up onboard Carnival Spirit, Nouveau is nirvana found. The restaurant is renowned for its aged prime beef cooked to order and its surf and turf (beef and lobster).
Bonsai Sushi is one of the best-value for-a-fee options onboard Carnival Cruise Line ships. Sneak here by yourself to smash down wagyu kakuni, California rolls, green tea cupcakes and a snifter of sake.
Best for Mexican: Freshly cut limes, fresh zingy salsas and bottles of hot sauce are just some of the additional extras that make the experience of building your own tacos at the Blue Iguana Cantina one of the best onboard options onboard Carnival Spirit and Carnival Splendor.
Best for Indian: Masala Tiger is a brand-new modern dining concept designed to please the Australian palette. The best way to nail the menu is to nab some naan fresh from the oven and pair it with char-grilled meats and vegies and traditional spiced curries that contain a subtle blast of heat.
Best for Fun: Let the crafty mixologists at the Alchemy Bar get inside your head to create custom handcrafted cocktails they say will best suit your tastes and personality. If you can't decide, the signature list includes the Martini Seduction, a boozy concoction of Grey Goose L'Orange Vodka, red passionfruit nectar, freshly squeezed lime juice and a hint of orange.
Fee or Free: Guy's Burger Joint, Masala Tiger and Pizzeria del Capitano are all included in the cruise fare. Alchemy Bar cocktails are priced individually. To dine at Nouveau and Fahrenheit 555 will cost AU$55 per adult for four courses (AU$15 for children under 12). Bonsai Sushi’s a la carte menu starts at AU$2.
Why: The Royal Caribbean cruise line aims to cater to Australians' desire for gourmet food both on land and at sea with an emphasis on fresh, local produce. The cruise line also provides many shore excursions that appeal to hard-core foodies.
Ovation of the Seas, which sails from Sydney, has a top-notch array of complimentary dining onboard, including Cafe Promenade, Cafe@Two70, SeaPlex, Dog House, Solarium Bistro, Sorrento's Pizza and Windjammer Cafe.
A lot of Aussies prefer the option of an early dinner: they can choose between assigned seating at dinner for the early (5.30 p.m.) or late (8 p.m.) sitting onboard Radiance of the Seas, which also features a multicourse menu that changes daily. Australians will find Cafe Latte-tudes is worth a pit stop if they are craving a hit of espresso. Passengers can also choose My Time Dining and enjoy a flexible dining schedule.
Serenade of the Seas will arrive in Australia in 2020 and be based in Sydney, with most cruises departing for New Zealand, the Great Barrier Reef, Tasmania and the Pacific islands. Specialty dining is recommended onboard Serenade of the Seas at Chops, an upscale steakhouse.
The dining experience is elevated at Wonderland, with an array of dishes as diverse as the destinations visited by the Royal Caribbean line.
Best for Italian: Ovation of the Seas features a Jamie's Italian eatery, designed by British TV chef Jamie Oliver. Give the prawn linguine or seafood bucatini a twirl. There is a surcharge.
Best for Fun: Wonderland is in the Heston Blumenthal vein of theatre and experimentation. Expect to be wowed by inventive dishes that are created using the most innovative cooking techniques. Venture down the rabbit hole with the Wonderland chefs' riffs on everyday food that will flip the switch on your senses. The story begins as you 'brush' the menu and find your element: sun, ice, fire, water, earth and dreams.
Fee or Free: US$29 lunch and US$39 for dinner at Jamie's Italian; US$49 at Wonderland Imaginative Cuisine. Please note the currency onboard all Royal Caribbean ships is in US dollars, including on cruises from Australia.