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Cruise ship restaurant nirvana: The 9 best meals you can have at sea

June 20, 2022
13 min read
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When it comes to onboard restaurants and dining, cruise ships often get a bad rap. There’s a storyline out there that cruises are little more than gorge fests, prioritizing quantity over quality.

After writing about cruising for more than 25 years, I can tell you this is far from the truth. Quality dining has always been a big part of the cruising experience, and cruise ship restaurant offerings only have improved over the years.

You’ll now find standalone restaurants on high-end cruise ships created and overseen by some of the world’s most famous chefs, including Thomas Keller and Jacques Pepin.

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But even on the largest cruise ships, the food is getting ever more elaborate and diverse. Norwegian Cruise Line brags that its biggest vessel, Norwegian Encore, has more than 20 different food venues — everything from a casual barbecue restaurant (with live country music) to a high-end Italian spot from the creators of New York City’s Scarpetta.

Some mainstream lines, such as Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises, even have called in chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants to help them design entire culinary programs.

Over the years, as part of testing and reviewing nearly 200 vessels operated by 41 different lines, I’ve eaten at pretty much every cruise ship restaurant.

Just like at resorts on land, there’s incredible diversity out there. Some are great. Some aren’t. Some are too pricey for what they are. Others are bargains.

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But the bottom line is there are a lot of wonderful cruise ship restaurants. Below are my picks for the very best cruise restaurants at sea. As you might expect, many of my favorites are on higher-end ships, but several of the top restaurants can be found on the bigger, more affordable cruise ships.

Manfredi’s

Where you’ll find it: All Viking ocean and expedition ships.

You'll find a Manfredi's eatery on every Viking ocean ship. (Photo courtesy of Viking).
You’ll find a Manfredi’s eatery on every Viking oceangoing ship. (Photo courtesy of Viking)

Found on every Viking ocean and expedition ship, Manfredi's is our hands-down pick for the best Italian restaurant at sea. It serves up authentic and hearty Tuscan and Northern Italian specialties such as bistecca fiorentina and osso buco alla Milanese. Appetizers range from hand-cut beef tartare to — our favorite — a chilled asparagus and polenta dish that’s served with a perfectly poached egg, Parmigiano Reggiano and truffle dressing.

Here's a bit of trivia: Manfredi's was named after Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, who once owned one of Viking’s rivals, Silversea Cruises. Viking chairman Torstein Hagen and Lefebvre are friends. If you’re a cruising aficionado, be sure to hunt among the photos on the wall for the images of Lefebvre and Hagen experimenting with recipes during the restaurant’s creation. The Italy-born Lefebvre supposedly shared some of his favorite childhood recipes for the venue.

Cost: There’s no extra charge to dine at Manfredi’s, but reservations are required. Passengers are entitled to one visit per voyage (those staying in top suites can go twice).

Red Ginger

Where you’ll find it: Oceania Cruises’ Marina, Riviera and Sirena. It'll also be on Vista, a new Oceania ship debuting in 2023.

The Red Ginger restaurant on the Oceania Cruises ship Sirena. (Photo courtesy of Oceania Cruises).
The Red Ginger restaurant on the Oceania Cruises ship Sirena. (Photo courtesy of Oceania Cruises)

Red Ginger may be the most gorgeous restaurant you’ll ever see on a cruise ship. With a nod to feng shui, it radiates harmony and tranquility with ebony woods, a soothing waterfall wall and striking, modern Asian artworks. But it’s not just a pretty place: It’s a den of yumminess, too.

Found on three Oceania Cruises ships — Marina, Riviera and Sirena — Red Ginger offers classic Asian dishes with a contemporary twist, all dreamed up by Oceania’s well-regarded, in-house culinary team with input from famed chef Jacques Pepin. We’re talking about miso-glazed sea bass wrapped in a hoba leaf, and sole tempura with an orange ponzu sauce and spicy daikon. For dessert, don’t miss the lemongrass creme brulee.

Cost: There is no extra charge to dine at Red Ginger, but reservations are required. Passengers are entitled to one visit per voyage (those staying in top suites can go twice).

The Grill by Thomas Keller

Where you’ll find it: All Seabourn ships except Seabourn Venture.

The Grill by Thomas Keller on Seabourn Ovation. (Photo courtesy of Seabourn)

It isn’t easy getting a table at one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants on land, and if you do, you’ll pay up for it. The price of a dinner at Keller’s flagship in New York, Per Se, for instance, is fixed at $355 per person, not including drinks (that's for a nine-course meal; there's an even more expensive, $850 per person option that includes more courses). But you can avoid the hassle of snagging a reservation for a Keller meal — and the cost — by booking a Seabourn cruise. Every passenger on Seabourn's ships will have the chance to sample Keller’s cuisine throughout the main restaurants.

Most Seabourn vessels also have a dedicated restaurant, The Grill by Thomas Keller, which offers Keller’s take on classic American chophouse fare with New York Strip steak, lobster thermidor and Dover sole meuniere. For dessert, there are ice cream sundaes and a seven-layer coconut cake. In my view, Keller's extraordinary talents are wasted a bit on such traditional fare (his creativity comes through much more with the dishes he created for Seabourn's main restaurants), but the dishes at The Grill by Thomas Keller are done superbly.

Cost: There’s no extra charge to dine at The Grill by Thomas Keller, but reservations are recommended. Passengers can make reservations in advance of their sailings online on a first-come, first-served basis, up until 15 days before departure. Reservations also can be made on board.

Fahrenheit 555

Where you’ll find it: Carnival's Mardi Gras, Carnival Breeze, Carnival Vista, Carnival Horizon, Carnival Panorama, Carnival Sunshine, Carnival Sunrise and Carnival Radiance.

A server presents entree options at the Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse on Carnival Breeze. (Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line).
A server presents entree options at the Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse on Carnival Breeze. (Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line)

One of the great paradoxes of the cruise world is that one of the lowest-cost operators — Carnival Cruise Line — has one of the best steakhouses at sea. At a fixed price of $42 per person, Fahrenheit 555 also is a relative bargain compared to similar steakhouses on land.

Found on Carnival’s five most recently built ships plus a few others, Fahrenheit 555 offers all the steakhouse staples, from a 14-ounce New York strip to a nine-ounce filet mignon (both USDA Prime, aged 28 days). Other entree choices include an appropriately marbled hunk of Australian Wagyu beef, grilled lamb chops and Dover sole. Starters include Heritage Berkshire pork belly, bone marrow and hand-cut beef tartare, and — of course — jumbo shrimp cocktail.

Carnival has a long tradition of offering high-end steakhouses on its ships. The line began rolling out steakhouses in 2001 with the debut of its Spirit-class ships (where, in one of the great quirks of cruise ship design, the steakhouses are located in red domes that form the forward portions of the ships’ funnels). There now are steakhouses on 19 of Carnival’s 23 vessels, with varying names and decor. When it comes to culinary offerings, they’re all similar to Fahrenheit 555.

Cost: $42 per person.

La Dame

Where you’ll find it: All Silversea ships except Silver Explorer and Silver Origin

La Dame serves high-end French cuisine. (Photo courtesy of Silversea).
La Dame serves high-end French cuisine. (Photo courtesy of Silversea)

The premier restaurant on Silversea Cruises ships is a temple to high-end French cuisine. Named after La Dame de Paris, aka the Eiffel Tower, it serves such classic dishes as filet of Limousin beef, grilled rack of lamb and pan-fried Dover sole. The menu includes two different styles of foie gras, as well as caviar.

As you might expect for a fancy French venue, the service is all white-glove elegance in a refined but contemporary setting. As you might not expect on an upscale all-inclusive cruise line, the restaurant does have a hefty cover charge.

Cost: $60 per person.

Pacific Rim

Where you’ll find it: Regent Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Explorer and Seven Seas Splendor

Pacific Rim serves Asian cuisine in a stylish setting. (Photo courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises).
Pacific Rim serves Asian cuisine in a stylish setting. (Photo courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises)

Another one of my favorite cruise ship restaurants is Pacific Rim, found on the two largest Regent Seven Seas Cruises vessels. Serving pan-Asian cuisine, it’s elegant and upscale — as you would expect from one of the world’s leading luxury lines — and has a mouthwatering menu. Signature dishes include grilled Korean barbecue lamb chops (served with wok-fried Brussels sprouts and gochujang sauce) and a miso black cod wrapped in a hoba leaf. Signature appetizers include a crispy soft-shell crab served with a kizami wasabi mayo.

For dessert, don’t miss the chili chocolate mousse. True to its name, it’s infused with chile and wonderfully spicy. For something more neutral, my pick is the green tea panna cotta, served with mango and a lychee ragout.

Cost: There’s no extra charge to dine at Pacific Rim, but reservations are required.

Related: Peek at the over-the-top luxury of Regent’s new Seven Seas Splendor

Eden Restaurant

Where you'll find it: Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Edge, Celebrity Apex and Celebrity Beyond.

(Photo by Steve Dunlop courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)

Celebrity Cruises has created a temple to gastronomy with Eden Restaurant, found on its new Edge-class ships. Located at the back of each vessel in a whimsical glass-walled and plant-filled dining and entertainment space called Eden, it offers a recently revamped, fixed-price menu with a choice of three appetizers, three entrees and two desserts.

In a sharp departure from Eden Restaurant's original concept of mesmerizingly imaginative dishes with fanciful names and often exotic ingredients, the new menu offers such classic dishes as filet mignon and mini short rib Wellington with mashed potatoes, vegetables, mushrooms and bordelaise sauce, and slow-cooked halibut — all cooked perfectly.

Cost: $55.

Remy

Where you'll find it: Disney Cruise Line's Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.

Remy restaurant on Disney Dream. (Photo by Matt Stroshane courtesy of Disney Cruise Line)

For the most part, the food on Disney Cruise Line ships is just so-so. It's a line you book for its great family entertainment, not cuisine. But Remy is the great exception — a dining experience that is among the finest at sea.

Created by two renowned chefs (Arnaud Lallement of France's three-Michelin-starred l'Assiette Champenoise and Scott Hunnel of Disney World's high-end Victoria & Albert's), it offers exquisitely presented, French-inspired cuisine of the highest quality in an elegant setting at one of the highest prices of any cruise ship eatery.

Like pretty much all venues on Disney ships, Remy has some whimsical Disney touches. Named after the rat hero in the Disney animated film Ratatouille, it has his stylized likeness worked into the art nouveau design. But there's nothing Mickey Mouse about the restaurant's sophisticated decor and finishings, which include high-end Frette linens, Riedel glassware, Christofle silverware and gold-cushioned stools to hold ladies' purses. This is a fine dining establishment where you wear a jacket or cocktail dress to dinner while savoring mouth-watering small plates of duck, quail, Wagyu beef, king crab and the like.

Cost: Tasting menus for $125 per person, not including wine; $230 per person including wine pairings with each course.

Steakhouse at the Verandah

Where you'll find it: All Cunard Line ships

(Photo courtesy of Cunard Line)

Steakhouse lovers will find another great option in Steakhouse at The Verandah, located on all Cunard vessels. It's a shrine to the most indulgent, marbled and mouth-watering cuts of beef, from 35-day dry-aged Scotch grass-fed Black Angus to Australian grass-fed Wagyu beef (the latter for an $30 upcharge). It also serves up seafood options such as grilled whole Dover sole and Maine lobster. Appetizers include clam chowder and lobster cocktail.

At a price of just $40 per person if booked in advance of sailing (with a few supplemental charges for premium items), it's a great bargain in my book — at least compared to fine steakhouses on land.

Cost: $40 per person if booked in advance of sailing; $45 per person if booked on board. A few premium dinner items come with extra "supplemental" charges.

Bottom line

Good food is plentiful on cruise ships, where you will even find a few truly world-class restaurants. Some of the same chefs behind the best-known restaurants on land have turned their attention to restaurants at sea in recent years, making it easier than ever to have a knockout meal during your cruise.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by STEPHEN BEAUDET
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
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  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.