13 Best Foodie Cruises For Every Budget (RANKED)
When it comes to sampling the world’s sweetest and most savory specialties, there’s really no better method than by cruise. Cruising continues to rise in popularity, and that means that there are ever more options when it comes to crafting the perfect vacation. Mainstream cruise lines offer a dizzying array of activities, amenities, and itineraries, while luxury lines keep things refined, elegant, and innovative. Cruise dining is no exception! For the curious epicures among us, we’ve put together the definitive ranking of the best cruise lines for foodies for every budget - be it affordable cruises, premium cruises, or luxury cruises.
We stand by our list, but we’re not looking to make (too many) waves - leave a comment for us if you have an opinion on our ranking. Who knows? We just might be swayed.
Best Mainstream Foodie Cruises
Mainstream cruise lines tend to have larger ships (carrying a capacity of around 2,500 to 5,000 passengers), cheaper cruise prices, and action-packed activity and entertainment programs. Most also boast a cornucopia of dining options, from poolside grills to 24-hour buffets to room service to upscale specialty restaurants. These cruise lines cater to families, budget cruisers, large groups, and younger cruisers, and are bright, colorful, boisterous, and vibrant cities at sea.
These cruise lines offer some of the best value cruises on the market, but foodies should be aware that many specialty restaurants and the accompanying beers, wines, cocktails, and spirits cost extra, and could add a significant amount to the final tab. If you’re sailing with one of these cruise lines, check out their available drinks packages or specialty dining packages in advance to save yourself some serious sticker shock later on.
Now, let’s get into the rankings. In the spirit of fun, we’re saving the best for last.
7. Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival gets a bad rep among some cruise connoisseurs for being a budget option specializing in quantity over quality, but we’ve found it’s undeserved. In fact, when it comes to cheap cruises for foodies, Carnival is actually one of the best options. With bargain fares and varied cruise destinations and itineraries, Carnival opens up the world to foodies to explore in comfort and style. Combine that with the cruise line’s excellent Chef’s Table program - particularly worth a tour on Carnival Vista - and you have a superb selection for foodies looking for budget cruises.
Where to eat onboard: Guy’s Burger Joint is a prime example of how to do mouthwatering burgers the right way. Honorable mentions go to the fish tacos at Blue Iguana and the more upscale dining with a bold design style at Fahrenheit 555.
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6. Disney Cruise Line
The ultimate family cruise line offers larger-than-life entertainment and exclusive access to your favorite Disney characters, including Star Wars and Marvel heroes. Disney cruises excel at offering pitch-perfect family-friendly entertainment in all aspects of the cruise experience, from over the top main dining room spectacles to the more tasteful nods to Disney franchises in the grown-up dining venues and bars. For foodies, Disney excels in the modern menus offered at some of the specialty restaurants, though you will have to pay extra to eat there.
Where to eat onboard: Remy, Disney Cruises’ Ratatouille-inspired French specialty restaurant goes all out with the fine dining experience, offering seven-course meals and wine pairing, and some of the best fish dishes on the sea. Palo, the line’s Italian specialty restaurant, also deserves a nod thanks to its superb lobster ravioli. Both restaurants cost extra, so plan accordingly.
5. Princess Cruises
Princess excels in a few different culinary areas, and each warrant a mention. First, it’s one of few cruise lines that offers mixed-style main dining meal times, at least on Regal Princess. The Symphony dining room sticks to set dining times, while the Allegro and Concerto dining rooms take a more laissez-faire approach, letting guests come and eat when they’re hungry.
Next, Princess Cruises also boasts one of the best pizzerias at sea, Alfredo’s, which serves up authentic, hand-tossed Neapolitan-style pizzas loaded with fresh and funky toppings. The best part? You can indulge on these thin-crust pies for free.
Speaking of free, the cruise buffet onboard, Horizon Bistro, puts other buffets to shame with its made-to-order omelets, sandwiches, and locavore dinners. Of course, if you have money burning a hole in your pocket, you can always splurge on a flight of Norman Love chocolates and carefully selected wines.
Where to eat onboard: Honestly, foodies could easily save their onboard credit for shopping, entertainment, or other activities and stick to the free dining in the main dining rooms, casual eateries like Alfredo’s, and the Horizon Bistro buffet and still come away feeling full and happy.
4. Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian’s focus on “freestyle cruising” definitely extends to the line’s approach to dining. NCL nixed the set meal times and dress code that gave cruising its stuffy reputation, and replaced it with a veritable smorgasbord of complimentary and specialty restaurants onboard. Some of the best food on the cruise can be found at Geoffrey Zakarian’s upscale seafood restaurant Ocean Blue, though homegrown foodies may gravitate more toward Jimmy Buffett’s unflappably cool Margaritaville at Sea.
Zakarian isn’t the only chef to partner with NCL, and if you’re craving some modern Mexican fare, the creations by Iron Chef Jose Garces are guaranteed to please. Head to Bayamo for sophisticated Cuban dishes, or Pincho Tapas Bar for something a bit more continental.
Where to eat onboard: While Norwegian’s free-wheeling cruise approach is a great way to unwind and stay spontaneous, true foodies should buckle down and make reservations for the line’s specialty restaurants for the full experience. We recommend Ocean Blue and Cagney’s Steakhouse for surf and turf, respectively.
3. Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean cruises consistently wow foodies with the sheer quantity of available dining options onboard. After all, Royal Caribbean currently boasts the largest cruise ship in the world, Symphony of the Seas, which clocks in at a max capacity of 6,680 passengers. However, this cruise line doesn’t just impress with the quantity of shipside dining; the quality of its restaurants is also worth writing home about.
Imaginative bars and restaurants include the bionic bar where robots mix your cocktails, and Wonderland, which serves up experimental cuisine. Foodies with a sweet tooth can satisfy their dessert cravings at the oft-lauded Cupcake Cupboard, which plies hungry cruisers with extra-large cupcakes piled high with indulgent frosting. Or head to Ben and Jerry’s for some of the best ice cream to be found at sea.
Where to eat onboard: If we’re being honest, Michael’s Genuine Pub and Jamie’s Italian (designed by chefs Michael Schwartz and Jamie Oliver, respectively) are high on our list of places to return to, thanks to authentic grub, sophisticated decor, and an impressive variety of beer on tap.
2. Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity’s focus on pampering passengers effortlessly extends to its epicurean delights. The focus on high-quality dining to fit every price point, from main dining room to buffet to delectable specialty spots, earns this cruise line a particularly high ranking in our book. Most ships boast dozens of dining venues onboard, with Celebrity Edge maxing out at a whopping 29 onboard eateries.
One of the most innovative additions to the line was Le Petit Chef, a collaboration with TableMotion Studios that features a 3D animation of a tiny chef preparing your plate for you just in time for it to be served. Perfect for Instagram aficionados and kids alike!
Where to eat onboard: We’d be remiss not to mention Celebrity’s fantastical small-plate specialty restaurant Qsine, which is equipped with iPad menus, puzzle box desserts, and sushi lollipops. Hands-on foodies will also love the real-grass Lawn Club Grill, where guests can sear their own steak in an alfresco park paradise.
1. Holland America Line
Coming in first place is the créme de la créme of affordable foodie cruises, Holland America Line. What makes this the best cruise line for food? We’re so glad you asked. From immersive food-themed cruises to impeccable onboard Chef’s Tables, from partnerships with “MasterChef” and “MasterChef Junior” to cooking demonstrations led by celebrity chefs, HAL delivers the full foodie cruise experience with panache.
Holland America excels precisely because it allows passengers to get in on the action, whether in a cooking class, mixologist course, wine-blending master class, or market tour. HAL also does a great job accommodating cruisers with dietary restrictions, which definitely earns it some extra bonus points.
Where to eat onboard: The reservation-only Pinnacle Grill is the place to eat, particularly on one of the line’s Food & Wine Aficionado cruises, which precede an intimate dinner with in-depth cooking and cocktail-crafting classes with sought-after celeb chefs.
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Best Premium Foodie Cruises
Fine dining, spacious staterooms, more inclusive fares - what could be better? While mainstream cruises may be the best value option on the cruise market and luxury cruises may be the cream of the crop when it comes to all-inclusive fares, the best premium cruises combine the best parts of both. Premium cruise lines typically offer smaller, more intimate cruise ships that focus on providing high-quality service, entertainment, enrichment, and yes, dining. While they do come with a heftier price tag, these cruise lines also include plenty of extras. Some may include a meal in a specialty or a la carte restaurant; some may include an excursion on port days.
Of course, while bottled water may be included on many premium cruise lines, foodies and oenophiles should be advised that, like mainstream lines, investing in beverage packages in preparation for their premium cruise is a good idea.
Here are our top two picks for the best premium foodie cruise lines on the market and the accompanying best cruise ship restaurants.
2. Windstar Cruises
Windstar’s masted ships cut a romantic silhouette, and lend a feeling of timelessness and adventure to every cruise. The sensuous experience of sailing on the teak-deck ships extends to the excitement of the cruise line’s excellent market tours. Windstar makes a point to offer at least one chef-led market tour on every sailing, during which cruisers can explore the locavore life, sample new flavors, and watch vendors’ eyes widen at the massive orders. Windstar’s dedication to providing locally-sourced cuisine onboard also means that the cruise line stimulates local economies and prepares the ingredients you helped pick into mouthwatering dishes. The best part? These tours are totally free.
Where to eat onboard: Splurge on an unforgettable date night for you and your sweetheart at Candles, Windstar’s open-air restaurant that specializes in impeccable wine pairings. Of course, we simply assume that’s in addition to the superb deck barbecue provided by Windstar on every sailing.
1. Oceania Cruises
Those in the know won’t be surprised by Oceania’s solid #1 ranking - after all, the cruise line has built quite a reputation for having the best cuisine at sea. Partnering with French chef Jacques Pépin is a great start, and offering cruise fares that include all meals at sea only sweetens the deal. Oceania Marina is undoubtedly one of the best cruise ships for food available, not least of all because of the open seating, anytime dining availability. From the numerous specialty restaurants onboard to Oceania’s partnership with Bon Appetit Magazine, foodie cruisers will soon find themselves spoiled by the food included in the cruise, cooking classes offered on the ship, and spacious suites where 24-hour complimentary room service comes standard.
Where to eat onboard: You’d be hard-pressed to find a sub-par eatery on an Oceania cruise, but one must-try spot is Jacques, the eponymous French specialty restaurant. It’s not often that you’ll find French fare this fabulous included in the price of your cruise, so make the most of it.
Best Luxury Foodie Cruises
We promised we’d save the very best for last, and these luxury lines certainly live up to the hype. With smaller ship sizes, higher crew-to-guest ratios, and ultra-inclusive fares (some even including airfare and accommodation before your cruise), these are the best cruises for food money can buy. Luxury foodie cruises offer exclusive access to remote locations all over the world, stylish and sophisticated suites, six-star service, and dining styled by Michelin-starred chefs.
While these cruise lines are some of the priciest in the industry, they more than make up for it in the exceptional quality of everything onboard. That’s why cruisers who upgrade to luxury lines rarely go back to lower-tier sailings - once you experience the quality of life on these cruises, you’ll be hooked.
Here are our picks for the best of the best luxury foodie cruises.
4. Regent Seven Seas
The most all-inclusive cruise line in the industry, Regent Seven Seas offers some fantastic foodie favorites. Seven Seas Explorer offers cruisers the opportunity to take a class in the state of the art Culinary Arts Kitchen, equipped with 18 stations and tons of expertise. The real draw of this line, however, is the fantastic (and complimentary) restaurants. La Veranda offers a casual dining experience that transforms into a top-notch Italian restaurant for dinner. Chartreuse, the line’s French restaurant, serves up exquisite Parisian plates that are sure to make your mouth water. And Compass Rose offers a variety of styles for picky eaters or indecisive guests.
Where to eat onboard: Carnivores can’t miss Prime 7, Regent’s elegant steakhouse, which features a 36-ounce porterhouse as the crown jewel of its menu.
This luxury line’s small ship size means stellar service is always just a snap away (figuratively speaking, of course - you shouldn’t actually snap at servers). What’s more, Seabourn offers intimate and exclusive market tours in select ports with the chef, called Shopping With the Chef, where interested passengers can get an inside glimpse on the market process and even walk away with some scrumptious recipes. Seabourn’s collaboration with Michelin chef Thomas Keller has led to some deliciously revamped American cuisine at The Grill (Seabourn Ovation), and the Restaurant 2 also receives consistently high praise.
Where to eat onboard: Restaurant 2 is a must-try mainstay, where discerning foodies can sample foie gras creme brulee, lobster ravioli, and duck confit.
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2. Silversea Cruises
While this luxury cruise line’s Relais & Chateaux L’Ecole des Chefs cooking cruises are honestly enough to warrant a solid second place alone, Silversea offers even more. The renowned cooking school at sea is offered on around 10 select sailings a year, with passengers able to partake in knife skill courses, baking lessons, and sauce preparation, as well as market tours and 6-course onboard meals complete with wine pairings. Plus, despite the small size of these intimate ships, there are around six to eight specialty restaurants onboard - all included in the fare. Feel like staying in? Order room service to be butler-served course by course.
Where to eat onboard: Le Champagne’s chic French fare is accompanied by white-glove service, and is a must for francophile foodies.
1. Crystal Cruises
Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony outshine the competition in large part because of the vast variety available to foodies on any Crystal cruise. From onboard beer programs to dedicated sommeliers crafting curated drinking experiences to celebrity chef collaborations with Piero Selvaggio and Nobu Matsuhisa, Crystal does it all. Even the main dining room, Crystal Dining Room, is a mealtime masterpiece, with elegant decor and an innovative and indomitable menu.
Where to eat onboard: Try the best sushi at sea at the Silk Road and Sushi Bar by Nobu Matsuhisa, which offers raw fish favorites (obviously) as well as pork and Wagyu beef dishes.