How to Plan a Foodie Cruise From Start to Finish
From the “floating city”-style megaships to more intimate boutique ships, cruises offer a notoriously simplified way to travel, see the world, and experience new cultures. More and more, cruise lines are also partnering with world-class chefs and culinary arts programs to create itineraries that cater specifically to the gourmands among us - those who enjoy all things food.
Whether you’re planning your first foray into the world of cruising or simply looking to expand your roaming repertoire, a gourmet or foodie cruise is a great way to go. Peruse our comprehensive guide to planning the perfect palate-pleasing cruise below, from picking the right cruise line and itinerary to packing your activity program full of epicurean excursions.
How to Pick the Foodie Cruise That's Right for You
As food-themed cruises skyrocket in popularity, you now have a wealth of options to choose from when picking your cruise. The best foodie cruises combine exceptional onboard dining options with culinary activities, shore excursions, and gourmet cruise destinations. In order to pick the right cruise, you’ll need to consider multiple factors, including cruise ship, cruise line, and itinerary.
Here are a couple of tips to consider when choosing your culinary cruise:
Stick to your budget
When browsing cruises, it’s important to have a total budget in mind. This is a great tip in general, but particularly when it comes to cuisine-centric cruises. The good news is that there are plenty of options for every budget.
Mainstream or standard cruise lines typically excel in the abundance of dining options, from free buffets and main dining rooms stocked with classic favorites, to specialty restaurants that hone in on specific styles. Cheap cruises don’t necessarily mean you’ll be skimping on the cruise dining experience; quite the contrary, in fact. Many of the most highly-recommended foodie cruise lines offer affordable cruises, including Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean. Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises can be a bit more expensive, but are also great options for foodie cruise lines that won’t break the bank.
Premium and luxury cruise lines have pared down ship sizes and capacities, meaning you’ll also find fewer restaurants onboard. However, the restaurants they do have offer some of the best dining at sea. Additionally, many premium and luxury cruises specialize in all-inclusive fares, meaning meals, beer, wine, and many shore excursions are included in the price of the cruise. If you’re on the fence about whether the price difference for a luxury or premium cruise is worth it, check out this article on what makes luxury cruising different.
One important thing to note is that while meals in the buffet and dining room are always included, many specialty restaurants (especially on mainstream cruises) will cost extra. Visits to these restaurants, plus additional fees for wines, beers, and cocktails, can add up quick. That’s why it’s so important to create a budget in advance and, more importantly, stick to it when planning your cruise.
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Prioritize your preferences
This is great advice when planning a trip in general: outline the things you’re most excited about for your cruise and then rank them. For example, you may be most excited about taking a market tour on your cruise to the Mediterranean or indulging in Regent Seven Seas’ Le Cordon Bleu-inspired Signatures restaurant. Perhaps for you, variety is what matters, which is why you’re excited about your cruise on Royal Caribbean. Maybe you’re ready to be surprised by the whimsical offerings of Celebrity Cruises’ remarkable Qsine restaurant. Or it could be you’re looking forward to taking part in one of Holland America Line’s superb cooking classes.
No matter what your ideal cruise experience is built from, a good idea is to determine what you simply can’t miss out on. It will make it easier to stay in budget later, and get the most out of your foodie cruise.
Choose the perfect itinerary
Because cruises cover pretty much the entire globe, the world is truly your oyster when it comes to itineraries. However, refer back to your preferences when picking cruise destinations and ports of call. If you’re looking for excellent wine tours, pick a cruise region like the wine country of southern France, where vineyards are plentiful and glasses of wine accompany each meal. Don’t expect such variety of wine pairings or wine tastings in a place like the Middle East, where cultural and religious norms avoid alcohol consumption, or in Norway, where beer and wine are so heavily taxed that they cost significantly more than in other Scandinavian countries.
Likewise, if you’re looking to spend shore days being a beach bum, be sure to pick a winter cruise to the Caribbean, South Pacific, or Mexican Riviera, or opt for a summer cruise to the Med. Doing a bit of extra research in advance can help you avoid disappointment during your cruise.
Book shore excursions and tours in advance
For some of us, the idea of planning every detail of our cruise vacation in advance sounds like it takes all the spontaneity and fun out of getting away, but in reality advance planning can save tons of stress during the cruise. In fact, many food tours require advance booking, especially if you want the company of a celebrity chef.
Similarly, many cruise ships offer special dining experiences like Chef’s Tables, which also require reservations. While you may not need to book these as far in advance as shore excursions, some forethought can save major headaches later on.
How to Pick the Right Cruise Line and Cruise Ship
A big part of crafting the perfect foodie cruise for you is the cruise ship and cruise line you choose to sail with. Cruise lines typically fall into three different categories: mainstream, premium, and luxury. While these categories break down into different price tiers, cheaper cruise lines don’t necessarily mean you’re getting lower-quality experiences. Cruise lines with larger ships like Norwegian and Royal Caribbean tend to offer more variety; upscale mainstream cruises like Princess, Holland America, and Celebrity typically offer better specialty restaurants; luxury lines offer inclusive dining and drinking, plus some exclusive private tours.
Here’s our guide to choosing the right cruise line and cruise ship for your foodie cruise.
Check out food-themed cruises
Some cruise lines offer special theme cruises that partner with some of the most prestigious culinary publications and media. Holland America Line is probably best-known for its partnership with TV shows like “America’s Test Kitchen,” “MasterChef,” and “MasterChef Junior” as well as magazine Food & Wine. Culinary cruises on HAL offer special cooking classes, occasionally led by guest celebrity chefs. These partnerships make Holland America one of the best cruise lines for foodies.
Similarly, Celebrity Cruises offers “Top Chef”-themed cruises that offer cooking demonstrations and private classes for cruisers looking to up the ante in their home kitchens.
Find your favorite chef
As we mentioned earlier, cruise lines are collaborating with celebrity chefs to create curated menus for specialty restaurants and even offer demos and classes on some sailings. Here are just some of the chef partnerships that might help you narrow your options:
|Cruise Line||Celebrity Chef||Onboard Restaurant / Activity|
|Carnival Cruises||Guy Fieri||Guy's Burger Joint|
|Holland America Line||Master Chef Rudi Sodamin||"America's Test Kitchen" cooking class|
|Oceania Cruises||Jacques Pépin||Jacques|
|Royal Caribbean||Jamie Oliver & Michael Schwartz||Jamie's Italian & Michael's Genuine Pub (respectively)|
|Norwegian Cruise Line||Geoffrey Zakarian||Ocean Blue by Geoffrey Zakarian|
|Crystal Cruises||Nobu Matsuhisa||Silk Road & The Sushi Bar|
See what other cruisers had to say
If you’re picking a new cruise line or cruise ship you haven’t sailed with before, it’s always a good idea to read reviews from previous cruisers. This is particularly true for foodie cruises, as passengers are more likely to value similar experiences to you. While a budget cruise line like Carnival may receive high marks for being inexpensive and family-friendly, fellow gourmands may prefer to sail with MSC Cruises or Costa Cruises for better culinary destinations, or may want to pay a little extra to cruise with Princess or NCL.
What's included in your fare?
Gourmet cruises on luxury lines like Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas will be all-inclusive, but other lines will charge extra for certain excursions, activities, and restaurants. It’s important to take a look at what is and isn’t included in your cruise ticket so you aren’t surprised and disappointed later. Most cruise lines will offer drinks packages and some will also offer dining packages for purchase before you board - these are a foodie lifesaver. Plus, the more you plan in advance, the more you know you can look forward to in the weeks and months leading up to your departure date.
Keep These Things in Mind When Picking a Departure Port
Cruises depart from ports all over the world, meaning you’ll have plenty of options when it comes time to book your cruise. However, there are a couple of important factors to keep in mind when it comes to choosing a departure port for your foodie cruise.
Leave from a foodie destination
Turn your gourmet cruise into the ultimate foodie vacation by choosing a departure port in one of your bucket list destinations. Depart from Tokyo’s Yokohama port and sample sushi and squid jerky before you embark; fly into the French Riviera a day or two before your Mediterranean cruise to indulge in the haute fare in Nice or St. Tropez; or take a roadtrip to California before heading off on a Mexican Riviera cruise to get a true taste of the west coast. No matter what you hope for on your ideal cruise, setting sail from a gastronomic hotspot is a great way to start.
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Budget extra time before and after your cruise
Make the most of your cruise by ensuring the fun doesn’t have to end with debarkation day. This is particularly perfect if you begin and end your cruise in different destinations, so that you can spend a day or two immersing yourself in the local food scene before and after your cruise. Start in Spain and end in Italy; begin in Singapore and end in Tokyo; embark in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and disembark in Miami -- no matter the itinerary, bookending your cruise with a few extra days of vacation makes the perfect foodie cruise even better.
Make sure flights, transfers, and accommodation don't eat away your budget
Consider this a caveat to the previous tips. As awesome as a couple extra days before and after your cruise would be, be sure you won’t be stressing about the extra expenses by planning ahead and budgeting accordingly. After all, while some cruise lines (like Regent Seven Seas) will cover airfare, transfers, and a night in a hotel, most other cruise lines won’t. Live close to a cruise port? Don’t forget to account for parking.
What to Do Onboard Your Gourmet Cruise
Make the most of your foodie cruise by taking advantage of the many dining options onboard, from healthy “spa” menus to ultra-indulgent chocolate shops and buffets. Here are a couple ways to get the most out of your foodie cruise (or turn any cruise into a gourmet getaway).
Splurge on a specialty restaurant
Ditch the buffet pizza slices for an upscale night out in an authentic Italian restaurant like Jamie’s Italian on Royal Caribbean ships or Piero Selvaggio’s trattoria on Crystal Cruises Prego. Or, if you’re craving carnivore-friendly fare, head to a specialty steakhouses like Prime 7 (Royal Caribbean), The Restaurant (Seabourn), or The Grill (Crystal Cruises). No matter what your palate prefers, specialty restaurants can definitely hit the spot.
Order room service for a night (or morning) in
Not all cruise lines offer included room service, and some might charge extra for late-night orders. But that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying some breakfast in bed or a midnight snack. Room service isn’t typically top-shelf when it comes to culinary creations, but it can add a touch of luxury, spontaneity, and just plain fun to any cruise vacation. After all, what says “I’m on vacation” more than room service?
Take advantage of the main dining room
The main dining room is most likely where most cruisers (even foodies) will eat most of their meals, simply because it’s always included. While there are definitely a lot of ways to make the most of the main dining room, some key tips are:
Feel free to skip courses if you’re full or order more if you want to try everything
Ask your waiter for recommendations (and try what they recommend)
Feel free to make requests
How to Find the Best Cruise Deals on Foodie Cruises
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