By Jo Kling
President, Landry & Kling

Wondering where to find the best cruise ship dining?

When planning a meeting or incentive at sea, researching the best cruise ship dining is an important consideration. According to recent meeting & incentive travel industry reports, food & beverage budgets remain stagnant while planners are expected to follow pricey food trends. Today’s sophisticated attendees want more than a just a meal; they seek unique, interactive and authentic culinary experiences.

Good news! Upscale cruise lines have responded by introducing globally-inspired and locally-sourced menu items, crafting chef-led culinary excursions and adding interactive cooking schools aboard their ships.

Culinary Center on Oceania ship

Here are the 10 best cruise ship dining experiences planners and attendees will love:

1.Oceania Cruises is known for the best cruise ship dining. Oceania’s two newer ships, Marina and Riviera, were built around cooking and eating, with a culinary center that has 24 cooking stations (pictured above), 20 classes focusing on regional cuisine in ports they visit, and a choice of culinary tours. Oceania takes small groups of passengers to a food market, farm or vineyard and then to a shore-side cooking school to learn how to prepare the local ingredients.

2.Silversea offers “Market to Plate” excursions on select voyages. Participants will shop for ingredients used in regional specialties served aboard ship, with classes onboard or at Relais & Châteaux properties.

 Cooking demonstration on board a Silversea ship

Cooking demonstration on board a Silversea ship

3.SeaDream Yacht Club’s “Champagne and Caviar Splash” is a highlight during voyages in the Caribbean, Costa Rica, and Asia. Guests wade into the surf to a surfboard dressed in white linens with premium caviar, festive bubbles, and all the accouterments. Following the Champagne and Caviar Splash, guests indulge in a gourmet barbecue served upon bone china on a white sandy beach. This extraordinary experience is always complimentary.

SeaDream Yacht Champagne and Caviar Splash in Caribbean

SeaDream Yacht Club Champagne and Caviar Splash in the Caribbean

4.Regent Seven Seas’ new Seven Seas Explorer (which the cruise line calls “the world’s most luxurious cruise ship”) will offer exclusive culinary-inspired shore excursions in the Med. These new Gourmet Explorer Tours provide epicurean adventures ashore to complement the shipboard gourmet restaurants and the hands-on Culinary Arts Kitchen, pictured below.

Regent Seven Seas Explorer Culinary Kitchen

Explorer Culinary Kitchen

Each gourmet excursion will be accompanied by the chef instructor from the Culinary Arts Kitchen and a local guide – often a chef with intimate knowledge of the region’s agriculture, wine, and cuisine. For example: In Sorrento, Italy, participants can immerse themselves in Campagnia’s cuisine by making cheese at an artisanal fromagerie, watching a culinary demonstration by a master chef and wining and dining amid the luxurious gardens of the stunning Don Alfonso.

5.Holland America Line’s highly anticipated luxury ship MS Koningsdam will feature The Culinary Arts Center that convert into a 78-seat specialty restaurant at night. Tours to local markets are available in some ports.

6.Crystal River Cruises’ new luxury river yachts will offer complimentary culinary experiences at Michelin-starred or highly renowned local restaurants on many voyages (itineraries include some overnight stays in port).

Crystal Mozart River Cruise

Crystal Mozart River Cruise

7.Seabourn offers “Shopping with the Chef” excursions that allow cruise passengers to accompany the chef to local markets to see where the ship gets its fresh ingredients for meals. These authentic culinary tours are complimentary.

8.Windstar Market Tours: The six-ship fleet of Windstar Cruises will offer experiences with chefs on and off the ship with a market tour with the chef on each voyage. During select James Beard Foundation Culinary Collection voyages, a guest James Beard Foundation chef will offer two onboard cooking demonstrations and share insights during an excursion to shop for the evening meal at local markets.

Windstar Cruises Market Tour

Windstar Cruises Market Tour

9.Viking Ocean Cruises’ Kitchen Table is a two-part experience led by either the onboard chef or Viking’s culinary director. Offered once or twice per cruise to a group of about eight people at a time, this exclusive farm-to-table gastronomic exploration of your port of call begins with an hour or two of shopping at a local market in the morning, and culminates with cooking and enjoying dinner later that evening. The cooking and dining portion of the experience takes place in a private test kitchen and dining area onboard cooking school and intimate restaurant, The Kitchen Table.

Viking Ocean Cruises: The Chef's Table

Viking Ocean Cruises: The Chef’s Table

10.Celebrity Cruises will be the first premium cruise line to offer culinary-themed shore excursions in Europe and the Caribbean led by the onboard chef. Beginning in summer 2016, “Chef’s Market Discoveries” participants will visit markets, meet farmers and local producers, and follow through with a special meal onboard using ingredients from the day’s purchases.

For example: Visit a fish market in Iceland, then join a fisherman’s cookery; visit a mozzarella farm and select lemons for limoncello in Naples; Journey to the Mayan Cacao Company for a sensory tour & tasting; or visit Crete’s botanical gardens to sample and learn about the region’s indigenous herbs and native dishes.