As meeting planners and attendees crave top-notch culinary experiences and demand more choices for special diets, it’s time to take a fresh look at cruise ship dining. Boring buffets and bland menu options at sea are a thing of the past – delicious and healthy cuisine is now being served, both onboard and ashore. Cruise lines are embracing the “foodie” lifestyle and creating epicurean journeys inspired by the destinations they visit – at budget-friendly prices! 

Below are a few of our picks for best new cruise food experiences for meetings and incentive groups, followed by important updates for planners concerned their participants with dietary limitations and allergies

Best cruise food experiences for meetings & incentives:

Celebrity Cruises: Celebrity Distinctions

Best cruise ship food experiences Celebrity Top Chef challenge

Celebrity Top Chef “Quick Fire” Challenge

As part of Celebrity’s fleetwide “Celebrity Distinction” culinary program, the cruise line is rolling out changes to its restaurants, dining experiences, and new epicurean activities, including;

Ripple Machine – Enrich your attendees’ coffee experience by allowing them to create their own custom image printed on top of their cappuccino, or upload your company or program logo!

Blendtique – At sommelier-led wine blending class, attendees can bottle their own wine to take home with them and create their own label.

Taste of Film – Experience A Taste of Film on the ship’s Rooftop Terrace. Delicious bites and drinks inspired by the film are served during the movie to heighten the multi-sensory experience.

Chef Market Discoveries – Join Celebrity chefs on culinary outings to markets, docks, and restaurants to search for the freshest ingredients, followed by a local inspired private onboard dinner, prepared by the chef just for the group.

Top Chef at Sea – Celebrity partnered with Bravo’s Top Chef to bring guests Quickfire Challenges and Top Chef Night in the main restaurant that treat guests to dishes conceived by popular “cheftestants” from the show.

Silversea Cruises: New Dining  Concepts on Silver Muse

Best cruise ship food experiences - Silversea Hot Rocks

Hot Rocks interactive dining experience on Silver Muse

When 596-passenger Silver Muse sets sail in spring 2017, the luxury ship will feature 26 different food concepts in eight different dining venues – unprecedented for a ship of this size! 

Three restaurants will replace the traditional main dining room. Two will feature bars in the center where your participants  can relax with a drink before dinner, or eat at the bar if they wish. A new restaurant concept – Silver Note – will serve up small plates in the fusion styles of “Peru Meets Japan” or “Mexico Meets North America”. along with live jazz and blues.

In the evenings, your attendees can dine under the stars at Hot Rocks,  featuring lava stone cooking at its finest. Sourced from volcanic rock and placed in an oven to reach an optimum temperature of 400˚C, Hot Rocks invites guests to cook their food directly at their table. Place your meat, fish or vegetables on top of the grill stone or inside the soup bowl, and then simply cook to your very own taste.

Regent Seven Seas: Gourmet Explorer Tours 

Best cruise ship food experiences - Regent Seven Seas Explorer Gourmet Tour cooking class

Cooking class with Don Alfonso

Offered exclusively aboard Seven Seas Explorer, Regents Seven Seas’ Gourmet Explorer Tours invites participants to experience the culinary culture of the world’s most delicious destinations. They can savor the authentic flavors of a region to learning new techniques in local cooking classes and then hone their skills on board at the Culinary Arts Kitchen. Or, venture out to local markets to find exotic spices, sample wines at impressive estates, and indulge in gourmet meals expertly prepared by renowned chefs. For Example:

From Sorrento, Italy: Memorable Culinary Day at Famed Don Alfonso
If your foodies’ ideal day in Italy is a truly authentic experience – atop Sorrento with unmatched hospitality and food, then this is the tour for them!  They’ll have an opportunity to make cheese at the artisanal fromagerie from cows milked that morning, watch a culinary demonstration by a master chef and then be wined and dined surrounded by luxury, family history and the famed gardens of the Relais & Château property – the stunning Don Alfonso.

Oceania Cruises: New Culinary Discovery Tours

Best cruise line food experiences - Oceania gourmet tour to Santorini

Already renowned for offering the finest cuisine and most engaging culinary enrichment programs at sea, Oceania Cruises is expanding its Culinary Discovery Tours to 26 carefully selected destinations across Europe. Accompanied by a master chef instructor from the ship’s Culinary Center guests will explore local food markets, vineyards, restaurants, and farms. Here’s one of he new epicurean adventures:

From Crete, Greece: Cretan Food & Wine with Farm-to-Table Lunch
Explore the birthplace of the Mediterranean Diet, Crete, with your chef from The Culinary Center and learn the secrets behind its world-famous cuisine. Stroll the charming center of the city as you stop for tastings of local delights such as Crete’s famous bread and a traditional pastry of semolina custard wrapped in phyllo dough. At an internationally renowned Cretan restaurant, enjoy superb wines from the island and a traditional lunch specially designed for your tour.

Scenic River Cruises: Scenic Culinaire

Best cruise ship food experiences - Scenic River Cruises Scenic CulinaireDuring Bordeaux and Rhone River Cruises, Scenic Culinaire immerses your attendees into the delights of French gastronomy with a series of onboard cooking classes taught by local chefs.  A dedicated space will feature cooking stations, a cheese & wine cellar, and fresh ingredients sourced from local markets.

In addition to “Shopping with the Chef “, your attendees can participate in several culinary excursions such as a visit to a Valrhona artisan chocolate workshop and tasting in Tournon, or lavender cookie tastings during a visit to the Lavender Museum in Ardèche.

Azamara Club Cruises: Insider Access Culinary Tours

Best cruise food experiences - Azamara Club Cruises Insider AccessAzamara Club Cruises launched new small-group land excursions to private homes, farms, villas and villages called Insider Access tours. These exclusive, small-group epicurean adventures bring locals and cruise guests together, going behind-the-scenes and into private homes. For example:

From Sorrento: Mozzarella from Farm to Table
This tour takes guests to a family-owned farm in the Pontecagnano Region of Italy to learn about making the famous Mozzarella di Bufala Campana cheese. This cheese is sold worldwide and has received the Italian government’s seal of quality assurance. In 2008 the European Union also granted the Mozzarella di Bufala Campana a ‘protected geographic status.’

Holland America Line: America’s Test Kitchen Goes to Sea

Holland America Test Kitchen

Holland America Line Test Kitchen

Holland America Line partnered with the long-running public television show America’s Test Kitchen to introduce shipboard cooking shows designed specifically for the cruise line. The onboard Culinary Arts Center will be transformed to replicate the television set where America’s Test Kitchen TV shows are recorded, and the shows will be hosted by Holland America Line chefs trained by America’s Test Kitchen culinary experts.

Shipboard cooking demonstrations and hands-on workshops will combine foolproof, accessible recipes and cooking techniques that are rooted in the rigorous testing and science-based approach of America’s Test Kitchen. In addition, Holland America Line guests will have 24-hour access to episodes of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country in their staterooms.

Avalon Waterway: Avalon Fresh

best cruise ship food experiences - Avalon WaterwaysAvalon Waterways is bringing fresh ideas to the table in 2017 by teaming up with the Wrenkh Brothers – two of Europe’s rising culinary stars – to design Avalon Fresh menus. Every dinner features vegetarian and specialty dishes from the day’s destination as well as a choice of wine, including special wines of the region, selected by a professional sommelier and always complimentary.

During every cruise, a local chef will be brought on board to interact with guests and prepare a special dinner, offering a true taste of the culture. According to Avalon Waterways,  “Avalon Fresh is all about creating wholesome menu items where garden-fresh, local ingredients from small farms are married with a sprinkle of ingenuity.”

Accommodating Dietary Restrictions

Food Allergy Research & Education estimates that 15 million Americans have food allergies, and even more adults adhere to dietary limitations ranging from gluten-free to vegan. Many cruise lines now make accommodating food restrictions a priority and are happy to accommodate a variety of diets including no/low fat, vegetarian, vegan, dairy or lactose-free, gluten-or-wheat lactose-free, low cholesterol, diabetic, Kosher and Halal diets, as well as allergy-specific diets.