Making dining distinctive onboard cruise ships

Today’s sea travellers expect exciting food and beverage options to suit their personal tastes. Jacqui Griffiths asks leading operators how they deliver the perfect mix

Making dining distinctive onboard cruise ships
AIDA's cooking studio concept allows guests to cook under the instruction of the company's top chefs

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Shoreside trends, nutrition education and environmental awareness are just some of the factors influencing guests’ expectations of onboard food and beverages. And operators are creating unique experiences to satisfy their appetites.

For luxury cruise guests, gourmet cuisine and fine wines and beverages are a must – and Franco Semeraro, senior vice president of Hotel Operations at Regent Seven Seas Cruises, says they also want to personalise the experience.

“Luxury travellers have discerning palettes, impeccable tastes, and are increasingly more knowledgeable about cuisine and wines from their worldly experiences and the media they engage with,” says Semeraro. “Guests today expect the same flavour profiles and quality they’d find in Michelin-standard restaurants on land. They’re also increasingly choosing to use their culinary and nutrition knowledge to personalise their entrées. Our challenge is to design menus and offerings with a variety and flair that accommodates these personal choices to please our guests and deliver an amazing culinary experience.”

Regent’s enhancements to its culinary experience in the past three years have proven a huge hit with guests. “On Seven Seas Explorer, which is lauded as the most luxurious ship ever built, we debuted our French restaurant, Chartreuse,” says Semeraro. “This restaurant was such a phenomenal success that we quickly introduced it to all ships in the Regent Seven Seas fleet. Our Asian Fusion restaurant, Pacific Rim, also debuted on Seven Seas Explorer and has been a huge hit for its culinary offerings and the overall experience it delivers. The experience starts with a Tibetan prayer wheel at the entrance to the stunningly designed fine-dining venue.”

Fleet-wide enhancements to the operator’s Compass Rose restaurant offering also illustrate the operator’s responsiveness to guests’ expectations. “We added an option for guests to customise their dinner, choosing from a variety of seafood and meats, and then pair their protein with the sauce of their choice,” says Semeraro. “Then, guests have a list of more than 12 sides to choose from, ranging from potatoes cooked in various ways, to steamed or buttered vegetables. The fixed portion of the menu also includes a variety of favourite appetisers. Compass Rose also offers lunch selections from the three speciality restaurants on Seven Seas Explorer – Prime 7, Chartreuse and Pacific Rim. Selections include items like Chartreuse’s croque-monsieur or croque-madame, Pacific Rim’s aromatic duck and Prime 7’s yellowfin tuna salad.”

Strong regional culinary identity, combined with opportunities for guests to take their taste buds further afield, are creating unique experiences for cruise guests. AIDA Cruises’ AIDAbella, for example, recently returned from dry dock with an expanded restaurant concept including the Almhütte (Alpine Hut) restaurant where guests can enjoy Alpine-inspired dishes, speciality beers and entertainment. A new ice cream bar by popular brand Langnese Happiness Station was also installed, following successful introduction of the concept on AIDAblu in 2017.

AIDA’s flagship, AIDAprima, showcases 12 restaurants and three snack bars serving specialities from 24 different national and international cuisines. For guests who want to get into the kitchen, AIDAprima also premiered the company’s cooking studio concept, where guests can cook under the professional instruction of AIDA’s top chefs. The Tim Mälzer cooking school is another highlight, along with daily alternating meals created by the popular TV chef and multi-restaurateur especially for AIDA.

Costa Cruises’ decision to focus its food and beverage offer on its Italian heritage has proved immensely popular with guests. “Our unique Italian offerings include the first ever pizza on the seas that is made onboard with natural yeast (sourdough), and our own Italian gelato which is also made onboard; we’re currently fitting ‘Gelateria’ on all the ships in our fleet as they enter dry dock,” says Giuseppe Carino, vice president of Guest Experience and Onboard Sales for European ships at Costa Cruises. “We’ve also partnered with Campari to co-design dedicated bars where guests can enjoy an Aperol Spritz.”

As it celebrates its 70th birthday, Costa is reintroducing selected regional dishes it’s offered in the past, with refreshed recipes to bring them up to date. Moreover Bruno Barbieri, a chef with a seven-Michelin-star career who has been Costa’s partner for many years, recently presented a new menu currently served onboard the Italian company’s ships. During exotic itineraries, the operator ensures guests enjoy dishes that reflect local foods and trends.

“In the past couple of years, we’ve introduced Creole cuisine in our Caribbean and the Indian Ocean itineraries, and guests sailing in Mauritius can enjoy dishes prepared by a local school of food,” says Carino. “Street food is also increasingly popular, and guests appreciate the entertainment component of Teppanyaki, where they can interact with the chef as their food is created in front of them. We’ve introduced that on Costa Diadema, with Costa Smeralda soon to follow.”

Costa’s long-standing partnership with the University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG) in Pollenzo, Italy supports its work in researching menu options and identifying trends in consumer expectations. As its guests show an increasing interest in sustainability matters, Costa is working with the university to reduce food waste through its 4GOODFOOD programme, which launched in 2017.

“Food waste reduction is both a challenge and an opportunity that we’re addressing through the 4GOODFOOD programme,” says Carino. “It’s based on four pillars. The first is to raise the awareness of the value of food and the principles of good, healthy and sustainable nutrition. Together with UNISG we have activated a process to review and remodel the food experience onboard in favour of a more sustainable, yet tasty, offering (by rebalancing animal and vegetable proteins). We want to deliver great food to our guests, which is why we offer every guest a great quality dinner. The second pillar is reduction of food waste across the fleet, and the third our ‘Taste Don’t Waste’ campaign, which is a call to action to our guests to help us reduce food waste, for example by taking only as much as they will eat at the buffet.”

The final pillar is the recovery of food that would otherwise have been wasted – and Costa is determined to see that it benefits those who need it most. “We’ve introduced a programme where food that has been prepared onboard but not consumed is donated to local charity institutions to help those in need,” says Carino. “This is currently active in the ports of Savona, Civitavecchia, Bari, Marseille and Palermo, with Barcelona to follow soon. We’re interested in developing these initiatives in various ports in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the future.”

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Jacqui Griffiths
By Jacqui Griffiths
Wednesday, January 9, 2019