Creating an authentic dining experience onboard cruise ships

Richard Humphreys asks Wesley Cort about the importance of food and drink at sea, and how Norwegian Cruise Line provides passengers with high-quality services

Creating an authentic dining experience onboard cruise ships
A rendering of Norwegian Prima’s Mediterranean seafood restaurant, Palomar

For Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), delivering high-quality food and beverage offerings is a key part of its ‘Guests First’ philosophy that is followed onboard all its ships. “We put guests at the heart of every decision, compelling us to innovate our product, dining and destination offering,” says Wesley Cort, vice president food and beverage operations at NCL. “We know that sampling new cuisines helps our guests experience and understand other cultures. It’s therefore important that we not only meet, but also exceed, travellers’ high expectations by delivering an unparalleled onboard experience.” 

NCL offers a global selection of cuisines onboard its ships, which works well with its Freestyle Dining concept that allows guests to be flexible when choosing the restaurants they want to eat at during their cruise. “Freestyle Dining revolutionised how guests dine on cruises, giving them ultimate freedom and choice,” says Cort. “We were the first cruise line to introduce the concept, allowing guests to select the type of food they fancied – be it exquisite Italian dishes, indulgent ice cream or authentic Japanese cuisine – at whatever time of day best suits them. 

“When creating dining experiences, our goal is to stay as authentic as possible. Our food and beverage offering is underpinned by four pillars: high-quality cuisine, premium beverages, great service and an authentic ambience. Meeting these four pillars ensures we are creating a memorable onboard experience for our guests.” 

NCL has worked hard to meet all four pillars onboard its newest ship, Norwegian Prima, which began sailing in August 2022. The ship offers NCL’s first-ever Mediterranean seafood restaurant, Palomar. To create this restaurant and the menu, NCL conducted extensive market research and drew upon the knowledge of its culinary team. Guests on Prima will also be able to enjoy the Metropolitan Bar, the cruise line’s first sustainably focused bar, and Indulge Food Hall, its first onboard food hall. 

The cruise line considers research and feedback from guests as key to delivering a high-quality service. NCL sends a survey to guests following their cruise to collate measurable feedback in order to tailor and adapt its future offerings. “It’s important that passengers complete these forms as our general managers can use them to ensure they’re fully updated and briefed on guests’ needs,” says Cort. 

“Guests’ expectations of dining have changed significantly over the past 10 years and consumer behaviour has shifted. Our research shows that, where guests previously preferred to dine out for a long period of time, they would now rather to cut down the service sequence in order to spend mealtimes with their loved ones. As a result of this, we’ve made tweaks to our service regime to fit with what customers now want.” 

NCL also leans on its senior leadership team to create high-quality dining concepts that align with its four pillars. This includes Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, who created the Oceania Cruises brand concept, and Harry Sommer, brand president and CEO of NCL, who is involved in every idea from concept to creation. 

Authenticity is another aspect that Cort considers as crucial to delivering exceptional dining experiences. “A great example of this authenticity is our Moderno restaurant, notably the first churrascaria restaurant at sea, which was first introduced on Norwegian Epic in 2010,” he says. “We conducted extensive research and trialled the concept on Epic to observe consumer behaviour. Following an overwhelmingly positive response from guests, we took the decision to refurbish our fleet and Moderno is now available on 12 ships, with waterfront dining across Breakaway and Breakaway Plus-class ships. 

“Moderno is also a brilliant example of our industry-leading innovation in action. At NCL, we strive to stay ahead of industry trends to ensure we’re offering our guests a unique experience with every sailing.”  

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.   

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Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys
24 October 2022