Serving up a perfectly seasoned onboard experience

Amber Hickman explores how cruise and ferry lines are elevating the dining experience and providing guests with high-quality ingredients, menus and more

Serving up a perfectly seasoned onboard experience

Tallink Group

Tallink Group’s ‘inspired by Estonian islands’ menu is made using fresh, local ingredients from the Nordic region

By Amber Hickman |

English author Virginia Woolf once wrote: “one cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well.”  

Certainly, food is an essential part of life, but it is also an important factor most people consider when choosing where to travel. The dishes, the quality and even the setting for their meals are all important parts of ensuring a long-lasting positive impression is made. According to the World Food Travel Association’s State of the Industry: Food and Beverage Tourism in 2024 report: “we do not want to sit in a cafe or restaurant that looks like one where we came from, being offered food and drinks that look and taste like ones we can get at home.” 

The same is no different for cruisegoers, and every guest is seeking a drink and dining experience that is not only high-quality, but memorable too. This means that cruise and ferry lines alike face the challenge of ensuring their food and beverage offerings are of a standard and originality that sticks with their guests and encourages them to return for another trip in the future. 

Many passenger ship operators take inspiration from the locations they operate in, aiming to use fresh local ingredients to design menus with high-quality dishes for their guests. 

Estonian ferry operator Tallink Group, for example, has drawn on the culinary traditions of Estonia’s islands – particularly Saaremaa – to develop a five-course tasting menu for the Gourmet restaurant onboard Baltic Queen and the Bon Vivant restaurant both onboard Silja Serenade and Silja Symphony. The ‘Inspired by Estonian Islands’ menu was designed by Baltic Queen’s chef de cuisines Maarjo Rang and Merike Kald, and features dishes made from local seasonal ingredients. They include fresh seafood and fish for the crayfish and lobster course, as well as the Pähkla trout course. Meanwhile, the vegan option features home-made almond cheese, Jerusalem artichoke, and black salsify terrine and local jams.  

“To characterise the menu in a nutshell, I would say it is local, sustainable and surprising,” says Rang. “Our inspiration lies in the culinary traditions we both grew up with and the islanders’ sustainable way of life. When creating the menu, we wanted to highlight the local small producers of Saaremaa who provide, for example, the Viking salt and juniper mustard used in the menu, to name a few. Pähkla trout, which comes from my native village, is raised in natural spring water, and I recommend it to all seafood lovers.” 

Cunard Gin


Guests onboard Cunard’s Queen Anne will be some of the first to try the cruise line’s new gin

Immersive experiences 

Many cruise lines offer the opportunity for guests to learn about the origins of the food they eat while onboard the ship, take home new skills by participating in interactive food and beverage-based activities, or enjoy an exclusive dining experience.  

Carnival Cruise Line, for example, is offering a cooking class onboard Carnival Jubilee that is curated by chief culinary officer Emeril Lagasse. Guests will learn how to prepare and cook a three-course meal using recipes including Lagasse’s New-New Orleans pasta, shrimp and okra gumbo with filé and strawberries Romanoff.  

Meanwhile, Cunard has partnered with Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux to bring Le Gavroche, his former London-based restaurant, to Queen Anne and Queen Mary 2 when they sail in Norway in 2024. 

Roux will be overseeing two five-day residencies onboard Queen Mary 2, where up to 60 guests per event can dine on a five-course tasting menu featuring his signature seafood dishes. He will also host a five-day residency onboard Queen Anne which is available to 50 guests. 

“It is an absolute privilege to bring Le Gavroche to Cunard’s Queens, reuniting with their hugely talented and passionate culinary development chefs as we strive to create menus inspired by the treasures of Norwegian cuisine,” says Roux. “The culinary heritage of Norway is a tapestry of flavours, and together with Cunard, I look forward to weaving these elements into an extraordinary dining experience.” 

The guest experience will not end in the dining room however. Roux will also be hosting a series of talks onboard each ship where he will share stories from his career, giving guests an exclusive insight with the chef’s world and his connection with food. 

Additionally, Cunard is offering its guests unique beverage experiences in 2024 with the launch of its new Queen Anne gin, which is joining the cruise line’s three previous themed gins to complete the Cunard 4 Queens series. The gin is exclusively distilled for Cunard and will first be available to guests sailing onboard Queen Anne from May 2024. 

Aquadome Market

Royal Caribbean

The AquaDome Market onboard Icon of the Seas has five different food stalls for guests to choose from

Endless options 

Giving guests sufficient choice when it comes to dining is a top priority for cruise lines, particularly on ships operating longer itineraries. 

Royal Caribbean International’s new Icon of the Seas, which is currently the largest cruise ship in the world, offers a wide range of dining venues for guests to visit. 

“The experiences had over great food are at the heart of so many shared memories that we could all use more of in our day-to-day lives,” says Linken D’Souza, vice president of food and beverage at Royal Caribbean International. “We’ve designed Icon of the Seas to offer every guest, no matter their tastes, age and mood or the occasion, a variety of ways they can easily make those moments their way every day while on vacation. 

“If vacationers want to stick to their favourites or mix it up every night and try new flavours, more than 20 experiences across Icon’s eight neighbourhoods make that possible.” 

There are options for casual family meals and light bites, including the Pearl Cafe, Surfside Bites, El Loco Fresh, the signature Windjammer Marketplace and the new AquaDome Market, which is a food hall featuring five different stalls. There are also speciality venues onboard for guests looking for an exclusive dining experience, including Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen and Wine bar, Izumi Hibachi & Sushi, the steakhouse Chops Grille and the Empire Supper Club where guests can experience a premium eight-course meal in a 1930s America setting. This wide variety of venues enables guests to try a range of cuisine, from Mexican to Italian, Japanese and more.  

Icon of the Seas also has a variety of bars available for a pre-dinner or late evening drink, such as the English pub-inspired Point & Feather, the Latin-themed bar Boleros, and Duelling Pianos, where guests can request music from the two pianists and watch live shows every evening. 

Curating an atmosphere 

While the food and beverage offering is an essential part of the dining experience, it is equally important for passenger ship operators to create the right atmosphere in the onboard restaurants and casual eateries. 

According to Nedgé Louis-Jacques, managing partner and senior vice president of design at Tomas Tillberg Design, creating the right atmosphere begins with “well-balanced interior design.” This includes considering factors such as the layout, furniture, colours and decoration used in dining venues. 

“The ambience should be carefully curated to match the theme of the restaurant, whether it is a formal, elegant setting or a casual, relaxed area,” says Louis-Jacques. “We also consider the location of the venue on the ship. Views of the ocean or port destinations can add an extra dimension to the dining experience and elements such as floor-to-ceiling windows or outdoor seating allow guests to enjoy panoramic views whilst savouring their meals.” 

Tomas Tillberg Design has implemented this philosophy in multiple design projects, such as in the sushi bar onboard Albatros Expeditions’ Ocean Albatros, the Grill Restaurant onboard Aurora Expeditions’ Sylvia Earle and the seven main restaurants onboard SunStone Ships’ Infinity-class vessels. 

The design of a dining area is also key to ensuring that it operates well and allows staff to provide seamless service to guests. 

“Designers carefully plan the layout of a dining venue to facilitate smooth operations and easy navigation for guests and staff,” says Louis-Jacques. “We carefully position tables, seating and service stations to maximise space utilisation and minimise congestion. 

“We also often incorporate flexible seating arrangements to accommodate variations in group sizes and guest preferences. By offering flexibility, we can create an environment that ensures good service and enhances the overall guest experience.” 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of  Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe  for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.  

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