Cruise lines are redefining shipboard dining, shattering myths along the way, and the 16 million vacationers who are expected to have cruised in 2011 would not have it any other way. Research by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) suggests that the latest trends in shipboard restaurants and menus, the expanding choice in dining venues, exciting brand partnerships, healthy options, food-related enrichment programs and culinary themed voyages are exactly what the public craves.
CLIA’s latest study of consumer attitudes and intentions revealed that over half of experienced cruisers ranked fine dining as the number one benefit of a cruise vacation. In a 2011 survey of 1,000 CLIA travel agents, dining was ranked as the second most important factor in choosing a cruise line, behind accommodations; 75 percent of agents said dining is gaining in importance among their clients. Among consumers, 75 percent are looking for new and different dining experiences onboard ships but 65 percent also want traditional dining. And, only 10 percent of cruisers worry that they will gain weight on their vacation.
In short, cruise ship dining can be credited in large measure in explaining why 94 percent of all cruisers are satisfied with their vacation, 45 percent of them are “extremely satisfied,” and why cruising enjoys a 60 percent repeat rate, with much higher percentages as the luxury factor increases.
So, what is so appetizing about today’s cruise ship culinary experience? What are the trends that have passengers salivating?
Choice, Choice, Choice
A major trend in shipboard dining is more choice of restaurants and cuisines, particularly on the new larger cruise ships. Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas each offer 25 dining options, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic offers more than 20. The ship’s popular 24/7 pizza delivery service is being introduced fleetwide and NCL has announced restaurant enhancements on several ships undergoing upgrades.
Carnival Cruise Lines is investing $500 million in the first phase of a “Fun Ship 2.0” program offering new dining and entertainment choices on 14 ships, including several new branded restaurants and Food Network star Guy Fieri’s “Guy’s Burger Joint,” plus the first-ever EA SPORTS Bar at sea. Overall, the program will feature more dining choices, more bars and lounges and an extensive menu of entertainment options. Guests can expect more unique branded spaces such as the RedFrog Rum Bar, the BlueIguana Tequila Bar, more themed lounges, and a new complimentary BlueIguana Cantina casual dining option.
Cunard Line is enhancing its well-established dining traditions with new alternative restaurants and more international menus. On the newest Cunarder, the Queen Elizabeth, guests can opt for the Verandah restaurant under the direction of Chef Patron Jean-Marie Zimmermann, which features regional French culinary traditions. The Lido restaurant has broadened its menu with selections of Asado, the essence of South American cooking, Aztec dishes from Mexico, and Jasmine, or pan-Asian selections. The popular Todd English restaurants on Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria have also introduced new menus featuring Mediterranean cuisine.
Over the Top Dining Experiences
Disney Cruise Line’s new Disney Dream features Remy, the company’s first-ever premier dining option, created by Michelin two-star chef Arnaud Lallement and Scott Hunnel from the award-winning Victoria & Albert’s at Walt Disney World Resort. One of the restaurant’s features: Remy’s Vault, an exclusive wine list of the world’s best vintages, including a 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc retailing for $25,000.
While on the subject of over the top experiences, Crystal Cruises offers a seven-course extravaganza once or twice a year created by Michelin-starred chefs – in 2012, Heinz Beck, with multiple Michelin starred restaurants on his resume – with impossible-to-purchase wine pairings – for approximately $1000 per person. Crystal also announced that its ships will go “all-inclusive” next year, offering complimentary wines and premium spirits, open bars in all lounges, and pre-paid gratuities.
Silversea Cruises has teamed up with the exclusive “Relais & Chateaux L’Ecoles des Chefs” interactive cooking school. Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ “Food, Wine & Spirits Spotlight Series” features partnerships with Napa Valley’s Private Reserve and Tommaso Barletta, proprietor of the “Let’s Get Cooking Culinary Institute.”
In addition to its shipboard Culinary Arts Centers which feature a wide range of culinary enrichment programs, Holland America Line has introduced new dishes created by the celebrity chefs of the line’s Culinary Council – Master Chef Rudi Sodamin, Charlie Trotter, Jacques Torres, Marcus Samuelsson, David Burke and Jonnie Boer. Paul Gauguin Cruises has joined forces with celebrated chef Jean-Pierre Vigato, owner of the two-star Michelin-rated restaurant Apicius in Paris, as well as Art Smith, Oprah’s personal chef. Princess Cruises has partnered with the Mighty Leaf Tea Company to create the “Leaves Tea Lounge and Library” on the Grand Princess.
Health and Sustainability and Going Local
For its 150 Central Park restaurant, Royal Caribbean chose the James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz to create sustainable, seasonal menus that take advantage of local agricultural communities, including small farms in Florida. Hurtigruten puts the emphasis on local with menus compiled according to ports of call where ingredients, such as dried salt cod, originate. Windstar Cruises focuses on regional cuisines with several special “culinary adventure” shore excursions in the Caribbean. Kathryn Kelly, culinary enrichment director of Oceania Cruises, has developed new local market tours in various ports as part of the Bon Appetit Culinary Center on the new Riviera which launches in April 2012, and Silversea Cruises offers an escorted “Culinary Outing” to local restaurants ashore as well as a “Market to Plate” experience that provides an escorted tour of local markets followed by a cooking class.