Even post-pandemic, buffets remain a staple of dining aboard cruise ships, and they’re not likely to disappear. While buffets are designed to satisfy the masses quickly and with less labor they’re not quite the cafeteria-style fare they once were. As cruisers demand more from onboard culinary experiences, buffet quality continues to improve, often including live cooking stations and specialty dishes local to the ship’s ports of call.
Besides the enhanced offerings at their buffets, several cruise lines offer elevated dining experiences, including celebrity restaurants—and for a lucky few—decadent tasting menus at exclusive meals. Here are some of our favorite dining encounters on some of the popular river and ocean cruises.
Guys Burger and Beer. Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line
Celebrity chefs are drawing dedicated crowds to entertainment hotspots like Las Vegas and attempting to make hotel restaurants destination-worthy again. And now, cruise lines are partnering with celebrity chefs to bring their culinary craft to sea.
Carnival brought Food Network's favorite, Guy Fieri, to its fleet with Guy’s Burger Joint, available for lunch on more than 20 of its large ships with more on the way. For a sit-down meal of casual refinement, several Royal Caribbean ships are home to outposts of Jamie’s Italian, by the "Naked Chef” himself, Jamie Oliver.
There's also the remarkable opportunity available only on luxury, all-inclusive Seabourn ships, where The Grill by Thomas Keller is a unique culinary concept for Chef Keller, exclusive to Seabourn. For cruisers, it’s a chance to indulge in the celebrity chef's cuisine without waiting eons for a reservation at Per Se or The French Laundry.
The coveted reservations for The Grill by Thomas Keller are closed 15 days before sailing, so you’ll need to plan ahead. Many consider it well worth the effort, as you're likely to save about a thousand dollars per couple, compared to the average checks at Keller’s most renowned restaurants on land.
Remy on the Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream is a sophisticated and lavish dining experience exclusively for adult guests. Photo courtesy of Disney
Not all celebrity chefs are human, and no one knows that better than Disney Cruise Line. For grown-up Disney diehards escaping to a magical world of fairy-tale bliss, Remy is a fine-dining restaurant on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, and its imaginary executive chef is none other than Remy the rat from "Ratatouille." Remy may be Disney’s second most-famous mouse, but his adults-only, prix fixe restaurant is legitimately one of the best at sea.
This is a jacket-required establishment, offering fine French cuisine developed by a three-Michelin-starred chef. There are touches of Disney whimsy to be found throughout the restaurant, but the ambiance is all glamor and elegance.
CELLO Chefs Table chef. Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways
For those unfamiliar with the concept of a chef’s table, they are invite-only tables for the chef’s personal guests, usually located in the restaurant’s kitchen. Seated at this illustrious table, you can expect personal attention from the chef, along with a backstage view of the cooking and plating.
A few cruise lines host seafaring versions of the chef’s table, and our two favorites come from very different cruise experiences. On the river, the Chef’s Table on AmaWaterways ships is a small-scale restaurant serving 28 guests nightly, so it’s a bit less intimate than a traditional chef’s table, but it aims to offer a similar experience. The secluded space offers a unique menu and throughout the meal, guests are given a peek behind the scenes, including views of a demonstration kitchen.
Princess Cruises 360. Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises
On the ocean, Princess is home to 360, one of the most exciting new culinary experiences at sea. This take on a chef’s table invites 20 guests to a multisensory, immersive meal. Seated at a round table and fully surrounded by LED screens, this multicourse meal enhances the culinary experience with storytelling, music, aromas, and imagery. Keep in mind, you'll need to be booked in a suite for access to this exclusive dining experience.