The 10 best cruise ship restaurants and dining experiences

When it comes to onboard restaurants and dining, cruise ships often get a bad rap. There’s a storyline out there that cruises are little more than gorge fests, prioritizing quantity over quality.

After writing about cruising for nearly 30 years, I can tell you this is far from the truth. Quality dining has always been a big part of the cruising experience, and cruise ship restaurant offerings only have improved over the years.

You’ll now find stand-alone restaurants on high-end cruise ships created and overseen by some of the world’s most famous chefs, including Nobu Matsuhisa, Alain Ducasse, and Jacques Pepin.

But even on the largest mass-market cruise ships, the food is getting ever more elaborate and diverse. Norwegian Cruise Line brags that its biggest vessel, Norwegian Encore, has more than 20 different food venues — everything from a casual barbecue restaurant (with live country music) to a high-end Italian spot from the creators of New York City’s Scarpetta.

Some mainstream lines, such as Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises, even have called in chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants to help them design entire culinary programs.

Over the years, as part of testing and reviewing nearly 200 vessels operated by 41 different lines, I’ve eaten at pretty much every cruise ship restaurant.

Just like at resorts on land, there’s incredible diversity out there. Some are great. Some aren’t. Some are too pricey for what they are. Others are bargains.

But the bottom line is there are a lot of wonderful restaurants on cruise ships. Below are my picks for the very best cruise ship restaurants at sea. As you might expect, many of my favorites are on higher-end ships, but several of the top restaurants can be found on the bigger, more affordable cruise ships.

1. Manfredi’s (All Viking ocean and expedition ships)
Found on every Viking ocean and expedition ship, Manfredi’s is our hands-down pick for the best Italian restaurant at sea. It serves up authentic and hearty Tuscan and Northern Italian specialties such as bistecca fiorentina and osso buco alla Milanese. Appetizers range from hand-cut beef tartare to a chilled asparagus and polenta dish that’s served with a perfectly poached egg, Parmigiano Reggiano, and truffle dressing.

2. Umi Uma by Nobu Matsuhisa Restaurant and Sushi Bar (Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony)
When it comes to sushi at sea, the gold standard for years has been Umi Uma by Nobu Matsuhisa Restaurant and Sushi Bar. Found on both of Crystal’s ships, the venue is the creation of famed Japanese chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa and offers sushi as well as Matsuhisa’s trademark Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine. We’re talking dishes like Nobu-style lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce and miso-glazed black cod.

3. Red Ginger (Oceania Cruises’ Marina, Riviera, Sirena, and Vista)
Red Ginger might be the most gorgeous restaurant you’ll ever see on a cruise ship. With a nod to feng shui, it radiates harmony and tranquility with ebony woods, a soothing waterfall wall, and striking, modern Asian artworks. Found on four Oceania Cruises ships, Red Ginger offers classic Asian dishes with a contemporary twist, all dreamed up by Oceania’s well-regarded, in-house culinary team with input from famed chef Jacques Pepin.

4. Fahrenheit 555 (Carnival’s Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration, Carnival Venezia, and more)
One of the great paradoxes of the cruise world is that one of the lowest-cost operators — Carnival Cruise Line — has one of the best steakhouses at sea. At a fixed price of $48 per person, Fahrenheit 555 is also a relative bargain compared to similar steakhouses on land. Found on Carnival’s six most recently built ships plus a few others, Fahrenheit 555 offers all the steakhouse staples, from a 14-ounce New York strip to a nine-ounce filet mignon.

5. Nuna (Le Commandant Charcot)
The newest temple to gastronomy at sea is Nuna on Ponant’s epic new icebreaking expedition ship, Le Commandant Charcot. Elegant and refined, it’s a high-end French restaurant that serves dishes designed by Alain Ducasse, the famed French chef. You’ll find everything from French-style beef fillet served with a pepper sauce to monkfish medallions on the menu, with some international dishes mixed in with the classic French cuisine.

6. La Dame (All Silversea ships except Silver Origin)
The premier restaurant on Silversea Cruises ships is a temple to high-end French cuisine. Named after La Dame de Paris, aka the Eiffel Tower, it serves such classic dishes as black truffle soup, roasted free-range quail, and a selection of French cheeses. The elegant ambiance and exceptional service make for a truly memorable dining experience.

In conclusion, cruise ship dining has come a long way over the years, with many ships now offering a wide range of high-quality restaurants overseen by renowned chefs. From Italian specialties to sushi and Asian fusion cuisine, there’s something for every palate. Whether you’re on a luxury ship or a more affordable option, you can expect to find exceptional dining experiences at sea.

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