Which cruise ice cream is the best? I ate dozens of scoops to find out

If you’re on a warm-weather cruise, ice cream is one of the best ways to treat yourself after a long day in port, a sunny day by the pool, or a nice dinner. Fortunately, cruise ships offer plenty of options for finding your fix. From simple soft-serve that you dispense yourself to elaborate sundaes and milkshake concoctions that are both tasty and social media-worthy, what you receive is largely dependent on what you’re willing to pay. I’ve rounded up several of my own drool-inducing personal favorites — both free and for an extra fee — from six of the most popular cruise lines. I scream, you scream, we all scream for … this list of the best ice cream at sea.

Gelato by Jean-Philippe Maury and Venchi Chocolates, MSC Cruises

Where to find it: MSC Cruises ships MSC Bellissima, MSC Grandiosa, MSC Meraviglia, MSC Virtuosa, and MSC World Europa (Jean Philippe); MSC Seaside, MSC Seaview, MSC Seashore, and MSC Seascape (Venchi)
Cost: Prices start from $4.50 per scoop; additional scoops, cones, and toppings cost extra.

TPG take: Gelato is an Italian staple, so it’s no surprise that Mediterranean-based cruise line MSC Cruises has partnered with some of the finest confectioners to offer gourmet gelato selections on its newest ships. Select vessels feature outlets by Venchi Chocolates and Jean-Philippe Maury. In addition to chocolates, macarons, and a slew of other sweets, these shops serve up creamy for-fee scoops in basic flavors like strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla, and other favorites like pistachio, mint chocolate, coffee, and stracciatella. Our recommendation? Try the Oreo cookie flavor in a chocolate-dipped cone at Jean-Philippe Maury.

Coco’s Cookies ‘n’ Cream Mad Milkshake, Norwegian Cruise Line

Where to find it: Coco’s on Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Encore, and Norwegian Prima
Cost: $14

TPG take: I’ll be frank: I found the ice cream and gelato options at Norwegian’s onboard extra-charge venues to be a bit boring. So, instead of ordering a scoop or two, I traded up a little — actually a lot. The Cookies ‘n’ Cream Mad Milkshake from Coco’s is intense. Dark chocolate gelato and milk are blended and poured into a large mug drizzled with chocolate. Toppings include whipped cream, M&Ms, caramel drizzle, whole Oreo cookies, a milk chocolate garnish, and gummy bears. It was a rich treat that left me so full I couldn’t finish the entire thing, but I enjoyed the 3/4 I did manage to consume. Overall, it didn’t taste like cookies ‘n’ cream; it was merely a chocolate milkshake topped with Oreos and a bunch of other tasty accouterments.

Gelato from Lick Me Till … Ice Cream, Virgin Voyages

Where to find it: All Virgin Voyages ships
Cost: Free

TPG take: In true Virgin Voyages “I want to be a kid again” style, the line offers decent ice cream — and it’s free. Choose a flavor (vanilla, chocolate, butter pecan, key lime pie, espresso chip, raspberry beet, brown butter financier, and others). You can get it in either a cup or one of three flavors of waffle cones: regular, chocolate, or red velvet. My personal favorite? Vanilla in a chocolate waffle cone. The outpost earns bonus points for its name, which, like many things on Virgin’s ships, drips with sexual innuendo.

Ice cream from Cups & Scoops, Royal Caribbean

Where to find it: Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas
Cost: Prices range from $2.50 for a small to $4 for a large. Add 75 cents for a cone and up to 50 cents per topping. Milkshakes are $4.50 for 16 ounces. You can also order a banana sundae with unlimited toppings for $5.50 or a cupcake sundae (featuring one of nearly a dozen flavors of delicious cupcakes) for $4.25.

TPG take: Cups & Scoops, along the Royal Caribbean Boardwalk on Deck 6, serves ice cream in a variety of staple flavors like strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla. I personally went for cookies and cream in a waffle cone — with sprinkles, of course. Although several Royal Caribbean ships house actual stand-alone ice cream outposts, Cups & Scoops gets my vote for the best spot because it also serves up a selection of delicious cupcakes that form the basis for the venue’s cupcake sundaes.

The Godfather Premium Dessert sundae, Princess Cruises

Where to find it: All vessels in the Princess fleet at the onboard ice cream shop, dubbed Coffee & Cones, Gelateria, Swirls, or Scoops, depending on the ship
Cost: All Premium Dessert sundaes cost $12 unless you have a package that covers the cost. For an extra $2, you can spike them with a shot of your favorite alcohol.

TPG take: For a sweet treat nearly any time of day, try one of six for-fee sundaes from Princess’ onboard ice cream shops. They all have Italian-themed names; The Godfather is one of the best I’ve ever had anywhere and probably the best I’ve had on a ship. The mixture of brownies, vanilla gelato, and chocolate sauce is excellent. It comes in a tall ice cream glass that’s adorned with chocolate and sprinkles. It also usually comes with tuile (a baked wafer), but none was left when I ordered, so the woman making my sundae replaced it with caramel popcorn. She also threw in a rainbow swirl lollipop for effect — something that normally comes with The Michelangelo sundae sold there. If you want something less heavy or you’re trying to stick to your budget, ask for a free cone of soft serve instead.

Soft-serve cones from Swirls, Carnival Cruise Line

Where to find it: All ships in the Carnival Cruise Line fleet
Cost: Free

TPG take: There’s something special about the ability to have ice cream any time of the day, and Carnival delivers in a big way. There’s nothing fancy about Swirls, the line’s giant stainless-steel self-service ice cream and frozen yogurt machines, but what it dispenses is delicious. Choose either a cup or a cone, and pull the lever for do-it-yourself soft-serve. Two of three flavors — chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry — are generally offered at any given time, along with an option that twists two of them together. You can’t beat the complimentary price or the 24-hour availability. You won’t find toppings by the soft-serve machines, but keep a stash of cookies or Froot Loops from the buffet to crush onto your cone for a creative concoction.

Bottom line

So, which particular ice cream is my favorite? My vote goes squarely to the cookies and cream at Royal Caribbean’s Cups & Scoops. Despite what it might look like above, I’m more a fan of cones than of ice cream. As far as I’m concerned, the latter is just an accompaniment to add a bit of moisture to the crunch. The combo of a cone with cookies and sprinkles is a no-brainer for me. Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

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