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What's New in Culinary Cruises

Discover the best gourmet dining experiences and celebrity chef-helmed restaurants at sea.

U.S. News & World Report

What's New in Culinary Cruises

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Today's cruisers are in search of extraordinary culinary experiences with international cuisine, healthy menu options, fine wines and craft cocktails.(Getty Images)

Culinary cruises have taken the high seas by storm in recent years. With the current obsession on all things food, wine and spirits, the world's best cruise lines now offer culinary-themed sailings, exclusive wines and gourmet dining experiences, renowned chefs at the helm of their food and beverage programs and onboard celebrity chef restaurants and guest appearances. Rather than booking a cruise for a particular itinerary, many travelers are planning their vacation based on which chef is appearing on a selected sailing or which trendy restaurants or cocktail and wine bars have recently opened on the ship. While most cruise lines still offer a traditional main restaurant and breakfast and lunch buffets on their ships, many restaurant menus are now created by distinguished chefs and are inspired by the destinations and ports of call on a given itinerary to showcase specialty ingredients. Here's a look at the comprehensive culinary programs offered on top cruise ships across the globe.

Windstar Cruises

Windstar's highly acclaimed fleet of six small luxury yachts hosts no more than 300 guests per ship and are able to dock in smaller ports where larger ships can't go. This allows guests to be immersed in the local culture, history and the cuisine, wine and spirits of the region. Their unique culinary excursions include cooking challenges in farmhouses in Catania, Italy, sipping Provençal wines in Nice and touring Copenhagen to learn about Norwegian foods and culinary traditions of the city. On board the yachts, Michael Sabourin, executive chef of Windstar, focuses on creating menus showcasing the regional foods of the ports of call. Guests can expect to be wowed with their ever-changing menu offerings and culinary excellence, especially during their signature deck barbecue, which takes place on the last evening of every cruise. This year, Windstar went one step further and partnered with the celebrated James Beard Foundation for a series of three European culinary cruises with spectacular destinations such as Bordeaux, France, Lisbon and Porto in Portugal, the famous oyster region of Cancale and the storied walled city of St. Malo in France and Tangier, Morocco. Each sailing featured a James Beard award-winning chef and distinguished sommelier and spirits professional, and offered educational culinary shore excursions, market tours with the chefs, daily wine and spirits tastings and regional wine pairings with dinner.

This partnership was the first of its kind. "It has been an absolute pleasure to partner with the venerable James Beard Foundation to offer the 2016 Collection of Culinary Cruises to our guests," says Windstar's new president, John Delaney. "The Foundation's mission is to champion America's diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire. Windstar shares that mission on an international stage, celebrating food in each port we visit around the world. By bringing on board fresh, local ingredients and striving for culinary excellence at sea, we hope we bring our guests closer to the world one bite at a time," Delaney adds.

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises has long been recognized for its outstanding cuisine and with their program known as Select Dining, there are up to as many as 12 specialty restaurants on board to choose from (depending on the ship) to satisfy even the most discerning palate. From creative sushi and Japanese dishes at the modern luxury restaurant, Sushi on Five, to contemporary takes on classic French preparations in the elegant Murano, there are plenty of restaurants to pique your interest. Guests staying in AquaClass rooms also have access to the sleek Blu restaurant, which serves spa cuisine, and Suite Class guests have the option of dining at the elegant Luminae restaurant for any of their meals. Complimentary to Suite Class guests, this new and exclusive concept features modern international cuisine and top-tier service.

Celebrity's Top Chef at Sea program, a partnership with Bravo and the Emmy award-winning TV show "Top Chef," features entertaining activities such as the Quickfire Challenge and the Top Chef Night in the main restaurant, with the evening's menu created by contestants of the show. Top Chef Signature Sailings are also offered during the year with several of the guest "cheftestants" on board, cooking classes, shore excursions with the chefs and cooking demonstrations.

One of the other highlights is Celebrity's impressive wine program for enthusiasts and aficionados. With the largest team of certified sommeliers in the world with more than 200 sommeliers and 1,800 bottles of wine from around the world stored at the perfect temperature and housed in a stunning two-story glass and steel wine tower on Solstice-class ships, wine lovers are sure to find the perfect selection to accompany their meal from this comprehensive inventory. Their dedicated wine bar, Cellar Masters, also has an extensive wine list. With its state-of-the-art wine by the glass system, many extraordinary wines, not otherwise available in a single serving, can be purchased at Cellar Masters. In addition, guests can attend wine appreciation classes and a Riedel Wine Glass Comparative Workshop to brush up on their wine knowledge and expertise.

Silversea Cruises

U.S. News ranks Silversea Cruises as one of the leading cruise lines in the luxury market. Smaller than some of their competitors with between 100 and 540 guests, Silversea has set the bar for culinary cruising. Offering a series of culinary and wine voyages across the globe, guests can book excursions for wine tastings in the Barossa Valley in Australia or dine on local Vietnam cuisine in the Mekong Delta. Partnering with the Relais & Châteaux collection of prestigious worldwide restaurants and properties, the on board restaurant, Le Champagne (on six of its ships) and La Dame by Relais & Châteaux on the new Silver Muse, which will debut in 2017, offer white-tablecloth fine dining, extraordinary wines and impeccable service.

On select sailings, Silversea features L'École des Chefs by Relais & Châteaux. Highlights of these voyages include cooking demonstrations paired with wines by the sommelier, Lunch & Learn sessions where the chef prepares dishes tableside at Le Champagne or La Dame by Relais & Châteaux in an intimate setting and Market to Plate tours that begin with a visit to local markets with the chef, followed by preparing a meal at either an on shore Relais & Châteaux property or back on board the ship.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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