As cruisers get ready to cruise in 2019, what new dining experiences will they find on global waters? Just launched on the 2,666-passenger Nieuw Statendam and sister Koningsdam — and to be extended fleetwide by year’s end — is Holland America Line’s new Club Orange program for guests in Neptune and Pinnacle Suite categories; the program is also available for purchase for a small number of non-suite staterooms on each sailing.
Those guests can exclusively enjoy the Club Orange restaurant for breakfast (with dishes from Pinnacle Grill) and dinner (main dining room fare plus some exclusive dishes). Among many other Club Orange perks are a dedicated concierge hotline and priority tender service. Club Orange honors the color of the Dutch royal family, hailing from the House of Orange. While Club Orange is a separate venue on the line’s two newest ships, it will be a dedicated Club Orange area of the main dining room on other ships.
During a recent Nieuw Statendam sailing, Travel Agent also dined in Rudi’s Sel de Mer, the first Rudi-branded specialty restaurant for Rudi Sodamin, Holland America’s master chef and chairman of the line’s Culinary Council. Sel de Mer (without the Rudi branding) was first introduced on Koningsdam, and pop-up Sel de Mer eateries are on other ships. We ordered the escargot, lobster tail, green beans and a lovely cheese plate. Pricing for this intimate dining experience is à la carte on Nieuw Statendam and Koningsdam, while it costs $49 for the pop-up eateries on the other ships.
Holland America also has several “2019 Food & Beverage Aficionado Cruises” featuring its Culinary Council members, Master Mixologist Dale DeGroff and the line’s Chateau Ste. Michelle winemaker partners. Guests can attend cooking, cocktail or wine demonstrations; presentations; enjoy photo opportunities; and join an intimate, reservation-only Pinnacle Grill dinner.
“Transformational” adeptly describes the new main dining room concept on Celebrity Cruises’ new Celebrity Edge. Instead of one humongous dining room, the new ship features four elegantly decorated, yet smaller, bit more intimate main dining venues — Cyprus, Cosmopolitan, Normandie and Tuscan. Generally, 80 percent of the dishes on all four restaurant menus are the same, but in a nifty dining twist, 20 percent of each restaurant’s menu focuses on that venue’s theming — so Mediterranean cuisine is on tap in Cyprus, for example.
Guests can choose either Celebrity Select Dining Plus for the ultimate in flexibility (guests decide where and when to dine), or either of two fixed seating times; if they choose the latter they’ll have the same dining mates, the same table and the same wait staff night after night, and the table is in one (not all four) of the main dining venues for the entire cruise. That said, reporters were told onboard that if the entire table group wishes to dine in one of the other restaurants on one night, that likely can be arranged with advance notice.
What’s the most entertaining dining experience at sea? A strong contender is Celebrity Edge’s Le Grand Bistro, where the tabletop seemingly comes to life as part of Celebrity’s partnership with TableMation Studios; the dining experience features Skullmapping’s world famous Le Petite Chef, an animated 3-D character who appears on guest’s plates and prepares each course in front of them.
Launching on Caribbean cruises from PortMiami in 2020, Virgin Voyages will offer more than 20 food choices for its first ship, Scarlet Lady. Clients won’t find specialty dining fees; made-to-order food from all onboard eateries ranging from haute cuisine to casual fare will be included within the fare. Look for no traditional buffet, no main dining room, no formal wear, no assigned seating and no assigned dining times. Restaurants will be open late into the night and, in some cases, into the wee hours of the morning.
Look for glamour in the 5,866-square-foot Wake, located aft with a grand staircase and dramatic views of the ship’s wake. Diners can expect an experience akin to The Wolseley in London or The Grill in New York. Look for a raw bar resembling a speedboat’s bow, land and sea dishes and sommelier-led Magnum program. Separately, Razzle Dazzle will serve plant-based vegetarian and vegan dishes, an Impossible Burger and healthy or liquor-spiked smoothies, and its Drag Brunch will feature the ship’s resident drag performer and friends. Among other eateries are The Test Kitchen with avant-garde cuisine; Geonbae, a Korean BBQ; Pink Agave, a Mexican shared-plate experience eatery; Extra Virgin, a trattoria with fresh pasta made daily by hand; The Pizza Place; and the casual Galley with shops and food carts.
The upscale Fine Cut Steakhouse on Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Edge serves steak and seafood.
The new Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection will launch its first vessel, Azora, in 2020. Look for new upscale signature shore excursions in five categories — Iconic Sights, Stirring the Senses, Cultural Connections, Active Explorations and Epicurean Experiences. For those guests looking to extend their time in destination, the ultra-luxury brand is also introducing Overland Programs. The yacht line’s new “Overland Adventure to Bogota, Colombia,” a Cultural Connections offering, will take luxury guests from the Caribbean coast to Colombia’s capital city on an overnight excursion.
Guests will head out on a guided tour of Bogota’s colonial district featuring the presidential mansion and museums dedicated to gold and Botero; take an evening outing to Monserrate, a hilltop church with stunning views; and have such authentic foodie experiences as a visit to the Plaza de Paloquemao fruit / flower market and then a cooking class with a local chef in a private home.
Following Crystal Cruises’ fall drydock update of Crystal Serenity, open seating was introduced in Waterside, formerly the Crystal Dining Room; it now has new décor and more tables for two and four. Also, the former Lido Café is now a new daytime, buffet-style Marketplace and evening Churrascaria, a new open-seating Brazilian-styled barbecue experience. Grilled meats are brought to the table on sword-like skewers and carved table-side.
For a new four-course dining experience reminiscent of the 1960s Rat Pack era, clients holding reservations can head for Crystal Serenity’s Stardust Supper Club; guests will dine on the same nightly specialties served in Waterside (including vegetarian fare, if desired), enjoy wine pairings and yummy desserts, while, at the same time, be serenaded by live musicians. Professional dancers will perform spotlight dances. Also new? The former Tastes venue is now transformed into the new Silk Kitchen & Bar.
For a fleet-wide al fresco experience, Regent Seven Seas Cruises has opened its open-air pool grills to serve a relaxed, gourmet dinner. Pool-grill table service will feature grilled-to-order steaks, chops, burgers, fresh seafood, sandwiches and salads. Guests can order everything from Provencal marinated lamb chops to thyme and garlic roasted chicken and striploin minute steaks. How about a caramel popcorn eclair for dessert?
As part of its new, $250-million “Star Plus Initiative,” Windstar Cruises will split and lengthen its three motorized Star-class vessels, starting this fall. It will also add an intimate, alternative dining restaurant plus a new casual barbecue space adjacent to the top deck Star Bar, where guests can expect outdoor grilling during Windstar’s signature Onboard Barbecue or at other times while they’re relaxing onboard. The line also will expand the Veranda Restaurant, add more ocean-view seating and upgrade the dining area.
New pre-cruise Short Escapes are on tap this summer for Adventures by Disney and can be combined with a Disney Cruise Line sailing. These three-night stays are offered in Rome, Copenhagen, Denmark, Barcelona and Vancouver. On the new Vancouver Short Escape, families will go zip lining and biking, have a guided tour at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, visit a bear habitat and take a “foodies walking tour” of the Granville Public Market.
Central to its Destination Immersion focus, Azamara Club Cruises has launched a City Stays program in collaboration with Cox & Kings; these three-night or more stays of three are pre- or post-cruise, offer curated programs with an emphasis on people-to-people connections, and include select meals and transfers. In Barcelona, Spain, guests will visit a fourth-generation candy artisan as well as dine with a local family while learning about their history, have a gourmet picnic lunch in the park with a Spanish family and join a local wine connoisseur to sample Spain’s best wines.
Speaking of wine, Silversea Cruises plans four wine-themed voyages this year, including Silver Cloud’s 12-day voyage departing May 1 from Lisbon to Amsterdam. The ultra-luxury line’s wine ambassador will select different wines from each country on the itinerary, plus there will be wine lectures and onboard tastings. As f1or the itinerary, it visits prime wine regions within Portugal, Spain and France. In Bordeaux, guests will like the overnight stay, allowing them to head out for independent vinoculture activities, cooking classes, fine dining or wine bars ashore.
Oceania Cruises has unveiled its major OceaniaNEXT initiative, with many enhancements designed to elevate the guest experience. Guests can expect new dining experiences and reimagined menus. Plus, for voyages departing on or after May 19, Oceania’s guests can now use their shipboard credit prior to departure to purchase shore excursions, land tours, onboard beverage packages, culinary classes and dining experiences at La Reserve and Privee.
Seabourn has a strong 2019 line-up of Seabourn Conversations’ enrichment speakers and programs. On January 19, Tim and Nina Zagat will sail on Seabourn Ovation; they’re co-founders of the Zagat Survey, famed for collecting and correlating diners’ restaurant ratings. On the same sailing, Pamela Chen will offer talks / insight about her Taiwanese roots and love of Asian cooking, as well as culinary demonstrations.
Returning to Alaska this year is Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth, sailing 10-night voyages roundtrip from Vancouver in late May and June with calls in Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka and Icy Strait Point, AK, as well as Victoria, B.C. The line has many new shore trips. At Icy Strait Point, guests on the “Cooking in Alaska’s Wildest Kitchen” shore excursion will learn how to prepare wild, natural and sustainable Alaskan seafood during a hands-on tasting session with a wilderness chef and author.
Sailing roundtrip from Athens, Viking Sea will operate a new 11-day “Greek Odyssey” voyage in January 2021. Culinary-wise, it’s a chance for Viking’s guests to go ashore and dine independently on local Greek or Turkish specialties during maiden port calls at Volos, Thessaloníki and Nafpilo in Greece, plus Ephesus, also signaling the line’s return to Turkey.
Wake will be one of more than 20 dining choices on Virgin Voyages’ first ship, Scarlet Lady.
When Enchanted Princess debuts in Europe in June 2020, this new Princess Cruises’ ship will field the updated Salty Dog Gastropub, a rustic eatery with drinks and small bites, including the Ernesto Burger, created by chef partner, Ernesto Uchimura. Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria also will have a more modern, contemporary look with Italian touches, and Princess Live! and Café will gain new Art Deco-style décor.
Ponant will offer a new, 11-night “Sicilian Food and Wine Experience” on Le Bougainville on June 28, but that voyage is wait listed. On any Ponant sailing, though, the culinary line-up created by Ponant chefs in partnership with Alain Ducasse Conseil simply shines. During a Le Champlain cruise several months ago, Travel Agent discovered first-hand the simplicity of the line’s French cuisine; dishes consistently had the right flavors, textures, creative design and, most importantly, incredible taste.
On our cruise, the main restaurant offered full table service with a robust French-inspired menu of soup, starters, salad, entrees and a cheese plate or dessert. Cruisers raved about freshly baked French baguettes. During lunch and dinner, staff poured complimentary white and red house wines. For lunch, guests headed for an adjacent buffet area — just off the dining room to select starters (such as shrimp, salad, nuts, breads and fruits) before sitting down and ordering off the menu for their main course. Then it was back to the buffet area for dessert.
Starting February 24, Royal Caribbean International will operate three- to four-night Caribbean cruises roundtrip from Miami on the updated Navigator of the Seas, relaunching after a $115 million modernization. Its Royal Promenade will gain new restaurants, retail spaces and nightlife, including the Bamboo Room, a Polynesian-themed watering hole. The newly revitalized ship will also emerge with such popular signature eateries as Jamie’s Italian and Hooked Seafood, along with a refreshed Chops Grille steakhouse.
Sailing Caribbean itineraries (including Cuba calls) from Miami this winter, MSC Cruises’ MSC Armonia is introducing a new specialty restaurant, the 38-seat “Surf & Turf.” Guests will receive an appetizer, main course and dessert for $35 per person. Among the appetizers is slow braised pork belly paired with jalapenos, radish slaw and topped with a pineapple barbecue sauce, while main courses include surf-and-turf, lobster thermidor and Certified Angus Beef bone-in ribeye.
For a “down home” culinary enhancement, NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, Carnival Cruise Line’s new Chief Fun Officer, will introduce a complimentary Big Chicken eatery on the new Carnival Radiance in 2020; the ship is the soon-to-be-transformed Carnival Victory, getting a $200 million revitalization / update. It will debut in Europe before shifting to New York and Norfolk, VA, and then sailing year-round from Port Canaveral, FL.
Cruisers will find fried chicken sandwiches and fries, with various flavors, based on O’Neal’s recipes. For breakfast, chicken-and-egg biscuits are among the choices. Also being added to the ship are Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse Bar-B-Que, Cucina del Capitano and Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse.
Norwegian Cruise Line has completely refurbished Norwegian Jewel as part of The Norwegian Edge program. Offering Asia and South Pacific itineraries, the vessel will spend this winter and spring cruising from Sydney, Hong Kong and Singapore, before repositioning to Alaska this summer. Nearly all dining, bar and lounge venues were updated and two new venues — The Pit Stop and Bliss Ultra Lounge — have opened, replacing Sky High Bar and FYZZ Cabaret Lounge.
A new collaboration between Costa Cruises and the Genoese Bakers Association is bringing authentic focaccia to all Costa ships. The traditional Ligurian recipe now served on the Costa fleet is certified by the Genoese Focaccia mark, guaranteeing its origin. Coming fresh from Costa’s ovens, it’s available at the free afternoon buffet as a tasty snack.
River Culinary Update
Ocean lines aren’t alone in their culinary or wine focus. Here’s a small sampling of new options on global rivers.
Aqua Expeditions plans several chef-hosted departures this year including four-night sailings on the Mekong River hosted by Chef David Thompson on August 16 and September 13. Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino will host four-night Amazon cruises on March 18 and November 18.
What pairs better with food than wine? AmaWaterways will host a record 64 wine cruises this year, and introduce such new itineraries as “Medieval Treasures” between Basel, Switzerland and Nuremberg, Germany. On AmaDante, passengers can taste vintages ashore before returning to the ship for a wine-paired dinner in the Main Dining Room or a more intimate dinner at The Chef’s Table.
Delfin Amazon Cruises, which operates three Peruvian Amazon ships has joined Relais & Chateaux. In the Galapagos, Ecoventura’s Origin, also with Relais, offers such dining choices as Basque-style grilled octopus with roasted peppers and sauteed potatoes or beef fillet with potatoes, asparagus and tamarind chimichurri sauce.
Beginning April 21, 2019, U by Uniworld’s new eight-day itinerary, “Northern France at a Glance,” on The B will sail the Seine River with stops in Paris, Vernon, Les Andelys, Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, Rouen and Caudebec-en-Caux. Culinary-focused guests can accompany the ship’s chef to Rouen’s fresh market.
On AmaDante, guests can savor a wine-paired dinner in the Main Dining Room.