2019 Cruise Culinary Preview: More Tasty Tidbits

Viking River Cruises
Viking River Cruises' Aquavit Terrace shows how central dining can be to the river experience.

Editor's Note: Travel Agent's print magazine for January features Cruise Culinary Preview, a look at what's new and what's ahead for foodies and wine enthusiasts in 2019. That story primarily covers major big-ship and luxury lines, along with a short sidebar of river cruise developments. But the cruise industry is overflowing with culinary news and tidbits, so here is the second part of that story with much more from ocean lines, expedition products and river lines.   

Increasingly, cruisers are seeking a culinary or wine bent when selecting their perfect cruise vacation. Here's a sampling of the latest foodie or wine tidbits.

American Cruise Lines' new modern riverboat, American Song, is the line's first ship to have an additional dining venue that complements the Grand Dining Room. So, Crow's Nest Cafe now offers a fun menu of lighter fare including gourmet burgers, salads and more, prepared by the line's master chefs. It's complimentary to guests as is all dining onboard. 

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American Harmony, another modern riverboat, setting sail this summer, will feature a small gourmet Lookout Cafe. Cuisine on American Cruise Lines reflects the itinerary with dishes highlighting the culture and cuisine within the regions visited. 

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection has introduced many new culinary experiences including progressive dining. In addition, guests sailing on the line's River Countess have the opportunity onboard at L'Osteria to learn how to prepare, create or cook everything from Italian antipasto to fresh pizza and breadsticks. 

Look for a new second dining venue on Riviera River Cruises’ new 167-passenger William Wordsworth (sailing the Danube) and the 132-passenger George Eliot (sailing the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers); the latter is a new, smaller class of ship for Riviera. 

In addition to the main dining venue, both ships will offer The Bistro, a smaller eatery with a more casual lunch and dinner experience, open kitchen and panorama windows that allow for al fresco dining.

To combine a Norwegian coastal voyage with immersion into Norwegian regional cuisine, Hurtigruten's cruises between Bergen and Kirkenes, Norway, offer some savory options. Either ashore or onboard, guests can taste such Norwegian delicacies as lamb from Geiranger, king crab from the Barents Sea, cheese and cod from Lofoten, reindeer from Finnmark, and apples from Hardanger.

Onboard galleys are called "Norwegian Coastal Kitchens," and many ingredients are sourced locally.Three-course Hurtigruten dinners and breakfast and lunch buffets feature Norwegian favorites, but also some international fare too, including vegetarian options.   

Among Voyages to Antiquity's upcoming guest speakers is John Ducker, The Wine Education Service. Sailing on multiple voyages from this month through June, Ducker is well known as the actor John Leeson. He has a half century-plus of visibility in theatre, film and television, and is the unseen voice of Doctor Who’s iconic robot dog-companion K9.

But Ducker is also a wine afiscionado with a “wine teaching career.” He's a family cook and author of a quick reference guide to food/wine matching, called “Marriages Made in Heaven.”

Avalon Waterways FlexDining

Photo by Avalon Waterways

In 2019, Avalon Waterways guests will benefit from a new FlexDining approach with more flexible seating times and more two-top tables for couples. The Sky Deck will also have bar service and nightly food fare will be available upon request at the bar.

Most notable? It's a plus for independent explorers that Avalon guests can now request made-to-order picnic lunch boxes to take ashore. How about a picnic in the park in Paris or a relaxing riverside lunch in Budapest?

Dining aboard Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic's new 126-passenger National Geographic Endurance, an expedition ship launching in 2020, will be a far cry from what famed explorer Ernest Shackleton experienced. Restaurant Two Seven Zero will offer fine dining with sea views, while C. Green’s, aptly named for Shackelton’s cook, will offer an early riser breakfast, fresh salads and lighter fare, plus custom grilled selections at lunch and dinner.

The Chef’s Table private dining venue will host all guests at some point during their cruise. Each chef-hosted dinner will feature regionally inspired, sustainable, and inventive food. Daily high tea, hors d’oeuvres at Recap, and barbecues in the heated outdoor Winter Garden will round out the new dining line-up.

Sea Cloud II will operate a wine-themed voyage departing May 1 from Barcelona to Livorno, Italy. During this Sea Cloud Cruises’ voyage, guests will hear lectures by Dr. Wolfgang Lechner, wine and art expert. Also on tap are a five-course Champagne menu from the master chef and a gala dinner created by top chef Patrick Tober.

And it's not just wine, some lines focus on the local signature cocktail, such as when sailing to Cuba. On Pearl Seas Cruises 11-night "Cuba Cultural Voyages," guests are treated to a Mojito making demonstration

CroisiEurope will offer a new seven-night Rhone River itinerary on Rhone Princess roundtrip from Lyon between April and October. It travels through prime gastronomy and vinoculture territory with port calls at Arles, Avignon, Viviers and Tain L’Hermitage.

The line's guests also will head out for Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse,  Lyon's covered market, for tastings of saucisson, cheese and a glass of wine. For an added fee, CroisiEurope guests also can dine at Abbaye de Collonges, a Paul Bocuse restaurant along the Saone’s banks.

On April 8, Chef Luca Manfe, who won the fourth season of FOX’s Masterchef reality TV show, will be onboard Tauck’s Inspire. During its entire “Romantic Rhine” itinerary, he’ll be onboard for live cooking demos, a “Meet Luca” presentation, Q+A evening and signature dinner. This voyage had limited availability at press time.

In Europe, Crystal River Cruises offers the Crystal River Collection, hundreds of shoreside experiences in five categories. Among them is “Tantalizing Gastronomy,” which features excursions focused around local foods and beverages, with the goal of having at least two such excursions in every port.

Culinary and wine buffs can also use Crystal's “Design Your Time” category of excursions for a customized experience. Some are already curated by the line based on specific interests that guests may request, or, alternatively, created from scratch to match guest desires.

This year will signal more growth for Emerald Waterways, including the launch of a new Star-Ship, Emerald Harmony, on the Mekong River through Vietnam and Cambodia. Eighty-four guests will have open seat dining at Reflections Restaurant and there is also an intimate Captain's Table venue. Much produce is sourced locally, and complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks are served at lunch and dinner. 

During Variety Cruises' Dalmatian Coast: Croatia & Montenegro cruise, passengers can take advantage of an optional excursion typically ranging from 48 and 90 euros (depending on the number of guests booked) to the Croatian island of Korcula, famous for its wines.

The tour typically stops in Korcula town and Lumbarda village so guests can sample locally produced wines, many from family-owned wineries passed from generation to generation. Cruisers will stroll through the Milina and Bire vineyards, sampling the estate's white wines, for example.   

On sister line Scenic, guests who take a French river cruise can savor the new Scenic Culinaire, a dedicated space with cooking stations, a cheese and wine cellar, fresh ingredients sourced from local markets and cooking instructors who will introduce them to regional recipes.

Scenic Culinaire Program

A Scenic Culinaire cooking class is shown above.

For these cooking classes, the line has even included a live camera and screen so that guests won’t miss a thing as the chef prepares his or her dish.

American Queen Steamboat Company's Memphis to New Orleans voyage on April 14 offers an appealing premium shore trip in Natchez, MS (in addition to the line's complimentary on-off sightseeing shuttles). This "Home Hosted Visit with Ginger and James" is the ultimate Southern hospitality foray, taking guests to The Towers, an Italianate antebellum home.

Guests will take a guided tour, view amazing collectibles, sip mint-infused champagne, chat with the Hylands and taste southern comfort food and snacks. A local chef will then relate stories about the history of food in Natchez including culinary secrets and authentic recipes.

This year, Pandaw, an Asian small ship/river operator, has a new vessel, Sabei Pandaw, designed to meet the navigational challenges of shooting the rapids in the Laos gorges. It also has a shallow draft so it will sail between Vientiane, the Laotian capital city, and Jinghong, China. Look for an open plan saloon with indoor or outdoor dining.onboard and cuisine that's mixed Lao-Thai with international dishes available on request. 

On Viking River Cruises, perhaps the most popular activity is dining inside or al fresco on the AquaVit Terrace. The beauty of river cruising is that guests on Viking and other lines can also just walk a short distance ashore (in most cases) to find cafes, restaurants with views and places to savor local cuisine and people watch. 

And on small ocean ships, itineraries are increasingly allowing vessels to stay late into the night or even overnight in ports, so guests can go ashore for dining and activities. One new option for that? This year Celestyal Cruises will extend its season into December and return to Istanbul for the first time since 2016 with its new seven-day "Eclectic Aegean" itinerary with six fall departures.  

What's special? The cruise overnights in Istanbul and calls at Volos, Santorini, and Heraklion (Crete), Greece, along with Canakkale, Turkey. But during a port call at Mykonos, Greece, the ship won't depart until 2 a.m., allowing guests to explore both Greek cuisine and nightlife ashore. 

More river cruise tidbits including some from AmaWaterways and U by Uniworld, for example, are also in the sidebar of our Cruise Culinary Preview that's running in Travel Agent's print magazine on January 1.

Stay tuned to www.travelagentcentral.com for more culinary focused updates in the first quarter of 2019. 

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