On Site: Atlas Ocean Voyages' Epicurean Expeditions

Right now, expedition cruise lines are seeing burgeoning interest in voyages to Antarctica and the Arctic region during winter and summer. For instance, Atlas Ocean Voyages recently added a third expedition ship, World Voyager, to help meet that strong winter Antarctica demand. But what do expedition lines do in the “offseasons”—typically spring and fall—when their ships are sailing elsewhere, such as in the Mediterranean? How do they attract clients to those voyages?

The answer for Atlas lies in savory cuisine and top-notch culinary experiences. Here's our look at the line's new "Epicurean Expeditions" focus in Europe, based on Travel Agent's May 2023 sailing on the 198-passenger World Traveller between Barcelona, Spain, and Nice, France.

New Epicurean Expeditions

Starting in April 2023, the line began offering new "Epicurean Expeditions" to iconic, marquee ports in Europe. Continuing through October 2023 on both the 198-passenger World Navigator and sister World Traveller, these have a culinary bent—both aboard and ashore.

During our sailing—as well as on previous spring sailings—two "Gastronomic Guests," a husband-and-wife team, were aboard. One was a master chef, the other a caviar master.

Chef Rudi Scholdis
Chef Rudi Scholdis was a Gastronomic Guest on our recent World Traveller sailing in the Mediterranean. (Atlas Ocean Voyages)

The affable, Belgium-born Chef Rudi Scholdis is a veteran chef with experience at several Michelin-star European restaurants. Most notably, he served as head chef at London’s Dorchester. (Travel advisors also may recall that Scholdis served as Silversea Cruises' culinary director for many years.) Today, Chef Scholdis is a partner in two restaurants, Amandine Bistro et Vins in Santiago, Chile, and Casa de Amalia in the country’s Maule wine region

The other Gastronomic Guest on our cruise was Chilean-born Jennifer Merino Scholdis. Famed as a caviar expert, she and Chef Scholdis own Kenoz, a major Chilean caviar producer

Gastronomic Guest Demos and Dishes


Shrimp dish based on recipe from Chef Rudi Scholdis, a Gastronomic Guests aboard Atlas Ocean Voyages' World Traveller.
 "Wild Jumbo Shrimp," a specialty of Chef Rudi Scholdis, one of Atlas Ocean Voyages' Gastronomic Guests. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Throughout our voyage, and to the delight of guests, these two Gastronomic Guests provided cooking and caviar demonstrations aboard the ship. In addition, Chef Scholdis' select specialty recipes were also featured nightly on menus in the ship's main Lisboa dining room. 

This means guests can expect different dishes depening on the "Epicurean Expedition's" departure date and the Gastronomic Guest's own culinary style and specialties. We ordered the three Chef Scholdis specialty dishes during one evening in Lisboa, and the photos are a good indication of what guests can expect in the way of quality, diversity and inventiveness. 

Dover Sole Amandine, a specialty dish by Chef Rudi Scholdis, served on Atlas Ocean Voyages' World Traveller.
"Dover Sole Amandine," an entree specialty of Chef Rudi Scholdis, an Atlas World Voyages' Gastronomic Guest. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

In the main Lisboa restaurant, “Wild Jumbo Shrimp” was one Chef Scholdis specialty. The humongous fresh shrimp were flambeed with cognac, then served with a tasty sauce of butter, wine, herb-garlic oil and a touch of chili flakes.

For the main course, we also opted for Chef Scholdis' "Dover Sole Amandine," accompanied by almonds, mashed potatoes, creamy cabbage, baby turnips and caviar. To die for was the chef's “Dark Chocolate Ganache Tart” with Valrona Guanaja 70 percent, red rose blossom and coffee ice cream. It was gone in a flash.

A tasty "Dark Chocolate Ganache Tart" was a dessert favorite on World Traveller.
Chef Scholdis' "Dark Chocolate Ganache Tart" was a favorite dessert on a recent Epicurean Expedition. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Dining Aboard World Traveller

The Lisboa dining room is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At breakfast, we encountered one of the most extensive arrays of buffet options we've seen at sea.

Most notable? Beyond six different types of nuts, which we absolutely loved, guests were surprised and amazed to find a large honey comb. So, they didn't simply get clarified or filtered honey, but instead the real deal—organic honey that they could take directly from the large honey comb.

At lunch, there's also a good range of culinary options; plus, a chef prepares specialty dishes at a cooking station near the buffet. At lunch time, table settings are more casual. But at dinner, Lisboa's tables are graced with linens, fine glassware and silverware. 

Each evening, Lisboa's menus also have a different regional theme, such as Chilean, French, German, Italian and Spanish. Plus, the menu has a range of classic dishes, continental cuisine and plant-based vegan options. And, of course, there are those Gastronomic Guest specialty dishes, too.

Atlas' Lisboa main dining room as it's set up for lunch-time dining.
Atlas Ocean Voyages' Lisboa dining room on World Traveller is shown above, as set up for lunch.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Where else can one dine on the ship? The casual outside 7-AFT Grill is open for lunch, and at night transforms into a upscale chophouse serving succulent grilled steaks and fresh seafood.

Guests on our cruise loved the Deck 4 grab-and-go venue, Paula’s Pantry, open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Throughout the day and into early evening, friendly crew members offer coffees, lattes, a great caramel macchiato and freshly squeezed juices of all types. Plus, guests will find cookies, fresh croissants and other pastries, sandwiches, salads and so on.

In addition, guests can order room service. Delivered by a crew member, a room service order is presented on a tray at breakfast, and provided in eco-friendly boxes for lunch and dinner. 

Two New Dining Experiences

Two new "Epicurean Expeditions" gastronomic offerings extend the range of culinary options aboard. The Alma Alfresco (also called the Atlas Heritage experience) is featured in the main dining room on three different occasions throughout a cruise. It's available indoors in Lisboa or outside on that restaurant's Deck 4 aft terrace. The Alma menu itself pays tribute to the line's Portuguese heritage. Owner Mystic Invest Holding is based in Porto, Portugal, and Atlas, based in the U.S., is one of its brands. 

So, one evening, for example, those enjoying the Alma experience could order this trio of dishes, typically served throughout Portugal:

  • Appetizer of Canja de Galinha, a chicken soup with orzo and carrots
  • Entree of Polvo a Lagareiro, octopus that was first boiled and then baked, accompanied by roasted potatoes, sauteed radish tops and a garlic and shallot confit
  • Dessert of Natas do Ceu, a layered sweet treat comprised of custard cream, crumbled cookies, meringue and roasted almonds
Atlas Ocean Voyages' AFT-7 Grill serves up tasty steaks and seafood, displayed here so guests can see the sizing.
Atlas Ocean Voyages' 7-AFT Grill serves tasty steaks, other meats and seafood. A sizing display is shown above. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

The second new dining experience is the Josper Grill Dining Experience, which unfolds at the outside 7-AFT Grill, which has canvas awnings above. This experience includes a choice of such succulent beef as Black Angus filet mignon, New York strip or a 35-ounce tomahawk steak; a display gives guests a look at the "steak sizing," helpful before ordering. 

All steaks are seared on a special Josper charcoal oven grill. Not a steak lover? Guests can also order lamb, shrimp, lobster and vegetarian dishes. We couldn’t resist choosing the “Grass-Fed 9 Oz U.S. Angus Cattle Tenderloin Surf and Turf."

Yachtsman's Cook-Off

Another culinary activity aboard is certainly entertaining. For each "Epicurean Expedition," the Gastronomic Guest also will challenge the ship’s executive chef, sous chef or another chef to a "Yachtsman's Cook-Off." Think of this fun, onboard guest event as somewhat of a culinary “Iron Chef” competition.

On our cruise, in a bit of twist, Chef Scholdis—bringing aboard several dozen fresh mussels purchased at a local market ashore—invited a lucky guest (celebrating his birthday) to a similar cook-off challenge. After the program, the guest received a personalized chef’s apron. Pretty cool!

Shoreside Culinary Focus

"Epicurean Experiences" voyages also take the culinary focus ashore. For example, Atlas provides guests on these sailings with one specialized, so-designated "cultural immersion tour" free of charge. During our sailing, that cultural immersion tour occurred during the Saint-Tropez, France, port call. Chef Scholdis accompanied guests ashore to walk through the hilltop Gassin village and visit a wine estate for a wine tasting.

In general, though, many of the line’s other shore excursion offerings in the Mediterranean or Northern Europe also offer a flavor or tasting element that relates to culinary and wine. For example, guests might tour Barcelona’s La Boqueria market with a ship’s chef to select ingredients for a private cooking class onboard. Or, during a Saint-Raphael, France, port call on our cruise, guests headed out on a “Cocoa and Chocolate Museum” tour to sample local, chocolate-covered nougats. Another culinary-focused excursion was “Bandol and Honey Tasting," offered during a Cassis, France, port call. Guests taking this excursion learned how honey is harvested, plus spent time at seaside Bandol. 

Heirloom tomatoes selected by the Gastronomic Guest at a Sete, France, local market, showed up as a plate during a private group dinner on World Traveller.
The heirloom tomatoes in this fresh vegetable platter were selected by Chef Scholdis at a Sete, France, market. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Certainly, guests can also head out independently on most port calls to explore on their own. Interestingly, on our cruise, some travelers doing just that encountered Chef Scholdis at Sete’s famous Les Halles market. He kindly explained to them his perspective on selecting the best heirloom tomatoes. Later, some of those heirloom tomatoes became part of a fresh veggies plate presented at one group dinner on World Traveller.

Visiting Vintner

Onboard enrichment during the line's "Epicurean Expeditions"may also feature a "Visiting Vintner," an expert who lectures aboard and provides a tasting experience.  

For example, during World Traveller's call in the south of France last month, Patricia Hedge, a local wine expert with Wine Tasting Events in Provence, boarded the ship. Guests gathered in the Atlas Lounge and she presented an excellent, one-hour enrichment talk for guests about the region's boutique wines.

Visiting Vintner Patricia Hedge of Wine Tasting Events in Provence, France, came aboard Atlas Ocean Voyages' World Traveller to conduct a wine presentation and tasting for guests on the Epicurean Expedition voyage.
Patricia Hedge, an Atlas Ocean Voyages' "Visiting Vintner," conducted a presentation and wine tasting event on a recent Epicurean Expedition voyage.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Throughout the program, crew members circulated in the lounge offering the boutique wines for tasting—one white wine, two roses vintages and three red wines. In addition, Hedge nicely provided "Tasting Notes" with details on each of those limited-production wines. 

She certainly added to guests' understanding of the region's viniculture.This complimentary experience was definitely a hit with guests.

Beverage Options

A pretty looking and tasty "mocktail," a zero-proof, non-alcoholic cocktail on Atlas Ocean Voyages.
A nonalcoholic Ocean Blue Mojito  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

During our cruise, Atlas served up 12 fine white, rose and red wines on a complimentary basis in the Lisboa restaurant. Complimentary beer, spirits and cocktails were also offered.

Also, at dinner nightly there were premium wine recommendations on the menu; those could be ordered at an extra cost. For example, on one night, guests could order a premium bottle of Yarra Yering Chardonnay from Australia’s Yarra Valley ($130) or Shafer, One Point Five, a Cabernet Sauvignon from California ($336), among other choices from the ship's wine cellar.

A growing trend among cruise lines is the offering of more nonalcoholic beverages—and a more inventive, creative menu of those. One night in World Traveller’s Dome Observation Lounge, we perused the venue's Mocktail list. It included such zero-proof drinks as a Strawberry Colada, but we ordered the Ocean Blue Mojito. This tasty concoction of fruitiness and fizziness was created with lime syrup, tropical blue syrup, fresh mint and soda water. 

Looking Ahead

Atlas says it’s figured out that gastronomy is a great hook for guests interested in a Mediterranean and Northern Europe voyage on a small, luxurious expedition ship. Aboard every "Epicurean Expedition" voyage, they'll find a Gastronomic Guest, perhaps a renowned chef with a long history of cooking at Michelin-starred venues or a local culinary rock star skilled in preparing authentic, regional delicacies.

On World Navigator, for example, Mara Papatheodorou, former editor of Bon Appetit, is slated to sail on July 10, July 19, and July 28, 2023. She'll be joined by "Top Chef" winner Sylwia Stachyra on the July 10 voyage, as well as "Top Chef" winner Luciana Berry on the July 19 and 28 departures. Massimo Capra, a Canadian celebrity chef, will host World Navigator's August 15 and 27 departures.  

Since World Traveller sails the Arctic region this summer, though, those voyages will focus instead on the polar expedition experience in cooler northern waters. But that ship also will operate an "Epicurean Expedition" in the Mediterranean on October 6. On that voyage, Chef Viet Pham, the 2014 winner of "Iron Chef," will be the Gastronomic Guest. More "Epicurean Expeditions" are expected to be announced in the future too. 

For more information on Atlas Ocean Voyages visit www.atlasoceanvoyages.com—and check out our recent story about our well-appointed, comfortable Horizon Suite on World Traveller.  

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