Speciality dining took somewhat of a back seat in the cruising world for many years, with the main dining rooms tending to dominate. However, in recent times, we’ve seen a shift in the balance and we think this may continue to change. We’re already beginning to notice differences in preferences on board, and we’re anticipating a swing in selection to be a major part of the big changes that are happening throughout the cruise industry this year.
How Cruise Ship Dining Has Evolved
Cruise ship dining has essentially gone full circle. While we may like to think of speciality restaurants as a relatively new concept due to the introduction of revolutionary cuisine and celebrity chefs, the concept of select venues on board ships can be traced all the way back to some of the first cruise ships specifically designed for luxurious leisure travel. The RMS Olympic, for example, the first major cruise ship for the White Star Line back in 1911, not only offered a main dining room, but also an a la carte restaurant for first class passengers. Believe it or not, it was this speciality restaurant, not the main restaurant, which was the most popular. Why? Because passengers could have the cost of dining in the main restaurant reimbursed if not used. Although they would need to pay for meals in the a la carte restaurant, it often worked out to be a much more cost effective way to travel.
Of course, the notion of reimbursement quickly disappeared, and paying extra for speciality restaurants was no longer a budget-friendly method of cruising. This is when main dining rooms on board cruise ships really came into their own. Dishes were the best of the best, and main dining rooms have remained popular venues ever since. In fact, even ships built as recently as the 1990s contain very few alternative dining options. P&O Cruises Oriana, for example, built in 1995, possessed just her two main restaurants for many years prior to the introduction of speciality venues.
Today, however, we’re starting to see the very beginnings of a trend of returning to the cruising ways of the past, with more and more passengers opting for speciality dining. Speciality dining on board has evolved significantly, and now offers travellers more choice than ever before. With the recent introduction of unique offerings conjured up by some of the world’s most talented chefs, modern ships now boast a variety of speciality venues. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Gateway offers no less than 27 different eateries, giving a good indication of how the industry is changing.
Celebrity chefs are now a common occurrence on board cruise ships, giving passengers opportunities to dine on menus created not only by their favourite TV personalities, but also by chefs who are renowned around the world for their mouthwatering cuisine. P&O are one cruise line that are particularly known for their celebrity offerings, having incorporated restaurants by Marco Pierre White and Atul Kochhar in recent years, with Kochhar being the first chef of Indian origin ever to be awarded a Michelin Star. Recently, P&O announced that they would be bringing the delights of James Martin to their new ship, Britannia, in 2015 along with Master Pâtissier Eric Lanlard.
Elsewhere, as cruise passengers today we’re completely spoiled for choice. Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 boasts a restaurant overseen by Todd English who owns a number of Mediterranean-inspired restaurants across the United States. Other well-known names that have appeared on cruise ships, both past and present, include Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa, Craig Hopson, and Geoffrey Zakarian. However, one chef that really deserves a special mention is Jacques Pepin, who oversees dining establishment’s on board Oceania Cruises vessels. Having trained at prestigious institutions in Paris, Pepin was once personal chef to former French President Charles de Gaulle!
While celebrity chefs are, undoubtedly, a part of the attraction of speciality dining, it’s really the cuisine that reigns supreme. While dishes served in the main dining rooms are second to none, there is perhaps more choice, and more exotic offerings, in the alternative dining venues. P&O’s Sindhu, for example, offers classic favourites with a unique Indian twist, such as pan-fried seabass with a coconut sauce, and squid salad with a spiced fruit chutney. Make sure you save room for dessert, although making the decision between the trio of Indian ice cream and the five spice chocolate pudding may be a bit tricky!
Royal Caribbean’s 150 Central Park – an adult’s only dining establishment which aims to provide an intimate experience, offers some of the most mouthwatering cuisine at sea. Dine on chilled lobster salad, dover sole, or a ginger and rum infused cheesecake, recreating the popular ‘Dark and Stormy’ cocktail in solid form! For families, Johnny Rockets offers classic kids’ favourites such as pancakes, burgers, hot dogs, omelettes and sandwiches!
On board the multitude of new ships that will be gracing the waters within the next few years, including P&O’s Britannia, Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, and Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess, we’re expecting to see a heavy focus on speciality dining restaurants, with more choice than ever before. If you’re drooling just reading this, then why not book a cruise now and sample all the amazing delights on offer? Princess Cruises are renowned for their fantastic dining choice, whilst Royal Caribbean’s Quantum Class is the most technologically advanced an innovative design to date. Celebrity Cruises are also hugely popular for their fantastic array of speciality venues including the award winning Murano Restaurant and interactive dining venue, Qsine.
What’s your cruise ship dining preference?
The rise of speciality restaurants is undoubtedly in full flow but we still have a place in our hearts for the main dining rooms and always will have. Main dining rooms have long been venues where longstanding friendships have formed. There is something truly special about these beautiful establishments on board and whilst we continue to emphasis the magnificent speciality venues on today’s modern day vessels, it’s also important to state the importance placed on producing
exceptional main dining rooms for guests to enjoy. P&O Cruises have continued
this tradition more so than any other cruise line when it comes to new ship builds and Britannia will be no different. Once again paying tribute to their heritage, the main dining rooms will be known as the Peninsular, Oriental and Meridian restaurants, catering for club dining and freedom dining preferences.
Speciality venues maybe on the rise but it certainly hasn’t taken over just yet. Stunning cuisine, superb service and enjoyable camaraderie still very much remains in the main restaurants. The overall conclusion of the debate however, is that cruise dining on the whole is constantly evolving and becoming more and more impressive. The amount of choice is truly incredible, with something for everyone on board.