Going Big: Harmony of the Seas
Royal Caribbean’s new 6,780-passenger cruise ship—the world’s largest—has two surf simulators, three water slides, a 10-story dry slide, a bar manned by robots and 20 eateries. So prioritizing is a must. Jamie’s Italian, helmed by Jamie Oliver, and 150 Central Park, featuring a six-course tasting menu by James Beard Award–winner Michael Schwartz, are both standouts, but it’s the trippy, Lewis Carroll–inspired Wonderland that will dominate your social media feeds, with feats of molecular gastronomy created by chefs in an open kitchen.
Must-do excursion: During your stop in St. Kitts, sign up for Caribbean Cooks at the Fairview Great House ($89), a crash course in West Indian jerk and other dishes. Seven-night eastern and western Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale starting at $999; royalcaribbean.com
Famously Good: Ruby Princess
After a stem-to-stern makeover in 2015, this 3,000-passenger ship upped its culinary cred with two celeb-chef restaurants. Every night, the Wheelhouse Bar is transformed into the Salty Dog Gastropub, a comfort-food crowd-pleaser with a menu designed by Ernesto Uchimura, one of the masterminds behind Umami Burger. (No surprise: The burger is spectacular.) The fine-dining standout is Share by Curtis Stone, which specializes in small plates and a killer charcuterie board you’ll want to pass around. The chef’s table in the main dining room is also worth the splurge: You’ll get Champagne and hors d’oeuvres like foie gras terrine during a behind-the-scenes tour of the galley, then sit down for a multicourse feast at a private table. (Plus, the chef hangs with you at dinner.)
Must-do excursion: Sign up for the Salsa & Salsa adventure in Cabo San Lucas ($100), and you’ll learn how to make a mean salsa, then learn how to dance one. Seven-night Mexican Riviera cruise from Los Angeles starting at $549; princess.com
Hyper-local: MS Koningsdam
On Holland America Line’s first new ship in six years, menus in the main dining rooms and on gala nights feature dishes by big names like David Burke, Elizabeth Falkner, Jacques Torres and Rudi Sodamin, and passengers vie for reservations at steak-and-seafood mecca Pinnacle Grill and pan-Asian Tamarind. But the heart of the ship is the Culinary Arts Center, which grows food onboard, hosts cooking classes by day (by June, all classes will be run with America’s Test Kitchen) and transforms into a farm-to-table restaurant at night. The executive chef talks through each dish as he prepares it in the open kitchen—video is also broadcast on screens around the center—and you can pick up recipes for your favorites at the end of the night.
Must-do excursion: When your ship drops anchor in Puerto Rico, join the History & Cuisine of San Juan on Foot tour ($100) to sip mojitos and learn how to cook mofongo, a classic dish made from plantains. Seven-night eastern Caribbean cruise from Fort Lauderdale starting at $799; hollandamerica.com
Top ship: Celebrity Summit
Call it a cruise for the Bravo obsessed: On Top Chef night in the 2,158-passenger ship’s main dining room, you can order dishes created by chef-testants and sign up for a Quickfire Challenge that pits you against other guests in a timed cook-off. Another must: the once-a-voyage A Taste of Film—food designed by Michelin-starred chef Cornelius Gallagher inspired by the movie playing that night on the Rooftop Terrace.
Must-do excursion: In St. Lucia, sign up for a class at Cook Like a Lucian ($99), a school run by locals. You’ll learn to make authentic recipes like curried chicken. Seven-night southern Caribbean cruise out of San Juan starting at $599; celebritycruises.com
8 tips to getting good food (and service!) on a cruise
Every ship is different, but on most big boats these strategies will help you dine like a pro.
1. If you’re starving when you arrive on board, don’t head for the buffet: It’s usually slammed on embarkation day. Instead, see if the dining room is open for lunch or grab a burger at the poolside grill.
2. On some ships, room service can be slow or nonexistent on the first day of the cruise. Save yourself some frustration and grab a plate at a restaurant or café instead. (Ask—many buffet restaurants are cool with you bringing a plate back to your room.)
3. Not enjoying the people at your designated dinner table? Don’t stress. The maître d’ may be able to switch your table or seating time for the rest of your trip.
4. On most cruises, food at the buffet, poolside grill and main dining room are included in the price, while intimate restaurants cost extra. And unless you’re splurging on a luxe, all-inclusive cruise, you’ll be charged for most drinks—including sodas. So if you know you’re going to guzzle a cappuccino with breakfast, wine with dinner and martinis before and after, save by buying an all-inclusive beverage package.
5. For dinner, you’ll generally be assigned an early or late seating in the dining room, often at a big table with other guests. If you’re not into eating with strangers, when you book your trip find out if your ship will let you reserve a private table for two or four. (They go fast.)
6. Ordered wine for dinner but only finished half the bottle? Ask your waiter if he can save the rest for tomorrow night.
7. A lot of for-fee (aka “specialty” or “alternative”) restaurants fill up fast, so find out if you can book your picks when you book the cruise. On most ships, you can cancel 24 hours ahead without penalties. People tend to eat in the main dining room on night one, so you can often score a discount on alternative restaurants then.
8. Many cruise lines allow passengers to BYOB (or wine or Champagne) onto the ship. You’ll be charged a corkage fee if you drink it in the dining room, so save your stash for stateroom sipping.