Here’s how one thing affects the other: Heftier cruise vessels means more on-deck room for unconventional dining options. The culinary tact of cruise liners has changed quite a bit in the past decade, particularly in the following ways:
Dine when you want
The top trend in cruise dining has less to do with what you eat than when you eat it: Gone are the days when passengers received a set time — typically 6 or 8 p.m. — for their sit-down meals. Now, says cruise expert Stewart Chiron, “People can eat at whatever time they want.” For Cruise.com Senior Vice President Jeanne Wyndrum, the open-ended schedule transfigures the whole trip: “It kind of eases your day.”
As ship size increases, so does the space for new restaurants: “Like steakhouses, Italian, French, Asian,” Chiron says. The new spots feel less like dining halls and more like chic eateries — “The food quality, the atmosphere, and the accoutrements are much different,” he says.
More space for restaurants means more gigs for chefs — gigs restaurants are filling with name-grabbing celebrity cooks. In 2008, The North Atlantic cruise line Cunard tapped New England chef Todd English to author some menus. The next year, Crystal cruises brought Master Chef Nobu Matsuhisa on board for the same calling. Expect to see more: “I wouldn’t be surprised to see Emeril [Lagasse] or one of these guys doing a cruise at some point,” says Chiron.
Cruise lines have traditionally made accommodation for passengers with specific dietary needs — just that, now, those gluten-free and low-cholesterol options are starting to become mainstays on cabin menus. “It’s not like, ‘Here’s a few bits of lettuce,’” says Wyndrum. “These are very good entrees, and they’re quite popular.”