Premium Dining

La Reserve by Wine Spectator aboard Oceania Marina offers gourmet dinners, with fine wines and delectable courses.
La Reserve by Wine Spectator aboard Oceania Marina offers gourmet dinners, with fine wines and delectable courses.

When it comes to culinary experiences, premium and upper-premium cruise lines have added new wine and cuisine pairings, themed culinary cruises and special culinary perks for high-end suite guests. Here’s a look at the latest developments.

Oceania Cruises has introduced a new “Odyssey Menu” for La Reserve by Wine Spectator, its gourmet tasting room onboard Marina and Riviera. Seven food courses are paired with wines from across the globe. This is an intimate experience shared by up to 24 guests, and reservations are a “must.”

Luxury cruisers can sample such dishes as Maine lobster cassolette with tarragon and sea urchin bisque paired with Mer Soleil Chardonnay from California’s Santa Lucia Highlands or Portobello mushroom risotto with smoked ricotta and black truffle paired with Tenuta Guado Al Tasso Il Bruciato from Bolgheri, Italy.

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At Disney’s Remy, a new tasting experience is hosted by the ship’s executive chef.
 
At Disney’s Remy, a new tasting experience is hosted by the ship’s executive chef.

Travelers who prefer to sail with a famed chef can consider the “Iberian Inspiration” sailing of Riviera from Lisbon to Rome on July 7. Master Chef Jacques Pépin, the line’s executive culinary director, will be onboard for his 80th birthday celebration. He’ll be accompanied by his wife Gloria; daughter Claudine, who is co-host of Pépin’s “Cooking with Claudine” television series; and granddaughter Shorey. Cruisers can expect cooking demonstrations, signature menus from Pépin, book signings and a few surprises.

Pépin will share his passion for art in the onboard Artist Loft and mingle with guests during tea-time in Martinis and Horizons. For an even more robust Pépin experience, we’d suggest dining at Jacques, Pepin’s signature restaurant on Riviera and Marina. Not to be missed is the yummy pumpkin soup à l’Anglaise served in a pumpkin shell or the fresh mussels Marinière.

Oceania also has introduced a “Wine by the Bottle Package,” available fleet-wide for those buying seven or more bottles. Oceania’s master sommeliers have selected more than 50 high-quality vintages (whites, reds, champagnes and sparkling wines) for this program. Among them are Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Rodney Strong Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc or Domaine Saint-Roch Vin de Pays. Selections vary by ship. Some vintages are exclusive to the new program and not available in Oceania’s onboard restaurants.

Chocolate Bacon bourbon bliss is offered on all Princess ships under its “Chocolate Journeys”menu.
 
Chocolate Bacon bourbon bliss is offered on all Princess ships under its “Chocolate Journeys” menu.

Best Digs: On Riviera, Oceania’s newest vessel, three Owner’s Suites on Decks 8, 9 and 10 offer 2,000 square feet of space spanning the ship’s beam. These suites have everything from a dramatic entry foyer to 24-hour butler service, from a music room with a piano to indoor and outdoor whirlpool spas, as well as a laptop computer and iPad for guest use. Owner’s Suite guests also have key-card access to a private Executive Lounge and much more.

Azamara Club Cruises offers a strong culinary and wine focus. Dining in its two specialty restaurants, Prime C and Aqualina, is complimentary for suite guests. Aqualina’s diners can choose contemporary Italian dishes from rotating menus. Choices vary from cruise to cruise, but might include beef tenderloin carpaccio with orange oil or lobster ravioli, for example. Given multiple courses, it’s often hard to “save room” for dessert, but if that’s possible, we suggest the Marsala custard.

Alternatively, the wood-paneled Prime C steakhouse serves various cuts of beef, plus has lamb, pork, veal chops, game hens and seafood entrees as well. When it’s time for dessert, don’t miss the mini-cinnamon sugar donuts featuring a trio of dipping sauces.

Those seeking top accommodations on Azamara Journey can opt for the 560-square-foot Club World Owner’s Suites, which offer a 233-square-foot veranda. These suites have a separate living room with flat-screen TV and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors; master bedroom with two lower beds that convert to a queen-sized bed; a convertible sofa bed in some accommodations; a marble master bath with whirlpool tub and shower; and a guest bathroom.

Reflection Suite onboard Celebrity Reflection comes with a sea-view bathroom.
 
Reflection Suite onboard Celebrity Reflection comes with a sea-view bathroom.

New this year, Azamara has launched “Nights in Private Places.” Couples receive private access to the ship’s Thalassotherapy pool area, romantically decorated with lighted candles. They’ll swim and savor champagne and chocolate-covered cocktails, relax in robes and slippers, and receive cocktails and canapes served by a private butler. At a private romantic dining area they'll choose from a lavish feast of appetizers, dinner and desserts, accompanied by fine wines. Dinner will be prepared tableside – cooked on hot stones. Rounding out the new experience are more drinks, turn-down service on a bed designed for sleeping under the stars and continental breakfast.

Disney Cruise Line has introduced premium culinary experiences and menus at Remy, its French-inspired, adult-only specialty restaurant on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy. A new progressive tasting experience, “Petites Assiettes de Remy” (translated “small plates of Remy”), is hosted by the ship’s executive chef. During evening hours on the first day of each cruise, guests with reservations can circulate through the restaurant to sample small plates of Remy’s gourmet cuisine and fine wine.

The first course — blinis with California caviar and champagne — is served in Remy’s wine room, which boasts floor-to-ceiling rows of wines. The next four courses are served in the main dining room; guests might sample Kobe beef with turnip and potato gratin or grilled salmon with smoked salmon cream, each dish paired with a specially selected glass of wine. The nightly program concludes with dessert and a final wine pairing in the private Chef’s Table dining room.

Newly offered on sea days is “Pompidou’s Patisseries Dessert Experience,” named after the dessert chef from Disney Pixar’s “Ratatouille” movie. In Chef’s Table, guests taste a dessert and learn about its history and artistry from Remy’s executive chef and executive pastry chef. Then guests move to the main dining room for six dessert tastings that could include a French praline topped with milk chocolate mousse and dark chocolate glaze to orange crème patisserie inside an orange-flavored tuile wafer. Chefs share fun facts and chat with guests, who also receive one complimentary glass of champagne, wine or a cocktail.

From November through February, guests on the two newest Disney ships also can try out the new Truffle Collection premium menu that includes six courses with touches of white Alba and black Périgord truffles. How about a gnocchi potato served with a truffle puree and garnished with grated truffle? In addition, if travelers love caviar, Remy’s à la carte choices on those two ships include farm-raised varieties of Osetra and Sevruga caviars from France and Russia, served with Krug Grande Année champagne.

Diners at Azamara’s Aqualina restaurant can choose contemporary Italian dishes from rotating menus.
 
Diners at Azamara’s Aqualina restaurant can choose contemporary Italian dishes from rotating menus.

On Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, the Concierge Royal Suite with Veranda, a Category R suite on Deck 12 forward, offers the most space — 1,781 square feet, including the veranda. With Art Deco décor, these suites sleep up to five people and have a living area with floor-to-ceiling windows. The separate bedroom has a queen-sized bed, plus in the living area, there’s a pull-down double bed and pull-down single bed.

This suite has two bathrooms, including a master bath with double sinks, rain shower and whirlpool tub; there’s another whirlpool on the veranda. The suite has an open dining area, two 42” high-definition flat-screen TVs, a media library, pantry and wet bar. Travelers staying in these suites have concierge services and exclusive spaces.

Celebrity Cruises, which brands itself as “Modern Luxury,” recently ordered two new 117,000-ton “Project Edge” ships. Serving 2,900 guests, these yet unnamed vessels will join the Celebrity fleet in 2018 and 2020. Currently, guests sail the globe on either the newest, 122,000-ton to 126,000-ton Solstice-class ships or the 91,000-ton Millennium-class ships, which have been recently “Solsticized” to add many of the same new features.

What’s new on the culinary side? Celebrity is creating a new Suite-Class restaurant, Luminae, on all ships fleet-wide. Beginning in April, it will offer complimentary breakfast, lunch and dinner for suite guests. Space is being carved from a portion of the Deck 4 main dining room — on the port side of Millennium-class ships and the starboard side of Solstice-class ships.

Each Luminae menu item — prepared from scratch with regionally sourced ingredients and seasonings — will only be featured once during any two-week period. Travelers ordering a so-called “signature” dish will receive a tableside culinary presentation, diners also will choose from a cart of gourmet chocolates and desserts, and the wine list will include more than 400 vintages.

While the restaurant isn’t open yet, we can’t wait to taste the creamy black truffle risotto with fricassee of wild mushrooms and Parmigiano-Reggiano; côte de boeuf with roasted root vegetables and béarnaise sauce; and mascarpone cheesecake and pistachio nougatine with yuzu brown butter and apricot sorbet.

The line’s newest ship, Celebrity Reflection, has a lovely two-bedroom Reflection Suite with a sea-view bathroom that extends out over the side of the ship on Deck 14. Accommodating up to six, this 1,636-square-foot suite, No. 4101, is nestled in a corner location within a private key-card-only access area of the ship. We particularly like the Reverie Dream Sleep System used with the line-provided iPad. Why? Using the iPad, it’s easy to control the lights, TV, massage features and even the mattress elevation using a Reverie Premium app.

The 194-square-foot veranda for this suite also has a tub with rain shower. From a culinary side, Reflection Suite guests receive unlimited dining in all specialty restaurants, including lunch, dinner, one champagne high tea and the “Five Senses” food and wine pairing dinner in Murano. This suite also comes with European-style butler service for assistance with unpacking and serving in-suite lunch and dinner, afternoon tea, evening hors d’oeuvres, and espresso and cappuccino.

Next February, Holland America Line will take delivery of its flagship, the 2,650-passenger Koningsdam. Interiors and design will be a collaboration between hospitality designer Adam D. Tihany and maritime designer and architect Bjorn Storbraaten. After its inaugural sailing, the ship will operate a series of alternating 12-day Mediterranean itineraries roundtrip from Civitavecchia (Rome).

Top Digs: The line’s Pinnacle Suite is the brand’s most spacious and amenity-laden. On Koningsdam, the 1,290-square-foot Pinnacle Suite or PS7053 will be located on Deck 7’s starboard side. This suite has a bedroom, living room, dining area, dressing room and a large private veranda with whirlpool.

When it’s time for dinner, we’d highly recommend Pinnacle Grill, the line’s alternative dining experience. We’ve dined here many times on different Holland America ships and love the look and the cuisine. Dining tables are dressed with Bvlgari china, Riedel stemware and Frette linens. Seattle-based Holland America looks homeward for inspiration for its Pinnacle Grill menus, which offer Pacific Northwest cuisine.

We suggest the broiled Alaska king salmon or mouthwatering beef that’s been sustainably raised at Washington State’s Double R Ranch, accompanied by a boutique regional wine. In addition, “An Evening with Le Cirque” takes place in Pinnacle Grill one evening each cruise — re-creating that famed restaurant’s upscale dining experience — from serving dishes on signature Le Cirque china to offering the restaurant’s signature crème brûlee.

In 2015, the line will have more than 65 guest chefs, authors and other experts participating in its onboard enrichment program. Many will utilize Holland America’s dedicated Culinary Arts Center for their demonstrations or presentations.

On Royal Princess and Regal Princess, Princess Cruises offers Chef’s Table Lumiere, a more intimate dining area within the main Allegro Dining Room. With pre-reservations, guests dine at a custom-made glass table, accommodating up to 12, surrounded by a “curtain of light” that separates this space from the other tables in the dining room. Guests tour the galley pre-dinner, have wine and hors d’oeuvres, learn about cooking techniques and galley preparations, and then head to this special space in the dining room for dinner with the ship’s executive chef.

Similarly, Princess Cruises’ guests can also reserve a special Wine Maker’s Dinner within a more intimate space in those two ships’ Symphony and Concerto dining rooms. Up to 12 guests are seated in a circular area surrounded by wine bottles. What’s for dinner? One menu serves up white bean velouté and chorizo, followed by Asiago cheese-stuffed gnocchi, tournedos Rossini, and a Napoleon dessert of three mousses. Wine accompaniments by Michael Mondavi include a pink kimono champagne cocktail, Donnafugata Anthilia from Sicily and a Spellbound Petite Sirah from California.

One new decadent culinary feature on all Princess ships is “Chocolate Journeys” by chocolatier Norman Love. He’s trained the line’s onboard culinary teams to offer 15 chocolate desserts that are rotated in the ship’s main dining room, specialty restaurants and during Chef’s Table experience. From a recent sailing on Regal Princess, we can highly recommend the chocolate pistachio dome with almond and pistachio nougatine.

More Love: In Vines, Princess’ signature wine bar, guests can sample Love’s chocolates paired with specific wine varietals, while during the captain’s welcome reception, guests can enjoy a glass of bubbly and “Chocolate Love Pop” truffles. In addition, Love has created such libations as the “Chocolate Chile Margarita” and “Chocolate Bacon Bourbon Bliss” offered in onboard bars and lounges. He’s also designed chocolate petit fours accompanying the formal-night dessert menu. Princess’ chefs trained by Love will also demonstrate chocolate dessert preparations so guests can make the treats at home.

Princess’ largest Regal Princess accommodations are the Category S2 Owner’s Suites, that have a large balcony. For example, R730 is aft on Deck 14 with 680 square feet of space. It’s tastefully decorated in soft, light colors, has a living area with a sofa bed, flat-screen TVs, plus a separate sleeping area. We like the configuration of the bathroom — one section has a sink, countertop area, shower and separate tub, while the second section (a door separates them) has a commode, second sink and countertop.

The spacious wraparound balcony has teak lounge chairs, a teak table and views of the ship’s wake. Owner’s Suite guests also can utilize the private Concierge Lounge, staffed by a concierge who will assist with dining reservations off the ship as well as onboard. Other suite perks include a complimentary minibar setup, upgraded toiletries and an exclusive breakfast served in the line’s signature Italian venue, Sabatini’s.

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