Cruise lines are introducing new culinary experiences in shipboard dining, much to the delight of the 16 million vacationers who cruised this year. The latest research conducted by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) shows that over half of experienced cruisers named fine dining as the top benefit of a cruise vacation. Furthermore, CLIA studies show that new cruise dining trends, including a wider choice of dining venues, innovative brand partnerships, healthy menu options, and culinary-themed sailings and enrichment programs are perfectly aligned with what vacationers are seeking.
CLIA's research findings illustrate why cruise lines are doing so much to enhance the shipboard dining experience, especially since experienced cruisers rank fine dining as the number one aspect of the cruise experience. In a 2011 survey of one thousand CLIA travel agents, quality of accommodations ranked just ahead of dining as the most important factors in how clients choose a cruise line. Seventy-five percent of surveyed agents indicated that shipboard dining quality is growing in importance with their clients. Interestingly enough, 75% of cruise passengers said they wanted new and different dining experiences aboard ships, although 65% still also want traditional dining options. Only 10% worry that they will gain weight on their cruise vacation.
Here are the latest trends in cruise ship dining across major cruise lines:
Choice Reigns Supreme
Offering wide variety of restaurants and cuisines is one of the leading shipboard dining trends, especially on the newest large cruise ships. Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas offer 25 different dining options on each ship. Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Epic offers over 20 dining and cuisine choices.
Following the huge success of its latest ship, the Carnival Magic, Carnival Cruise Lines is investing $500 million in its first phase of its "Fun Ship 2.0" program. This initiative offers new, innovative dining and entertainment options on 14 ships. The enhancements on the first of these ships, the Carnival Liberty, were rolled out late this year. The exciting additions include Food Network star Guy Fieri's new complimentary "Guy's Burger Joint," as well as several new branded restaurants and the first-ever EA SPORTS bar at sea. Fun Ship 2.0 delivers more dining choices, an expanded number of bars and lounges, and a wide variety of entertainment options. The new Alchemy Bar is already a hit. Passengers should look for unique branded venues such as the RedFrog Rum Bar, the BlueIguana Tequila Bar, a free BlueIguana Cantina casual Mexican dining option, and more themed lounges as well.
Cunard Line has added alternative restaurants and more international menus. On the Queen Elizabeth, passengers can choose to dine on regional French cuisine at the Verandah restaurant, under the direction of Chef Patron Jean-Marie Zimmermann. The Lido restaurant has expanded its menu as well.
Premier Dining Extravaganzas
Disney Cruise Line's new Remy, aboard the Disney Dream, is the cruise line's first over-the-top dining experience launched by Michelin two-star chef Arnaud Lallement and Scott Hunnel. Scott hails from the award-winning Victoria & Albert restaurant at Walt Disney World's Grand Floridian Resort.
Crystal Cruises puts on a seven-course dining experience once or twice each year. The dinners, created by Michelin-starred chefs and feature "impossible-to-purchase" wine pairings, are available to passengers at the cost of $1000 per person.
Silversea Cruises has partnered with the "Relais & Chateaux L'Ecoles des Chefs" interactive cooking school. Regent Seven Seas Cruises' "Food, Wine & Spirits Spotlight Series" highlights partnerships with Napa Valley's Private Reserve and Tommaso Barletta, owner of the "Let's Get Cooking Culinary Institute."
Carnival Cruise Lines is being lauded by passengers for its partnership with Food Network star Guy Fieri, creating the complimentary "Guy's Burger Joint" as part of its Fun Ship 2.0 initiative. Likewise, Princess Cruises partnered with the Mighty Tea Leaf Company to launch "Leaves Tea Lounge and Library" on the Grand Princess. Holland America's Culinary Arts Centers host a variety of culinary enrichment programs and the line has introduced new dishes created by celebrity chefs of Holland America's Culinary Council to its dining menus.
Going Local Shore Excursions and Dining Options
Many cruise lines are emphasizing sustainability and healthy eating lately. For example, Windstar Cruises offers special "culinary adventure" Caribbean shore excursions featuring regional cuisines. Oceania Cruises has initiated new local market tours in several ports as port of the Bon Appetit Culinary Center on its new Riviera ship, launching in April 2012. Similarly, Silversea Cruises offers an escorted "Culinary Outing" to a local restaurant in port as well as a "Market to Plate" experience that features an escorted tour of local markets followed by a cooking class. For shipboard dining at its 150 Central Park restaurant, Royal Caribbean had Michael Schwartz, a James Beard Award-winning chef, create sustainable menus that use produce from local agricultural communities including small Florida farms.
According to CLIA, these new trends in cruise ship dining experiences help to explain why 94% of all cruise ship passengers are satisfied with their vacation. Within this group of happy passengers, 45% are "extremely satisfied." Cruising also has a 60% repeat rate among experienced passengers, and the repeat rate increases with the level of luxury. The bottom line: with all these innovative dining trends, cruising sounds like one sweet trip.