How to Eat on a Cruise Ship

(Recently posted in Escape)

Cruise companies offer such variety at mealtime you could spend a week at sea and never frequent the same eatery twice with vessels big and small now promising multiple place to graze.

“Dining on board varies as widely as the entertainment and, just like you can find a cruise ship with climbing walls and some with lectures about antique appreciation, you’ll find just a wide selection of dining options,’’ says Imagine Cruising’s managing director Elle Hudson.

Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas has 13 eateries — from formal at 150 Central Park, relaxed at Jamie’s Italian, and casual at Johnny Rockets — as well as Windjammer which is the traditional waterborne buffet and a main dining room so vast it sprawls across three decks.

At the other end of the spectrum Silversea’s recent addition Silver Muse, which carries 569 passengers, is setting a new standard with eight dining alternatives offering everything from the tasting dishes presented in Silver Note to the haute French cuisine that defines La Dame by Relais & Chateaux.

It’s essential to understand the vibe of a ship’s restaurants before boarding so you can pack the necessary wardrobe — some ships still go formal, and you don’t want to be caught without sparkles — then settle on an eatery that suits your mealtime mood as pizza night in the tavern won’t do it if you’re seeking quiet candlelight.

2017’S BIG CRUISE-FOOD TREND

Industry insiders report customers are ditching dining-room formalities for “premium experiences and specialty restaurants’’ with cruisers happy to pay extra for thoughtful lunches, afternoon teas, and dinners.

Cornelius Gallagher, head of Celebrity’s food and beverage operations, says the evolution is occurring because guests have “exactly the same high expectations of their culinary experiences at sea as they do on land’’ and appreciate smaller venues focusing on fresh food and regional fare.

“In response we’ve added even more unique dining options, source ingredients from the destinations we visit, and our chefs add their own personality as many have worked in the world’s top restaurant,’’ the Michelin-starred chef explains.

“The range of specialty restaurants is diverse and on Celebrity Solstice — the ship returning to Australian in October — Sushi on Five serves Japanese-inspired dishes, Tuscan Grille rustic Italian, Murano French cuisine with flair, and Silk Harvest Asian fusion.’’

media_cameraGuests are looking for premium experiences like this on Silver Muse.

2017’S OTHER BIG CRUISE-FOOD TREND

This year has seen cruise lines hosting more local gourmet encounters, both at sea and during port visits, with most operators now crafting destination-specific menus and shore excursions that explore sites where flavours are created and traded.

“The biggest trend we at Holland America Lines are noticing is increased interest in more local and authentic food experience, both on and off ships, and ‘port to plate’ is a philosophy we’re advocating right now,’’ the company’s Australian sales director Tony Archbold says.

“When guests sail Alaska they want to learn the best ways to cook salmon and halibut, so we offer classes at our American Test Kitchen demo show, and we know when on shore they look to be immersed so we added new food-focused excursions.’’

Celebrity’s Chef’s Market Discoveries, Seven Seas Explorer’s Gourmet Explorer Tours, and Azamara’s Chef Hosted Excursions are organised port outings that guests behind the scenes at gourmet addresses like local markets, artisan orchards, and private kitchens.

PRESENTING FOOD WITH A STORY

An extension of the port-to-plate approach is focusing on food with history and Oceania, Azamara, Celebrity and Viking offer cooking classes and kitchen-table meals hosted by chefs that share tales about ingredients and recipes.

Viking takes the storytelling a step further by serving high tea in the ship’s Wintergarden every afternoon, replicating ceremonies from around the world, and the brand’s Norwegian eatery is inspired by the founder’s mother.

“Mamsen — our Norwegian deli named in honour of Torstein Hagen’s mother — offers sweet and savoury dishes which come from her cookbook and her original crockery has also been reproduced to bring her story to life,’’ says Viking Cruises’ managing director Michelle Black.

“Our Kitchen Table interactive dining experience takes guests ashore to shop for ingredients in local markets with our chef that’s followed by a cooking class on board and dinner paired with matching wines to enjoy what’s been cooked.’’

media_cameraViking Cruises cooking classes.

SO, WHAT ARE THE SECRETS TO EATING ON A CRUISE SHIP?

Taking a strategic approach to cruise ship grazing might sound silly but TravelManagers’ Karryn Bartlett, a cruising devotee with domestic and international voyages under her belt, says a little forward planning and careful manoeuvring can make a difference.

“Take advantage of the deals offered on sailing day to book your specialty restaurants — especially the chef’s table — and while most ships have ‘anytime dining’, which is great for flexibility, set dining times mean you have the same waiters looking after you and they remember your likes and dislikes,’’ she says.

“Breakfast on sea days is the ideal time to eat on your balcony or around the pool and many cruise lines provide free snacks like pizzas and burgers during the day so check what’s available on each ship so you’re not paying for treats between meals.

“If you like controlling your own portions, or have teenagers with massive appetites, the buffet is perfect and by each going to the buffet separately you won’t lose your table.’’

COOL COCKTAILS

Cocktail of the day is no longer the highlight of a ship’s beverage scene. P&O has teamed with Sydney’s Archie Rose Distilling Co to create customised concoctions in Pacific Explorer’s hidden bar The Bonded Store while Royal Caribbean’s newer ships boast a Bionic Bar staffed by robots Mix and Mingle that blend tailor-made drinks.

Celebrity stocks the largest wine collection at sea, with a team of expert sommeliers guiding guests through the extensive vino list, and the line’s Solstice-class ships feature a two storey wine tower holding 1800 bottles.

Some passengers invest in an on-board drinks package while others advise against the outlay and recommend paying for individual beverages.

“Depending on preferences, your drinks spend could be large on a longer cruise so estimate how much you will likely consume and consider purchasing a package prior to departure,’’ Cruise1st product manager Gareth Evison says.

“There are usually a range of packages available, including alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, which are usually priced per person and per day but you will be charged even if you have some days where you drink very little so think about the cruise experience you want.’’

media_cameraPacific Explorer’s elegant new small bar, The Bonded Store.

COOL COFFEE

While the quality of coffee served in the past was average, on-board baristas now ensure lattes and cappuccinos satisfy even the fussiest connoisseur.

P&O serves two million cups of “go juice” on board its Australian-based ships every year and assigns staff regular expert training to ensure the brew standard is always high.

Dedicated coffee venues now dot cruise ships. P & O’s Pacific Dawn and Pacific Explorer has The Café which is busy from early morning until late at night; Café al Bacio is the place to linger on nine vessels in the Celebrity fleet, and Starbucks kiosks bring a big name to Royal Caribbean.

HEALTHY FOOD

Hoot Holidays’ cruise expert Jeff Leckey says travellers need not feel guilty about making return jaunts to the dessert bar with ships having traditional gyms, an outside running track, or exercise classes as well as some more innovative facilities.

“Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas has FlowRider surf simulators, an ice-skating rink, rock-climbing wall, and basketball court,’’ he says.

“One-on-one sessions with personal trainers is an option, there’s boot camp for those that are really keen, and Carnival’s ambassador Shannan Ponton — a trainer of The Biggest Loser — is enhancing exercise activities on board as well as working with chefs to create healthy dishes.’’

Oceania offers Healthy Living Tours inspired by Canyon Ranch, as well as expanding vegetarian and gluten-free menus, while Silversea’s Silver Discoverer presents “wellness-themed programs’’ on four remaining 2017 voyages that include stretching sessions and healthy cooking classes.

media_cameraBaby beet and goats cheese salad onboard Celebrity Cruises.

SO, WHAT’S NEXT?

When Scenic Eclipse launches in August next year, the innovative vessel billed as “the world’s first discovery yacht’’ promises 10 dining venues inspired “by all four corners of the globe’’ but in-suite dining available 24 hours and chef-prepared picnics ready to take on shore excursions.

Technology is set to play a bigger role. Free smartphone apps used to message friends on board, research shore excursions, and check daily schedules will be tweaked to take restaurant reservations, display menus, advertise special ingredients, and remember individual order preferences.

Culinary Travel Continues to Boom

 

(article was recently posted in Travel Agent post)

Culinary travel continues to boom, according to a new report from AAA.

AAA’s latest travel survey found that an estimated 22 million Americans expect to take a culinary-focused vacation in the next 12 months. Seventy-five percent of Americans feel that food and dining are an important part of their travel experiences and four in five say they have engaged in such unique activities as touring wineries and distilleries, eating with local families and engaging in hands-on experiences such as cooking classes led by local chefs while traveling.

“There is no better way to learn about a destination and immerse yourself in the local culture than by experiencing its unique food and dining customs,” said Bryan Shilling, AAA managing director of travel products and services, in a written statement.

The younger generation is particularly interested in culinary travel, AAA said, with 88 percent of Millennials having participated in food-related experiences while vacationing, outpacing members of Generation X and Baby Boomers. In fact, 43 percent of AAA travel agents report a recent increase in the number of members planning culinary-focused vacations, with most planning foodie trips to Italy, France and Spain. Ironically, however, travel agents also say that one of the top mistakes travelers make when preparing for an international trip is not planning their meals and activities in advance.

“Travelers spent an average of $63 per person, per day on food and dining purchases during their last vacation,” said Shilling. “Meals can quickly become a significant portion of a family’s vacation budget. That’s why planning ahead is key to enjoying a memorable culinary vacation.”

AAA’s report presents the findings of a telephone survey (landline and cell phone) consisting of 1,013 adults living in the continental United States. Interviewing for this survey was conducted March 9-12, 2017. This study has an average statistical error of ±3.8 percent at the 95 percent confidence level for all U.S. adults, AAA said. Additionally, AAA and CAA travel executives responded to an online survey conducted February 10-24, 2017. Each travel executive was asked to respond on behalf of all travel agents at their club, and responses were weighted by the number of full-time travel agents at that club. The club travel executive survey represents the input of 2,110 AAA/CAA travel agents.

Source: AAA

Eat Your Way Across Spain

Culinary travelers can find a variety of both new and popular experiences throughout Spain, from Madrid to Barcelona and even in lesser known regions.

Specializing in food and wine tours throughout Europe, parts of Asia, Morocco and Greece, The International Kitchen, is a boutique tour travel operator that has focused on culinary travel for the past 23 years. The company recently introduced its “A Capital Culinary Adventure in Madrid” itinerary. The new program was created by company vice president Peg Kern, who spoke with us about why the new program is ideal for a range of travelers with different interests, not just gastronomy.

“Madrid is one of Europe’s great capitals, which means it has a more cosmopolitan feel and international influences than many other cities in Spain,” said Kern. “That being said, it is still quintessentially Spanish in its culture and flavors, making it a real city of paradox and complexity. For example, you can explore not only the urban tradition of the “tapeo” (going bar to bar to taste different tapas dishes) but can venture out into the Madrid countryside to taste such local specialties as Castillian soup and suckling pig. It’s a wonderfully unique way to experience this fascinating city.”

The “Capital Culinary Adventure in Madrid” program begins with a gastronomic tour through the city’s Salamanca neighborhood, with stops at multiple local shops and markets. Later guests will taste tapas at a local Spanish bar before heading to Retiro Park for a visit to a shop that claims it makes the world’s best chocolate cake. The itinerary also includes a morning cooking class and a full day excursion to the outskirts of Madrid for a visit to a family owned winery dating back over 100 years, as well as a stop in the medieval town of Chinchón to taste traditional local dishes such as “monk” sweets and the local “anis.” Guests will also travel to four old mills in the valley of the river Tajunña, one of which dates from the end of the 18th Century, to sample the “cornicabra” variety of olive oil. The trip is priced at $2,100 per person and is available for booking any time for a minimum of two people.

We also spoke with Adrian Hall, senior travel coordinator with The International Kitchen, who suggests two other itineraries that the operator offers elsewhere in Spain. “…We have a program in Bilbao that I think is pretty interesting, as is the Basque region of Spain generally. And a little gem of a program in rural Andalusia in southern Spain where you have the Moorish influence on food and history.”

Spain’s Basque Country lies in the northernmost part of Spain, situated between the mountains and the coast, making for diverse culinary offerings with fresh seafood as well as produce, meats and cheeses. The International Kitchen’s new Basque Cuisine In Bilbao From Pintxos To Txakoli program takes travelers on a three night journey through the city’s medieval Old Quarter along its winding streets and gothic Cathedral, to the Abandoibarra Quarter, which was once an industrial corridor.  Guests will also have the opportunity to view sites such as Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum, the Ibderdrola Tower, the Calatrava Bridge and the indoor Ribera market.

Cooking classes will be led by Chef Aingeru, a member of the prestigious Euro Toques association of chefs, and Chef Txomin, who studied under such chefs as Ferran Adriá, Pedro Subijana, and Koldo Royo and has worked in a number of Spain’s gourmet restaurants. Other gastronomic experiences include a visit to a winery located in the center of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve for a lesson on “Txakoli,” a white wine the Basque region is known for, dinner at a Michelin star restaurant in the center of Bilbao and a Pintxos workshop where guests will learn to replicate the traditional “tapas” snacks of the region. This program can be booked year-round and is priced at $1,650 per person for 4-8 people, or $600 per person for 2-3 people.

For travelers seeking a  more family-oriented getaway to Spain with a mix of food, culture and history, Adventures by Disney offers a nine-day, eight-night Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Marbella trip, with visits to sites such as Gaudí’s Sagrada Família and the Park Güell in Barcelona, the Royal Palace and El Prado Museum in Madrid, and the Grand Mosque in Córdoba.

Culinary experiences include a luncheon at Mesόn de Cándido, the only surviving public house alongside Segovia’s 2,000-year-old Roman aqueduct, known for its roast suckling pig and unique method of carving the meat. Guests will also have the opportunity to try the regional specialty of Cόrdoba, “salmorejo y flamenquín”, at one of the restaurants near La Mezquita. While in Seville, travelers will participate in a private Paella-making class and lunch where guests will learn how to make the saffron rice dish, which melds both Moorish and Spanish culinary traditions. Also, during a stop in Marbella there is an opportunity for adults to learn the art of blending sangria under the direction of an expert mixologist, while younger travelers can participate by creating their own nonalcoholic concoctions. Throughout the trip there are several opportunities for guests to sample tapas and regional dishes at various restaurants depending on the location, and Disney Adventure Guides can offer suggestions for which ever style of dining fits each specific family or group of travelers.

Dates for this itinerary are July 29, 2017 – August 6, 2017, with rates set at $6,489 for children and $6,829 for adults. There is also an adult-only version of the trip with dates from September 9, 2017 – September 17, 2017. The price for this program is $5,569 per person.

For a more intimate food experience, Avanti Destinations is offering its new Barcelona as a Local Walking Food Tour, a three-hour tour ideal for visitors who may not have a full day to spend in the city but would like to explore some of the local gastronomy. Priced at $75 per person, the tour begins at Tours Tapas and Friends, a Gastronomic Centre which focuses on the “slow food philosophy” where visitors will enjoy a glass of cava. After a stop to a local farmers market, guests will head to the historic Raval neighborhood where they can explore multiple authentic restaurants, cafes, bars and taverns. Local English speaking guides will offer insider`s tips and insights for where to eat, drink or take pictures throughout the trek. Travelers will also have a chance to sip Spanish vermouth with tapas in a family-run tavern before heading back to the Tours Tapas and Friends, a Gastronomic Centre for a traditional three-course Catalan lunch with wine. This walking tour has a limit of eight people and runs Monday to Friday except for the month of August.

Also offering several unique cooking tours in Spain is Mimo. Founded in San Sebastián, Spain, in 2009, the company leads both daily and private culinary tours and has gourmet shops in San Sebastián (Mimo San Sebastián), Sevilla (Mimo Sevilla), and Mallorca (Mimo Mallorca), as well as in a luxury cooking school located in the Hotel Maria Cristina located in San Sebastián.

We spoke with Marti Kilpatrick, marketing and brand manager at Mimo, who shared some insight on who might be interested in the company’s diverse variety of tours.

“The truth is the tours at Mimo Sevilla are ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to feel like a clueless tourist,” says Kilpatrick. “Our guides are knowledgeable locals and the experiences are subtle, off-the-beaten-path chances to taste the local culture. Families would most enjoy our daytime Tapas Tasting Tour and also the Jamón Ibérico at the Source tour, which includes some quality time with Iberico black-foot pigs. Our Tapas Tasting Tours in the evenings are ideal for couples looking for a fun way to eat and ease into a romantic night and solo travelers looking to meet like-minded people.”

One of Mimo Sevilla’s more unique offerings is the Definitive Ham & Sherry Experience, a two hour tasting where guests will sample Jamón ibérico, often recognized by many as the world’s best ham, as well as sherry, a complex, ancient wine from the south of Spain. An expert sommelier will walk guests through the different types of sherry, filling participants’ glasses with each one and explaining the history of what makes sherry distinct from other wines. The tasting is priced at approximately $65 dollars and is available for booking on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday throughout the year. Note: Guests must be 18 or older to take participate.

Another more unusual day tour from Mimo is the Olive Oil 101 Tasting, a two hour experience designed to educate visitors on the olive oil that Spain’s Andalucía region is known for. An expert will teach guests the proper way to taste a variety of oils and educate them on how olive oil is made, what “extra-virgin” actually means and the difference in colors and flavors. Also included in the tasting are bread, cocktails, olives and a keepsake bottle of the guests’ favorite oil. The Olive Oil 101 Tasting is priced at approximately $49 and runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Guests must be 12 years old or older to take part in the event.