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Global Tastemakers is our first-ever reader’s choice awards, celebrating the best culinary destinations in the U.S. and abroad. F&W readers voted based on travel completed within the past three years, on categories including restaurants and bars, cities, hotels, airports, airlines, and cruises. Due to the limitations of pandemic travel, this year’s Global Tastemakers winners reflect a smaller portion of the globe. In many categories, we’re including an editor’s pick to shout out some more culinary destinations in places you can’t miss. See the full list of winners at foodandwine.com/global-tastemakers-7375526.
While pools and spas are standard on larger ships, the best cruises go out of their way to make sure food lovers have plenty of things to do onboard, featuring cooking classes and demonstrations, wine and spirits tastings, guest lectures, behind-the-scenes kitchen tours, and more. These are the kinds of experiences our readers took into consideration when voting in our inaugural Global Tastemakers survey.
The cruises on this list are a mix of small, mid-size, and large ships, with culinary experiences that emphasize both depth and breadth. The top five spots go to luxurious ships that typically draw mature travelers interested in delving deep into the destination they’re visiting. But there’s plenty for kids too, with the cruises claiming the Nos. 2, 6, and 10 spots especially geared toward families.
Many of these cruises — especially the larger ships — offer something for everyone, from cupcake-making classes for little ones to Martini flights and McCallan whiskey tastings for adults. Below, the 11 best cruises for onboard culinary experiences, as voted by our readers.
Viking leads the pack with the best onboard culinary experiences. Viking’s ships have the most al fresco dining opportunities of any cruise company, and its quality standards set the bar. Outside of mealtimes, guests can partake in onboard culinary demonstrations, ranging from gingerbread cooking-making for the holidays in Germany to a demo on Portuguese pasteis de nata. Viking also offers guided tastings of premium wines, whiskey, and aquavit. They also have one of the largest selections of Armagnac at sea.
Disney Cruise Line
For families who want an unforgettable vacation at sea, Disney Cruise Line brings the magic. What sets it apart is the many opportunities for kids to dine with their favorite Disney characters. There are tea parties with Disney princesses, dinner and a show featuring live performances by characters from Frozen, and a picnic in Arendelle Castle. The ships are also outfitted with sweet shops and soft serve spots where kids and adults can treat themselves between meals. Adults can also access a variety of bars and lounges, like the Star Wars-themed Hyperspace Lounge on Disney Wish.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Known for luxury cruises with excellent dining and culinary experiences both onboard and off the ship, Regent goes above and beyond to immerse guests in the local culture and cuisine. Select ships are equipped with a professional-grade teaching kitchen that offers hands-on cooking classes, demonstrations, and more. On a cruise in the Greek Islands, for example, guests can learn about Aegean ingredients and traditional cooking techniques. In Patagonia, chefs will share the secrets of Argentine grilling or Chilean roasting. Regent is also launching a series of 11 Epicurean Spotlight Voyages, each one featuring a different guest chef, sommelier, or winemaker who will offer onboard experiences.
Created by foodies for foodies, Oceania Cruises offers a range of onboard experiences focused on gastronomic and oenological delights. At the state-of-the-art Culinary Center, guests can take hands-on cooking classes with themes like “Pucker Up: Love and Lemons,” highlighting the specialties made with lemons on the Amalfi Coast. Oceania has also partnered with Wine Spectator to offer seven-course wine pairing dinners at La Reserve by Wine Spectator, in addition to wine tastings and seminars led by sommeliers. Wine Spectator also curated Oceania’s wine lists, exclusively featuring bottles that scored a minimum of 85 points.
Specializing in river cruises, AmaWaterways offers a wealth of wine-focused cruises that bring guests to Europe’s great wine regions. Guests on these sailings will be accompanied by a wine expert, many of whom are winemakers themselves. They often bring their own wines for tastings and facilitate discussions onboard, educating guests on the terroir, growing conditions, and production techniques in their own New World wines as well as the Old World wines found in the region where the cruise takes place.
Holland America Line
With a long history of cruising the oceans and seas, Holland America Line has itineraries all over the globe. On select voyages, the brand’s Port to Table program brings the culinary traditions of the destination into the ship, with food and wine pairings, live cooking demonstrations by guest chefs, and fine dining events. Guests might learn to make Malaysian roti with curried chicken, discover which wines pair well with coconut-based dishes, or savor a fine dining feast full of Thai flavors.
Princess Cruises sails all over the world, celebrating the local culture as they go. Onboard activities include cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, and chocolate journeys. But what sets it apart from competitors is the Festivals of the World programming, which brings regional festivals on board the ships. Guests sailing to Mexico might get to decorate marzipan skulls for Day of the Dead. In September and October, guests can get a taste of Oktoberfest with beer tastings and pretzel making.
Celebrity Cruises might convince you that bigger is better. With their large ships come a plethora of onboard drinking and dining experiences. Martini flights, McCallan or Jack Daniels tastings, and Mixology 101 are just a few of the boozy options on board Celebrity’s ships. Select ships are even outfitted with mobile wineries that let guests blend their own wines. Some itineraries also feature the chance to book an exclusive five-course meal designed by Global Culinary Ambassador Daniel Boulud, which starts with a Champagne welcome and a tour of the kitchen. At the end of the night, guests leave with a printed copy of the menu and Boulud’s cookbook.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian gives a new meaning to the term “booze cruise” with its series of “Meet the Winemaker” cruises, returning for the seventh year. Special guests include Salvatore Ferragamo, who converted the agricultural practices at his family’s Tuscan estate to organic farming; legendary winemaker Michael Mondavi, who co-founded Napa’s premier winery with his father Robert; and Emma Walker, Johnnie Walker Master Blender. Even if you don’t book one of these cruises, you can still enjoy wine tastings and specialty dining onboard.
Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean’s massive ships offer all kinds of entertainment on board, from kid-friendly activities to dance parties for adults. Some of the more unique onboard experiences include mystery dinner theater available on select ships, behind-the-scenes tours that bring you to the ship’s kitchen, bottomless brunches, and sushi making classes. There are also family-friendly cupcake-making classes for kids.
Editor’s Pick: Regent Seven Seas Cruises
The fact that the glamorous Culinary Arts Kitchen on board Regent’s Seven Sea Splendor takes pride of place on deck 11, right next to the pool, should tell you how seriously Regent takes the epicurean space (it has the best view on the ship!). Sporting 18 gleaming cooking stations and huge floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a vast blue ocean, the cooking school was built with luxury in mind and delivers thoughtful and expert instruction. That same thought is evident in every restaurant, bar, and executed dish on board. Whether it’s a carefully crafted cocktail in the Meridian Lounge, a perfectly cooked steak at Prime 7, or an elegant, innovative plate at Chartreuse, Regent’s attention to detail is evident at every level. — F&W Editors