The best dining at sea

By: Howard S. Moses, President

Dining and food in general is obviously a very subjective issue. Having been in the cruise business for over 25 years we hear both sides of the taste argument – one man’s feast is another’s travesty. With that said, we’ve taken the ratings from a web site called Cruise Critic to give you one viewpoint. As this is a fairly popular site, it is at minimum representative of a few thousand regular cruisers.

It is important to note that one must keep this information in context as it does not differentiate ship size. As you might surmise, it is easier to prepare meals for 100 guests, as compared to 1,000. One of the more perplexing questions is why one vessel within a fleet will score much higher than another, given that chef’s move about from ship to ship, and assuming that the food budget and quality levels remain consistent within the same cruise line.

In the interest of listing the ships/lines whom the American public would typically sail aboard, we have removed those vessels who don’t cater to the U.S. market. So without further ado...the top 10 (at least according to readers of Cruise Critic):

1. River Empress – Uniworld River Cruises
2. SeaDream I – SeaDream Yacht Club
3. SeaDream II – SeaDream Yacht Club
4. Viking Danube – Viking River Cruises
5. Crystal Symphony – Crystal Cruises
6. Seabourn Legend – Seabourn
7. Seabourn Quest – Seabourn
8. S.S. Antoinette – Uniworld River Cruises
9. Viking Spirit – Viking River Cruises
10. River Baroness – Uniworld River Cruises

Given that 5 of these top 10 are European riverboats, it’s safe to assume that the quality of food aboard these type of vessels is very impressive, yes? However in my own cruises aboard these types of vessels (in all fairness I have not yet had the pleasure of sailing with Uniworld), I find the food to be very European in type, presentation and taste, and not overly appealing.

What is somewhat impressive is that while the riverboats rarely exceed more than 150 guests, the larger vessels like the Crystal Symphony (922 guests) and Seabourn Quest (450 guests) are able to operate in this rarified atmosphere while serving considerably more guests.

Not surprisingly, all of these vessels are in the 5-star category (and clearly priced accordingly). For discussion sake, I’ve decided to include the balance of the top 25 to provide some guidance on more gastronomically advanced vessels.

11. Riviera – Oceania Cruises
12. Crystal Serenity – Crystal Cruises
13. River Ambassador – Uniworld River Cruises
14. Marina – Oceania Cruises
15. Viking Helvetia – Viking River Cruises
16. Paul Gauguin – Paul Gauguin Cruises
17. Azamara Journey – Azamara Cruises
18. Seabourn Spirit – Seabourn
19. Nautica – Oceania Cruises
20. Azamara Quest – Azamara Cruises
21. Seven Seas Mariner – Regent Seven Seas Cruises
22. Celebrity Reflection – Celebrity Cruises
23. River Queen – Uniworld River Cruises
24. Pacific Princess – Princess Cruises
25. Regatta – Oceania Cruises

One final thought. Though very unscientific I hope this provides our cruise guests with a bit of guidance if food quality is of paramount importance to you. Most of the larger vessels also offer alternative dining venues which I suppose have not been taken into account for these ratings. Some of these venues offer truly world class dining complimentary or at a nominal fee.

As a piece of advice, one should never take just one criteria into account when it comes to selecting a vacation. A professional vacation planner can help you select the trip which fits all of your needs and desires.

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