Starting with early celebrity TV chefs like Emeril Lagasse, high-profile restaurateurs and their high concept restaurants have crowded the Las Vegas strip, including inside many of its most notable, high-roller casinos. Why should it be any different on massive new cruise ships, which are sort of a floating version of Vegas. Onboard dining has gone gourmet, with restaurants by a who’s who of today’s cable cuisine stars and other big name chefs. Here are the five best onboard restaurants.
Umi Uma & Sushi Bar, Crystal Cruises
Perhaps it’s fitting that world-renowned master chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa, a virtuoso with fresh fish, should have a floating iteration of his sublime international seafood outposts. The Japanese celebrity chef and restaurateur is renowned for fusing traditional Japanese dishes with Peruvian flair. His signature dish — Black cod in miso — shouldn’t be missed when it’s your turn to dine at his restaurants aboard Crystal Cruises vessels Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. The dining spaces are elegant and modern, mirroring the menus. Chefs on ship were all personally trained by the master, so faithful recreations of his dishes are guaranteed. For example, in addition to his cod, Nobu’s lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce is another entree highlight at Umi Uma, while at the Sushi Bar, an assortment of Nobu's inventive sushi and sashimi includes his unique salmon tartar, along with classics like delicate yellowtail sashimi. The first reservation is complementary and can be booked pre-cruise; additional reservations are $30 per person, and are based on availability so all guests have a chance to dine during their voyage.
Jamie’s Italian, Royal Caribbean
From his humble beginnings as an aspiring London pastry chef, Jamie Oliver rose to fame with unabashed enthusiasm and approachable cuisine to become one of Britain's most well known chef/restaurateurs. Numerous television shows and restaurant openings later, he is a global phenomenon. Perhaps unusual for a British chef, of all his places, Jamie's Italian is ubiquitous worldwide — and afloat. On offer at sea are Oliver's famous pasta dishes like spicy prawn linguine and truffle tagliatelle. Or graze your way through a variety of small plates. Jamie’s Italian has locations aboard Quantum of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas. While pricing varies from ship to ship, the general range is from $25 to $35 for lunch and $35 to $39 for dinner if you reserve your table pre-cruise; onboard pricing may vary. Reservations are’t required, but recommended, especially for peak-hour dining.
Guy’s Burger Joint/Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse, Carnival
After all of those years driving around to uncover the best diners and dives, you have to figure celebrity chef Guy Fieri knows his way around a burger. The Food Network personality — also an award-winning barbecue master — was already a successful restaurateur when he hit the air years ago, and now his Guy's Burger Joints are on nearly every Carnival ship. With a base of hot-off-the-grill burgers and hand-cut fries served poolside, diners can opt for inventive prepared menu items or hit the toppings bar to create a fully customized burger. Vegetarian patties are also available for the non-meat crowd. Meanwhile, carnivores on Carnival ships Magic, Dream, Vista and Breeze can feast at Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse, an open-air venue with a selection of meats prepared onboard. Pair them with classic barbecue sides like slaw, mac and cheese, and collard greens. Or, on Carnival Horizon, with a cool brew from the cruise line’s brewery. Both concepts are inclusive.
Red Ginger, Oceania
Master Chef Jacques Pepin is behind this Asian-fusion gem. Perhaps without the instant recognition of, say, Anthony Bourdain, Pepin actually laid the groundwork for today’s crop of food superstars. The former personal chef to three French heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle, Pepin is a French-born American chef, television personality and author who, since the late 1980s, has graced the airwaves on both French and American television and written numerous best-selling cookbooks. His floating restaurants feature streamlined, feng shui decor — such as a soothing waterfall — along with modern Asian artwork. Red Ginger’s dishes are Asian classics prepared with surprising, modern twits, such as tom kha gai soup, lobster pad Thai and miso-glazed sea bass. Well-curated tea, wine and sake menus round out the Asian dining experience, which is also enhanced with finishing touches like green-tea ice cream or caramel tapioca. Available on Oceania vessels Marina, Sirena and Riviera, Red Ginger is inclusive but reservations are required.
The Grill by Thomas Keller, Seabourn
Even if you can’t get into his landside legends, Per Se and The French Laundry, you may be able to land a table aboard the Seabourn ships’ nautical incarnations of restaurants by famed chef Thomas Keller. The cruise line’s partnership with Keller has blossomed brilliantly in The Grill. The mind behind the aforementioned Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as Bouchon, Keller brings aboard an American chophouse menu inspired by his farm-to-table ethos and served in sophisticated surroundings. Lobster Thermidor is a surf-and-turf go-to, with the classic side of creamed spinach. Subtle, simple roasted free-range chicken is elevated with thyme jus. Chosen by Keller himself to complement each dish, the Grill’s wine list is reason enough to dine here. The Grill by Thomas Keller is complementary and open daily for dinner; advance reservations are highly recommended.