Top culinary cruises

Forget the all-you-can-eat buffet. Cruise companies have upped the ante when it comes to delicious dining — think sustainable and local foods, a wider variety of specialty and out of the ordinary options, celebrity chef menus and tasty shore excursions.

Here are some ideas to inspire your planning.

Master local cuisine at sea and on shore

Learning vacations that focus on food aren’t a new trend, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find them at sea. Oceania Cruises’ Bon Appétit Culinary Center aboard its Marina and Riveria ships boasts being the original cooking school at sea. Master chefs guide classes in the secrets of local cuisine in state-of-the-art cooking facilities modeled after professional kitchens. Learn the art of creating homemade pasta and the perfect sauce, for instance, or master healthy Mediterranean cuisine.

Starting in winter 2013, Oceania will be extending its onshore “Culinary Discovery Tours” to Asia, South America and the Caribbean in addition to its European offerings. The tours give you the chance to spend the day with an expert exploring top markets and trendy restaurants — with some sampling along the way, of course!

Classes and excursions can be booked in advanced and start at $39 USD for a one-hour class and $69 USD for a two hour class. (For more information, visit Cruising with the Chefs.)

See what happens when delicious dining meets reality TV

If you’re a fan of foodie reality shows, you can get in on the action when Top Chef: The Cruise sets sail aboard Celebrity Constellation from April 11-15, 2013. Celebrity chefs and Top Chef judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons will host the cruise along with masters, all-stars and fan favourites from the popular TV series.

Travelling round-trip from Miami with stops in Key West, Florida, and Cozumel, Mexico, the cruise offers plenty of foodie entertainment onboard. Catch Top Chef related events like “quick fire” cooking demonstrations and challenges, and attend a Q&A retrospective with hosts. You’ll also get to enjoy a variety of dishes made by former “cheftestants”– all included in the cruise fare.

Prices start at $799 USD per person based on double occupancy and range up to $3499 USD for deluxe penthouse suites.

Get up close and personal with French cuisine and culture

Prefer a smaller vessel with an intimate atmosphere? Tauck’s Taste of France river cruise covers all the bases when it comes to French cuisine. The tour gets started in Paris with dinner on the Champs Élysées which can only be topped by a chocolate demonstration and private pastry class. Then, you’ll head to Lyon to visit its famed covered market, Les Halles.

Next, you’ll spend seven nights cruising down the Rhône River with excursions that capture the best of the French foodie experience. Sample Provencal specialties at a private ranch, sip Beaujolais in the place of its creation and dine al fresco at the Pont du Gard. Learn some of the secrets of French cooking with lessons at a famed culinary institute in Valence.

Prices start at $5,290 USD per person based on double occupancy and include shore excursions plus two nights accommodation in Paris. (A bonus for solo travellers: there’s no single supplement for entry-level accommodations.)

If you’re looking for something a little closer to home, Tauck also offers a Taste of the Pacific Northwest tour which starts in Portland’s trendy neighbourhoods and ends on Vancouver Island.

Culinary activities aren’t just for adults only. Holland America’s Culinary Arts Center has programs for teens and children too.

Sip your way around the world

Food isn’t the only thing you’ll love — especially if you’re looking for a winter escape. Silversea’s Buenos Aires, Argentina to Valparaiso, Chile tours scenic South America and is one of the company’s “Wine Series Voyages”. On board, you’ll enjoy wine lectures and tastings hosted by renowned wine expert and food writer Lyn Farmer, plus savour food and wine pairings at lunch and dinner.

Shore excursions offer a look at local wine and cuisine, including a farm excursion in the Falkland Islands and a culinary tour of Chile’s Lake District with renowned chef Richard Knobloch. Tour the Juanico Winery and sample its famous selections of red and white wines, including the traditional Uruguayan Tannat. Book a later flight and finish your tour with a wine tasting and tour of Casablanca Valley near Valparaiso.

Whether you want to learn, explore or simply enjoy superb cuisine, be sure to look into the culinary options on your next cruise. Competition among cruise lines is heating up, and experts predict this trend to stay strong through 2013 and beyond. 

Additional sources:,, Cruise Lines International Association, the Toronto Star

Photo: Frame capture YouTube

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