If you’ve dreamed of dining at Nobu in Vegas, or Todd English's acclaimed Food Court at the Plaza in New York City, you may not have to visit either city to make your dream come true. A number of cruise lines have teamed up with celebrity chefs to bring their restaurants to sea. Forget uninspired buffets from faceless onboard restaurants. Today, specialty restaurants are the new wave, and in some cases, the eateries are included in your cruise costs. (Others require a reservation and a modest additional fee.)
We’ve even done the math and it can, in fact, be cheaper to sample a celebrity chef’s menu while you’re sailing, rather than paying more for the brick-and-mortar experience. Check out the popular celebrity chef restaurants on these seven cruise lines:
Carnival: Five “Fun Ships” including the Dream, Glory, and Sunshine, feature Guy’s Burger Joint, a free, outdoor fast-food snack bar created by Food Network personality Guy Fieri. The Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives star has created five custom-made burgers — including one made entirely out of bacon — served with condiments like chipotle mayo and his secret “donkey” sauce. Fries are hand-cut on the premises, too. Visit Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in New York’s Times Square and you’ll fork over $17.95 for the half-pound burger alone.
Crystal: Master chef Matsuhisa Nobu has a plethora of Japanese restaurants across the world from Malibu to Milan, but it may be easier — and cheaper — to taste his signature lobster with truffle-yuzu sauce and grilled wagyu beef rib-eye with wasabi pepper sauce when you dine for free (one seating per voyage) at the Silk Road restaurant on either Crystal’s Symphony or Serenity ships. The wagyu beef alone costs $60 at his Los Angeles restaurant. As an added bonus, the cruise line sometimes offers themed sailings featuring cooking classes, and demonstrations with Nobu himself.
Cunard: American chef Todd English, who is known for his 17 restaurants in the U.S., was chosen to open his eponymous restaurant on Cunard’s formidable, and very British, Queen Mary 2. The Mediterranean-style restaurant is open for lunch on sea days for $20 per person and for dinner at $30 per person. Menu items include the grilled porterhouse of lamb, which costs $44 alone at English’s Ça Va restaurant in NYC.
Holland America: If you’ve never dined at New York’s famous Le Cirque, you’re in luck if you sail on one of Holland America’s 15 ships, as the iconic restaurant’s former executive chef, Craig Hopson assisted in bringing owner Sirio Maccioni’s vision to sea. The Pinnacle Grill is transformed into a special “An Evening at Le Cirque” where a four-course meal is served on the classic, original orange china. Cost is $49 per person, which includes Le Cirque’s famous crème brûlée. You’d pay $125 each for the four-course tasting menu (wine pairings begin at $75) at the flagship restaurant in New York City.
Norwegian: NCL’s newest ships, the Breakaway and Getaway, have upped the culinary game by bringing in “Iron Chef” and “Chopped” judge Geoffrey Zakarian, who has restaurants at The National in New York City and The Water Club at Borgata in Atlantic City. Zakarian offers three options on the ships, the a la carte Raw Bar for salmon tartare, tuna crudo and black bass ceviche, Ocean Blue on The Waterfront, a more casual dining option serving fun and easy fare like lobster rolls, and the elegant Ocean Blue, where the $49 per person three-course meal features a variety of items including his signature dish, Dover sole, roasted and served with sauce meuniere. A small plate of tuna tartare at his Sunroom restaurant in Atlantic City will leave your wallet $19 lighter.
Also on board both ships is Carlo’s Bake Shop, courtesy of Buddy Valastro, star of TLC’s “Cake Boss.” In the near future, there will be similar bakeries on all NCL ships. Guests pay extra for sweet treats like cannoli and cakes. Cupcake decorating classes will also be offered to teach passengers some of Valastro's baking techniques. A lobster-tail pastry costs $3.50 onboard, the same price as Buddy’s NJ bakeries.
Oceania: Jacques is a 124-seat specialty dining room on the Riviera and Marina ships, created by the adorable French chef Jacques Pépin, well-known for his TV cooking show with Julia Child. Guests might be treated to coq au vin, or molten goat cheese soufflé, thanks to a daily-changing menu. What does remain constant is that the meal is free, and you’ll always see the decadent cheese trolley loaded with Pépin’s favorites.
Royal Caribbean: The brand’s newest ship, Quantum of the Seas, launches in November, and will feature three specialty restaurants as part of its “Dynamic Dining” concept, which eliminates the traditional main dining room concept. Jamie Oliver will replicate his hugely popular British restaurant, Jamie's Italian and serve family-style rustic fare such as roasted squash and ricotta bruschetta, his signature porchetta with fennel crackling, and wild mushroom and mozzarella risotto. The $15 per person for lunch and $25 per person for dinner price tag is reasonable — given that it costs $24.50 alone for the hard-to-find porchetta, served at his Covent Garden restaurant in London.
Meanwhile, James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz brings Michael's Genuine Pub, the first American gastropub at sea. Along with an a la carte menu of charcuterie (from $7) , pulled pork sliders ($5 each), and deviled eggs ($6), expect an impressive range of craft brews on tap. Interestingly enough, the ship’s menu is more diverse than Schwartz’ Miami joint, though prices are on par with the land-based bistro.
For those trying to keep the pounds off, Devinly Decadence, the Solarium Bistro designed by Devin Alexander, chef on the TV show The Biggest Loser, will be a welcome change. Dishes, like the “Little Dev” — a low-cal version of the Big Mac — all come in at under 500 calories each. Breakfast is complimentary (chocolate-chip pancakes!) , but lunch and dinner carry an extra charge of $10 per person and $20 per person, respectively.