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Worcestershire, United Kingdom
I have worked in the travel industry most of my working life, owning my own agency for 14 years as well as working for travel industry suppliers. I wanted to share my life, my stories, my likes and dislikes with you and hopefully get some feedback from all of you out there in blogger world. I currently live in the Midlands, I am 45 years old and have two grown up children 24yrs and 19 years.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Food Glorious Food

Since passengers eat most of their meals onboard, the quality and range of dining options can be crucial.

When Gary Rhodes teamed up with P&O in 2004, and James Martin signed a partnership with Ocean Village Cruises the following year, they heralded a new era in cruise ship dining. Five years on, there is barely a cruise line that has not added some celebrity sparkle to its restaurants. Gone are the repetitive, bland buffets with which cruising may once have been associated. In its place, passengers will find an ever-growing and innovative range of dining experiences. As always, it is about making sure the ship fits the passenger. But whether cooking for 49 passengers on Hebridean Princess or 5,400 on Oasis of the Seas, chefs and restaurant planners are continually adding new surprises. Here is a taster of the delights.......

One of the biggest trends in onboard dining is to make the dining experience more interactive. Oceania Cruises is introducing a culinary studio at sea on its new ship Marina, which is to be delivered this winter. The line has tied up with foodie magazine Bon Appetit to offer passengers the chance to cook side-by-side with a master chef in classes lasting from 45 minutes to three hours. The ship is described as “purposefully designed for epicureans”, with 10 dining venues including six open-seating gourmet restaurants. Holland America Line started a similar partnership with Food & Wine magazine in 2005, offering demonstrations and seminars by top chefs, wine experts and authors. There is even a culinary arts centre for kids.

The Chef’s Table onboard Princess Cruises vessels gives up to 10 passengers the chance to go behind the scenes in the galley prior to a multi-course tasting dinner, with the executive chef joining them for dessert. P&O Cruises has recently teamed up with Michelin-starred Indian chef Atul Kochhar who is creating a fine-dining restaurant, Sindhu, on Azura which launches in April. Passengers will be able to watch chefs in action in the theatre-style galley. Onboard Ocean Village, passengers can enjoy a cooking demonstration from James Martin during his frequent visits to his restaurant, The Bistro. Martin has developed a new menu for the coming season, which includes spicy crab and saffron linguini with chilli oil.

Celebrity chefs and culinary accolades remain a big drawer for cruise ship restaurants. Regent Seven Seas, for example, has the only two Le Cordon Bleu restaurants at sea, on Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner. As well as Atul Kochhar’s restaurant, P&O’s Azura will also feature The Glass House, a restaurant and wine bar by TV wine expert Olly Smith. Gary Rhodes still presides over Arcadian Rhodes and Oriana Rhodes, while Marco Pierre White is responsible for the White Room onboard Ventura. Crystal Cruises boasts the Silk Road restaurant, which serves dishes created by one of the world’s most recognised chefs Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa, and prepared by chefs who have trained under him.

As on previous Silversea ships, Silver Spirit, which launches in December, features The Restaurant, with signature dishes created by Relais & Chateaux in partnership with Silversea’s master chefs. Passengers can already make dinner reservations online for Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas, which debuts in December. The ship will offer 24 dining experiences, including the signature 150 Central Park restaurant. This will be run by award-winning 23-year-old chef Keriann Von Raesfeld. She will be cooking up dishes such as spicy hot gazpacho and her acclaimed banana split, which requires 36 hours of preparation.

Healthier dining options are becoming increasingly widespread. Regent Seven Seas has announced that Canyon Ranch is to operate the spas onboard its three main ships from December, with its healthy cuisine available in the ships’ restaurants by the spring. Costa Cruises employed the services of Michelin-starred Ettore Bocchia, executive chef at the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni on Lake Como, to supervise the a la carte Club on newcomers Costa Luminosa and Costa Pacifica. Bocchia specialises in “molecular gastronomy”, following the principles of wholesome, light and healthy, but sophisticated, food. Each of Celebrity Cruises’ new Solstice-class ships has 10 restaurants, with menus created by inhouse chef and restaurateur Jacques van Staden and his team. Blu, which is reserved exclusively for passengers booked in the new AquaClass accommodation category, will serve healthy “clean cuisine”.

Cruising is sometimes accused of failing to contribute to local economies, but MSC Cruises is one line that is taking pains to source more food from the places it visits. One of its latest ships, MSC Splendida, features L’Olivo, a Mediterranean-themed restaurant giving passengers the chance to taste cuisine from 14 countries from Libya to Croatia, with all produce sourced locally. One of Seabourn’s Signature Delight experiences is Shopping With the Chef, where up to 15 passengers head to a market with the chef, learn about local produce and then watch dinner prepared.

As passengers often spend a couple of weeks onboard a ship, a broad range of cuisines is important. The Lido restaurant onboard Carnival Dream, which launched last month, boasts a tandoori oven and a Mongolian wok. The Pinnacle, styled as a supper club, offers a range of dry-aged steaks that have been graded by the US department of agriculture. When Eurodam joined Holland America Line in July 2008, passengers were treated to three new venues: Asian restaurant Tamarind, Italian Canaletto and all-day pizza outlet Slice. At Tamarind, master chef Rudi Sodamin has created Asian-inspired entrees including sea bass with hoisin-lime glaze, and grilled seitan and vegetable penang.

MSC has introduced a Mexican restaurant, Tex Mex, on Fantasia and Splendida, while Crystal Cruises raised the bar last year by introducing cheese sommeliers to serve and advise upon 40 types of cheese. Fred Olsen Cruise Lines may not have as many dining options, but the combination of the main restaurant and the buffet style suits the passenger mix, and provides formal and informal options. Themed evenings include Mexican, Indian and Thai. The executive chefs have become Fred Olsen celebrities and food on the ships consistently scores very highly on satisfaction surveys.

NCL’s Norwegian Epic, which enters service next year, is livening up the dining experience with the first big top at sea. Diners in the Spiegel Tent can enjoy an interactive theatrical dining and musical experience called Cirque Dreams and Dinner, during which performers will juggle dinner courses. A two-deck art deco supper club, Manhattan Room, which will have a dance floor as its focal point, is also being introduced. Silversea’s forthcoming Silver Spirit will also introduce a “supper club” concept. The Stars Supper Club has been inspired by the old-fashioned supper clubs of the 1930s and will offer cocktails, live music and dancing. Windstar Cruises has launched a Candles restaurant/grill on its three vessels to ensure passengers can make the most of being on a ship with sails. Subject to weather conditions, the restaurant offers about 30 passengers the chance to dine alfresco on deck.

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