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Best Cruises for Food Lovers

By:  Ann Curtis Jun 28, 2013
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Oceana Cruises Bon Appétit Culinary Center
Several lines offer extensive cooking classes on board including those taught at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on Oceana Cruises, pictured here.

There are specialty cruises to satisfy all interests, with itineraries designed for groups from sports fans and political junkies to cruises focused on literary themes or crafting. But the most popular theme for cruises in 2013 are voyages that celebrate food and wine, with options from hands-on cooking classes for the whole family to visits to legendary markets with top international chefs.

Some of TV’s top toques are even getting in on the action. In April, the first-ever Top Chef cruise sailed the Caribbean as the chef-testants fought it out in daily quick-fire challenges on the high seas. Here are examples of other cruises food lovers can take for a delicious vacation:

Silversea Cruises shore food shore excursion
Silversea Cruises
Cruise lines, such as Silversea, offer food-oriented shore excursions to learn about local cuisines.

Great Chefs at Sea

Want to impress your friends and family with some new skills post-vacation? Check out the cooking program offered by the luxury Italian cruise line Silversea. The curriculum was designed in conjunction with Relais & Chateaux's L'Ecole des Chefs, and the completely free activities include cooking demonstrations and tastings, skill-building workshops and lunch-and-learns, plus on shore market tours. This fall, there are two Culinary Arts voyages designed for amateur chefs and food lovers interested in exotic cuisine. You can learn the secrets of Michelin Star chefs aboard a seven-night Caribbean cruise or a nine-night Asian journey. Both cruises feature interactive demonstrations, escorted trips to international markets, food and wine pairings, a variety of excursions and a five-course grand gourmet dinner. Join renowned chocolatier Chantal Coady on Silver Whisper, sailing round trip from Barbados on Nov. 8. Or, explore Asia from Hong Kong to Singapore with Michelin Star chef Jason Atherton aboard Silver Shadow, departing Nov. 25.

Hands-On Learning

Holland America has been cooking up a culinary program that educates and entertains guests since 2005. Today, all 15 of the company’s ships feature a Culinary Arts Center, a theater-style space that resembles the show kitchens used by top chefs on TV. Launched in partnership with Food & Wine magazine, the professionally designed centers are used for on-board cooking shows, wine tastings and hands-on cooking classes for guests of all ages and experience levels, including a youth Culinary Arts Center activity program on select sailings where kids and teens learn how to cook (how’s that for a vacation souvenir, moms?). While the classes and presentations are usually led by the line’s own executive chefs and culinary staff, plus regional and specialty chefs from the ports visited, numerous voyages throughout the year feature guest celebrity chefs, cookbook authors and other food experts. Fares range depending on cruise itinerary, cabin and sail date.

The Independence Cruise Ship
The Independence, American Cruise Lines

All-American Adventure

American Cruise Lines offers seven-night cruises celebrating New England’s unofficial mascot, the mighty Lobster. The Maine Coast & Harbors cruise includes stops in Bar Harbor, Camden, Bath and a number of other port areas that show off the best that Maine has to offer. Or you can cruise the New England islands, with stops at some of the East Coast’s best port locations, including Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island and Newport, plus Fort Adams, Providence for a traditional New England Lobsterbake. The Maine Coast and Harbors cruise departed in July on the 104-passenger Independence; New England Islands cruises set sail in July and August aboard the 100-passenger American Star. Remember: it's never too early to start planning for next summer!

Learn from a Legend

Jacques Pepin is a culinary legend. Thanks to his PBS cooking shows and numerous cookbooks, he’s taught millions of Americans how to cook (plus, he was Julia Child’s BFF). This month, Chef Pepin is addressing a much smaller audience as he joins Oceania's "Mosaic Masterpiece" cruise aboard Riviera. On a 10-night cruise from Barcelona to Lisbon (with an overnight in the embarkation city), passengers will explore the Western Mediterranean's culture, art and culinary diversity while enjoying classes and demonstrations led by the master chef himself. The Riviera also boasts a state-of-the-art culinary studio, the Bon Appetit Culinary Center, which offers personal cooking stations for two-student teams and courses ranging from pizza and pasta making to cooking healthy, Mediterranean-inspired meals.

Rockin’ the Boat

There’s one cruise trend that is almost as popular as culinary themes: itineraries built around live music. This fall, Royal Caribbean combines the two classics in their first-ever Wine, Dine & Music Cruise departs from Tampa Nov. 9, for seven nights of decadent fun. The Western Caribbean cruise aboard the Brilliance of the Seas features daily seminars and tastings from seven American vineyards (plus one bottle from each delivered to your stateroom), special menus created by Chef John Ash, the "Father of Wine Country Cuisine"and nightly performances by well known musicians.