A cruise ship can be paradise for food and wine lovers; an assortment of food available 24 hours a day, lobster buffets, midnight pizza, wine cellars on board, and sommeliers often at beck and call.
Food and travel typically go hand-in-hand, and a cruise makes it easy to combine the two on board and in port. Exploring a new region and a new culture can mean the opportunity to try exotic dishes and new spices. Regardless of whether you find a new favorite dish or a crazy culinary story to regale friends with, trying new foods is part of the fun of traveling. Having the right glass of wine to go with your food can elevate the experience, and if you’re a real wine connoisseur you’ll be able to dedicate time while in port to go wine tasting. Finding the right itinerary is key for choosing a cruise that lets you really experience the tastes of a country.
WINE STOPS—The Western Mediterranean and Pacific USA
If you’re a wine connoisseur who can’t imagine going on a trip that doesn’t involve a vineyard, try a Western Mediterranean or Pacific USA cruise.
The rich soils of Western Mediterranean countries have been producing wine for centuries with Italy, France, and Spain, being the largest wine producing countries in the world as well as having some of the most acclaimed wines. These are the lands that introduced the world to Champagne, Bordeaux, Chianti and Tempranillo, and many of the wineries are willing to share their passion for wine with visitors. When sailing the Mediterranean, pick a cruise itinerary that has ports of call in Florence, Italy; Marseille, France; and Barcelona, Spain.
For Florence, your cruise ship will actually pull into port in Livorno, Italy, in Tuscany. Along with Tuscany’s cascade of emerald hills, yellow sunflowers and sienna colored cottages, you’ll also find some pretty impressive shades of red—going by the names of Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti—all just an easy day trip away. These three types of wine vintages are made possible by the splendid Sangiovese grape, which grows amidst the hilltop towns of Tuscany.
Lovely Provence, France—your ship will dock in Marseille—offers glimpses of vineyards and tastes of French wine amidst the colorful flowers and cottages that dot the landscape. The town of Aix-en-Provence has many nearby wineries that specialize in using grapes from the Cassis and Bandol regions of Provence, the distribution of which are so small you can typically only taste these wines in Provence. Also try the rosé vintages of the area—it looks like sweet ‘blush’ wine but is surprisingly dry while still being fruity.
Many Mediterranean cruises start or end in Barcelona, making it easy to sample some of Barcelona’s wine before or after your cruise. Take a walk down tree-lined La Rambla, Barcelona’s most famous street. Tapas bars, which serve Spanish-inspired appetizers, are a popular staple on La Rambla. There you can try some of Spain’s most distinguished wines, among them Tempranillo, a ruby red and full-bodied wine, and Cava, a sparkling wine produced in the Catalonia region of Spain.
Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean are popular cruise lines that sail the Western Mediterranean and offer 5–13 night sailings with ports of call that, in addition to Florence, Provence and Barcelona, includes stops in Capri, Italy; Nice, France; Athens, Greece; and Monaco.
America’s west coast states came into prominence for their wine making skills more recently than their European counterparts and have spent the past few decades expanding their production reach and quality of wines. To experience these wines, choose a cruise itinerary that visits San Francisco or Seattle. Cruise ships often start or stop at these two ports while on their way north to Alaska or south to Mexico.
The port of San Francisco provides easy access for a day trip to Napa. After coming into the international spotlight in the 1970’s, Napa is now considered one of the finest wine-making areas in the world, developing award-winning vintages in wineries that sometimes feel more like castles. Two of Napa’s most popular wines to taste are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Sailing farther north, Seattle is a great jumping off point to Washington’s wine country, which is only recently coming into the limelight and is particularly known for its Semillon, a light, citrusy, white wine. An easy place to visit and try Washington’s wine while in port in Seattle is the Woodinville Wine Valley, which has over 90 wineries. The tastings rooms in Woodinville have a more laidback, cozy feel compared to Napa’s grandeur.
Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Regent Cruises offer 7–10 night itineraries that make stops in the Pacific Northwest. Many continue on to Alaska, which may include ports of call at Juneau, Alaska; Ketchikan, Alaska; Whittier, Alaska; and Vancouver, British Columbia. Other itineraries head south to Mexico, with stops in Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta.
FOOD FAVORITES—The Caribbean and Asia
We covered that there is a lot of food onboard cruise ships (and don’t worry—there are also plenty of exercise options), but if you’re a food lover who welcomes diverse meals you can’t get back at home, then you’re probably excited to try the cuisine of where your cruise ship is sailing to. In that case, check out a cruise to the Caribbean or Asia.
The Caribbean Sea is home to over 7,000 islands, many of which are territories of different countries. This contrast of nations results in an array of different types of food and spices. Island flair influences many of the meals with an abundance of seafood being incorporated into the dishes.
Another signature of Caribbean dishes is some pretty intense spice. One popular foodie Caribbean port for this is Jamaica; with Cajun pork and jerk chicken, it’s not for the spice intolerant. But if you can handle the heat, you’ll enjoy some flavorful grub while taking it easy on the laid-back island.
Many Caribbean cruise itineraries also visit Mexico ports of call such as Cozumel, where you can find traditional Mexican dishes. Order some tamales, mole chicken, or carnitas, and top it off with a side of guacamole.
Family-friendly Carnival, Disney Cruise Line, and MSC Cruises offer 3–8 night cruises to the Caribbean with a large variety of itineraries, many of which include ports of call in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Cozumel, Mexico.
Pho, Fish Amok, Peking Duck… just some of the foods you’ll find during a cruise to Asia. The adventurous traveler will get a kick out of trying the exotic and sometimes squirm-inducing foods in Asia—spider anyone? How about fried chicken legs? Food carts and stands sizzle on the streets of Asia’s busiest cities, offering everything from breaded pork snacks on a stick to grilled chicken with rice and a side of gourmet soup. Or if you’re really feeling adventurous, get a bag of crickets to munch on. Popular Asian ports of call include Shanghai, China; Siem Reap, Cambodia; and Hanoi, Vietnam.
Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises offer 5–16 night cruises to Asia that includes stops in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Phuket, Thailand; Shanghai, China; and Hong Kong. For a more intimate cruise, try one of the small-ship river cruise lines—Uniworld Grand Boutique River Cruises and Avalon Waterways, which have 14–21 night cruises that head more into the countryside of Asia and include stops at Siem Reap, Cambodia; Hanoi, Vietnam; and Bangkok, Thailand.
DUO DELIGHTS—The Eastern Mediterranean and Europe River Cruises
You may be thinking that you don’t want to choose between food and wine—you want both. Well, as you may imagine, the Mediterranean and Pacific USA have some pretty remarkable dishes as well—seafood and organic fruits and vegetables abound. In Asia, you can keep the adventurous foodie spirit going by trying some rice wine. And the Caribbean…well, you may want to stick to the locally brewed beer.
If you want in on a more remote gem that combines excellent food and wine, take an Eastern Mediterranean cruise that stops at Santorini, Greece and Istanbul, Turkey. The food is exotic, and the region’s wine pairs well with the earthy flavors of vegetables and spices used in their cuisine.
Santorini is an island so beautiful with its white-washed buildings, blue-dome churches, and plunging caldera that it may make you want to simply sit and soak in the view. Do so with a glass of Greece’s signature Retsina wine, which gets its unique taste from pine resin added to the wine. Combine your glass of Retsina with deep-fried feta dripped with honey for taste bud nirvana. Santorini is so small that it also makes it easy to visit the several vineyards and wineries on the island.
Istanbul has an array of street food to try. Roasted beef kebap is a popular option, especially when dipped in yogurt. For dessert try some of the extra thick, decadent ice cream from one of the many Turkish ice cream stands dotting the streets. If wine is your idea of dessert, then have a glass of a local vintage. Turkey’s wine region is up and coming; ask for a wine from the Anatolia region—you may get a taste of Kalecik Karasi, a black grape unique to the area.
Costa Cruises and Royal Caribbean offer budget-friendly 5–12 night cruises to the Eastern Mediterranean, while Silversea Cruises provides a luxury option of 7–10 night cruises. Both cruise lines visit Eastern Mediterranean ports of call such as Mykonos, Greece; Santorini, Greece; Istanbul, Turkey; and Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Many of the vineyards for Europe’s wine regions are grown in the heart of each country, making it hard for ocean cruise lines to reach the wine towns of those areas. River cruising solves this problem. With narrow, but luxurious ships that were created specifically to navigate Europe’s canals and waterways, river cruise ships sail through the countryside providing panoramic views and stops at villages often off the beaten tourist path.
Many of the river cruise lines also offer wine-specific cruises. Viking River Cruises and AmaWaterways both offer wine inspired itineraries that sail through vineyard regions of Europe along the Rhine, Mosel and Douro rivers with 7+ night itineraries. In addition to the wine focus, the ship’s chef will often go into the ports of call and purchase ingredients from in town to be used for that night’s dinner.
The food and wine experiences on a cruise are so much more than just what’s onboard the ship, and there are a variety of different itineraries to choose from based on exactly what kind of drink or cuisine you’re looking for. You may find yourself wanting to eat five or more meals a day—which, lucky for you, is completely acceptable on a cruise vacation.
- Gina Douglas