Come on… Confess…
It’s important that food on a cruise be really really good, right?
It is for us – and we’ve sailed on more than 60 cruises now.
At the end of the day – whether exploring ancient ruins, shopping for souvenirs or curling up with the latest bestseller on your ship balcony – there’s nothing nicer than sitting down in refined surroundings, sipping a fine glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir (poured at just the right temperature, naturally) and savoring a delightful, artfully presented dinner.
When we heard that Oceania Cruises claims to serve the “finest cuisine at sea,” we were intrigued.
Would they offer the best cruise for foodies? If you’re looking for the cruise line with the best food, is Oceania the answer?
Oceania, as you might know, is a casually elegant cruise line with six mid-size ships sailing to Asia, Tahiti, the Med and elsewhere around the globe.
So we did a little digging (careful not to salivate too much over our computers).
Here’s what we learned…
Reading this post may cause severe mouth-watering and cravings for foie gras or truffles. Do not read on an empty stomach.
Best cruise for foodies
First, Oceania Cruises (which has seven ships) isn’t whipping up bold claims out of thin air.
Oceania was the 2022 winner for “Leading Cruise Line” in the World Travel Awards. And it was voted the #2 cruise line in the “medium ships” category in the 2022 Conde Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards.
More specifically, the line has won a slew of awards for its cuisine. It has some of the best cruise ship food.
Oceania’s Marina made the USA Today‘s “10 Best” list (2021) for the “Best Cruise Ship for Dining.”
The cruise line also won “Best Dining” in the mid-size ship category in the Cruise Critic 2019 Cruisers’ Choice Awards.
As well, Oceania has snagged the following cruise ship dining awards:
- “Best Onboard Dining” in the TravelAge West 2018 WAVE awards
- “Best for Dining” in 2017 as voted by Cruise Critic readers (mid-size ship category)
- “Best Cuisine” in Travel Weekly’s 2016 Readers Choice Awards
- “Best for Food” according to Town & Country Travel
- “Best Main Dining Room Cuisine” in Porthole Cruise Magazine’s 2016 Readers’ Choice Awards
No doubt having legendary Master Chef Jacques Pepin run the kitchen, so to speak (he’s officially Oceania’s executive culinary director) has helped the line to achieve gastronomic excellence.
Once personal chef to Charles de Gaulle, Pepin is the talented French American celebrity chef who rose to fame cooking on TV with Julia Child.
Something else that whets our appetite: Every single plate is made-to-order.
That means your meal is given that extra bit of attention – which can make the difference from “okay” to “fresh from the sauté pan, piping hot, OMG this is delicious!”
Where are we going for dinner?
On Oceania’s two “timelessly sophisticated” sister ships – the 1,238-guest Marina (refurbished 2023) and Riviera (refurbished 2022) – five full-service restaurants serve different cuisines from around the world. (That’s in addition to the informal, inside or alfresco dining venues.)
And there’s no extra charge for the specialty restaurants.
Grand Dining Room:
Let’s start with the Grand Dining Room, the main restaurant on all ships, which serves Continental cuisine.
As befits a fine dining restaurant, tables are set with Versace bone china, Christofle silver and Riedel crystal.
The menu features four or five appetizers (you’ll find Sturgeon caviar), two soups, two or three salads, five or six main courses and three Jacques Pepin signature dishes (his French classic, five-peppercorn beef filet with a light brandy sauce, is always popular).
If you’re watching your waistline, Canyon Ranch spa selections are available too. (The steamed Maine lobster looks pretty yummy – and it’s only 330 calories.)
If you’re in the mood for Italian, you can indulge in your own 6-course menu at the Tuscan-inspired Toscana.
Begin perhaps with artichoke-and-parmesan cheese timbale with black truffle sauce. Then move on to a light Minestrone soup, followed by hand-rolled gnocchi in a creamy pesto sauce or fresh spinach fettucini with duckling ragu.
A Caesar salad prepared tableside then veal scaloppini should hit the spot as the fourth and fifth courses.
And for dessert, well, for us, it would have to be the classic Italian tiramisu.
Then there’s the Polo Grill.
Its high-back burgundy leather chairs and dark wood furnishings set the stage for a true steakhouse.
All the beef is USDA prime from Black Angus cattle, dry-aged for a minimum of 28 days.
Marina and Riviera have two additional specialty restaurants as well.
Jacques looks like a Parisian bistro, with heirloom antiques and art from Jacques Pepin’s own collection.
This is the place for frog legs, escargots with garlic butter, mussels in white wine, duck breast with orange sauce, lamb loin in a Cabernet Sauvignon sauce, and most everything else delicious to eat that’s French.
Cheeses are flown in from France.
And a custom rotisserie slowly turns roasted chicken, duck, pork, beef and veal.
Red Ginger is the most sought-after specialty restaurant. Indeed, it’s one of the best cruise ship restaurants!
Guests say it’s the equivalent of a delicious pan-Asian dining experience you’d find in San Francisco, New York or Seattle.
The food here is bold and spicy – caramelized tiger prawns, seared tuna with a sesame crust and wasabi cream, creative salads like spicy duck with watermelon and cashews.
Mmmm… Need we say more?
Culinary discovery tours
Eating is one pleasure; learning about different local culinary cultures is another.
With Oceania, you can delve into the food traditions of many of the destinations you visit on their popular culinary discovery tours.
First you get a little orientation about the local cuisine.
Then, accompanied by an Oceania chef instructor, you explore local food markets, restaurants, vineyards, farms and cooking schools.
Of course, some grazing and sampling is on the activity menu too.
When you stop at Marseilles, you stroll through the daily colorful market of nearby Aix-en-Provence, bursting with hand-made sausages, vegetables and cheeses, before being treated to a one-of-a-kind cooking demonstration by Michelin starred Chef Reine Sammut.
Then you get to eat what she’s whipped up.
In Catania (Italy), you learn how to make cannoli from a Sicilian pastry chef.
In Cozumel (Mexico), you visit a cacao plantation and see how chocolate is made.
And in Sydney (Australia), you buy fresh local oysters from the famous Sydney Fish Market.
Hands-on cooking school
Now, you’re probably keen to try preparing some of these wonderful dishes yourself, right?
Well, on Marina and Riviera, you can do just that at The Culinary Center – the first hands-on cooking school at sea.
Everyone has their own fully-equipped workstation. Roll up your sleeves, because you’re going to have fun mucking about with your hands!
Unlike some cooking schools at sea, at The Culinary Center you’re not only learning how to cook, you’re sipping wine, hearing personal stories from the chef and learning about the local cuisine.
Discover the secrets for making the perfect mojito, brush up on your knife skills, master the art of working with rice paper and revel in creating one of the most-requested desserts – the drunken limoncello cake.
Sadly, the only problem is that cooking back home is going to seem, well, boring, in comparison.
None of this would matter a whit, though, if the service was only so-so.
On Marina and Riviera, 800 crew members look after 1,250 guests. On Oceania’s four other smaller ships, there are 400 crew for just 680 guests.
That staff-to-guest ratio is pretty high.
We hear they remember your name and your likes and dislikes.
Seating is open at all restaurants – dine at the time you want.
And if you want a romantic table for two, just ask. (No being forced to sit with that dreadful couple from New York, or was it Toronto?)
Oh, and the butlers – yes, suite guests have butlers – are trained by the Guild of Professional English Butlers, which certifies staff for the royal palaces of Britain.
Cruise line with best food? Maybe!
Okay. We’re convinced that Oceania offers some of the best cruises for food lovers.
So we’re ready to twirl chopsticks and use lobster forks on Oceania Cruises! How about you?
Sail away on more cruises!
Seabourn | What’s luxury like on this top cruise line? See our review of Seabourn. (Hint: Lots of free champagne and caviar!)
River cruises | Discover the world’s best river cruises and river ships.
Viking Cruises | Is the Viking Silver Spirits drinks package worth it?
Our top travel tips and resources
Here are our favorite travel resources:
Hotels: Booking.com is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)
Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).
Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out GetYourGuide and Viator.
Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.
Travel insurance: World Nomads travel insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, with coverage for more than 150 activities, as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more.
Vaccines and meds: We follow CDC travel guidelines to see what medications and vaccines are needed for trips. You can get vaccines at your pharmacy, travel medical clinic or doctor’s office.
Travel gear: See our travel shop to find the best luggage, accessories and other travel gear. (We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.)
Need more help planning your trip? Check out our travel tips and resources guide for airline booking tips, ways to save money, how to find great hotels and other crazy useful trip planning info.
Pssst! If you make a booking or purchase through our site, we may earn a small commission (at no cost to you). Thanks!
Photo credits: Oceania Cruises (except #7)
Disclosure: This post was written in collaboration with Oceania Cruises and the SheSavvy Influence Network. All opinions (and drooling), however, are our own.
About the authors
Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.
Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!
Sunday 7th of August 2022
Cruised on Insignia out of NYC on 12 Jul.
Food was unremarkable in the main Dining room. Steak house brought me two unchewable rib eyes. Best thing in the Italian grill was the lasagna. The buffet was limited and repetitive.
I've have had better food on other lines. For me, the Oceania hype does not satisfy the appetite.
Janice and George
Monday 15th of August 2022
Hi Dex, We're sorry to hear that. It's a drag when your expectations aren't met.
Olga o Flores
Friday 9th of August 2019
We are traveling to Dubai for a 30 days cruise! Beginning from Dubai and finishing in Cape Town. Going to be 12/7 until 1/7/2020! Any advice from people who have already been on this cruise? This will be our first time with Oceania! We cruise most of the time with Holland America and with Princess (very disappointed with princess).
Janice and George
Saturday 10th of August 2019
Oh, you'll be happy :-). Here's what Frommers says about Oceania and how it compares to HAL and Princess. And here are some CruiseCritic comments on Oceania vs Holland America.
Your one-month itinerary sounds fabulous too! Maybe add on a safari in South Africa too at the end of your cruise? See our post on A Big 5 Safari in Sabi Sands Game Reserve.
Irene S. Levine
Wednesday 2nd of August 2017
Not only did you make me hungry but you made me yearn to sail on Oceania again! Definitely a great line for food enthusiasts!
Janice and George
Wednesday 2nd of August 2017
And who isn't a food enthusiast!