A guide to eating your way through your next cruise vacation

An Italian feast at Sabatini's restaurant onboard the Regal Princess cruise ship.
An Italian feast at Sabatini's restaurant onboard the Regal Princess cruise ship.

When you live in a sun-drenched city where others vacation, one of the easiest ways to take your own family trip or romantic getaway is on a cruise. Ships based out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale have upped their culinary offerings in recent years, partnering with big-name chefs and providing guests 24-hour access to fresh food. We recently set sail on Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess for its third annual Culinary Cruise with acclaimed Miami chefs Brad Kilgore (Alter) and Scott Linquist (Les Banh Amis, Coyo Taco). And we compiled these tips to help you conquer your next eating vacation at sea.

The Regal Princess. Photograph by Princess Cruises.

1. Be Wise at the Buffet

You’ll never go hungry onboard a cruise ship. On the Regal Princess, the massive Horizon Court buffet has literally hundreds of dishes available for breakfast, lunch, dinner and mid-meal snacks. The name of the game here is customization. Whether it’s choosing your fillings at the omelet station or deciding among 20-some salad dressings, go with what you love, or mix it up and try something different each time. 

Obviously there are desserts for days. This buffet always featured rows of fresh fruits, pastries and chocolate creations by Fort Myers-based celebrity chocolatier Norman Love. Even the gluten-free and vegetarians/vegans among us have a broad range of options onboard. Anything else you need? Just ask and executive chef Florin Dragan has you covered.

2. Book the Specialty Restaurants

Don’t miss the specialty dining rooms, which usually require reservations and are always best to book in advance. On the Regal Princess, we felt like royalty at the Italian-themed Sabatini’s, the Crown Grill chophouse and the Crab Shack fish restaurant. Food was second-to-none, including the heavenly mushroom pasta prepared tableside at Sabatini’s and the onion soup at Crown Grill that’s spiked with Jack Daniel’s and topped with a roquefort cheese crust.

But perhaps even more impressive was the international wine selection at each restaurant. A major plus was a beyond-knowledgable sommelier, who helped us pick out Super Tuscans (we went with a 2013 Luce della Vite) and sweet dessert wines (Late-Harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Errazuriz in Chile’s Casablanca Valley). Between the service and the glassware and the decanters, it all had a very Michelin vibe.

Crown Gril_1
A steak at Crown Grill on the Regal Princess.

3. Seek Out the Spa Menu

We discovered a cruise oasis in The Sanctuary, an adults-only area where you can rent a cabana or lounge chair and be pampered while enjoying bites from a spa-inspired menu. We suggest the sautéed edamame and the grilled shrimp, which comes on a bed of Italian-style white beans.

Go ahead and order a cocktail — you deserve it for being so good. An extra-spicy Bloody Mary with Tito’s vodka hits the spot, as does a refreshing Aperol Spritz. Speaking of spritz, crew members come around periodically to cool you down with you a fine mist of Evian.

Kilgore making scallops
Miami chefs Scott Linquist, left, and Brad Kilgore, right, lead a cooking demonstration on the Regal Princess.

4. Follow the Professional Chefs

On our culinary-driven voyage, Princess provided guests with a series of interactive experiences on the ship and off. It felt like being in the studio of a Food Network show when chefs Kilgore and Linquist gave cooking demonstrations on stage in the main theater. The audience went crazy for Kilgore’s Seared Diver Scallops from his Alter restaurant in Wynwood — which the kitchen at Crown Grill prepared for its diners that evening. (Click here for the recipe that Kilgore provided exclusively to INDULGE.) 

Linquist and a local guide led a group of us on a taco tour of Cozumel. We were able to devour not only Cozumel’s best tacos but also a lesson in local history and culture. Each of the restaurants we visited was completely unique and interesting, but the best-taco award goes to El Palomar. The pork chicharron taco, with a fresh blue-corn tortilla and homemade salsas, was perfectly seasoned, each bite better than the last.

Ready to set sail? Don’t forget to pack some extra-loose garb — and bon voyage!