Are you sipping too much eggnog trying to find the perfect holiday gift for a food-loving cruiser? The sort who picks a ship for its cuisine as much for its design and itinerary? I can think of a few ideas, because a foodie who loves cruising describes me. Read on for sensational suggestions to suit all budgets.
THE PAGE-TURNER Taste the World: The Food and Flavors of Oceania Cruises is one impressive cookbook. If you're not yet an Oceania fan, plan on becoming one upon reading this tome. For starters, the book is gorgeous - filled with lavish color photographs. It's a coffee table crowd-pleaser, but you won't want it gathering living room dust. Taste the World offers more than 100 tempting recipes that typify Oceania's impressive cuisine.
Taste the World is professionally written; the riveting prose takes you through 24 hours onboard an Oceania ship, introducing prep cooks, sommeliers, consulting master chef Jacques Pépin and fleet culinary maestro, Franck Garanger (easily the most progressive corporate cruise chef today). This book takes you behind the scenes on Oceania ships to learn what makes meals onboard so memorable. Some recipes are complex but directions are expertly written and will guide you well. Whether you cook with Taste of the World or just leisurely thumb through the pages, you'll discover a book that transports you on a dreamy virtual Oceania voyage. ($54.95; amazon.com)
THE SUPERSTAR CHEF SAIL Whoever unwraps a booking for the Paul Gauguin seven-day voyage to Tahiti and the Society Islands June 23, 2012 will be one ecstatic cruiser. Sure, the French Polynesia itinerary and ship are lovely, but what makes this cruise exceptional is the guest chef onboard. Get ready to swoon; it's Jean-Pierre Vigato, chef and proprietor of Michelin two-star restaurant Apicius in Paris.
Paul Gauguin Cruises has an ongoing relationship with Vigato; sailings feature his signature menu in the ship's La Veranda restaurant. Select dishes appear at L'Etoile, as well.
Vigato, a self-taught chef, is the current darling of the foodie world. Many trek to Paris solely to dine at his restaurant. What an opportunity to rub shoulders with a big-league chef on such a small (332-passenger) ship. And Vigato isn't onboard to merely strut his stuff. He will man the kitchen, personally preparing dishes for guests and conducting cooking demonstrations (think recipes like cottage pie with oxtail and black truffles) that explain why his fans are legion. If a glance at an onboard tasting menu – three-preparations tuna with ginger confit; baby vegetable fricassee with parsley puree-infused bouillon; grilled wahoo (white meat fish found in tropical waters) with Thai vegetables – is a clue, cruisers are in for a superb treat. (Cruise fare per person, double occupancy, including airfare from Los Angeles to Papeete, begins at $4,597.00. (pgcruises.com)
THE FOOD-AND-WINE EXTRAVAGANZA It's hard to one-up the cuisine served daily onboard Crystal Cruises' two ships, Serenity and Symphony. Devotees adore all venues, from Nobu Matushisa's inimitable sushi in Silk Road and the Sushi Bar, to those poolside Kobe burgers that drip juice. Plus, Crystal Cruises goes all-inclusive in 2012, so dining, gratuities, wines and spirits are complimentary. But one special extravaganza is extra, and this is the holiday gift to give your Crystal-loving mate.
Imagine a lavish winemaker dinner in the Vintage Room, an unparalleled experience created by onboard chefs and the head sommelier. The elaborate menu includes some six-to-eight courses prepared for only 10-to-14 guests, often reflecting the ship's sailing region. Vintage Room dinners are offered just a few times on a typical 11-day cruise.
Each course is paired with a rare wine (think super-Tuscans or 1959 Château Lafite-Rothschild) and the leisurely evening lasts some three-plus hours. The sommelier introduces each wine, giving passengers both a mini-education and varietal thrills. (Pencils and sheets for note-taking are included.) Participants receive a personalized menu in a folder as a remembrance. If you want to go hog-wild on the Christmas gift, book the entire Vintage Room. The chef and sommelier will custom-design the menu and wines for a foodie fantasy. ($210 per person, gratuities included; $2,100, gratuities included, for entire Vintage Room; crystalcruises.com)
THE BOOK THAT COOKS Excite the Senses: A Culinary Journey with Celebrity Cruises does just that. This book is a thrill a minute, crammed with more than 250 recipes created by Jacques Van Staden, Celebrity's Vice-President of Culinary Operations (one of the most passionate, innovative chefs in the industry) and his team. Excite the Senses may be nearly 400 pages (you could also use this hefty tome for bicep curls) but none is wasted.
The recipes showcase Celebrity's signature dishes, from main dining room favorites to what Van Staden has brought to the table since 2007; he re-imagined shipboard dining for Solstice Class vessels. Innovative beverages are showcased, too; Van Staden led the way for the two-story Wine Tower in the main dining room and molecular cocktails for the Molecular Bar.
Photography is breathtaking; five-spice crusted venison loin, and curried chicken and roasted beet salad, are but two photographed recipes that nearly leap from the page. The scope of concise recipes is striking, and so are tips abundantly sprinkled throughout the book. How to make Qsine's signature sushi roll lollipops at home, for instance, or create a mini-version of the gorgeous cruise ship buffets. These are welcome words of wisdom. ($59.95; CelebrityLifestyleBook.com)
THE CUPCAKE LOVER Royal Caribbean passengers adore the cupcakes at The Cupcake Cupboard, the vintage-style shop found on Oasis class and some upgraded ships. The made-from-scratch cupcakes (often up to 30 varieties) include faves like chocolate peanut butter and red velvet (gluten-free, too). A new cupcake flavor is showcased daily.
The shop also offers 30-minute hands-on decorating classes. ("Hamburger" or "teapot" cupcakes, anyone?) Fans of the frosted sweet store would love Royal Caribbean Cupcakes & Scoops, the cruise line's collection of cupcake recipes and best-selling ice cream flavors. The cookbook comes with an apron, piping bag, three piping tips, 25 cupcake liners, 25 mini-cupcake liners and 12 decorative picks. $1 of the purchase cost benefits Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses. ($34.95; shopgiftsandgear.com/Cupcakes_and_Scoops.asp)