Top Five Foodie Cruises

| Monday, 16 Sept. 2013
Crystal chefs present grand buffet

Top recommendations for upcoming food and wine cruises by our culinary expert

Food and wine-themed sailings abound - particularly on repositioning and shoulder season voyages, when cruise lines face challenges to fill cabins. Here are my top five choices for fall-into-spring trips.

Crystal Cruises

Crystal Cruises delivers premium cuisine and wine on all sails but the line ups its considerable ante on Crystal Wine & Food Festival voyages. The "Song of South America" hits all the high points on a Miami to Rio de Janeiro sail from November 23, 2013 to December 9, 2013 on Crystal Symphony.

Count on two guest chefs, a wine historian and mixologist onboard. Plus, the accent is on local flavors, supplying a great sense of place. The chefs are Hans Neuner, the internationally acclaimed Michelin two-star winner from Portugal (Portuguese influence in Brazil is huge); and Rob Wilson, executive chef of the Montage Laguna Beach in California, a luxury resort nationally applauded for cuisine.

What's new and notable to this voyage: There will be two seven course Vintage Room Dinners (one by each chef; extra charge); two guest chef dinners for all guests in Crystal Dining Room with all-inclusive wine pairings recommended by guest wine expert; cooking demonstrations by the pool, if weather permits; hands-on cooking classes in Crystal's galley.

San Francisco's Nina Wemyss is more than a wine expert - she's a wine historian who has appeared on the History Channel. Expect South America wine-tastings delivered with style.

Book by October 31st and fares begin at just $249 per person per day. (crystalcruises.com)

Silversea Cruises

This small-ship luxury line has a strong weapon; David Bilsland, its culinary trainer. The British chef was trained in classical French cooking (both cuisine and patisserie) and worked in leading restaurants and hotels in the U.K. He will be onboard a Malaga, Spain to Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain seven-day Silver Wine cruise, sailing November 26, 2013.

The itinerary is perfect for foodies, as it includes Casablanca, Morocco, which has one of the most fascinating exotic markets in the world. Chef Bilsland will lead interested guests on a Central Market tour and then to the La Toque Blanche School of Gastronomy. Expect an informative cooking class on Moroccan cuisine and its use of spice, followed by a lunch of the featured dishes (and yes, you can eat Moroccan-style, on pillows on the floor).

Onboard, Chef Bilsland will demonstrate dishes designed with local ingredients. I've taken his classes and walked away impressed. He is able to impart information for all levels of students in a fun manner. He will also lead cooking competitions and teach a class where students will lunch on what is cooked.

Wine-lovers should note two significant shore excursions; one to a top Moroccan winery in the Ben Slimane provence, and the other on the Lanzarote Wine Route in the Canary Islands. Both provide a great learning opportunity and the chance to taste uncommon wines in uncommon settings. Prices begin at $3,850 per person. (silversea.com)

Norwegian Cruise Line

Rub shoulders with superstar TV chef Geoffrey Zakarian on two Norwegian Breakaway roundtrip New York week-long sails; November 3, 2013 and December 1 2013 voyages, visiting the Bahamas. Zakarian is a celeb chef on Iron Chef America and on CHOPPED, where he is a recurring judge. He recently won the fourth season of the Food Network's The Next Iron Chef, Super Chefs."

This chef is more than just a pretty face; he has earned his stripes. Zakarian has presided over some of the country's top kitchens in a more than 25-year illustrious career. In Manhattan, his Lambs Club and The National deliver supreme cuisine today.

Zakarian is promising meet-and-greet sessions (yes, you can snap a picture with him), dynamic cooking demonstration and book signing of his latest cookbook (bring the credit card).

The ship is offering extra up-close-and-personal time with this chef. A limited number of guests can sign up for an intimate dining experience of his Ocean Blue (Zakarian's onboard restaurant) tasting menu, served by the Iron Chef himself. At an extra cost, of course.

Fares begin at $599 per person; unbeatable for a chance to meet such a notable chef. (ncl.com)

AmaWaterways

Norman Love is one of America's most award-winning chocolatiers. He is the chef, president and founder of Norman Love Confections & Artisan Gelato. He's going to lead an AmaWaterways "Chocolate Connoisseurs Cruise" from Vilshofen, Germany to Budapest, Hungary, a seven-night AmaCerto sail on the Danube April 25 2014. (I know the dates are slightly past winter, but it's AmaWaterways first chocolate cruise. And this river cruise line does lots right.)

The amiable, hyper-talented Norman Love trained in France and has appeared on the Discovery Channel, among others. Expect chocolate tastings and demonstrations, chocolate-themed shore excursions, educational chocolate seminars and - what such cruise would be complete without - a chocolate mini-buffet extravaganza. Prices begin at $3,099 per person. (amawaterways.com)

Windstar Cruises

Can't get enough of tapas and Spanish wines? Hankering to hang with a leading culinary magazine expert? Sign up for an eight-day Lisbon-to-Barcelona cruise on Wind Surf commencing April 19, 2014.

This jewels-of-Spain voyage is all about nibbling and sipping along the sunny south coast. The rich culinary and wine traditions of regions from Andalucia to Catalonia will be savored, along with special shore excursions providing an insider's look at the ingredients and techniques that give Spanish food and wine their signature flavor and style.

Visit Jerez de la Frontera, the "Sherry Capital of the World." Explore a wine museum in Mijas. Snack on tapas, prepare paella under the guidance of a local chef and learn how olive oil is produced in Mallorca.

Saveur, an excellent culinary magazine, will send an expert onboard who will lead two cooking demonstrations. Leading Spanish winemaker and importer Jorge Ordonez will also sail with guests. He is hugely passionate about Spanish wines. I can't think of a better wine expert to sail with than Ordonez. Prices begin at $3,199 per person. (windstarcruises.com)

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