The Five Best Cruise Lunches

A hamburger or hot dog from the grill?  How very, very…lunch hour.

And yet, when I cruise, I can’t see myself coming in from a morning under the blazing Caribbean sun to chow down on massive, steaming bowls of beef bourguignon, hot soups, and pasta.  The salad bar is fine until I reach the end of the cruise and often discover that the perky arugula is gone and the base of my salad is tired-looking romaine leaves.  And where did the green olives and cashews go?

So, tuck in your napkin and join me for a taste of my favorite lunches at sea:

OCEANIA:  Hands down, my favorite shipboard lunch option is Oceania Cruises’ International Sampler.  An assortment of dishes related to a different country or region of the world, each day the sampler transports me to the local food market of some of my favorite destinations with small portions of a variety of the area’s delectable signature eats. Today, I may savor the tastes of Greece.  Tomorrow, Italy, India, France, Spain…who knows??  And while the samplers are served only in Oceania ships’ main dining room, which means I have to slip into something a bit more modest than flip-flops and a cover-up, it’s totally worth it!

Oceania Greek Sampler | Photo: Judi Cuervo

VIKING OCEAN:  Mmmmmm…Mamsen’s!  Sure, aboard Viking Ocean ships, you can grab lunch at the buffet, the grill or in the dining room but sometimes you just crave the wholesome and healthy—yet undeniably delicious—Norwegian dishes available at Mamsen’s.  Tucked into the corner of The Explorer’s Lounge, this serene space is the perfect setting to indulge in fragrant pea soup (with or without ham), and open-faced sandwiches like shrimp/tomato/cucumber, gravlox and red onion, roast beef and more, each served with its own delectable dipping sauce.  Warm dishes like fish cake on rye are also available.  But don’t feel too virtuous!  Mamsen’s serves its heart-shaped waffles all day long along with an eye-popping assortment of cakes, tarts and pastries.

Viking Cruises Mamesens | Photo: Judi Cuervo

ROYAL CLIPPER:  This 4,425 grt ton, 152-guest five-masted sailing ship might be a little slip of a thing in today’s megaship world, but when it comes to a superb lunch buffet, she’s mammoth.  Descend the dramatic wrought iron filigree staircase, past the colorful nautical murals, and enter the Clipper Dining Room for superb, usually themed, buffet lunches supplemented by cooking, salad and dessert stations.  Likely, the elegant dining space will be adorned with a riot of decorations reflecting the day’s theme.  Live piano music provides a relaxing, unobtrusive backdrop as guests might dig into an Italian-themed buffet featuring huge and tender calamari in butter and garlic sauce, steamed mussels and shrimp, spinach-and-artichoke-filled filo, crispy rice balls, cooked-to-order pastas and some of the best pizza at sea.  Asian, International, Caribbean and Barbecue themes are just as varied and scrumptious!

Royal Clipper | Photo: Judi Cuervo

CRYSTAL CRUISES:  Feel like a splurge?  Head to the elegantly-lit, wood-paneled Vintage Room aboard your Crystal Cruises ship for an intimate mid-day meal that is any oenophile’s idea of heaven.  With themes that range from Champagne to Tuscany, Spain, California, the Italian Wine Regions and more, count on a menu filled with lavish dishes like Wagyu Beef Tenderloin, creamy and rich roasted tomato risotto alongside an ethereal white balsamic froth, veal scallopini and other gastronomic masterpieces.  Dessert might be a sublime dark chocolate marquise and homemade chocolate pralines.  Between the glorious meal and the free-flowing wines, you just might want to skip dinner…and maybe plan a nice afternoon nap as well!  Priced from $95-$145, guests may reserve their place at a scheduled lunch or even plan their own.

Crystal Cruises Veal Scallopini Rolls | Photo: Judi Cuervo

LUNCH ASHORE:  You’ve spent the morning sightseeing or shopping and now it’s early afternoon.  Sure, you could head back to the ship for lunch, but why not immerse yourself in your destination’s culture with a taste of the local cuisine?  Indulge in authentic Paella in Barcelona or maybe pizza in Naples.  The Caribbean tempts with crispy conch fritters beneath a dollop of tartar sauce and Cancun is the place for chargrilled tacos and maybe a refreshing margarita.  Explore the side streets and alleyways until something tickles your fancy.  You’ll be helping the local economy while opening yourself up to a whole world of flavors!

Judi Cuervo is a New York City native who fell in love with cruising in 1976 during her first sailing aboard Carnival Cruises’ Mardi Gras. Twenty years later, she began her freelance cruise writing gig and, since that time, has covered mass market, ultra-premium, riverboat and expedition ships for regional, national and international publications as well as cruise websites.