The Best Cruise Line for Food and Drinks Has an Onboard Test Kitchen

As a cruise journalist who has eaten her way around seven continents by ship for decades, I easily enjoy more than 175 meals a year at sea. I still remember the old days — aka the late 1990s — when the plates presented on board bore little relationship to the ships’ itineraries. (Mexican food in the Mediterranean, anyone?) Back then, sustainability efforts, the centering of local ingredients, celebrity chef affiliations, and shore excursions to farms, markets, and wineries were nonexistent. How times have changed. Now, shipboard cuisine can rival the best on land. Cruise lines seek to outdo each other, continually raising the bar in the process. 

Yet, despite compelling competition, Silversea topped the list this year, winning recognition for its food and beverage programs that evolve with each new ship class, exploring innovative ways to deliver meaningful food experiences onboard and ashore. Silversea is the only cruise line with a food anthropologist on the payroll (London-based Ilaria Edoardi), ensuring that culinary shore excursions, menus, dish descriptions, and ingredients are true to the cultures they come from on each global journey.

Sure, some of those experiences are fancy. White-gloved butlers present complimentary caviar with accouterments to all passengers whenever they want — a rarity, even for luxury lines. Yes, lobster and prime beef are everyday ship fare. Yet it’s the novel S.A.L.T. (an acronym for Sea and Land Taste) program that propels Silversea to the head of the fleet. The program comes to life multiple ways: through carefully curated shore excursions, an onboard test kitchen, lectures, a bar, and a restaurant. How daring to devote an entire restaurant — and not just token dishes — to the itinerary where a ship sails, celebrating a region’s ingredients and cuisine.

Authenticity is top of mind for S.A.L.T. Kitchen’s chefs, even if a signature local dish seems humble, like the Colombian sudado de pollo, softly stewed bone-in chicken legs, served in Cartagena on my recent two-week South American sailing. In S.A.L.T. Lab (the ship’s test kitchen and cooking school), enthusiastic culinary instructors who share impressive knowledge of the area’s culinary heritage keep hands-on classes full. Nearly every passenger visits S.A.L.T. Bar, curious to sip cocktails that use local spirits and ingredients. But to my mind, its S.A.L.T. Experiences shore excursions rivet most. Where else can you join fellow devotees to cook with Italy’s best pizzaiolo; learn organic farming secrets in Paros, Greece; or score impossible reservations at some of the world's best restaurants, like France’s Mirazur?

Mostly, I cannot forget the newly launched Chef’s Table tasting menu experience inside the beautifully airy S.A.L.T. Lab. We sat, wide-eyed, in a semicircle tossing critiques and questions back and forth with our Venezuelan chef, learning about ingredients like salprieta (an Ecuadorian condiment of ground toasted corn and peanuts) and tucupi (fermented yuca liquid), as he transformed them into small bites of elegance and grace. It wasn’t the ocean, or the Chilean wines poured, that made us feel like toppling from our chairs, but rather, the wonder of it all.

Global Tastemakers is a celebration of the best culinary destinations in the U.S. and abroad. We asked more than 180 food and travel journalists to vote on their favorites, including restaurants and bars, cities, hotels, airports, airlines, and cruises. We then entrusted those results to an expert panel of judges to determine each category’s winners. In many categories, we’ve included a Plus One, hand-selected by our expert panel, to shout out more culinary destinations we don’t want our readers to miss. See all the winners at


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