8 things you didn't know about cruise ship kitchens and food

Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines/Getty ImagesThere is a lot going on behind the scenes.
  • Cruise ship kitchens have some secrets that they use to keep guests happy.
  • They bake fresh bread each day.
  • Kitchen and waitstaff actually love to be asked for recommendations (and they don’t mind custom orders either!)

A cruise ship essentially serves as floating hotel that will take you to a handful of destinations and make it easy to enjoy each port’s locale. Even more, a large cruise ship can feel like a mini-city, with live entertainment, fitness facilities, and more than a dozen eateries on-board.

Where and what you eat may seem effortless for the cruise company, but that’s only because there’s a carefully calculated effort behind the scenes to keep each guest feeling happy and full. Want to know how it’s done? Read on for eight secrets we scored directly from cruise ship kitchens.


The kitchens are extra enormous.

WikimediaA cruise ship of 3,500 people needs 600 pounds of butter a day.

Think a hotel kitchen or large-scale restaurant operations are big? Consider a massive cruise ship kitchen, which puts out thousands of plates each day. Size matters here – chefs require supersized stations that can produce larger quantities of foods and sauces, like 60-80 litres of gravy or glaze. A ship that carries 3,500 passengers uses 600 pounds of butter per day, 250,000 eggs per week, and 170,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables per cruise.

Naturally, there are more hands on deck in the kitchen too. While a standard restaurant or moderately sized ship may have 120 staff members on the roster, a large cruise ship kitchen requires a bigger brigade. Large vessels might count up to 200 team members.


They bake bread 24/7.

djedzura / iStockThere is always bread baking on cruise ships.

With buffet options for anytime dining and premium dining establishments, having fresh bread available is essential. It obviously depends on the cruise line, but most chefs bake breads onboard, three times each day – using up to 1,500 pounds of flour daily.

Remarkably, fresh bread is one of the more difficult things to make: The movement on board coupled with air temperature and moisture can make dough work a real challenge, chefs told INSIDER.


They make ice cream every day, too.

ztatangkwa/ShutterstockThey also make ice cream all the time.

Just like the on-board bread, cruise kitchens hand-make ice cream every day. Whether you love the gelato, designer sundaes, creamy fruit smoothies, or a handmade ice-cream cookie sandwich, the team works to ensure it’s available no matter your location or the weather.


Local ingredients are the real secret.

Shutterstock/Yulia GrigoryevaYour love of late night feasting may not be as bad for you as previously thought.

Few know that some cruise lines go the extra mile to incorporate fresh, local ingredients in on-board dishes, such as fresh pasta – picked up while docked in Italy. Princess Cruises, which houses the award-winning Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria, teamed up with Chef Angelo Auriana to create dishes that feature old-world grains (think buckwheat and durum, which give semolina a signature pale yellow colour and help hold the shape of house-made pasta).

Chef Auriana also uses non-traditional ingredients – like mint and marjoram – to give dishes like picage, tortelloni, and risotto authentic flavours. “In my hometown of Bergamo, Italy, I was born with an appreciation for the beautiful flavours of Northern Italy that I love to incorporate into my cooking,” Chef Auriana told INSIDER. “Now I’m pleased to share that appreciation through the delicious menu items we make fresh daily and serve exclusively onboard.”


Chefs are expertly trained.

Stephen Lovekin/GettySome chefs at sea are expertly trained.

Famous chocolatier Norman Love trained in France before partnering up with a cruiseline to create exclusive treats for guests – and he’s just one of many expertly educated culinary masters who have taken their talents to the seas.

Other chefs bring their kitchen experience to the ship. Award-winning chef Ernesto Uchimura, known for his innovative menu at Umami burger, said he draws on his work as a founding chef (Plan Check Kitchen + Bar in Los Angeles) to round out his role in creating a world-class dining experience for guests.

“A gastropub at sea is an innovative concept and it inspired me to get creative in the galley,” Chef Uchimura told INSIDER. “I created a menu that not only satisfies comfort food cravings but also offer guests new pub food flavours and tastes perfectly paired with a craft beer or fine whiskey.”


Kitchen and waitstaff actually love to be asked for recommendations (and they don’t mind custom orders either!)

Johannes Simon/GettyStaff are happy to make recommendations or help you out.

“Consider the staff your friends,” a rep from Princess Cruises advised INSIDER. “Do ask them for recommendations on where and when to eat.”

In addition to staff recommendations on-board and on the shore, know that you can also ask staff for dishes that will satisfy special diets – there’s no need to sacrifice taste if you have restrictions. You shouldn’t hesitate to ask for gluten free pizza, non-dairy, vegetarian, or vegan dishes; there’s always something available for all kinds of cruisers. Just be sure to be kind and thank your server for accommodating.


Guests and destinations do inspire the menus.

iStockThe location and guests are important.

Ever feel like your food or drink is perfectly prepared for your next port? It’s no coincidence: Carnival Cruise Line told INSIDER that they draw inspiration from specific destinations – as well as from guests, to ensure that each bite or sip suits.

Mixologist Rob Floyd said that it’s all about the “Three T’s: taste, technique and tale.” He explains, “First and foremost is ‘taste,’ as interesting ingredient combinations produce delicious flavours. The second element, ‘technique,’ refers to the skill and craft that goes into creating each drink. And last but not least the ‘tale;’ a creative and fascinating inspiration behind each unique cocktail.”

The tale counts some creative cocktail names that help make the experience memorable, like a “Mayan Heat” (with Patrón Silver tequila, Triple Sec, lime juice, agave syrup, and muddled jalapeño) or an “Italian Sunset” (Aperol, Bombay Sapphire gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, Angostura bitters).


Chefs tap their family recipes and favourite ingredients.

Flickr/Luca NebuloniChefs like to use influence from their home cooking or favourite ingredients.

Chefs sometimes boast their favourite dishes, many which come from personal traditions or family histories. Princess Cruises told INSIDER that their team counts more chefs from Italy than anywhere else, and that three of their menu dishes come from family recipes – the Roman Seafood al Cartoccio, Porchetta, and Breaded Veal Vallet.

Other well-known culinary figures are hired by cruise ships to draw a food-loving crowd – and they make sure the ingredients they love are present in their signature dishes. Australian Celebrity Chef Curtis Stone isn’t shy about his love for truffles, while Thomas Keller’s on-board menus tap into the signature flavours people rave about in his cuisine by using his favourite ingredient providers.

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