Cruise Vs Land: Culinary Efforts Draw Travelers To Sea

The culinary efforts of talented and creative chefs have always been a big part of the cruise vacation experience.  The midnight buffets and all-you-can-eat offerings of yesteryear have evolved to include experiences rivaling those available on land. But dining is still a big reason travelers choose cruise vacations over other travel options. We can credit a number of mostly subjective factors for the continued popularity of dining on a cruise.  Still,  there are some rather easy to document reasons to choose a cruise over a land vacation that go beyond personal preference.

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$ for $ A Cruise Is A Better Value
This is a topic we visit from time to time; examining the true value of a cruise vacation, and for good reason.  Value is a big selling point for everyone from the families to solo travelers who choose a cruise over land travel options.  Only Convenience (unpack once, visit multiple destinations) rivals value in the decision making process.  Always interested in this topic of why travelers choose to cruise, a  press release from Florida’s Port Everglades caught our attention.


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The announcement: A daily, four-hour Balearia Express ferry that runs between the port and Grand Bahama Island had more than doubled their capacity, replacing its 460-passenger vessel with new 1,000-passenger Bahama Mama. Relatively new to North America, at other ports around the world ferry service between the mainland and similarly close-by islands is a common way to vacation, with many travelers driving their own vehicles on to the ferry then off at the destination.

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Growing in popularity here, Balearia Ferry Express service at Port Everglades grew by a third from 90,909 passengers in 2013 to 121,321 passengers in 2014. Port officials expect the ferry company’s success to continue at an even faster pace with the new Bahama Mama, which carries more passengers and larger amounts of cargo, containers and vehicles.

The Big Question
So what if we took a ferry to Grand Bahama Island instead of a 3-day cruise on a major cruise line?  How would that stack up?  We compared the cost of a short 3-day vacation for two beginning on Friday May 29 and ending on Monday June 1.  The numbers speak for themselves.

By Ferry
$342 Ferry Fare, round trip, Balearia Ferry Express, least expensive fare
$248 Least Expensive Hotel we could find- Royal Islander Hotel
$590 total for two

Not a really fair comparison because every cruise does include dining and superior accommodations, so let’s make that the least expensive all inclusive hotel.  We’ll make it one with a casino too, just to more closely compare apples to apples.

$342 Ferry Fare, round trip, Balearia Ferry Express, least expensive fare
$881 All Inclusive Hotel – Memories Grand Bahama Hotel And Resort
$1223 total for two

By Cruise Ship
We picked a weekend cruise on Royal Caribbean‘s Majesty of the Seas in the least expensive inside stateroom. If nothing else, there is a casino, entertainment and the ship takes passengers to beaches.

$879.66 total for two, regular price, no discounts or promotions applied.  To be fair, one does not have to look very far to find either a Royal Caribbean or Carnival Cruise Line sale that will reduce the price of a weekend cruise further.

Still, going comparing a ferry ride and hotel stay to a cruise vacation, travelers on the cruise could dine in style, 24-hours a day while those on land fend for themselves.  It could be fair to say that dining possibilities tip the scale, with cruise vacations coming out a clear winner.

Better yet, destination-focused cruise lines focus culinary efforts on the places they visit along the way.  That factor is normally looked at as a nice-to-do feature that helps immerse passengers in the destinations visited.  On a cost-only basis, enjoying authentic cuisine, on the ship, while at the destination, goes a long way toward value as well.


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Dietary Needs
Among other significant factors that define the better value of a cruise vacation over land-based options are dietary needs. On every major cruise line, advance contact with the special needs department before boarding will give those with special dietary needs a complete picture of what will be available.  Dining on land, that same assurance would take a lot more research.


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This is not a big issue for those who simply don’t care for onions, meat, fish or some other easily-identifiable recipe element.  But for those with moderate to extreme allergies, dietary needs can be a matter of life or death.


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I was reminded of that fact on a recent Viking River Cruise, when several ladies told me their story of sailing with an American river cruise line, noting the American cruise line’s complete lack of regard for their special needs.  They simply did not consider such matters.  On Viking, they were so very pleased that on the first day, the chef stopped by their table to discretely discuss their needs and assure them that they would be met or exceeded.  One of the ladies went on to say that the chef even made versions of menu items on the menu especially for her, removing the allergens, substituting other ingredients and allowing her also to enjoy the same menu.


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I bring that topic up with details of my meeting with those passengers on that Viking River Cruise mainly because it is not a topic that comes up often and those ladies wanted their story to be told.  Most major cruise lines emulate that experience to a great degree, each a bit differently.  Costa Cruises, for example, has a lovely, separate dining room for those with food allergies, absolutely guaranteeing that there will be no products enter the area that did not come from a separate kitchen that prepares special needs meals.

It is often the more flashy news of a celebrity chef’s contribution to cruise line culinary offerings that garners the most attention.  Looking beyond the headlines, cruise lines of all sizes continue to evolve onboard culinary offerings because they know just how important a part of the overall experience they are.  In an upcoming series, we break down the dining options of a number of cruise lines.  What we have found so far is a need for far more than a directory list of what each line or ship has to offer, what is included in the price and what requires an additional fee.  There are a dozen lists just like that out there to find with a quick Google search.

What interests us more is the thought that goes into the menu, how it looks and is actually executed in real life: What we see on the table. Readers seem to agree, asking very specific questions about culinary offerings on cruise lines changing the flavor from “How was the food?” a question of the past, to a more tasty “Tell me about the culinary operation. I want details.”

Interestingly, some cruise lines grant us full behind-the-scenes access to the heart of the matter and we see what goes on before that food hits the table in the dining room.  Others?  Not so much.

How Important Are Cruise Line Culinary Efforts?

Viking Cruises new Exploring More collection of short films has an entire category devoted to Food & Drink.  Here is one of the featured videos from that collection: