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Culinary cruise programs offer the best of both worlds

Oceania Marina cooking class
Oceania Marina cooking class
Photo by: Ralph Grizzle via Flickr

One of the major selling points of a cruise vacation is that your meals are "all-inclusive". Aside from having to pay out of pocket for alcoholic beverages and the occasional surcharge for dining in the steakhouse or specialty Italian restaurant, you can enjoy anything your heart desires, including the infamous lobster night offered by Carnival Cruise Line. If an epicurean adventure ranks high on your vacation "must have" list then a culinary or wine focused cruise is the perfect way have the best of both worlds.

Culinary cruises appeal to those who want to combine their love for cruising and fine dining. From celebrity and master chefs, to hands-on experiences both on board and ashore, options are available for the most discerning foodie. With programs offered on small and intimate ships and larger vessels, the only thing between you and your perfect vacation is choosing a cruise line and picking a date.

Below are a few cruise lines that offer some of the most extensive programs that go beyond the normal excursion and redefine what it means to partake in a culinary adventure...at sea.

Crystal Cruises

Crystal Cruises offers several voyages in their "Experiences of Discovery" themed cruise itineraries. Combining food, wine, and golf, the Crystal Wine & Food Festival, which is in its 17th year, makes stops in Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, South Pacific, Panama Canal, Canada, New England, and the Caribbean. Increasing in popularity, these voyages attract some of the world's top culinary talent, including mixologists and sommeliers. Micro-breweries have been recently added to the program for those craft beer enthusiasts.

Oceania Cruises

Created in conjunction with Bon Appétit magazine, the Bon Appétit Culinary Center on board the Riveria and Marina vessels allow guests to experience the many facets of gourmet cuisine. Known as the world’s only hands-on culinary cooking school at sea, it is the perfect option for aspiring chefs, foodies and gourmands alike. Also available is their new "Cuisines of the World" program in which on board restaurants highlight dishes from local ports. You can even tag along with an expert chef on one of the "Culinary Discovery Tours" that makes stops in local markets and shops and is followed by a cooking class.

Silversea Cruises

It starts in your stateroom suite on board Silversea Cruises with a video designed to prepare you for the various wine regions you will visit during your vacation. With the "Culinary Arts Voyages", you can mingle with celebrity chefs as they share their culinary expertise via tastings, lectures, cooking demonstrations and gourmet dinners. Offered free of charge to guests on select voyages, the "Relais & Chateaux L'Ecole des Chefs" program is focused on highlighting the visited regions and includes on hands-on cooking instruction, wine pairings, and local market tours.

Other cruise lines offering culinary options are Holland America, Windstar, Paul Gaugin, and Celebrity.