While cruise ship menus list a whole variety of soup-to-nuts options, from classics to regional specialties, for those in the know, the kitchen can produce off-menu items to spice up your vacation experience — literally, in some cases.
Remember: Cruise ship galleys cater not only to passengers, but also to international crew members. To make staff feel at home, galley workers produce all sorts of authentic cuisine. And since the chefs themselves hail from all over the world — the Philippines, India, Italy, Indonesia, Germany, and the Caribbean — they may also have their own specialties that never appear on printed dining room menus.
Luxury cruise lines are particularly practiced at meeting special requests: In the Queens Grill on Cunard Line ocean liners, the top off-menu requests include continental classics such as osso bucco, veal chop, and obster thermidor, according to the cruise line.
If you have a craving or a particular dish you want to try, it's best to make your request via your waiter or the dining room maître d', preferably 24 hours in advance. Don’t have something special in mind? Consider one of our favorite off-menu orders:
Since Carnival ships have Indian chefs in the kitchen, this is a tasty choice. Just be aware that the preparations tend to be authentic, which may mean spicy. Sometimes Indian dishes are also an option on main dining room menus.
This delicious Filipino stew involves meat — pork or chicken— marinated and cooked in vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic, and served over rice. My first hint to special order adobo came from a Princess cabin steward from the Philippines, who told me the ship's preparation was as good as what he could get at home.
You might not expect to find that hot, savory, sweet thing going on while cruising down the Danube, but that's what I found on an Avalon Waterways river ship. The line's executive chef, Michael Baptiste, happens to hail from Trinidad. When he's onboard, such as when new ships debut, he takes special requests, among them this Caribbean-spiced chicken.
(Updated in May 2017 - Michael Baptiste is no longer with Avalon, but the cruise line has informed us that the onboard chefs will make just about anything a guest requests as long as the ingredients are on hand.)
I like mine pan-seared with caramelized fruits, and that's just how it was prepared for me by special request on a Seabourn ship in the Caribbean. Love all offal products? Windstar Cruises has been known to meet passenger requests for haggis — a sheep stomach filled with other bits, as well as oats — on Scotland itineraries.
On ships with Indonesian crew members, fried rice may be a specialty — at least in the back of the house. See if you can special order a batch topped with egg, chicken, or shrimp. (Holland America ships also feature Indonesian cuisine one day per sailing on the buffet.)
A little-known, off-menu specialty on Crystal cruise ships is kosher roasted chicken, which is juicy with crispy skin and just the right amount of seasoning. Just remember: A day's notice is required.
Ice Cream Bars
Disney's little secret? Mickey Mouse ear-shaped ice cream bars are not just for kids. Adults can also order the chocolate-coated, vanilla ice cream bars both in the dining room and via room service to eat in bed while watching a movie. And don’t worry … we won’t tell if you order one after the kids go to sleep.