The days of generic cruise ship buffets are well and truly over.
LA-based Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone has designed a new menu for his 'Share' restaurants, available on two Princess cruise ships in Australia this summer. It's the latest example of fine dining becoming a key selling point for many cruise lines.
The Ruby Princess docked in Circular Quay, Sydney, early on Wednesday morning, with about 3100 passengers and more than 1000 staff on board.
The large ship, equivalent to 54 Manly ferries, is making its debut in Australia this cruising season.
Stone, who operates two Michelin-star restaurant in Los Angeles, now has 'Share' on three Princess ships, including Ruby Princess.
Stone says the Share menu sources 90 per cent of its ingredients locally. Easily done in a land-based restaurant, the practice is more difficult when the restaurant traverses Asia, Oceania and Africa on the high seas.
Yet the attention to detail is increasingly typical of cruise lines, where Princess Cruises Asia-Pacific Vice President Stuart Allison says fine dining has become one of the key priorities for passengers in the last decade.
"We like to at least give the option for passengers to try food from famous chefs like Curtis," Mr Allison said.
Cruise ships around the world now offer experiences such as sushi making in Japan, king crab farming and harvesting in Norway, and visiting the Mount Gay Rum distillery in Barbados.
Celebrity chefs such as Jacques Pepin, formerly personal chef to three French presidents, have, like Stone, designed menus for ships.
Share's six-course menu on board the Ruby Princess is available to passengers for $40.
New additions to the menu include Australian wagyu striploin, accompanied by a slice of king trumpet mushroom and drizzled in short rib gravy.
Each of the courses has a choice of two or three dishes. There's lobster, prawn and Alaska king crab as seafood options, and duck leg confit or a brown butter Berkshire pork chop as alternatives to the wagyu steak.
The 16th-deck restaurant has a personal touch, too.
"We designed the ship restaurant's decor based on my home in Los Angeles," Stone said of the nautical-themed design at the unveiling of his new menu on Wednesday.
"Some of the decorations are exactly the same as my living room. It's a little bit strange actually."
Mr Allison says the other trend he has observed in cruising is a desire for "off the beaten track", local experiences.
"In Melbourne, for example, we take our passengers on a tour to Melbourne's best coffee, so they see some street art and the laneways too," he said.
They're yet to design an equivalent for Sydney, mainly because it's generally the start or end of passengers' trips, Mr Allison added.
Some liners have escalated that trend to building custom-made attractions on private islands, such as Royal Caribbean's $275 million "CocoCay" complex in the Bahamas. The cruise line is planning a similar attraction on an island in Vanuatu.
From January, Ruby Princess will join the company's several-strong fleet of "smart ships", where every passenger carries a bite-sized dongle.
About 8000 sensors, connected by five kilometres of wiring, are installed on the ship to interact with the dongles. When passengers are within metres of their bedrooms, the dongles automatically unlock their door. A mobile app allows drinks to be ordered to your exact location.
And if you've lost your friend somewhere on the ship's 17 levels, there's a "find my friend" app that pinpoints the dongle (unless you're hunting privacy and turn it off, of course).
Michael Fowler travelled to Sydney as a guest of Princess Cruises.