All About Culinary Immersion at Sea
Culinary immersion. The term sounds ‘fancy,’ but it is actually quite simple. It is all about travelers wanting to connect with the local people and culture they are visiting - on a deeper and more immersive level - through authentic culinary experiences. Globetrotters have always sought to eat well on their journeys, but now many want to go beyond and truly learn about a region or culture through its food and traditions.
“They are looking for a range of experiences: small private cooking and eating experiences with locals; farm-to-table cooking classes including chef-lead market shopping experiences to learn about the food and the culture; dining at award-winning Michelin restaurants as a shore excursion; or having a local award-winning chef come onboard and teach a cooking class,” says Mary Rembold, MBA, owner/travel advisor, Pikes Peak Cruise and Travel.
She continues: “Culinary [travel] experiences are not just for clients who like to cook. It has opened up to the love of food, the ability to experience the culture through the palate. And most importantly, when we have a sensory experience (which food and drink are), we instill a memory that will last forever. Experiencing local food and drink teaches us about the culture and history of a destination.”
Cruise lines are getting it right
Travel advisors can help their foodie clients enjoy true immersion experiences by booking them on culinary-focused cruises. The seafaring adventures visit multiple destinations in one trip; and include enriching educational opportunities, all while exploring culturally rich regions of the world from the comfort of a luxury vessel.
“On a cruise ship you can take an excursion with the chef, learn about the food and culture, purchase the ingredients, and go back and cook the meal … or visit a local home and experience the meal,” notes Rembold. “Talk about understanding and appreciating a local culture.”
Joan Sell, concierge travel advisor at Dream Vacations, says: “Over the past decade, cruise lines have been invested in special venue space on their ships to showcase their specialty dining options, including a Chef’s Table or Wine Maker’s Dinner. These creative and unique menus are paired with fine wines, which enhances the experience. Although there is an additional charge, it is well worth the expense - and a fraction of the cost of any Michelin- or Zagat-worthy restaurant.”
In addition to a Chef’s Table or Wine Maker’s Dinner, Sell notes that a culinary immersion “can also include a shore excursion with the chef, where you visit local markets to learn how herbs and spices play a significant role in local cuisine. A few cruise lines now offer hands-on cooking classes in demonstration kitchens on sea days. Additionally, young aspiring chefs can take advantage of cooking opportunities in supervised youth programs.”
Who are these foodies?
The foodie trend undoubtedly continues to grow. So what rightfully follows is to ask the question: Are there certain segments of the population that are more prone to taking trips with a strong culinary component?
“Most American travelers state they would like to experience a unique food experience. Culinary trips and tours provide that experience. I think in earlier days, people who loved to cook were the market segment. Now people who just love food and wine, beer, and distilleries have become a new market segment,” explains Rembold.
Sell points out another reason why the foodie pool has expanded: “Social media has revolutionized the culinary arts, with food often being the most photographed and shared subject online. This trend continues to attract a broad demographic, particularly the mid-adults who want to showcase their kitchen prowess and entertain their friends and family. Regardless of the class of ship - whether contemporary, premium, or luxury - curious cruisers can plan their onboard specialty dining and shore excursions to discover the exciting world of food and how different cultures utilize their native ingredients.”
The culinary hotspots
And where do foodies want to go? Rembold, who sells a significant amount of culinary trips, says: Europe (France, Italy, Portugal, Spain), where the journeys are about gardens, markets, foraging, and fishing for food; South Africa (for the wines), Asia (Japan, in particular); and Turkey (for the Spice Market).
Sell, who not only books culinary travel but is a self-confessed foodie, says: “Cruising offers an excellent opportunity to visit multiple countries and experience their cuisine in a short period. Italy, for example, boasts over a dozen regional cuisines to enjoy and compare. France is another destination for gourmands, with Michelin-starred chefs offering dinner cruises on the Seine River; or you can relax with wine, cheese, and a baguette in a park, surrounded by numerous independent cafes, each one unique. Greece and Spain are also very popular for culinary journeys.”
Tips for pitching to clients
When promoting culinary travel, Rembold explains that she “sells the entire experience from the ability to visit a new destination, or even if they have visited some of the destinations, a way to experience it differently. Food, wine, and drink are the essence of life. When traveling on a culinary trip, we learn about the world through the food experience. It’s a way to make a connection in a relaxed way through immersion.”
She goes on to point out that: “The quality of meals on cruise ships has reached new heights. Gourmet restaurants onboard - ranging from Asian, steakhouses, and Italian restaurants - provide outstanding meals. There is variety, high quality, and service that is exceptional every night. The luxury cruise ships provide a floating 5-star resort and the ability to try regional food from every port.”
Sell stresses that “knowing your clients is key to selling any style of travel. If you have clients who frequently visit high-end eateries at home or when they travel, you’ll need to become an expert in how a particular cruise line will appeal to their culinary expertise and sense of adventure. For example, I have one client who only wants to sail on ships with the best sushi, while others are interested in the latest trends, such as whiskey tastings, as well as wine tastings and spirit mixology classes.
“Sharing the numerous options with my clients is one of my favorite things about selling cruises. When I’m on a cruise myself, I make it a practice to dine in as many specialty restaurants as possible, but my first priority is always to secure a spot for the Chef’s Table or Wine Maker’s Dinner, or even both! After all, the more you know from firsthand experience, the easier it is to sell.”
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