Going on a Royal Caribbean cruise to the Mediterranean brings historical sites, picturesque streets, and arguably the most important thing: food.
Italy is one of the most popular cruise destinations in Europe, with common ports including Rome, Palermo, Catania, Florence, and Naples. Each region and city in Italy has its own culinary history, traditional dishes, and famous restaurants. Be sure to disembark your cruise ship hungry when you arrive in Italy because there are endless new foods to discover.
Foods to try on a cruise to Florence
The region of Tuscany, where Florence is found, is most well known for its meat. From paninis to steak, you shouldn’t miss an opportunity to try meat dishes in Florence. And whether you choose to have a fancier sit-down meal or you end up ordering a sandwich to go, you will not be left disappointed with food options when visiting the city.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
One of the most popular meat dishes to try in Florence is bistecca alla Fiorentina, which is a T-bone steak from the Chianina cow, a breed of cow from Tuscany.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina is traditionally only cooked for a few minutes on each side to ensure that the flavor and texture is correct. The steak is commonly served with olive oil and cannellini beans.
You can try this dish throughout the city, but one of the best restaurants to order this bistecca is at Buca Lapi. Founded in 1880, this traditional restaurant was built inside a barrel-vaulted cellar and serves bistecca alla Fiorentina that can be big enough for two to three people.
Pizza at Gusta Pizza
You’ll know you’ve reached Gusta Pizza when you spot a long line of people waiting outside the small pizzeria. Gusta Pizza is one of the most famous pizzerias in Florence and the pizzas there live up to the hype.
The menu at Gusta Pizza is simple. With only seven pizzas to choose from, each pizza has been crafted for perfection before it makes its way into the wood fired brick oven. Be sure to try the classic Margherita Pizza and the “GustaPizza,” which is topped with tomato, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, arugula, and parmesan.
Sandwiches at All’antico Vinaio
All’antico Vinaio is a famous sandwich shop located in the heart of Florence. Sandwiches at All’antico Vinaio are served on a local bread, schiacciata, and filled with cold cuts, cheeses, vegetables, and homemade creams including artichoke and truffle cream.
Since the shop has limited seating, you can take your sandwich out to the street and enjoy it as you watch the day go by in the historical center of Florence. In fact, All’antico Vinaio is so popular with both Italians and foreigners alike that they recently opened a location in New York City!
Other dishes to try: Gelato, lampredotto (beef tripe)
Foods to try on a cruise to Sicily
If your cruise visits the ports of Palermo, Messina, or Catania, consider yourself lucky. Sicily is home to some of Italy’s most diverse and multicultural cuisine. Due to its strategic location as an island between Europe and northern Africa, Sicily’s culture and cuisine have been influenced by its neighboring countries and regions for centuries.
While all Sicilian cuisine is flavorful, there are a few dishes and desserts that stand out from the rest.
One of the most popular desserts in Sicily is granita. Often preferred to gelato by Sicilians, granita is somewhat similar to a creamy Italian ice or sorbet, but with a smoother, more liquidy texture.
Common flavors of granita include mandorla (almond), pistacchio, limone (lemon), frutti di bosco (berry), and fragola (strawberry). I recommend asking for “granita con panna” for a cup of granita topped with freshly whipped cream.
Not much is more refreshing than any icy cup of granita when walking around a Sicilian cruise port on a hot summer day. This is personally, by far, my favorite Italian dessert of all time.
Pasta alla Norma
Eggplant is one of the most utilized ingredients in Sicilian cuisine, and one of the best dishes to try with eggplant in Sicily is Pasta alla Norma. Pasta alla Norma combines fresh pasta with slices of fried eggplant, tomato sauce, grated ricotta salata cheese, and fresh basil.
Named after Vicenzo Bellini, a native Sicilian who composed the opera Norma, the dish was said to have been called a true masterpiece worthy of the same name of the opera. This is a popular Sicilian dish, so you will not have any trouble finding it on a menu when cruising to Sicily.
Not only is arancini a dish you will find at Jamie’s Italian and Giovanni’s Italian Kitchen onboard a Royal Caribbean ship, but you can taste authentic arancini on a cruise to Italy. Arancini are stuffed rice balls coated with breadcrumbs and fried. While not a full meal, they are usually quite big and make a filling snack to enjoy as you wander around Sicily.
Arancini are native to Sicily and are most easily found in grab-and-go “bars” throughout the region. Popular fillings include meat with tomato sauce (ragù), mozzarella cheese, and peas.
Other dishes to try: Cannoli, cassata cake, caponata, pasta con le sarde
Foods to try on a cruise to Rome
A few of Italy’s most popular pasta dishes have origins in Rome. Whether your cruise begins in Rome or you are just stopping in the port of Civitavecchia for the day, be sure to try one of these famous pastas.
Cacio e Pepe
Cacio e Pepe is a pasta dish that originated in Rome and has recently spread in popularity. While cacio e pepe can be found in some restaurants in the United States, the best place to taste it is, of course, in Rome.
Cacio e pepe is made by boiling pasta and, after draining the pasta, mixing the leftover starchy water with pecorino cheese and black pepper. This results in a semi-creamy, cheesy pasta with a slight kick of spice. It is most often made from a long pasta such as spaghetti or tonnarelli.
If you’re in the mood for a tomato-based sauce, order Amatriciana. Amatriciana is a traditional sauce made from guanciale (pork cheek), pecorino romano, and tomato. A simple, classic tomato sauce enhanced with the hearty flavor of pork, it is likely to be among your favorite dishes on a cruise to Italy.
This sauce is traditionally served with Bucatini pasta, a spaghetti-like pasta that is hollow inside. You may see this dish listed on a menu as Bucatini all’amatriciana.
Carbonara may just be the most beloved pasta dish for Italians. Carbonara sauce is made with eggs, pecorino romano or parmigiana, guanciale, and black pepper. It is most commonly served with spaghetti.
This dish may sound a bit odd to foreigners visiting Italy. Pasta with an egg and bacon sauce? Don’t knock it until you try it, though, and there’s no better place to do so than in Rome.
Other dishes to try: Pizza al taglio, maritozzi, supplì
Foods to try on a cruise to Naples
If your cruise ship docks in Naples, you will have the opportunity to not only explore the city of Napoli, but the entire Amalfi coast region. The Amalfi coast is home to an abundance of fresh flavors. From lemons to seafood and tomatoes, there is no shortage of fresh ingredients to enjoy.
Naples, or Napoli, is most famous for being the birthplace of pizza. Modern pizza is said to have originated in Naples from flatbread dishes in the 18th or early 19th century, although it did not gain widespread popularity until the 1940s.
One of the most famous pizzerias in Naples today is Sorbillo. Located in the historical center of Napoli, Sorbillo makes traditional Neapolitan pizza with a thick outer crust and thin, gooey, saucey, and cheesy middle. The classic pizza flavors to try in Naples are the pizza marinara or pizza margherita.
Pasta in Sorrento
Many cruise passengers arriving in Naples will choose to skip the city in favor of spending more time on the Amalfi Coast in destinations like Sorrento, Pompeii, and Capri.
A classic dish to try in the south of Italy is a classic pomodoro sauce made from fresh tomatoes and basil.
Those looking for a taste of fresh vegetables may want to order spaghetti alla nerano. Made with fried zucchinis and provolone cheese, this pasta dish is full of light and savory flavors.
Another popular pasta dish from Sorrento is gnocchi alla sorrentina. Prepared with potato gnocchi, tomato sauce, parmigiana, basil, and fresh mozzarella, gnocchi alla sorrentina is a meal that is certain to fill you up on a busy day in port.
If you’re hoping to try seafood, order spaghetti alle vongole. Spaghetti alle vongole is a simple pasta dish that is said to have originated in Campania, the Italian region where Naples is located. The pasta combines spaghetti noodles with freshly caught clams, olive oil, garlic, parsley, and white wine, although it may sometimes include tomatoes and fresh basil.
Other dishes to try: Sfogliatelle, limoncello, mozzarella di bufala, pizza fritta