Dinner cruise specialist caters to diners seeking traditional, celebratory meals.
Spirit Cruises has changed a number of menu items in response to customer demand and input—in some cases by working with manufacturers to reformulate a prepared product, and in others by focusing on traditional, high-demand items.
Based in Norfolk, Va., Spirit is a subsidiary of Sodexho, operates 13 vessels in seven ports along the East Coast and Chicago, and specializes in dinner cruises. Business breaks down into four areas: lunch cruises, dinner cruises, cocktail cruises and moonlight cruises. There are four target markets: corporate, tour and travel, social/civic and individuals.
They're just desserts: According to Jean-Yves Ghazi, vice president of food and beverage, he and his team refined some desserts to accommodate how guests, at times, often leave their desserts at the table to “gaze at the skyline” or socialize—but still want their desserts when they get back. “Desserts are a critical piece and a lasting memory of our foodservice,” he says.
For example: Ghazi’s group worked with the research and development team of a manufacturer that makes its vanilla bean crème brulee cheesecake, as well as a chocolate truffle mocha cake. “Our concern was density in terms of moisture, flavor profile and temperature range,” he explains. “Special formulation is needed so that the layers [of the dessert] adhere, plus additional oils are needed to enhance the consistency.”
Also new this year are a higher-end, whole muscle ham with a smoked profile, and a better selection of steamed vegetables. “We went to a Tuscan blend with a very colorful presentation,” Ghazi notes. “We add a hint of spices to it.” He also added an upscale mix of stir-fry vegetables to Spirit’s sesame stir-fry chicken teriyaki.
Welcome back: But not everything Ghazi is working on leans toward the more eclectic. Returning to the menu is chicken marsala, replacing grilled chicken in Cajun cream sauce. “It didn’t have the appeal, acceptance and recognition there is with chicken marsala,” he says.
That return to a traditional product is in keeping with what he believes customers are seeking in a dinner cruise experience. “Our guests are there to celebrate a special occasion or are entertaining clients,” he states. “We have found—regarding the low-carb craze—guests’ eating patterns have not changed. We’re able to continue to provide meals without diet pressures.”
Spirit has also had to increase prices [because of] fuel cost increases, Ghazi says, “but with our culinary team and our approach, we have been able to enhance the product and maintain costs year over year.”