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What Is It About Food on Cruise Ships?

Updated on August 22, 2014

Food on Cruise Ships: It's Everywhere!

One of the things people talk about after their first sea voyage is the food on cruise ships. It really is everywhere. Though I am not one of those people who 'lives to eat,' even I enjoy eating a lot more when I am cruising.

It's hard to explain to someone who hasn't ever cruised how central gastronomic pursuits ar to cruising. But, I'm giving it a shot. There's the main dining room, with traditional dining, and freestyle dining. There's a buffet on most ships, open most all of the time... there are alternative restaurants, snack bars, room service and roving waiters with canape trays ...

(Photo - from private collection, used by permission)

And, there's more. This page won't tell you everything there is to know about food on cruise ships, but ... Maybe if I show you a glimpse of SOME the different foods and places to eat on these huge ships, you'll get the general idea.

Except where otherwise stated, photos on this page are mine

(all rights reserved)

Traditional Dining

In the Main Dining Room

With traditional dining, dinner isn't just a meal, it's an event, an event that has been a highlight of the cruise experience for decades. It's one of the highlights of the day - a perfect ending to an enjoyable day and a lovely transition to a pleasant evening at sea.

On most lines, after choosing early or late dining, you'll be assigned a table for the voyage. You'll be shown to that table on the first night, where you'll meet your tablemates, and be introduced to your waiter and assistant waiter. Some life-long friendships have begun in the main dining room. Guests look forward to a leisurely meal of several courses, served by the same staff and in the company of the same companions each evening.

The bonus is that your waiters 'know' you from the second night. My preferred beverage is always waiting for me from the second night on, my husband's special dietary needs need not be repeated, and sugar-free ice cream is brought for his desert every evening. And the dress for the various evenings is fun.

On the last night, we bid a fond farewell to people from other parts of the country and the world... people we are richer for having spent our evenings with; people we might never have gotten to know a thing about otherwise: our tablemates and our wait staff.

"N," My Favorite Waiter Ever (singing)

"N," My Favorite Waiter Ever (singing)
"N," My Favorite Waiter Ever (singing)

Main Dining Room - on Freedom of the Seas

between-meals-in-a-main-dining-room
between-meals-in-a-main-dining-room

A view of the Main Dining Room on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas.

This was taken between meals from the third level of the dining room, looking down, and showing parts of the first two levels of this cruise ship's dining room.

(my own photo)

Yikes!

I hear the average weight gain for a seven night cruise is

EIGHT POUNDS.

Lose Before You Cruise - with a little dieting

Given that the average weight gain per week long cruise is 8 pounds, you might want to consider shedding a few pounds before you board that big, beautiful ship. That way, you won't feel so guilty about the extra deserts and whatever else appeals to you day after day.

The South Beach Diet: The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss
The South Beach Diet: The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss

I don't have a weight problem, but my husband does, and he actually lost weight on the South Beach Diet.

Maybe it will work for you, too.

 
NCL-introduced-Freestyle-Cruising
NCL-introduced-Freestyle-Cruising

Freestyle Cruising

and AnyTime Dining

NCL was the big impetus in creating a trend away from all traditional dining on cruise ships when they came out with their signature Freestyle Cruising. On their Freestyle Cruising ships, they eliminated set dinner times, tables assignments, and the requirement for formal attire - even on formal nights.

In the last several years, some of the other mass market lines have made partial moves in that direction by giving their guest the choice of traditional dining or the newer option of no set time, no set table, no set table mates, with optional reservations. It's called by various names, such as Anytime Dining on Princess Cruises, My Time Dining on Royal Caribbean, and Your Time Dining on Carnival.

my own photo

Is Traditional Dining for You?

When at Sea, do you prefer traditional dining, or the less structured meal time?

See results

Casual Dining

in the Ship's Buffet

Most ships have a casual, serve-yourself buffet in addition to one or more main dining rooms. In most cases, you find the buffet on the Lido deck. Dress is casual... even shorts and tees are acceptable.

Food is generally very good, though some of the most special dishes served in the main dining room probably may not be available.

The hours of operation are more liberal than in the main dining room... 24 hours a day on some, though not all, ships.

Alternative Restaurants at Sea

Premium Dining for an extra fee

The trend in recent years has been the addition of premium or upscale dining venues. An extra fee applies for their use, but it is usually well worth it. Such a meal on land would cost easily 3 - 4 times the fee charged.

The food is generally excellent, and a meal in some of these restaurants, like ones in the main dining room, is something of an event. Dress varies from coat and tie for gentlemen, dress or nice pantsuit for Ladies, to resort casual. Tip is allegedly included in the fee, but adding a little extra is customary.

Themes vary for these alternate dining venues. You'll find steakkhouses, italian, Asian, Brazilian, and ultra-healthy cuisine to name a few.

Two things that have been hallmarks of all the ones I've been privileged to sample are excellent service and scrumptious deserts.

A desert at Chops, courtesy of ziggysun at CruiseLineFans

A Yummy Desert at Chops

A Yummy Desert at Chops
A Yummy Desert at Chops

Are Alternative Restaurants Worth the Extra? - Some People think So... Others Don't

Some people feel that it's not worth it to pay extra to eat at one of the alternative dining venues, since meals in the main dining room and the ship's casual buffet are included in the price of the cruise.

What do you think? Would you (or do you) pay the extra fee to eat in one of the premium restaurants on a cruise ship?

Do you think the alternative restauranats on cruise ships are worth the extra fee?

See results

Another Yummy Desert

Another Yummy Desert
Another Yummy Desert

The Midnight and Chocolate Buffets

and Dancing Under the Stars Deck Party

Sadly the midnight buffets, chocolate buffets, and champagne fountains that used to be staples on cruise ships are fading away, though decadent foods still abound.

Champagne fountains are reserved for special holidays on some lines, and absent on others. On some Carnival ships, the chocolate buffet is served in a section of the casual buffet one afternoon, and the midnight buffet has been replaced with a Dancing Under the Stars late night pool deck party on others. As ships get larger and larger, everything seems to be getting a lot more casual - and crowded than it used to be. The festive air has suffered considerably as a consequence.

But there's still an awfully good time to be had, and a lot of unbelievable food to be sampled. There are a lot more choices, too.. with everything from Mexican to Sushi.

Chocolate Eagle at a Chocolate Buffet (RCCL)

Desert Buffet on HAL

Desert Buffet on HAL
Desert Buffet on HAL

Sushi-Buffet

Sushi-Buffet
Sushi-Buffet

Casual Dining Venues

and Snack Areas

On a large cruise ship, grabbing a snack or a casual meal is easy. A typical ship will have at least several places to get a snack a light meal, or just something sweet.

Take the ships of Royal Caribbean, for example, where you won't run the risk of going hungry between meals.Their ship sizes run the gamut, and as you expect, so do the number of places to get something to eat. While there are several food venues other than the main dining room and the buffet on the smaller ships, the very largest ships boast some 26 different food venues.

Johnny Rockets, found on many RCCL ships, is a 50's style diner where the wait staff will entertain you with a choreographed dance while you munch down on burgers and fries.

Johnny Rockets (Photo:my own, all rights reserved)

Venues vary from line to line and ship to ship. For instance, several of the other places you might find on one of Royal's ships include:

Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream

Sorrentos Pizza

The Seaview Cafe

Rita's Cantina

Cafe Promenade

Cruise Line Cook Books - Cook some of that yummy food at home

If you just can't wait until you cruise to try some of that delicious cruise line food, why not make some right in your own kitchen?

It's not the same as having someone cook it for you and serve it to you, but it could be fun to try some of the recipes.

High Tea

or Afternoon Tea

On some lines, you can partake of the leisurely luxury of afternoon tea. While it is an occasional offering on some premium lines, Afternoon Tea is an every day affair on the liners of Cunard.

Keeping the venerable - and very British - tradition alive, Cunard will treat you to white glove service, premium teas, and scones & cream. Live strings provide the background music for your pleasant afternoon interlude. (Appropriate dress expected.)

Photo used by special permission of LankyLad at Cruise Line Fans

Milk and Cookies

on Princess Cruise Ships

Something charming has been added on the ships of Princess Cruises recently - Milk and Cookies.

In the afternoon, a crew member, clad all in white (like an old-fashioned milkman) appears, pushing a cart. He delivers warm, fresh soft-baked cookies, and a little cup of cold milk to anyone who wishes to partake.

We experienced the 'milk and cookies' guy for the first time last year on the Ruby Princess. After the first day, we made sure we were on an open deck mid-afternoon to get our milk and cookies. I think it was the personality and graciousness of the young man in the white hat as much as it was the actual milk and cookies. But his appearance was a real treat each day.

An absolutely charming touch!

Image credit

Room Service

is available on cruise ships, too

If you just don't feel like leaving your cabin, you can always order from room service!

There's normal room service. We sometimes order a light room service breakfast instead of going to the main dining room or the buffet in the morning.

There are even VERY fancy types of room service... including a romantic full course dinner served on your balcony by your own private waiter. Things like that do come with a price, though.

What do you think?

Will you gain weight on your next cruise, or will you even worry about it?

Do you have a favorite dish that you look forward to eating on a cruise?

The Guestbook Is: OPEN

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    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      We just got back from a cruise on Carnival, the food was great & I probably gained 5 lbs. I haven't weighed myself as it will go away in a week or two. When you go on a cruise, it is a true vacation, especially for women. There's no cooking, cleaning or any of that stuff. I especially liked the steaks in the dining room. Also the ice cream was there any time you wanted it.

    • Camden1 profile image

      Camden1 4 years ago

      We're going on a Princess cruise to Alaska this summer, and the food is one of the things we're looking forward to! I'm excited to read about Princess milk & cookies - I didn't know they offered that!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Fun to stop by again just to look at all this yummy food.

      I would love a vacation cruise...ready! :)

    • victoriahaneveer profile image

      victoriahaneveer 4 years ago

      On the Oasis we ate in the dining room most nights but tried other restaurants 2 nights. 1 was worth the extra, 1 wasn't. The Windjammer buffet was one of the highlights of our trip tho for sure!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Looking Great.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Wow, I see why so many people gain a Few Pounds after being on a Cruise Ship!!!

      Yummy!!

    • Carashops profile image

      Cara 4 years ago

      I think I would gain weight on a cruise as I do enjoy trying different food.

    • MelonyVaughan profile image

      MelonyVaughan 5 years ago

      I just adore cruise ship food! It's usually over the top, beautifully presented and delicious! Great lens.

    • CruiseReady profile image
      Author

      CruiseReady 5 years ago from East Central Florida

      @Winter52 LM: I think you are, and should rectiry that at your first opportunity!

    • Winter52 LM profile image

      Winter52 LM 5 years ago

      I think just about everyone in the family has been on a cruise but me... I'm missing out obviously ;)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Looks like I would have to starve myself at least for a week before I can embark on a cruise! This looks like a 20 pound gain over a week! Thanks for the eye-candies! :)

    • profile image

      noriukeliauti 5 years ago

      nice information ;) for sure verrry useful !! cheers

    • SayGuddaycom profile image

      SayGuddaycom 5 years ago

      Lovely work.

    • SquidooPower profile image

      SquidooPower 5 years ago

      I think this lens is REALLY smart, maybe even smarter than the creator realizes. I have always loathed (literally loathed) the idea of taking a cruise but I must admit that, since I started reading all your lenses on the topic, I have at least committed to the idea of taking a cruise to Alaska. Nice job. My wife thought it would never happen. Shouldn't you be selling tickets here?

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      I so love the food on cruise ships. You make me want to take another cruise!

    • DANCING COWGIRL profile image

      Dancing Cowgirl Design 5 years ago from Texas

      Ha Ha, you just gave me an idea for a book. How to gain weight without going on a cruise. This lens made me hungry!

    • CruiseReady profile image
      Author

      CruiseReady 5 years ago from East Central Florida

      @BLouw: Good news!

      In the main dining room (on most lines) the healthy choices are designated with a special icon on the menu. There are vegan choices as well.

      There are even a few ships now that have specialty restaurants with nothing but healthy food.

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 5 years ago from France

      This lens is good enough to eat ... but ... Having reached 'a certain age' I must say that my first response to all this food is TOO MUCH! Wonder if a Healthy Eating restaurant would be a good idea. I can resist anything but temptation.

    • Gayle Mclaughlin profile image

      Gayle 5 years ago from McLaughlin

      I have only been on two cruises but you have certainly captured the flavor of dining on a cruise!

    • tomtaz517 profile image

      tomtaz517 5 years ago

      Am I the only one that goes on cruises for the food? Scenic islands? Bleh. Where's the pizza bar?

    • sidther lm profile image

      sidther lm 5 years ago

      I probably gain some weight right now! I stumbled across this lens and the funny thing is that only yesterday I started a diet- I feel the will power slipping away, but I suppose that yummy looking desert would be well worth it!

      The food does look great! I would be willing to indulge on a cruise though because it is a special occasion and you should feel spoiled and surrounded by deliciousness while you are on one!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Well, a cruise sounds like just what I need, and 8 pound weight gain would be quite welcome! Very invitingly done! I think I would have to try every type of dining available, what an experience. My brother and sister in law went on a cruise a while back and were amazed by all the food and loved the ice sculptures.

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 5 years ago

      I gained about 7 pounds on my first cruise and have yet to get it off! Still worth the price. Thanks for adding a link to my article on my first cruise experience. I love your cruise lenses. they are so informative.

    • LauraMarie LM profile image

      LauraMarie LM 5 years ago

      I always gain weight on holidays, and the worst thing is I never seem to lose it when I come back home! Those desserts look delicious by the way!