Eating at Sea – Casual DIning Options

While most people like to talk about the main dining room on a cruise ship, there are  other places to eat as well. This post looks at some of the casual dining options available on a cruise ship.

The buffet is the obvious alternative to the main dining room. On most cruise ships, the buffet is open 24 hours a day, and offers a variety of foods. Items are often prepared and ready, but sometimes there are also ‘made to order’ stations that can cook pasta, omelets, sandwiches, or other dishes while you wait. Food quality can vary greatly, from cruise line to cruise line, ship to ship, day to day, and even dish to dish. While there is a head chef overseeing all food in the buffet area, it is not unusual for inconsistencies to occur. If you are eating at the buffet and do not like what you have chosen, go back again and try something else. You may find it more to your liking.

The advantage of the buffet is that it is fast and convenient. However, the food can be unexciting, and may not vary much from day to day. Depending on the time of day, you may find the buffet area very crowded, and it can be difficult to locate seating at popular times, particularly during breakfast and lunch. It should be noted that some cruise ships change their buffet areas to tableside service (with a waiter, and occasionally with reservations required) during the dinner hours.

Most cruise lines offer additional casual eateries at the pool area. It is common to see a grill, offering burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches and fries, as well as a pizzeria with counter service. These eateries are usually close to the buffet area and can have a lot of ‘spillover’ from buffet guests. Quality of food can vary from mediocre to excellent, depending on the cruise line. Generally, the menus do not change throughout the cruise, with the exception of the pizzerias typically offering a ‘pizza of the day’.

There may be other casual eateries located in the central/atrium area of the ship. For example, Princess Cruises has the International Cafe, which offers panini, soups and salads. Celebrity Cruise Line has Bistro on Five, which offers crepes and other light meals (small additional charge). Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines has Johnny Rockets burger franchises (small additional charge). The ‘midship’ eateries can vary wildly, but are usually a step up in quality from the food found in the buffet area.

Occasionally, a cruise will offer special themed lunches or dinners. For example, Princess Cruises has a pub lunch (no additional fee) in their steakhouse on sea days. Look for such events to be listed in the daily activities sheet.

If you’re looking for a more upscale experience, there are also specialty restaurants available. These will be discussed in next week’s blog.