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Your really dumb cruise ship dining questions answered

Celebrity Main Dining Room

When you start planning your first cruise vacation, it is natural to have a lot of questions, such as "What are the different cruise lines known for?" "What's included in my cruise fare?" "Which cabin should I choose?" and "Do I have do to book a shore excursion?

There is also a good chance that you are wondering about dining onboard the ship. One of the best aspects of cruising is the food! Who does not want to have access to soft serve, bountiful buffets, and delicious three-course meals each and every day? All, of course, without having to worry about fronting a grocery bill and making a mess in the kitchen!

When it comes to your first cruise, no question is insignificant! In fact, the more you prepare, the more you will feel like any other seasoned cruiser the season you get on the ship. 

Here are some common cruise ship dining questions that aren't as dumb as you think they are. 

Is food included on my cruise?


Yes, no matter what cruise ship you go on, you will have plenty of options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even in between meals! 

Most cruise ships have at least one buffet and a main dining room that are included in your cruise fare. Newer vessels tend to have more options; some have more than 10 complimentary dining venues! You may want to keep that in mind when planning your cruise. 

If you are someone who likes variety, you will appreciate the numerous included dining options on newer ships. 

Due to their Fun Ship 2.0 initiative, Carnival Cruise Line is known for having more complimentary options even on their older ships, and many of them are fan-favorites, including BlueIguana Cantina and Guy's Burger Joint. 

Can I bring my own food onboard?

MSC Cruises food

For the most part, you are allowed to bring non-perishable pre-packaged food items. It is not uncommon for families to bring on bags of chips or granola bars; they are great to be able to take with you off of the ship when you are going on long excursions!

If you try to bring on fruits, vegetables, or your famous meatloaf (or any other home-cooked meal), it will be confiscated by a crew member. Don't worry, though! You will never go without onboard. 

If you are worried about a late-night craving, grab a piece of fruit when you leave the buffet to keep in your stateroom. Depending on how late, there may even be a dining venue open. 

Do the dining room menus change?

Disney Wish restaurant

For the most part, the menus in the main dining room and buffet will change nightly. Depending on which cruise line you are sailing with, they may offer the same classics that are offered each night; however, they offer different selections, so no passenger gets tired of eating the same thing over and over. 

If you are dining in a specialty restaurant, the menu often stays the same for the entire duration of the cruise. If you are able to look ahead at the main dining room menus and find a night that you are not particularly fond of, that would be a great time to try out one of the specialty restaurants.

Are there specific dining times?

Celebrity Cruises Main Dining Room

Most mainstream cruise lines have three dining options for dinner: early seating, late seating, and a flexible option that allows you to show up whenever you are ready to eat or make reservations in advance. 

If you choose an early or late seating, you will be seated at the same table each evening with the same wait staff. Many cruisers love this option because of the relationships you build with the crew. 

With flexible dining, you are seated wherever there is an opening, and if you do not make reservations, there can sometimes be a long wait!

Note that the dining times only apply to the main dining room's dinner service. If you want to go to the buffet for dinner, you are free to do so anytime during their dinner service. 

Will I be seated with other people?

Disney family dining room

If you do not want to be seated with another party, just mention it to your travel agent when booking. They will make sure that you and your travel companions are seated alone. 

If you did not book through a travel agent, simply go to the main dining room on embarkation day and speak with a head waiter. They will do their best to honor your request, and it is not an issue most of the time! 

On the other hand, if you would like to be seated with others, you can certainly request this, too. If you are a solo traveler or a small group just wanting to meet other cruisers, sharing a meal is a great time to get to know others. Plus, you will always have something to talk about-- you're on a cruise!

Is there a limit as to how much food I can eat? 

MSC buffet

No crew member will ever tell you that you have had too much to eat. In theory, you could return to the buffet for ten different servings! 

Even in the main dining room, it is not uncommon to hear of people ordering multiple appetizers, entrees, and desserts. You, however, do not want to overdo it! While it is vacation, you do not want to eat so much that you feel ill the latter half of the trip. 

Do cruise ships have room service?


If you'd like to wake up to breakfast at your stateroom door, you absolutely can! What is and is not included depends on which cruise line you are sailing with. That being said, most cruise lines offer complimentary breakfast during certain hours. If you opt to order a hot breakfast item or outside of said hours, you may be subject to an additional service fee.

When it comes to what you can order, continental breakfast offerings are relatively similar. You can select from things like assorted pastries, fruit, cereal, juice, and coffee. Of course, you will always find better breakfast options elsewhere on the ship. 

Outside of breakfast, you can usually find anything from quesadillas to pizza, chicken tenders, french fries, various sandwiches and salads, and desserts. Plus, most cruise lines do allow you to order alcoholic beverages to your room via room service; however, these drinks are not included in any drink packages. 

Read more: Cruise ship room service: What you should know

How much do specialty restaurants cost?

Jaimes Italian

Not all restaurants onboard a cruise ship will be included in your base fare. Specialty restaurants are optional dining experiences that you can choose to pay extra for. 

Depending on what cruise ship you are sailing on, you may be able to choose from hibachi and sushi restaurants, steakhouses, French bistros, Italian eateries that serve up handmade pasta, sports bars with everyone's favorite bar bites, or Mexican for some delicious chips and salsa. 

How much each specialty restaurant costs depends on the cruise line. Carnival Cruise Line, for instance, has one of the cheapest steakhouse options at sea, charging only $48 per adult and $13 per child under the age of 11. Likewise, if you wait to book your dining reservation until you are onboard your Royal Caribbean cruise, you could pay as much as $59 per adult to eat at their signature steakhouse, Chops. 

Some cruise lines offer specialty dining packages that allow you to bundle multiple restaurants for one price. The total cost varies; however, on my upcoming cruise onboard Navigator of the Seas, a 3-night dining package can currently be purchased for $105.99 per adult before gratuities. 

Read more: What are the cheapest cruise add-ons?

What is the dress code like for restaurants? 


The evening dress code varies from cruise line to cruise line and by venue. Some cruise lines are relatively casual, while others have more upscale formal and themed nights. 

Note that in general, cruises tend to be more casual than they used to be. While you will see people dressed up in formal gowns or tuxedos, you will see just as many, if not more, wearing a nicer dress and pair of flats or button-down shirt and slacks. 

It is not uncommon to notice guests ignoring the dress code. After all, it is not like the cruise line will deny you service because you show up to the dining room in shorts on formal night. If you are sailing on a luxury line, however, dress codes are more strict, and most guests do abide by the rules. 

Read more: Cruise Line Dress Code: What to Wear on a Cruise

Do you have to make reservations in advance?


If you plan on eating in the main dining room each night during either the early or late seating, you do not have to worry about making any reservations! You will automatically be assigned a table number and wait staff. Once you get on the cruise, you will just show up at your assigned time.

If, however, you choose the flexible option or plan on eating in specialty restaurants, you will want to make your reservations as soon as possible through the cruise line's online planning portal. The earlier you book, the more options you will have when it comes to date and time! 

Where do crew members eat?


When they are not working, crew members live the majority of their lives below deck. That is, below the passenger decks. They have their own laundry facilities, bar, and mess hall for dining. 

While they don't have as many options as passengers do in the ship's main buffet, there is certainly enough to choose from! 

Cruising as Crew posted a video on their YouTube channel showing what they ate in a week as a crew member onboard Virgin Voyages' Valiant Lady. 

Some of the food items that she showed throughout the week include granola bars, Thai vegetable curry, pasta, pizza, bean salad, cheese and meat selections, a salad bar, roasted pork, grilled fish, different breads, and various desserts.

Depending on what the crew member's position is, they may get certain privileges which include being able to eat in passenger dining venues. Subject to availability, they may be able to eat in a specialty restaurant; however, they must pay the same cover charge as all other passengers. 

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