No matter what cruise ship you are sailing on, you'll have access to an all-you-can-eat buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Of course, there will be other complimentary options, too, such as the main dining room, which is where you can indulge in three-course meals each night for dinner. Buffets, however, are popular for their convenience and variety.
You don't have to worry if you are craving a simple salad but someone else in your travel party wants a heartier meal; there's something to satisfy all cravings and desires.
Even though your cruise is a time for you to kick back and relax, you'll need to understand the do's and don'ts of cruise ship buffets. Otherwise, you might have a less enjoyable dining experience.
From not washing your hands to bypassing the made-to-order stations, here are 10 things you should never do at a cruise ship buffet.
Dive in before assessing all of your options
From salad bars to a variety of different hot dishes and desserts, cruise ship buffets have seemingly endless options for guests to choose from. Before making any decisions, you should walk through the entire buffet to see what's available.
While one of the first dishes might seem appealing, you might find something you'd rather try elsewhere. If you fill up your plate too early, you'll likely end up wasting food. Moreover, options tend to change daily, especially for dinner.
Put more on your plate than you'll actually eat
Evaluating your options before selecting what sounds the most delicious is smart to ensure that you don't waste food. Even if you feel like you will eat everything that you put on your plate, it's smart to start with one plate of food and return to the buffet for seconds if you're still hungry.
Plus, you never know if your cravings will change. Maybe the pasta you grabbed will satisfy your need for carbohydrates and you'd rather get a side salad or vegetables.
Rather than assuming you'll want three pancakes, eggs, hashbrowns, and fruit for breakfast, start with what you know you'll eat and return for seconds.
Read more: The unwritten rules of going on a cruise
Speaking of returning for seconds, you shouldn't reuse the same plate
Reusing your plate at the cruise ship buffet is frowned upon, as it can lead to cross-contamination and the spread of germs.
If you aren't satisfied with the plate of food you got, leave your dirty dishes at your table while you go grab something else to eat. There will be crew members walking around to clear tables, so you don't have to worry about removing the dishes yourself.
Even if you're returning for a single dessert or small side, just grab a new plate.
Skip the handwashing station
Before entering the buffet, make sure that you stop at the handwashing station. At a minimum, use some hand sanitizer found in dispensers located throughout the ship.
With so many passengers grabbing the utensils, it's easy for germs to spread. Once you've washed your hands, you should avoid touching your face and hair when at the buffet.
Additionally, if you're not feeling well, you should avoid the buffet. Instead, consider ordering something from room service or having someone else in your travel party bring some food back to your stateroom. Not only will rest help you feel better quicker, but it's polite to think about the safety of other guests, too.
Grab food with your bare hands
Serving utensils are available for a reason. Even if you just washed your hands and are sure that they're clean, it is still considered impolite to grab food from the cruise ship buffet with your hands. If the roles were reversed, you would not want to eat food that someone else had touched.
Even if you want finger foods like chicken tenders and fries, there will be tongs available for you to place however much you want on your plate.
The only exception is pre-packed items, such as a carton of milk or small yogurt.
Cut anyone in line
Everyone's in the buffet for the same reason: you all want to eat. You must exercise patience while on a cruise ship, as there are thousands of people onboard trying to enjoy their vacation, too.
Even if there aren't any defined lines, you should not cut people off who appear to be waiting for a specific station. Don't be afraid to ask if someone's in line, as if you interrupt the flow of traffic, you are being disrespectful to those who have been waiting.
Imagine if everyone thought that they had first dibs; chaos would surely ensue!
Skip the made-to-order stations
Even though you're probably going to the buffet for a quick meal, you shouldn't be afraid to place an order at the made-to-order station. If you don't see something premade that sounds good, you can always construct your own fresh dish.
While the cuisine itself usually varies (i.e., you might find a pasta bar one night and stir fry the next), you can rest assured knowing that not everything in the buffet has been sitting under heat lamps for hours.
The made-to-order station is a good compromise for those who aren't in the mood to sit through a three-course meal after spending a long day ashore but don't want standard buffet food.
Eating dinner in the buffet is also great for those who don't want to adhere to traditional cruise ship dining times. Rather than having to stick to a specific time (i.e., 5:45pm or 8:00pm), you can simply show up at any point during operating hours.
Read more: Why you should eat dinner in the buffet
Rush to the buffet on embarkation day
One of the first places people visit on the ship is the buffet. If you happen to have an arrival time that's in the middle of the boarding process, you'll want to avoid the buffet for a little bit.
Some cruise ships have other options, so you can eat without venturing into the buffet on the first day. On Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class ships, for instance, my favorite place to visit on embarkation day is Park Cafe in Central Park. I'm able to get a custom salad and sandwich without dealing with the crowds that are present in the buffet.
Carnival ships have a lot of fast-casual options, too. Rather than rushing to the buffet, consider visiting BlueIguana for some tacos or Guy's Burger Joint for a juicy cheeseburger and fries.
Read more: What’s included in my cruise fare?
Speak up if you have food allergies
Food allergies can be life-threatening, and cruise lines know the importance of having allergen-free menus. If you don't see anything at first, don't be afraid to ask a crew member in the buffet. Some cruise lines recommend sending an email to their dining team ahead of time.
Royal Caribbean, for instance, states, "Lactose-free/soy milk, ensure, and kosher meals are available at no extra charge. All you have to do is notify us at least 45 days prior to sailing (90 days for European/South American Itineraries)."
Even if you've discussed your dietary needs with the dining staff, it is important to keep your emergency medication, such as an EpiPen, on you at all times in case you're accidentally exposed.
Not dressing appropriately
The buffet is more casual than the ship's dining room(s). If you don't feel like dressing up on formal night, you can go to the buffet for dinner in a t-shirt and shorts without feeling underdressed.
That being said, even though the cruise ship buffet is one of the more casual eateries onboard, there's still a dress code that you must abide by.
You cannot, for instance, waltz in from the lido deck in a wet swimsuit. If hunger strikes while you're lounging in the pool, you will have to dry off and throw a cover-up on. Shoes are required, too.