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Have to go on a cruise, will I die of starvation?

Kidding of course. But seriously, the fam is planning a group cruise for my FIL's 80th b-day and I could use some suggestions on which cruise lines have the best food, and what other hounds have done when forced to choose between hot dogs on Lido, a 24 hr. buffet and the institutional sit down dinner. I know there are tips to be had...

(Also, not sure if this is the right board, please move me if I'm wrong)

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  1. I haven't been in a long time.

    Not sure if I can/should post this, but you may have abetter time going to:


    Sorry mods, if I should not have posted this.

    1. We've been on 3 cruises with Holland American and thought their food was way better than Royal Caribbean. But the right answers will be from the Cruise Critic boards.

      1. I've been on Holland America and Royal Cribbean and I agree with the hummingbird. But I enjoyed both a lot. I love being on a cruse ship! Very fun.

        1. I've done rccl, princess, and celebrity and think princess and celebrity are about equally tolerable. Food will be mostly bland and from a steamtable. The best hope for a CH is the ports. I've had incredable local meals by escaping the main port areas and asking both locals and ship people (not the concierge who will likely direct you to someplace safe) or reseaching in advance.

          1 Reply
          1. re: alwayscooking

            Good point, I had forgotten about the ports somehow!

          2. Crystal and Seabourne are both well known for quality food, but the prices are quite high. I've been on Norwegian, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean; Norwegian definitely offered higher quality food.

            1 Reply
            1. re: KevinB

              I have only been on two, and Celebrity was MUCH better than Royal Caribbean.

            2. I went on one cruise on Royal Caribbean. I was decidedly unimpressed with pretty much everything in the formal dining room. But, once my wife and I figured out that the more casual lunch room (where they had a buffet) would do plates to order, we were actually very happy. They had spectacular produce and seafood on the ship and if you spend some time inspecting the buffet you can find things you'll like then get things to order. Breakfast was always wonderful with amazing piles of every fruit you can imagine and freshly baked pastries of all sorts. We usually did lunch at the ports of call. Far more interesting and new-to-us stuff there.

              If you spend a bit of time at the beginning of your trip, I think you'll find that you can be quite happy for the whole time. Royal Caribbean isn't known, so far as I can tell, for good food, but we found some real standouts. Have fun!

              1. I have been on only one cruise and that was two years ago. We went on a Norwegian ship. It had at least six restaurants we could select from - Mexican, Japanese, and steakhouse were some of them - and some involved an additional, nominal charge for us to be able to eat there.

                The food was OK but I wouldn't say it was by any means the highlight of our vacation. I kind of expected that though because the ship is serving such a large number of people.

                If you were to go on a Norwegian cruise, I'd say the smaller restaurants are your best bet. They generally served the better food and we felt it was worth it to pay the additional fee.

                The only place I would stay away from is the buffet -- not good. Unfortunately, the young kids in our group loved the buffet - hot dogs, burgers and the like - so we ended up eating there way more than I wanted to.

                1. Cruise food is nothing to write home about. There is a lot of it, but not great tasting.
                  I've been on 3 cruise lines: Royal, Princess, and Regent.

                  Regent had the best food, but I think it was more about location. It was a Tahitian cruise and the fruit was unbelievable. They served tuna sashimi one day for lunch and it was the best I've ever had. The French bread served at every meal was great and the Tahitian vanilla creme brulee was wonderful.

                  Princess was better than Royal Carribbean, but I don't remember too much about the food as it wasn't memorable.

                  1. From my experience the food I got on the cruise I went on was terrible. I dont like buffets in general, and the sit down meals were flavorless(perhaps cartering to the tastes of all the elderly cruisers). I was able to find a few things to eat, and the 24 hour room service came in handy with my blt craving being satisifed late at night after drinking at the casino.

                    The only savior was the jerk chicken, and goat in Jamaica...

                    1. I used to love (10 years ago) the food on Celebrity. Went recently and found the quality somewhat down. There were a few good meals to be had, but not at all what I expected. I've heard better and better things about Norwegian though I have not been on myself.

                      1. Three cruises for jfood.

                        - Seabourne - for this kind of money youbetter get good food and you do.
                        - Celebrity - jfood liked the food. in fact they went to a supposed great restaurant on Bermuda and looked forward to getting back and eating on the ship. They had a set table, but there were 10 family members all eating dinner together
                        - Princess - This ship had one of those eat at your time plans, jfood took advantage of it. four people at the time, made great friends with the MD and the waiter and had a wonderful quiet window table every night. Food was actually very good. How can you go wrong with salmon and crab legs off the coast of alaska.

                        Buffet - If you think you have died and are paying back for all the crap you have eaten over your life you are about to go to a whole 'nother level. Think about college dorm food that's been left overnight under the heat lamps on a steam table. Jfood walked through every day just to look. It was ghastly. Not to start a flame war, this is jfood's opinion. There were plenty of people guzzling down this stuff so, whatever.

                        Best advice is to pick a server and tip him every day. Works like a charm.

                        Jfood's favorite food event was the midnight buffet, not for the food but the people. The staff walks the food in a parade with ice sculptures. People are taking pictures of a bowl of chicken salad. OMG it was funnier than the some of the shows, people shoving each other to get the perfect angle on the egg salad, then run over to the watermelon boat. It was priceless...worth staying up for.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: jfood

                          people shoving each other to get the perfect angle on the egg salad, then run over to the watermelon boat

                          No way, that's hilarious. Do they mold the egg salad to look like an eagle, is the watermelon boat a carved tribute to the USS Arizona? I better watch out, for all my condescension now, maybe I will break both arms trying to capture the roast beef display.

                          1. re: yamalam

                            It's a YouTube masterpiece waiting to happen.

                          2. re: jfood

                            Hey jfood, where in Bermuda did you eat, there are not that many great places here, so I can understand!

                            When we went to the NY Food Netowrk Food and Wone Show I was asked by some Food Network Chefs where to dine in Bermuda ...I replied ....MY HOUSE!

                            1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                              It was 3.5 years ago. the boat docked on the eastern end and then he took a cab up some winding hill to the restaurant. It was a stan-alone house type restaurnat with a big wooden bar when you first enter with dining rooms to the right. Do not remember the name.

                          3. I've been on Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.

                            My parents, who are not foodies, preferred the food on Carnival. They found it less pretentious -- and in some ways, I think Carnival not trying to do haute cuisine is more successful than some of the cruiselines that are trying and failing. Plus, they had this one mushroom ragout pizza in their pizzeria that went well beyond good. It was, remarkably, some of the best pizza I've ever had. In general, though, the food on Carnival is going to be a little lower rent than on other lines.

                            We found the food on Norwegian to be the worst of the bunch -- on that, both my parents and I agreed. The food in their pay extra dining rooms was on par with what Royal Caribbean served in their main dining rooms, and the food in Norwegian's main dining rooms was really terrible.

                            Of the three, I preferred Royal Caribbean. They did a reasonably good job with reasonably good food.

                            On all ships, I largely avoided the buffets outside of breakfast time (For no readily apparent reason, all cruise lines stop serving breakfast in the dining room at some ungodly hour like 9AM. We're on vacation, people! We do not want to get up early in the morning just to eat breakfast.)

                            1. we traveled a lot by Princess Cruises... most memorable for me were the souffles, the lobster, the crab, and the fact that everything could be made to order - want an omelette? no problem... i always request a vegetable plate to come every night with dinner as well... i tend to use the cruise as an opportunity to have delivered to the table what i'd like to have every night at home, but might be too lazy. oh and if you like soft drink and tea, definitely take advantage of the all-you-can-drink card that you can buy at the start for 17 or 20 bucks.

                              1. I've only been on one cruise - Carnival - and the food was superb! I'm primarily talking about the food served at the formal dinners where you sit down in the dining room. The food on the Lido and the room service fare were both passable, but I just LOVED the food in the dining room. I chose mostly seafood dishes. The best part is that you can order as many dishes from each course that you want (and then seconds!). We didn't figure that out until a couple nights in, which was a shame.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Al_Pal

                                  Just got off the Carnival Splendor and the dinning room was fabulous.

                                2. I went on a Norwegian Cruise once. The best thing on the ship was the hot dog- no joke!

                                  1. I have been on Royal Carribean and Norwegian and thought that RC was better - much larger buffet with more choices. Still, neither were great or memorable.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: smartie

                                      I've taken 2 cruises to Alaska; first one on Holland America, second was Celebrity and Celebrity had much better food -- I liked it a lot. I never had the hunger or energy to hit the midnight buffets but I heard they were spectacular.

                                      1. re: walker

                                        We went to Alaska on Holland this summer and the food was disappointing. Occasionally we'd get a really delicious meal, but most of the buffet items were a let down (especially the desserts), and we were also served several things that were plain awful (even from the fancy restaurant you pay extra for).

                                        Years ago we took two Caribbean cruises with Celebrity and the food was fabulous. That was right before they were bought out by Carnival, so I wonder if things have changed?

                                    2. I've only been on a Princess Cruise and while I wasnt blown away by the food it was pretty good. I utilized the salad bar every day for lunch and was pretty pleased by the selection there. Dinner was always pretty good- with a very good amount of choices and very helpful staff who would replace your meal in a heart beat if you just didnt like your selection.

                                      1. My husband and I went on the Diamond Princess from Vancouver to Anchorage last summer and were very impressed with the quality of the food, especially at the standard sit down dining areas for dinner. The upgraded (pay extra) restaurants were not worth it in our opinion. Our only disappointment was that we wished there were better options for lunch than the buffet - maybe some place where we could have gotten pub grub. The special lunch events they did on our sea days were quite nice, but how many chocolate desserts can one really eat for lunch?!

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: cycloneillini

                                          Not sure if the Diamond has a Wheelhouse- but I know that they do a lunch time Irish Pub Lunch a couple of days during the cruise- definitely not every day but a couple at least. I never went to it- was trying to stick with salads for lunch to counter the indulgence at dinner but I bet it would be worth a try.

                                          1. re: fmcoxe6188

                                            Yes, I remember that the Diamond did have a Wheelhouse, but I don't recall an Irish Pub Lunch. Maybe it was on days we were in port on an excursion. It won't be our last Princess cruise, so I'll have to look for that next time.

                                        2. Jfood has been on Seabourne, Celebrity and Princess.

                                          This may get significant pushback from some but stay away from the buffets. Jfood wondered through a few time just to get a feel and it was as unappetizing as he imagined. Plus depending on the passengers this can get very dangerous. Do not think of getting in between some people and their 45 minute old eggs benedict on the hot tray. It's a relaxing cruise they will not run out of food.

                                          Jfood also tried to stay away from the normal dining room by opting for the "special" themes restaurants, but not the pay extras which jfood always viewed as a dumb bet.

                                          If you want something, just ask, the servers are all there to help you. And usually the pizza, dogs and ice cream and nice 2pm snacks.

                                          1. I did an MSC Cruise this summer, they are an Italian line more popular with Europeans than Americans. I assumed the food would be better than the prvious Princess and Celebrity cruises I've been on but I was wrong, it was disappointing! I'd say Celebrity was the best, and Princess and MSC are about even.

                                            1. Have been on 2 cruises with Crystal - food was outstanding... Yes, they are expensive cruises, but IMHO, you get what you pay for!

                                              1. Don't knock the hot dogs.
                                                Princess has got great hot dogs, bratwurst, knockwurst and hamburgers out by the pool along with some of the best pizza you'll ever have. You might find yourself eating pizza, hot dogs and buffet for lunch at the same meal
                                                My preference is to eat at the buffet for breakfast and lunch. Many of the same items are available at the buffet as in the dining room, but people like the dining room because they want to be waited on. At dinner, many of the same items in the dining room are available at the buffet and may be better. For instance if it's Beef Wellington, at the buffet they'll carve it as big as you want. The buffet they hand carve the beef tenderloin to your specs. One night for Chinese New Year they had a whole roasted pig at the buffet. Princess at the buffet they have someone preparing a fresh pasta dish every night, my favorite was the penne all'arrabiata. For dinner the dining room is good and not as "institutional" tasting as you think. Steaks are now cooked to order rather than pre-cooked. Remember they're serving up to 10,000 meals a day.

                                                There's a premium price for the best which is Crystal. If you want first class service and food and willing to pay the price, then Crystal is it.

                                                Of the "other's" from experience I'd rate them:
                                                (if you're a food connoiseur forget these-you'll complain about everything)
                                                Royal Carribean
                                                Holland America
                                                Carnival (Carnival owns Holland America)

                                                BTW: For some reason the last Princess cruise I was on the smoked salmon wasn't put out on the buffet and you had to ask someone behind the counter for it, but they'll give you as much as you want.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: monku

                                                  Re: the smoked salmon on Princess- I hope that isn't a new practice! The one I went on last year it was out for the taking in the morning, Id hate to have to start asking for it!

                                                  1. re: fmcoxe6188

                                                    I went November 2008 on the Sapphire Princess.
                                                    I was surprised you had to ask for it.
                                                    Another poster said the same thing on a Princess cruise.
                                                    Why serve bagels if you aren't going to have smoked salmon available.