Today I’m going to compare our dining experiences on the various cruise lines that we have cruised with. The most important thing I can say with dining reviews is that each person has their own tastes. I have a cabinet full of spices. In fact my New Year’s resolution was to not buy more spices until I used some up. My mom on the other hand felt that salt and pepper was good enough, though she would go out on a limb once in a while and get seasoned salt or parsley. We cruised together once and she was very happy with the food, but I found it to be bland and was not pleased with it.
I divided my review into two categories – complimentary dining and specialty restaurants. Complimentary dining includes the main dining rooms and buffets on most ships, plus some other locations which offer no charge. Specialty restaurants is anything where you pay an extra fee.
My top choice for dining would have to be Celebrity Cruises. I found that their buffet was one of the best in terms of layout, offerings and quality of food. There was a wide selection of breakfast items, including several ethnic choices. This carried over for each meal as well. The organization was great and there was rarely a line for anything. Food choices and quality were very good in the main dining room. We did get a chance to try the cafe in the solarium and the grill which were nice choices. We ate at all of the specialty restaurants, including the Bistro on Five, Muranos and Silk Harvest. The prices and the food was very good at all of the specialty restaurants. I especially liked no per piece charge for sushi at Silk Harvest.
It is joked that some cruise lines serve sub-par food in the main dining rooms on the first night or two to get you to go to the specialty restaurants for better food. On Celebrity Solstice, they had a “Taste of Solstice” event to get us to try food from the specialty restaurants because everyone was happy with the main dining room foods.
Next would have to be Disney Cruise Line. Disney doesn’t offer many specialty restaurants, but I don’t think it is necessary. With the main dining rooms, Disney offers rotational dining, which brings you to a different restaurant each night, complete with a different themed menu and different costumes on the cast members. Each ship has three different dining rooms that you will be able to experience at least once each per cruise. The quality of the food is very good with filets being served instead of sirloin steaks for example.
Cabanas is good, though traffic flow can be difficult at times. On the newer ships, the aft elevators empty in the middle of Cabanas and Disney cruisers have a hard time abandoning the idea of a line through the buffet, but this is due to the design with everything against one wall. Disney gets the nod as being the only cruise line with complimentary soft drinks not just at meal time, but anytime in Cabanas or at the 24 hour beverage stations.
Salads, sandwiches, pizza and ice cream are readily available at no extra charge in the quick service locations located on the pool decks.
Disney does offer two adult only specialty restaurants. This is one of the few lines that have restricted the specialty dining to adults only. Palo is a Northern Italian fare while Remy (on the two newer ships) is a French dining experience. The price of Palo is much better than comparables in the industry. Remy is high priced at $75 per person for dinner (not including wine pairing) but I must say Remy is the best specialty dining we have experienced on a cruise ship.
My next choice for dining would be Carnival Cruise Lines. This one surprised me. I didn’t go into the cruise expecting to much from Carnival in terms of dining and was pleasantly surprised. The food on the buffet was very good and fresh. They had tandoori, Mongolian grill, Italian dishes to name a few on the buffet most days. The food in the main dining room was also very good. We had planned to eat elsewhere more nights but enjoyed dining in the main dining room on the second night and returned nearly every night.
There were some disappointments though as the extra choices on the buffet as they closed down early each day, most late afternoon. We were never able to get a burger at the pool for dinner as the grill was never open that late. We tried to have pizza (one of two quick service locations available in the evening) and were told it would be a 15 minute wait for the pizza (this was told to everyone in line who were ordering different types of pizza – nothing was ready at 6:00 pm). We ended up with a sandwich instead at the deli.
The steakhouse was just ok. Not bad but definitely not worth the upcharge. The only plus on this restaurant was that they closed the basketball court immediately above the restaurant during open hours.
Royal Caribbean has moved up a bit since our recent sailing on Oasis of the Seas. We expected it to be similar to our last cruise on Grandeur of the Seas, which was incredibly bland. Cuts of meat were the same as we had remembered, unless we paid for an upgraded steak. The specialty restaurants were good, but overpriced compared to other lines. Giovannis was the best restaurant for me because the food was plentiful and good tasting, plus the server made it fun. 150 Central Park was good, but for $40 per person plus the wine pairings, it felt expensive.
There were plenty of other complimentary food options during the day including donuts, breakfast at Johnny Rockets and even a character breakfast with the DreamWorks characters. Much of the complimentary food (with the exception of Johnny Rockets and the Wipeout Cafe for breakfast) was very bland. The coffee was undrinkable unless you paid for the Seattle’s Best or Starbucks. Pizza was pretty good when we tried that. There was a lot to offer at the buffet, though it seemed very small for the number of people onboard.
By the end of the cruise, we were tired of paying the upcharges for mediocre food. I must say though that the food was better than the last time we cruised Royal Caribbean.
Remember what I said about the food in the main dining room driving the guests to the specialty dining? This was definitely the feeling we got when we cruised on the Norwegian Dawn. I have to say that we did enjoy the buffet, but ended up eating there too many nights. The food in the specialty restaurants did not warrant the upcharges. We ate in the steakhouse and paid the service fee but an upgrade charge to get surf and turf. This was a total waste. There seemed to be an upcharge for everything, even pizza. We were happy at the buffet but this also meant eating way more than we should on this cruise.
Princess finishes off the list. Everything was bland on this cruise, including both specialty restaurants. We were excited about the newly updated menus in them but couldn’t find any taste in any of the dishes. The only exception was when we ate at the Chef’s Table. This experience was amazing and the food was outstanding. For the price and what we got, I would even say this was better than Remy, but it is very exclusive so I can’t really say this is a choice for most to be able to do. I have a feeling that Princess as a whole has set standards for the food on the ships and have given the galleys very little leeway. The Chef’s Table however, is a whole evening orchestrated by the Executive Chef. Rumor has it they have a battle between different chefs for who has the best meal. It’s unfortunately they don’t do this with all of the meals offered onboard.
Once again, these are my opinions based on my tastes and desires. I can’t say that we have had bad food on any cruises, just food that I don’t enjoy.
TravelAgent Rhonda I’m not impressed with NCLs dining room food, but they serve the best burger, out by the pool and in the buffet. They also have a sports bar with great wings! Princess is known for having the best pizza at sea, and I totally agree! I like Celebrity’s and RCCL’s dining room food, but not crazy about their buffets. The exception being–RCCL’s buffet is a great alternative for dinner at night, if you don’t feel like going to the main dining room. The have white tablecloths, candles, soft music, and they serve a lot of the menu items that are in the dining room. Waiters bring drinks to the already-set tables for you.