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Cruise dining, food & drink guide: What's included and what is speciality dining?

Author: Harriet Mallinson

Published on:

Updated on:

Cruise food can be truly astounding, with many holidaymakers selecting their cruise line based on preferred culinary options. But how do cruise ship meals work? This is your guide to dining.

Cruise ship dinner, lunch and breakfast offerings can elevate the cruising experience no end if done right.

However, with different cruise lines offering a range of dining packages it can be confusing to understand what's included and what's not.

We've created a cruise line food guide to help you understand cruise food cost, how cruise ship meals work and what you can expect from speciality restaurants.

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Are meals included on cruises?

Cruise meals are always included on in the cost of a sailing but may well just be limited to the main dining room and cruise ship buffet.

Cruise lines often have speciality restaurants for which guests must pay extra. Royal Caribbean, P&O, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises are among cruise lines offering paid-for speciality restaurants.

As for cruise food cost, this varies per brand. Princess' and Celebrity's cover charges start from ¢25 per guest over 12, for instance.

- READ MORE: Guide to all-inclusive cruises -

Cruise lines tend to offer speciality dining packages so if you think you fancy heading to these onboard eateries, do research your options. For instance, on Royal Caribbean, you can save up to 40 percent by purchasing a package.

Do look for pre-booking deals, too. For example, on Celebrity Cruises, if you make a speciality dining reservation for the first night of the cruise you'll receive 30 percent off.

However, some cruise lines offer all restaurants within the price of the all-inclusive cruise. These include such as luxury brands as Crystal Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea and Regent Seven Seas Cruises and well as more affordable lines such as Marella Cruises and Saga Cruises, Celestyal Cruises.

It's worth checking before you book what cruise ship meals you will get when you sail.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises Chartreuse restaurant
Cruise food: Regent Seven Seas Cruises is among the fully all-inclusive cruise lines. Credit: Regent Seven Seas

Can you take food and drinks off a cruise ship?

Cruise lines advise passengers to consume cruise ship food only on the ship itself.

However, packeted snacks and bottled water may be allowed onto shore.

- READ MORE: Cruise ship rules and regulations -

It's worth checking with your cruise line to see what their rules are.

Note that many destinations also have strict regulations about bringing food in, especially regarding fresh food and animal products.

P&O Cruises food
Cruise food: P&O Cruises has speciality restaurants that guests need to pay extra for. Credit: P&O Cruises

What is speciality dining on a cruise?

All cruise lines offer speciality restaurants, whether they're included in the cost of the cruise or not.

These eateries give guests the chance to enhance their onboard dining experience, whether that means enjoying menus crafted by Michelin-starred, celebrity chefs or tucking into high-quality global a la carte fare.

For instance, on P&O Cruises, Sindhu serves authentic Indian cuisine with a British twist while Ocean Grill is by Marco Pierre White and serves steaks and seafood.

- READ MORE: Marco Pierre White on his love of curries and the P&O Cookery Club -

On Royal Caribbean, Izumi serves up an exotic Asian-inspired dining experience and Chops Grille is a classic American steakhouse offering exceptional prime meat.

Meanwhile, onboard new Celebrity Cruises ship Celebrity Beyond, due April 2022, Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud is creating his first signature restaurant at sea - Le Voyage by Daniel Boulud.

Details of the speciality restaurants can all be found on cruise lines' websites so you can certainly do plenty of research before booking!

Oceania Cruises restaurant
Cruise food: Oceania Cruises prides itself on its culinary offerings and is well known for its fine dining options. Credit: Oceania Cruises

Which cruise line has the best food?

Some of the best river cruise lines for food are Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection - La Cave des Vins is an exceptional feature onboard French ship Joie de Vivre - and Crystal Cruises, which offers a food and wine pairing menu in the exclusive Vintage Room.

Also top is AmaWaterways whose European ships are members of La Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs, a prestigious international gastronomic society dedicated to fine cuisine. On Scenic Cruises all guests have the opportunity to eat at the speciality restaurant Portobellos while Avalon Waterways is ideal for healthy food lovers.

- READ MORE: Which is the best river cruise line for you? -

As for ocean cruise lines, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises are both highly praised by cruise fans for their dining options.

Oceania Cruises prides itself on its culinary offerings and is well known for its fine dining options.

The cruise line is rolling out its OceaniaNEXT programme out on its six small, luxurious ships. Marina, Regatta, Insignia, Nautica, Riviera and Sirena. The range of dramatic enhancements includes reimagined menus and elevated dining experiences.

On the luxury side, Crystal Cruises and Silversea are also renowned for their excellent restaurants.

- READ MORE: For more cruise advice and recommendation click here -

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