Cruisers never have to spend a dime on food onboard their cruise ship, if they don't want to. All mainstream cruise ships offer three meals a day in their main dining rooms and upper-deck cruise buffets, as well as one or more additional venues included in the cruise price. However, complaints about the sparsity and quality of free food on cruises are increasing as more added-fee restaurants infiltrate the cruise dining landscape.
So, which of the three biggest mainstream cruise lines (Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International) offers the best free food on cruises? Cruise Critic breaks down the complimentary offerings from each cruise line to help you decide which is best for you.
Cruise passengers have virtually everything at their fingertips onboard today's modern, super-sized cruise ships and that includes a wide variety of dining options. If you don't want to pay for lunch or dinner ashore -- you don't have to -- just stay onboard. Almost all of today's cruise lines include at least one main restaurant and buffet option in the cost of your cruise.
In recent years, the demand for additional onboard venues offering included food has increased and the cruise lines have listened. You can now find a wide variety of extra options that are free, including pizza and burger stations, small cafés with a full menu and waiter service, sandwich and light snack options and even ice cream parlours.
The addition of more inclusive eateries is great news for U.K. cruisers, but which line does it best?
Cruise Critic weighs up what's on offer from P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises to help you decide.
What's on Offer?
P&O Cruises doesn't offer quite as many included restaurants on its ships as other cruise lines do, but there are a few areas where the food doesn't come at an additional cost. As is standard on almost all cruise ships, P&O Cruises offers a main dining room and a buffet on each vessel, and if that's not enough, you'll be pleased to hear that a selection of other options is also widely available without an extra charge.
The additional venues vary per ship, but most of them are entirely separate from the buffet or main dining rooms. Café Jardin, situated at the top of Oceana's impressive atrium, is a great example of an alternative, included dining option for breakfast and lunch (the restaurant requires an additional charge in the evening), and you can order anything from a bowl of fresh soup to a warm Scotch egg or steak panini. Oriana's Italian themed Al Fresco is conveniently located on the Lido Deck and is a small venue, offering a selection of healthier and lighter options for breakfast and lunch.
An outdoor grill -- serving fish and chips and burgers and hot dogs -- can be found onboard Oceana, Britannia, Aurora, Ventura, Azura and Arcadia. In addition to this, Ventura, Azura and Britannia also offer a dedicated pizza station.
Grab & Go, which can be found onboard Britannia, is a station located mid-ship on the Lido Deck that offers guests sandwiches, salads, yoghurts and even Indian-style snacks with dips. As the name suggests, you grab and then you go.
The Beach House, which used to be a popular option with P&O Cruises guests was originally introduced aboard Ventura as a complimentary dining option (with less than half a dozen dishes on the vast menu requiring an additional cost) now, however, there is a standard cover charge of £5 per guest, plus additional costs for seafood and steak.
What's on Offer?
Princess Cruises offers a wide selection of included dining venues, alongside the standard main dining room and buffet, and some of them are certainly worth visiting.
What is available varies per ship, as it does with most cruise lines, but one thing you will find on every Princess ship is a pizzeria; where they serve up delicious face-sized slices; and a grill where you can enjoy delights such as hot dogs, burgers, Texas-style barbecue brisket and North Carolina pulled pork. The grill menus vary per ship.
The 24-hour International Café, located in the Piazza, is open around the clock and dishes up everything from grilled paninis to freshly baked peanut butter cookies. Royal Princess, Regal Princess, Golden Princess, Caribbean Princess and Coral Princess are just some of the ships within the fleet to offer this additional free venue.
Soft-serve ice cream is available daily on the open-deck onboard Emerald Princess and Ruby Princess. Sea Princess and Diamond Princess offer La Patisserie for coffee, croissants and cookies. Dawn Princess, Island Princess and Sea Princess feature Amuleto Café, which is very much like La Patisserie, but with the option to enjoy fresh sandwiches.
Although Princess Cruises features VINES as an included option, the food is in fact only free if you purchase a glass of wine.
Royal Caribbean International
What's on Offer?
Onboard Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class and Quantum-class ships, you will find an abundance of included places to eat, aside from the main dining room and buffet, but not all the other ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet reflect this. Most of Royal Caribbean's ships offer at least one included food venue and some deliver up to three. These often incorporate one or more of the following: a pizza station; café or bistro serving sandwiches and burgers; and a deli-style venue offering a selection of fresh sandwiches and pastries.
Included dining venues available onboard Oasis-class and/or Quantum-class ships within the Royal Caribbean fleet include: Johnny Rockets (breakfast only on Oasis-class -- a cover charge applies on other Royal Caribbean ships), Boardwalk Dog House, SeaPlex Dog House, Café Promenade and Sorrento's pizzeria.
Coastal Kitchen offers cuisine that blends Mediterranean influences with tastes inspired by California's bountiful farmlands, and although it is another of Royal Caribbean's included dining options, it is only available to Pinnacle Members or Grande Suite guests and above. Coastal Kitchen is currently only available onboard Harmony, Oasis, Anthem, Allure, Ovation and Quantum of the Seas.
Solarium Bistro is featured onboard Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas, and is the ideal place to enjoy a healthier, lighter food option with the emphasis on "spa" cuisine and organic foods. Breakfast and lunch are included, but dinner requires an additional charge.
Less than a third of Royal's Caribbean's 25-ship fleet offer more than three additional inclusive dining options -- excluding the main restaurant and buffet. Although Johnny Rockets offers complimentary breakfast items aboard Royal's Oasis-class ships, this does not extend to Freedom-class vessels.
What's on Offer?
One of the biggest innovators in cruising, Celebrity Cruises offers a variety of complimentary dining options, but they're not all available to all guests. The main dining room and buffet venues are complimentary for everyone on board, but AquaClass guests also get the opportunity to enjoy breakfast and dinner at BLU: a spa restaurant that specialises in healthy, light cuisine. BLU is available onboard the following ships: Celebrity Eclipse, Equinox, Silhouette, Solstice, Reflection, Constellation, Infinity, Millennium and Summit.
If you find yourself as a Suite-Class guest onboard Celebrity Eclipse, Equinox, Silhouette, Solstice, Reflection, Constellation, Infinity, Millennium or Summit, then you will have the pleasure of experiencing Luminae restaurant and its extra-special ambience. Luminae offers a menu filled with European and Asian influences, as aell as freshly-sourced ingredients, and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Oceanview Café, Mast Grill, Seaside Grill and the AquaSpa Café feature as additional included dining venues onboard most of Celebrity Cruises' ships.
Although deemed 'exclusive' to AquaClass guests, BLU can be pre-booked by Suite Class guests (depending on availability) at a charge of $5 per person.