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Where to Find the Best Cruise Food on Your Next Voyage

Everyone knows there's no shortage of food on cruise ships. But, what if you want to find those sweet spots on board that offer culinary heights? Here are some tips to help you navigate to the best cruise food.

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View from infinity pool with beach on Cruise ship Celebrity Eclipse docked at port Willemstad. Shutterstock / NAN728

Do a lap around the buffet

There is so much food on the main cruise buffet that you can miss at first glance. Before each meal, take a lap around the entire buffet to see what’s on the menu. There are international dishes, vegetarian specialties and generally a carving station. Once you capture a sense of what’s there, you can try what you like. Since the buffet is included in your cruise fare, eat up! Much of the best cruise food can be found there.

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A dinning table for two on a cruise ship with blue sea water outsideShutterstock / Jack Z Young

Try specialty restaurants


Beyond the main dining rooms and buffet, most cruise lines now offer specialty restaurants—they’ll often come with an added fee, but says Colleen McDaniel, senior executive editor of Cruise Critic these restaurants usually offer a bit of an elevated experience from other dining options onboard. “Because of their popularity, these do tend to book early—so if you’re looking to dine at a specialty venue, it’s best to book a reservation prior to departure if at all possible,” she says.

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Passengers eats on board MSC - SPLENDIDAShutterstock / ChameleonsEye

Experience different cuisines of specialty dining


Norwegian Cruise Line often has a specialty dining package as a perk for booking. Stand-outs with culinary flair on the new Norwegian Bliss include Texas Smokehouse Q—a barbeque restaurant with live music; the classic Cagney’s Steakhouse with steaks and an impressive wine list; and Teppanyaki is the place for Japanese hibachi, which is especially entertaining for teen cruisers.

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Interior of restaurant dinner hall of cruiise liner Costa MediterraneaShutterstock / Vlada Photo

Give advance notice if you have dietary restrictions


Because the best cruise food is so plentiful, McDaniel says if you have a dietary restriction, let the line know in advance. “Cruise lines are great vacation options for those with dietary restrictions, as they’re often able to customize options to your needs if given advance notice,” she says. “By letting the line know of your needs at the time of booking—and again once you’re onboard—the line is able to offer a wide-range of options to help enjoy your meals onboard.”

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Buffet lineJGA/Shutterstock

Try the buffet for dinner

The main dining room is sit-down service, but don’t overlook the dinner buffet. There’s no rush to dinner and you can go to Lido super-casual. The dinner offerings at the buffet are plentiful and there are often theme nights were special dishes are served. Some experienced cruisers say the best cruise food is at the buffet.

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many diners on a cruise ship waiting for dinnerShutterstock / multiz12

Tap into the expertise of other cruisers


Reviews are a great place to start if you’re looking for feedback on a ship’s dining options to find the best cruise ship food and review sites like Cruise Critic feature reviews from a team of cruise experts as well as reviews from vacationers themselves.

McDaniel says that on Cruise Critic’s community boards, you can read conversations that have been posted or pose your own questions about specific cruises or “look for more generic recommendations from others who have been there, done that.”

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People relaxing on the pool deck of the Marella Discovery cruise ship.Shutterstock / Gem Russan

Do your research


Considering that some mega-ships can have as many as 20 dining options, it takes time and research to discover and learn about what’s available on your cruise. The best cruise food can be found at a restaurant you wouldn’t consider at first thought. Take some time to read about the menus and prioritize where you’d like to go.

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Table dinner setting with flower, wine and water glasses.Shutterstock / NAPA

Discover tastings around the ship


There are lounges on board with sandwiches, savory treats and other light fare. The best cruise food may take some time to find. On the Norwegian Bliss, for example, Deck 15 has a huge and beautiful Observation Lounge. In the mornings, a lovely breakfast is served with fruit, pastries, yogurts and hot and cold beverages that allow you to start your day with a healthy meal and panoramic views.

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Passengers on board MSC - SPLENDIDAShutterstock / ChameleonsEye

Ask the crew


The crew of cruise ships is known as friendly, helpful and approachable. Often, officers are walking around and wear name tags and uniforms to help you spot them. Don’t be afraid to ask them what their favorite cruise food is on the ship. They can help you find some hidden gems.

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Shutterstock / Natalia Dobryanskaya

Eat in port


One of the best perks of a cruise is the sheer number of destinations and cultures you’re able experience in one trip. “While onboard dining options are often fantastic, make sure you step onshore to experience those local tastes you just can’t find onboard or at home,” says McDaniel. You just might find a recipe worthy of bringing back home, like these recipes we brought home from vacation.

Erica Lamberg
I have more than 15 years of writing and copywriting experience.  I write business and travel features, create copywriting for Coldwell Banker and write Web content for sites including USA Today's 10 Best, Fodor's Travel, Reader's Digest, Cruise Critic, Bankrate, Gannett, and others. I am based in Philadelphia.

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