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21 Tips for the Best Cruise Ship Main Dining Room Experience

13 Apr 2023
Jenna DeLaurentis

Enjoying meals in the Main Dining Room is a traditional part of a cruise vacation, but there are a few tips and tricks you should follow to have the best experience possible.

Main Dining Room

Many passengers on a Royal Caribbean cruise enjoy meals in the Main Dining Room for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This complimentary venue is where you can enjoy three course meals throughout your sailing, and it’s a nostalgic part of cruising for most cruisers.

We recommend knowing the ins and outs of the Main Dining Room before your cruise begins. Knowing how the Main Dining Room works can help you avoid any surprises while onboard, allowing you to fully appreciate the dining experience.

From browsing menus in advance to notifying Royal Caribbean of dietary restrictions, here are 21 tips for the best cruise ship Main Dining Room experience.

Know what’s included in the Main Dining Room

Menu from Wonder of the Seas

The Main Dining Room is included in your cruise fare on a Royal Caribbean cruise, but there are just a few items that cost extra.

Complimentary drinks include water, coffee, tea, juice, and lemonade. Soda, specialty coffees, mocktails, and alcoholic beverages come with an extra cost. If you have a drink package, however, you can utilize it in the Main Dining Room in addition to bars and lounges onboard.

As far as food, you’ll pay extra for three premium selections:

  • Chops Grille Filet Mignon: $19.99
  • Surf & Turf: $34.95
  • Extra lobsters on formal nights: $16.99/lobster (one lobster dish is complimentary for each guest)

With so many complimentary food items on the menu, there’s really no need to purchase a premium selection from the Main Dining Room, but it’s always an option.

Prepare to order all courses at once


When your waiter comes to take your order in the Main Dining Room, be prepared to order all three courses at once. Many first time cruisers are surprised when they realize they have to order their appetizer, main course, and dessert at the same time, leaving them scrambling to quickly select their courses.

Of course, if you’re not ready to place your order, your waiter can come back in a few minutes. Additionally, if you later decide to order an extra appetizer or change your mind on dessert, just let the waiter know.

Order more than one appetizer, main course, and dessert


One of the best parts about dining on a cruise ship is the opportunity to order as many dishes as you’d like. While we don’t advise ordering 3 appetizers, 5 main courses, and 6 desserts, there’s no harm in ordering more than one of each course.

Related: I tried Royal Caribbean's new Main Dining Room menus, and here's what I thought

Portions in the Main Dining Room are typically a bit smaller than what you might find at a restaurant on land, so many passengers like to order more than one item, especially when it comes to appetizers.

If you can’t choose between the French onion soup and a side salad, why not both? Likewise, don’t waste your time deciding between the key lime pie or carrot cake when you can easily order one of each!

Don’t be afraid to try new foods


Another plus of being able to order more than one item is the ability to try new foods and cuisines. While dining at a restaurant on land, many people are nervous to try something new in case they don’t like it, thus wasting money.

Eating in the Main Dining Room, on the other hand, means you can order that spicy Indian curry or pesto pasta with no regrets. If you don’t like it, you can always order something else, but if you do like it, then you’ve just found a new favorite food!

Know how the Main Dining Room menu works

Menu at an angle

Royal Caribbean’s Main Dining Room dinner menu changes every night, although cruise itineraries over 10 nights see repeated menus. Each menu has a theme, such as Mexican night and Italian night, and menu items are influenced by the theme.

The dinner menu features appetizers, main courses, and desserts. At the top of the menu is the chef’s recommendation for each course, but you can mix and match items from anywhere on the menu.

Related: 7 cruise ship Main Dining Room rules to follow — Plus one to break

Lunch in the Main Dining Room is served on sea days only. The menu changes from day to day, but it does not follow a set theme. Like dinner, the lunch menu offers appetizers, main courses, and desserts. On some itineraries, a standard lunch menu may be replaced with a brunch menu with both breakfast and lunch dishes.

Breakfast, like dinner, is served every day in the Main Dining Room. The menu features classic American breakfast cuisine including pancakes, french toast, and omelets. 

Check the menus in advance

Royal Caribbean posts its daily Main Dining Room menus on the Royal Caribbean app, and we recommend browsing the menus in advance. Looking at the menus ahead of time helps you decide whether or not you want to eat in the Main Dining Room on a particular evening.

If nothing on the menu appeals to you, you may choose to eat in the Windjammer or at a specialty evening that night instead. Likewise, you won’t want to book specialty dining reservations on the evening in which the Main Dining Room serves your favorite type of cuisine.

Know the difference between Traditional Dining and My Time Dining

Royal Caribbean offers two choices for dining in the Main Dining Room: Traditional Dining and My Time Dining. You select your choice when booking a cruise.

Traditional dining is when you are assigned the same table and waiters for the duration of the cruise. You can choose early (around 5:30PM) or late seating (around 8PM) for the meal, and you will dine at the same time every day.

Related: How to change your dining time on a Royal Caribbean cruise

My Time Dining gives you more flexibility in dining times. You will not have an assigned time, table, or waiter. Rather, you can make reservations for each day in advance or show up to the Main Dining Room at any time during dinner hours.

For more information on the two dining options, check out our guide on Royal Caribbean My Time Dining versus Traditional Dining.

You can show up later than your scheduled dining time, but you might have to wait

Many cruisers, especially those with early dining, may occasionally run late to dinner. If you have a 5:30PM dining time but stay in port until 6PM, you'll miss your dining time, but you can still have dinner in the Main Dining Room.

If you miss your dining time by more than 15-20 minutes, go to the My Time Dining area of the Main Dining Room, which is usually on a separate floor than traditional dining. Wait in line for a table and you will be seated for a regular sit-down dinner.

You should note, though, that you will not be seated at the same dining table you have for traditional dining. Your waiters will be different as well.

Make My Time Dining reservations in advance


While My Time Dining may offer flexibility to dine whenever you’d like, we still recommend making reservations in advance. You can make dining reservations for each evening of your cruise and the time can change from day to day.

Making reservations is not necessary, but if you do not make reservations, you will have to wait in line for an available table. Waiting in line is not fun for anyone, and making reservations in advance means you can show up at your dining time and be seated right away.

The menu's themed cuisine nights are flexible

Although Royal Caribbean’s dinner menus are named French Night and Mediterranean night, they are loosely based on a destination’s cuisine. On French night, you can still find seafood linguine, butternut squash soup, curried lamb, and a warm apple cobbler.

Mexican night brings dishes like enchiladas and carne asada, but you can also order spaghetti bolognese, grilled chicken breast, escargot, and toffee cheesecake.

Therefore, don’t overlook the Main Dining Room menu even if the night’s theme is not your favorite cuisine. There is more than enough variety outside the themed cuisine to satisfy most passengers.

Let your waiter know your preferences


Waiters in the Main Dining Room are highly attentive, and they can handle most requests with ease. If you would like two bread bowls instead of one each night, they can accommodate that request for you. Or, if you know you want a cup of coffee each evening with dessert, let them know and they will bring it to you each evening without asking.

Letting your waiter know your dining preferences on the first night of your cruise helps ensure your dining experience matches your needs throughout the sailing.

Notify Royal Caribbean of dietary restrictions in advance


Royal Caribbean can accommodate dietary restrictions, but you should provide notice to the cruise line in advance (view instructions here).

Providing notice is only required for strict dietary restrictions such as food allergies, gluten-free, Kosher, low-fat, and low-sodium. Vegetarian and vegan dishes are available in the Main Dining Room each evening, so there is no need to notify Royal Caribbean for these dietary restrictions.

Related: Eating gluten free on Royal Caribbean cruise ships

Go to the Main Dining Room for breakfast and lunch

The Main Dining Room is open for dinner each evening, but it’s also open for breakfast every morning and for lunch on sea days. Many passengers enjoy dining in the Main Dining Room for breakfast and lunch due to its quieter, more comfortable atmosphere when compared to other venues onboard.

Skip the busy Windjammer in the morning for a sit-down meal of pancakes, breakfast burritos, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Or, instead of waiting in a long line at El Loco Fresh for lunch, head to the Main Dining Room for a more relaxed environment.

Hours for breakfast and lunch can vary by sailing, with some offering brunch in lieu of two separate meals. Check the Royal Caribbean app for your sailing’s meal times. 

You can change your table assignment

If you have traditional dining, your Main Dining Room table assignment will be listed on your SeaPass card. We recommend heading to the Main Dining Room on embarkation day to check your table location and size.

If you would prefer to sit by a window but your table is in the middle of the room, ask a crew member at the Main Dining Room entrance if your table can be switched. Likewise, if you would prefer a table for two instead of sitting with other passengers, notify the crew members of this preference as well.

Bring your own wine to dinner

Wine brought onboard

Royal Caribbean allows each adult to bring one 750ml bottle of wine onboard, and you can bring this wine to the Main Dining Room for dinner. A small corkage fee may be applied to open the bottle, but bringing your own wine will save money in the long run.

Plus, you can bring your favorite type of wine, which may not be available onboard.

Dress appropriately for formal nights

Family in dining room

Many first time cruisers are intimidated by formal nights on a Royal Caribbean cruise, but don’t worry: there’s no need to pack a tuxedo or ball gown for formal night. Wearing a collared shirt and slacks is totally acceptable for men, and many women choose to wear a light sundress or blouse in lieu of a floor-length gown.

Related: What to wear on a cruise formal night

It’s unlikely that you’ll be turned away for wearing jeans and a t-shirt on formal night, but we advise dressing appropriately. If you would prefer to skip formal night altogether, you can always visit the Windjammer or a specialty restaurant instead.

Check the Kids Menu for more options

Kids MDR menu

Guests of any age can order off the Kids Menu in the Main Dining Room. The menu does not change from day to day, but offers classic kid-friendly dishes like hamburgers, chicken fingers, grilled cheese, and spaghetti.

If nothing on the regular menu sounds appealing, you’re always welcome to order a dish from the Kids Menu. Likewise, kids can order from the standard Main Dining Room menu in lieu of the Kids Menu.

Drop kids off at Adventure Ocean before dinner

Enjoying a nice sit-down meal can be difficult when cruising with young children. If you’re traveling with kids, consider bringing them to the Windjammer for a quick dinner before dropping them off at Adventure Ocean.

Related: 50 best cruising with kids tips & secrets

After dropping them off, head to the Main Dining Room for a more relaxed sit-down meal. More often than not, your kids will prefer a quick dinner before having fun at Adventure Ocean anyway, so you can dine guilt-free.

You don’t have to eat with other passengers

Women eating in main dining room

Many first time cruisers assume you have to dine at large tables with strangers while on a Royal Caribbean cruise, but this isn’t always the case. Dining with other passengers can be a great way to make new friends onboard, but it’s certainly not as intimate as dining with just your travel party.

Royal Caribbean usually assigns guests to their own table, but your table may occasionally be shared with other passengers. If you don’t want to dine with others, simply head to the Main Dining Room on embarkation day and confirm your table assignment.

If your dining reservation is at a table with other passengers, a crew member can change the table information so that it’s only you and your travel party.

Avoid controversial topics with table mates

Symphony of the Seas main dining room

If you are sharing a table with other passengers, do everything possible to avoid controversial topics. Discussing politics, religion, and controversial current events is a big no-no when dining in the Main Dining Room.

No one wants to feel uncomfortable or start a fight with other passengers, so keep discussions with table mates civil.

Always be friendly to your waiters

Dining room waiter

Our last tip for the best cruise ship Main Dining Room experience is to always be friendly to your waiters.

Royal Caribbean crew members work diligently every day of their contracts to provide the best experience for guests, including in the Main Dining Room. It’s important to be polite to crew members even when something goes wrong.

If you asked for your steak medium rare but it comes out well done, politely inform your waiter rather than throw a fit. Or, if your waiter forgets to bring you another glass of wine, remind them about it without being rude.

Your waiters do everything possible to make the Main Dining Room experience as enjoyable as possible, and being friendly can enhance your experience even more.

Jenna DeLaurentis enjoys exploring new ports of call around the world on a cruise ship, learning about new cultures, discovering beautiful landscapes, and trying diverse cuisine. She loves to get active while at port, whether cycling through mountains in the Caribbean or scuba diving under the sea.

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