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Beyond the Buffet: Exploring Royal Caribbean's unique onboard cuisine

23 Dec 2023
Matt Hochberg

Just like how food at a baseball game is more than hot dogs or cracker jack, the food choices on a Royal Caribbean cruise go beyond eating at the buffet.

Family eating at Chops Grille

According to an internal Royal Caribbean study, the top two reasons people choose to go on a cruise are for the destinations and food. With that in mind, a cruise ship has to offer more than just a salad bar.

AAA conducted a survey that showed 52% of U.S. adults are likely to consider a cruise vacation in 2023, and that number is likely to grow.

In fact, you might be surprised at the variety of dining choices found on cruise ships today. On the brand new Icon of the Seas, you'll find more than 40 ways to eat and drink, with 20 new and signature ways to eat onboard the ship.

All of those choices are meant to cater to every taste palate, while ensuring adventurous eaters have something to satisfy their needs as well.

If you're new to cruising, here's why the food on Royal Caribbean may very well impress you.

Culinary Delights

Chef in Action

Depending on which ship you choose, there could be a great variety of restaurants to choose from, some that are included and others that cost extra.

The complimentary dining usually caters to the widest possible audience, with dishes of varying cuisines. You'll find Italian, French, American, Indian and more in the ship's Main Dining Room.

The Main Dining Room has a themed menu each evening, which was revamped in January 2023.

Specialty restaurant overview

When you think of gourmet dining on Royal Caribbean, inevitably your focus will shift to the specialty restaurants onboard. This is where the line puts its greatest effort in delivering a culinary experience.

Royal Caribbean’s specialty restaurants offer a wide range of cuisines, from Italian to Japanese and barbecue.

Each cruise ship has its own set of restaurants. The list of specialty dining venues includes:

  • Chef's Table
  • Cafe Latte-tudes
  • Samba Grill
  • Izumi
  • Giovanni's Italian Kitchen
  • Portside BBQ
  • Johnny Rockets
  • Wonderland
  • Fish & Ships
  • Sabor
  • Chops Grille
  • Teppanyaki
  • Jamie's Italian
  • Room Service
  • Cupcake Cupboard
  • Hooked Seafood
  • Sugar Beach
  • Sabor
  • Starbucks
  • Sichuan Red
  • Giovanni's Table
  • 150 Central Park
  • The Mason Jar
  • Desserted
  • Pier 7
  • Empire Supper Club
  • Celebration Table
  • Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade

Each restaurant has its own cuisine and style to it, which gives guests the choice to dine there.  There's plenty of food included in the cruise fare, but the idea is to give passengers the option of enhancing their cruise with additional variety.

Signature Dishes

Giovannis food

At each specialty restaurant, you'll find tantalizing choices, but which meals truly stand out as a must-try?

I hand picked a few notable dishes that stand out as the best choice at the top restaurants.

Giovanni's pizza

Giovanni's Italian Kitchen

Seven cheese pizza does indeed have seven kinds of cheeses, and the blend is impressive.

Hooked food

Hooked Seafood

The Messy Fish Sandwich is a fried five-ounce piece of cod on a brioche bun, dressed with lots of tasty coleslaw and pickles. Ask for extra napkins.

Campfire cookie

Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade

Campfire cookie is a freshly baked cookie and covered with roasted marshmallows served piping hot, with a side of ice cream.

Server cutting beef tenderloin

150 Central Park

Beef tenderloin for two is sliced tableside with a duo of sauces to try.

Goat Cheese Salad

Chops Grille

Crispy Goat Cheese Salad might not be one of the steaks on the menu, but it might be the perfect salad combination.

International flavors at sea

Chef preparing a dish

Royal Caribbean prides itself by offering global cuisine on its cruise ships, and it's apparent in the menu choices.

The Main Dining Room alone will have food on each night that is inspired by India, Italy, France, and Southeast Asia. With a different theme every night in the Main Dining Room and Windjammer buffet, you'll find a great deal of food from around the world.

If you want to go beyond those choices, the specialty restaurants cater to specific global cuisines. There are two different Italian restaurants on Royal Caribbean ships, with Giovanni's focusing on traditional Italian food and Jamie's Italian leveraging celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's modern view of the food.

Izumi sushi is the creation of Master Chef Travis Kamiyama, whose 30 years of experience brings both traditional and signature sushi that caters to the international market.

The Mason Jar has comfort foods that include buttermilk biscuits and jalapeno cornbread served with Cajun and whipped honey butter, lobster n’ crawfish gumbo, crab beignets, fried green tomatoes, charred watermelon salad, shrimp n’ grits, blacked Cajun catfish and beef brisket.

Unique dining experiences

Live music in Empire Supper Club concept art

Individual dishes are great, but what about meals that stand out as an event on its own.

Royal Caribbean has offered for years the Chef's Table on all of its ships. It's a limited capacity meal led by the ship's Chef de Cuisine.

You'll sit at a white tablecloth dinner with five exquisite courses, and each is paired with the perfect wine to bring out the flavor on the menu.

Seabass at Empire Supper Club

Coming to Icon of the Seas is an even more elevated experience, with the Empire Supper Club.

This is where you'll go for an eight-course menu of premium American cuisine, accompanied by live music played during your meal. Each musical number and every cocktail is carefully curated and perfectly paired to complement each course.

Tony Abou-Ganim

Tony Abou-Ganim has worked with James Beard Award-winning chefs, Bellagio and more to come up with the meals and cocktails.

Wonderland is another original Royal Caribbean creation that is loosely based on the magical world of Alice and Wonderland.

The menu is broken down into and inspired by five different natural elements: sun, ice, fire, earth, and sea. Nothing is what it seems, but the result is an array of dishes that might surprise you with how it tastes versus how it looks.

Culinary classes

Sushi making class

In addition to sit down meals, there's an opportunity to learn how to make these foods at home.

Some ships offer cooking classes, where you get a hands-on tutorial on how the chef's on a ship make the food you eat in a restaurant.

This includes:

  • Sushi making class
  • Guacamole making class
  • Cupcake decorating class

Behind-the-scenes kitchen tours

Galley tour

It's difficult to explain how much work goes into preparing meals for the thousands of guests and crew members every day on a cruise ship.

The ship's kitchens are a 24/7 operation, and you can get a peek at how it works with an all access tour.

Royal Caribbean offers two types of tours that will take you to the ship's galley, which is where the food is prepared and served.

The "Sip. Tour. Brunch." event is an extra cost experience where guests are taken backstage to the ship's galley, followed by enjoying brunch in the Main Dining Room.

If you want to see more, go for the "All Access Ship Tour" that includes not only a visit to the galley, but also the ship's bridge, engine control room, laundry facilities, and waste management area. It's a tour hour look at how cruise ships work.

Catering to dietary preferences

Mariner of the Seas dining room

Whether you prefer to eat a certain way or have special needs, Royal Caribbean offers many choices.

Vegetarian and vegan options

You'll find many dining choices for vegetarian and vegan guests.

The Windjammer buffet has plenty of vegetarian and vegan option for each of its meals. Whether pasta with marinara, a salad, fresh fruit, oatmeal, soup, or avocado toast, you’ll certainly be able to find something to eat.

Indian food is a popular vegetarian alternative, and there is a vegetarian option served at each meal. Plant-based milks are also available on request for cereal and coffee.

In the Main Dining Room, there's even more options there. Each day will have a vegan choice listed.

Read moreVegetarian and Vegan Guide to Royal Caribbean

Allergies and special requests


Royal Caribbean can cater to dietary needs, such as food allergies, gluten-free, kosher, low-fat, and low-sodium.

Lactose-free/soy milk, ensure, and kosher meals are available at no extra charge. Just notify Royal Caribbean at least 45 days prior to sailing (90 days for European/South American Itineraries).

You may also send an e-mail request to [email protected]; please include in the e-mail the guests' names, booking number, ship name and sail date. E-mails will receive an automated response. We kindly ask that guests do not call Royal Caribbean International suppliers with specific questions.

Beverage experiences

Cocktail being made

The variety of choices on Royal Caribbean is not limited to food, as there's lots of cocktails, beers, and wines to enjoy.

Certainly the stereotypical "I'm on a vacation" drinks are available, but the cruise line aims to go well beyond those beverages.

Signature cruise ship cocktails

Mason Jar drinks

Royal Caribbean's drink menu has come a long way from pina coladas, daiquiris, and mimosas. While you can certainly order those drinks, they've greatly expanded their offerings too.

Here's a few of the top choices you can order to wet your whistle on a cruise.

PB&J Old Fashioned

Mason Jar

PB&J Old Fashioned is made with Skrewball peanut butter whiskey, Kentucky bourbon, strawberry jelly and walnut bitters and served with a mini crustless PB&J as a garnish.

Cucumber Martini

150 Central Park

The Cucumber Martini is made tableside and is a mix of cucumber, basil,Monin lemon grass syrup, sweet and sour mix and Grey Goose Vodka.


Grand Sabor Margarita is a real crowd pleaser because it's big on flavor and delivers the exact Mexican cocktail you envision when you order it.

Bamboo Lounge drink

Bamboo Room

The Royal Zombie matches up with the Polynesian-themed bar quite well. It's served in a tall tiki glass, topped with crushed ice, fresh mint and a cherry.


Pool bar

Goombay Smash is inspired by the islands Royal Caribbean's ships have visited for decades as a way of honoring The Bahamas.

Read moreTop 10 cocktails to try on your next Royal Caribbean cruise

Bars and lounges with unique drink menus

Lou’s Jazz ‘n Blues on Icon of the Seas

Royal Caribbean has stepped up their beverage game over the last few years, with certain bars having different drink menus.

There's a common menu used across the fleet, but select bars and lounges have a special menu to order from.



On Oasis Class ships, Wonderland spans two decks, with its own bar and drinks you can only order at this restaurant. Bartenders use innovative flavors and artisanal ingredients to create whimsical cocktails that are as pretty as they are tasty.

Mason Jar bar

Mason Jar

The bar side of The Mason Jar is designed like a sprawling southern porch, and the drink menu has a focus on bourbon and fresh flavors. 

Schooner Bar on Radiance of the Seas

Schooner Bar

Royal Caribbean updated the Schooner Bar menu in 2023 with new options. The featured drinks have all been updated with suggestions for fun drinks to try.

Planning tips for food enthusiasts


If you're ready to tackle Royal Caribbean's dining scene, you'll want to arm yourself with a few important tips.

Make reservations in advance at specialty restaurants

Chops Grille

You're not alone in wanting to get a seat at the hibachi table or Empire Supper Club, so advanced reservations are not just a suggestion, they're a necessity.

Book reservations before your cruise via Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner site.  Don't wait until you get onboard because it's quite common for restaurants to sell out in the months leading up to the cruise.

You can always cancel with no penalty a dining reservation if you change your mind before the cruise, so there's little risk. 

Take advantage of a dining package

If you think you'll eat at more than two meals at a specialty restaurant, you should buy a specialty dining package.

Royal Caribbean offers a few types, including an unlimited option.  No matter which you choose, you'll need to purchase it before the cruise.

With a dining package, you'll need to wait to make reservations until you get on the ship.  As long as your dining times are flexible, the dining package should work out well.

Keep in mind some restaurants are not included with the dining packages, such as Chef's Table or Empire Supper Club. You can still get a discount with a package, but it's not covered in its entirety by the package purchase.

Read moreUltimate Guide to Royal Caribbean's Unlimited Dining Package

You can order more than one appetizer or entree

Couple in main dining room

Whether you are dining in the Main Dining Room, Giovanni's, Mason Jar, don't settle for just one entree or one appetizer.  

Royal Caribbean allows passengers to order as much as you want in most cases, which means you are free to try dishes and sample what you want.  Most often passengers act like they do in a land restaurant and only order what they wish to pay for but on a cruise, order as much as you want!

Matt started Royal Caribbean Blog in 2010 as a place to share his passion for all things Royal Caribbean with readers. He oversees all the writers at Royal Caribbean Blog, and writes a great deal of content on a daily basis.  He has become one of the foremost expert on a Royal Caribbean cruise.

Over the years, he has reached Pinnacle Club status with Royal Caribbean's customer loyalty program.

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