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How does Royal Caribbean dining work?

27 Mar 2024
Calista Kiper

Dining is essential to the Royal Caribbean cruise experience. 

Everyone needs to eat, and the cruise line is famous for some tasty meals.

Whether you’re enjoying a gourmet meal at a specialty restaurant, savoring a leisurely breakfast delivered to your stateroom, grabbing a quick bite between activities, or heading to formal dinner at the Main Dining Room, the dining experience is sure to delight.

Understanding the delectable dining options available will help you have an amazing cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship.

Food at Sabor

Cruisers—especially those trying Royal Caribbean for the first time—have plenty of questions about the dining process.

What’s free onboard? Will you need to make reservations?

We’ve created this guide to delve into all your questions about the process of dining on a cruise ship.

How does dining work on a cruise?

Major cruise lines include four types of dining on their ships: an onboard buffet, Main Dining Room, room service, and a selection of alternative restaurants.

The buffet

Windjammer buffet

First, the onboard buffet is a free, casual option where guests can serve their own plates for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Royal Caribbean’s buffet is the Windjammer, and it is 100% free, included in your cruise fare.

The Windjammer will have several stations open with a variety of different cuisines.

Handwashing stations

It’s a great option for a casual meal and also affords a lot of different choices for those who are picky eaters or have dietary restrictions.

Read more: 12 reasons to eat at the buffet instead of the dining room on your cruise

The Main Dining Room


The Main Dining Room offers a more formal experience, where waiters serve from a set menu each day.

It is always open for dinner, but breakfast and lunch times vary depending on the day. Hours will be posted outside the dining room and in the Cruise Compass.

For dinner, the experience is divided into two scheduled options. When you book your cruise, you can choose either My Time dining or traditional dining.

odyssey of the seas main dining room

My Time dining gives you the flexibility to choose what time you eat each night. It typically runs between 6:00 and 9:30 P.M. and is first-come, first-served.

Traditional dining has a specific assigned mealtime and table. There is usually an early seating starting around 5:15 - 5:30 P.M. and a late seating around 7:30-8:00 P.M.

Room service

Room service

Room service is usually available around the clock, with a selection of both free meals and options that cost extra.

Most breakfast options are free, and you can order it by filling out the order form in your cabin and hanging it outside on your door knob. 

As long as you put your order in before you sleep, it will be delivered in the morning during your selected time window.

Expanded breakfast and all-day menus, as well as late-night orders, may come with an additional charge.

Alternative restaurants

Izumi hibachi on Mariner of the Seas

Lastly, every ship has a series of alternative restaurants that vary depending on the Class and ship.

The larger the ship, the more options are available.

These options range from complimentary snack spots, like the Café Promenade, to gourmet extra-cost restaurants, like Izumi Hibachi.

Read more: 7 reasons to eat at specialty restaurants instead of the Main Dining Room on your cruise

Is dining free on a cruise?

Giovannis food

Cruise ships have a wide range of free dining: the Windjammer buffet, the Main Dining Room, room service breakfast, and alternative restaurants like Sorrento’s Pizza, Solarium Bistro, and Park Café.

Complimentary restaurants are included in the cruise fare, no matter what time of day you choose to eat there.

Read more: What's included in your Royal Caribbean cruise fare

Most ships also have a selection of extra-cost alternative restaurants, as well. Some have a la carte charges, while others have a set fee per person.

These are called specialty restaurants and include popular options like Chops Grille, Izumi Japanese Cuisine, and Jamie’s Italian.

If you’re not sure which restaurants are complimentary and which are specialty, you can take a look at your Cruise Compass or the Royal Caribbean Fact Sheet for that ship.

How do dining packages work?

If you’re interested in trying some of the popular specialty restaurants onboard a Royal Caribbean ship, you can purchase meals individually or buy a dining package.

You can purchase meals at any specialty restaurant on your Cruise Planner before the cruise, or onboard when you arrive.

You may pay a set fee per person, or a la carte (aka, per dish ordered).

Unlimited dining package in Cruise Planner

However, you can also streamline your experience by purchasing a dining package.

These packages come in various configurations, such as a 3-night dining package or an unlimited package.

This provides flexibility for guests to choose which restaurants they’d try, adjusting based on their preferences and budget.

The unlimited dining package allows you to dine at specialty restaurants every day of the cruise for one set fee.

Where do I make reservations?


You can book reservations in advance on the Royal Caribbean website or mobile app, through the Cruise Planner.

Here, you can efficiently browse options, check the price and availability, and secure your desired reservations with just a few clicks.

You can also make reservations when you get onboard, by going to the Main Dining Room or any extra-cost restaurant and speaking with staff there.

You can even call from the phone in your stateroom to request a reservation.

By reserving a spot in advance, guests can avoid long wait times and ensure they have their preferred time slot.

Are drinks free?

Two cocktails

What drinks are included in your cruise fare, and do any drinks cost extra?

Basic beverages, like tap water, tea, drip coffee, some juices, and lemonade are included in the price of your cruise.

Soda, bottled water, specialty coffee, smoothies, milkshakes, most juices, and alcoholic drinks cost extra.

Drink packages for sale

If you plan on drinking a lot of extra-cost drinks, there are also beverage package options.

Purchasing one can save you money in the long run.

Do I have to dress up for dinner?

Family in dining room

Cruises used to be sophisticated experiences where passengers dressed elegantly every day.

While a Royal Caribbean sailing is still a luxurious experience, you’re hardly required to dress up.

Voyages lasting one week or less will usually have one formal night in the Main Dining Room, where passengers can wear anything from a sundress or nice slacks with a button-down shirt, to ball gowns and tuxedos.

Other than that, resort casual attire is usually acceptable.

Generally, guests dress more formally in the evenings and at the Main Dining Room and specialty restaurants. At venues like the Windjammer and snack spots, guests dress pretty casually.

However, you must always wear a shirt, shoes, and a coverup over any swimsuits when dining.

Read more: What to wear on a cruise that works for all dress codes

What if I have dietary restrictions?

The culinary staff on Royal Caribbean’s cruise ships are careful and experienced when it comes to catering to special dietary requirements.

If you are on a diet, vegan or vegetarian, have food allergies, eat halal, keep kosher, or are gluten-free or lactose intolerant, you can let the cruise line know and chefs will work to make sure you have something to eat.

Read more: Eating gluten free on Royal Caribbean cruise ships


The important thing to remember when making a special meal request is to request as early as possible.

You can email [email protected] at least 45 days before your sailing (or 90 days before European/South American sailings and 100 days before Australia/Asia sailings). Include your name, booking number, ship name, and sail date alongside your special requests.

There is no extra charge for meals tailored to your diet.

Can I eat whenever I want?

Serving area

Food is usually available around the clock on cruise ships.

Even in the middle of the night, you can order room service at an extra charge, or try late-night snacks at various venues around the ship, such as Sorrento’s pizza.

Restaurants are usually scheduled so that at least one venue is open at any given time. You can always look at the Royal Caribbean app or your Cruise Compass to see what is available.

Pepperoni pizza

At the Windjammer and other complimentary venues, you can show up at any time.

For dinner at the Main Dining Room, you will be assigned to a specific time if you select traditional dining.

Most extra-cost specialty restaurants also require a reservation.

What happens to leftover food on cruise ships?

Food from The Grove

You may be wondering what happens to food waste on a cruise well.

Well, the hospitality staff and crew members in charge of provisions have developed the logistics so there is little waste.

Areas below deck store food in freezers, refrigerators, or at room temperature, ensuring that nothing spoils.

Any food ingredients left over from one sailing will simply be used on the next one.

Leftover prepared food gets disposed of through incineration, offloading at port (as either compost or fertilizer), or grinding it into a purified liquid that is released into the ocean.

Read more: How long does it take for a cruise ship to get ready for a new group of passengers? Here's what a hotel director has to say.

Calista Kiper graduated from Wheaton College, IL, with a B.A. in English Writing. 

Growing up traveling around the world, she developed a passion for diversity and cross-cultural communication. From her first cruise on Wonder of the Seas, she has delighted in the intersection between travel, diversity, and writing in the cruising world.

Calista spends her free time reading, cooking, and researching the latest human-interest stories. 

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