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Where can I eat on the first day of my Royal Caribbean cruise?


When you get onboard your Royal Caribbean cruise, you might be ready for a bite to eat and Royal Caribbean provides a few options to dine at for no additional cost, and some that do cost extra.


Getting on your ship means a lot of choices on how to begin your vacation, but many guests elect to start things off with lunch.  Embarkation usually begins in the late morning to early afternoon, so lunch is the first opportunity to sit down for a bite to eat.

Here is what you should know about where you can eat on the first day of your cruise.

Food included at no extra cost

Depending on your ship, Royal Caribbean offers a few venues to dine at that cost nothing extra to enjoy.

The most popular option is the Windjammer Marketplace, which is a traditional cruise buffet that serves up a variety of food and beverages. It is also the first restaurant to open on embarkation day, and will remain open until just before it is time to set sail.

You will find soups, sandwiches, burgers, nachos, casseroles, fish, salads and plenty more to choose from and it is unlimited.  Just grab a plate, take what you like, and find a seat.

There will be other venues available to dine at on your ship that are complimentary. These include:

  • Park Cafe
  • Cafe Promenade
  • Cafe Latte-tudes
  • Sorrento's Pizza
  • Wipeout Cafe
  • El Loco Fresh

The main dining room is not typically open for lunch on embarkation day, except for guests who purchased The Key, where they will enjoy a complimentary specialty restaurant meal there.

Restaurants that cost extra

Anyone who wants to indulge may prefer to eat lunch at a specialty restaurant on the first day of the cruise.

While not all specialty restaurants may be open on the first day, some do open their doors for those first few hours onboard.

There is no need (nor option) to make lunch reservations on embarkation day, so it is just first-come, first served.

If you purchased a specialty dining package, you can choose to use your package benefits on the first day lunch. Just let your server know that you have the package.

Just like the included restaurants, which restaurants are open on the first day depend on the ship. The typical extra-cost restaurants open for lunch on embarkation day are:

  • Chops Grille
  • Johnny Rockets
  • Giovanni's Table
  • Jaimie’s Italian
  • Sabor
  • Playmakers Bar

How do to find which restaurants are on your ship

After reading this, your next logical question may be which restaurants are on your ship, both specialty and included.

The easiest way to find that out is to read a past Cruise Compass from a sailing on your ship.

The Cruise Compass is a daily newspaper of events, times, and schedules, including what is open on the first day of your cruise.  If you read one or two of these Compasses, you will quickly discover the restaurants open on embarkation day for a given ship are pretty much the same each sailing.

Restaurants open for dinner

Once you get to dinner time on the first day of your cruise, all the restaurants onboard will be open for service.

Unlike lunch on the first day, dinner time is the beginning of a more normalized schedule for operations onboard and you do not have to be concerned about a specific restaurant being open or not.

The most notable restaurant open to everyone for dinner, but not lunch, on embarkation day is the main dining room.

Depending if you booked traditional or My Time Dining for your dinners, the dining room is always available as an option, in addition to the complimentary and specialty restaurants onboard.

How to not eat with strangers on a Royal Caribbean cruise


If there is one aspect of cruising that concerns some new cruisers, it is the idea they might have to sit with other guests for a meal during their cruise.


One of the carryover traditions of cruising is being seated in the main dining room with other cruise guests.  Seating is limited in this venue, and there are a number of large tables that can accommodate multiple families.

If you have a Royal Caribbean cruise booked and would prefer not to sit with others at a meal, here is what you need to know.

Main Dining Room

The most common setting where you might have to dine with strangers is the main dining room, and depending on the meal, there are different ways around it.

Regardless of if you prefer to dine alone, or just do not wish to sit with people you do not know, here is what to know.

Breakfast and Lunch

When the main dining room is open for breakfast or lunch, seating is on a first-come, first seated basis.

If you say nothing, there is an equal chance you may be seated by yourself or with others, although the smaller your party, the more likely you will be seated with others.

If you prefer to dine alone, when you enter the dining room and a waiter asks how many in your party, let them know you wish to sit by yourselves. It may take a few extra minutes to be seated, but the staff can arrange it.


Being able to be seated alone for dinner depends on which option you have chosen for your dinner: Tradtional or My Time Dining.

If you have selected My Time Dining, sitting by yourselves is very similar to breakfast or lunch in the main dining room. If you have not made reservations in advance, you just need to go to My Time Dining reservations table in the dining room and ask to be seated alone.

Just like other meals, there may be an additional wait for a table to open up (especially during peak dining times).

If you are booked in traditional dining, you should contact Royal Caribbean prior to your cruise to make the request. Send an email to [email protected] about 2-3 weeks prior to your sailing with your request.  This strategy usually works for most people. 

When you get onboard the ship, be sure to confirm with the head waiter at the main dining room that you are indeed seated by yourselves.  The main dining room is open to walk in on embarkation day, and your SeaPass card will list your dining room table assignment.  In addition, there will be a head waiter on duty in the afternoon of the first cruise day to take requests and make adjustments.

You can change your mind

If you think you might want to try sitting with others at dinner, but are concerned after a day or two that you want to change your mind, it is quite possible to be re-accommodated.

If the other guests you are seated with are not a good match for you, there are usually opportunities to change your table.

Ask to speak to the head waiter in order to arrange a table change.


The popular buffet option on all Royal Caribbean ships has seating that is available to whomever grabs them first.

There are tables that come in all sizes, including some long tables and roundtables that can easily accommodate more than one family.

Royal Caribbean will not seat you in the Windjammer, so it is up to you to find a table for your family, but it is not uncommon for another group to ask to sit at one of the larger tables.

The easy way to avoid sitting with others is to pick a table that just accommodates you and your group.

Specialty restaurants

Most specialty restaurants will seat guests alone without having to be seated with other guests.

There are a couple of restaurants where this is not possible, and sitting with strangers is the norm.  These include Izumi Hibachi and Chef's Table.  

In both restaurants, seating is extremely limited so there is no way around it (unless you buy out the table). 

At Izumi Hibachi, you could request to be seated on the end of the table so that only one person needs to be next to another guest.

Royal Caribbean working on new main dining room menu


Expect to find new choices the next time you dine in the main dining room on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley announced in an email to repeat cruisers that the cruise line is working on an update to its main dining room menus.

While the cruise line is shut down due to the global health crisis, shore side teams are working on ensuring when the time is right to return to service, the guest experience can be improved.

Specifically, Mr. Bailey mentioned that Royal Caribbean's Food & Beverage team is working on a new main dining room menu.

"Our F&B team has been revamping the Main Dining Room menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as adding some unique experiences to our specialty dining venues."

There was no schedule or rollout date included in the announcement.

Linken D'Souza is Royal Caribbean's Global Vice President Culinary, Dining & Beverage, and he has been responsible for some of the big dining changes Royal Caribbean has rolled out over the last few years.

Since joining the company, Mr. D'Souza was responsible for the updated Sorrento's pizza recipe, revamped the culinary offerings at CocoCay, and introduced Portside BBQ specialty restaurant on Oasis of the Seas and Giovanni's Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar on Freedom of the Seas.

It looks like his next target is the venerable main dining room.

Based on older blog posts on this site, it appears the main dining room dinner menu was last updated in 2016. Royal Caribbean has a standardized main dining room menu across its fleet.

Specialty restaurant menus are also generally the same across the fleet, although sometimes new menus get rolled out with ship refurbishments, as is the case with Giovanni's Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar concept on Freedom of the Seas (and Allure of the Seas before the upgrade was put on hold).

Royal Caribbean's test kitchen is located at the cruise line’s Miami offices, and it is where they can come up with new ideas among the corporate team, test and just those ideas, and then roll them out to the fleet.

What do you want to see on Royal Caribbean's main dining room menu? Share your suggestions in the comments!

Top Royal Caribbean dining hacks


Eating on a Royal Caribbean cruise is just as enjoyable as any shore excursion, performance or activity. Royal Caribbean puts a great deal of effort into its onboard dining options, and I have a few ways you can maximize these choices with some dining hacks!

These tips are all about giving you a little bit more out of your dining experience onboard, and giving you a leg up on other guests.

Order off-menu food in dining room

Each evening in the main dining room, there is a printed menu that guests can order from, but there are many more options you can consider beyond what is written on the menu.

The main dining room dinner menu is designed to appeal to a great majority of guests, but perhaps you have a dietary restriction, or you just really want something else.

Guests can ask to speak to the head waiter at any point and order something special, provided the chef in the galley has the ingredients to make it.  

The example I often share is Royal Caribbean used to offer Indian dishes on its old main dining room dinner menus, but the current version does not offer it.  As a result, I always speak to the head waiter and ask to have an Indian dish prepared for me each evening.  Sure enough, my waiter brings me that special dish every night.

Ice cream in a cup

This tip is something I learned from someone on Periscope, and it is sheer genius for someone that loves ice cream.

On all Royal Caribbean ships, there is complimentary soft-serve ice cream on the ship.  Usually, it is near the pools and there are ice cream cones available to pour the ice cream onto.  Ice cream cones are great and all, but you really cannot load them up too much without an incredibly elevated risk of it falling over and you becoming that guy.

For those that want to load up on ice cream without multiple trips to the machine, grab a drink cup from somewhere onboard.  Usually, the water cups in the Windjammer are perfect for this.  Take the cup and fill up the cup with as much ice cream as you can handle.  The result is that ice cream fix you have always dreamed of!

If you want to take it to the next level, grab a soda with your drink package and make an ice cream float!

The secret menu at Perfect Day at CocoCay

If your cruise visits Perfect Day at CocoCay, be sure to stop by the Snack Shack not only for the awesome food on the menu, but a few added items not listed there too!

Known colloquially as "the secret menu", you can ask for a chicken parmigiana sandwich, which is essentially a cross between the crispy chicken sandwich, mozzarella sticks and marinara sauce that are on the menu.

Not only is this an added menu option most guests do not know about, but it is really tasty!

Make your own pizzas

While Sorrento's Pizza offers slices of pizza all day, you might not have known you can customize your pie at a special station.

You can place an order (no additional cost) for a pizza with just the toppings you like, and have a a custom pie hot and ready to eat fairly quickly.  Moreover, you can also request a gluten-free crust option.

After you place the order, head across the Promenade to the pub and enjoy a drink while you wait.

Stock up on cereal for excursion snacks

If you have kids, be sure to grab a few extra boxes of cereal from the Windjammer to bring back to your room.

Boxed cereal is a tasty and portable snack that works really well for shore excursions. Whether the kids want something to munch on during the bus rides, or at the beach, cereal will not go bad in the heat, and travels well.

What is your favorite dining hack?

Do you have a dining trick on Royal Caribbean not on this list? Share your food ninja tips in the comments!

There will be a buffet on Royal Caribbean ships when cruises resume


Many cruise fans have been wondering what Royal Caribbean's plan will be for keeping guests healthy while onboard their ships, including what the fate of the Windjammer buffet will be.

It seems we have a definitive answer from the head of Royal Caribbean's food and beverage: there will be a buffet.

Royal Caribbean Global Vice President Culinary, Dining & Beverage, Linken D'Souza, spoke on the fate of the buffet in a webinar question and answer with travel agents on Wednesday and confirmed the buffet will remain.

Mr. D'Souza was asked about if there will be a buffet on Royal Caribbean's ships, and while Royal Caribbean has not divulged its plans for which policies and changes will be made onboard its cruise ships, he was able to dispel rumors and concerns surrounding what will happen to the buffet.

"Windjammer is one of my favorite spots, and we will continue to have a buffet at Royal Caribbean. We have worked through a variety of different scenarios, from employee service to individual portions to individual tongs for self-service, to finger koozies that you can pick up hot dishes with that can be washed and sanitized. So we continue to work through a lot of the details."

"But rest assured, the buffet will exist. There may be some small modifications that allow us to ensure that we have a really great, healthy return to service. But your favorites and what you're used to at the Windjammer will still be there."

"So I'll I'll put that to rest. We will absolutely have a Windjammer with all of your favorites in a very similar fashion to what you've had previously and maybe some different service steps to ensure healthy service."

Buffet indecision

The origins of the idea that the Windjammer might go away started in May, when Royal Caribbean President and CEO Michael Bayley mentioned the cruise line was working on their plan to keep guests healthy and the buffet experience came up.

"I think in the beginning, there will not be a buffet in the beginning, that's how I see it. It depends again upon the timing. We will utilize the space, we will utilize the Windjammer, but in all probability it won't be a classical buffet. It will be something more akin to a restaurant."

While Mr. Bayley did not say the Windjammer buffet was gone, it opened up the idea that significant change could occur. A week later, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Chairman and CEO Richard Fain had a different take on the buffet's fate.

"It doesn't mean that you don't have a buffet. I think it's very likely that you're not going to see that on land or sea."

The changing nature of recommendations by health professionals, as well as the organic discussions Royal Caribbean has had internally likely caused the answer to change depending on the week.

With Mr. D'Souza's affirmation today, it appears guests will have a buffet experience to look forward to once cruising resumes.

Not just Royal Caribbean with buffets

If the idea of a buffet remaining on a cruise ship when cruises resume sounds odd, other cruise lines are keeping theirs as well.

When Norwegian Cruise Line announced their new policies for guests, they indicated buffets and beverage stations will be full service with staff available to serve guests.

Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line announced while self-service buffet stations have been suspended, all food and beverage will be served by crew members wearing face masks, hats, aprons, and gloves.

Video: Royal Caribbean dining questions I get asked all the time!


I get asked plenty of questions related to eating on a Royal Caribbean ship, but today I am answering the most common dining questions!

Dinner, drink packages, and tipping are just a few of the top dining questions cruisers want to know, so this new video is all about sharing answers to these top queries.

And if you love this video, there’s plenty more for you to enjoy over on our Royal Caribbean Blog YouTube Channel!

By the way, have you subscribed yet? Be sure to subscribe to our channel and never miss a single video!

So check out the video and then let us know: What is one dining question you have always wondered about?

How to change your dining time on a Royal Caribbean cruise


Dinner on a Royal Caribbean cruise for many guests involves a visit to the venerable main dining room. When you book your cruise, you will choose between traditional dining times or My Time Dining. Regardless of which you choose, here is how to change your dining times.

Traditional Dining

If you are booked in traditional dining, then you are either in early or late eating. This means whichever option you pick, you have a set dining time for the entire cruise. No advanced reservations are necessary, and you always have the same waiters, table mates and table assignment.

Early seating is usually around 5:30pm, and late seating around 8:00pm. The exact times will vary according to your cruise itinerary.

If you want to change your traditional dining time, you can contact your travel agent (or Royal Caribbean if you booked directly) to have the change made.  Assuming there is availability, you can move from one of the traditional dining times to the other, or opt for My Time Dining.

Once onboard the ship, it can be more challenging to make this change, but not impossible.  Ask to speak to the head waiter onboard for assistance.

My Time Dining

My Time Dining allows guests to pick a dining time anytime between 6:00 and 9:30 pm (times vary by ship) each evening. 

Reservations are encouraged, especially if you can pre-book before your cruise, but you have the ability to choose a different time each day.  This allows for a more flexible dinner schedule that you can curtail around your plans onboard or onshore.

You can manage reservations for dinner even before your cruise, by visiting Royal Caribbean's Cruise Planner site and scheduling something.  Reservations can be made, modified and deleted prior to the cruise, as well as once onboard.

If you have My Time Dining, you can change your dining times before the cruise via the Cruise Planner site. Onboard the ship, there is a dining hotline you can call from your stateroom phone to modify reservations. 

If you want to change to traditional dining, you can do so by contacting your travel agent (or Royal Caribbean if you booked directly). Keep in mind that traditional dining has a maximum capacity, and it is not unheard of to be put on a waitlist, especially if you try to change close to your sailing.

Do you prefer traditional or My Time Dining? Let us know which you usually reserve and why in the comments below!

A look back at 50 years of Royal Caribbean dining with Linken D'Souza


Royal Caribbean is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and a great deal of Royal Caribbean's legacy is based in the culinary offerings. Dining on Royal Caribbean has transformed over the years, with more and more new options, innovations and approaches to delivering outstanding cuisine. From the dining rooms, to the buffet, to the pizza and even robot bartenders, Royal Caribbean is never one to shy away from pushing the envelope with what can be delivered to ships.

At the heart of Royal Caribbean's food and beverage operations is Linken D'Souza, Global Vice President Culinary, Dining & Beverage. 

He and his team have the task of making the food, drinks and meals onboard an unforgettable experience for guests. Mr. D'Souza has worked for Royal Caribbean in this capacity for about two and a half years, and his team carries a tradition of striving to serve up the best dining experience.

"What hasn't changed is the ability of our staff to produce just an amazing product, amazing service to along with it, and I think that's what has kept us so strong as an organization."

"I think the key to research is to understand the guests, creating a product that they really want, and then taking their feedback. We're in the process of creating the new Giovanni's restaurant that will launch in the next little while, and in fact yesterday, we did a tasting onboard the ship with our guests to really get a sense of what they liked, what they didn't like. That's just one step. We'll go through three or four iterations before we launch Giovanni's Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar on Freedom of the Seas."

Of course, plenty has changed in Royal Caribbean's 50 years of operations, and the options guests have to dine at has grown every year.

"If we wind back time to 1969 with the Song of Norway, and you think about the two venues we had onboard, which was the dining room and the Windjammer, which was essentially a window that served burgers and hot dogs, to Symphony of the Seas, our flagship here in the United States. Sixty-five food and beverage venues onboard, that's a huge evolution."


To commemorate Royal Caribbean's 50 years, a limited edition hardcover book was created and given to guests sailing on Symphony of the Seas this week as part of the 50th Anniversary Birthday Cruise.  All guests can read the book for free by downloading the eBook.

Mr. D'Souza looked at the evolution of dining, explained the research that goes into a new restaurant and even talked about they pick a featured dish that eventually ends up on the menu. Listen to episode 327 of our interview with Linken D'Souza in its entirety below.

Be sure to subscribe to the RoyalCaribbeanBlog Podcast at Google Podcasts, Apple PodcastsTuneIn, and Stitcher.