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Royal Caribbean introduces third dining time to give cruise ship passengers more choice when they eat dinner

In:
28 Feb 2024

How do you make dinner on a cruise ship even better? Give passengers more choice in when they can dine.

Main dining room family

Traditionally, Royal Caribbean has offered two traditional dinner times on its ships, where guests are seated at around 5pm or 8pm. The set dinner times have been a crowd pleaser, but for some people it has always felt either too early or too late.

Royal Caribbean wants to fix this by adding a third dinner time. It may seem like a simple change, but the cruise line thinks it will greatly improve the guest experience for anyone in the dining room, even if you don't select this time.

Royal Caribbean Blog got an exclusive update that coming this year, there will be a third dining time that will be added in-between the first two times.

Royal Caribbean main dining room

Royal Caribbean Senior Vice President of Food & Beverage Linken D'Souza thinks the addition of a middle dining time will give guests, "more choice and variety and flexibility for their vacation."

"We're just trying to create more convenience, variety and options for our guests."

The exact time for the new seating will depend on the ship and itinerary.  It could start around 6:45pm - 7:30pm, depending on what the guest feedback is from early testing.

Main Dining Room

Mr. D'Souza said they've tested it out already on Wonder of the Seas and Icon of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean is methodically rolling it out across the fleet. There isn't a set schedule yet, but Mr. D'Souza believes by the end of the year all the ships will have the additional dining time. It won't be done all at once, instead, the new option gets rolled out ship by ship.

More choices and a better cruise

Family in dining room

At the heart of the decision to add a third dining time is the drive to improve the guest experience. Mr. D'Souza was adamant how much his team focuses on making dining better.

This idea seems to have born out of guest feedback Royal Caribbean received where traditional dining times weren't ideal, but switching to My Time Dining didn't work either.

My Time Dining offers flexible dining times, but many cruisers enjoy having the same wait staff and table assignment every night. 

Main dining room

"Guests who dine in the dining room love to have the same server, love to have the same table," Mr. D'Souza explained. "And a lot of people want to be able to choose that time, but they're not able to because the traditional dining times are taken. So they end up in My Time Dining."

Read more: My Time Dining versus Traditional Dining

Based on early testing, guest satisfaction is higher as a result of the change, "The people who are now in this new third seating, they are rating us higher than any of the other experiences that we had, whether it was early, late or My Time."

"So we're actually seeing the highest ratings for these guests out of anybody who is dining in the dining room."

Table for two

There's no menu change, no alterations to dinner on a cruise ship other than adding a new time.

"This is purely about improving the experience...None of it is impacting the guest, there's no structural changes. There's no menu changes. It's all about operational."

Evolution of dinner on a cruise

Main Dining Room on Icon of the Seas

In considering the changes Royal Caribbean has made over the past few years, there's a definitive path the cruise line has taken in gradually improving dinner on a cruise.

When Royal Caribbean revisited the dining room menus in late 2022, they wanted to improve dinner by making it more predictable and not a two hour affair.

In December 2022, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley said that a top complaint from passengers had been how long dinner can take some times. 

odyssey of the seas main dining room

Mr. D'Souza said at a land-based restaurant, customers want dinner to take about 60-65 minutes, and since a cruise is vacation, that number would skew a bit longer.

The result was a concerted effort to make dinner speedier so that it would regularly come in at around 75 minutes.

With a more efficient Main Dining Room, there was now an opportunity that did not exist before to insert an additional middle dining time.

Should you choose My Time Dining or traditional dining?

odyssey of the seas main dining room

There are good reasons to choose a set dining time or a flexible dining time for dinner in the Main Dining Room, and it all depends on your preferences.

Both options are included in your cruise fare, so the key is to understand how each works to determine which fits with your habits.

You will select a dining preference when you book a cruise. It's one of the early decisions to make as part of the booking process.

Main Dining Room

Traditional dining will have the same table number, wait staff, and table mates every night of your cruise. With this new choice, there will be three dining times to pick from:

  • Early
  • Middle
  • Late

When you arrive for your cruise, your table number and deck will be marked on your SeaPass card so you know your dining time and location.

Each evening, you'll go to the Main Dining Room at the assigned time and head directly to your table. 

Main dining room

You could be seated with other passengers at traditional dinner. It depends on how big your travel party is, and which table they assign you.  Yes, you can request to have a table just for yourselves, but there's no guarantee it will be granted.  In my experience, the staff is usually good about accommodating such requests.

As Mr. D'Souza alluded to, the reason why some people prefer traditional dining is because they enjoy getting to know their waiters (and the waiters getting to know your preferences), as well as not having to worry about getting a reservation for dinner. Your table will be waiting for you each evening.

Alternatively, you can select My Time Dining, which offers the choice of what time you eat dinner.

The appeal of My Time Dining is you can choose a different dinner time depending on the schedule. If you have a shore excursion on day three, you could select a later dinner time so you have sufficient time to shower, rest, and get dressed before dinner. Then the next day, you could eat earlier.

With My Time, there's the choice of either showing up and waiting for the first available table or making a reservation in advance. It's a lot like going to a restaurant on land. 

Breakfast in mdr

Usually there are two lines for My Time Dining: those with a reservation, and those without. People with a reservation get priority for the next available table. Anyone without a reservation will still be seated, but they may wait longer if the dining room is busy.

How do the menus differ between My Time Dining and Traditional Dining, if at all?

The menus for My Time Dining and Traditional Dining are the same, offering the same dishes each evening. You don't have to worry about missing out on any dishes because you select either of the seatings.

Can guests switch between My Time Dining and Traditional Dining during their cruise?

Guests can request to switch between My Time Dining and Traditional Dining, but this is subject to availability and may not always be possible. 

If the dining choice you want is unavailable, be sure to ask to be put on the waiting list. If you're on the ship already, ask to speak to the head waiter to see what they can do to accommodate the change.

Are there any differences in the dress code requirements for My Time Dining compared to Traditional Dining?

The dress code for both dining options is the same, adhering to the ship's overall dress code for the evening, which can range from casual to formal depending on the night. 

How Royal Caribbean's Main Dining Room works and what to expect

In:
25 Oct 2023

The Main Dining Room on a Royal Caribbean cruise is the focal point of the dining experience.

freedom-main-dining-room

It's not just a place to go for dinner, but an institution of eating on a cruise ship. It serves two or three meals per day, and it's part of a history of cruising that continues today.

The Main Dining Room is complimentary, but how can you prepare to have the best dining experience possible?

In this article, we will explore what you can expect while dining in Royal Caribbean's Main Dining Room.

Read more: Your really dumb cruise ship dining questions answered

What is the Main Dining Room?

The Main Dining Room is a large, sit-down restaurant with waiter service that is included in your cruise fare.

The Main Dining Room is a multiple-level dining space on all Royal Caribbean ships, spanning 2 to 3 floors depending on the size of the ship.

On a few Quantum Class ships, the Main Dining Room is split up into multiple smaller rooms, but this is the exception.

Complimentary and open to all cruise passengers, this location provides a beautiful view when you're looking up or down at diners around you. 

Icon of the Seas main dining room

Royal Caribbean intentionally designed the Main Dining Room with an upscale and elegant atmosphere. 

Read more21 Tips for the Best Cruise Ship Main Dining Room Experience

Depending on the ship, you will find a variety of Dining Room themes, each with unique decor. 

The ambiance is designed to provide a sense of luxury, providing a more formal dining experience than you would have at the Windjammer Buffet or other complementary venues.

The beautiful views are one of the most enjoyable aspects of dining in the Main Dining Room. 

Much of the Main Dining Room offers ocean views, especially during sunset dinners, creating a stunning panoramic backdrop for your meal.

Traditional Dining vs My Time Dining

my-time-dining-cruise-planner

So, what time can you eat?

For breakfast and lunch, guests are seated as they arrive. Signs posted outside the Dining Room will advise the hours it is open.

For dinner, the Dining Room opens in the evening from 5:30 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. 

Typically, your Main Dining dinner experience is divided into two seating options: flexible, “My Time” dining or traditional, assigned dining. 

My Time dining gives you the flexibility to choose what time you eat each night. 

You will be assigned a specific dining location on your SeaPass, but other than that, the choice is up to you.

My Time Dining most commonly 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.

If you do have an assigned traditional dining time, it’s essential to show up on time to respect the waitstaff and kitchen’s planning. 

Main Dining Room on Voyager of the Seas

As they are working to feed most of the cruise's passengers, the dining room staff work on a specific schedule you want to be mindful of.

You can make your selection between these two dining times when you book your cruise. Make sure you select your preferred preference, as this can be hard to change once you’re onboard.

With both options, there is a possibility that you will be seated with other guests.

You can contact the cruise line beforehand to request to be seated at a smaller table with just your party.

If you do end up with other guests, always be polite and pleasant so everyone enjoys their meal. 

What's on the menu each day

Menu from Wonder of the Seas

Royal Caribbean cruises are renowned for their gourmet cuisine. 

The Dining Room menus are crafted to cater to a wide range of tastes, offering a varied selection of dishes. 

You can expect a mix of classic and contemporary dishes, including local influences based on the cruise’s ports of call.

The Main Dining Room serves breakfast and dinner, with a focus on the multiple-course dinner. Lunches are served only on sea days. 

The dinner menu is the most popular and common menu in the Main Dining room, featuring a multiple-course meal with 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.

When you place your order with the waiter, you will be expected to order all your courses at once, so be prepared with your choice of drinks, appetizers, main course, and dessert.

Royal Caribbean ships now serve a standardized dinner menu with a theme for each night. 

Welcome aboard menu - revision 1

For the first night, the theme is “Welcome Aboard,” with American cuisine.

The exact order of menus will vary depending on your itinerary, but this is the pattern we've observed thus far:

The theme of night two is French night, which is usually offered on the first formal night of six-night or longer sailings. 

All sailings also feature the Italian night, and on Caribbean sailings, the Caribbean night menu comes out on the first evening the ship stops at a Caribbean port. 

On sailings to Mexico, the Mexican night menu comes out on the first evening the ship stops at a Mexican port. 

A Mediterranean night menu is also offered, as well as British night and “Bon Voyage” night on the last evening. 

Kids MDR menu

Royal Caribbean also offers a kids' menu every night of the cruise that does not change.

What's included and what costs extra

Lobster tail

The majority of the menu options at the Main Dining Room are included in your cruise fare. 

In addition, you can order as many dishes as you like. Feel free to order more than one appetizer, main course, or dessert. 

There are just a few menu items that cost extra. The extra cost items are limited to three premium selections: Chop’s Grille filet mignon, Surf and Turf, and extra lobster on formal nights (only 1 lobster is complimentary per person). 

Complimentary drinks include water, coffee, tea, juice, and lemonade. 

However, you will pay an extra cost for beverages such as soda, specialty coffees, mocktails, and alcoholic beverages. If you have a drink package, you can get those drinks included as the beverage package benefits work in the Main Dining Room.

Main Dining Room dress codes

Family in dining room

So, what can you wear inside the Main Dining Room?

Royal Caribbean's Main Dining Room generally has a flexible dress code that varies depending on the time of day. 

To be perfectly frank, while there is a dress code listed, in practice it is rarely enforced and you will see plenty of other guests dressed casually.

During the day, more casual wear, such as comfortable clothing like shorts, T-shirts, and sandals, is acceptable. 

Main Dining Room

In the evening, however, the dress code is typically more smart or resort casual, Meaning slacks, collared shirts, skirts, sundresses, and close-toed shoes.

And on formal nights, you'll have the opportunity to dress up in your finest attire. Some passengers even opt for tuxedos, cocktail dresses, and evening gowns. 

No matter the day, most passengers usually dress according to the night’s theme when they visit the main dining room.

As stated earlier, the dress code is far less stringent than it sounds and Royal Caribbean does not enforce the dress code much, if at all.

On various theme nights, you will also find that the main dining staff dress up for the theme and even encourage you to join in and party.

How dinner works each night

Family in Main Dining Room

Royal Caribbean takes pride in delivering impeccable service, including in the Main Dining Room. 

Your dining team will be attentive, friendly, and eager to accommodate your needs. 

MDR Waiters

Usually, you are assigned a dedicated wait staff for the length of the cruise, a waiter, and an assistant writer. 

On your cruise, you will get to know your waitstaff, and they will get to know your dining preferences. 

Beyond the attentive service, the Main Dining Room experience also sometimes includes live music and entertainment, especially on specific themed nights. 

Symphony of the Seas main dining room

At the beginning of your meal, the wait staff will ask if you’re celebrating a special occasion. 

If you are celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or engagement, the main dining room staff will be happy to help you celebrate and style. 

You may be treated to a special dessert, a musical serenade, or a beautifully decorated table. 

They will also ask if you have any allergies and do their best to accommodate your dining needs. They can even cook your meals ahead of time if you have specific dietary restrictions. 

mdr-dining-food-dessert-warm-apple-cobbler

At the beginning of your dinner, the waitstaff will also ensure you don’t have any shows you need to schedule and your time that evening. 

Read more: 7 cruise ship main dining room rules to follow — Plus 1 to break

Can you eat breakfast in the Main Dining Room on Royal Caribbean?

Yes, breakfast is served everyday in the Main Dining Room. It is complimentary and served to your table, just like all of the Main Dining Room’s meals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Main dining room

Is there lunch in the Main Dining Room on Royal Caribbean?

Lunch is only served in the Main Dining Room on sea days. The menu changes daily.

How long does it take to eat in the Main Dining Room on Royal Caribbean?

Royal Caribbean strives for each meal to last around 75 minutes, or an hour and fifteen minutes.

Since their standardized menu change, each Main Dining Room meal lasts 70-90 minutes on average.

Of course, you can always tell your waiter when you need to leave or cut your meal short.

Can you wear jeans to the Main Dining Room on the cruise?

Yes. You can wear both casual and formal clothing in the Main Dining Room, although resort casual is closest to the dress code. 

Can you take food back to your room?

Yes. You can ask your waitstaff for a plate-to-go, especially if you’re running out of room for dessert!

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

In:
31 May 2023

Specialty restaurants on Royal Caribbean are not included in your cruise fare, but we think they’re worth the splurge.

With so much food included in your cruise fare, some passengers scoff at the idea of spending extra on specialty restaurants. After all, most specialty restaurant dinners cost around $50, and spending extra may seem silly when you can eat elsewhere for free.

Others, however, prefer the ambiance, food quality, and cuisine options at specialty restaurants, even if they come with an added charge.

Many first time cruisers are torn between whether they should dine at specialty restaurants or stick to complimentary venues like the Main Dining Room and Windjammer buffet. It’s hard to pass up the exciting specialty dining options, whether teppanyaki or New England-style seafood, but is it worth it?

Here are 7 reasons to eat at specialty restaurants instead of the Main Dining Room on your cruise.

More intimate atmosphere

One of the main reasons passengers choose to dine at specialty restaurants as opposed to the Main Dining Room is for the more intimate atmosphere. Generally speaking, dining at a specialty restaurant feels more like a refined restaurant on land whereas the Main Dining Room feels more like a banquet dinner.

Specialty restaurants are smaller in size compared to the Main Dining Room and have more curated theming and decor. Tables are typically further apart than in the dining room as well, allowing guests to have more privacy while dining.

Some specialty restaurants have outdoor seating as well. Jamie’s Italian on select Quantum Class ships has outdoor seating on the promenade deck whereas Chops Grille and the Italian restaurant on Oasis Class ships feature outdoor seating in Central Park.

There are few date nights more romantic than dining outdoors at Central Park while a guitarist plays classical music in the background. If you’re celebrating a special occasion or just want a romantic night out, dining outdoors can be an excellent option.

Wider range of cuisines

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

In the mood for sushi? The only place to eat sushi, sashimi, ramen, and other Japanese favorites is at Izumi, which comes at an extra cost.

Likewise, if you’re craving southern American cuisine such as a classic po’boy or shrimp and grits, look no further than The Mason Jar on Wonder of the Seas.

Mason Jar with kids

Even though the Main Dining Room offers a themed menu each evening for dinner, they rarely offer the same cuisine found in specialty restaurants. The only nights that may feature cuisine similar to specialty restaurants is on Mexican night and Italian night, although there will be far fewer options compared to a specialty restaurant like Sabor or Giovanni’s Table.

Unique dining concepts

Many Royal Caribbean fans are familiar with Wonderland, the cruise line’s eclectic, whimsical dining experience inspired by the tales of Alice and Wonderland. Dining at Wonderland is worlds away from the Main Dining Room, and currently offers the most unique dining experience found at any Royal Caribbean restaurant.

Related: I paid $60 to eat at Royal Caribbean’s most bizarre restaurant

A restaurant like Samba Grill also offers a unique dining experience. This Brazilian churrasco restaurant offers all-you-can-eat meat in addition to a variety of appetizers, sides, and desserts.

Train concept car

When Utopia of the Seas launches in 2024, she will feature a restaurant designed like a “moving” train car, with screens transporting guests to far-flung destinations out the window. This type of dining experience is something that cannot be replicated in a complimentary venue on Royal Caribbean.

The cost is not exorbitant

In the grand scheme of a cruise vacation, spending extra for specialty dining will not add that much more to your overall vacation cost.

On my upcoming 9-night cruise, the Unlimited Dining Package, with gratuity added, is $334. Considering that dining is such an important part of the overall cruise experience, adding a little over $300 to the overall vacation cost for unlimited meals at specialty restaurants may be worth it for many cruisers.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Royal Caribbean’s Unlimited Dining Package

Even if you don’t want the Unlimited Dining Package, you can usually find the 3-night dining package for around $120 with gratuity added. Considering that $120 is the cost of one shore excursion, eight cocktails, or half a spa treatment, it’s probably not a budget-breaker for most passengers.

You can also choose to book restaurant reservations individually. If you book specialty restaurants for lunch, you can find great deals. Many specialty restaurants are often half price at lunchtime and offer similar menus, meaning you can try a specialty restaurant for around $25.

There’s also the opportunity to dine at à la carte specialty restaurants. As opposed to a cover charge, these restaurants charge per-item, giving you more flexibility in how much you spend.

You can visit Playmakers and order $6 nachos for a snack or spend $19 on udon noodles at Izumi. There’s no rule saying you have to spend $50 every time you visit a specialty restaurant; à la carte restaurants can be an easy way to try different venues without breaking the bank.

You can use onboard credit

Giovanni's Table on Allure of the Seas

Speaking of not blowing your budget, did you know you can use onboard credit for specialty restaurants?

If you received onboard credit while booking your cruise, whether from a travel agent or booking promotion, you can put that credit toward specialty restaurants and dining packages.

Think of onboard credit as free money. You can use onboard credit to pay for drinks and souvenirs while onboard, or you can reserve items ahead of time on Royal Caribbean’s Cruise Planner website.

Related: Royal Caribbean onboard credit: How to get it and where to spend it the smart way

Booking specialty restaurants with onboard credit is a nice way to feel like your specialty restaurant meal is free, as you won’t pay anything extra for the dining experience. If you don’t have enough onboard credit to cover the entire reservation, you can pay the remaining balance with a credit card.

Better quality food

full-portion-izumi

While food is subjective, many passengers find the food at specialty restaurants to be of higher quality than dishes in complimentary venues like the Windjammer and Main Dining Room.

Simply put, cooking for 5000 passengers is vastly different from cooking for a few hundred. Dishes in specialty restaurants are not cooked in mass quantities, allowing chefs to give extra attention to the dish before it’s served.

A great comparison between complimentary and specialty dining is with Italian food. You can find Italian food almost every day in the Windjammer and Main Dining Room, from chicken parmesan to pasta and pizza, but it won’t be nearly the same quality as Italian food at specialty restaurants.

Jamie's Italian

And while ordering a strip steak in the Main Dining Room will be satisfying, it won’t usually be on par with the filet you can order from Chops Grille or Giovanni’s Table.

This isn’t to say the food in the Main Dining Room isn’t good, but specialty restaurants take cruise ship dining quality to the next level.

It makes your cruise more fun

wonderland-from-above

Dining at the same venue for dinner each evening can get monotonous, even if you plan to switch between the Main Dining Room and Windjammer.

Booking specialty restaurants can help break up the day to day routine on a cruise and give you something extra to look forward to. Instead of eating in the Main Dining Room every evening, why not book a few lunches or dinners at specialty restaurants?

Even if you enjoy the food in the dining room, there’s nothing wrong with splurging in order to have more fun on a cruise vacation. When you look back on your cruise months later, you may not remember your fourth night in the dining room, but you will remember the fun you had dining at teppanyaki or Wonderland.

Like any cruise add-on, specialty restaurants are completely optional, but they can enhance your overall vacation experience.

Check out more cruise ship dining tips:

21 Tips for the Best Cruise Ship Main Dining Room Experience

In:
13 Apr 2023

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

salmon-mdr-food

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

mdr-pineapple-sunshine-cake

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

mdr-dining-food-chilled-shrimp-cocktail

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

tortilla-soup-mdr-food

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

mdr-food-tiger-shrimp-dining

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

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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.

I tried the new Royal Caribbean menus, and here's how I'd rank everything I ate

In:
20 Jan 2023

I ate all seven dinners in the main dining room while onboard Symphony of the Seas to try Royal Caribbean's new menus

What I ate in the main dining room

It's been about five years since the last time Royal Caribbean refreshed their dining menus, which is why they first tested the menus in late 2022 on Symphony of the Seas to receive guest feedback.

During the testing phase, they sent a team of six people onboard who were responsible for conducting in-person meetings with 30-40 passengers per day. In addition, surveys were sent out via email. 

Now, Royal Caribbean is in the process of rolling out the new menus fleet wide by February 2023.

To be clear, I'm not a food critic and not classically trained in anything cuisine related. Others may come to their own conclusions, as everyone has different taste buds and preferences.  But since a lot of readers want to know what I thought of the new menu options, I decided to share my opinions.

Here's how I'd rank everything I ate while dining in the main dining room.

Night one: "Welcome Aboard" 

My first night onboard, I was seated at 8:00pm on deck 3. After a long day of traveling, I was ready to eat, and I wasn't the only one! Twenty minutes prior to our seating time, there was a massive line outside of the main dining room's entrance. 

We prefer making reservations for My Time Dining ahead of time, so this was my first time having traditional seating since 2010. 

Appetizer: Spinach and artichoke dip

Ranking: 7.5/10

mdr-food-spinach-and-artichoke-dip

The dip was creamy, and the chips were just salty enough; however, my one main problem with this dish was the dip to chip ratio. I ran out of the dip with about four chips left, which by themselves, I just thought were okay. 

Main course: Southern fried chicken

Rating: 6/10

mdr-dining-food-southern-fried-chicken

While I loved the presentation, this course was probably one of the ones I was most disappointed with. The fried chicken wasn't crispy at all; there was no crunch when I bit into it. I also wish the mashed potatoes were just a little creamier, as they had a stiff texture to them. 

That being said, the chicken did taste good, particularly when dipped into the tabasco honey sauce. I enjoyed the sauce so much that I poured some over my mashed potatoes!

I was also satisfied with the portion. The two pieces of chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn were plenty for me. 

Dessert: Boston cream pie

Rating: 8/10

mdr-dining-food-boston-cream-pie

The dessert was my favorite course of the evening. The cake was fluffy, and it wasn't overly chocolatey (I'm not the biggest fan of chocolate heavy desserts). I do wish it was just a tad bit sweeter, though.

Night two: French night

The theme for the second night's dinner was French. For the remainder of the week (with the exception of the last night), I was seated at 5:30pm on deck five with a family of five. I was thankful for the earlier seating, as 8:00pm is personally too late for me. 

Appetizer: Escargots

Rating: 9/10

mdr-dining-food-escargots

As always, they were garlicky, buttery, and rich. The bread was a nice touch, as I was able to enjoy more of the sauce. 

I've always appreciated the portion sizing, as I don't think I could eat many more than 6 snails with how heavy the sauce is. 

While I made it a plan to try as much as I could throughout the week, the escargots made another appearance on the Royal night and were enjoyed again by many in my dining party. 

Main course: Roasted beef tenderloin

Rating: 9/10

mdr-dining-food-roasted-beef-tenderlion

The beef was tender, and I liked the peppercorn sauce. A huge plus was that the mashed potatoes were softer than the previous night. I wish there were a few more asparagus, though. 

Four people at the table had the seafood linguine, and everyone cleared their plates! 

Dessert: Cappuccino chocolate cake

Rating: 8.5/10

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The cake was moist, and the foam on top was light. The description of the dessert said that the cake was a "rich chocolate sponge cake"; but I found that it was overpowered by the coffee flavor.

In my opinion, it did not have a very strong chocolate flavor, and I liked that!

Night three: Italian night

On the third day of my sailing, the evening's theme was White Night, while the dinner's theme was Italian. Everyone got a chuckle of people showing up to dinner dressed in all white preparing to eat dishes heavy on red sauce. 

Appetizer: Golden polenta fries with spicy dip

Rating: 8/10

mdr-dining-food-golden-polenta-fries-with-spicy-dip

When my appetizer was served, the dish was almost too hot to touch! The polenta fries were, as advertised, golden and crispy; however, the sauce wasn't spicy at all. Honestly, I thought it was a tad bit sweet. 

Someone else at the table ordered the same appetizer and agreed that the sauce didn't have any kick to it. 

Plus, the bed of spinach at the bottom of the dish was a bit random. 

Main course: Chicken parmesan

Rating: 7/10 

mdr-dining-food-chicken-parmesan

I was served a healthy portion, but like my fried chicken on the first night, the chicken's crust could have been fried a little bit longer. 

The dish was overpowered with a little too much basil for my liking, especially since the layer of mozzarella cheese on top of the chicken was pretty thin. 

On the other hand, I thought the pasta was cooked very well, and I enjoyed the marinara sauce.

Dessert: Tiramisu

Rating: 9.5/10

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I thought the tiramisu was better than the cappuccino chocolate cake. Honestly, it was one of my favorite desserts served in the main dining room!

It was rich, creamy, and light all at the same time; however, the description said that there was a hint of Kahúla liqueur, but I found that flavor to be completely absent. 

Night four: Caribbean night

Caribbean night was one of the ones I was most looking forward. I wasn't sure how other guests would react, but I could tell by the multitude of empty tables that it wasn't all that popular. 

Appetizer: Crispy coconut jumbo shrimp

Rating: 10/10

mdr-dining-food-crispy-coconut-jumbo-shrimp

This was the chef's recommended appetizer, and I can see why. The shrimp were crunchy and fried perfectly, but they only had a subtle hint of coconut, which didn't really upset me.

The sweet chili dipping sauce is what made this dish so incredible. Someone in my party even got a second order of them! 

When his second plate arrived, I noticed some inconsistency in plating. They came out in an entirely different dish, the shrimp were noticeably larger, and there was much more of the sauce on the bottom.  

Overall, this was one of my top three dishes that I had!

Main course: Garlic-herb buttered tiger shrimp

Rating: 7/10

mdr-food-tiger-shrimp-dining

If you haven't noticed by now, I love sauces that enrich the flavors of what I'm eating. Sometimes, seasoning just isn't enough, and in my option, they have the ability to make or break the dish. 

In the case of my tiger shrimp, I found myself wishing that they included more of the sauce. In general, I thought there could've been a little bit more of everything. 

There were only five shrimp, a relatively small bed of vegetables, and a half scoop of rice. 

Dessert: Sugar-free blueberry cobbler

Rating: 7.5/10

mdr-dining-warm-blueberry-cobbler

I don't really know what I was expecting, but I could immediately tell that it was sugar-free. That being said, it was served warm, and the amount of oatmeal crumble on top was just enough. It didn't make the dish crust heavy. 

Night five: Mexican night

From what I gathered onboard, Mexican night had mixed reviews. I heard guests say that it wasn't necessary since El Loco Fresh was on deck 15. Others, like myself, were excited for it (I can never get enough Mexican food). 

Even though the "classics" section is no longer present on the menus, I found that there was usually aa option or two each night for the main course for those who might be a little pickier. On Mexican night, they were spaghetti bolognese and grilled chicken breast. 

Appetizer: Roasted poblano pepper soup

Rating: 10/10

mdr-dining-food-roasted-poblano-pepper-soup

This soup landed itself in my top three favorite dishes. Fair warning, though, I thought it had a kick to it, which surprised me because the description never said anything about it being spicy. 

The only thing that could have made it better was including more of the roasted corn, red peppers, and sautéed chorizo. I would've enjoyed having texture and taste in each bite. 

Main course: Carne asada

Rating: 7/10

mdr-dining-food-carne-asada

You could only order the carne asada medium rare or medium well. I don't love too much red in my steak, so I went with medium well; I think I would have liked it more if I had it prepared medium rare. 

My steak ended up being more on the dry side. The salsa verde, however, was delicious, and I ended up asking for more of it to add to my steak. 

Like the polenta fries, I found that the spinach on top of the pinto beans was random. I wish there had been more peppers instead. 

All of that being said, I was satisfied with the portion of steak I was given!

Dessert #1: Warm chocolate chip cookie

Rating: 10/10 (I would go higher, though!)

mdr-dining-food-warm-chocolate-chip-cookie

I asked for two desserts, mainly because our head waiter had 

recommended the warm chocolate chip cookie multiple times. Everyone felt like they had to try it, and it was better than we all imagined!

It was the best thing I ate on the cruise!

The deep dish cookie was served in a piping hot ramekin and topped with vanilla ice cream.

The outside was crisp and golden, while the inside was perfectly ooey and gooey. It never became too soft, even with the melting ice cream on top.

Dessert #1: Caramel flan

Rating: 6/10

mdr-dining-food-caramel-flan

I'm really glad that I ordered the warm chocolate chip cookie because I would've been disappointed if this was the only dessert I got.

The caramel taste was minimal, and the syrup topping was pretty runny.

Night six: the Royal night

I wasn't surprised that the main dining room was the most crowded on "dress your best" night when lobster was listed as a complimentary menu option. 

Everyone in my dinner party ordered at least two of one course, whether it was two appetizers, two main courses, or two desserts. 

Appetizer: Chilled shrimp cocktail

Rating: 9/10

mdr-dining-food-chilled-shrimp-cocktail

The shrimp cocktail is a classic onboard Royal Caribbean ships. I wish, though, that there were more than four shrimp. At least six would have been nice. I found myself itching for my entree while others enjoyed their second appetizer. 

Main course #1: Broiled lobster tail

Rating: 9.5/10

The-Royal-Night-Lobster-Tail

Three other people at the table ordered the lobster as their first entree, too. All of them were around one pound.However, since additional lobster tails are no longer complimentary and cost $16.99 each, nobody ordered a second to see how it compared to the first.  

My lobster was tender, and they provided just the right amount of butter. Plus, the rice was moist and served as a great compliment. 

I was a little disappointed with the sides, as I would have liked a few more carrots and more than one piece of broccoli. If that had been my only entree, I think I would've had to order something else!

Main course #2: Cheese tortellini

Rating: 8/10

mdr-dining-food-cheese-tortellini-pasta

The cheese tortellini wasn't served until after I had finished my lobster.

I wasn't the only person who ordered this dish, and we agreed that the sauce was creamy and rich. 

In my opinion, the portion was pretty small, and I wish there was more fresh parmesan, as it was condensed to one area of my pasta. 

Dessert #1: Sugar-free strawberry shortcake

Rating: 7/10

mdr-dining-food-strawberry-shortcake

After the blueberry cobbler, I was expecting this to also be noticeably sugar-free, so I was not surprised by that. I was mainly disappointed by the lack of fresh strawberries, and it was definitely missing that strawberry flavor. 

The cake, however, was perfectly light and spongey.  It would be a great choice for someone who didn't want a heavy dessert!

Dessert #2: Warm chocolate cake 

Rating: 7/10

mdr-dining-food-warm-chocolate-cake

If you're a fan of chocolate, this dessert is for you, trust me! Personally, with the moist chocolate cake and heavy sauce, it was way too rich for me. 

Night seven: Mediterranean night

On the last night, the family that I had been dining with decided to eat at the Windjammer. The all aboard time for CocoCay was 5:30pm, which was also our fixed dining time. Since I was alone, the waitstaff had me in and out of the main dining room in an impressive thirty-eight minutes!

Overall, however, Mediterranean night was my least favorite. 

Appetizer: Mediterranean tapas medley

Rating: 8/10

mdr-dining-food-tapas

The tapas was the best part of my meal. I liked the tzatziki but found the hummus to be a little bland. 

Three slices of pita bread wasn't enough for two dips. I had to ask for more, and the additional slices that were brought out were bigger than my original ones. 

I enjoyed the classic Greek salad, particularly the marinated olives! 

Main course: Vegetable Greek moussaka 

Rating: 3/10

mdr-dining-food-vegetable-greek-moussaka

Truthfully, I found the entire dish to be lacking flavor and wish I had ordered the grilled Mediterranean steak instead. 

There were far too many breadcrumbs on top, and they were unusually dry. The small side of tomato salsa wasn't enough to give this dish the added moisture. It was difficult to finish the first layer of the moussaka to reveal the vegetables underneath. Plus, the olives on top did not taste fresh. 

Other than texture, I was unable to tell the vegetables apart; they all tasted the same.

Dessert: Warm apple cobbler

Rating: 7/10

mdr-dining-food-dessert-warm-apple-cobbler

When I first tasted the apple cobbler, I thought that it was sugar-free. I had to double check to make sure that it wasn't! It was served warm with a nice sized scoop of vanilla ice cream, though. 

Gluten-free options

While I did not order any gluten-free food, a member of the Royal Caribbean Dining Facebook group, Sue Riggs, shared some photos of their gluten-free main dining room options! 

Chicken cordon bleu

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Jerk Chicken

jerk-chicken-gluten-free-mdr

Tikka masala 

Tikka-masala-gluten-free-mdr

Steak with chimichurri

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Chicken parmesan

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Gluten-free desserts

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gluten-free-dessert-2-mdr
gluten-free-dessert-3-mdr
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gluten-free-dessert-5-mdr
gluten-free-dessert-6-mdr

Other main dining room options

The kind family that let me sit with them at dinner also let me snap some photos of their food throughout the week, and I've included those pictures below. 

Seared beef carpaccio 

seared-beef-carpaccio-mdr-food

Pan-seared filet of sole 

sole-mdr-food

Lasagna al forno

lasagna-al-forno-mdr-food

 Italian chocolate-hazelnut cake

italian-chocolate-hazelnut-cake-mdr-food

Asian-style pork bao tacos

Asian-style-pork-bao-tacos-mdr-food

Jerk seasoned pork chop

Jerk-Seasoned-Pork-Chop-MDR-Food

Pesto tagliatelle  

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Pineapple sunshine cake

mdr-pineapple-sunshine-cake

Tortilla soup

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 Chili-lime crusted salmon

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Overall thoughts on the new menus

Menu at an angle

Personally, I enjoyed stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying new things. I knew that if I ordered an appetizer, main course, or dessert that I ended up not liking, I could simply ask for something else-- such are the joys of cruising! 

Truthfully, I came into this expecting there to be some trial and error for the kitchen staff. Overall, I was satisfied with the new menus.

Of course, there were some courses that I wasn't a fan of and would not plan on getting again, but I'm looking forward to seeing how the main dining room compares to my upcoming sailings. 

I tried Royal Caribbean's new main dining room menus, and here's what I thought

In:
16 Jan 2023

Last week, I had the opportunity to try Royal Caribbean's new Main Dining Room menus. 

French-night-artsy-menu-mdr

In late 2022, the company began testing new menus, and after receiving positive feedback from guests, they announced that they were going to permanently change the menus on all ships within the fleet by February 2023. 

According to Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean International’s President and CEO, guests often complained about the length of their dinner meal, so one of the primary reasons for the change was the swiftness of service. 

One noticeable change is the creation of a more cohesive theme each night that highlights different cuisines and cooking styles. With that, the “classics” section, which offered a subset of menu options that never changed and were available each night, was removed. 

I went onboard the Symphony of the Seas, one of the first ships in the fleet to receive the new menus, to see how the new menus compared to my previous dining experiences onboard Royal Caribbean ships, and here’s what I thought. 

Read more: Here are the new main dining room menus

Timing of the dinner service

French-Night-Menu-Main-Dining-Room

One of the reasons for this change is to decrease the time guests spend in the Main Dining Room. A shorter meal service allows passengers to enjoy other activities during their cruise vacation, both before and after dinner. 

Royal Caribbean believes that dinner should last around 75 minutes, or an hour and fifteen minutes. Prior to the new menus, passengers could spend 95-120+ minutes at dinner. 

I timed each of the seven nights I spent in the Main Dining Room, from when I received my menu to when dessert was set in front of me, to see how true this statement was and found that the average was just a little over 75 minutes. 

Day 1: "Welcome Aboard"

Bon-Voyage-Southern-Fried-Chicken-New-Menus

(Southern Fried Chicken served on January 7, 2023 onboard the Symphony of the Seas)

The first night, I dined solo during the 8:00pm dinner seating on deck three and received my menu at 8:01pm. The theme was "Welcome Aboard," and the highlighted cuisine was American.

My appetizer arrived at 8:27pm, followed by the entree at 8:48pm, and finally dessert at 9:14pm. In total, my dinner experience lasted one hour and thirteen minutes, which was fantastic because I was ready for bed by this point! 

Total dinner time: 1 hour and 13 mins.

Day 2: French night

French-Night-New-Menu-Entree-Roasted-Beef-Tenderloin

(Roasted Beef Tenderloin served on January 8, 2023 onboard the Symphony of the Seas)

From the second night on, I was seated at 5:30pm on deck five with a family of five; this minimally impacted the total dining time. 

On my sailing, French night aligned with formal night!

The dinner service took over 75 minutes, as my party secured menus at 5:48pm and received dessert at 7:12pm. The total time spent in the Main Dining Room waiting on food was one hour and twenty-four minutes. 

Total dinner time: 1 hour and 24 mins.

Day 3: Italian night

Italian-Night-New-Menus

(Lasagna al Forno served on January 9, 2023 onboard the Symphony of the Seas)

On Day 3, my dining party shrunk from six to four, as two had reservations at Chops Grille.

The speed of the service felt almost unbelievable; all three courses were served within one hour and eight minutes! We got our menus at 5:26pm, appetizers at 5:44pm, entrees at 5:58pm, and desserts at 6:34pm.   

Everyone got a chuckle about how the dinner theme was Italian, while the evening's theme was White Night. 

Total dinner time: 1 hour and 8 mins.

Day 4: Caribbean night

Jerk-Seasoned-Pork-Chop-MDR-Food

(Jerk Seasoned Pork Chop served on January 10, 2023 onboard the Symphony of the Seas)

The table was full with six people again on Caribbean night. This was the first night where I could truly tell they had revamped their menus, as the only entree I recognized was the New York Strip Steak. Compared to the three pervious nights, the Main Dining Room was also relatively empty.

Tonight's dinner took exactly one hour and twenty-five minutes from receiving the menus to being presented with dessert. We were seated with menus at 5:39pm, and our desserts arrived at 7:03pm.

Total dinner time: 1 hour and 25 mins. 

Night 5: Mexican night

Pulled-Pork-Enchiladas-MDR-New-Menu

(Pulled Pork Enchilada served on January 11, 2023 onboard the Symphony of the Seas)

By this point, it seemed like 95 minutes was the staff's goal, as this was the third night on the sailing where we finished our dinner around the same time.

My dining party received menus at 5:30pm and dessert at 6:54pm, for a total of one hour and twenty-four minutes waiting on food. 

Total dinner time: 1 hour and 24 mins.

Night 6: The Royal Night

The-Royal-Night-Lobster-Tail

(Broiled lobster tail served on January 12, 2023 onboard the Symphony of the Seas)

Naturally, the Main Dining Room was the most crowded on "dress your best" night when lobster was listed as a complimentary menu option. 

Four out of six people ordered it as one of their entrees, and they all looked to be roughly 1.00 to 1.25 pounds each. However, since additional lobster tails now cost $16.99 each, nobody ordered a second to see how it compared to the complimentary tail. 

Nearly everyone ordered two appetizers, two entrees, and two desserts, so I expected dinner to take longer than other nights; we were served in one hour and thirty-nine minutes. 

Total dinner time: 1 hour and 39 mins.

Day 7: Mediterranean night

Vegetable-moussaka-new-menu-main-dining-room

(Vegetable moussaka served on January 12, 2023 onboard the Symphony of the Seas)

On the last night, I dined solo again and was in and out in just thirty-eight minutes. However, out of all seven nights, I have to say that Mediterranean dinner was my least favorite.

Total dinner time: 38 mins.

Average dinner time for the week: a little over 75 mins.

Reformatting the chef's recommendations

Italian night menu

I was able to secure paper copies of the menus for the rest of the week on the second morning of the cruise, but the formatting was soon changed.

At first, the menu items listed at the top as the "chef's recommendation" were not included again under each of the different courses. If your eyes glazed over this portion of the menu, it would be easy to miss an additional appetizer, entree, and dessert option! 

By the third night, the menus presented at dinner were different from those I was given just one day prior, as the recommended items were now repeated.

Italian-Night-Updated-Menu-MDR

I appreciated this change, as placing all available options in one place is more convenient for the reader, who is most likely hungry and trying to quickly figure out what they want to eat. 

Price of additional lobster tails

Lobster tail

In the past, guests always looked forward to the night when lobster was listed as a complimentary menu option. 

While it was on the menu every night for a surcharge, there was only one night per sailing where guests could indulge in as many lobster tails as they desired. 

With the new menus, Royal Caribbean is limiting guests to just one broiled lobster tail for no additional cost on the evening it's available. If passengers want another, they will be charged $16.99

Cutbacks have been seen across many industries throughout the past year, but the realities of the current lobster trade also forced Royal Caribbean's hand in part, as they can only buy 90% Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified food, which means that lobster needs to be either farm raised or wild caught.

Due to environmental concerns, there's been a recent shift in Maine lobster purchasing; vendors, such as Whole Foods, have halted purchasing the lobsters.

Therefore, Royal Caribbean has begun buying MSC certified Canadian lobster instead. 

Kids' menu

Kids MDR menu

There are five main entrees on the kids' menu that are offered nightly and do not change throughout the week: a hamburger, chicken fingers, grilled cheese, spaghetti marinara, and mac & cheese. 

Additionally, they may choose between a fruit salad, veggie sticks, and french fries as a side, as well as three different flavors of ice cream and chocolate chip cookies for dessert. 

Special requests

Sugar-free-dessert-mdr

(Sugar-free blueberry cobbler served on January 10, 2023 onboard the Symphony of the Seas)

Traditionally, Royal Caribbean has been great at accommodating specific food allergies and dietary requirements. 

On the new menus, the vegan dishes are indicated via a small leaf icon, and there's at least one vegan dish for each course, including vegan spaghetti bolognese and stuffed grilled eggplant. On my Symphony of the Seas sailing, however, there was not separate menu that was provided upon request. 

For those watching their sugar intake, they also offer at least one sugar-free dessert each evening, such as a crumbly oat and berry bar or a warm blueberry cobbler. 

Per Royal Caribbean's website, you may also send email requests to [email protected] at least 45 days prior to sailing (90 days for European/South American/Asian itineraries). Be sure to include the guests' names, booking number, ship name, and sail date. 

Top three menu items I ate in the Main Dining Room

I ate a lot of delicious food this past week, but a few courses stood out over the others, namely the appetizers and desserts.

#1: Warm chocolate chip cookie

Warm-chocolate-chip-cookie-mdr

The best thing I had was the warm chocolate chip cookie on Mexican night. It was something our head waiter recommended over and over and over, so everyone felt like they had to try it. It was better than we all imagined!

The deep dish cookie was served in a piping hot ramekin and topped with vanilla ice cream.

The outside was crisp and golden, while the inside was perfectly ooey and gooey. It never became too soft, even with the melting ice cream on top.

#2: Roasted poblano pepper soup

Roasted-poblano-pepper-soup-mdr

Two of my favorite dishes from the cruise were served on Mexican night; yet, only the soup was on the list of the chef's recommendations. 

What I enjoyed the most about this course was the spicy kick that the soup had. The only thing that could have made it better was including more of the roasted corn, red peppers, and sautéed chorizo. 

#3: Crispy coconut jumbo shrimp

Coconut-shrimp-mdr

On Caribbean night, the chef's recommended appetizer was the coconut shrimp. The shrimp were indeed crunchy, but they had a subtle hint of coconut; the sweet chili dipping sauce is what made this dish so incredible. Someone in my party even got a second order of them! 

I will note that this is when I noticed some inconsistency in plating. The second order came out in an entirely different dish, and the shrimp were noticeably larger. Plus, there was much more of the sauce on the bottom.  

How does the new Main Dining Room menu compare to my previous dining experiences? 

Growing up, my family had a rule that we would only dine in a specialty restaurant once per cruise, so I ate in the Main Dining Room a lot. 

Speed never really mattered, as you could tell the wait staff if you wanted a quicker dinner service because of a reservation to a show. I remember there being times where they were able to get my family of four in and out in about an hour! 

Menu at an angle

In terms of food quality, it seemed close to what it was in the past. About a quarter of my dishes came out cold, even though Royal Caribbean said that the new menu was going to ensure hotter food. 

My sister was always a picky eater, and she would eat the roasted chicken breast at least three nights on any given sailing; I can see why the removal of the "classics" section is upsetting to some people.

For me, however, I enjoyed stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying new things, as that's one of the reasons I love cruising. I knew that if I ordered an adventurous entree that I ended up not liking, I could order something else. 

Symphony of the Seas main dining room

The only night I was truly dissatisfied was Mediterranean night.

If I wasn't in a rush to go pack, I probably would've ordered the grilled Mediterranean steak, as the vegetable moussaka was coated too heavily in unusually dry breadcrumbs for my liking. 

As with anything new, I expected there to be some trial and error for the kitchen staff, but I was overall impressed with the new menus and am looking forward to seeing how the dining experiences on my upcoming cruises compare!

First look at Royal Caribbean's new main dining room menus

In:
07 Jan 2023

Royal Caribbean's new main dining room menus are officially here.

Main Dining Room on Voyager of the Seas

Symphony of the Seas is the one of the first cruise ships in the fleet to launch the official new menu following weeks of testing, along with Wonder of the Seas. 

In late 2022, Royal Caribbean began testing new menus onboard the Symphony of the Seas. After receiving positive feedback from guests, they announced that they were going to permanently change the menus on all ships within the fleet.

Royal Caribbean cited the swiftness of service as the primary reason for implementing new menus. Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean International's President and CEO, said that guests often complain about the length of dinner service.

In addition to a new design, each night's menu will have a theme: French, Italian, etc. There are still no sugar added and vegan options available, as well as premium selections.

A Maine lobster tail can be purchased for $16.99, Chops Grille filet mignon for $19.99, and surf & turf for $34.99. 

Here's a first look at the new menus onboard the Symphony of the Seas. 

Welcome Aboard

The theme for the first night is "Welcome Aboard," and the cuisine served is American. The menu features some "classics" from the old menu, including the caesar salad, shrimp cocktail, escargots, New York strip steak, spaghetti bolognese, Royal cheesecake, and ice cream. 

All sailings will feature the Welcome Aboard menu on the first evening.

French Night

The dining theme of night two onboard the current Symphony of the Seas sailing is French Night.

It seems as though the primary feedback they received for the menu was in regard to the desserts, as many of them have been updated compared to the sample menu that was tested last month.

Sailings six nights and longer will offer the French Night menu on the first formal night.

Italian Night

All sailings will feature the Italian Night menu on at least one evening.

Caribbean Night

On Caribbean sailings, the Caribbean Night menu comes out on the first evening at a Caribbean port.

Mexican Night

On Mexico sailings, the Mexican Night menu comes out on the first evening at a Mexico port.

The Royal Night

Gone are the days of ordering multiple lobster tails. If you'd like a second, you'll now be charged $16.99 plus 18% gratuity. 

Sailings six nights and longer will offer The Royal Night menu on the second formal night.

Mediterranean Night

Mediterranean night menu

British Night

Sailings six nights and longer will offer the British Night menu on at least one evening.

British night main dining room theme

Bon Voyage Night

Sailings six nights and longer will feature the Bon Voyage menu on the final evening

Kids' Menu

The kids' menu is offered every night of the sailing and does not change. 

Kids MDR menu

What's different about the menus?

Food in main dining room

One change is more of a cohesive theme to each night, with different cuisines and cooking styles highlighted in each day's menu.

Look for themes such as Italian, American, or Caribbean themes, with the chef's featured choices listed at the top of the menu.

Something else guests may notice is the removal of the "classics" section, which offered a subset of menu options that were available each night and never changed. 

Lobster tail

Royal Caribbean is also limiting guests to one lobster tail for no additional cost on the evening the broiled lobster is available.

Prior to this change, guests could order unlimited lobster tails, but the realities of the lobster trade forced Royal Caribbean's hand in part.

Royal Caribbean can only buy 90% Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified food, which means that lobster needs to be either farm raised or wild caught. A recent shift in Maine lobster purchasing due to environmental concerns has places like Whole Foods halting the purchase of the items.

As a result, Royal Caribbean has changed to buying Canadian lobster that is still MSC certified.

Importance of guest feedback

Women eating in main dining room

It's been a few years since the last time Royal Caribbean refreshed their dining menus, which is why they relied on guest feedback when curating the new menus. 

During the testing phase, they sent a team of six people onboard the Symphony go the Seas who were responsible for conducting in-person meetings with 30-40 passengers per day. In addition, surveys were sent out via email. 

In an exclusive interview, Linken D'Souza, the Global Vice President of Culinary, Dining, & Beverage said, "If there's four or five modifications we can make, we'll iterate and make those changes. If there's a theme that's not working and we're seeing a lot of dissatisfaction on a specific day within the cruise period, we'll review that experience."

A quicker, more consistent dining experience

Family eating in main dining room

As previously mentioned, one of the reasons for this change is to decrease the time guests spend in the Main Dining Room.

The company believes that dinner should last around 75 minutes. Prior to the new menus, passengers could spend 95-120+ minutes at dinner. A shorter dinner service allows guests to get enjoy other activities during their cruise vacation. 

If you do not want a faster dining experience, all you have to do is tell your waiter. 

"I think holistically, when you look at both the service experience we create with the theming of nights and then the food that's layered in...you're going to see hotter, fresher, more consistently plated, beautiful food," said Mr. D'Souza. 

When will the new menus be on all ships?

Royal Caribbean expects the new menus to be available on all ships by early February.

The current plan is to begin the new menu deployment in January, and by early February, it should be available on all ships across the fleet.

Royal Caribbean Blog Podcast Episode - Inside look at the new main dining room menus

In:
14 Dec 2022

Listen to the Show

Our exclusive interview with Royal Caribbean Vice President Food & Beverage, Linken D'Souza, to talk about the why, how, and when of the new main dining room menu changes coming in January.

Share with me your thoughts, questions and comments via...

On this episode:
Running time:

Royal Caribbean will introduce new main dining room menu in January

In:
12 Dec 2022

It's official: Royal Caribbean will revamp its main dining room menu with a look and offerings beginning in January 2023.

After a few weeks of testing on Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean has confirmed a new menu will replace the existing menu, beginning in January.

This is the first new dining room menu in over five years for the cruise line.

Royal Caribbean cautioned that the exact menu selections may change, so test menus that have been used so far may not be the final product.

New menu arrives in January

Royal Caribbean had been quietly testing a new menu on Symphony of the Seas, which was first spotted in November.

Over the last few weeks, the cruise line sought to capture guest feedback about the changes and make appropriate tweaks.

Speaking at the naming ceremony on Wonder of the Seas this weekend, Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley confirmed the new menu changes are going to proceed forward.

"We got all the written feedback. I think the food and beverage team has done an amazing job in making sure we're responsive to that. Our plan is to is to roll out the new menus starting in January," Mr. Bayley said when a travel agent asked for further information on the test.

Women eating in main dining room

Mr. Bayley also talked about hesitation related to a new menu.

"We're very thoughtful and conscious about any changes that we make. But we do think that where we're heading with the new menus is going to be better and more enjoyable."

Pastry

In an exclusive interview, Linken D'Souza, Global Vice President Culinary, Dining & Beverage, talked in greater detail about the new menus.  He added that the current plan is to begin the new menu deployment in January, and by early February, it should be available on all ships across the fleet.

"We'll get that data back really probably by the end of December. We'll review that over the holidays. And then as we come back, post the New Year's week, we will start a deployment on the new menu across the fleet."

"It'll probably roll fairly quickly because we want it to be consistent across the fleet as quickly as we can."

Making dinner faster

Why the change? The top reason according to Royal Caribbean is swiftness of service.

In responding to a question about the new menu, Mr. Bayley said that a top complaint from passengers has been how long dinner can take some times.

"It's also fair to say that we get a lot of feedback from customers who do want to have a slightly faster service."

Symphony of the Seas main dining room

He was quick to add dinner is not planned to become as fast as possible either, "I would say there is no intention to rush somebody through that dinner."

"It's your choice and all you have to do is tell your waiter, 'I don't want to rush service. We want to enjoy our time.'" 

Adding to Mr. Bayley's point, Mr. D'Souza explained the issue with how long dinner can sometimes take, "today, our dining experience takes 120 plus minutes, in some cases for larger parties, at least 95 minutes for a party two. That's a really long dining experience."

So how long should dinner take? Royal Caribbean thinks the magic number is around 75 minutes.

"The first thing will help us do is improve the speed of the pace of the meal," Mr. D'Souza explained.

"Not hugely, but let's call it about 15 minutes is what we're seeing, which is a significant reduction, gets us much closer to that 75 minute target for what our guest experiences is really what what we have looked at in the research. And they said that's kind of what the guest ideal dining experience time."

"Hotter, fresher, more consistently plated, beautiful food"

Besides speed of service, Mr. D'Souza thinks this new menu will result in a better experience for guests.

"I think holistically, when you look at both the service experience we create with the theming of the nights and then the food that's layered in and then the consistency. And quality improvements that you're going to see hotter, fresher, more consistently plated, beautiful food."

He admitted up until now, that has not been the case and it bothered him, "my frustration with that is I want to deliver a more consistent and great quality experience for our guests versus a hit and miss experience."

Family in dining room

An updated menu also allows the dining experience to be more consistent, which is a major concern for Mr. D'Souza.

"You make a French onion soup that doesn't taste the same on every ship or look the same, and frankly, that's not acceptable to me."

"I would rather our guests have a very clear understanding and expectation of what they're going to get. And they either love it or hate it. That's okay. But if you love it, I want it to be the same amount of love for that dish. Whether you came today and you came 16 months back and you ate once in the Caribbean and next time in Europe, it should taste exactly the same."

Easing the load on crew members

Waiter serving a family

An ancillary benefit of the menu is the realities of the legacy menu and its impact on the workload for crew members.

"Frankly, the workload for the crew, it's not manageable anymore with the amount of special requests."

"We're putting some structure on the process to really be more diligent in how we how we operate the dining space."

Family eating in main dining room

He also acknowledged that there are a lot of new crew members, and the restart process since 2021 has been a challenge that didn't exist years ago.

"We have more what we call new roles in our business than we've ever had. And these are new employees who have the depth and length of experience. So we've got a lot of new employees who simply are still learning."

Final menu not set yet

While the plan is to have the dinner menus change across the fleet beginning in January, the exact menus are not set yet.

Mr. D'Souza talked about the timeline for finalizing the menu, "The menu that is currently on Symphony will go through some iteration from the themes themselves to the items that guests like."

"The theme nights you've seen are not necessarily theme nights that you're going to see when we launch. So there may be some modifications based on the feedback."

In fact, there will be additional themed nights for longer sailings.

According to Mr. D'Souza, they are also working on menus for 8, 9 and 10 night cruises.

Feedback so far from guests

Mom and daughter in main dining room

Royal Caribbean has received lots of reviews of the menu changes from its passengers, both loyal cruisers and first timers.

According to Mr. Bayley, consumer research teams were sent onboard Symphony of the Seas during the trial to talk focus groups of customers.

"We always do find that when you do these changes, you get, especially with our loyal customers who are very much used to their routine, we do get more feedback and sometimes negative feedback from our loyal customers because they like, they enjoy the way it was," Mr. Bayley explained when talking about the menu change.

Serenade of the Seas dining room

"But we also find that our new customers and new to cruise enjoy the new menu."

"We're working our way through it. We're very responsive to the feedback."

You might be curious what the feedback looks like, and Mr. D'Souza provided additional context.

Royal Caribbean has a team of six people onboard the ship that are doing in-person meetings with guests, along with the email surveys that have been sent out to many more. The team onboard has met with at least 30-40 guests every day of the cruise to get their opinions.

"Overwhelmingly, the feedback for all of the teams, has been exceptionally positive."

Guests not happy with the change? Try it first

Mr. D'Souza appears keenly aware of the initial negative comments he read online when the new menu was first spotted, but he hopes people will judge the menus onboard the ship and not just in the vacuum of the internet. 

"We understand that it's going to be some people who are not really thrilled about all the changes."

"What I would ask for is I would ask for the opportunity for people to really try the experience themselves and not prejudge it before they've been on the ship."

Main Dining Room onboard Symphony of the Seas

He added that when the new menus roll out in January, the offerings are not set in stone. Additional feedback will be reviewed to make further refinements.

"We don't stop taking feedback after we start the new menu."

"If there's four or five modifications we can make, we'll iterate and make those changes. If there's a theme that's not working and we're seeing a lot of dissatisfaction on a specific day within the cruise period, we'll review that experience."

Here's a look at Royal Caribbean's possible new main dining room menus

In:
29 Nov 2022

Royal Caribbean hasn't announced it will change the main dining room menus, but we have a look at the test menus.

If you haven't heard, Royal Caribbean is testing a new main dining room menu on Symphony of the Seas.  It is simultaneously surveying past cruisers on new menus.

At first, we saw the menu changes in the Royal Caribbean app but enough people have sailed on Symphony of the Seas or gotten email surveys to get a good look at the menus in their printed form.

Cruise FAQ: Dining | Royal Caribbean Blog

The menus not only have a different assortment of items, but have a new design to them as well.

I've found six of the menus, each with a distinct theme that curates the majority of the choices.

You can click on each menu to see a larger view.

Royal Night

Mediterranean Night

Mexican Night

Italian Night

French Night

American Night

Caribbean Night

Thanks to Joe Morrison for providing some of these menus

What's different about the new menus?

If you've cruised with Royal Caribbean in the past, there will be a few noticeable changes.

First, the look of the menu is different. The layout and design is new, although the categories of options remains unchanged.

One of the major differences in this menu is there is no longer a "Classics" section, where you would find a selection of menu items that did not change each night.

The Ultimate Guide to Royal Caribbean's Unlimited Dining Package | Royal Caribbean Blog

The other big change is with lobster on the second formal night.

The new menu lists a "cold water Maine lobster" and indicates a second lobster tail will be charged $16.99 plus 18% gratuity. Prior to this change, additional lobster tails had no additional cost.

Why Royal Caribbean is making this change

Top Ten Royal Caribbean Dining Tips | Royal Caribbean Blog

When asked about the new menus, Royal Caribbean says this is a test on Symphony of the Seas only that they are conducting in order to garner feedback from guests.

Part of why the cruise line wants to change the menu is to optimize and speed up the dining room experience for guests. 

Royal Caribbean emphasized the importance of "swiftness of service" when it comes to eating in the dining room. By having more consistency of what's being prepared in the kitchen, they can produce food faster.

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