When it comes to cruising, one aspect that delights passengers is the incredible dining experiences available onboard. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and Royal Caribbean International (RCI) are two well-known cruise lines that boast a wide array of dining options to satisfy every palate.
A note on food sensitivities and special diets. This article is a general overview of the differences, but if you have specific dietary requirements, reach out to the cruise line as they can often accommodate such requests. Gluten-Free dining options are available and you can also work around a Keto Diet when you’re on a cruise.
Royal vs. Norwegian Dining Room Differences
Both NCL and RCI feature traditional main dining rooms offering an assortment of culinary delights. The main dining room on both ships serves the meals that are part of your cruise package, and so are at no additional cost to you.
Norwegian Cruise Lines Complimentary Dining
Norwegian Cruise Line presents a Freestyle Cruising dining concept, allowing guests to dine at their convenience without assigned seating or fixed dining times. This flexible approach provides passengers with more freedom and allows them to explore different dining venues.
On Norwegian, you can choose to dress up and enjoy a four-course meal or to dress down and get a hamburger off the grill. There are no “formal nights” like on other cruise lines and the only stipulation is you can’t wear your bathing suit in the main dining rooms.
For complimentary dining, the ship will have up to three main dining rooms, the Beyond Buffet, and a variety of casual eateries. It works like land-based restaurants – you show up to the venue whenever you’re hungry and the host will seat you. The main dining rooms will have the same menu, but you’ll get a different view and wait-staff each time.
The main dining rooms have chef-crafted menus with modern and classic dishes. The Beyond Buffet is available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You’ll find a meat carving station, made-to-order omelets, pasta, and more.
NCL has food available around the clock with 24-hour eateries with classic pub fare. Reuben sandwiches and Fish n’ Chips are a couple of the items offered.
Check out Norwegian’s Freestyle Dining here:
Royal Caribbean Complimentary Dining
Royal Caribbean offers a traditional dining experience with assigned seating and fixed dining times. This setup enables passengers to develop a rapport with their wait staff and fellow diners over the course of the cruise.
While NCL’s freestyle dining appeals to those seeking flexibility, Royal Caribbean’s traditional approach may suit those who prefer a more structured dining experience.
You will have your choice between two times for eating in the main dining room, and that will be your time for dinner on the entire cruise. Your table is also assigned to you. While you can choose to skip dinner and eat elsewhere, the assigned time and eating does offer you a schedule that you can count on.
If you don’t want to sit with anyone else or you want to adjust the time, sign up for “My Time Dining” which gives you more flexibility on the timing of your dinner and the guests you may be seated with.
Check out Royal Caribbean’s Main Dining room here: We tried Royal Caribbean’s new Main Dining Room Menus
Specialty Restaurants – Norwegian vs Royal Caribbean
When it comes to specialty restaurants, both cruise lines excel in offering a diverse range of options to cater to various tastes. Specialty dining will be an additional charge on both RCI and NCL.
Norwegian Cruise Lines Specialty Dining
Norwegian Cruise Line is known for its exceptional specialty dining venues, such as Cagney’s Steakhouse, offering succulent cuts of meat, and Le Bistro, providing a sophisticated French dining experience. Guests pay extra for these restaurant options and reservations must be made in advance.
Other notable options on NCL ships include Teppanyaki (Japanese hibachi grill), La Cucina (Italian cuisine), and Moderno Churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse).
There is also Wasabi, a sushi and yakitori bar, American Diner with lobster rolls and crispy chicken, Le Bistro, an elegant French restaurant, and Dole Gelato, Italy’s answer to ice cream.
Norwegian offers a Specialty Dining Package (SDP) for cruisers. With this package, you can sample the specialty restaurants onboard for one set price.
You can also select the number of meals that you would like to eat at these restaurants during your cruise.
Specialty Dining Packages are honored in the following restaurants: American Diner, Cagney’s Steakhouse, Food Republic, Italian, Le Bistro, Los Lobos, Moderno Churrascaria, Pincho Tapas Bar, Q Texas Smokehouse, Raw Bar, Seafood, Sushi and Teppanyaki.
The NCL ship that you are cruising on will determine which specialty restaurants are on board.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Specialty Restaurants
Royal Caribbean’s specialty dining options are equally impressive. Jamie’s Italian, created in partnership with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, serves up delicious Italian fare.
Chops Grille is a popular choice for steak lovers, while Izumi offers delectable Asian cuisine. Additionally, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships boast innovative concepts like Wonderland, a whimsical restaurant with imaginative dishes that tantalize the senses.
RCI also has a Specialty Dining Package that gives you a discounted price on specialty restaurants on board. You can choose from a three-restaurant or an unlimited dining package.
Coffee and Casual Dining
When it comes to casual dining and coffee options, both cruise lines have their own unique offerings. Norwegian Cruise Line features the Garden Café, a buffet-style restaurant offering a wide variety of international cuisines.
O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill provides a relaxed pub atmosphere with comfort food favorites.
Royal Caribbean’s Windjammer Marketplace (included in your fare) offers a similar buffet-style dining experience with an extensive selection of dishes.
For casual dining, the Boardwalk Dog House is a standout choice, serving up gourmet hot dogs with a range of toppings. Moreover, Royal Caribbean’s partnership with Starbucks ensures that coffee enthusiasts can enjoy their favorite brew while at sea.
The Bottom Line: They’re Both Good!
Whether it’s your very first cruise or you’re an experienced cruiser, choosing between Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International for the ultimate dining experience is no easy task. Both cruise lines offer an impressive selection of dining options, catering to various tastes and preferences.
While the loyalty rewards accrued on cruises will often make you stick with one brand, it’s the dining opportunities that just might sway you over to the other side.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s freestyle dining approach allows for flexibility, while Royal Caribbean’s traditional dining concept fosters a sense of familiarity and camaraderie.
When it comes to specialty restaurants, NCL’s offerings are exceptional, with diverse culinary experiences available throughout its fleet. Royal Caribbean’s partnership with renowned chefs and their Oasis-class ships’ innovative concepts showcase their commitment to providing unique dining experiences.
Ultimately, determining which cruise line offers the better dining experience comes down to individual preferences. Whether you prioritize flexibility or a structured dining schedule, both Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International are sure to leave your taste buds delighted and your culinary cravings satisfied.
Bon voyage and bon appétit!
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