Going on a Cruise Part 4 – The Food!

seafood-ftd

This is the final post on cruising for a while.  And it’s a food post!  In my first post on cruising I talked about the basics of cruising. In the second post, I showed how to get the best deals when booking a cruise.  In the third post, I provided tips on saving money while on board and on your trip to the cruise port.

I’m all out money saving tips, so here’s a picture post of the different types of food you can enjoy on board.

In my first post on cruising, I mentioned you can get “Five star dining every night.  Or all you can eat buffets, burgers, pizzas and ice cream.”  One poster took exception to the “five star dining” comment, claiming that’s just hyperbole, and that the food is just adequate.

We thought the food was pretty good, but not everyone agrees.  The food varies from cruise line to cruise line, ship to ship, restaurant to restaurant, and even night to night.  It’s possible we’ve had a string of good luck with the food on the five cruises we have taken so far.

We really enjoy the variety of dishes because we get to experience things we don’t routinely cook at home.

Are we foodies?  I hate the connotations that go with the term “foodie” – snobby, elitist, holier-than-thou, overly concerned with authenticity and presentation instead of taste.  We just like to find good food, cook in our kitchen, and eat.  We also love to try new foods while on vacation like we did in Mexico this past summer.  So I’m not sure if we are foodies or not.

Here’s what happens when you sink too far down the foodie rabbit hole and lose your common sense (and taste buds):

“The taste is a lot richer.  It’s pure, it’s pure.”

 

Now it’s time for some good cruise eats!  Bon appetit!

 

A staple of cruise lines. On many ships, pizza is available 24/7. These slices are topped with prosciutto

A staple of cruise lines. On many ships, pizza is available 24/7. These slices are topped with prosciutto.  I love pizza and this was some pretty good thin crust (“NY Style”) pizza from the Costa Atlantica (an Italian cruise line)

 

Prime Rib

Filet Mignon with a side of… well who cares, it’s filet mignon.

 

For the kids - bacon macaroni with fries

For the kids – bacon macaroni with fries

 

Lobster and shrimp

Lobster and shrimp

 

indian-medly

Indian medley of (clockwise from top) dough balls in a creamy curry, curried potatoes, dal lentils. A delish vegetarian dish for those into shunning meat

 

Frog legs with parmesan on top. Tastes like dark meat chicken

Frog legs with parmesan on top. Tastes like dark meat chicken

 

Crab cakes so good I ate at least eight of them. Plus scallops with penne pasta, meatloaf, chicken drumstick, and pan-seared tuna

Crab cakes so good I ate at least eight of them. Plus scallops and shrimp with penne pasta, meatloaf, chicken drumstick, and pan-seared tuna

 

Chili relleno (stuffed chili pepper) with rice and beans on the side

Chili relleno (stuffed chili pepper) with rice and beans on the side

 

Spanakopita (greek pastry with spinach and feta inside), pepper stuffed with couscous. Another good vegetarian entree. Goes great with a side of steak (you can order a second main course any time you want).

Spanakopita (greek pastry with spinach and feta inside), pepper stuffed with couscous. Another good vegetarian entree. Goes great with a side of steak (you can order a second main course any time you want).

 

Snack plate with salami, provolone and parmesan cheese, octopus, and smoked salmon with wasabi

Snack plate with salami, provolone and parmesan cheese, octopus, and smoked salmon with wasabi

 

Lots and lots and lots of parmesan. There's even a bowl made from the rind of a huge ball of parmesan cheese.

Lots and lots and lots of parmesan. There’s even a bowl made from the rind of a huge wheel of parmesan cheese.  In case you want to eat it by the fist full.

 

Smoked salmon

Smoked salmon with capers

 

Salmon, scallops, muscles, clams, and shrimp on penne pasta

Salmon, scallops, muscles, clams, and shrimp on penne pasta

 

From the buffet - fish, ribs, eggplant, salami, pasta salad, seafood salad (clams, mussels,

From the buffet – fish, eggplant, salami, pasta salad, seafood salad (clams, mussels, shrimp, squid, octopus), olives.  With a rib on top.

 

Corned beef and pastrami reuben panini

Corned beef and pastrami reuben panini

 

Prosciutto, salami, and fried shrimp

Prosciutto, salami, and coconut fried shrimp with alfredo pasta.  We eat an embarrassingly large quantity of prosciutto on every cruise.

 

Mexican food from our cruise to Mexico. Almost as good as the real deal in Mexico.

Breakfast from the Blue Iguana Cantina Mexican restaurant on the Carnival Glory.  Breakfast is usually a pretty tame event on cruise lines, but not with this Mexican restaurant on board!

 

hot-chocolate

The kids enjoying hot chocolate on our balcony

 

A typical meal

I found a copy of the menu from the formal dining room.  The menu changes each night.  Here’s what you get to choose from for just one night:

Appetizers:

  • seared tuna
  • broccoli salad
  • veggie spring rolls
  • navy bean soup
  • gazpacho andalouse
  • tortilla soup with braised chicken
  • shrimp cocktail
  • flatbread w/ apple, bacon, and parmesan cheese
  • a variety of salads
  • braised rabbit

Mains:

  • veal parmesan
  • seared Tilapia
  • rosemary lamb shank
  • baked ziti
  • chick pea biscuits with roasted squash and peppers
  • vegetarian Indian medley with ~5 different veggies, papadum, yogurt sauce, etc
  • steak tacos
  • salmon fillet
  • flat iron steak
  • chicken breast
  • pork chop

Sides:

  • corn and veggie succotash
  • loaded baked potato
  • sauteed beans with bacon
  • mashed potatoes
  • basmati pilaf
  • steamed broccoli

Dessert:

  • chilled rhubarb almond strawberry soup
  • chocolate melting cake (unimpressed with this one!)
  • passion fruit flan with a coconut/tapioca/basil syrup
  • coconut lime cake
  • fresh tropical fruit plate
  • cheese plate
  • ice cream assortment
  • pie a la mode

That’s all free. There was an extra charge on this night for lobster, surf and turf, filet mignon, and NY strip steak (though that stuff was free at other times on the cruise). This was their “American Table” menu focused on traditional American cuisine with some twists thrown in, plus a couple things to recognize the port of call for the day (tortilla soup and steak tacos for Cozumel, Mexico).

That sounds like a foodie-approved menu to me.  I know almost all the food we received was well executed in terms of seasoning, texture, temperature, flavor, and presentation (how I usually evaluate a plate). The buffet restaurants of course are much closer to average, and you can definitely find the cafeteria grade eggs for breakfast for example (just skip those and go to the egg/omelet station for a fresh omelet, sunny side up, over easy, scrambled, or however you take your eggs).

 

Desserts

It’s hard to save room for desserts when the main courses are so good.

 

The best chocolate cake I've ever eaten.

The best chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten.  I remember being very full from lunch and saddened by the fact that I could only eat a slice of this cake.

 

Cheesecake,

Cheesecake, coconut cream cake and banana custard

 

Chilled mango soup

Chilled mango soup

 

Key lime cheesecake (left), Napoleon almond cake (right) - Mrs. Root of Good's favorite

Key lime cheesecake (left), Napoleon almond cake (right) – Mrs. Root of Good’s favorite dessert ever

 

Fudge cheesecake, strawberry cream

Fudge cheesecake, strawberry cream, chocolate cream cake

 

Blueberry cheesecake (left)

Blueberry cheesecake with pistachios (left), cherry cream filling on top right, gelatin with fruit on bottom right

 

cr

Crème brûlée custard with caramel popcorn on top

 

Strawberry cheesecake,

Strawberry cheesecake, assorted cookies and cakes

 

Dessert buffet

Dessert buffet

 

Brownie

Brownie

 

A triumvirate of chocolate cakes

A triumvirate of chocolate cakes

 

I’ll let the reader decide for themselves whether cruise food might be worth trying based on these pictures.  I can’t say with certainty that everyone, including foodies, will be happy with the cruise cuisine, but in our experience the dozen or more restaurants on board offer enough variety to satisfy burger-n-pizza folks, picky tastes, healthy eaters, carnivores, vegetarians, and low carbers.

 

Check out all the posts in the Going on a Cruise series:

Going on a Cruise Part 1: Overview (this post)

Going on a Cruise Part 2: Getting the Best Deal

Going on a Cruise Part 3: Save on Board and on Transportation

Going on a Cruise Part 4: The Food!

 

Could you manage a week on a cruise ship with all this food? 

 

 

36 comments

  • This has to be the most boring post ever.

  • Our arteries were clogging up, and we spontaneously got diabetes, just watching and reading this post. Hope you guys also eat some rabbit food the months after the cruise to undo some of the damage 😉

  • Oh I love eating aboard a cruise ship. Since its all inclusive you don’t feel bad ordering the nicest thing on the menu (or multiple things). If something you order isn’t up to your liking, just tell the waiter and they’ll bring something else right away that will do the trick!

    • Most definitely. If you get something you don’t like, don’t eat it. Order something else or grab a quick bite from the buffet if you don’t feel like waiting.

  • You had me cracking up with that video about the McDonalds food tasters! I’ve heard some negative feedback on cruise food as well, but I bet if you served it to people in another environment they’d probably “ooOO” and “aaahhh” over it.

    We actually don’t eat meat so we’re even a little more limited so when we get on the ship, we see the Maitre D and they always have something great prepared for us every night. The buffet food on the ship though is great! To have the vast variety of fresh food that you get on a cruise is pretty amazing and you can eat pretty healthy at the same time. I’d take cruise food any day!

    • Most of what I showed is meat and seafood, but I could almost be a vegetarian on a cruise ship. I’m the one that occasionally orders the vegetarian main entree plus a side of steak/lobster/whatever. Carnival’s Indian vegetarian main course is really awesome.

  • Is there by chance a pool filled with that bacon macaroni? I could eat my way out of that one! Man, so hungry now …

  • Yikes…since you showed how easy it is to access calories on a cruise, please show how we can burn those calories off as well…a few shots of the gym stat!

    Regarding cruise food it’s definitely a mixed bag. Most of the “cafeteria” buffet food is pretty bad compared to the same food avail on land. It’s slightly higher (or lower) quality than say a Home Town buffet or Golden Corral – almost exactly the same as an average Las Vegas hotel buffet. The dining room food however is much higher quality and compares favorably with a 3 star restaurant (sometimes even a 4 star which is pretty darn good). I’ve never had what I would consider 5 star food on a cruise and I’m ok with that because economies of scale being what they are, I would think it nearly impossible for the cruise line to make a profit providing 5 star eating experiences. Part of that experience is being able to order what you want the way you want it. While they do try to accommodate your wishes on food prep (Can you make that a little crusty on the outside and rare on the inside?), the reality is that almost all the food served in the dining room, while tasty, is almost exactly the same from table to table in terms of the way it is prepared. That alone would throw most foodies into a sustainable tantrum.
    Us being simple folk we simply smile and wolf down our steaks and lobster as is.
    Whenever we think about complaining about anything in our lives we remember that 90% of our lives are better off than the kings and queens of the middle ages! Now that’s perspective!

    • We’ve always been pretty happy with the meat that comes out. Well done = well done. Medium rare = medium rare, etc. And worst case, we could eat the part of it that’s done to our liking, then order another one to see if they get it right the second time. I’ve been to some fancy pants restaurants where you can’t order it to your tastes. You want the tuna steak? It’s medium rare and that’s the end of the discussion because that’s how the chef says the taste and texture is best presented. It’s like paying more for the privilege of being on the receiving end of condescension! 🙂

      Totally with you on the complaining part. I know they’re busy in the galley below deck making 1000 other meals just like mine, and hey, occasionally something might not be perfect. Your comment about the kings and queens of yesteryear is spot on. For the price a serf’s weekly wage, we can literally eat like kings and queens of the middle ages. For a whole week! Progress is amazing.

      As for the gym to burn off all those calories, I’d suggest skipping the gym and head out into your port visit for a few hours of walking, climbing hills, etc. Or if you’re stuck on ship, there’s the walking track around the deck – amazing seaside views! 🙂

  • Just read through the comments debating “5-star restaurants.” I love your response about 5 yelp stars versus 5 Michelin stars. I’m definitely no foodie…but I like good tasting food. It really is a subjective thing, but it really drives me nuts when I see foodie friends posting about some trendy restaurant where they charge an arm and a leg and based on the food pics seem a lot more style than substance. And yes the portions are tiny…I’d have to eat again soon after spending an arm and a leg for dinner. Man those food pics you posted make me really hungry…it is lunch yet??

    • Michelin only goes to 3 stars anyway, so the whole 5 star thing is really separate from any Michelin ranking (on a completely different scale in other words).

      I’m too uncouth to appreciate the $30-50/plate trendy restaurants that serve a mountain of garnish with a tiny morsel of something tasty underneath. Just give me the tasty morsels in large quantities. 🙂

  • Justin,
    Awesome posting all these photos. Looks like this took some time.

    The best thing going on any cruise is Carnival’s Molten Chocolate Cake….divine.

    I think, for the money, cruise food is pretty decent. You’re talkin $40 per person per day if you find an affordable cruise. You gotta put half of that toward the room, so you might be paying $20 for four or five meals out, plus snacks and room service.

    It’s not Per Se, but it’s definitely a step up from Denny’s.

    Eric

    • It took quite a while. I got so hungry I had to take a break and eat something.

      The Carnival Molten Chocolate cake is a good example of different tastes – divine for you, and I didn’t really like it at all. Fortunately there were half a dozen other desserts available!

      You’re absolutely right on the cost breakdown. $20/day for 4-5 meals (glad to see we’re not the only ones eating more than 3x/day) is a crazy good deal.

  • Hi Justin,

    I found your website from Go Curry Cracker. Good rundown of cruising! We did one in Alaska a couple of years ago and enjoyed it despite our hesitation at first.

    As for the food, again we enjoyed it too. Just like with anything, food is a matter of preference. I would not say good or bad overall but I can pick out items that were outstanding (Indian food / Filipino food/ some desserts/ some seafood) and really bad especially in the cafeteria (some pizza / pasta). The point is each cruise will have something for everyone. The variety (and round-the-clock availability) is the most exciting part and it really makes you eat more than you want lol.

    By the way, may I suggest you feed the whole article through RSS feed instead of just the first paragraph? I like to read my RSS feeds in a block. Hope you consider it.

    • I would agree the pasta on the buffet is one of the more disappointing foods. Not consistently bad, but just a starchy filler that takes away the ability to eat better stuff.

  • I’ve never actually been on a cruise. I have to admit it’s not terribly tempting. I’d blame being in the Navy, but I didn’t spend much time onboard ships then either. It’s probably more the stories about norovirus striking a ship, which, ew.

    That food looks pretty darned good though. Sadly, as a mid-40’s mother of two, I would not be able to control myself around all of that food. For sure, I’d enjoy probably every salad or veggie dish at first…but a few days around all that and it’s hard to say no (I discovered this on vacation visiting family, in homes that were full of soda and sweets and chips). A few days on a cruise would likely take me a month to undo.

    • Eating a ton is way too easy on a cruise because the food is available all day and it’s all over the ship.

      The good thing about norovirus if you’re watching your weight is that you’re too sick to eat once you contract it. 🙂

  • While I have had the good fortune to eat at some of the finest restaurants in the US and overseas (thanks to the companies I worked for), there was not a single thing in your pictures that I would not put into my piehole. Anyone who considers such food to be sub-standard is a snob who probably is trying to portray an image of someone they are not. Glad you and the family enjoyed eating your way to oblivion; that’s what exercising is for, to burn off all the good food we eat. Besides, if God did not want us to eat all that food, why would he have created it? 🙂

  • How much do you weigh? 300 lbs?

  • I haven’t been on a cruise in years but when I did, I’d order multiple entrees. I’d just ask them to bring multiple lobster tails or steaks on with my first entree. No need for the sides!

    Since food is readily available, I never felt the need to overeat. I can always eat more later as I got hungry, so I actually controlled myself.

    And I agree with any naysayers who argue that it’s not 5-star dining, which is a vague term anyway. The food is good. The fine dining restaurants are plenty nice but it’s not like at a high end restaurant. I have no complaints about the food though and some cruise lines are better than others.

    • You’re better at the mind game than me, my friend! After a couple of days aboard I get the whole “hey, I can eat any of this any time I want” mentality down and I try to come up with a game plan to eat the tastiest foods throughout the day. Don’t waste stomach capacity or calories on an ordinary breakfast when an amazing lunch is right around the corner.

      And that’s a great point to reiterate – you can order multiple entrees at one time and no one gives you a second glance. I’ve ordered 2 lobster tail plates at once or two plates of crab cakes. No need to eat the other stuff that comes with the lobsters or whatever.

  • I’m in it for the desserts. After this whole series, I’m ready to book! Thanks for all the helpful info (and delicious pictures). The chocolate cake looked like it would be my favorite too.

    • Our favorite cruise line for desserts has been Carnival. On other cruise lines I felt the desserts lacked different tastes. By that I mean all the desserts looked different, but often tasted about the same or had the same texture. On Carnival the desserts were really mind-blowing and mostly all of them had their own signature flavor and texture.

      And remember to pace yourself. 🙂 My problem was eating the good main courses, sides, and appetizers and then losing interest in eating the desserts as I became full.

  • It is only 11am now and I am hungry. Look at all the deserts holy cow.

    BSR

  • Wow that food looks incredible. Just eating that kind of food would cost more in my town than by going on a cruise. So why not go on a *free* cruise?!

    • That’s the conclusion we’ve arrived at. A single meal in the dining room on board would easily top $150-200 for our family of five at a similar restaurant at home. That’s almost the full price of a day of the cruise for us, so it’s like we’re paying for a great meal then getting the other meals, the hotel room, and transportation to warm beautiful islands for free. Which is why I’m a huge fan of cruising as a lover of frugal luxuries.

  • I admit it looks tasty, but I would become morbidly obese!

    • There’s always the gym, jogging track, hiking while in port, swimming, dancing (daytime on deck, nighttime in the clubs). And usually other sports like ping pong, basketball, volleyball, rock climbing. I think it’s theoretically possible to do a cruise in a healthy way but I’ve never personally done it that way. 🙂

  • I’m concerned because my husband and I are looking to book an anniversary cruise (I have limited mobility, so it sounds like a good vacation), plus Charleston is 3 hours from us, and we have quite a few friends to leave our car with and get a ride.
    I read that even water and soda aren’t free. A Carribean Cruise is all that’s available during our time period. But I was under the impression, probably from friends growing up, that it was all inclusive. I understand the alcohol thing–I can’t even have any with my condition, but I need regular access to at least water, if not some soda.
    Do you have thoughts on that? If I book through a travel agent, am I more likely to get deals on little upgrades like that?

    • Tap water is free on every cruise line that I’ve ever been on and I can’t imagine them ever charging for it (or making the tap water undrinkable somehow). Bottle water can often be brought on board, or it might be available for purchase at a very reasonable cost (I think it was $2-3 for a 12 pack on Carnival – about the price you would pay at the grocery store if it wasn’t on sale). Soda usually isn’t free but it’s not too expensive if you buy the unlimited soda package (usually $6-10 per day I think). All the cruises I’ve been on (Norwegian, Celebrity, Costa, Carnival) have offered free fruit juices, milk (at breakfast as least, sometimes all day if you don’t mind taking it from the coffee station), coffee, sometimes hot chocolate, tea.

      It would be best to check with the particular cruise line you are interested in, as I don’t think it’ll be a problem keeping hydrated without paying extra – you just might have to pay more if you want a certain kind of beverage.

      As for getting upgrades, it’s really all over the map. I’ve seen free soda upgrade packages directly through cruise lines and through online travel agents like travelocity. Other travel agencies have similar deals I’m sure. You’ll have to do a little research to find the best combo of cheap price, free on board credit, and free upgrades you seek.

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