• TRAVEL NOTICE: Learn more about COVID-19
  • Newsletter
  • Write a Review
  • Boards
  • Find a Cruise
  • Reviews
  • Cruise Tips
  • News
  • Deals
You may also like
Dismiss
5 Best Carnival Breeze Cruise Tips
5 Best Carnival Breeze Cruise Tips
Who Does Free Cruise Dining Best: Royal Caribbean, Carnival or Norwegian?
Uptown Grill on Norwegian Breakaway (Photo: Cruise Critic)

Who Does Free Cruise Dining Best: Royal Caribbean, Carnival or Norwegian?

Who Does Free Cruise Dining Best: Royal Caribbean, Carnival or Norwegian?
Uptown Grill on Norwegian Breakaway (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Dori Saltzman
Contributor
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter

Cruisers never have to spend a dime on food onboard their cruise ship, if they don't want to. All mainstream cruise ships offer three meals a day in their main dining rooms and upper-deck cruise buffets, as well as one or more additional venues included in the cruise price. However, complaints about the sparsity and quality of free food on cruises are increasing as more added-fee restaurants infiltrate the cruise dining landscape.

So, which of the three biggest mainstream cruise lines (Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International) offers the best free food on cruises? Cruise Critic breaks down the complimentary offerings from each cruise line to help you decide which is best for you.

Carnival Cruise Line

What's on Offer: As is standard on mainstream cruise ships, Carnival offers a main dining room (two per vessel) and a cruise buffet. On top of these venues, Carnival ships offer anywhere from four to 10 additional spots to grab a free bite, even if just at select times.

Many of these extra options are located in the buffet. These include the Carnival Deli, Mongolian Wok and Lucky Bowl (only on Carnival Sunrise). Pizza Pirate (found on most of the line's ships) is usually near one of the pools rather than inside the buffet.

Guy's Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina are the line's most popular alternative free eateries. Both are available on the majority of ships. At Guy's Burger Joint, you'll find a selection of greasy yumminess (beef, pork and veggie burgers, and fries), while BlueIguana serves up tacos and burritos (the breakfast burritos get rave reviews) with a full toppings and salsa bar.

Seven ships are treated to another Fieri-helmed eatery -- Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que, which serves up smoked meats in all shapes and sizes for lunch. (On Carnival Horizon and Panorama, this venue is Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse and Brewhouse, which is bigger than those on the other ships and also includes a brewery; dinner at these two venues is not free, but lunch is.) All venues have set dining hours and are not open all day.

Featured Videos

Wonder of the Seas Construction Update: Sea Trials

Wonder of the Seas Construction Update: Sea Trials

Wonder of the Seas Completes Sea Trials

Wonder of the Seas Completes Sea Trials

Carnival Mardi Gras: Free Dining on the Lido Deck

Carnival Mardi Gras: Free Dining on the Lido Deck

Carnival Mardi Gras: RedFrog Tiki Bar & Summer Landing

Carnival Mardi Gras: RedFrog Tiki Bar & Summer Landing

Carnival Mardi Gras' Excel Suite and Loft 19

Carnival Mardi Gras' Excel Suite and Loft 19

Live From Carnival's Mardi Gras: The French Quarter

Live From Carnival's Mardi Gras: The French Quarter

BOLT: We Try Carnival Mardi Gras' Roller Coaster at Sea

BOLT: We Try Carnival Mardi Gras' Roller Coaster at Sea

NCL's Restart: What It's Like On The First Norwegian Cruise Ship Back in 16 Months

NCL's Restart: What It's Like On The First Norwegian Cruise Ship Back in 16 Months

Here's What It's Like Onboard the First Large Cruise Ship to Alaska in 21 Months

Here's What It's Like Onboard the First Large Cruise Ship to Alaska in 21 Months

Perfect Day at CocoCay: Here's How We Spent 2 DAYS at Royal Caribbean's Private Island

Perfect Day at CocoCay: Here's How We Spent 2 DAYS at Royal Caribbean's Private Island

Freedom of the Seas: What's It Like Onboard a Test Cruise? (Cruise Critic & Royal Caribbean Blog

Freedom of the Seas: What's It Like Onboard a Test Cruise? (Cruise Critic & Royal Caribbean Blog

Live From Adventure of the Seas: What's the Same, What's Different and What's Better?

Live From Adventure of the Seas: What's the Same, What's Different and What's Better?

Here's What We Packed For Our Royal Caribbean Cruise (June 2021)

Here's What We Packed For Our Royal Caribbean Cruise (June 2021)

Celebrity to Restart from U.S. Homeport, PLUS Royal Caribbean Given Green Light for Test Cruises!

Celebrity to Restart from U.S. Homeport, PLUS Royal Caribbean Given Green Light for Test Cruises!

LIVE Interview with Frank Del Rio, NCLH President and CEO, About Company's "Safe to Sail" Campaign

LIVE Interview with Frank Del Rio, NCLH President and CEO, About Company's "Safe to Sail" Campaign

Odyssey of the Seas -- From Steel Cutting to Delivery 2021

Odyssey of the Seas -- From Steel Cutting to Delivery 2021

Video Of Odyssey Of The Seas Conveyance March 2021

Video Of Odyssey Of The Seas Conveyance March 2021

Rudi Sodamin Makes A Special, Thanksgiving-themed "Food Faces" Video For Cruise Critic

Rudi Sodamin Makes A Special, Thanksgiving-themed "Food Faces" Video For Cruise Critic

Royal Caribbean Group Announces E-muster, Keyless Cabin Check-in And Other App Improvements

Royal Caribbean Group Announces E-muster, Keyless Cabin Check-in And Other App Improvements

How to Make a Towel Animals Swans, Dogs and Elephants

How to Make a Towel Animals Swans, Dogs and Elephants

Towel Animals with Carnival Cruise Line and Cruise Critic: How to Make a Towel Dog

Towel Animals with Carnival Cruise Line and Cruise Critic: How to Make a Towel Dog

Towel Animals with Carnival Cruise Line and Cruise Critic: How to Make Towel Swans

Towel Animals with Carnival Cruise Line and Cruise Critic: How to Make Towel Swans

Towel Animals with Carnival Cruise Line and Cruise Critic: How to Make a Towel Elephant

Towel Animals with Carnival Cruise Line and Cruise Critic: How to Make a Towel Elephant

Bolt - Top Deck Roller-Coaster at Sea on Carnival Mardi Gras

Bolt - Top Deck Roller-Coaster at Sea on Carnival Mardi Gras

Silver Cove At Norwegian Cruise Line's Great Stirrup Cay

Silver Cove At Norwegian Cruise Line's Great Stirrup Cay

Norwegian Encore - Hull Art Reveal - Artist Eduardo Arranz Bravo

Norwegian Encore - Hull Art Reveal - Artist Eduardo Arranz Bravo

Royal Caribbean Odyssey Of The Seas Steel Cutting At Meyer Werft

Royal Caribbean Odyssey Of The Seas Steel Cutting At Meyer Werft

Celebrity Edge First Look: 3 Revolutionary Dining Experiences

Celebrity Edge First Look: 3 Revolutionary Dining Experiences

Shipyard Tour: Royal Caribbean’s Symphony Of The Seas Gets Its Finishing Touches -- Video

Shipyard Tour: Royal Caribbean’s Symphony Of The Seas Gets Its Finishing Touches -- Video

Norwegian Bliss Virtual Tour - Why You Should Be Excited About Norwegian's Newest Ship

Norwegian Bliss Virtual Tour - Why You Should Be Excited About Norwegian's Newest Ship

How To Make Carnival Cruise Line's Famous Warm Chocolate Melting Cake - Video

How To Make Carnival Cruise Line's Famous Warm Chocolate Melting Cake - Video

Shaquille "Shaq" O'neal Named Chief Fun Officer Of Carnival Cruise Line

Shaquille "Shaq" O'neal Named Chief Fun Officer Of Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line's "Choose Fun" Commercial

Carnival Cruise Line's "Choose Fun" Commercial

Harmony Of The Seas Video Tour – Inside Look At One Of Royal Caribbean’s Most Popular Cruise Ships

Harmony Of The Seas Video Tour – Inside Look At One Of Royal Caribbean’s Most Popular Cruise Ships

Symphony Of The Seas Video Tour

Symphony Of The Seas Video Tour

Carnival Splendor Photo Tour

Carnival Splendor Photo Tour

Norwegian Breakaway Photo Tour

Norwegian Breakaway Photo Tour

Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum Of The Seas Celebrates Keel Laying

Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum Of The Seas Celebrates Keel Laying

Sea Beyond: An Innovative Cruise Experience By Royal Caribbean

Sea Beyond: An Innovative Cruise Experience By Royal Caribbean

Carnival Conquest Photo Tour

Carnival Conquest Photo Tour

Carnival Pride Photo Tour

Carnival Pride Photo Tour

Carnival Dream Photo Tour

Carnival Dream Photo Tour

Sneak Peak At Symphony Of The Seas

Sneak Peak At Symphony Of The Seas

Carnival Sunshine Photo Tour

Carnival Sunshine Photo Tour

The Waterfront On Norwegian Cruise Line - Video

The Waterfront On Norwegian Cruise Line - Video

Carnival Breeze Photo Tour

Carnival Breeze Photo Tour

What’s Your Size? Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class Vs. Majesty Of The Seas - Video

What’s Your Size? Royal Caribbean's Oasis Class Vs. Majesty Of The Seas - Video

Norwegian Getaway Photo Tour

Norwegian Getaway Photo Tour

Inside Look: The Haven On Norwegian Cruise Line

Inside Look: The Haven On Norwegian Cruise Line

Royal Caribbean's Oasis Of The Seas Photo Tour

Royal Caribbean's Oasis Of The Seas Photo Tour

MSC Meraviglia Dining Guide

MSC Meraviglia Dining Guide

Spectrum Of The Seas Steel Cutting At Meyer Werft

Spectrum Of The Seas Steel Cutting At Meyer Werft

Photo Tour of Carnival Liberty

Photo Tour of Carnival Liberty

5 Best Restaurants for Free Eats on Carnival Sunshine

5 Best Restaurants for Free Eats on Carnival Sunshine

Royal Caribbean's Enchantment Of The Seas Highlights

Royal Caribbean's Enchantment Of The Seas Highlights

Norwegian Escape's Ropes Course - Are You Brave Enough?

Norwegian Escape's Ropes Course - Are You Brave Enough?

4 Best Places To Get Craft Beer At Sea - Video Guide

4 Best Places To Get Craft Beer At Sea - Video Guide

Inside Look at Norwegian Sky In Cuba

Inside Look at Norwegian Sky In Cuba

Norwegian Escape Attractions - 7 Free Things You Have To Try - Video Tour

Norwegian Escape Attractions - 7 Free Things You Have To Try - Video Tour

4 Exclusive Spots On Norwegian Escape - Video Tour

4 Exclusive Spots On Norwegian Escape - Video Tour

Harvest Caye Cruise Port Video Tour

Harvest Caye Cruise Port Video Tour

Your Food’s Journey On Oceania Cruises - Behind The Scenes Video

Your Food’s Journey On Oceania Cruises - Behind The Scenes Video

Why Foodies Will Love An Oceania Cruise - Video Tour

Why Foodies Will Love An Oceania Cruise - Video Tour

Norwegian Escape Photo Tour

Norwegian Escape Photo Tour

Photo Tour of Royal Caribbean's Allure Of The Seas

Photo Tour of Royal Caribbean's Allure Of The Seas

SkyRide On Carnival Vista: Cruise Critic Tries It

SkyRide On Carnival Vista: Cruise Critic Tries It

Carnival Vista Top Deck Attractions

Carnival Vista Top Deck Attractions

Behind the Scenes at CSMART - Carnival's Arison Maritime Training Center

Behind the Scenes at CSMART - Carnival's Arison Maritime Training Center

What It Means To Be Loyal To Royal

What It Means To Be Loyal To Royal

7 Can’t-Miss Experiences on Allure Of The Seas

7 Can’t-Miss Experiences on Allure Of The Seas

Video Tour of Allure Of The Seas' Bars

Video Tour of Allure Of The Seas' Bars

Cruise Pier Runners In Cozumel -- Carnival Liberty

Cruise Pier Runners In Cozumel -- Carnival Liberty

Harmony Of The Seas Youth Place

Harmony Of The Seas Youth Place

Harmony Of The Seas Pool And Sports Zone

Harmony Of The Seas Pool And Sports Zone

Harmony Of The Seas Central Park On Royal Caribbean International

Harmony Of The Seas Central Park On Royal Caribbean International

Harmony Of The Seas Boardwalk

Harmony Of The Seas Boardwalk

Harmony Of The Seas Royal Promenade

Harmony Of The Seas Royal Promenade

Harmony Of The Seas Entertainment Place

Harmony Of The Seas Entertainment Place

Harmony Of The Seas Vitality Spa And Fitness Center

Harmony Of The Seas Vitality Spa And Fitness Center

Perfect Storm Water Slides On Harmony Of The Seas

Perfect Storm Water Slides On Harmony Of The Seas

Cruise Critic Tours Harmony Of The Seas

Cruise Critic Tours Harmony Of The Seas

Harmony Of The Seas Cabins - Video Tour - Cruise Critic

Harmony Of The Seas Cabins - Video Tour - Cruise Critic

Cruise Critic Tours Harmony Of The Seas

Cruise Critic Tours Harmony Of The Seas

Greased Lightnin': Royal Caribbean Brings Another Broadway Hit

Greased Lightnin': Royal Caribbean Brings Another Broadway Hit

Plunging Into Adventure On The Tallest Slide At Sea: Royal Caribbean Reveals 10-Story Ultimate Abyss

Plunging Into Adventure On The Tallest Slide At Sea: Royal Caribbean Reveals 10-Story Ultimate Abyss

Cruise Critic Flowrider On Royal Caribbean's Freedom Of The Seas

Cruise Critic Flowrider On Royal Caribbean's Freedom Of The Seas

Cruise Critic Tours Anthem of the Seas

Cruise Critic Tours Anthem of the Seas

Anthem Of The Seas Welcomes Gigi The Giraffe

Anthem Of The Seas Welcomes Gigi The Giraffe

Cruise Critic Quick Chat With Carnival CEO Arnold Donald

Cruise Critic Quick Chat With Carnival CEO Arnold Donald

Norwegian Breakaway Video Tour (2013)

Norwegian Breakaway Video Tour (2013)

Oasis Of The Seas Flowrider - Cruise Critic Goes Surfing

Oasis Of The Seas Flowrider - Cruise Critic Goes Surfing

Oasis Of The Seas Jazz On 4 Performance

Oasis Of The Seas Jazz On 4 Performance

Oasis Of The Seas Royal Promenade (2009)

Oasis Of The Seas Royal Promenade (2009)

Oasis Of The Seas Royal Promenade Parade (2009)

Oasis Of The Seas Royal Promenade Parade (2009)

Oasis Of The Seas Carousel In Action (2009)

Oasis Of The Seas Carousel In Action (2009)

Oasis Of The Seas Ship Tour -- Main Dining Room (2009)

Oasis Of The Seas Ship Tour -- Main Dining Room (2009)

On several ships, free lunches are also offered at Cucina del Capitano and JiJi Asian Kitchen, both of which are extra-fee restaurants for dinner.

Ratings: Cruise Critic editors who have sailed and reviewed Carnival ships rate dining at an average of 3.9. (Dining ratings do not differentiate between free and for-fee venues.)

Read what other cruisers are saying in our Carnival cruise reviews.

Caveats: Several of the free venues onboard Carnival ships are not standalone eateries but counters where cruisers can grab a bite to eat elsewhere. Others, like the Mongolian Wok and Carnival Deli, are really just part of the buffet, even though Carnival brands them as separate entities.


Norwegian Cruise Line

Appetizer from O'Sheehan's

What's on Offer: The first cruise line to offer an expanded selection of for-fee alternative restaurants, Norwegian Cruise Line is well known among cruise enthusiasts for its variety of dining venues -- including a handful of free eateries. Par for the mainstream cruise ship course are two free main dining rooms (three on the Breakaway- and Breakaway Plus-class ships) and the buffet, most of which are adjacent to complimentary outdoor grills. Beyond these, most Norwegian ships offer at least one or two additional venues from which cruisers can get free food items.

On the house, onboard most of the line's ships, is a 24-hour pub-style eatery called O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill (or The Local Bar & Grill on Norwegian Bliss, Sky, Joy and Encore, which boasts the same menu and design as O'Sheehan's). It offers a traditional breakfast menu in the morning and pub favorites like fish 'n' chips, chicken potpie, meatloaf, chicken fingers and burgers the rest of the day.

Ships without an O'Sheehan's or Local Bar & Grill have different complimentary venues (but with the same pub-style fare), such as the 50s-themed Cadillac Diner on Pride of America and the Sports Bar on Norwegian Sun.

A number of Norwegian ships also have a free Asian dining venue onboard.

Ratings: Cruise Critic editors who have sailed and reviewed Norwegian Cruise Line ships rate dining at an average rating of 4.1.

Read what other cruisers are saying in our Norwegian member reviews.

Caveats: The newest ships in the fleet (Norwegian Escape, Bliss, Joy and Encore) offer fewer free dining spots than the rest of their fleetmates, with no free Asian restaurant or outdoor grill by the buffet.


Royal Caribbean International

Solarium Cafe on Oasis of the Seas

What's on Offer: Unless you're sailing on one of Royal Caribbean's newest or largest ships (including Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas), you won't find a huge selection of free dining venues.

Like Carnival and Norwegian, ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet all feature one or more main dining rooms and an upper-deck buffet. Menus are the same in all dining rooms, and the buffet -- known as the Windjammer Cafe -- serves standard cruise buffet fare and includes a poolside grill. Both the buffet and grill have set hours and do not remain open all day.

Most of the ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet offer one to three additional venues from which cruisers can get free food items. Among these options are one or more of the following: a pizza place; Solarium cafe or bistro serving sandwiches and burgers; a deli-type venue serving sandwiches, soups and pastries; and a lunch- or dinner-only sushi spot.

Other options might include a hot dog counter and Vitality Spa Cafe for lighter fare. Three ships (five by the end of 2020) have El Loco Fresh, a colorful Mexican eatery located on the pool deck, open for breakfast, lunch and late-afternoon snacks. 

Ratings: Cruise Critic editors who have sailed and reviewed Royal Caribbean ships, rate the dining onboard at an average rating of 3.8.

Read what other cruisers are saying in our Royal Caribbean member reviews.

Caveats: Only a few ships in the fleet provide six complimentary dining venues or more, beyond the main dining rooms and buffet. Symphony of the Seas, Harmony of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas offer even more places (eight to 10, depending on the ship) to get free food, ranging from free breakfast at Johnny Rockets and a specialty hot dog at the Boardwalk Doghouse to yogurt in the spa and a chocolate croissant at Cafe Promenade. They also offer an additional free main dining room only for suite passengers.


Bottom Line

You'll find the most variety of complimentary dining on Carnival, with more than 75 percent of the fleet now offering Guy's Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina in addition to longtime favorites like the Pizza Pirate and Carnival Deli. The food quality is also some of the best we've had, when it comes to eating for free.

Royal Caribbean ships vary widely in the number of complimentary dining venues onboard, so choose your ship carefully if free food is important. Norwegian Cruise line is known for its many onboard restaurants, but the majority of them cost extra.

Updated May 14, 2021

How was this article?

Featured News

1
Carnival’s Newest Cruise Ship Mardi Gras Gets Its Own Parade at Heartfelt Naming Ceremony
5
Holland America Line's New Cruise Ship Rotterdam Starts First Voyage
Want to cruise smarter?
Get expert advice, insider tips and more.
By proceeding, you agree to Cruise Critic’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.