Food is a big part of any cruise holiday and a family cruise is no different. The typical dining options you’ll find on-board a cruise ship which are included in your cruise fare include the main dining room, the buffet and several snack bars or cafes. Room service is often complimentary too. For an additional charge, you’ll also be able to dine in a selection of speciality restaurants.

Parents and grandparents will be pleased to know that there are usually no restrictions on where children can dine, and what’s more, cruise ship staff will go out of their way to make your family feel welcome.

The main dining room

Each cruise ship has a main dining room which is a formal restaurant offering a three- to five-course menu each evening.

Most ships have set evening dining times with two sittings – one around 6pm and one around 8.30pm. When you book your cruise, you can request which sitting you’d prefer. Some cruise lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises and Carnival Cruise Line, also offer guests ‘flexible dining’, which means that you can just show up at any time to enjoy your evening meal.

Grand Dining Room

There will always be a children’s menu available in the main restaurants, with options such as chicken nuggets, sausages and chips available to keep picky eaters happy. It’s also possible to request a half-portion of anything on the main menu should your child prefer that.

Speciality restaurants

Each ship will have a number of speciality restaurants which can be booked for either for a set fee, or you can order a la carte in some restaurants.

Children often dine for a reduced price, and those under a certain age will dine for free. A children’s menu is usually available, but the specifics of how much it costs and what is available for children will vary by restaurant, so it’s best to enquire on-board.

The buffet

Cruise ship buffets are out-of-this-world, and a big hit with families. With a huge choice of dishes from around the world, even the pickiest of eaters will be able to find something they like. In addition, you’ll often find a kids’ area serving up children’s favourites. The buffet is usually open for around 20 hours per day, with the full selection of dishes available at meal times and light bites available in between these times.

A mother and daughter selecting food from the Windjam buffet on a Royal Caribbean cruise

Snack bars

Most cruise ships also have a selection of snack bars which are open around the clock so your child will never have to wait until the next meal time if they get peckish. With options such as poolside burgers and hot dogs, pizza by the slice and delis serving up sandwiches, salads and cakes, your whole family will love the included dining options available around each ship.

Room service

Most cruise lines include room service free of charge. You can also get breakfast delivered to your stateroom at a time you select – perfect for those children who demand milk and toast the second their eyes open!

Dining etiquette

It’s not unusual for parents who haven’t cruised before to feel daunted at the prospect of taking their little ones into a fancy restaurant. What if they make a mess? What if they’re loud? What if they don’t like the food. In reality, there’s no need to worry. Formal dining is one of the main parts of most cruises, and nobody would expect you to miss out on this because you have a family.

Family dining - Norwegian Cruise Line

Cruise ship wait staff are incredibly friendly and will often take the time to learn your children’s names, make origami out of serviettes or locate some colouring pencils to keep your children entertained. If you’re worried that your children won’t sit through a meal, now might be the time to abandon your rules on devices at meal times, or take your child off for a walk in between courses.

The tables in the main dining room are generally large, seating eight to ten people, so that guests can make friends with fellow cruisers over dinner. If you’d prefer a table for just your family, you can request this when you book, although this cannot be guaranteed.

Kids’ clubs

Cruise ship kids’ clubs usually close for meal times so that children can dine with their families and the staff can have a break. However, certain cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, have an option where parents take their children to the main dining room, the children get served quickly and then once they have finished their meal they are collected by youth staff and taken to the kids’ club so that the parents can enjoy the rest of their meal alone.

Kids only dinner on-board Carnival

You may also find special events in the kids’ clubs such as pizza parties where children have the option to eat with their new friends.

Drinks

Most cruise ships have complimentary fruit juices and milk available at breakfast time, as well as water and another option such as squash, flavoured water or lemonade all day long in the buffet restaurant.

Other drinks such as fizzy drinks, fresh fruit juices, milkshakes and mocktails are available for an extra charge. The cost of drinks can mount up, so it’s worth considering if an all-inclusive drinks package would be cost-effective for your family.

Another option which frugal cruisers sometimes do is to put a small bottle of concentrated cordial in your bag and add it to water to make soft drinks on demand. Whilst bottled water can be purchased on-board, cruise ship tap water is perfectly safe to drink and tastes fine, so some people opt to fill up reusable bottles to take on excursions.

Eating in port

When you leave your ship to enjoy a day exploring a port destination, it’s possible to return to the ship for lunch, although most people opt to sample the local cuisine of each place that they visit. The price of food varies in each port, although you’ll often find that local street food can be some of the tastiest as well as the cheapest.

Kids' dining on-board Royal Caribbean

When travelling to an expensive country such as Norway, some families opt to take a sandwich box and make sandwiches from the rolls, cheese, meat and salad from the breakfast buffet along with a piece of fruit or two. Some ships, such as P&O Britannia, even have ‘Grab and Go’ bars where you can help yourself to complimentary sandwiches to take with you when you head out for the day.

Booking your family cruise

If you have any questions about dining with children on-board a cruise ship, please let us know in the comments below.

Alternatively, if you’d like to chat to one of our Cruise Concierge team, please give us a call on 0808 1234 118 and we’ll be happy to help every aspect of planning and booking your family cruise holiday.

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Jenni Fielding
Jenni has been working in the travel industry for over 10 years. She fell in love with cruising on her first-ever cruise, a Caribbean cruise on Allure of the Seas, during her honeymoon in 2013. Nowadays, Jenni enjoys cruising with her husband and two young children and loves to write about family cruising. Her favourite ships are family-friendly megaships which are packed with exciting facilities. She loves sea days and had been known to skip port visits to spend more time on the ship!

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