18 Tips For Getting Your Money’s Worth Out Of A Cruise Ship's Buffet

July 31, 2015

We guess it doesn’t really matter what cruise ship or line you find yourself on, everyone always ends up eating in one of two dining areas time and again; either the main dining room or the self service restaurant (otherwise known as the buffet).

The main dining room is the more formal of the two options with waiter service and set menus that will change every night, whilst the buffet is the more relaxed, informal of the two choices that gives guests the chance to pile their plates high (assuming they want to obviously… and their partners let them!)

If you’re yet to do your first cruise, you may have a mental image of a typical wedding style buffet in your head right around now. You know the type we mean; cocktail sausages or cheese and pineapple on a stick with slightly stale triangular sandwiches on the side – maybe even a pork pie if your hosts are being fancy.

However if you are thinking that then we’re here to tell you that you couldn’t be more wrong!

You’ll find your cruise ships buffet is always open, with ever changing food options from breakfast to lunch to dinner right through to midnight snacks.

During breakfast there’ll always be a massive variety of cereals and pastries on offer as well as fresh fruit, milks, yoghurts, egg stations and of course all the ingredients for the perfect full English! What’s more, if you find yourself on an American ship you’ll also get a choice of pancakes, waffles, corned beef hash and piles of crispy bacon!

For lunch times you’ll find the style will change with a multitude of fresh breads, cheeses and cold cuts available as well as a variety of hot meals (and of course the eponymous burgers, pizzas and chips).

Then for dinner the menu will change again (and will change every night) with dozens of dishes from around the world for you to sample to your hearts (if not your waistlines) delight!

And best of all?

You can eat as much as you want and it’s all free!

With that much food on offer though what’s the best way to approach things?

Should you go fancy and only eat in the main dining room, waited on hand and foot by an attentive server or do you just want to be able to completely forsake the diet and pile your plate as high as you like whilst you’re on holiday?

For the latter amongst you we’ve put together a little guide on how to make the most of your cruise ships buffet…


Disclaimer: www.CRUISE.co.uk take no responsibility for your clothes not fitting come the end of your cruise (or even midway through depending!)


Waiters are your friend

Yes cruise ship buffet restaurants are meant to be self-service but that doesn’t meant there won’t be staff hovering around eager to help! If you need your plates clearing so you’ve room for fourths or don’t want to stop eating to get up for a drink feel free to ask for help – it’s what they’re there for!


Can I get a drink in the buffet?

Whilst there normally isn’t a bar in the buffet area something a lot of first time cruisers don’t ever realise is you can get all the free soft drinks you want from here.

Tea, coffee, squash’s, fresh fruit juices and even fizzy pop with some cruise lines!

Top Tip: Don’t bother purchasing a soft drinks package from the cruise line; just head up to the buffet whenever you get thirsty (and why not have a cheeky snack have whilst you’re there?)


So I can just turn up whenever I want and start eating?

Yes; pretty much!

You may find the buffet is closed for half an hour here or there as the staff swap over from breakfast to lunch or lunch to dinner but we’re sure you can wait for just thirty minutes or so.

A note of warning however!

You may have heard of the famous cruise ship midnight buffet, filled with glorious late night feasting. Well sorry to disappoint but we’re afraid to say that due to the amount of food that used to get wasted these don’t tend to happen any more.  That means you need to plan ahead with a bit of a late dinner if you think that you may be hungry getting hungry come midnight.

(Don’t worry too much about there being a long wait between lunch and a late dinner though; you can always fit in a mid-afternoon snack!)


What should one wear to a buffet?

Whatever you want! That’s the great thing about the buffet, there is no dress code.

Don’t get us wrong, you can’t just stroll in from the pool in nothing but your bikini (or worse yet your mankini!) but the lack of dress code does give you a massive helping hand in getting your money’s worth out of the buffet…

Elasticated waists!

Don’t get put off that second or third helping by trousers that have become mysteriously tight; just plan ahead slightly and you’ll be fine.


But I’m allergic to everything…

This is probably the one (and only) time the buffet may (may) let you down.

A cruise ship buffet will always have separate sea food/vegetarian options and they’ll try to label some foods as wheat or gluten free when appropriate but on the whole you’re going to need to ask the servers behind the counters what ingredients are in each particular dish you’re trying (and don’t forget with many of them lying side by side there’s always the risk of cross contamination).

Obviously it will always depend on what kind of allergy you have and how severe it is but if it is bad you may want to consider eating in the main dining room where the waiters can take care of your needs personally.

For more information on food intolerances on your cruise you can check out our guide here.


We suppose you don’t have to eat there all the time…

By all means stuff yourself morning noon and night if you want but if you’re worried about the amount of calories you can take in during any one cruise then it might be worth you planning out what food you like the most.

Are you likely to eat ten sausages for breakfast?

Do you just have to have those extra three rolls for lunch?

Or are you most likely to pig out at dinner?

If you think you can only manage one mammoth buffet session out per day then try to think ahead and plan accordingly.


Starving yourself doesn’t work (so don’t do it)!

You may be tempted to starve yourself ahead of your big buffet session blow out but don’t forget the stomach is like any other part of the body; for optimal performance you need to exercise it.

If you starve yourself in preparation of a big meal your stomach might actually shrink, meaning you won’t be able to eat as much!

If you want to get the most out of your buffet then make sure you’ve eaten normally beforehand.


Exercise isn’t a dirty word (well it is but…)

If you head to the gym an hour or two before a buffet visit to get your metabolism running hot then even if you stuff yourself silly your body will burn (some of) it off.

You won’t magically be able to eat any more (unless you really build up an appetite) but at least you shouldn’t put on too many extra calories!


Make sure you make room…

This won’t be the nicest of thoughts but if you think it through it’s only logical… the more room you make the more food you can put in.

If you’re truly determined to make the most of your buffet experience make sure you take a visit to the cruise ships ‘littlest room’ before your dinner.


The carbs are coming to get you!

Don’t make the mistake in thinking that just because the cruise lines are giving away all this free food that they’re being generous.

They’re not!

They’re sneaky!

A lot of the dishes will be heavily carb based. Pasta, breads, pizza’s, potato, the list goes on. If you really want to make the most out of your visit to the buffet try to avoid excessive fillers and just go for the good stuff.


So are the soft drinks!

We mentioned earlier that you can get all the free soft drinks you want from the buffet and you should just go collect them whenever you’re thirsty.

That’s still true… just not whilst you’re eating. You’ve only got so much room… don’t waste valuable food space on non-essentials like liquids!


There’s no middle ground. Make sure you eat either really fast or really, really slowly

There’s nothing wrong with being a slow eater (as long as its fine with your table mates that is) but if you do want to get the most from the buffet make sure that you eat really, really slowly! Like… get there for breakfast and don’t leave till mid-afternoon slow. This will give your body plenty of time to digest the food between courses so you never run out of room.

The other option you could try would be to eat as fast as you can and get as much inside you as possible before your body realises it’s full (although you may then miss the rest of the day sleeping it off – be warned!)


Go… small or go home!

We get that with so much free food on offer the temptation will be to just pile your plate high with all your favourites but as we said at the start of this article; a cruise ship buffet just isn’t like a normal buffet.

There’ll be dozens of different food stuffs and dishes on offer that you may never have tried before… and our point is you should be trying them all (whilst they’re free)!

For that reason small portions are key! Feel free to over indulge (you’re on holiday after all) but make sure you stick to smaller portions so you can try everything the ship has to offer!


Go on, be brave, have another snail…

The food is free. Free!

Let us just say that again. It’s free!

That means you’re never going to have a better chance to try all those foods you’ve fancied but didn’t order because you were worried you wouldn’t like them!

Just try them! If you don’t like it just go and get something else – What have you lost?


Always check the desserts out first

Heading to the dessert stations before you’ve even had your starter(s) may seem counter intuitive but trust us… there’s nothing worse than having a great time in the buffet, enjoying all your favourite meals then waddling out an hour or two later only to see some tasty looking treats that you just don’t have room for. It’s truly heart-breaking (especially if they’re not there later).

We’re not saying you have to have dessert; we’re just saying make sure you look first so you at least know whether it’s worth saving room for or not.


Make sure you’ve some dark chocolate on hand

Here’s a great tip for you! If you’re a fan of the savoury but don’t think you’ll be able to fit in that seventh (did we sat seventh? We meant second) plate of goodies then try snacking on a small piece of dark chocolate between courses.

We’ve no idea why it works (we picked the tip up from a fellow cruiser years ago) but it’ll leave you feeling a lot less full with much more room for savoury cruising goodness!


All cruise ship buffets are equal… but some are more equal than others

If your grandparents were anything like ours then no doubt you grew up with such pearls of wisdom as “look after your pennies and the pounds will look after themselves” or “it’ll get better if you leave it alone”. Perhaps the one that’s stuck with us the most however is “you get what you pay for”.

Whilst all cruise ship buffets will be amazing, if you book yourself on to a six star luxury cruise ship you’ll find yourself in for an extra special buffet treat.

The fish stations will come stocked with lobster, there’ll be oysters on ice. In fact Oceania (who spend more on raw ingredients than any other cruise line) will use the same top quality beef they use in their speciality steakhouse restaurant to make the burgers that are served in the buffet.

Now that’s quality!


Make sure you bring some ‘spare’ clothes

If you’re truly planning on making the most of your cruise ship’s buffet then it’s going to take some forward planning.

What you don’t want to do is find yourself on a two week cruise only to find none of your clothes fit by the second week!

On longer voyages ‘in the know’ cruisers will bring sets of clothes for the first week and the second… with the second weeks set being a size bigger (honestly – people really do this).


Obviously we’re not encouraging anyone to over eat to an unhealthy extreme (our lawyers said we had to put that in here) but you are on holiday and a cruise ship buffet will have a tremendous amount of variety and choice.

Yes you should be sensible (we guess) but just head up there and have fun!

Are you a fan of cruise ship buffet ? Which ship runs your favourite buffet?

What meals do you take there? Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? All three?


Let us know in the comments below…