What Are Specialty Restaurants On Cruise Ships?

Sailing the high seas expands countless horizons, both literally and figuratively — adventurous spirits, open minds, cultural appreciation, and, yes, big appetites. Something about windy days and salty sea air sets tastebuds afire, making cruise-ship dining one of the most anticipated parts of the journey. Meals are included in most cruise packages, but there's an indulgent way to bump up the culinary experience ... and it's specialty restaurants.

Whether it's your first cruise or your fiftieth, you likely perused the dining options before choosing your next voyage. The main dining room and buffet restaurants typically host breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals included in the package price, explains Cruise Critic. Depending on the cruise line, type of ship, and destination, additional fee-free eating may be available poolside, in casual fast food or snack venues, and 24-hour light-meal snack stations.

However, specialty restaurants up the ante, and they hide in plain sight on most cruise sojourns. You just need a bit of insight, preplanning, and wiggle room in your cruise budget. Here's a glance at onboard specialty restaurants, from prices to reservations, types of dining options, and child-friendly venues. 

Elegant and affordable options

Specialty restaurants on a cruise ship generally refer to dining options outside the prepaid ones included in your chosen package. According to Cruise Critic, these eating venues are also known as "flat fee" restaurants, with surcharges typically ranging from $30 to $50. However, the fees can be much lower for popular casual restaurants or much higher for gourmet offerings in elegant restaurants.

For example, select Disney Cruise ships provide posh fine dining on French cuisine at the adults-only Remy restaurant, where dinner is $125 per person, brunch is $75, and their dessert experience is $60. The Points Guy reveals more modestly priced options on popular cruise lines, including the Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse aboard Carnival ships and the Tuscan Grille from the Celebrity lines.

Some cruise operators, such as Norwegian, let you purchase specialty restaurant dining packages with discounts on two to 14 meals from various bistros, cantinas, gastropubs, and name-brand dining venues. Chef's table dining raises the "specialty" factor to include personalized experiences with food and wine pairing, according to Cruise Critic.

These specialty cruise eateries provide more intimate settings with fewer tables and dedicated food servers. They usually require or strongly advise making a reservation for your desired dining time. Many welcome children, but not all, so be sure to check. Higher-end venues may have a posted dress code.

High-end dining

Then there are the ultimate gastro-indulgence meals designed or curated by Michelin-starred chefs. Many cruisers consider it a rare chance to taste affordable culinary creations from world-famous food stars such as Jamie Oliver, whose Italian Prix Frixe (French for "fixed price") restaurants feature on select Royal Caribbean vessels, notes The Points Guy. The Salty Dog Gastropub on Princess ships features premium whiskeys, craft beers, and gourmet versions of pub grub from chef Ernesto Uchimura of Umami Burger fame.

Food programs are a great way to immerse yourself in regional cuisine and customs. The Silversea S.A.L.T. program onboard certain Silversea cruises combines off-shore local culinary excursions with onboard dining. The goal of S.A.L.T., which stands for Sea And Land Taste, is to provide immersive food experiences, including international dishes and specialty cocktails related to and inspired by Silverseas destinations. The program also includes an interactive cooking laboratory where guests can enjoy hands-on cooking sessions, food lectures, and cooking demonstrations. The S.A.L.T. program came to life under Adam Sachs, a travel, lifestyle, and food writer with three James Beard Journalism Awards.

As the saying goes, the world is your oyster, and you'll no doubt find those too on cruise ship specialty restaurants. Regardless of your gastro tendencies or proclivity for splurging, it's good to know what options exist.