When you can eat for free at sea — well, at least for the price of your cruise fare — why lay out an extra $15 to $50 per person (or more!) to dine in a ship’s specialty restaurant? Maybe you love a specific cuisine, you want to escape the clamor of the ship’s main dining room, or, you’re looking to celebrate a special occasion. Despite the cover charges, some cruise ship specialty restaurants are surprisingly good. Here are 10 options that are worth the extra money.
Ji Ji Asian Kitchen on Carnival
Why: It’s unlike most spaces on Carnival’s two newest ships — Carnival Horizon and Carnival Vista — in that it’s intimate and has a somewhat soothing and sophisticated ambience. What’s more, the pan-Asian dishes (inspired by countries that include China, Thailand, Mongolia, and Indonesia) are really tasty, generously portioned, and designed to be shared.
Caveat: It helps if you like your food a bit spicy, but if not, you can always ask the kitchen to turn down the heat on certain dishes.
Cover charge: $15 per person
Palo on Disney
Why: The superb Italian cuisine, refined adults-only ambience, and affordable prices make this a great date night pick. Arrive hungry so you can enjoy the antipasto cart and bread basket to start. Plus, the menu itself is so incredible, you’ll probably order an extra appetizer or a pasta dish to share. Both the soft potato gnocchi as well as the fried calamari and shrimp are delicious, and the pappardelle with lobster tarragon sauce is to-die-for good.
Caveat: There’s also a $59 “Esperienza del Vino” six-course prix-fixe menu with paired wines, but with so many options on the à la carte menu, it seems like a waste for both of you to eat the same dishes.
Cover charge: $40 per person
The Salty Dog Gastropub on Princess
Why: If you’re seriously craving a gourmet burger (this one’s called The Ernesto) or jumbo lump crab cake with a side of comfort food (lobster mac ‘n cheese or beef short rib poutine, to name a few), you can find it on L.A.-based gastropub chef Ernesto Uchimura’s menu on select nights at the Wheelhouse Bar aboard Crown Princess, Emerald Princess, and Ruby Princess.
Caveat: It’s not a great choice if you’re counting calories.
Cover charge: $19 per person
Food Republic on Norwegian
Why: For inventive sushi, tempura, dumplings, pad Thai, ceviche, fish tacos, and other global foodie favorites (with a strong emphasis on shareable Asian cuisine), book this casual eatery onboard Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Escape.
Caveat: With à la carte pricing and so many options available on the iPad menu, you could get carried away — but, if you stick with 3-4 choices per person (and share), you’ll eat well for $30 each.
Cover charge: The à la carte prices are $3 to $9
Samba Grill Brazilian Steakhouse on Royal Caribbean
Why: When sailing on Allure of the Seas or Radiance of the Seas, meat lovers can enjoy their fair share of Brazilian-style tableside carvings of eight or nine cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and chicken (just don’t overdo it on the early offerings — the best cuts are saved for last), plus an appetizer, salad bar, and dessert.
Caveat: While loved ones who are vegans or vegetarians can fill up on an array of offerings at the salad bar, they may not enjoy seeing all that meat carved right in front of them.
Cover charge: $30 per person
Murano on Celebrity
Why: Whether you choose dishes from the five-course menu or the “Five Senses” Gastronomic and Vineyard tour (a choice of two dishes per course with a paired wine), the superb preparation and wonderful flavors at this romantic French restaurant are the perfect way to end your day.
Caveat: It’s five courses of rich, delicious food, so book a table on the earlier side to give yourself time to digest before bedtime.
Cover charge: $50 for five courses; $89 for five wine-paired courses
Wine Maker’s Dinner on Princess
Why: Offered on Royal Princess and Regal Princess, these multi-course menus, created to pair with one vineyard’s wines, are served at a table for up to 12, surrounded by wine bottles in the Symphony and Concert Dining Rooms. It all feels so exclusive, yet, it’s an incredible value and great immersive experience for wine lovers.
Caveat: Sign up as soon as you get onboard, and, because there’s a set menu, it helps if you’re not a picky eater.
Cover charge: $40, wine included
150 Central Park on Royal Caribbean
Why: If you’re sailing on an Oasis-class ship and enjoy sampling the creations of the world’s top chefs, you can enjoy a four-course “farm-to-ship” modern American dining experience created by Miami-based chef Michael Schwartz — at just a fraction of the cost of a meal at one of his land restaurants.
Caveat: It helps to be a foodie to appreciate some of the bold flavor combinations.
Cover charge: $40 per person; $75 with wine pairings
Pinnacle Grill on Holland America
Why: The cover charge goes a long way at this elegant and romantic steakhouse inspired by the Pacific Northwest, where cuts of beef — from filet mignon to porterhouse — are sourced from Washington state’s Double R Ranch. There’s also fresh seafood and several vegetarian options on the menu for non meat-eaters.
Caveat: While it’s all high-quality, it’s not particularly innovative.
Cover charge: $35
Remy on Disney
Why: If you’re going to splurge, go big or go home. Leave the kids to enjoy the evening’s Oceaneer Club program, loosen your belt, and sit down for a few hours to savor an exquisite multi-course French dining experience designed by chef Scott Hunnel of Victoria & Albert’s at Walt Disney World and chef Arnaud Lallement of three-Michelin-star L’Assiette Champenoise in France.
Caveat: Remy is only on Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy — and there’s a strictly enforced dress code, so pack wisely.
Cover Charge: $125 per person