If you’re setting off on your first cruise, or your first cruise with a new cruise line, the dining options can sometimes be confusing. I always like to know how things work before I cruise so below I have explained the dining options onboard NCL ships. Dining on NCL is easy, it’s “freestyle” and this basically means it’s more like a normal land based restaurant.


Freestyle dining

Freestyle dining basically means that you don’t have a set time to eat dinner, you can show up the restaurants whenever you like. You’ll go to the podium at the entrance to the restaurant, there they will take your room key card and ask you how many people will be eating. At this point you’ll be seated wherever there is space.

Why I love freestyle dining:

  • You can sit in different parts of the restaurant each night, meaning that you’re not always stuck with the same view.
  • You’re not forced to make polite conversation with table mates that you didn’t choose! This honestly is my worst nightmare. You are still free to dine with whoever you want but there is no pressure to do so at all.
  • You meet different table waiters and other members of the staff.
  • You can eat when you’re hungry! Nothing worse than trying to make yourself eat when you’re not hungry. I love the freedom of being able to decide when I want to eat.

Freestyle dining free options

  • MDR. If you’re like me and researching your cruise ahead of time you may see the abbreviation ‘MDR’ used. This stands for Main Dining Room. There will be at least one, but sometimes up to three ‘main’ dining rooms. These usually serve the same menu.
  • Buffet. Each cruise ship will have a large buffet which is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They are technically not 24 hours but I don’t think I have ever gone to the buffet and been unable to find food. The buffet usually goes around both sides of the ships and if one side is changing from breakfast to lunch then the other side will be open. The food in the buffet is usually really good, much better than anything I’ve ever had on a land based all inclusive holiday. It can get pretty busy at peak times though.
  • Pub. On most NCL ships there is some type of pub, on the newer ships it is O’Sheehans. The pub serves traditional pub grub and I cannot get enough of the buffalo wings, on my last 7 night cruise I had the wings 5 times! O’Sheehans is a great alternative to the main dining room and I sometimes find myself going there between meals…
  • Noodle bar. There is also a noodle bar on some of the ships which is complimentary. I’ve only been in the noodle bar once, but it was really yummy.

Speciality dining

NCL has a LOT of specialty dining restaurants available at a ‘nominal’ charge. I love how they say nominal. I personally very rarely use the specialty restaurants. I just can’t justify to myself spending that extra cost but I know many love these options. I find the food in the main dining room/buffet/other options to be more than enough. When eating in a specialty restaurant the table MUST be booked in advance, they fill up incredibly quickly and the best slots won’t last for very long. You can book the table on the phone, on your TV in your stateroom and on the interactive boards around the ship.

Most of the restaurants, (Cagney’s Steakhouse, Moderno Churrascaria, Teppanyaki and the French, Mexican and Italian restaurants) are paid for on a charge per meal basis. There are also other restaurants which are a la carte.

Dining package

NCL’s latest free** at sea promotion offers a dining package (**Service charges do apply). These are also available to buy but you must purchase at least 3 meals to buy the package. Even if you have the dining package you will still be charged extra to the following places:

  • The Supper Club – $15 USD
  • Ocean Blue – $15 USD
  • Bayamo – $15 USD
  • Cirque Dreams/Illusionarium – $10 USD regular seats/$15 USD premium seats/$35 USD VIP seating on Breakaway
  • Sushi -$7 USD
  • Raw Bar – $7 USD (does not include Seafood Plateau. If ordered, the upcharge is to be waived)
  • Pincho Tapas Bar – $7 USD

Dress code

There are no formal nights on NCL! Woohoo. This is music to my ears. NCL do have ‘dress up or not nights’ where some people do dress up. You won’t look out of place if you do dress up but equally if you want to dine in jeans everyday that is completely fine. You can’t eat in the main restaurant in swimwear but that really is about it, as long as you are dressed then all is well. Technically the dress code is ‘smart casual’.

My recommendations

I would recommend mainly the complimentary dining options unless you have the dining package as part of a promotion. My advice goes out the window if you are a particular foody who really wants to try something different, then, by all means, give those specialty restaurants a try. For me, the main dining room and buffet/pub offered more than enough choices. I definitely recommend heading to O’Sheehans to have some buffalo wings!

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