All-you-can-eat buffets and cruise ships are synonymous. You can’t have a cruise ship without a buffet. Well, you can — there’s a very small handful of cruise lines that don’t feature buffets on their ships, like Virgin — but it’s not common.

Avid cruisers expect to be able to go onto a cruise ship, and eat until their hearts’ content, all throughout the sailing and all without paying a penny more than what they paid for their base cruise fare.

If you’ve yet to experience your first cruise, don’t make the mistake of thinking of the cruise ship buffet as some sad little dining venue serving trays of over-warmed food that’s been sitting out all day long.

Cruise ship buffets have really leveled up their game. They now offer tons of options at themed cuisine stations, with made-to-order counters where you can have certain items made before your very eyes (think sub sandwiches or eggs). Cruise ship buffets also often change up their offerings, just slightly, with every meal, for more variety. 

In short, cruise ship buffets are pretty great and are a requisite part of the cruising experience. However, while the cruise ship buffet may seem like the Wild, Wild West, where there are no menus, and no rules and you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, in any quantity you want, take caution. Rules still exist, and these are the 10 things you should never do at the cruise ship buffet.

You’ve seen them before. They’re the person at the buffet line whose plate is close to spilling out over onto the floor. They’ve stacked their bacon as high as the sky. They’ve amassed enough mashed potatoes and pasta to feed a small army. Pieces of pizza are stacked precariously, making room for desserts. 

It all looks a little greedy, a little gross, and a little uncalled for. Don’t be that person at the buffet line. What’s the big deal, you ask?

Full Plate at the Cruise Ship Buffet (Photo Credit: Solarisys)

One, you’re depleting the available, fresh and ready food. Even if you will eat all that food, if you just take an average portion and then come back for more, it gives other cruisers a chance to get a serving as well, and the servers a chance to notice that they’re running low on a certain item, so they can make more. However, two, you probably actually aren’t going to eat all that food.

Worth Reading: How Not to Overeat on a Cruise – And Why It Matters

Yes, while part of the fun of a buffet is eating as much as possible, and as much variety as possible, don’t waste food unnecessarily.

Along these lines, even if you have a totally normal amount of food on your plate, don’t attempt to balance multiple plates, cups, bowls and other dishes all along your arms, as you make your way through the buffet line. 

Yes, you may really want and even need two plates, one to hold your pancakes and one to hold your omelet (there’s nothing wrong with not wanting your food to touch, after all!), but when you end up balancing more than one dish as you make your way around the room, to the various food stations, you put yourself, your food and others at risk.

Carrying Plates (Photo Credit: Vershinin89)

Buffets can be crowded, and one accidental bump or knock could send your food to the floor. Not only is that wasted food, but it’s also a potential safety hazard, as dishes could break, scattering shards on the floor, and spilled food could pose a fall risk. 

So, only get one plate of food at a time. If you need multiple plates, fill one, take it back to your table, and then go get another, and then sit down to eat.

Do you want some stranger touching your food with their hands, at mealtime? They don’t want you touching their food, either. Even if it’s an item that you would normally eat with your hands — like pizza or pastries — refrain from just grabbing it.

Touching Food at the Cruise Buffet (Photo Credit: Melissa Herzog)

Even if you think you’ll only touch the item you’re going to eat, there’s a chance you could brush up against the other food on the buffet, spreading germs (and that’s the last thing you want to do on a cruise ship, where illness can spread quickly).  

Look for a serving utensil and, if you can’t find the serving utensils, ask one of a crew member for some. 

Along these lines, make sure that you wash your hands before you head to the cruise ship buffet. Some cruise ships feature hand washing stations near the buffet restaurant entrance, for this purpose. You may also be able to find hand sanitation stations nearby. At the very least, you can find a restroom and wash your hands, or carry portable hand sanitizer with you (a very good idea anyway).

Hand washing station on Carnival’s Mardi Gras cruise ship (Photo Credit: Melissa Mayntz)

This is, again, all about preventing the spread of germs and possible illness. Even if you don’t touch the food directly, everyone is still touching the same serving utensils, possibly thousands of passengers per day, and the possibility that someone out there has the sniffles is high.

Yes, the buffet is always going to be on the super-casual side. That said, there’s kind of an unspoken rule among cruisers that you should at least wear some basic clothing items when visiting the buffet — mostly just to be polite to your fellow cruisers — and some cruise lines do enforce a very basic dress code at the buffet.

Cruise Ship Buffet on Celebrity Beyond (Photo Credit: Melissa Mayntz)

So, for example, on Norwegian Cruise Line, you can wear your swimsuit to the buffet, but you have to be wearing a cover-up or shirt. Additionally, you must wear shoes of some kind. While this may seem like an inconvenience, if you just want to walk from the pool, directly to the buffet line, trust us: You’ll feel way more comfortable if you cover up before you sit down, to chow down.  

As for wearing your bathrobe from your cabin to the buffet, if you want to grab breakfast… Well, while someone might not tell you directly not to do it, you might get your fair share of disapproving glances. Let’s just say it can be frowned upon.

A good rule of thumb? If you wouldn’t wear it to pop into the convenience store, don’t wear it to the buffet.

It can be tempting to skip the line, especially if someone in front of you is taking their sweet time picking out their chicken tenders from a pile of identical chicken tenders. However, if the buffet is crowded and there’s a long line of people behind you, refrain from jumping up ahead to helping yourself from the next tray at the station.

Cruise Passengers Lining Up for Buffet (Photo Credit: Melissa Herzog)

Similarly, if you just arrived at the buffet, and you can see that there’s a line, don’t skip around it to get just that one thing that you want. 

It’s important to be polite and well-mannered to your fellow cruisers — you’re stuck in the middle of the ocean with them, after all. It’s wise to play nice.

A lot of cruise ship buffets feature a few made-to-order stations for items like omelets, where a chef is on duty to prepare your requested item, just as you like it.

Cruise Ship Food Option (Photo Credit: Putu Agus Pradnyana)

However, just because you can have it your way, all day, that doesn’t mean you can rudely change your order at the omelet station at the last minute — again, that’s a food waste problem and it wastes the chef’s time, as well as requires other cruisers to wait longer, in line, behind you, as the chef remakes your order.

So, before you place your order, while you’re still in line, think long and hard about what you want, so you know when it’s time to order.

This one is another rule to follow due to health reasons, but it’s one that’s admittedly easy to forget. You might even think you’re doing a polite thing by reusing the same plate over and over again at the buffet; after all, you’re making less work for the crew, right? Won’t they appreciate fewer dirty dishes to wash?

While that’s a nice thought, taking your plate back to the buffet, over and over again, after you’ve already eaten off that plate, can mean that you’re accidentally spreading around some germs, via cross-contamination.

Filling Plate (Photo Credit: koentjoro)

Think about it. You’ve been eating off your plate, your fork going from your mouth to the plate and back again. Then, you take your empty plate that still has a bit of food residue on it, to the buffet.

You use the serving utensils to lay new items on your dirty plate, the serving utensils touch the food residue on the plate, which touched your fork, which touched your mouth… You can see where this is going.

So, if you’re getting a new serving of food, get a new plate. It’s that simple.

No one wants you to have an allergic reaction to food you ate on a cruise ship, so don’t worry about being considered “an inconvenience,” just by asking about a buffet item’s ingredients. 

The good news is, many cruise ships will have items on the buffet clearly labeled for specific dietary needs, such as if an item is vegetarian or gluten-free.

Pizza Being Made Onboard MSC Meraviglia (Photo Credit: Claire Lucia)

However, if you have some niche food allergies, like if you’re allergic to onion or garlic, you may want to contact the cruise line ahead of time. Often, they’ll be happy to make sure you get some food that’s appropriate for your needs, while helping you steer clear of any foods that might result in a bad reaction.

Cruise line buffets are big. If you grab a plate as soon as you walk in the door and begin filling it up with the first yummy items you see, you’re bound to miss out on something delicious. So, take a little tour around the buffet before you decide, and then pick the items you’re most excited about.

Omelette At the Cruise Ship Buffet (Photo Credit: Reel creative)

Read Also: Common Things to Eat on a Ship

Then, make a mental note to either return for seconds (with a clean plate!) for some of those other tantalizing items, or return later in your cruise. Since the cruise ship buffet is always included in your complimentary dining options, there’s no reason why you can’t come back again and again, as many times as you want. 

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