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  • Writer's pictureConnie George

My Six Must-Try Ocean and River Cruise Ship Buffets


desser cakes and glasses of desserts on a buffet counter

 

Cruise ship buffets offer convenience and culinary diversity. From familiar comfort foods to exotic delicacies, buffets provide an array of tempting options that cater to every palate. Whether you’re most comfortable sticking with what you know, adventurous about trying new foods, or have food sensitivities, buffets are great opportunities.


And they’re free since the cost of the buffets is included in your cruise fare!


It's rare to find an ocean cruise ship without a main buffet restaurant, and many riverboat cruises also feature buffet areas.


Now, let's jump into my “top six” cruise ship buffets, each deserving of recognition. Each has its reasons for being a standout. They aren’t in any particular order.

 


Top Six Ocean and River Cruise Ship Buffets



1. Royal Caribbean International's Symphony of the Seas Windjammer Cafe, port side. 2. Royal Caribbean International's Harmony of the Seas Windjammer Cafe, hightop counter seating. 3. Royal Caribbean International's Oasis of the Seas Windjammer Cafe, sample lunch. 4. Royal Caribbean International's Oasis of the Seas Windjammer Cafe, seating.


Royal Caribbean International's Windjammer Cafe / Windjammer Marketplace


Royal Caribbean's buffet, known as both Windjammer Café and Windjammer Marketplace, is a culinary harbor offering a ton of food options ranging from American favorites to exotic options found around the world with examples of cuisines including Indonesian, Tex-Mex, and French. Entrees, salads, vegetables, side dishes, and desserts are arranged on islands or rows within the buffet area. 


Windjammer's extensive offerings cater to diverse tastes to satisfy picky eaters and food-adventurous guests who want to gastronomically travel the world without stepping foot off the ship. Over the years, Windjammer has introduced me to many new foods that I’ve come to love. The diversity works well for those with specific dietary requirements like vegetarian, allergy, or gluten-free, with attentive staff readily available for guidance or consultations with the chef.

 

During peak hours, the strategic layout of food stations proves invaluable in efficiently managing crowds. While both starboard (right) and port (left) sides as you enter the room offer nearly identical food stations, only one side may operate during off-peak hours. There is mostly sufficient seating, with the exception of the highest peak breakfast times, especially on port days, and the highest peak time of lunch on at-sea days. Seating is along the perimeter Windjammer with a lot of spots along the windows using tables, partial booths, and high-top counters on some ships. Some of Royal Caribbean’s ships have additional outdoor extensions available behind Windjammer. If your ship doesn’t offer that, you can take your food out to the tables or lounges on the deck by the pool.

 



1. Celebrity Beyond's Oceanview Cafe is a gluten-free food station. 2. Celebrity Cruises' pizza is a hit. 3. Celebrity Cruises' Millennium and Summit Oceanview Cafe. 4. Celebrity Cruises' Edge and Apex outdoor seating of Oceanview Cafe. 5. Celebrity Cruises' Beyond, sample yummy lunch desserts in Oceanview Cafe. 6. Celebrity Cruises' breakfast with Bloody Mary and mimosa.


Celebrity Cruises' Oceanview Cafe


Celebrity Cruises’ Oceanview Café spans its entire fleet except for its three Galapagos Islands ships. Like the previously listed line, nearly identical food stations are on both sides toward the room’s center while seating is along the outer parts of the room. Some ships offer outdoor extensions to Oceanview Café, but if you prefer eating al fresco and there is none on your ship, feel free to take your meal out to the deck seating around the pool. Depending on the ship, indoor seating consists of tables, some partial booths, and possibly a hightop counter.

 

Celebrity’s cuisine is also globally inspired. Some dishes are consistent day-to-day, and others change, providing plenty of variety for diners who stick with familiar favorites, those who seek new experiences, and those who must adhere to dietary restrictions. The cruise line is known for accommodating guests with dietary needs and preferences.

 

While Celebrity offers plenty of indulgent options, it also has many lighter options. During my most recent Celebrity Cruises voyage aboard Celebrity Beyond with a lifelong school companion, we were especially wowed by the array and quality of breads and desserts. Thank goodness we had some great healthy options, too, to help offset those carbs!





1. Princess Cruises' World Fresh Cafe, staff assists with food concerns. 2. Princess Crusies' World Fresh Cafe on a Royal-Class ship. 3. Princess Cruises' World Fresh Cafe, finishing your meal with some sweets. 4. Princess Cruises' Worldwide Fresh Cafe, fresh meat carving option.


Princess Cruises' World Fresh Market


The World Fresh Market buffet, specifically on Princess Cruises’ six Royal-Class ships- Discovery Princess, Majestic Princess, Enchanted Princess, Royal Princess, Regal Princess, and Sky Princess is set up differently than on their older ships. These food stations are set up similarly to the islands and rows as the two previous cruise lines and offer a much better traffic flow than what guests experience on Princess’ other older ships. With many more dining options, guests are enjoying expanded menus from the U.S. and around the world.

 

The venue is bright and airy and offers tables and partial booths with ample seating except at the highest of peak times. If you prefer outdoor seating, take your meal out the door to the tables and chairs on deck.

 

World Fresh Market also offers various international food themes and gives you a great opportunity to try items you’d normally not cook or order when dining at home. As mentioned, there’s a lot of variety to suit most tastes and the quality is good. Though I tend to use buffets more for breakfasts and lunches, I did go to it for a dinner on my last Princess cruise for a more low-key meal and was happy with my choice. In fact, I chatted with a few guests who said they preferred the buffet over the main dining room! While I don’t think that’s true for the majority of guests, it does speak to the quality of the buffet at dinner.




1. Oceania Cruises' Oceania Marina, Terrace Care has table umbrellas so you can enjoy the day without too much sun. 2. Oceania Cruises' Oceania Marina, enjoying a romantic al fresco dinner during sunset. 3. Oceania Cruises' Terrace Cafe, upscale buffet on a premium cruise line. 4. Oceania Cruises' Ocean Sirina, indoor seating by the window with great views.


Oceania Cruises’ Terrace Café


Oceania Cruises’ Terrace Café offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffet experiences. The menu features foods similar to those on other lines’ buffets but with upscale options at a higher level.

 

Terrace Café offers both indoor and outdoor seating in the back of the ship. Past the doors of Terrace Café is a true extension of the restaurant, which is beautifully set up for alfresco dining. Part of the area immediately outside the doors is covered to enjoy despite rain or too much sun. Beyond that the edge of the ship is completely open to enjoy the sun and stars above, but has patio-type umbrellas on the tables if you need protection from the elements. It's a beautiful space and offers breathtaking views off the aft of the ship, including the relaxing wake when the ship is sailing.


Can you imagine the sunrises and sunsets as you eat breakfast and dinner? Whether you choose to eat inside in a temperature-controlled environment or outside, the ambiance will only enhance your meal.  


And those meals--- There’s a buffet breakfast plus a Full American / European breakfast menu. Lunch and dinner include a buffet plus a menu with tantalizing options representative of where the ship is sailing. Here are sample lunch and dinner menus. The combination of the food options and venue put this Terrace Café on this list.


              

The first four buffets are dedicated buffet restaurants. These last two spots on my top buffets are not designated venues, but they are no less worthy of being on this "Top 6" list and I'll explain why.

 




1. Viking River Cruises, friends who travel together every year or two know that lunch out on the deck together means friendships, good food, beer & wine, and incredible views. See that castle at the top of the hill? 2. Viking River Cruises' Aquaviet Terrace, dinner at dusk. 3. Viking River Cruises' Aquavit Terrace includes sofas to enjoy while nibbling on a buffet snack, having a drink, chatting with a friend, or reading. 4. Viking River Cruises, view of sunset off the back of the ship in the Aquavit Terrace. 5. Viking River Cruises, leisurely breakfast from the buffet at breakfast in the Aquavit Terrace.


Viking River Cruises longships' Aquavit Terrace


Viking River Cruises longships, along with Viking Prestige and Viking Legend, feature the Aquavit Terrace. Pronounced "aqua-VEET,” this is a versatile café offering buffet and off-menu options.


This space doubles as a venue for events like port excursion talks or leisurely drinks with stunning views. In fact, in addition to dining tables, the spot also has pillow-covered sofas for reading, sipping your favorite beverage, or chatting with friends. Aquavit Terrace made my list because of the fabulous indoor/outdoor venue at the bow (front) of the ship and its design.


Glass windbreakers encircling the outer deck shield guests from wind without obstructing the breathtaking 180-degree views. Retractable glass doors can seamlessly merge indoor and outdoor areas, inviting guests to enjoy al fresco dining on pleasant days. Aquavit Terrace's panoramic views and thoughtful design make it a standout area to hang out for both meals and drinks.


So, how about the food? There can be variations in what's offered between the ships and the day’s itinerary on the style, but there is a cold buffet and hot foods menu for breakfast and generally a buffet and menu at lunch. Dinner is often a scaled-down version of the main dining room’s dinner, and salads and appetizers could be on the buffet.





1. MSC Yacht Club Pool Grill offers buffet breakfasts and lunches, rolls and salad bar. 2. MSC Yacht Club Pool Grill lunch, pick your protein to have freshly grilled to your preference. 3. MSC Yacht Club Pool Grill has some already grilled meats, seafoods and veggies ready for a quick pick.


MSC's Yacht Club Pool Grill


MSC’s Yacht Club has a secret, not a secret buffet. The Yacht Club is an exclusive area at the top front of select MSC Cruises ships. It’s an exclusive experience, a private area for Yacht Club guests. The Yacht Club offers Le Muse, an included specialty restaurant, “light bites” and snacks in Top Sail Lounge. I also enjoy going to some of the optional specialty restaurants and the ship’s main buffet. But there’s another food option for Yacht Club guests.

 

It’s the MSC Yacht Club Grill up at the private pool and sundeck area. I know… “grill.” You’re probably thinking that I’m talking about hotdogs and ‘burgers. But this grill also offers so much more. How about a buffet lunch offering all kinds of salad fixings, breads, desserts, and grilled-to-perfection veggies and proteins like grilled fish, lamb chops, chicken, and shrimp? I haven’t gotten to it, but I hear that the buffet breakfast is also wonderful. What a great chance to not give up sunbathing, the pool or whirlpools when you can have a grilled buffet breakfast or lunch in one of the lounge chairs or at a table.  Or, as we did, just choose to enjoy lunch al fresco with great grilled food?!


 


smiling woman with brown hair and blue black megenta shirt sitting in front of table with white plate holding four desserts holds up spoon of dessert
Traveling with a longtime school friend, Michelle shows off the desserts we decided we wanted to share to taste.

Don’t knock the buffets on these ships. They’re not all about convenience or, notoriously, gluttony. They can also be about great food, relaxing spaces, wonderful views, options and opportunities, and great spots on the ship.


Happy Traveling!

-Connie




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