Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cruise Food…Featuring Norwegian Cruise Lines!

Since I touched on dining on Royal Caribbean, I felt it was only fare to touch on the other cruise line I have most recently dined on – NCL! In the past two years I have been on the NCL Dawn and NCL Jade. Dawn was a route to Bermuda with my husband’s entire family, and Jade was our honeymoon in the Mediterranean.

NCL, in my opinion, essentially forces passengers to dine out at the specialty restaurants, all which have a nominal fee. Granted, they do have two (free) main dining rooms, the free buffet area and a cute little café called Blue Lagoon, also free. You can definitely survive without paying for the other restaurants. However, the food is like, 50x better in the specialty restaurants, so we are always tempted to go. And we have no kids at the moment so it’s not as expensive. We totally understand people with larger families not wanting to spend the extra cover charges, and again, there are many people who don’t want to pay extra for food when they already paid for an expensive vacation and there is free food available.

Each ship has a few differences, but the main specialties are as follows: Cagney’s Steakhouse ($25 pp), Teppanyaki (hibachi style, $25 pp), an Asian fusion area ($15 pp), Sushi area ($15 pp), French bistro ($15 pp), a Tex-Mex restaurant ($10 pp) and an Italian restaurant ($10 pp). (Prices may have changed…this was at my last sailing in 2010). And I believe the mega ships may have more than this!

I am pretty confident that NCL has changed this policy since when we went on the Jade less than a year later, this was no longer the case, but when we were on Dawn, the two main dining rooms each had their own menu…that stayed exactly the same all week. The ONLY difference was 1 solitary special for each category (appetizer, entrée, dessert), and the “specials” were the same in both dining rooms.

I HATED this and basically loathed eating in the dining rooms. I didn’t really love either menu and I had to get creative so I didn’t eat the same thing multiple nights. Since we were with my husband’s family, we were all eating together so my husband and I couldn’t just go eat at one of their specialty restaurants. Luckily, I only had to tolerate the main dining room food for 4 nights out of 7 due to his parents generously treating everyone to dinner one night in the Teppanyaki restaurant and one night in the Italian restaurant, and my husband and I got one “date night” alone, so we went to the steakhouse. On Jade, we actually ate at specialty restaurants 6 out of 9 nights (it was our honeymoon – we splurged!), but they did change their main dining room menu’s nightly…but both dining rooms had the same menu. One dining room was just a little “dressier” than the other.

The Blue Lagoon was by far better on the Dawn. It had a really cute nook that was decorated in bright colors and had fun seating on essentially large “blocks” of cushion. On the Jade, they took half of what used to be a main dining area and turned it into Blue Lagoon, yet it still has that classy look…and there was no counter service if you wanted it like on Dawn. You were seated formally…and it didn’t feel like a quick place to have a snack. We only went to Blue Lagoon once on Jade…but many times on Dawn! Here is a general idea of the menu at the time when we went.

We LOVED the food there! My husband was a huge fan of the wings where as I loved the pound cake the best for dessert. The spinach & artichoke dip is also pretty good!

On both cruises we ate at the Italian restaurant, however, we also enjoyed that much more on the Dawn than the Jade. It is standard fare, pastas, chicken parm, calzones, etc. But for some reason, it was much tastier on Dawn.

We also ate at the Teppanyaki hibachi restaurant on both cruises. Both were delicious, and the only thing that gave Jade the bigger plus was that they gave us a free martini as you sat down – and a sizable one at that! I don’t know if it was because it was a smaller ship, or a European cruise, or an off-season cruise, but that was an awesome surprise.

We ate at the steakhouse on Dawn for our “date night.” We picked it for a few reasons…1) my parents RAVED about the NCL steakhouse from their Hawaiian cruise and 2) my husband LOVES steakhouses. The food was pretty good, but I was disappointed there was no shrimp as an entrée. And, we also didn’t think it was anything super special, so maybe the ship that my parents went on had a better chef! They can’t stop talking about how “the steak melted like butter in their mouth!”

While we were on Jade, we also dined at the Asian Garden, which was a mix of Japanese and Chinese food with gourmet flair, as well as a special specialty they only have on a few ships called Mongolian Hot Pots. This was AWESOME. It was Mongolian fondue, so it was a pot of broth and we were given dumplings, meats and vegetables to cook. It was seriously SO delicious. That was the first dinner we had on board and it was a fantastic choice.

Also on the Jade, we dined at the Tex-Mex restaurant twice – it was that good! Plus, all you can eat at $10 a pop is not too shabby. We stayed mostly with the Mexican part of it getting fajitas, nachos, quesadillas, tortilla soup, etc. My husband tried the BBQ Pork Back Ribs the first time we were there and he said they were just “okay.” There were also spicy southwestern spring rolls he wanted, as well as black bean soup. I had the southwestern Caesar salad, which was delicious! We ate very gluttonously at this restaurant both nights we went – there was just too much we loved! In addition, on Jade, we were each given a small complimentary margarita both times. Again, not sure what the stipulation was that allowed the cruise line to give out the free booze to its diners, but we were psyched.

We never dined at the French Bistro because there really was just one dish that appealed to each of us – but that is just us. We also don’t eat sushi so we never ate at that area either.

Generally, the buffet area was pretty good, I can’t remember any major complaints or negatives I had. I do know I frequently searched the kiddie area buffet because they had better cookies (love the chocolate chip cookies!) and they had my all time favorite, mini spring rolls! They should give that to the adults too!

This website had a great overview of many menus from NCL, especially on the Dawn. (See link)

Overall, I prefer the NCL specialty restaurants to the free main dining rooms, but all of the food everywhere is great, in my opinion. But if you can swing it – try out a specialty restaurant! And order as much as you can eat – get the most for that $$$!!


  1. I just came over from the CC site. Last month on the Epic they had a new ( to me) menu with an expanded "always available" selection as well as 4 or 5 nightly offerings and a regional specialty each night. In the 10 or so years that I have been cruising NCL the food has improved about 5000%, especially the buffets with salad bars and the 23 hour Blue Lagoon type venues..None of that used to exist.

    Looking forward to the Eastern Caribbean next February :)

  2. Hi Janet, and welcome! If you like food, I hope you continue to read the blog!
    Our last NCL cruise, on Jade in April 2010 had several dishes available every night, and then about 5-6 entrees that changed nightly as well.
    It was our Dawn trip in 2009 with the menu that stayed the same all week with just 1 new nightly offering, and that was horrible.
    We were just on RCCL in February and it was also like, 5-6 new dishes a night and then a few things that were always there.
    I wasn't panning the food at all, I was just talking about it and some of the specialty dining!