Food Quality for Crew Members Aboard Cruise Ships

Nov 24, 2023

In the last four contracts I have been on, on four different ships, I have seen food from being terrible to brilliant. In general, I would still say the quality is good. Sometimes, you will wait until the end of the line and not find what you will eat, so you have to settle for what there is or eat toast with a hotdog. If you are someone looking for gluten-free, unsalted dietary-fiber-filled croissants for morning tea, there are better places than a cruise ship for you.

All cruise ship employees get free food onboard cruise ships. Maritime law states that there needs to be adequate and nutritious food provided for the crew at no extra cost. Maritime Labour Convention law also stipulates that there must be access to clean drinking water and that the food served should consider cultural and religious sensitivities. Some crew members are allowed on special occasions to eat in one of the specialty restaurants or to order items like gelato or specialty coffees.

While some crew members have onboard perks covering these expenses, most would have to pay for these "extras" just like a passenger would.

How is it Decided Where Crew Members Can Eat?

There are several different crew dining venues onboard; however, which one a crew member can eat in is based on their rank. The rank of a crew member is determined by their job onboard. 

While the cruise lines have many differences and subtleties, it's usually in three to four main categories: crew, petty officer, staff/officer status, and officers. 

On some cruise lines, it is broken down even further. This is done to afford additional privileges to officers of a certain rank and above, for instance, 2 or 3 stripes or more.

Where Do the Cruise Ship Employees Eat?

Most cruise ships have multiple areas where the crew can eat. How many exactly depends on the cruise line as well as the size of the ship. The majority of cruise ship crew members eat in what is called the Crew Mess.

Smaller ships will typically have less, and larger ships will have more. Some of these mess rooms (or at least some of the extra seating of the mess room) will also double as crew bar areas depending on the cruise line and what their crew bar setup is. 

What is Crew Mess on a Cruise Ship?

The majority of the crew eat in an area called the Crew Mess. The Crew Mess, along with several other crew areas, is located on a crew deck down below the passenger decks. 

The Crew Mess is the largest crew dining area set up buffet style. They tend to look a bit like a cafeteria, although cruise ships lately have been moving towards using booths for seating, which makes it feel a bit more like a restaurant. 

There is also usually a TV on the wall, and the mess is located so it can have portholes to allow some natural light in.

What is The Petty Officer / Staff Mess on a Cruise Ship?

The Petty Officer (PO) / Staff Mess is similar to the Crew Mess. There is a buffet and then some booths or tables and chairs. There might also be a TV and usually a couple of portholes.

Can Cruise Ship Crew Members Eat in The Buffet?

You may have also noticed various crew members eating in the passenger buffet on some cruises. 

This is a privilege most often reserved for officers or a category known as "staff" or "officer status/privilege," depending on the cruise line. Those in the latter category are usually entertainers, part of the Entertainment Department, or other front-of-house positions. 

Most cruise lines allow this to encourage these various crew members to interact with the passengers.

Can Crew Eat in Speciality Restaurants?

On occasion, you will see crew members eating in a specialty restaurant. More often than not, this is for a special occasion, based on availability and with prior approval. Remember – guests come first.

Can Cruise Ship Crew Use Room Service?

Depending on rank and cruise line, some crew can get room service (except at breakfast). 

Depending on the cruise line, they may or may not have to pay for this and would be expected to tip the room service steward.

Is the Food for the Crew on a Cruise Ship as High Quality as the Passenger's Food?

The crew's food on cruise ships differs from the passengers' food, but the quality is still high. Presentation is not a priority, and the focus is more on Eastern foods. 

Some cruise lines have better crew food than others. The quality between the mess rooms is similar except for the officer's mess/when they get meals from the dining room. The specialties like lobster and steak are pretty much reserved for the passengers. Crew food isn't very fancy, and there isn't anything in the "cooked to order" category.

Can Cruise Ship Employees Bring on Food from Land?

It is not uncommon to see crew members bring food onboard from land. It might be a pizza, a burger, or some delicious local fare to enjoy. 

More often than not, it is some small snacks for the cabin. 

If it's a frequently visited cruise port with a favorite restaurant, crew members might order food as a group and send one person ashore to pick it up for everyone. 

A staple of this is Burger Queen in Ketchikan, Alaska. There's usually a rule that any hot food (and not packaged food) has to be consumed in one of the mess rooms.

Can Cruise Ship Crew Eat in Their Cabins?

The majority of cruise lines frown on crew having food in their cabins. This is in an effort to keep the crew from letting food go bad (and the corresponding pests that this might bring). 

In spite of this, most crew members have some snacks in their cabin. It might seem odd to buy food ashore when the food onboard is free. 

However, having something different when you are on board for six months or more is often nice. Plus, the snacks are handy when you miss a meal in favor of sleep!