Is the food hall starting to replace the cruise ship buffet?

Norwegian Prima Indulge Food Hall, photo provided by Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian Prima Indulge Food Hall, photo provided by Norwegian Cruise Line /

While the stunning ports of call might create exciting itineraries, the cruise ship food flavors the experience from the moment that the guest embarks. Although the cruise ship buffet offers copious amounts of variety, another option has begun to replace that endless food offering. Is the food hall satisfying that passengers’ craving culinary creativity?

When some guests step aboard a cruise ship, it is about enjoying each and every moment. The days and nights are filled with activities and some of the best entertainment. All those moments fuel a hunger. It might not be insatiable, but it is a yearning to keep the glass full and the plate overflowing. The cruise ship buffet is often that place which satisfies all those cravings.

Last year, Norwegian Cruise Line Prima introduced its Indulge Food Hall to overwhelming positive reviews. It was more than the cuisine variety and the overall vibe. The feeling was almost like experiencing multiple, little restaurants in a single space. Or, enjoying all the food at one table without ever leaving that table. It was the ultimate smorgasbord and indulgence for the guest.

One of the reasons why this space was well-received was because the diverse food offerings delivered the flavors that they promised. For example, some guests might not want to have a huge Indian dinner, but those smaller plates were a perfect introduction to authentic, boldly flavored options.

The Indulge Food Hall is set to make a return on the upcoming Norwegian Viva, the sister ship to Prima. Although it appears that the food offerings will be similar, it will be interesting to see how guest feedback will influence future offerings on the NCL upcoming ships.

Norwegian is just one example of a cruise ship that leveraged the food hall concept. Virgin Voyages used the food hall, no buffet concept, as a selling point for its programs. Whether this idea is part of the brand’s food first philosophy or just trying to appeal to the food driven guest, it works well for that brand.

Royal Carribean Icon of the Seas
Rye and Bean on Icon of the Seas, photo provided by Royal Carribean /

With the upcoming Royal Carribean Icon of the Seas, a food hall will be part of the ship’s extensive food choices. Part of the 20 dining options on board, the AquaDome Market will feature choices like Asian inspired dishes, fresh Mediterranean bowls, macaroni and cheese, crepes and more. The breakfast, lunch, and dinner choices will appeal to the multi-generational guests.

Even though Royal Carribean has streamlined its galley procedures to reduce food waste on its robust buffet offerings, these type of food halls could be an even bigger step further. Instead of guests picking food after food but only eating bites, this style of service can help keep portions under control. It can sometimes be less tempting to try three entrees when each order is separate versus going through the buffet line.

Only time will tell if the cruise ship buffet is slowly going away, decreasing in size, or some combination of those factors. For the food loving cruise ship guest, the change does not mean that the variety nor the amount of food will be limited during that vacation. The serving method might evolve to make the experience a little more personal.