The basic answer is, almost anything you want! In case you haven’t cruised before here is a little idea of what to expect.
Many cruise lines now give you the option of the more traditional seating or anytime seating. With traditional seating you will have a seating time and be seated with the same group the entire trip in the same dining room and you will also have the same wait staff every night. For the more flexible dining you are able to eat in any dining room at any time. Both options have a lot of advantages it just depends on what works best for you and your group. In the formal dining rooms you will have a different menu every night of the cruise with several options for each course. I have found this is a great way to try new things, I am an adventurous eater, without being afraid that I was paying a lot for a meal I wouldn’t like. If you don’t like it they will normally bring you something else. Sometimes I have been debating between 2 options and the waiter just brought me both!
There is usually a dress code in the dining rooms but usually business attire is appropriate. You can find the dress code on your cruise lines website or you can ask your travel agent. On some longer cruises there is a formal night but on most ships you do not have to be in formal wear to be seated. A cocktail dress or suit is usually appropriate. On cruise lines like Norwegian where all the dining is freestyle you will just be seated in an area of the dining room where guests are more casually dressed.
Breakfast and lunch are also usually served in the dining rooms but do not have a set seating time.
Almost all cruise lines have a buffet option in case you do not want to dine in the dining room. Dress is casual but they usually prefer no bathing suits. On the buffet you will find more options than you can possibly try! There is normally a wide variety of international foods on the buffet since the ships have travelers from all over the world.
It is true that you can get food almost any time of the day. The buffet is not always open but there are usually snack shops or a smaller buffet that will have things like burgers, fries and pizza. Room services with a limited menu is also available almost 24 hours a day. There may be a service charge on some cruise ships for middle of the night orders or some hot meals.
Other Dining Options
Most food on the ship is included in your cruise fare. Some ships now have other specialty dining options where they charge a fee. These might include Japanese restaurants, Italian dining, celebrity chef’s restaurants or high end steak restaurants. Many newer ships have several other casual dining options now some are included and some may charge. Again you can find out what options are available by looking up your ship on the cruise line website or asking your travel agent.
Some beverages are included in your cruise fare. Usually coffee, tea, water and some juices. Soft drinks and alcoholic beverages are not usually included. If you plan on drinking a lot of soft drinks, beer or cocktails you may want to add a beverage package. On some cruise line you can sometimes pick one “added value” free and sometimes the beverage packages are included in this. A few cruise lines now have open bars on a few cruises. I know Norwegian has this available on one ship that sails to the Bahamas.
If you have dietary restrictions most cruise lines can accommodate your needs. It is best to call the cruise line or have your travel agent inquire about your specific needs before booking.