Are Cruise Ship Specialty Restaurant Up-Charges Worth it? Is the Food and Experience That Much Better?

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The above is my adorable bride at the restaurant vegetarians should run from, that is, Moderno the Brazilian steak house on many NCL ships. However, meatitarians will simply love love love this endless steak, lamb, pork and other protein munch-fest. One pro tip when it comes to this specialty restaurant is do NOT fill up on the salad bar (yuck salad) and be sure to ask for a scalding hot plate when you are ready for the protein to arrive and swap it out for a fresh hot one half way though the adventure.

So are you hungry now?

Depending on the NCL ship you are on you are going see a number of specialty restaurants (and at least 2 main dining choices). That list could include

American Diner, Cagney’s Steakhouse, Food Republic, Italian [La Cucina], Le Bistro, Los Lobos, Moderno Churrascaria, Pincho Tapas Bar, Q Texas Smokehouse, Raw Bar, Seafood, Sushi and Teppanyaki.” –

I have been to all of these save one and that will soon be knocked off my list on an upcoming Norwegian cruise. The food is simply amazing and scrumptious at all of them other than maybe just OK when it comes to The Italian and Mexican choices.

I mean take a look at the above. It is from Le Bistro and not being a snail fan I substituted scallops for snails and it was to die for good. Oh and then dip the French bread in each poll of butter and garlic and spices to finish it off? Yeah kinda over the top insane good.

Speaking of French, these lamb chops were the best I have ever had in my life. This meal was light compared to so many other choices and simply divine.

The filet mignon at Cagney’s, with a loaded baked potato, was crazy good. The perfect cut of meat and cooked perfectly. You can see the quality of the specialty restaurants really are just “oh my” good.

Speaking of Cagney’s, how about prime rib. After all this is a classic steak house. Yeah you want this. No trust me you really want this.

OK this last one is not from a specialty but the Haven restaurant that you can visit 3x a day if you want as a Haven guest. The point of this shot is if you book Haven you can have something similar to specialty every single meal – yeah it is stunning!

But what about the price? Is it worth it? Let’s take a look.

First up, if you are booking on NCL, you are most likely going to get at least a few specialty restaurant nights free-ish of charge. I say free-ish because with the “Free at Sea” promotion you get to dine at a few specialty restaurants free but you did have to pay the mandatory gratuities up front. But for that tiny fee (and great service) it is so worth it as you can see above.

But what if you want more? Well….

I hope you were sitting down when you reviewed those package numbers. I mean just look at the lowest price choice that is the two meal package upcharge – that is priced PER PERSON

OUCH! That means you are paying about $60 per person to dine when you have already paid for the right to have all-inclusive food in the main dining room for “free” (i.e. what you already paid for the cruise).

And here is something to consider – main dining choices are really, really good. After all, on NCL, you get a white table cloth as well as pressed napkins, soup, salad, appetizer, main course and dessert – all top quality in main dining.

Now the above is mostly from an NCL perspective but I did reach out to our other authors here on the blog. Our Princess guy Mike West told me:

Specialty restaurants run about $30 pp on Princess as well. (Lobster is an upcharge beyond that even) We usually eat at one once or twice for free as part of a promotion, or a way to burn onboard credits from Costco or being a stockholder. But I agree the food is not enough better to justify the charge.– Mike West

There are many ways to get onboard credit and I agree with Mike that burning those credits (that are nonrefundable) are a good use of them even with the steep price tag to go. I also asked MJ our Royal Caribbean pro and he said:

The average on Royal Caribbean is getting closer to $35-$40 per person for a la carte pricing. I feel like 150 Central Park on the Oasis Class ships is even more. And I know Wonderland is.

You can use dining packages to drive that cost down closer to $30. Personally, we’ve taken cruises and only done specialty dining the entire trip by way of the dining packages. Admittedly, we can be a little boujie about that kind of thing….going where the masses aren’t just because they have to pay extra.” – MJ

So there now you have perspective across 3 different cruise lines. For me, as soon a Diamond on NCL, I get 2 free specialty restaurants every cruise longer than 5 days. Tie that in with a few free from the “Free at Sea” promotion and I get 4 in total and that is enough for me. Plus, if I book the Haven, I really have no need to go anywhere else to dine! – René


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René de Lambert
René de Lambert
René de Lambert has been a travel blogger for over 10 years covering the travel industry - including cruising.


  1. I’ll add that MSC specialty is great either as a part of a package or the Diamond free dinner. At the $59 individual upcharge when not buying a specialty dining package it is just too much, and some may be irritated to discover that the taco shop is specialty but reasonably priced at $18 for AYCE


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