Traditionally, the ships’ restaurants organize two dinner services per day, early dining and late dining, and passengers are allocated a set dining time for the entire cruise; a recent trend is to allow diners to dine whenever they want. Having two dinner times allows the ship to have enough time and space to accommodate all of their guests. Having two different dinner services can cause some conflicts with some of the ship’s events (such as shows and performances) for the late diners, but this problem is usually fixed by having a shorter version of the event take place before late dinner. Cunard Line ships maintain the class tradition of ocean liners and have separate dining rooms for different types of suites, while Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises have a standard dining room and “upgrade” specialty restaurants that require pre-booking and cover charges. Many cruises schedule one or more “formal dining” nights. Guests dress “formally”, however that is defined for the ship, often suits and ties or even tuxedos for men, and formal dresses for women. The menu is more upscale than usual.
Besides the dining room, modern cruise ships often contain one or more casual buffet-style eateries, which may be open 24 hours and with menus that vary throughout the day to provide meals ranging from breakfast to late-night snacks. Ships also feature numerous bars and nightclubs for passenger entertainment; the majority of cruise lines do not include alcoholic beverages in their fares and passengers are expected to pay for drinks as they consume them. Most cruise lines also prohibit passengers from bringing aboard and consuming their own beverages, including alcohol, while aboard. Alcohol purchased duty-free is sealed and returned to passengers when they debark.
There is often a central galley responsible for serving all major restaurants aboard the ship, though specialty restaurants may have their own separate galleys.
As with any vessel, adequate provisioning is crucial, especially on a cruise ship serving several thousand meals at each seating. For example, a quasi “military operation” is required to load and unload 3600 passengers and eight tons of food at the beginning and end of each cruise, for the Royal Princess.