Cruise Ship Etiquette: Are Passengers Allowed to Order Dishes That Aren't on the Menu?

The answer can depend on which cruise line you're sailing with.
A cruise ship sailing.
Yolanda Suen/Unsplash

A few years ago, shortly after boarding a Princess cruise, I sat down to lunch in the main dining room. A gentleman at the next table took a cursory glance at the menu, then asked the server if they had French onion soup. The server demurred, adding they only had what was on the menu. It raised an interesting question, though: Are passengers allowed to order off-menu while on a cruise? 

Although they turn out thousands of meals with a seemingly endless array of options on a daily basis, cruise ships are often constrained by the fact that provisions aren't infinite—they only have what has been loaded onboard to work with. While French onion soup doesn’t call for extraordinary ingredients, it does require a lot of time to prepare. 

Many cruise lines follow the practice of offering certain popular dishes upon request, says Jason Leppert, founder of the YouTube channel Popular Cruising. “These are usually classic dishes that are available every evening for dinner as alternatives to daily selections—Caesar salad, shrimp cocktail, beef tenderloin, chicken breast, etc,” Leppert says. For its part, Princess offers a selection of “always available” dishes in their dining rooms to accommodate passengers' cravings for off-menu items. These are popular items not listed on the menus that will sate even the pickiest of palates. 

A safe bet for ordering off-menu dishes is to pick those that are served at other times during the cruise. Enjoyed that lobster last night and want it again? There may still be some in store. Leppert also notes that previously-featured menu items can often be recreated. For example: “Palo on Disney Cruise Line can usually recreate its famed grape and gorgonzola pizza even though it’s no longer on the official brunch menu,” he says.

On Celebrity Cruises, dining room staff will do whatever they can to meet guest needs, including running dishes from other onboard restaurants to the dining room, if requested. The cruise line’s staff encourages guests to make requests freely. “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no,” noting that the staff onboard are there to “make guests happy,” says a Celebrity spokesperson. 

Likewise, Cunard allows diners in the single-seating Queen’s Grill Restaurant (which is reserved for passengers in the top-tier suites) to order off-menu, although they request about a day of advance notice if possible. If a guest has a hankering for, say, beef Wellington—a dish long beloved onboard Cunard ships—the kitchen can certainly turn that out with some notice. Beef Wellington requires beef tenderloin, morels, paté de foie gras, and puff pastry—all staples in Cunard’s kitchens. For more extraordinary requests, guests may wish to inquire before sailing. 

It's also worth noting that ordering off-menu is a practice distinct from making requests for special menus for dietary or religious reasons. Guests with these dietary needs should let their travel consultant or cruise line know at the time of booking, to ensure that onboard food and beverage teams have sufficient time to provide for their needs.

Most cruise lines are keen to accommodate all types of guest requests regarding dietary restrictions, allergies, or religious needs. On board Holland America Line, for example, requests for Kosher, Halal, and Jain diets are accommodated on all sailings. Advising of dietary restrictions in advance is always preferred, but a spokesperson for the line also pointed out that certain popular alternatives are always available upon request. Onboard venues New York Pizza and Dive-In always keep a stock of gluten-free buns and pizza dough, as well as plant-based meat and cheese alternatives. 

The luxury line Crystal (formerly Crystal Cruises—acquired by Abercrombie & Kent in 2022 and returning to the seas this summer following an extensive relaunch) has always allowed guests to order off-menu. “It’s always a good idea to discuss your off-menu requests with your head waiter early on in your cruise, so they have ample time to prepare and source any necessary ingredients,” says Günter Lorenz, Crystal’s vice president of food and beverage operations. "This can also help ensure that your requests are feasible and within the capabilities of the ship’s kitchen.” 

Whenever making a special request on board, it’s always important to do so with an understanding of the limitations of being at sea, and with as much advance notice as possible. Crews would gladly perform miracles if they could, but anything within the realm of possibility is certainly worth asking about to ensure an enjoyable journey.