Q –  We’ve sailed  on NCL twice and Royal Caribbean three times, the last time on the Oasis of the Seas. On our last cruise we shared a table with a couple from Arizona and another from Philadelphia. The fellow from Philly owned a restaurant and we talked quite a but about the food on board, which we thought was pretty good. We got around to asking about how much these lines actually spend per person for food. I imagine NCL spends more than NCL but I don’t know by how much. No one on board, of course, would tell us, but we thought you folks might know. The next time we cruise, I can assure you that everyone within the sound of my voice will know about traveltruth.

A – Actually, food costs are a matter of public record since the three cruise lines that control about 83% of all US-based cruise inventory are publicly traded companies. Based on the figures for 2011, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise have quite similar food costs per passenger per day. They all spend somewhere between $9.30 and $9.45. Carnival is the highest, by a small margin. But those figures are somewhat misleading since crew food costs per day are averaged in. Do note that food services are purchased on a bid-contract basis and when you are bidding on food supplies for 20,000 or so guests per week, you can get favorable pricing. One of the key cost components are the on board buffets and the type of clientele. Mass market lines are far more likely to attract those who overeat to realize a return on their investment. . On the other hand, the five-star lines have guests require smaller portions but  require top-grade beef, caviar, and world class cuisine. But for purposes of conversation, it is fair to say that the mass market cruise lines are feeding guests at a cost of less than $10.00 per day.

By comparison, the top-rated lines in our traveltruth ratings spend between $35 – $55 per day on food for each guest. . Residensea and Crystal are at the high end of these figures.  If you lean back and look at these figures you have to take into account the fact that the smaller, more deluxe lines do not have the buying power of the larger lines. Despite that, however, the difference in per passenger food costs between the mega-liner mass market ships and the Top Ten Lines is rather impressive.