Cruise food on the largest cruise ships in the world is consumed in amazing quantities. 

Now picture yourself supervising the culinary logistics of such a mega-cruise ship. Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas for example, feeds up to 5,400 cruisers multiple times per day at 26 dining venues, ranging from Starbucks to upscale Chef's Table. Imagine you oversee portside food inspectors, bread bakers onboard, and 1,200 other workers dedicated to guests' gastronomic wishes.

A mind-bending job, isn't it? The mere thought of it makes an ordinary mortal want to go on a comfort-food binge to cope. As many cruise companies supersize their ships, they also have to scale up provisioning operations to the same quickness as would be needed to supply a battleship during wartime.

The following review is integrated with Cruise Ship Dining Options and Best Cruise Lines and Ships for Cruise Ship Dining.

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Cruise Food Supply on the Largest Cruise Ships

  • The first challenge to cruise food supply on mega ships is predicting passenger tastes. Companies analyze travelers' dining patterns to realize trends and plan menus, because trends vary by route, season and type of passenger. One example is that when Europeans outnumber Americans on Cunard Line's ships, lighter wines like pinot noir and Riesling are ordered more frequently than bolder varietals, such as Chardonnay and Shiraz, which tend to be favored by many of the Yanks.
  • The next hurdle is transfering supplies from pier to cruise ship. Disney Cruises' 2,700-passenger Disney Magic loads up 71,500 eggs, 10,000 pounds of chicken and 3,130 gallons of soda for an average weeklong cruise. The saga begins before dawn, when all workers meet quayside in order to inspect pallets of food for quality (for example, checking produce for freshness). 
  • In the Royal Caribbean's case, food is normally transferred from wooden pallets to metal trays, that can be easily cleaned, to prevent cruise ship contamination by anything which might have been on the wood. Other packaging like cardboard, is incinerated for similar reasons.
  • Once onboard the ship, all supplies are shuttled to dozens of storehouses set to variety of temperatures. Aboard Cunard's Queen Mary 2, a storeroom for ice cream is at minus-0.4 degrees Fahrenheit, and a separate room holds meat at more appropriate temperatures.
  • Storage, preparation, cooking are all done in separate rooms in order to prevent cross-contamination. Commissary kitchens, for instance, as a rule handle food preparation like slicing tomatoes, marinating slices of beef, cubing melons. This way, no preparation work happens in the kitchen.
  • Contemporary technology assures smooth cruising by alerting crewmembers to how many guests are grabbing a bite. Royal Caribbean Line has head-counting cameras installed in the ceilings of the main dining areas which calculate when and where travelers gravitate, providing data which can be handled to anticipate peak serving times.
  • Cruise ships keep their menus simple (for example, offering a single main version of seafood, poultry and meat) to help their cooks prepare food to order and serve it at proper temperatures. Of course, some cruise ships have a few specialist dining venues onboard which provide more varied menus, but these serve a smaller part of passengers and are an exception to the general rule. A simplified menu allows chefs to synchronize the creation of meals with the needs of travelers.
  • Stockpiling enough reserve stores for a surprising spike in demand is standard practice. Storerooms ordinarily house a day or two's extra provisions, thus ensuring that many spare ingredients will be just on hand. During hurricane season, cruise ships store even heftier reserves of culinary supplies. Piling up extra supplies is also the norm for vessels on routes which spend less time than usual in ports of call.
  • Occasionally, there are rare circumstances when cruise ship kitchens do run out of individual random ingredients, like wasabi. When that happens, as soon as the ship berths at port, crew members race down the gangway and hit local markets to source what is missing.

Cruise Food on the Largest Cruise Ships: Royal Carbbean's Oasis of the Seas

Fort Lauderdale, Fllorida. Most passengers aboard the Oasis of the Seas ship are sound asleep in staterooms. It's still dark out at the industrial port. 

But below deck the Royal Caribbean crew of one of the largest cruise ships in the world is preparing to turn the Oasis around. They have just finished a week-long cruise taking 6,220 passengers throughout the Caribbean. And just in hours, another 6,110 will start their cruise vacation.

Suitcases have to be unloaded and loaded. Piles of recycling and trash are removed and entire week's worth of food for all passengers and 2,190 crew members, has to be loaded onboard. There are just 10 hours to empty and restock this small town. If that were not enough, housekeeping has to turn over 2,700 rooms for the new cruisers. By 6:30 a.m., the first of all 25 trucks are lined up on dock, ready to unload goods.

Oasis and her sister ships, Allure of the Seas and new Harmony of the Seas, are the three biggest cruise ships in the world. While many guests remember the onboard surfing machine, the zipline, or the 25 different dining venues, it's what happens below desk that amazes.

When Oasis of the Seas leaves for a week-long cruise to the Caribbean, she takes everything needed. The islands don't have the quantity and the quality of supplies to meet the ship's needs.

In a hotel, the supplies are on a daily basis and you are never tied into limited timeframe. For cruise lines, they only have one go at it, which means when the ship pulls away from dock in Florida, it must have 10,270 new rolls of toilet paper; 7,400 pounds of cheese; 330 cases of pineapples aboard. Not to mention 1,900 pounds of coffee; 1,000 lightbulbs; 23 gallons of hand sanitizer; 30 replacement TVs. Every week.

Orders are based on past trends and adjusted each week to account for the nationalities and age of those sailing. If there is a great sporting event, say basketball championship tournament, more hot dogs and beer might be purchased.

Cruise Food on the Largest Cruise Ships: the Numbers

Following are some of the items per one sailing of Oasis of the Seas:

  • Eggs: 46,800; Ice cream cones: 21,000
  • Lobster tails: 5,400; Chicken: 19,700 pounds
  • Beef: 18,300 pounds; Fish: 7,100 pounds
  • Potatoes: 14,800 pounds; Lettuce: 9,000 pounds
  • Tomatoes: 8,800 pounds; Bananas: 5,400 pounds; Apples: 2,600 pounds
  • Milk: 2,600 gallons; Hot dogs: 10,700
  • Beer: 31,900 bottles and 900 cans; Soda: 16,900 cans
  • White wine: 3,360 bottles; Red wine: 2,780 bottles
  • Vodka: 820 bottles; Rum: 760 bottles; Scotch: 290 bottles; Whiskey: 180 bottles.

Cruise Food on the Largest Cruise Ships: VIDEO

On a typical 7-night voyage the largest cruise ship in the world today, Harmony of the Seas, will go through: 5,000 dozen fresh whole eggs; 350 tons of ice cubes (nearly 110,000 lbs. made each day); 100 gallons of chocolate ice cream; 2,500 lbs. of fresh salmon; 2,100 lbs. of lobster tail. 

Good thing the 1,060-member food & beverage team accounts for around a half of the entire crew. On 2,984-passenger Carnival Freedom it takes 150 kitchen workers to parlay 240 pallets of food into thousands of meals for ship's fine restaurants. Cruise food on the largest cruise ships in the world can really impress by the numbers.