How Much Cruise Lines Spend on Food (Less Than You Think?)

Anyone that’s taken a cruise knows that food is a big part of the cruise. From the buffet to the dining room, from snacks to specialty restaurants, food is everywhere. There’s not a time of day that you can’t grab something to eat, and gaining weight on a cruise is a well-known right of passage on your vacation.

Plate with shrimp on a cruise
Cruises are known for offering a lot to eat, but did you know just how much is spent on food?

But have you ever wondered how much food is actually consumed on the ship?

We dug into the amounts eaten and the costs, and what we found might surprise you. While by some measures the amounts spent and eaten on a cruise are extraordinary, we also found some statistics that may be much less than you think.

In fact, the cost of what you eat in an entire day is likely less than what you’d spend on one entrée on land.

5,300 Pounds of Bacon on a Single Cruise?!

Royal Caribbean ship in Cozumel
Symphony of the Seas — one of the largest cruise ships in the world — sees passengers eat massive amounts of food according to data shared from Royal Caribbean. This includes 700 pounds of ice cream and more than 5,000 pounds of bacon per cruise.

There’s no arguing that with thousands of people on a cruise ship, the amount of food eaten during the vacation can be stunning.

So how much is eaten by everyone on the ship? For that, we have some statistics released by Royal Caribbean.

The cruise line operates the largest cruise ships on the planet. This includes owning all six of the largest cruise ships in the world. (The largest non-Royal Caribbean cruise ship is MSC World Europa).

A few years ago, Royal Caribbean released an infographic for one of its biggest ships — Symphony of the Seas — with some statistics regarding just how much food is eaten over the course of a week onboard.

According to that data, a 7-night cruise sees guests eat:

  • 5,000 dozen eggs
  • 700 pounds of ice cream
  • 20,000 pounds of baked potatoes
  • 2,100 pounds of lobster tails
  • 5,300 pounds of bacon
  • 9,700 pounds of chicken
  • 1,500 pounds of coffee
  • 2,500 pounds of salmon

Even when you consider that the ship can carry up to 6,680 passengers in a single cruise, those figures are still wild. For instance, it means the average passenger eats around three pounds of baked potatoes during a cruise and almost a pound of bacon each over seven days.

And remember, that’s just one cruise ship. Symphony of the Seas is part of the Oasis class from Royal Caribbean, of which there are four additional ships of a similar size. Then there are all the other ships from Royal Caribbean and other lines.

Bottom line: The total amount of food eaten on cruises is staggering. But it all actually might end up being less than you think when you consider what the cruise lines spend on food.

How Much Cruise Lines Actually Spend on Food

Steak dinner on a cruise
While steak and lobster are always found on a cruise, the amount spent on food per passenger day may surprise you.

These days, even if you head to a fast-food restaurant you can expect to spend $10-$15 on a meal. With that in mind, what cruise lines spend on food is frankly, surprising. Thanks for some financial reports, we know exactly what cruise companies are spending.

Most of the major cruise lines are actually part of larger public companies. Names like Princess, Carnival, and Holland America are part of Carnival Corporation. Celebrity and Royal Caribbean are owned by the Royal Caribbean Group. Oceania, Regent, and NCL are owned by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Ltd.

These companies are also publicly traded. As such, they are required to make regular financial reports that outline revenue, costs, profits, passengers carried and more. One piece of information they share? How much is spent on food.

All three of the major cruise companies include a line item for “food” on their income statements. This metric includes food costs for both the passengers on the ship and the crew.

For instance, in 2023, Carnival Corporation spent $1.335 billion on food during the course of the year. That comes out to about $3.6 million per day.

Royal Caribbean Group spent $819 million on food in 2023. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, the smallest of the big three public cruise companies, spent $358 million.

Combined, these major cruise companies spent more than $2.5 billion on food costs alone during 2023.

Still, that may not be as high a figure as you think.

When you break down the food costs across passenger cruise days, the daily food budget is surprisingly modest. (Passenger cruise days measure the number of sailing days for each passenger. So a family of three on a 7-day cruise would have a total of 21 passenger cruise days.)

In 2023, Carnival Corporation had 91.4 million passenger cruise days across its various cruise lines. With a total of $1.335 billion spent on food, that comes out to $14.61 per person, per day spent on food. That includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

But remember, the food costs are for both passengers and crew. While we've factored in only passenger cruise days, we don't have a similar figure for crew. But it would mean the same amount of money spent on food is spread across a larger number of people, meaning the actual cost per person is even lower.

Royal Caribbean Group spent $819 million on food last year, across roughly 49.5 million passenger cruise days. That comes to a figure of $16.53 per person, per day. Again, with crew included in the food cost, the actual figure per person would be lower.

Finally, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings spent a healthy $358 million for food in the preceding year to feed passengers and crew. With 23.3 million passenger cruise days, that comes out to a cost of $15.37 per person, per day.

Roughly $5 Per Person, Per Meal for Food

Even with cruise passengers eating well on their cruise, the cost of food per meal comes out to about $5.

At roughly $15 per person, per day spent on food, that comes out to just about $5 per meal in food costs.

While both cruise lines and restaurants on land have other costs to consider, including the cost of staffing, getting any meal for $5 per person is nearly impossible these days. That includes if you skipped going to a restaurant altogether and just bought the ingredients from a grocery store.

But due to the efficiencies of scale of feeding thousands, keeping people fed and happy for just a few bucks per meal is possible on a cruise ship.

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