In one more step closer to pre-pandemic cruising norms, Royal Caribbean International has returned to self-service buffets aboard its ships, with some minor adjustments.
Select cruise ships tested the return to self-service in late March, but the change was implemented fleet-wide for all sailings departing on or after April 2, 2022.
Self-Serve Back at Buffets
The self-serve approach to buffets – where guests handle spoons and tongs to dish up their own servings of food – has long been a mainstay on cruise ships, but was discontinued as part of the strictest health and sanitation protocols during the pandemic.
Instead, crew members were assigned to different serving stations, dishing food to guests’ plates upon request.
Now, self-service is returning, and guests will once again be able to serve their own portions at the popular Windjammer Marketplace buffet and other buffet locations onboard Royal Caribbean ships.
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“On cruises departing on or after April 2, 2022, Royal Caribbean International will bring back self-service dining in guest-favorite venues on board, including the Windjammer Marketplace, Solarium Bistro, and at private destinations,” a Royal Caribbean spokesperson said in a statement provided to Cruise Hive.
Some buffet changes are remaining, however, including single-serving and grab-and-go plates of popular items. This includes foods such as salads, fruit plates, cheese plates, drinks, and desserts.
For these items, crew members will continue to create the single servings and refill the stations so guests will simply select their food without handling servingware.
“Grab-and-go dishes and single serving portions will continue as a permanent offering – they have become popular options, and keeping them is among the top requests from our guests,” the spokesperson said.
Other cruise lines, including Carnival Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line, have made similar shifts to return to self-service options, though individual ships may still use crew serving stations as needed.
Cleanliness Is a Priority
While the shift to a crew-served buffet operation was implemented to reduce the risk of disease transmission, reverting to self-service does not mean cleanliness standards have been lowered.
Royal Caribbean ships have both instant sanitizer and hand-washing stations at the entrances to the Windjammer Marketplace buffet. Crew members are regularly stationed at the entrances to dispense sanitizer or remind guests to “washy-washy” as they enter the Windjammer.
Hand sanitizer dispensers are also easily found at other food service locations throughout the ship. Furthermore, signage in buffet areas, as well as elsewhere onboard, reminds guests to wash and sanitize their hands frequently, and to maintain appropriate distances to limit crowding.
According to the cruise operation guidelines from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “food and beverage stations may be operated as self-service at the cruise ship operator’s discretion” so long as there are physical guides and signage to prevent crowds, physical distancing is promoted, and hand sanitizer and hand washing stations are available.
Royal Caribbean International opted in to the CDC’s voluntary operational guidelines earlier this year, and the guidelines have continued to be adjusted as necessary as worldwide cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have dropped.
Just days ago, the CDC dropped its advisory against cruise travel altogether, though the operational guidelines remain in effect and cruise ships continue to be color-coded as a means to note the presence of COVID-19 cases.