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What is the best cruise ship cafe? I spill the tea on the best cups of joe at sea

No cruise is complete without a few drinks, but that doesn’t have to mean alcohol. For lots of travelers, early morning shore excursions would be nearly impossible without some coffee beforehand, and a midday snack is often a welcome treat between meals.

That’s where cruise ship cafes come in.

Most vessels offer at least one place where passengers can grab free pastries for breakfast and finger sandwiches later in the day, as well as coffee and tea for an added fee.

Below are my picks for the best cruise cafes for coffee.

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Venchi Coffee Bar and Jean Philippe Cafe, MSC Cruises

A coffee from the Jean Philippe Cafe on MSC Cruises’ MSC Meraviglia. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Where to find it: MSC Seaside, MSC Seaview, MSC Seashore and MSC Seascape (Venchi); MSC Bellissima, MSC Grandiosa, MSC Meraviglia, MSC Virtuosa and MSC World Europa (Jean Philippe).

Cost: From $3.50 for an espresso; flavored syrups, whipped cream and non-dairy milk alternatives (almond, soy or rice) cost extra. Spiked coffees are $14 each. Note that purchases from these venues are not included in any of MSC’s beverage packages.

TPG take: Although every bar on MSC Cruises ships serves coffee that’s fancy by American standards, the most notable — for both atmosphere and beverage quality — are the specialty coffee bars on the line’s newest vessels.

The brand names might be different — Venchi on the line’s Seaside Class and Jean Philippe on those in the Meraviglia and World Classes — but the offerings are similar. Menu options include macchiato, Americano, cappuccino and mocha for an extra fee. Add whipped cream, flavoring, ice or alcohol for a special treat, and grab a nearby table for some people-watching. My drink of choice: an iced mocha with almond milk and a tiny dollop of whipped cream.

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Grounds Club, Virgin Voyages

A Black Cat Fizz from Grounds Club on Virgin Voyages’ Resilient Lady. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Where to find it: All Virgin Voyages ships.

Cost: From $3 for an espresso or macchiato to $13 for an espresso martini. You can add a shot of alcohol to any drink for an additional $6. Cookies, pastries and other snacks are free.

TPG take: The Grounds Club coffee shop on Virgin Voyages’ vessels offers coffee beverages made with Intelligentsia brand coffees, including cruiser favorite Black Cat. Although the menu isn’t fancy — you won’t find whipped cream, for example — the drinks are tasty and include the basics: espressos, macchiatos, flat whites, cappuccinos, lattes and mochas. Grounds Club also offers hot chocolate, matcha lattes and other beverages.

The flavor of Intelligentsia coffee is rich, so you can’t go wrong with a simple drink. Yet, the line has managed to include a couple of interesting concoctions, too. My favorite for a cold, refreshing shot of caffeine is the Black Cat Fizz — a combination of Black Cat espresso, tonic and orange served over ice.

I also give the Grounds Club high marks for its central location and high-top counter with plenty of outlets for passengers wishing to spend time on their electronic devices while savoring their joe.

Cafe Promenade, Royal Caribbean

An iced coffee from Cafe Promenade on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Where to find it: Royal Caribbean‘s Cafe Promenade has outposts on all Voyager, Freedom, Oasis and Quantum Class ships (except Spectrum of the Seas).

Cost: Food, drip coffee and basic tea are free at Cafe Promenade. Specialty coffee drinks cost extra (from about $3 to $6, depending on what you order) but are covered by the basic beverage package.

TPG take: Cafe Promenade is a fantastic place to grab tea, coffee and light bites (mini-sandwiches, pastries, cookies and more) throughout the day, and the best part is that a lot of it is free. The atmosphere is lively and loud, considering its location along the Royal Promenade. Lines can also be long in the morning, when many passengers drop by for their early doses of caffeine.

Tip: The baristas at Cafe Promenade can make you just about any coffee drink you could order from Starbucks. On ships with Starbucks locations, you’ll pay extra there, even with a basic beverage package, but drinks — including specialty ones — at Cafe Promenade are always included with the basic package.

International Cafe, Princess Cruises

An iced coconut latte from the International Cafe on Princess Cruises’ Emerald Princess. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Where to find it: Caribbean Princess, Coral Princess, Discovery Princess, Emerald Princess, Enchanted Princess, Grand Princess, Majestic Princess, Regal Princess, Royal Princess, Ruby Princess, Sapphire Princess and Sky Princess.

Cost: Coffee beverages range from $2 for a 12-ounce regular or decaf brewed coffee to $4.50 for specialty iced beverages like a coconut frozen latte or Black Forest freeze. Add on anywhere from 50 cents to $1 extra for shots of espresso or flavored syrup, as well as non-dairy milks like almond, coconut and soy. Tea and hot chocolate are also available and range in price from $2.50 to $4.

An attached snack counter offers a rotating list of complimentary small bites — muffins, pastries, breakfast burritos, mini-sandwiches, fruit, cookies and more — throughout the day. Specialty coffee beverages are free with a Princess beverage package.

TPG take: The International Cafe’s central location in the atriums of Princess‘ ships makes it an ideal spot to grab a caffeinated beverage or snack at any time. Hours vary, but the cafe generally opens early in the morning and closes well after dinner. Most of the drinks I had at the cafe were fantastic, but if you deviate from the specific offerings listed on the menu, what you get might not be exactly what you had in mind. (I ordered a coconut latte every day for four days, and it tasted vastly different each time.)

Grand Dutch Cafe, Holland America Line

The Grand Dutch Cafe on Holland America’s Rotterdam. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Where to find it: Holland America‘s Koningsdam, Nieuw Statendam and Rotterdam ships.

Cost: All food at the Grand Dutch Cafe is complimentary. Drinks will set you back anywhere from $2.25 for Dutch drip coffee or $2.50 for a shot of espresso to $3 for tea and $3.50 for a cafe latte. Beer ranges from about $7 to $8, and liquor runs from $6.50 to $8.50. Drinks are free with a Holland America drink package.

TPG take: The Grand Dutch Cafe, found only on Holland America’s newest ships, is one of the line’s biggest winners, featuring some of the best free food I’ve ever had at sea. You won’t want to miss the split pea soup, the grilled cheese sandwiches or the apple bacon pancakes with powdered sugar. It also sells Tazo tea and specialty coffee drinks, but what sets it apart from other at-sea cafes is its Dutch candies and alcohol like Jenever and Advocaat.

Cafe al Bacio, Celebrity Cruises

A pastry and coffee drink from Cafe al Bacio on Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Ascent. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Where to find it: All Celebrity Cruises‘ ships (excluding expedition vessels).

Cost: Prices range from $4 for a single shot of espresso and $5 for most gourmet teas and specialty coffee drinks to $12 for coffee cocktails. These drinks are free with most of Celebrity’s drink packages. Snacks at Cafe al Bacio are free.

TPG take: Cafe al Bacio is the staple cafe on Celebrity ships. It offers tea and coffee drinks, as well as light bites — doughnuts and pastries for breakfast, and finger sandwiches and cookies from lunchtime onward — that rotate throughout the day. Comfy chairs and sofas create a welcoming atmosphere, and the cafe’s central location makes it an ideal place to grab a hot beverage with a side of people-watching.

JavaBlue Cafe, Carnival Cruise Line

An iced coffee from the JavaBlue Cafe on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Where to find it: Carnival Celebration, Carnival Elation, Carnival Firenze, Carnival Freedom, Carnival Glory, Carnival Horizon, Carnival Jubilee, Carnival Luminosa, Carnival Miracle, Carnival Panorama, Carnival Paradise, Carnival Radiance, Carnival Sunrise, Carnival Sunshine, Carnival Splendor, Carnival Venezia, Carnival Vista, Mardi Gras.

Cost: Prices start at $2.75 for a small drip coffee. They increase for things like espresso ($3), specialty teas ($3), specialty coffee drinks ($3.50 to $4), cold brew ($4.25) and hot chocolate ($4.50). You can add flavored syrups for 50 cents each, or opt for a blended frappe for $6.75 or a spiked coffee for $8.75. All drinks are covered by one of Carnival’s alcohol packages.

JavaBlue offers free food throughout the day, including breakfast items like breakfast pastries, bowls and English muffin sandwiches, as well as all-day options like salads, sandwiches, wraps, empanadas and calzones. Bakery items come with a fee and include cookies ($2.50 each), doughnuts and cupcakes ($4 each), and cheesecake ($6).

TPG take: JavaBlue receives high marks from me because, even though Carnival charges for some food options when other lines’ cafes don’t, it offers more food and drink options than many others do. From frappes to sandwiches, the on-the-go options are perfect for an easy breakfast or a quick nibble when you’re feeling peckish between larger meals.

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