When you think of a cruise, what's the first thing that comes to mind? We are betting one of your first thoughts includes eating some great food - and perhaps a lot of it during your cruise vacation.
Cruising is all about choices, and when it comes to food, the cruise lines have taken things up a notch or so lately.
When you go out for dinner do you like fast food, buffets, or fine dining? Perhaps you like all three?
At the time of booking, you select early or late dining and the table size that suits your style. Every night you have a table waiting for you in the main dining room with the same dining staff waiting there to serve you. The meal consists of several courses with a menu that typically changes each night. Often there is a theme to the menu. Select one or more appetizer, soup or salad, your main course, and your dessert. Can't make up your mind? No problem, select as many as you want.
With this form of dining, your wait staff gets to know you, your likes, and dislikes. Imagine sitting down for dinner and not even having to ask for the glass of ice tea that you like to have with your meal. You may also make some new friends with passengers if you select a larger table size.
A variation of traditional dining is open seating which has different names depending on the cruise line. With this arrangement, you don't select a dining time in advance and are not assigned a table. A portion of the main dining room, or perhaps the entire dining room is devoted to this option. The menu is the same as with the traditional dining consisting of several courses. You arrive at the dining room during specified times, and tell the&maître d’ about your dining preferences, such as table size.
The main difference between this and traditional dining is that you won't have the same wait staff and most likely will be dining with different passengers if you select a larger table size than your party. If you find wait staff that you really like, you can request to be seated in their section, so this can be a hybrid of traditional dining if you request it.
For those that want a more casual dinner experience, you can select cafeteria style dining in the ship's buffet. Here you can select from several different serving stations and return as many times as you like for more food. Arrive any time you want during specified dining hours and stay as long as you like.
On some ships, there may also be an alternative dining option in the buffet where you still make reservations. This can be a great option if you return to the ship late from a shore excursion and just want to quickly dine before starting your evening entertainment.
Some ships have dining venues that require reservations and offer an upscale dining experience much like fine dining back home. There is an additional gratuity charged to your onboard account for the special service provided. On some ships, there may only be one specialty restaurant while on others, there may be several specialty options. The specialty cuisine might include steaks, chops, seafood, Italian, Asian, Japanese and other cultural dishes.
Often the dinner is served with a flair, such as flaming entrées and desserts made table side with the food be presented at once to the entire table. Expect to be dining for several hours in most specialty restaurants. This is an optional dining experience that you may want to incorporate into your cruise, especially if you are celebrating a special occasion during the cruise.
Don't feel like leaving your cabin tonight? Pick up the phone and phone in your order. You can select from the same dinner options that you would have in the main dining room. Imagine a romantic dinner on your balcony as you sail to your next port of call. On most ships, room service is included in the price of your cruise and available 24 hours a day. Some ships have recently added a surcharge for late night dining due to the unfortunate waste of food they have been experiencing from guests that probably need coffee instead of food.
Pizza, Burgers, and Other Treats
You return to the ship from a fun day in port and you just don't feel like a sit down meal. Instead, you have a taste for your favorite comfort food like pizza or burgers. Many ships offer pizza all day long and some have even added specialty burger restaurants, such as Johnny Rockets, where you can get a burger and fries complete with your favorite flavor milk shake.
Don't forget some soft-serve ice cream to put the finishing touches on your comfort meal. You'll typically find these dining options near the main pool area or the promenade on ships that have them. In some cases, there may be an extra charge, but many are included in your cruise price.
Dine Where You Want / When You Want
Regardless of the dining option you select at the time of booking, you'll find several dining options available once you are onboard. Just like you might at home, there are nights when you want a fancy meal and others where you are quite content to have a slice of pizza and your favorite beverage.
In recent years, the cruise lines have begun to add more and more options to their dining repertoire. Guests have told the cruise lines that while on vacation they don't want to be told what to wear, when to eat, and where to eat. The cruise lines have listened.
Norwegian Cruise Line introduced "Freestyle Dining" over 14 years ago and have continued to refine the program. One thing you need to realize is that you will be paying the surcharges we mentioned for specialty restaurants for the freedom of choice. The fees won't break the bank, but you need to include them in your vacation budget. We've written about Freestyle Dining many times before - just do a search to read more.
You don't need to eat at the same restaurant every night of your cruise, unless you want to. Try some of the alternative dining options on your next cruise - you may find a new favorite. Also, this is a good place to try new foods. The waiter will be glad to bring you something else if you don't like your first choice.