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We've just returned from a fabulous 7 Night Eastern Caribbean cruise on Carnival Magic. We employed these tips during our cruise and thought we'd share them with our readers. Even though we'll use the Carnival Magic for examples, the principles can be applied to most contemporary cruise lines.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it's a good start to enhancing your cruise dining.
Navigating the Buffet
Entering the ship's buffet restaurant you may be thinking that you just died and went to heaven or perhaps you are just overwhelmed by the scene in front of you.
Tip: Don't just Dive In
Besides the identical lines, take notice of the unique stations. For example at breakfast, there is usually an omelet station where you can get made to order eggs & omelets. This line may be long, so be ready to wait. Check out the signs overhead to help navigate through the maze of stations.
Walk around the buffet to decide on the options that interest you for this meal, and take note for later in the week, when you may want something different.
Instead of waiting in the long serving line one morning, we opted for the much shorter continental breakfast line and then added some bacon from the omelet station (there was a waiter serving bacon and ham - you didn't need to wait in the omelet line).
Getting some sun or shade on loungers is one of our favorite relaxing things to do during a cruise. We typically have breakfast in the buffet and then search out a good spot to camp out for a few hours. Since prime locations (such as those right by the pool or in a shady location) get taken first, another option is to divide your group and eat in shifts. (Most lines frown on you just leaving something on the lounger to reserve the chair and they may remove the items if you aren't back within a stated period of time - so be aware of the rules on your ship).
Tip: Dine by the Pool
Lunch is a great time to eat poolside. On Carnival cruises you can dine at Guy's Burger Joint or Blue Iguana right by the pool. While there may be a line, it usually moves quickly, and you can get back to relaxing by the pool in no time. There is also a 24 hour pizza station by the aft pool. Most cruise lines have similar options.
Sea Day Only Options
The reason we selected Carnival Magic for our latest cruise was to try Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse which is only open for limited hours on sea days. Many cruise lines have similar restaurant venues, so be sure to plan your dining schedule ahead of time.
Tip: Try the Unique Dining Options
Due to the limited serving hours, you can expect dining venues like these to be busy. Plan to arrive when they open, or even shortly before that. In order to keep our poolside loungers, one person went on a food run for the two of us. Check out the menu ahead of time so that you know what you want to order.
We've been cruising for over 30 years and grew up on traditional dining where you were assigned a dining time and table in the main dining room. Every night you went to dinner at the same time with the same people. Nowadays there are many more dining options and we encourage you to select an option that has some flexibility.
Tip: Select Flexible Dining
Some people prefer to eat early and others late. That is why traditional dining over the years had two choices. There are others, that for health reasons, must eat at a certain time each day. The good news is that even with flexible dining plans of today's cruises, any of the above schedules can be accommodated.
One big advantage of flexible dining is that you can select your dining time based on evening activities that you want to do. Some days, after touring, you might be tired and don't want to rush to dinner. The choice is completely up to you each evening during your cruise.
We still enjoy the traditional dining experience because the wait staff gets to know you, making for an enjoyable experience. On our Carnival Magic cruise, we had the best of both worlds. The first couple of evenings we arrived for dinner, signed in, and took whatever table they escorted us to. Then we found the wait staff of Singsoong and Posy. We really enjoyed them, their service, the hot food, etc., so every night after that, we asked for a table in their section. They would greet us by name and take care of all our needs very efficiently.
One big draw for cruise vacations is the inclusive dining options. When we think about dining on a cruise ship we compare it to dining at home. Some days you opt for fast food while others you want a more relaxing dinner. For special occasions, you may opt for your favorite steak or seafood restaurant which usually comes with a higher price tag as well. On a cruise, you can enjoy any or all of the above choices throughout the voyage. The choice is up to you.
Tip: Specialty Dining for Lunch
Are you celebrating a special occasion during your cruise? Why not make at least one night a little extra special by dining in one of the many specialty dining venues on your ship?
Sometimes you can dine at a specialty restaurant at lunch for a reduced price or even complimentary. The menu might be simpler than in the evening, but you still get to experience that extra ambiance. On Carnival cruise ships that have Cucina del Capitano, there is a pasta bar option for lunch which allows you to taste their Italian specialties for no cost.
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How Have You Enhanced Your Cruise Ship Dining?
Hopefully this article gives you some ideas about options you have when on your cruise vacation. We'd love to hear from you about your best experiences. Feel free to contact us via social media or our contact information if you have questions.