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On Board Dining

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Is the dining experience on board really as a good as they say?

Yes, and maybe even better! You won't believe the varied selection of entrees, appetizers, salads, soups, vegetables and desserts, every time you sit down. And there's virtually no limit on what or how much you can order. Both your wait staff and kitchen staff work unbelievably hard to ensure you are satisfied and happy after every meal. Just because your cruise ship offers plenty of delicious food doesn't mean you have to come home a few pounds heavier. You can choose low-cal, spa, or fitness menu selections that are just as tempting as the regular menu. Additionally the fitness centre isn't far away - jog, do aerobics, work out in the gym, swim, golf, play tennis, and much more. Burning calories was never so much fun! The best thing about dining on a cruise ship is you never see a price on the menu.

What about meal times?

Like many things on a cruise, there are choices and more choices. During the day, there are many different places to eat - in the formal dining room, on deck in a casual setting, in a pizzeria, at an espresso bar - just to name a few. At night, most ships offer several venues. Some ship's dining rooms can accommodate all guests at one time, known as single seating. Many ships offer you a choice of several eating times, and others encourage you to come to dinner whenever you like (open seating). More traditional ships have two seatings in their formal dining rooms, which differ only by time: typically 6:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Frequently, you can choose to dine at night someplace other than the formal dining room, such as in an intimate restaurant that features Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Southwestern cuisine. More and more cruise lines are opening up their informal Lido areas to evening dining, where the dress and dishes are always casual and you may even be able to eat out under the stars. And a large number of ships also offer romantic in-cabin dinners. The choice is yours!

Additionally, most ships have 24-hour room service. Some lines are even letting you order off the dinner menu (during dinner hours) if you prefer to eat in your cabin.

Is it better to eat dinner early or late?

Typically, Early Seating hours for dinner are between 6:00 and 6:30 pm. If you have Late Seating you'll sit down for dinner between 8:15 and 8:45 pm. Which time is better is a matter of personal preference. One of Cruise Connections' cruise specialists can assist you in deciding what time is best for you.

Some things to consider when trying to decide between Early or Late Seating include:

Early Seating is preferable if:

  • You don't like to go to bed on a full stomach.
  • You generally go to bed between 10 pm and Midnight.
  • You are taking a very "At Sea" intensive itinerary with multiple days spent on the ship. On these days you do not need to worry about getting back to the ship in time for dinner.
  • You are an early riser.

Late Seating is preferable if:

  • You are a night owl, who catches a second wind later in the evening
  • You don't want to feel rushed for dinner after a day in port.
  • It takes you or your spouse a long time to get ready for dinner.
  • You don't mind finishing your meal around 10:15 or 10:30 pm.

Other factors to consider include:

  • Your itinerary
  • Eastern Caribbean cruisers like Early Seating because of all the days at sea.
  • Western and Southern Caribbean cruisers like Late Seating because of all the ports.
  • 3 and 4 night cruisers like Late Seating because they party into the night.
  • European and Exotic Cruisers like Early Seating because they tend to be older passengers who prefer to eat earlier.

Who you are travelling with:

  • Family Reunion Groups like Early Seating because of the variety of age groups travelling.
  • Families cruising with small children prefer Early Seating so that they can stick to a set meal and bedtime schedule.

Many of today's cruise lines including, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Princess, are now offering alternatives to having dinner in the dining room or room service. For example, Norwegian Cruise Lines now has the Bistro on all of their ships, which is a separate à la Carte restaurant open between 6:30 and 11:00 pm where you can go to dinner anytime you'd like. NCL also offers "Freestyle Dining" where you can dine when, where and with whom you like. Carnival, Princess, and NCL are now using their upper deck breakfast and lunch facilities to offer a buffet version of their dinner menus. These restaurants are more casual allowing you to be more flexible with your mealtime and attire.
Since the Caribbean is still the most popular cruise destination, Late Dining always books first and is often on a wait-list 6 months prior to sailing. (Carnival does not confirm dining arrangements at the time of booking. Your assignment will be made once you board the ship). If you want to confirm a particular seating, we recommend that you book early. You can approach the Maitre'd in the dining room if you are unhappy with your dining arrangements and he or she may be able to make other accommodations for you, but this is not guaranteed.

Is there a dress code for dinner?

Dressing for dinner falls into 3 categories: Formal, Informal (also called semi-formal) and Casual. Since there are many types of outfits women can wear, we won't comment on this - just dress to compliment the men.
Breakfast & Lunch: no special dress code, even in the dining room. Shorts and tasteful t-shirts are acceptable. No swimsuits or cover-ups. Shoes must be worn.

Dinner: no shorts. Many cruise lines also stipulate no jeans in the dining room in the evening.

Casual: slacks and sport shirt
Informal: suit or sports coat with tie; some ships don't mention a tie (i.e. Holland America)

Formal: dark suit or tuxedo, or nice sports outfit.

Some newer ships now have alternative dining facilities where you can dress almost any way you want to. On a seven-night cruise they will normally have two formal nights and one or two informal nights. Three and four night cruises have one formal night. If you would really like to go completely causal or informal, look into one of the "sailing ships" (Windstar Cruises or Star Clipper) or one of NCL's "Freestyle" ships.

I have special dietary needs. Can these be accommodated?

Most ships can accommodate salt-free, low-carbohydrate, Kosher, or other diet preferences. However, this request must be made in advance, so be sure to advise your agent of this requirement when you book your cruise. Again, you should speak to the Maitre'd or your waiter once you are on board to make sure your advance request was received.

I prefer to eat in a non-smoking environment. Is this available?

Almost every cruise ship sailing has smoking and non-smoking tables and/or sections in the dining rooms and lounges. In fact, many cruise ship dining rooms are now completely smoke-free, reflecting passenger requests. If you want your dining table in a non-smoking area, advise us when making your booking. In open-seating situations, you can advise your waiter or the Maitre d' when being seated.

How do we let the dining staff know we are celebrating a special occasion?

You can advise us of your special day when making your booking, and we will be sure to pass this along to the cruise line. Most cruise lines will offer a complimentary cake and a chorus of "Happy Whatever" to help you celebrate the occasion. Your birthday or anniversary can be made more festive with champagne, flowers, canapés, wine or cheese. You can even arrange for a special private party. To be sure all the arrangements are in place, confirm your special event with the dining room Maitre'd.

How do I get a table for two?

The more high-end cruise lines, such as Crystal, Radisson Seven Seas, and Seabourn, offer more tables for two, so asking for one usually isn't a problem. On the larger ships, there are fewer smaller tables and your request may be more difficult to accommodate. Nevertheless, the newer ships (circa 1995 and later) are being built with more tables for two. We can never confirm a table for two we can only request it. The ship's Dining Coordinator who works in the cruise line's corporate office makes table and Dining Assignments. This person makes the assignments 2 weeks prior to sailing and submits the list to the Maitre d' the week before sailing. We make your request by submitting a letter to the Dining Coordinator 30 days before sailing, but it is your responsibility to remind us to do this for you. Again, we can't guarantee you'll get it, but we will make the request. If you get on board and you didn't get a table for two, see the Maitre'd, as he or she may be able to help you if something is available.

What if I don't like the other people at my table?

Rarely is this a problem. However, if you wish to move to another table, speak with the Maitre'd. He'll make every effort to seat you with more compatible dining companions...discretely and politely.

I am not a morning person. Does this mean I can't get breakfast?

Unless you plan on sleeping right through until lunchtime, you will be able to get breakfast in the casual café. Breakfast and lunch are always available in the buffet or Lido. Breakfast is usually served until 10 a.m. or later. Breakfast and lunch used to be served at two seatings in the dining room, but many ships now have an "open" dining room - which means you can come at any time when they are open (e.g. 12 - 2 for lunch). Most cruise ships also offer 24-hour complimentary room service so you can also choose to have a relaxing breakfast in your stateroom.

How do I handle tipping?

Offering gratuities is a matter of individual preference and the standards vary from cruise line to cruise line. The generally suggested guideline is $3.50 USD each for your cabin steward and dining room waiter, and $2.00 USD for your busboy per person per day. Most cruise lines will offer you a guideline, but how much you tip is completely at your discretion. You can even tip the wine steward, Maitre d' or other individuals who have provided you with outstanding service. A few cruise lines include tipping in the price. Other shipboard personnel can be tipped for special services at your discretion. Gratuities are normally handed out on the last full day of your cruise. The Cruise Director will explain this to you during the disembarkation talk and envelopes will be provided.