Probably one of the biggest changes in cruising that Kim and I have seen over the last decade has been in the dining experience. Knowing what to expect with dining allows you to make choices. Gone are the days were five star cuisines that was served at a fixed time. You can still enjoy fixed time seating and dining for dinner but it is more casual dining. The style of dining offered today on cruise lines gives you more options and anytime dining so that you can eat whenever you want without going to the dining rooms.
The traditional dining experience has not changed in some ways for dinner because they still have main and late seating. For dinner you have assigned dining times and seating. When booking your cruise you will be asked your preference of early or late seating. Early seating is usually at 6:00 pm and late seating at 8:00 – 8:30 pm. The main entertainment generally will also have an early and late show that accommodates the dining schedules. You will have assigned seating and the same staff for the entire cruise. This applies to dinner only with most cruise lines having open seating for breakfast and lunch. Open seating means that they have a certain time they serve breakfast and lunch and you can go to eat anytime during this time in the dining room.
If you prefer not to eat in the dining room, cruise ships now offer a variety of eating choices. This freestyle dining experiences allows you to choose what best fits your style and needs. There are buffets, bistros and specialty shops on board that you may choose from. Another choice is dining in upscale restaurants where you can experience the elegance and ambiance of days past if you prefer. These restaurants will cost typically around $30 per person for this experience.
What if I get Hungry between Meals?
If you get hungry outside of meal times, there are numerous options to choose from. There are buffets and bistros scattered throughout the decks (think close to the pools and open deck areas). You can visit any of the specialty shops such as the coffee shops or pastry shops to pick up that snack or other items you may want. Room service is available but be forewarned the selection is limited and depending on when you call, it can take a long time to receive your meal. Trying to feed 2,500 people is no small task and cruise ships do an amazing job at it, but special requests have to make way for the main operations of the galley.
Special diets or allergies are usually not a problem as long as you let the cruise line know this in advance through guest services. Reminding the waiter or maître’d when boarding is also a good idea. All meals in the dining rooms, room service, buffets and most of the bistros are included in your cruise price. Coffee, tea, and milk are usually included in your package deal. Anything else such as alcohol, colas, water and flavored teas are at an extra cost.
Gone and missed are the “Midnight Buffets”. This was an event for the chefs to really demonstrate their artistic skills. Cruise ship vacations are still bargains for you or you and your families.