Cruises are known for many things, including exotic destinations, luxurious spas, and fabulous activities, but cruise travel dining tops the list as the most popular indulgence on board.
Types of Cruise Travel Dining
There is never a time when passengers cannot find a meal, snack, or treat on a cruise ship. From self-serve tidbits to multi-course gourmet repasts, there are options for any appetite and palate. Not all dining venues are included in the cruise price, however, and prospective passengers need to recognize which options are free and what the differences are between them.
Main Dining Rooms
The core of cruise travel dining is the main dining room: all passengers are allotted space in these communal restaurants, often by assigned times to facilitate dining preferences and ease of serving hundreds or thousands of passengers. There are generally both early and late dining times, and passengers can request a preferred time when booking their voyage, though requests are not guaranteed. There are no extra charges for meals in the main dining rooms.
In the main dining room, skilled servers attend each table with bread, water, drink service, menu explanation, and special dining requests. Table sizes range from tables for two (quite rare on most ships) to tables accommodating 10 or more passengers. If passengers prefer a different table assignment, perhaps to join new friends or to remove themselves from unpleasant company, they can speak with the maitre d' to arrange a new assignment.
Most ships offer several alternative dining venues. Common alternative restaurants include:
- Casual buffets that serve all three main meals.
- Reservations-only restaurants, such as a steakhouse, Italian eatery, or other high-class cuisine venue.
- Familiar brand names such as the Johnny Rockets restaurants found on many Royal Caribbean ships.
- Bistro-style cafes featuring light menu items such as sandwiches, croissants, specialty coffees, or ice cream.
Generally speaking, casual buffets (usually found in the aft part of the ship) do not incur additional charges, but more highly specialized restaurants may have a per-person surcharge or a la carte menu prices.
Most cruise ships offer at least one themed buffet per voyage. The most common is a midnight buffet featuring appetizers, snacks, and desserts in stunning arrangements including carved fruits and vegetables, knotted breads, and designer cakes. Ice carvings and coordinated displays make these buffets a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.In addition to a grand buffet, specialty buffets may be presented at deck parties or as other activities during the voyage. A buffet of all Jamaican treats may be presented the day the ship docks in Jamaica, for example, or a chocoholic buffet may be offered as a decadent indulgence any night of the voyage. Buffets rarely have an additional charge.
Passengers interested in snacks rather than full meals will not be disappointed by cruise travel dining. There are many options for quick treats on most ships, including:
- Self-serve frozen yogurt or ice cream, usually found in the casual buffet area or near a main promenade
- 24-hour pizzeria service, prominently featured on all Carnival cruises as well as other lines.
- Afternoon teas on the Cunard line and other luxury cruises.
- Daily cookies or sundae parties on family-oriented voyages.
- Specialty bistros offering quick sandwiches or gourmet desserts.
- Food-oriented activities such as a wine-and-cheese tasting seminar or chocolate dipping workshop.
Some snacks, particularly those with brand-name products, may have extra fees, but many options are included with the cruise fare.
Round-the-clock room service is an important feature of many cruise ships' dining options. Passengers can find a room service menu and ordering instructions in their cabin, and the food will be delivered to their door. Different ships have different room service menus: some only offer cold items (sandwiches, salads, desserts) while others will allow passengers to select from that day's main dining menu during regular meal times. The cabin steward will remove dirty dishes when the room is cleaned, or passengers may set them carefully in the hallway (out of the traffic flow) for regular collection.
Passengers should note that while there is usually no fee for room service, it is customary to tip the server who delivers the food, particularly for large orders or if the service was exceptionally prompt.
Trying Out the Menus
With so many options, many passengers feel overwhelmed by cruise travel dining. The key to experiencing the different tastes is to not be afraid to experiment: it is perfectly acceptable, for example, to order more than one appetizer, main course, or dessert during dinner, and the server will discreetly serve both without any fuss. Passengers who are uncertain about different dishes can ask for clarification, and if they decide they don't like what they ordered, they can request a replacement that will be served with all possible speed.Travelers nervous about what they may find on menus can generally preview the options long before their assigned dining time. Most main dining rooms post the day's menu outside the entrance, and the daily ship's newsletter will often mention special snacks or themed buffets scheduled for that day.
Passengers with special dietary requirements - allergies, vegetarian, diabetic needs, etc. - will not be disappointed by their options on a cruise. Letting the travel agent know about special diets beforehand helps with extreme requirements, and all menus include vegetarian and heart-healthy or "light" fare for passengers to sample. To ensure an appropriate diet, always inform the server about special needs as well.
From dawn to dusk and even past midnight, there are many cruise travel dining options to enjoy. Whether you prefer a sophisticated gourmet experience or are just interested in a fun snack, you will never go hungry on a cruise ship. The biggest trick is to try out all the delicious options without gaining weight while on board!