Many cruise travelers may not have the time or budget for a full-length vacation, and dinner cruises can offer an evening getaway with the same fine dining and superior entertainment as a longer cruise vacation. Before embarking for an evening meal, however, it is important to understand the different types of meal cruise options and what they offer prospective passengers.
Where to Find Dinner Cruises
Any moderately-sized city with access to a major body of water could potentially offer evening cruises. Bays, lakes, rivers, and shorelines are the most popular options depending on the waterway, and each one offers remarkable scenery, fine dining, and an intimate cruise experience.
To locate an evening cruise operator, contact the city's tourism bureau or visitor center and inquire about cruise options, or contact a local travel agent for potential leads. Online searches can also uncover meal cruises, and many websites offer virtual ship tours, sample menus, and upcoming schedules for visitors' convenience.
Some of the most popular cities and their venues for dinner cruises are:
- Los Angeles, CA - coastal cruises
- San Francisco, CA - coastal and bay cruises
- San Diego, CA - coastal cruises
- Miami, FL - coastal cruises
- Tampa, FL - bay cruises
- Jacksonville, FL - river cruises
- Maui, HI - coastal cruises
- Chicago, IL - lake cruises
- Vancouver, BC - coastal cruises
- New York City, NY - river and coastal cruises
- Sault St. Marie, MI - river and locks cruises
Many other cities also offer meal and evening cruises; contact the city before visiting to learn about different cruising options.
Types of Meal Cruises
Not all dinner cruises are the same. In fact, depending on the company and ship, there are several types of meal cruises.
- Served Dinner: Wait staff serves individual tables, typically with gourmet, multi-course meals. These are generally more formal affairs, similar to high-class restaurants on land.
- Buffet Meals: Buffet cruises are generally less expensive and more informal than served meals. These options are also more kid-friendly than gourmet meal cruises.
- Chartered Cruises: Often used for wedding receptions, business events, and other social functions, chartered meal cruises vary depending on the needs of the person or company who hired the boat.
- Themed Cruises: Some companies schedule regular themes for their meal cruises, such as seasonal events, murder mysteries, or sailings related to the evening's entertainment, such as a jazz cruise, karaoke cruise, or special event with a guest lecturer.
- Lunch or Brunch Cruises: An alternative to a dinner sailing, these cruises are typically less formal and less expensive than evening meals, with the exception of holidays or special events.
- Cocktail Cruises: Though not technically a meal cruise, this option gives passengers a delightful way to spend an evening. Appetizers are often available as well as assorted drinks.
What to Expect on a Dinner Cruise
Any cruise passenger knows that the food on large ships is exemplary, but there is far more to any cruise - even an evening meal cruise - than just the food. Knowing what to expect during an evening getaway can help interested individuals prepare for a spectacular event, no matter what the occasion.
Naturally, the food is the highlight of any meal cruise. Depending on the cruise operator, the food may be served in multiple courses, may be buffet style or served by trained staff, and may involve quite an extensive menu, all prepared onboard. Vegetarian entrees are usually available, but prospective passengers should inquire about additional dietary needs prior to making reservations. Deluxe cruises often feature extraordinary choices such as prime rib, duck, or lobster, while more casual sailings will offer classic favorites such as steak and pasta. Most cruises also offer appetizers and desserts. Alcoholic drinks are typically not included in the initial fare, but may be purchased on board by passengers with proper identification.
During the meal, different types of entertainment may be offered. Evening cruises often feature dancing or other romantic diversions, and the sunset is a key feature of any dinner cruise. Later cruises can be just as romantic with stargazing, and earlier cruises often feature mini-tours that highlight architecture and other sites visible on shore. Depending on the location and time of year, autumn foliage and whale watching are other possible entertainment options.Most meal cruises feature music during dinner, either provided by a live musician, entire band, or just piped in to the dining area. More casual sailings may encourage passengers to provide their own entertainment through karaoke contests or other interactive options.
Costs and Discounts
Just as with different cruise lines, the price of a meal cruise varies according to several factors. Items that affect the cost include:
- Type of menu items and the size of the selection
- Time of year, especially for holiday sailings
- Duration of cruise, typically from 2-4 hours
- Time of sailing (early or late)
- Themes or special events
Costs of meal cruises range from under $30 per person to well over $100 per person, and reservations are nearly always required. Children are generally less expensive, and groups can usually be accommodated at discounts unless the entire boat needs to be reserved.
For a romantic, indulgent diversion when there isn't time for a proper cruise vacation, many experienced cruisers turn to dinner cruises. With elegant and sumptuous dining, spirited entertainment, and the ambiance of a luxurious ship, there can be no finer way to pass an evening.