Don’t forget to pack your big pants; a cruise holiday is bursting at the seams with dining options. Most ships feature main dining rooms, casual dining and a selection of speciality restaurants. If there is one thing that you can be sure of, it’s that you will never go hungry on a cruise.
Also known as Club Dining or Fixed Dining, Traditional Dining takes place in the ship’s main dining rooms and means that guests dine at the same table each evening of the cruise. This is a popular choice for passengers who enjoy knowing where and when they will dine each evening and who prefer to get to know the same group of table companions and waiting staff well throughout the course of the cruise. It is also popular with large groups or families, with bookings linked to ensure that groups are seated together and are guaranteed a table each night.
Guests opting for Traditional Dining may select or request their preferred sitting time (depending on the fare type booked), with an early sitting at around 6pm and a later sitting around 8.30pm, though times may vary depending on which cruise line you are sailing with. Guests opting for Traditional Dining may also request their preferred table size. Whilst preferences cannot be guaranteed, they are always noted and the maître’d will do everything possible to meet your request.
Guests requesting Traditional Dining have the option of dining elsewhere on the ship whenever they choose, though their table will be reserved regardless.
Freedom Dining is known by many variations, including My Time Dining with Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Select Dining with Celebrity Cruises and As You Wish Dining with Holland America Line. Regardless of how it is referred to the principle behind it remains the same and this is effectively ‘open seating’.
Freedom Dining is ideal for guests who prefer a little flexibility in mealtimes. Simply arrive any time you like between the hours of 6pm and 9.30pm and request a table of your preferred size. If a table is available, or you are happy to join a larger table, you will be seated immediately. If you have requested a table for two you may be required to wait a short while, taking a buzzer and enjoying a drink at the bar until one becomes available.
There are countless casual dining spots to be found on board most cruise lines, including poolside grills, cafes, patisseries, pizza counters and of course buffets. These relaxed venues are usually located on the ship’s higher decks, near to pool areas, and are very popular at lunch and late afternoon.
Buffets serve a huge range of both hot and cold food, including local specialities that reflect your destination. You will also find food stations offering made to order dishes too, such as stir fry and omelettes. Water, juices, tea and coffee are offered complimentary in buffet areas and can be found next to the food stations. There will also be a table service for guests wishing to purchase other beverages.
All cruise ships offer a variety of speciality restaurants, with up to 24 venues found on board ships in fleets from the likes of Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean. Speciality Dining, or Select Dining as it is also known, offers guests the perfect opportunity to try something a little different, with French, Italian, Pan Pacific, Asian and more on offer.
Some speciality dining venues are complimentary, such as some of those on board RCI’s Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas, however most of them will incur a very reasonable supplement. These are usually considerably less than you would expect to pay at home, with the charge to eat at Marco Pierre White’s Café Jardin on P&O Cruises Ocean just £5pp. Other restaurants range up to £25pp or $40pp depending on cruise line but all offer excellent value for money and receive rave reviews. Luxury cruise lines are often all-inclusive and so will include all speciality restaurants in the cost of your fare. Pre-booking is always advised and cruise lines may limit the number of times a guest may dine in a speciality restaurant per cruise, so as to give everyone on board a chance to experience each restaurant. Norwegian Cruise Line are amongst a handful of operators who now offer dining packages, allowing guests to pay a package fee and eat at a certain number of speciality restaurants. This works out cheaper than paying individual supplements and has become popular with passengers who like to try several speciality restaurants over the course of their holiday.
Recent years have seen several celebrity chefs represented with speciality dining restaurants on board. These include Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian, Eric Lanlard’s Afternoon Tea, Atul Kochhar’s Sindhu and countless others. These restaurants are often considerably cheaper on board than they are at home and are a great way to experience menus that have been specially created by the chefs.
Many cruise lines, including Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises and Oceania Cruises, offer guests an exclusive dining experience in the form of a ‘Chef’s Table’. The evening varies between cruise lines, though most experiences see a limited number of guests join the chefs for a visit ashore, on which they will collect ingredients to be used in the evening’s meal. The chefs will then create unique menus based on the preferences of the guests, cooking in an open kitchen and serving the meal at the ‘Chef’s Table’ in a private room.