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Dining Experiences While Cruising

Dining Experiences While Crusing-Featured Image-PP
I continue my conversation about cruise dining with some more insights into dining styles…

Dining Experiences While Cruising

Last week I talked about the different dining options while cruising, and how to think through your activities of the day or evening to best align your dining style and time.

Beyond selecting your dining style based on your onboard interests and port activities, there are a few other considerations.

On some cruise lines, one of the things that can be enjoyable with the flexible dining is that they will sit you with other folks. My husband and I will sometimes ask for a table for two, but more often say we’d like to sit at a larger table. They will sit us at a table for six and then will bring the next few couples that are also open to eating with others to join us. We’ve found it to be a great way to meet other people as we were sailing and we actually made some very good friends that way.

The old classic dining style shown on “The Love Boat” is Traditional Dining in the ship’s dining room with set seating times. This style does still exist on a number of cruise lines, although not all. The benefit of this dining method is that you have the same table with the same waiters and service crew each evening – they get to know your preferences and can respond accordingly.

You also dine with the same people each evening, which can be quite delightful if you have very interesting folks, as you dine together over multiple evenings and you get to know each other well and have deeper conversations. On the other hand, sometimes folks are not so pleased with their dinner companions (although you can attempt to have your seating changed).

For traditional dining, some cruise lines do a really beautiful job in matching the dining companions at a shared table. In 2014 I went on a cruise on the Crystal Serenity with my mom, and quite frankly, I really don’t like the set dining times, but it was too late to schedule anything else, so we had the late dining. They paired us with another mother-daughter pair, and an older lady who was traveling with two of her middle-aged employees, and one of the gentlemen hosts. We had a perfectly wonderful time each evening sharing the stories of our day, and then adjourning from the dining room to the lounge and dance floor where we would dance with each other or our gentleman host (Crystal is out of business now, but they had men who are good dancers onboard so women traveling alone have someone to dance with). I was very impressed that they consciously matched the fact that we were women traveling together and got the women of two generations matched appropriately.

For specialty dining, some cruise lines will charge a premium (extra cost) for dinner in one of the specialty restaurants, while other cruise lines include specialty dining as an amenity with no extra cost.

On my Greece sailing with Seaborn last year, we enjoyed the Thomas Keller dining experience. Thomas Keller is famous for the French Laundry in Napa Valley, and Seaborne has partnered with him. While it is complimentary, you do need to have a reservation.

Because specialty restaurants like this tend to be small and intimate, there are limited reservation slots. Typically you book your reservation on the cruise line portal ahead of time, and your access to making those reservations can depend on your booking category. For example, on Oceania, if you book the highest cabin levels, you can make reservations 90 days before embarkation, while Penthouse suites can make their reservations 75 days out and a Veranda cabin can reserve 45 days prior. There are many times I have sat up until midnight for reservations to open so that I could grab the best dining time for my clients.

The folks making their reservations on the portal as soon as availability opens up tend to book the 7:00-7:30pm slots, so if you have reservation access later in the process, or book your cruise closer to sail date, most of the slots left will be 6pm or 9pm, so it’s best to be flexible and look at your ports and excursions to see which days offer you the most flexibility to schedule your special dinner.

On Azamara you book your specialty dining reservations once on board. Typically folks can make their reservation at the Windows Café on embarkation day. For those in a suite, asking your butler to make those reservations is a great way to leverage that amenity of having a butler.

Regardless of which dining option you choice, for most cruise lines there is the opportunity to have anything and everything you want on the menu; you don’t have to follow the 1 soup – 1 salad – 1 entrée – 1 dessert pattern.

If you see multiple things on the menu you like, you can have them all! You can order a second entree or ask to have it served in an appetizer size. Order two appetizers or two desserts. Order an extra dish for the table to share.

Cruising is the perfect time to experiment and try new foods. If you see a food that is unfamiliar, you can try it – hopefully you find a new flavor you love, but if you don’t, you just ask for another option. Enjoy trying a variety of cuisines and interesting ingredient combinations.