Tasting new dishes and trying out all the specialty cocktails (over the course of the week, not all at once!) on the bar menu are some of my favorite cruise activities. My cruises over the last year and this upcoming cruise in Greece inspires this week’s article about dining options on cruise ships and planning accordingly…
Selecting Dinner Options While Cruising
One of the fabulous aspects about cruising is enjoying a variety of cuisines. Some cruise lines have a stronger culinary focus than others, but regardless of the cruise line, having a delicious dinner served to you is one of the pleasures of cruising.
Breakfast and lunch are typically open seating in a dining room or buffet. In the evening, there will often be a more casual option at a grill or buffet if you want a quick and easy option. But the seated dinner is a lovely treat at the end of the day, and the various cruise lines offer a number of dining options, some that may need to be selected at time of booking or many months prior to cruise embarkation.
The typical alternatives for restaurant and dining styles include Traditional Dining, Flexible Dining, and dining by reservation. Each one has advantages along with strategies to best fit your cruising situation.
Selecting your dining choice is something that you want to plan for so that you optimize your time, both on shore during your excursions and also enjoying yourself when you get back on board.
Before deciding on the dining options for a cruise, it’s important to consider how you like to spend your time and which activities are of most interest on the cruise.
Do you like to have a cocktail in the lounge before dinner? Will you enjoy relaxing and listening to music in the piano bar? Will you want to go to the show each evening, or do prefer to enjoy time on your balcony before bed? Or all of the above.
Each of those activities can impact the timing that will work best for you to plan your preferred dinner schedule. To ensure a relaxed evening, you need to look at the time you will arrive back on the ship from the port, time you will take to change clothes, maybe nap, plus allowing the time for cocktails or music before dinner.
In addition to the ways you’ll spend your onboard, time in port and your selected excursions also can impact which dining selections best work.
For example, on an Alaska cruise, often the itinerary will have evenings with later port departures, so if you plan afternoon excursions, early dinner will conflict. On the other hand, if you have a late dinner scheduled the night before an early morning excursion, you may feel more constrained that evening.
With Traditional Dining, there is an early sitting around 6:00 p.m. and a late seating say around 8:30. Flexible Dining lets you eat when you are hungry – you can just walk in at whatever time you like, but you do have to be willing to wait a little bit, particular if it’s around 7:00-7:30pm, which is clearly a prime dining time.
Pretty much every ship nowadays will have some type of specialty dining. On some ships access to the specialty restaurants may be limited to once per cruise, but pretty much all will require reservations. Again, you want to be very aware of the port times, scheduled excursions and ship activities in selecting the times for your reservations.
Each trip may lead you to different dining selections, as the destination, port times and cruise line’s offerings will influence which are the better choices that fit your style and preferences. If you enjoy Traditional Dining, the early seating tends to fill up first, so best to book your cruise very early. If you love the specialty dining options, selecting days where you can be more flexible to accept reservations that are early or late will make it easier to reserve your table.
The nuances of the diverse dining options offered by different cruise lines can affect your enjoyment of your cruise and pace of your day, so understanding your preferences and other interests and activities onboard can help a travel professional steer you to the right cruiseline that best fits for you. While some folks think the cruise lines are very similar, or are familiar with a particular brand and how they work, there can be significant differences in the style of dining and options offered, so sometimes an alternate dining style could be a better fit for you , or a better fit for a particular cruise itinerary.