What To Expect When Dining On A Cruise Ship

cruise ship foodWhen you choose a cruise vacation, meals are usually included in the package. However, there are certain things travelers should be aware of if they want to enjoy their dining experience with as little hassle and bill shock as much as possible.

All cruise lines (except Norwegian Cruise Lines) offer “traditional dining”, which means you are assigned to dine at a specific time at a specific table with other passengers in the main dining room. You can request early or late seating in advance, though there is no guarantee that it will be granted. In this kind of dining format, you and your fellow traveler are required to arrive at the same time, at the same table, and eat with the same passengers for the duration of the cruise. This can be ideal for meeting new people, and for the wait staff to get to know you and your preferences.

But for others who would like to choose the time they eat and who they dine with, “traditional dining” can be a drawback. Fortunately, more cruise ships are offering open seating dining. Basically, you can walk in during a specified block of time (usually within a 4 hour period) and can be seated with just you and your companion or be seated with other passengers depending on availability. The same items offered in traditional dining should also be available for open seating dining.

Another important thing to consider is the cruise ship’s casual dining and specialty dining options. If you are worn out from participating in offshore excursions all day, it’s possible that you will be too tired even for the late dining time in the main dining room. Make sure that the cruise offers casual dining choices, just in case you are hungry later in the night. On the other hand, if you want something that is more upscale and special than what is offered in the main dining venue, it’s a good idea to ask about other available options. Usually, these specialty venues may focus on French cuisine, steaks and seafood, Italian food, and much more. Reservations are usually required, and make sure that you pack the proper attire if you are planning on dining at these establishments.

Again, it is important to stress that any kind of alternative dining—whether casual or specialty—may incur additional fees. Just make sure to clarify with the customer service representative as to what is actually included in your package, so you can budget properly for any extras.

Should you choose buffet dining, there are many important health considerations you should remember. Of course, cruise ships do what they can to maintain cleanliness and hygiene. But with so many passengers sharing the same water supply and the large variance in the personal hygiene of fellow travelers, it may be best for travelers with sensitive stomachs to avoid buffet service as much as possible.

It’s easy to assume that drinking will always come along with dining—but the fine print of your cruise package may say otherwise. This is where many cruise vacationers experience bill shock the most, because they did not know about the drink packages on offer. Many travelers are unprepared for the “anything goes” atmosphere of a cruise ship—there is no “last call” and gambling is legal once the ship is in international waters. In this environment, it’s easy to spend far more money that you initially budgeted for. While the decision to gamble is completely up to the passenger, drinking (whether it’s soda or alcohol) won’t have to cost an arm and a leg if a drink package is purchased beforehand.

In all, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy your cruise vacation and stay within your planned budget. Like with any endeavor, it is always a good idea to read the fine print before you commit. As with any kind of vacation, it’s easy to stray from your budget if you’re not careful. But as long as you are aware of your options, it should not be too hard to enjoy yourself without breaking the bank.

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