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Fine Dining... or Not So Fancy... or FreeStyle
You can really look forward to some wonderful dining experiences aboard a cruise ship.  You will find many varied opinions as to what makes the dining special, but you can be sure of one thing...One way or another, you will be spoiled (you can graze almost all day if you like!)  This is what you can expect on most cruise liners: 
  • Delicious, beautifully presented meals. (Keep in mind - the larger the ship, the harder it is to please everyone.)
  • Open seating (arrive within a certain time frame and sit where you choose) in the main dining room for breakfast and lunch.
  • Seated dinners in the main (formal) dining room (at appointed times at assigned tables) - (see recommended dress code in daily NewsLetter)
    • One or two scheduled seatings at assigned tables each night
      • Early Seating is good for...
        • families with children (to allow for bedtimes)
        • early bedtimers
        • sea-intensive  itineraries
      • The late seating is good for...
        • people who are in no particular hurry
        • late-night gamblers or gambolers
        • days with late excursions (no "rushed" feeling)
    • One formal dinner for every three days at sea
    • One casually elegant dinner for every three days at sea
    • One casual dinner for every three days at sea
  • Lido dining (all meals), served buffet- or cafeteria-style, but with similar excellent quality and selection (No bathing suits or bare feet, please).
  • Poolside grills, serving dogs and burgers, maybe a pasta or taco bar.
  • Room or full menus are available, depending on the ship.
  • Special occasions can be celebrated with drinks and hors d'oeuvres in your cabin or a private room (extra charge for this service).
  • Alternative dining rooms on some larger and newer ships may serve the same meals as in the main dining room, may serve a combination buffet/waiter-served meal, or have smaller menus of their own.  Reservations may be required.
  • Special dietary requirements can easily be met. You should follow-up when you arrive onboard.
  • Children's menus offer burgers, pizza, pasta, etc.
  • Meals are served at regular times during days in port.  Please feel free to dine and go as you please. 
  • Smoking is sometimes allowed in certain sections of the dining room on some ships.  Cigars and pipes are not allowed in the dining room.
If your agent did not make your reservation, you may do so upon embarkation.  You will find a card in your cabin regarding your table assignment.  Most lines try to match up passengers based on age or language spoken, and for the most part you will find your dinner companions interesting and enjoyable.  If you happen to find yourself dining with people you really can't stand, immediately bring it to the attention of the Maitre d'.  He will do his best to make appropriate changes, but you may have to compromise a little if the ship is full. 

In our family we each gain a pound a day, but we only eat six or seven of the dozen or so meals served daily.  I always have two appetizers and two desserts at dinner.  Use common sense and try not to overdo it.  The lethargy following a big meal can often result in a nap that will make you miss something great.  Then again, some people really like to nap! 

...or FreeStyle

Some cruise lines have begun to offer "Dine as you Wish" or "FreeStyle" dining, which essentially offers the cruiser choices in dining.

As You Wish® Dining on Holland America

From a festive five-course affair to a quick, casual dinner for two, our As You Wish® dining lets you choose the venues and style that suit you.

The Elegant Main Dining Room

  • Luxurious Dining Room, graced with fine art and antiques
  • Sophisticated Rosenthal china and crisp white table linens
  • Five-course menus with offerings from classic preparations regionally inspired cuisine to vegetarian options
  • Your choice of traditional pre-set seating and dining times or a flexible open schedule

The Pinnacle Grill Experience

  • Intimate dining featuring Sterling Silver Beef® and fresh seafood
  • Luxurious appointments including Bvlgari® china, Riedel® stemware and Frette® linens
  • Extensive wine list featuring many selections rated “Excellent” by Wine Spectator
  • Featuring "An Evening at Le Cirque in the Pinnacle Grill"

Other delightful ways to dine

  • Fresh, cooked-to-order specialties in the Lido Restaurant for breakfast and lunch
  • Made-to-order dinner entrees and tableside waiter service in the Lido Restaurant for dinner
  • Complimentary 24-hour in-room dining
  • The Terrace Grill on deck
  • Late-night snack; Chocolate Dessert Extravaganza
  • Explorations Café featuring pastries and espresso drinks
  • Daily Afternoon Tea service, elevated to Royal Dutch High Tea once per cruise

A master staff and crew

  • Enhanced menu design under the direction of Master Chef Rudi Sodamin
  • Executive chefs inducted into the prestigious Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs, an international food and wine society

Signature touches

  • Ice cream bar featuring complimentary treats
  • Hot hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour.

Special dietary needs, such as vegetarian, diabetic or gluten-free meals, are easily accommodated with advance requests. Kosher meals and a Health Conscious Dining option are also available

    Getting the same waiter every night...On Princess ships offering Personal Choice, whether your party is large or small, if you find a waiter you love you can  reserve a table by phone. In some cases you can arrange a standing reservation for that table through the maitre d'. Your request has to be within a certain time frame so they can achieve two seatings at that table per night.  Of course, the waiters also love it when people do this because it's easier to give good service when you wait on the same people night after night, and their adoring pax give generous direct cash tips at the end of the week in addition to the auto-tips!

...and drink

Coffee, tea and sometimes iced tea are available all day, usually in the Lido area. 

Cocktails (and mocktails), sodas and bottled water are available in the dining room and at the many lounges around the ship, as well as from the waiter who visits you around the pool (please do not be offended if they hawk, "Cruise and Booze").  On most ships they are not free, but may be charged to your shipboard account.  Sometimes you can get a prepaid "soda card" for the kids. 

The friends of Bill W. meet daily.

...and pre-ordered cabin breakfast menu

You will find a preprinted order form to be filled out at night and hung on your doorknob.  Here is a sample of what you might find on a typical Cabin Breakfast Menu:

Preferred Time Frame
6 - 6:30 AM       6:30 - 7 AM      7 - 7:30 AM      7:30 - 8 AM
8 - 8:30 AM      8:30 - 9 AM        9 - 9:30 AM        9:30 - 10 AM
Grapefruit; Orange:; Cranberry; V-8; Prune, Tomato
Fresh Fruit
Half Grapefruit; Sliced Bananas; Diced Oranges; Mixed Fruit; Seasonal Melons; Stewed Prunes
Low Fat Yogurt
Plain; Fruit
English Muffin (1); White Toast (2); Wheat Toast (2); Rye Toast (2); Danish (1); Croissant (2); Blueberry Muffin (1); Bran Muffin (1); Bagel (1)
Assorted Jams; Marmalade; Honey; Butter; Margarine; Cream Cheese
Corn Flakes; Special K; Mueslix; Raisin Bran; Granola; Fruit Loops; Frosted Flakes; Rice Krispies; Shredded Wheat
With: Milk; 2% Milk; Skim Milk
Eggs & Meats
Two Eggs: Scrambled or sunnyside up or over easy
Omelet: With Cheese or With Ham and Cheese
Eggbeaters: Scrambled or Omelet with Cheese or Omelet with Ham and Cheese
Meat: Ham or Sausage or Bacon
Regular Coffee; Decaf Coffee; Tea; Hot Chocolate;
Milk; 2% Milk; Skim Milk; Half & Half


Your travel agent can reserve dining room preferences when she books your cruise: 
  • early or late sitting
  • tables available for two (rare) to ten unrelated passengers
  • large tables for groups
  • private dining area for dinner meetings
  • window or balcony views

Communicating with the Waitstaff

In an effort to make your vacation as carefree as possible, many lines have taken measures to ensure that the waitstaff understands your requests.  Please understand that most of these people are from different countries and even if they understand your English, Spanish or French, they might not catch your accent.  Be patient and don't be too upset if you have to point to an item on the menu. 

A Few Words about Dressing (up)

During the day on any ship, dress is casual, except that you must wear something over your swimsuits when in the restaurants and other public areas.  The suggested attire for the evening is probably the most-discussed (disgust) subject among veteran cruisers.  Some love it, some hate it, some tolerate it.  The daily NewsLetter will suggest a dress code for the evening which is to be observed throughout the evening, please.  These suggestions will vary from ship to ship, some being more formal than others, but mostly is there to try to maintain a feeling of elegance that some are not able to enjoy at home.  On a typical 7-night cruise, you may have:
  • 2-6 smart-casual nights 
    • Men... slacks, no tie 
    • Ladies... slacks or skirts & shirts or light dress
  • 2 Formal nights
    • Men... dark business suit & tie or tuxedo
    • Ladies...cocktail  or long evening gown
  • Bistro-style dining every night
    • Casually proper

How to Trick Yourself into Not Feeling Guilty about Overindulging

  • Skip a meal now and then if you can.  You won't miss one of the 10 or 12 offerings.
  • Plan your meals ahead.  Complete menus are posted in convenient places for your comparison.
  • Try the "healthful" meals instead of double-everything like I do.
  • Get the bread pudding without the sauce :-(
  • Run a mile or try the exercise room/class.
  • Forget this list.  Don't look in the mirror, and enjoy!

A Little Table Manners Humor Table Manners Page

How to Eat onboard for dummies...

Dining Decisions aboard Your Cruise
Adapted From: Cruise Vacations For Dummies 2005
as posted in
Do you want to have time after dinner to take in a show, or do you
prefer to linger over an after-dinner drink? Do you want to spend
(relatively) private time with your loved one(s) during meals, or are
you looking forward to socializing with your fellow passengers over
surf'n' turf? This section helps you make these decisions.

Timing is everything
The logistics of trying to fit all the passengers in a dining room at
the same time are generally impossible, so you often have to sign up
for a designated time to eat, especially for dinner. Some ships,
including those in the Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess fleets, make
exceptions to this rule by offering restaurant-style, open-seating
options in their dining rooms. Assigned seating is not normally
required on smaller or ritzier ships. But on most ships, table space is
still reserved.

If you like to eat early, go to the main or early seating around 6 p.m.
Advantages and disadvantages exist for early and late times, so it
basically comes down to whatever you prefer. Families, seniors, and
people who don't like larger crowds generally go to the early seating.
You may feel like you need to eat quickly because the staff rushes
around to get things ready for the late diners. However, because your
food doesn't have to sit for hours under warmers, it may be fresher.
You may find that activities right after dinner are less crowded, and
you may get better seats to shows while the other half of the
passengers eat. And after a good night's dancing, you feel famished
just in time for the midnight buffet.

Late seating falls around 8:30 p.m., giving you time for a nice long
shower or one last game of shuffleboard before dinner. Your meal isn't
rushed at all - unless you want to catch the 10 p.m. show. Unlike the
early diners, you may not be hungry again at midnight, which can be a
good thing if you want to watch your waistline.

The dining room assigned-time rules are supposed to be in effect during
breakfast and lunch, too; however, most ships are fairly lenient during
these times. Crowds in the dining room are typically only an issue at
dinner. If you show up before or after your assigned time at breakfast
or lunch and your assigned table is occupied, the staff seats you
elsewhere. Alternatively, you can also eat at one of the more casual
eateries on the ship.

In a bid to be more flexible with its main dining room seating policy,
Carnival Cruise Lines offers four assigned dining times: 5:45 p.m.,
6:30 p.m., 8:00 p.m., and 8:45 p.m. You still have to pick your
preferred time in advance of your sailing, however.

Tabling seat assignments
Dinner on a cruise ship is a very sociable time and an ideal situation
to meet some of your fellow passengers. You can choose to sit at a
table of 1, 2, 4, 8, 10, or even 12 people, although the smallest
tables are the hardest to come by. You can wait and see what you get,
or you can indicate your seating preference when you book your trip
(travel agents can make these arrangements). The cruise line assigns a
table to you based on your request. The assignment may show upon your
ticket, or you may not get it until you board the ship. If you don't
get the assignment you want, try to change it. A tip for the maitre d'
can inspire him to find an opening for your party.

In some cases, you can make known your preference for either a smoking
or nonsmoking section of the dining room in advance of your cruise.
Many cruise lines - including Carnival, Celebrity, Princess, and
Royal Caribbean - ban smoking completely in their dining rooms,
making this point moot.

If you have any special dietary requirements, alert the cruise line
when you make your reservation. After you board, check with the maitre
d' your first day out to make sure that the kitchen got your request.
Some lines offer kosher menus and most have vegetarian, low-fat,
low-salt, or sugar-free options.

Grazing throughout the day
Excess: The key word for cruise ship eating. In fact, cruise ships may
offer organized activities just to help distract you from the endless
edible offerings. Check out this typical meals listing from one cruise
line to see what's meant by that old joke, "You come on as a passenger
and you leave as cargo":

Top o' the morning: (6:30 a.m.) Coffee and simple pastries.
Buffet breakfast: (8 to 10:30 a.m.) Daily specials, sweet rolls, fruit,
eggs, bacon, cereal, yogurt, croissants, coffee, juice, and tea.
Breakfast in the dining room: (Main seating begins around 7 a.m.; late
seating around 8 or 9 a.m.) Full breakfast, including omelets, eggs,
French toast, pancakes, breakfast meats, potatoes, fish, cereal,
oatmeal, fruit, yogurt, and juices.
Mid-morning snack: (10 a.m.) Sweet rolls, muffins, coffee, and tea.
Buffet lunch: (11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) Full hot and cold lunch
offerings, including salad bar and pasta station.
Lunch in the dining room: (Main seating at noon; late seating at 1:30
p.m.) Full luncheon with a rotating menu of hot dishes, salads,
sandwiches, pastas, grilled items, and desserts.
Afternoon tea: (3:30 to 5:00 p.m.) Tea and cake.
Snack time: (All afternoon) Ice cream and fat-free frozen yogurt.
Dinner in the dining room: (Early seating at 6 p.m.; late seating at
8:15 p.m.) Gourmet cuisine, including popular international and
American dishes served in seven courses with desserts.
Midnight buffet: (Guess!) Extravagant offerings of hot and cold
entrees, desserts, salads, cold meats, breads, cheeses, and fruit.
As if you could still require more eating opportunities, your ship may
also have a pizza parlor, an ice cream parlor, or maybe even a sushi
bar. Some ships, particularly the newer and larger ones, may also boast
coffee bars, which tend to offer sweets, and champagne bars, where you
can have caviar with all the trimmings. (Be aware of an extra charge
for the caviar, as well as possible charges for espresso, cappuccino,
and gourmet ice cream.)

Mastering dining room etiquette
Even the most socially polished cruisers may need some pointers on
shipboard dining. Display good manners in the dining room by following
these tips:

  • Arrive in the dining room on time. Dining hours are listed in the daily program.
  • Display your understanding of what the members of the dining staff do.
  • Order from the waiter, not the busboy.
  • Offer wine to the others at your table. If your tablemates are as polite as you are, one of them will order the next night's bottle.
  • If you don't finish your bottle of wine, ask your waiter to have it corked. You can have it held for the next night.
  • Consider the waiter's suggestion about menu items or specials. The waiter can tell you the most popular menu items.
  • To keep from embarrassing yourself or your dining companions, don't do
  • the following:
    • Don't start eating until the waiter serves everyone at your table. Good etiquette no matter where you dine.
    • Don't show up dressed inappropriately for the evening. Check your daily bulletin for the dress code for the evening and prepare accordingly.
    • Don't use the incorrect silverware. Use your silverware moving from the outside in. The first fork on the left is the one that you use for the first course.
    • Don't feel as if you have to eat a meal you don't like. Feel free to send food back and ask for something else if you don't like your selection.
    • Don't try to smoke in a no-smoking section. Or, even worse, in a no-smoking dining room.

A Little Room Service Humor

Although forwarded from elsewhere, this telephone conversation could have easily been one from my first cruise:
Room Service: "Morny. Ruin sorbees."
Guest:        "Sorry, I thought I dialed room-service."
Room Service: "Rye..Ruin sorbees..morny! Djewish to odor sunteen?"
Guest:        "Uh..yes..I'd like some bacon and eggs."

Room Service: "Ow July den?"
Guest:        "What?"

Room Service: "Ow July den?...pry, boy, pooch?"
Guest:        "Oh, the eggs! How do I like them? Sorry, scrambled please."

Room Service: "Ow July dee bayhcem...crease?"
Guest:        "Crisp will be fine."

Room Service: "Hokay. An San tos?"
Guest:        "What?"

Room Service: "San tos. July San tos?"
Guest:        "I don't think so."

Room Service: "No? Judo one toes?"
Guest:        "I feel really bad about this, but I don't know what 'judo one toes' means."

Room Service: "Toes! toes!...why djew Don Juan toes? Ow bow singlish mopping we bother?
Guest:        "English muffin!! I've got it! You were saying 'Toast'. Fine. Yes, an English muffin will be fine."

Room Service: "We bother?"
Guest:        "No..just put the bother on the side."

Room Service: "Wad?"
Guest:        "I mean butter...just put it on the side."

Room Service: "Copy?"
Guest :       "Sorry?"

Room Service: "Copy...tea...mill?"
Guest:        "Yes. Coffee please, and that's all."

Room Service: "One Minnie. Ass ruiten: strangle ache, crease baychem, tossy singlish mopping we bother honey sigh, and copy....rye?"
Guest:        "Whatever you say."

Room Service: "Tendjewberrymud."
Guest:        "You're welcome."

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