Years ago, there was really only one choice for dining on a cruise ship – the main dining room, a sit-down, banquet-style restaurant with multicourse menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner (a midnight buffet was common, too). Each passenger would have an assigned dining time and table, getting to know their tablemates throughout the cruise – the beginning of many enduring friendships.
With elegant surroundings and favorite dishes from a mix of cuisines, main dining rooms are still a popular onboard dining choice. But while the dining room endures, most ships now offer other options for any meal. This provides more choice and flexibility, but can be a little confusing when you first step on board. Here are a few pointers that can help.
As an alternative to the main dining room, most ships offer a casual buffet on the Lido Deck (where the main swimming pool is located). With a variety of main dishes, sides and desserts, the buffet is quick and convenient. And, while you should wear more than your swimsuit, you don’t need to dress up as much as you do for the dining room. (Note that the COVID-19 pandemic means cruise ship buffets will no longer be self-serve; instead, and your choices will be plated and brought to you.)
Many ships now have one or more small alternative restaurants, too. They often specialize in a specific cuisine prepared in gourmet style and are wonderful for special occasions and “date nights.” While most other dining choices are generally included in your cruise fare, alternative restaurants often have a modest cover charge and require reservations.
If you like to dine in private or need an afternoon snack, try room service. It’s usually available from early morning to late night, if not 24 hours. Menus often include Continental breakfast, snacks, sandwiches, salads, pizza, and perhaps some special entrees for a small extra fee.
On larger cruise ships, you may find pubs and coffee shops that also serve food for much of the day. Some luxury ships have restaurants that specialize in spa cuisine or are accessible only to suite passengers.
Even the main dining room is changing with the times: some now let passengers choose between an assigned dining time and table and open seating, which means you can arrive when you like and sit at a different table each time.
To choose your next cruise with the type of dining experiences you’re looking for in mind, ask Anita, your professional travel advisor, for some recommendations.