One of the best parts of a cruise holiday is all the amazing food there is to try on board the ship. From speciality dining options that let you sample the cuisine of the countries you are visiting, to formal dinners that rival the quality of top restaurants, your cruise is likely to be a delicious exploration for your taste buds. However, dining room etiquette, getting the best value for money, and arranging to have speciality needs met can all be a bit daunting for people that are new to the wonderful world of cruising. That’s why we’ve got some of the best-experienced cruisers in the business – the bloggers – to give you their top tips for hacking the cruise ship dining room and getting the most out of your cruise.
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Just Ask
The very nature of cruise holidays means that you are pretty likely to see the same staff every day, and the dining room is no different. Getting to know what everyone is called and finding out a little bit about them can go a long way. Marian Krueger, aka Travel Shop Girl, says, “I always try to get to know both my waiter and assistant waiter by name early on into the cruise. This way when I ask for something special, which inevitably happens, I don’t look like someone who is demanding this or that.”
Once you’ve got to know the staff, you’ll find that everyone is more than willing to help you out should you need something a little extra, just ask! Cruise lines are usually great at accommodating any special dietary needs or little requests you may have, but they can’t help if you don’t ask. Don’t be shy, make friends with the waiters and you’ll soon see how wonderful cruise ship service can be.
2. Take Advantage of Onboard Packages
Many cruise holidays include standard food and drink in the cost of the holiday, but if you want premium drinks or to eat at the speciality restaurants you might find yourself paying a considerable amount extra. To avoid this, Danielle Fear, of CruiseMiss, recommends, “I always take out a drinks package if one is offered. I know some people would say that they don’t drink enough alcohol to warrant a package, however, fruit juices, coffees and soft drinks can be equally as expensive depending on the cruise line, so I’d still recommend that you take a look at what is on offer before you sail – you could end up saving a small fortune!”
Some cruise lines offer amazing deals on additional packages, which can include unlimited alcohol and dining packages that offer you the chance to try several speciality options for a fixed price. Matt Hochberg of the (unofficial) Royal Caribbean Blog, points out that “Royal Caribbean’s unlimited alcohol package has been extremely popular since they debuted a few years ago, and the key to saving at least 20% on an unlimited drink package is to pre-purchase the drink package online.” Plus, booking online means that you can skip the queues once you get onboard. What’s not to love? Head to the pool deck and kick back with an all-inclusive drink instead.
3. Book in Advance
If you are wanting to try some of the exciting dining options on your cruise, it is always best to book your table well in advance. Luxury cruise expert, Andrea M. Rotondo, advises, “When it comes to cruise ship dining, plan whenever you can. Once you’ve booked your voyage, hop online to make dining reservations. Tables at popular restaurants—like Silversea’s Le Champagne or Disney Cruise Line’s Remy—often sell out before the ship even sets sail.”
This is especially true if you are planning a special occasion. There’s nothing worse than having an exciting evening of celebration planned, only to find that you can’t get a reservation for your chosen evening. Instead, book in advance online to avoid disappointment. You might even find that the staff can help you give the evening a little extra je ne sais quoi if you give them plenty of notice.
4. Go Off Menu
If you’re a little bit of a picky eater or you have special dietary requirements, the idea of having to order from a fixed cruise menu might fill you with dread. There’s no need to panic though like, with all things, most cruise lines are very accommodating when it comes to your dietary needs. Chris Dikmen of CruiseReport, says, “We have learned that you are not limited to what is on the cruise line menus. Most cruise lines will prepare a ‘special’ meal if you request it in advance. You will be amazed at what cruise lines will do if you only ask.”
As with most things, you will find it easier to make special menu requests if you let your server know well in advance so they can be as helpful as possible. A lot of people find that the waitstaff quickly gets to know them and anticipate their needs without them evening having to ask after a few days, so don’t be afraid to ask.
5. Add Perks at the Booking Stage
When you’re booking your cruise, it is well worth checking what additional perks are available with your package. Doug Parker, from Cruise Radio, says, “To provide more value, a lot of lines are throwing in extra perks such as dining packages, free wifi, select shore excursions, unlimited drinks, pre-paid gratuities, and onboard credit.” A quick look at the options before you click book can save you lots of money and effort once you’re on board.
6. Look Out for First Night Offers
Experienced cruise travellers all know that taking advantage of first-night offers can often save you a lot of money, or at least secure you extra little perks. Both Cruise Radio’s Doug Parker and luxury cruise writer, Andrea M. Rotondo, recommend asking reception or the head maître d about the embarkation night specials as soon as you board. A lot of cruise lines offer a complimentary bottle of wine to diners on the first night, plus you get to sample the alternative dining options before anyone else discovers them.
7. Make the Most of the Main Dining Room
Whilst the glitz and glamour of speciality dining options, or the speed of the buffet, can be alluring, making the most of the dining room is a great way of saving time and money. Whilst the buffet is often overrun at breakfast and lunch, you’d be surprised how few people use the dining room at these times. Sherry Laskin, Cruise Maven, suggests that the dining room is a great option if you are cruising alone, as it doesn’t require you to try and find a table with your food already in hand.
Even without a celebrity name, the main dining room often has excellent food options that shouldn’t be overlooked. Jason Leppert, an editor at Popular Cruising, advises, “With so much emphasis on specialty restaurants, main dining rooms are often bypassed, but they should not be forgotten. There’s still great food to be had there, and in some cases, the experience is far better than you’d expect.” The food is usually top quality, and the larger menus make it easy to find something delicious to suit your tastes.
8. Explore Speciality Dining
Cruise lines make a big deal of their speciality dining options, which are often developed in conjunction with famous chefs, and for good reason. These are often a great way to discover new cuisine, sample the flavours of the region you are sailing to, and experience luxury dining while you’re on board. Whether you’re a massive foodie or you’re just looking for an extra special meal, it’s worth the extra cost for what may well be the best meal of your cruise.
John Shallo of Cruise Addicts, says it’s worth checking for extra deals on speciality dining: “Once your cruise is booked check your online cruise planner for coupons such as a Buy One, Get One Free at the onboard specialty restaurants.” What’s more, he has the perfect solution for trying a fully booked speciality restaurant, “Order Take Out! Just explore the menu and pay the $15 per person fee and enjoy [an]amazing meal to go.”
9. Make Use of the Amenities
Buying food and drink on shore excursions can soon add up, especially if you aren’t prepared and end up buying from the nearest vendor because you just can’t wait. Johanna Castro, who runs blog Lifestyle Fifty, suggests making the most of the cruise ship’s amenities to make sure you don’t end up having to buy overpriced food and drink on shore. She recommends, “Take a couple of items of fruit from the breakfast buffet and pop them into your day bag so that you have a healthy snack handy when you’re on shore excursions.” According to Jo, taking a bottle of water that you’ve filled on the ship is also a good idea, as plastic bottles of water are often expensive on shore. This way, you can make sure you only have to buy delicious local foods you want to try, rather than having to grab the most convenient thing.
If you want to try out our top tips, and some delicious cruise cuisine, for yourself, why not book one of Cruise1st Australia’s amazing deals today? Browse the full collection online, or call our friendly experts on 1300 857 345 to book your place.