Traditional or Open Dining?

Cruise Dining Choices

Dining is considered one of the most important elements of a cruise holiday. Everything from elaborate dining rooms that look like they stepped out of the 19th century’s Victorian Period to the laid back atmosphere of the buffet on the upper decks, there’s a dish for everyone!

In the past, most cruise ships had set dining and the only choice a passenger was given was between ‘Early Seating and Late Seating’. Most Cruise lines still provide this service.


Traditional dining (the classic cruise experience) means that dining is at the same time (depending on cruise line and itinerary), the same table and with the same table mates each evening.

Early seating works well for those passengers who want to eat at the same time as they do at home which is around 6PM. If the cruise has consecutive days at sea, early seating is a good choice as it breaks up the day.

Traditional Dining with Cunard

The late seating is better for those who opt to stay up late and enjoy the ships nightlife as dinner is nearly always after 8PM. It is also a good choice if you plan to take advantage of the port of calls and don’t want to feel rushed in getting back in time for dinner.

The traditional dining experience is more social and you will be seated with diners of a similar age. Many lifelong friendships have been created at dinner on board a ship. You will get to know many new people and the conversation can be just as interesting as the meal!

If you are looking for the traditional experience, always request your preferred dining time when booking.


In recent years more and more cruise lines realised that their passengers were seeking a more casual dining experience. Although set dining times were standard on Disney Cruises, they designed their ships to give you the option of dining in a different venue each evening.

First introduced by Norwegian Cruise Lines, who took Disney’s idea up to a new level when they introduced an open seating policy. This revolutionary open seating policy can now be found on most cruise lines. Passengers can eat when they want and where they want and not only in the main dining room.

Several specialty restaurants have popped up from steakhouses to Teppanyaki style to seafood houses. Dining style and choices vary from cruise line to cruise line but most ships feature somewhere between 5 to 15 alternative dining experiences. As cruise lines continue to evolve and grow, more options are sure to be available in the future.



Those that like lounging around the pool all day will be pleased to hear that there are poolside buffets that are open for breakfast and lunch. The buffets serve up casual fare and are ideal for a quick snack.

An interesting new development are spa-like eateries that offer health food and this option is perfect for those looking to stay in shape whilst onboard.

Of course, there is always room service. Room service is a good option for those that want to rest in their room or simply want the convenience of not going out. However, the menus can be somewhat limited, although this might not be a concern for those that want fast service.

Cruise lines are always evolving but many still offer traditional assigned seating in the main dining room if requested:

No matter what you choose, traditional, open or indulging in the specialty venues, there will always be something new and exciting to please your palate.

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Afternoon Tea on Britannia

Afternoon tea on P&O Britannia

Afternoon tea is a real favourite with British cruisers and is served as part of the fare with P&O Cruises.

Britannia the latest edition to the fleet offers an upgraded afternoon tea service in the Epicurian restaurant which can be booked from 4 months before your cruise starts.The service also known as afternoon tea with Eric Lanlard comes with a cover charge of £15.

Apart from the fantastic range of Teas supplied by Twinnings there are many treats on offer such as savoury gruyère cheese éclairs with brie, Pistachio and Strawberry Tart and Financier Cake infused with Lemon and Cardamom. Click here for the full menu.

As you can see from the menu P&O really have raised the bar from the traditional tea service to something far more extravagant and there is not a cucumber sandwich in sight!

Pictured below is our latest facebook post featuring Eric Lanlard.

Afternoon Tea on Britannia

It’s Tea Time!

Tea was discovered over five thousand years ago and is the second most consumed drink after water. Tea is a fantastic pick me up and one of the most refreshing drinks available. Of course, here at home, consuming a cup in the afternoons is not only a cherished tradition but part of many peoples lifestyle. Just because you are going on a cruise holiday doesn’t mean that the 4 PM calling for tea must be eliminated!

Each and every afternoon on many cruise ships, there’s the traditional British tea time. What varies is whether they have ‘Afternoon Tea’ consisting of tea, sandwiches, scones and cake and mainly a self serve or ‘High Tea’, a more formal event with white-gloved waiters serving on fine china with several trays of goodies.

Afternoon tea is something not to miss on a cruise holiday. Here is a brief description of what you can expect on some cruise lines that take tea time seriously.


The Palm Court holds afternoon tea daily with a harpist or musical performances themed towards the composer of the day. The waiting staff are very attentive, whether alone or with a group of friends. The sandwiches and savory pastries are always a delectable indulgence as are the wide variety of fine teas.

afternoon tea

Image courtesy of Crystal Cruises


Celebrity will be happy to include a bottle of bubbly (if requested) during their version of a proper high tea. One of their specialty restaurants is set up for a fully fledged High Tea with a violinist, premium Forte teas, Wedgwood china and Riedel crystal and finger sandwiches and pastries. The high tea experience takes place once or twice a sailing and is not gratis but afternoon tea is an everyday occurrence and free of charge.


Holland America’s fleet is vast with many fabulous dining venues but their themed afternoon tea events really do stand out. One to note is the once a week Royal Dutch High Tea. This features waiter service in the main dining room with music provided by a string quartet. The right tea is always on hand and compliments a menu that includes a stunning presentation of delicate tea sandwiches and an assortment of biscuits and pastries.


There’s always a location for afternoon tea as a standard tradition onboard a Cunard ship. Afternoon tea is served at no extra cost in the Queens Room daily throughout the fleet. Also available is the enhanced Afternoon Tea experience which is chargeable but comes with many extras including a glass of Champagne, gourmet sandwiches and afternoon tea cakes. There will also be a Harpist playing during the event.

afternoon tea

Image courtesy of Cunard Cruises


Afternoon Tea takes place on a Princess ship every day and is complimentary. Indulge in picture perfect finger sandwiches, scones, pastries and petit fours. White gloved waiters serve a variety of teas, whilst passengers listen to the soothing tones offered by a string quartet or other musical entertainers. Discover the variety of teas available instead of the standard originals with exotic fruit and aromatic flavours and pamper the palate with the miniature sandwiches and pastries served.


Afternoon tea is served in the one of the restaurants onboard all of the ships in P&O’s fleet. However, if you are booked on the new Britannia, then a real once in a lifetime treat is available. The owner of London’s Cake Boy boutique, celebrity chef and French patisserie, Eric Lanlard is overseeing Britannia’s new Champagne afternoon tea event in the Epicurean Restaurant.

afternoon tea Eric Lanlard

Image courtesy of P&O Cruises


Fred Olsen offer a complimentary afternoon tea service which includes many sandwich and cake options. They also offer a traditional afternoon service which incurs a small charge but offers fantastic views from the Observatory Lounge plus music from the onboard pianist and a range of premium teas and sandwiches.

Afternoon tea is a real highlight for many even when on holiday and with the different options available these days don’t forget to ask your cruise specialist for details before you book.

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A New Dining Experience on Norwegian Cruise Lines

norwegian next dining

Norwegian Cruise Lines have been extremely innovative in their dining facilities over the past ten years. After all, they were the first line to use the phrase “FreeStyle Dining”. When first launched, the program limited itself to an assigned area in the main dining room. This allowed passengers to dine whenever they wished between 17:30 and 22:00, thus making the whole eating experience a lot more flexible.

Dress codes were relaxed from the formal evenings of the past, although the management still frowned upon inappropriate dress, such as shorts and vest type tops.

FreeStyle Dining quickly became a ‘buzzword’ in the cruise industry and forced other cruise lines to take notice and follow Norwegians lead.

After this Norwegian upgraded their dining options with an array of specialty restaurants. The entire fleet has at least six alternative specialty restaurants in each of their ships including the Japanese hibachi-style restaurant “Teppanyaki and the “Cagney’s Steakhouse” both of which are firm favourites with their regular and new passengers.

In 2014 Norwegian made it more affordable for all passengers to experience these restaurants with the introduction of a prepaid specialty dining option known as the Ultimate Dining Package.


The corporation recently announced to the media, their Norwegian NEXT program. Much to the delight of their loyal passengers the menus will be revamped and improvements made in all the dining areas.

Norwegian NEXT began earlier this month, and promises to present more regional focused menus as well as a larger and updated version of their most popular dishes. The menus will also have helpful tips and recommendations from the ship’s chefs on what to order as well as good wine pairings for each dish. For total ‘foodies ‘and gourmets, the full culinary history of what is being served will be provided as well.

Contemporary dishes with an exceptional variety are now available on the menu. Appetizers and entrees such as the Tuna Crudo, Beef short ribs with Cajun shrimp, Atlantic scallops seared with fennel puree are just a few examples. For seafood lovers, there’s good news as more seafood dishes have been added including an increase in sushi and crab onboard.

Norwegians Tuna Crudo

Nothing is forgotten, not even desserts, Norwegian Cruise Line has decided to offer a special dessert event on every ship. The “Chocoholic Night”, which will be held randomly during the cruise, will allow passengers to sample over 7 delectable chocolate desserts. Everything from an enormous chocolate volcano to a pot de crème made with Nutella or even white chocolate strawberry mousse.

Some of the restaurants such as O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill, which is located on the ships Getaway, Breakaway, Epic and Jewel, will be offering specialty dish nights as well. A few of the best meals from the restaurants will be free of an excess charge to encourage more passengers to sample these delights.

O'Sheehan's Bar & Grill

Besides all these progressions, their trademark FreeStyle Dining remains intact.  However, passengers will now have the ability to book restaurants up to 90 days in advance and can request a table for up to 12 people. Dining times are in specific slots on the half hour from 17:30 to 20:30.

Norwegian Cruise Line has truly pulled out all the stops to make their menu systems and dining facilities as desirable as possible with this program. The new dining menus and enhancement concepts have begun on most ships. They will be available system wide for the entire fleet by early 2015.

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Recognise any of your Table Companions?

Cruise Dining Table Companions

For years, one of the many highlights of a cruise holiday would be making new friends. Dining room managers would assign seating tables from four to eight guests.

Passengers who dined together quickly became friends with some of their relationships lasting years after the cruise.

The ideal scenario is that each would go their own way during the day and meet up in the evening in the main dining room, enjoy and share a meal together while discussing their daily events and experiences in port. Some cruise lines have a formula for who sits where in a dining room and for tables that are pre-assigned, based upon the area of residence, marital status and age.

Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Well, let’s face it. There are times that your dining companions just don’t make the grade and you are ready to crawl under the table to avoid them.

From experience the following list contains examples of what I consider to be unsuitable dining companions:

The Bragger

This person is the one who describes his grand suite in detail and then inquires how it feels being cramped in your stateroom.

The Cling-On

They seem nice enough and pleasant, but all of a sudden you are their BFF. They start making plans on and off the ship that includes you.

The Expert

26 cruises and more to come, the ‘expert’ knows it all from the best bargains in port to where to sit in the theatre for the best view. No matter what is said, they are the ‘only’ one with expertise in cruise holidays and everything else.

Never Satisfied

They are the ones who complain about every item on the menu. They will pour ketchup over their entire meal before asking for a replacement.

Need to Divulge All

This person is the type that goes into deep detail of all that ails them from ingrown toenails to herniated disks. It is a never ending conversation of pills, doctors and surgeries of them and/or those they know.

The Over Indulger

Some people do let loose on a cruise, but this one is intoxicated each evening before dinner is served. They tend to be the recipient of the all-inclusive alcoholic beverage package and want to get their money’s worth. They slur and sometimes become argumentative after spending the entire day with a cocktail or beer in hand.

The Wrong Family Affair

Families at the table can be a pleasant experience especially when their children are well behaved. However it is never a pleasant encounter when a child sling-shots their mushy peas into your wine glass.


  • If at an assigned a table and you feel uncomfortable with your dining companions speak with the dining room manager. They may be able to switch you to another table, but this is only based on availability.
  • Dine al-fresco on your balcony by ordering room service.
  • Do not choose assigned seating for dining if the ship offers anytime dining. However, showing up in an open seating dining room could also bring you together with unsuitable guests, but at least it will only be one evening.
  • Head to the evening buffet one night. Not as crowded as for lunch, some ships go as far as creating a fine dining experience by placing tablecloths and setting the table. Wine can be ordered and the food is freshly made and readily on hand for seconds and even thirds.
  • Feast in the specialty restaurants. Not only will the choice of cuisine be bigger but a table for two will be available. Some ships even offer pre-paid specialty dining options as an add on to the price of the cruise at a good discount.

Some of these types may be tolerable but why should you have to deal with them? If your tablemates are not to your liking, seek a solution and enjoy you’re the rest of your holiday.

Come across any of these characters before? Let us know below in the comments.

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