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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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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Royal Caribbean’s New Dynamic Dining Options

Silk Restaurant

Cruise holidays have changed through the decades. In the early 20th century, they were a means of getting from one place to another in style. Then in the 1960s and 70s, they became a form of Las Vegas style entertainment with a few places of interest thrown in. The 1990s introduced the ‘bigger is better’ concept and every year cruise lines have inaugurated mega ships that are cities within themselves.

Change has been constant in the cruise industry and one staple that remained unchanged was the main venue for dining. The cruise lines kept the main dining room intact but have introduced specialty and/or flexible dining options for their passengers. However, that could be about to change with the main dining room going the same way as the dinosaur.

Royal Caribbean are well known for their top notch service in all areas, and their dining is no exception. They wowed crowds recently in New York City when they decided to unveil their new dining system. This system, called ‘Dynamic Dining’, is due to revolutionise the eating experience on a cruise ship and is as simple as it is genius. No expense has been spared when it comes to the restaurants on board these two ships.

Dynamic Dining is going to premiere on the new ships Quantum and Anthem of the Seas before eventually being rolled out on RCCL’s other ships. Say goodbye to the dining experience of the past!

Quantum of the Seas

The biggest change is going to be in the main dining room. Instead of having one restaurant, there are going to be five separate dining venues in the area, each with its own cuisine.  A completely new reservation system that promises to make it easier to secure a time and day for trying one of the dining venues will be in place.

The selection on the Quantum and Anthem are vast. These restaurants consist of The American Icon Grill, providing regional comfort foods from the USA with a road trip décor, Chic, a contemporary spot that serves contemporary cuisine; Silk, which features delectable pan-Asian dishes.

The Coastal Kitchen serves up Mediterranean food in a Californian style but only passengers booked in suites can dine here. The Grande will be a more familiar sight to avid cruisers and situated in a refined and formal setting.

Royal Caribbean Grand Restaurant

It should be noted that smart casual attire is the order for dining with the exception of The Grand, where guests can clad in elegant and formal evening wear. The Grand pays homage to those grand ladies of the sea that are long gone with a nostalgic flair.

While these dining areas all sound tempting, Royal Caribbean have also outdone themselves with their specialty restaurants. Famous British chef Jamie Oliver is planning to open up an Italian restaurant that is sure to please the palate.

Other options include Wonderland, which offers a surrealistic surrounding to its range of international food, the British themed Michael’s Genuine Pub and the Devinly Decadent at the Solarium Bistro that offers healthier dishes.

Wonderland Restaurant

Mainstays from other Royal Caribbean ships will be available here such as their popular Izumi Japanese Tapanyaki, Chops Grille steakhouse and the Chef’s Table.

Ultra casual dining can still be located at their self-service Windjammer Marketplace buffet. SeaPlex Dog House is the first ever food truck at sea serving ‘street food.’ The Café @ Two70° will sit in the crow’s nest of the ship with 270° panoramic sea views.

Sorrrento’s, Café Promenade and Johnny Rockets are familiar to fans of RCCL and will be available for all guests.

The Quantum of the Seas is due to debut in autumn of 2015 with a total of 18 dining facilities. Both the Quantum and Anthem have scheduled many “firsts at sea”. How about indulging in a skydiving experience? It will be available as well as riding high above the ship for unlimited panoramic views in a glass pod called the ‘North Star’. Reservations are open but it will certainly be difficult on deciding which restaurant to dine in.

Images courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

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Staying Gluten Free on your Cruise Holiday

gluten free cruises

Gluten in foods can be a health problem for many individuals. This culprit is found mainly in grains and flours made with barley, rye and wheat and some surprise foods such as bouillon cubes, soy sauce and luncheon meats. At first, eliminating items for a gluten free diet may be frustrating but many foods already eaten are gluten free.

Initially, those who switch to this type of diet feel deprived by the restrictions, especially when travelling. When away on holiday, looking for food free of gluten becomes even more difficult than it does at home.

The cruise industry has recognised that more and more passengers are seeking gluten free menus and they have listened and are meeting the needs of their guests. The large majority of cruise lines now are catering for those with dietary requirements and the list of cruise ships that offer this is ever increasing.

Watch the Video: Royal Caribbean’s special dietary options

Let’s take a look at some of the other major cruise lines offerings

Carnival Cruise Lines

Well known for their stance on entertainment and enjoyment, this line has also branched out into catering to culinary restrictions. There are no forms to fill out or advance notice needed. When being seated in the ship’s dining room, request the head waiter to explain what’s on offer. Don’t be afraid to ask the dining team when heading  over to the buffet either. They can guide you to the items that are safe for this diet.

Costa Cruises

This Italian based cruise offers a plethora of foods free from gluten, to the extent that they have their own special gluten free menu. Besides knowing that the menu meets an individual’s dietary restriction, Costa has gone one step further and provides gluten free take-away lunches for those taking their shore excursions. Gluten free snacks will always be found in the cabin’s mini-bar. This is a truly innovative option offered by Costa when it comes to their clients well being. However, it is a good idea to make sure that dietary preferences are made clear at the time of booking.

Cunard Line

Cunard is also top notch when it comes to providing foods with no gluten. Passengers can speak with the waiters prior to ordering their meal. There are also separate sauces available as well as plenty of other products in the form of biscuits, pastas and cakes. For those wanting to remain gluten free on a Cunard cruise, passengers need to give advance notification at least six weeks before departure.

Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Lines offer some gluten free cuisine on the menus each evening. However, to be assured that everything eaten meets the dietary requirement, you should get your cruise agent to contact the Disney Special Reservations Department. A form will be required and needs to be filled out at least 30 days before departure. The form is then processed and will ensure that the entire food staff aboard the ship will be aware of all restrictions.

MSC Cruises

Similar to Costa Cruises policy, MSC also caters to dietary restrictions in as many ways as possible. Meals without gluten are available on most ships including the Divina, Fantasia, Magnifica, Musica, Orchestra, Poesia, Preziosa and Splendida. Other ships in the fleet offer pre-packaged products for personal enjoyment. Before embarking on your cruise, make sure that you fill out and submit the Special Requirement Information Form available on MSC’s website.

Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and Fred Olsen Cruise Lines have similar policies in place amongst others. Switching to a diet free of gluten is a huge lifestyle change but happily, a cruise holiday will give you lots of options.

Had any experiences regarding dietary options on a cruise ship? Please share below.

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