Eating is one of the best part of cruising, so here I’m sharing some of the ins and outs of eating and drinking on a cruise.

Cruising 101 {Eating & Drinking} - Everything you need to know and probably more!

For the ships that have free-style cruising like Norwegian Cruises, their dining is done differently. Although, I’ve never done this before, I understand it to be more like what you would do at a regular restaurant. You make a reservation and you pay out of pocket. For Rob and I, that’s not something we want to have to do at all! We enjoy the ease of knowing when dinner is every night, going and sitting down, enjoying dinner, eating as much as is humanly possible and knowing it’s included, and leaving when it’s done. Not having to pull our credit card out to pay at then end of dinner. Blah! Who wants to do that?

Dining Room on the Carnival Sensation

Dinner is done in 2 shifts, usually in 2 dining rooms at opposite ends of the ship. When booking your cruise you should be asked if you would like early dining or late dining. Early dining is great for people who are used to eating around 5 or 6 and for those traveling with children. An advantage to early dining is that you can go to the earlier show after dinner. This means you can retire to bed much earlier or have more time after dinner to party on board. When Rob and I are traveling just the 2 of us, we always do late dining. We like this because there are not many children, so you don’t have to deal with whiny children and all that goes with that. Dining late also means that if you plan on watching the shows, which we highly recommend, that you’ll be up pretty late. Don’t forget that depending on the length of the cruise, you’ll have a one or two late night/midnight buffets to attend. Even if you don’t eat, we recommend going at least to the Gala Buffet. There is a huge display of food art and ice sculptures. Those are also the nights that you have your formal dinner, which is really exciting for those that like or would like to try lobster!

Update: A friend of mine is going on a Carnival cruise soon and told me that they now have Your Time Dining (5:45 – 9:30 p.m.). Go here to see more information about formal dining.

Gala/Grand Buffet
Celebrity Cruise on the Century 2003

Celebrity Cruise on the Century 2003

We always book cruises through our travel agent, so I’m not sure how this works if you book through an online site, but our TA always asks about seating arrangements for dinner. When Rob and I go by ourselves, we have the option to eat at a table of like 4, 6, or 8. We like the option of 8. You’ll be sitting with the same people every night, because it is assigned seating. This has proven to be enjoyable and quite interesting. It’s neat to meet people from all different walks of life and different places. When Rob and I travel with other family, we elected to eat at table of 4 or 6. This made it where it was just our group. This worked out great when bringing TV Boy, so that we weren’t as embarrassed when he didn’t use his best table manners, or when we had to reprimand him for acting a fool at dinner. 🙂

Cruising 101 {Eating & Drinking} - Sign and Sail Card

Here is a Sign and Sail Card that I’ll talk about later. I wanted to point out that on this card, we realized they didn’t give us the late dining like we had requested. If this happens to you, you’ll need to visit the Head Maitre d’ sometime after you get on the ship. They were able to fulfill our request, but I don’t think they can guarantee it. Hopefully they get the request when you book and you won’t have this issue.

As far as what is served at dinner, depending on the cruise line, you’ll have Appetizer, Salad, Entre, and Dessert. You’ll have 4-5 choices for each. I highly recommend trying things you normally wouldn’t eat. Think about it! It’s free and if you don’t like it you can always order something else. Caviar, lobster, sushi, escargot, duck, calimari are just a few choices of things you may have the opportunity to try. Here’s a sample dinner menu.

This is our waiter on our Celebrity Cruise. He’s bringing out the Baked Alaska for dessert.
Cruising 101 {Eating & Drinking} Waiter

The first night at dinner you’ll meet your bar waiter, assistant waiter, and waiter. The bar waiter is the person who handles all your drink orders. If you’re a wine drinker, you’ll have the opportunity to order a bottle of wine for the length of the cruise. Your bar waiter will bring it out for each cruise and take it back at the end of dinner to keep it chilled. Waiter and assistant waiter work together to ensure you have a smooth and expeditious dinner.

Here’s Ernie, who was our bar waiter on our last cruise. He was SO awesome!
Cruising 101 {Eating & Drinking} Bar Waiter

If your not up for socializing, getting out of your bathing suit, or just in the mood for a quick bite, you always have the option to go to the different buffet bars that will be situated usually on the Lido deck. For example, they may have one bar that is just good ole “American food” like hamburgers, fries, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, etc. with the other bar being a different “theme” each day, like Mexican one day, Indian food one day, etc. Many cruise lines also have a 24 hour pizza bar and 24 hour soft serve ice cream machines! These would also be options for lunch as well. During breakfast you’ll find these bars will have eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, cereal, fruit, etc.

When you go to the formal dining room for breakfast and lunch, they normally have just one of the dining rooms open for those meals, so you may find that you have to go to a different dining room for those meals. Both of those meals is different from dinner in that you don’t sit at your assigned seat. You just file in and they seat you at the next available table. Breakfast choices are the normal types of foods similar to what is listed above for the breakfast buffet bars. Here is an example of a lunch menu:

Starters and Salads
California Roll
Caribbean Pepper Pot
Chilled Avocado Soup
Medley of Garden and Field Greens

Main Courses
Mongolian Steak Salad
Oven Fresh Sun Dried Tomato Baguette
Spaghetti Zia Tereasa
Pan Fried Fillet of King Clip Nicoise
Vegetable Fajitas
Create your Own Burger

Desserts
Strawberry Banana Mousse
Chocolate Gateau
Creme Caramel
Ice Coupe Black Forest
Ice Cream – Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry
Sherbet – Orange, Pineapple

When it comes to drinks, like I said in my FAQ’s, the free drinks available are tea, juice of some sort, lemonade, water from the tap. Rob and I are soda drinkers, so we were excited to find out about the Bottomless Bubbles that are available. In fact, that’s one of the first things we do after getting on the ship. You just go to a bar that is open or they may have a table set up, where you can purchase your Coke Card. This gives you unlimited coke, diet coke, sprite, and whatever else is available. Each person has to purchase one and you have to have the card with you when you order. You’ll also get a drink container, which you can use to get refills in. I think they run about $6 a day plus 15% gratuities. This pays for itself if you order at least 3 cokes each day.

If you would like to partake in alcoholic drinks, watch out! This is one place where cruises make their money! They walk around with the drinks of the day in souvenir glasses. You can also order pretty much anything else. Since you don’t have to pay for your drinks as you order them, it’s easy to lose track of how much you’ve spent until they slip that bill under your door half way through the cruise and/or the last night of the cruise. More on the cashless system in another post.

Here’s a drink of the day on our Celebrity Cruise. It was really neat to drink from a carved out pineapple. Needless to say it was quite expensive.
Cruising Cruising 101 {Eating & Drinking} Pineapple Drink

I’ll have to say you get very accustomed to eating all day on a cruise. When you get home from your cruise, you find that you still want to eat all day. The bad part is that you don’t have someone waiting on you hand and foot. I think I’ve pretty much covered all the ins-and-outs of eating and drinking. If you know of something I forgot to share, please comment.

~~Need help with cruising jargon? Check out Cruising Terminology~~