Great Dining Can Make a Great Cruise.

Traditional dining on a cruise ship can be both a blessing and a curse. The photo to the left, shows us enjoying our large table with people who were total strangers to us prior to the cruise. With fixed seating dining, we had the advantage of an assigned place and staff that were trained to get to know our needs and frequently exceeded our expectations. We enjoyed our table mates and dinner conversations making the dining experience the highlight of our cruise. On the other hand, some potential cruisers fear being seated with boorish, overbearing, or unfriendly people which could make their dining experience may be the worst part of the cruise. However, there are many options to make sure that your dining experience is everything you want it to be in a cruise.

Traditional Dining:

With traditional dining passengers have the same table, table mates, and wait staff every night. This option can be fantastic when traveling with groups of four or more. Friends and family need only show up at the same place at the same time every night and their table and staff will be waiting for them. No need to worry about setting a time or place to meet. Its all taken care of. As mentioned before, when table mates hit it off right away, the traditional dining experience can also make for a cruise great.

Sometimes, however, cruisers experience problems with their main dining room table assignments. If cruisers are traveling just as a couple, a requested table for two in traditional dining can be hard to come by. In most cases couples are assigned to larger tables of six to ten people. Also, passengers cruising solo will be assigned to one of these larger tables. Sometimes this can work out great, other times it can be horrible. I’ve heard stories of people being completely ignored, other table mates not speaking the same language, and even one passenger condemning another for their religious beliefs and proselytizing at every meal. Often, the problem lies in a a mistake made by the cruise line when assigning tables. For example, a man with poor hearing had put in a medical request for a table for two with just his wife because he found it hard to follow conversation at a larger table. He was mistakenly assigned to a large table. In another example, our family was assigned a larger table when we had requested a table for four. We didn’t really mind sitting with others, but since we had kids, we thought it would be more enjoyable for others if we sat separately. We have also heard of errors occurring in the reservation systems resulting in groups traveling together not being assigned the same table.

Each of these different problems can usually be solved by paying a visit to the Maître d’hôtel. As soon as guest can enter their room, they should find the card with the dining room table assignment. Groups can coordinate this activity with other guest in their party. Guests can then visit the dining room and locate their table, well before dinner service commences. If the table matches their requested assignment, nothing further need be done at this time. If the table is not as requested passengers should locate the Maître d’hôtel and review the matter with him or her. If the ship is not especially full or the dining area is designed to accommodate a larger number people than would usually be sailing on the ship, then the Maître d’hôtel can usually make a change immediately. If the sailing is booked to full occupancy (3rd and 4th births mostly occupied) then he may ask you to wait until the next evening to make the change. In the case of our needing the table for four and the hearing impaired man needing a table for two, both changes were made immediately upon request.

The trickier situation is when passengers find their assigned table mates incompatible. We have been lucky in that when assigned a large table we found our table mates delightful, however there are times when it simply does not work. Some may feel uncomfortable requesting to be changed, but since the dining experience should be one of the most enjoyable experiences of a cruise, it is well worth it to make the change inquiry. After dinner, a guest can discretely discuss the situation with their Maître d’hôtel. Usually by the next day, they will make an effort to accommodate the change. Sometimes it even takes more than one switch to get it right, but the staff wants passengers to enjoy their cruise, so it only makes sense for them to try to help find them a table that meets their needs. If the staff resists their requests, passengers should be pleasant but firm in conveying the need for the change, and escalate the matter the appropriate authority if necessary.

If one feels uncomfortable when running into previous table mates who might inquire about their whereabouts, a simple “Oh we ran into some friends who had extra seats at their table and they asked us to join them.” This response should deflect any uncomfortable feelings.

Specialty Dining

Specialty Dining on a cruise ship is a separate restaurant that bills a surcharge on top of the basic cruise price. This option can work as an alternative to the assigned times and tables in the MDR for those who don’t mind paying the extra price. To utilize this option passengers usually need a reservation. Sometimes these can be made online before the cruise (pre-paid usually) or early in the cruise for the entire stay, or daily as needed. The fees for specialty dining usually range from $20 to $30 a person. Since capacity is more limited than the MDR, passengers may not always be able to get reservation for the time and table they would prefer. Some ships have a priority system that favors suite guests or high end loyalty club members, so a first time regular cabin passenger would be at an even further disadvantage in getting a table at time they prefer. However, for passengers for whom the set up of the MDR is just not something they would enjoy, this option can work. Check with your cruise line to find out more about what Specialty Dining options they offer.

Open Seating

Some cruise lines have open seating every night either for all or a portion of their passengers. Open seating has the advantage of cruisers theoretically being able to walk into the dining room at any time and being seated at a table size of their choice. In reality it sometimes results in a short wait for the table of their choice as passengers tend to arrive together at peak dining times. The implementation of this process varies from cruise line and ship to ship, so be sure to read reviews and talk with other cruisers to find out if this option would be best for you.

Select Your Own Dining Timer

Some cruise lines, like Celebrity, have implemented some form or “select your own time dining”. In some cases cruisers can select a different dining time every night according to the itinerary or preferences. Other versions of this program offer staggered dining times in the Main Dining Room, rather than just two fixed seatings. Some cruise lines require pre-payment of all tips, not just dining room tips, in order to utilize this option. Be sure to check if your cruise lines has some form of “select your own time dining”.

Here at cruise talk we have always been pleased with our traditional dining experience and have not yet felt the need to make a change for our regular dinner arrangements. Still others have resisted cruising because of their concerns about traditional dining. As the cruise industry has expanded, they have tried to appeal to more and more passengers, many of whom would not choose traditional dining. By offering options cruise lines hope to have more and more happy customers.