Dining at Sea: An Overview

| October 12, 2007

Here's a quick summary of what the major lines offer in dining venues and policies.

With so many onboard restaurant options out there, many cruisers may wonder what type of dining formats their cruise line is offering these days. Is it open seating or assigned? What types of specialty restaurants are available? Here's a summary of the options on some of the major cruise lines:

Carnival Carnival offers traditional dining with a main dining room and traditional fixed seating as its primary venue. Evening dress codes prevail in the main dining room. Every passenger has a choice of dinner times: 5:45, 6:15, 8:00 or 8:30 p.m. On Spirit-class ships (Carnival Spirit, Carnival Pride, Carnival Legend and Carnival Miracle), there are only two dinner seatings: main (5:45 p.m.) or late (8:15 p.m.). Guests can request dining preferences at the time of booking. No requests are guaranteed and all are subject to availability. All dining rooms are smoke-free. Table size, the table number and dining time will be confirmed upon boarding.

Carnival's other dining options include a reservations-only supper club ($30 per table), casual Lido dining (dress as you want, eat when you want and with whom you want). It also offers a 24-hour pizzeria on most ships, and complimentary 24-hour room service. Ice cream and frozen yogurt are available around the clock.

Celebrity Assigned seating dining prevails on this line as well, with dress codes for each evening in force. A casual dining restaurant is available for those who do not wish to eat at a specific time or adhere to a dress code in the main dining room. Other dining options include the poolside Outdoor Grill, serving both lunch and dinner; the Sushi Café, which is open evenings; and the AquaSpa Café, available on some ships, serving light and healthy cuisine from breakfast to dinner on a casual basis. For chocoholics, the Cova Café di Milano serves specialty coffee drinks, European pastries, specialty liqueurs and chocolates. Complimentary room service is also available around the clock.

Millennium-class ships have alternative dining venues with a theme based on famous ships of the past. For example, on Millennium the restaurant is the Olympic Dining Room, after the RMS Olympic (sister ship to the Titanic). Infinity's is the SS United States, Constellation's is simply Ocean Liners, and Summit houses the Normandie, named for the famous ocean liner. All have 134 seats. The newly refurbished Century features the 66-seat Murano. The service charge for each of these restaurants is $30 per person.

Costa Costa offers all kinds of dining options, so you can eat formally or casually, in the open air, in a restaurant or in your stateroom -- at just about any time of day or night! Passengers can choose from poolside dining at the Trattoria Italiana; traditional dining with fixed seating and times in the main restaurant; Salute e Benessere, a special spa menu; 24 hour room service; a midnight buffet with a variety of dessert items; a bistro where pizza and similar items are served; and specialty restaurants aboard every ship (reservations required, surcharge applied). Evening dress codes apply in the main dining room and specialty restaurants. On Costa Atlantica, Costa Victoria, Costa Concordia, Costa Mediterranea, and Costa Magica there is a supper club type restaurant featuring cuisine such as steaks, chops and Italian countryside menus. Advance reservations are required, though suite passengers receive an invitation to dine free on at least one night of their cruise. The cost for all others is 23 Euros, or about $30 U.S.

Cunard Cunard has a unique style of dining: Where you dine depends on the accommodations you book. Passengers in the lowest category staterooms dine in the main dining room (Britannia Restaurant on the QM2, Mauretania Restaurant on the QE2). Dress codes tend to be formal, and even on casual nights people tend to dress up. Fixed seating is featured in these dining rooms, with two dining times. Those who book higher level staterooms dine at either the Queen's or Princess Grill. Both offer single seating service, along with table-side preparation. This means you have an assigned table, and possibly tablemates, but are free to dine at the time of your choosing, within a certain window. This assigned table is yours -- for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The QE2 also features an additional dining option, for passengers who book accommodations that don't qualify for Grill dining, but are slightly above those qualifying for the fixed seating Mauretania Restaurant. These folks eat in the Caronia Restaurant, which offers single-sitting dining as well.

Both ships offer 24-hour room service, which is generally handled by the same person who services your cabin, or by a night steward when your regular steward is off duty.

More casual dining options on both ships include a traditional Lido on the QE2 and a more expanded area on the QM2, which serves traditional breakfast and lunch fare during the daytime, with open seating, and then expands into four separate venues for casual evening dining. These venues feature Italian, Asian and English fare, as well as a separate restaurant containing a demonstration galley. On the QM2, and soon to debut on Queen Victoria, passengers also have the option of dining in the Todd English specialty restaurant. This Mediterranean-themed restaurant carries a service fee of $20 for lunch and $30 for dinner, and reservations are a must. Todd English is open to all passengers regardless of stateroom category.

Crystal Crystal is a luxury cruise line, though its prices are not all-inclusive in terms of alcohol like some others. The main dining room uses assigned seating, with the dress code varying nightly. Even on casual nights, however, the trend is to dress up rather than down. Specialty restaurants on Crystal's ships (reservations required, but no surcharge) include Japanese and Italian venues. A casual venue also exists -- pool deck dining on designated evenings, served from the Trident Grill. Crystal also offers an elegant afternoon tea experience. Room service is available, and is an excellent option for those who do not wish to dress up on any given evening. Room service provides a full selection of menu items from both the en-suite menu and the dinner menu for the Crystal Dining Room. If you're in a penthouse suite, you can also order from the evening's menu in the specialty restaurants, which will be served course-by-course by your butler.

Disney Disney is mostly associated with children, but it actually appeals to folks of all ages, with or without kids.

Disney has a unique dining format. Passengers are assigned a table at a set time each evening. However, instead of dining in the same restaurant every night, passengers -- along with their tablemates and waitstaff -- rotate dining rooms, so they dine in three different restaurants during the cruise, each with a unique theme. Disney is also unique in providing free soft drinks to passengers, both in the dining rooms and at self-service beverage stations on the pool deck. Adults who would like to dine in a child-free environment can make reservations at Palo, a boutique eatery with northern Italian cuisine. Reservations are required, and there is a surcharge of $10 for both dinner and brunch, and $5 for "high tea." Folks reserving Disney's honeymoon and romance packages get an automatic reservation at Palo with the surcharge waived.

Less formal dining options on Disney ships include the Topsider Buffet, which features casual breakfast, lunch and dinner on the Disney Magic. Folks sailing the Disney Wonder have The Beach Blanket Buffet, a similar venue. Pinocchio's Pizzeria serves pizza-type menu items all day at Goofy's Pool. Pluto's Dog House Snack Bar, located at Mickey's Pool, serves beach fare such as hot dogs, burgers and chili tacos all day. Scoops is the place for scrumptious soft ice cream and other snack-type fare. Goofy's Galley is yet another option on the Disney Magic, serving snack-type fare all day at Mickey's Kids Pool.

Another Disney original is its character breakfasts. On all seven-night cruises, kids can dine with their favorite Disney characters, and even get pictures taken with them. And complimentary room service is available 24 hours a day.

Holland America Holland America's dining program is currently undergoing a major overhaul. Formerly, Holland America offered traditional seating in the main dining room, with four dining times, assigned tables and waiters. Recently, however, it has adopted the Princess Cruises style of offering an alternative with "As You Wish Dining." This is a flexible arrangement where one level of the dining room operates as open seating: Arrive when you wish (within a certain timeframe) and be seated with the party of your choice. Both traditional and open seating dining venues will continue to have dress codes each night (casual or formal). Each ship also has a specialty restaurant, The Pinnacle Grill, which serves Northwest cuisine, including some of the best steaks at sea. Reservations are required and a $30 per person surcharge applies ($15 for lunch which is served in that venue on selected sea days). Holland America also features 24-hour room service, and during dinner hours, items can be ordered off the dining room menu. The Lido serves dinner as well, in a casual buffet venue, during set hours each evening. Finally, a poolside grill serves standard barbeque fare and pizza, and this is available during most of the afternoon. Late night hunger pangs can be alleviated in the Lido, which serves a theme buffet, usually beginning at 11:00 p.m. An elegant afternoon tea is also hosted most days, and just about every cruise features the famed Holland America Dessert Extravaganza, with all sorts of chocolate creations.

NCL/NCL America NCL's claim to fame is "Freestyle Cruising." All dining venues follow this theme, and most of NCL's ships were built to accommodate it. Depending on the ship, there are many dining venues to choose from -- as many as 13 -- and all offer open seating (come when you want, dine with whom you please). Most restaurants are open from 5:30 p.m. until midnight, and there is also 24-hour room service. Restaurants specialize in such things as steak, sushi, teppanyaki, tapas, French and Mediterranean cuisine, as well as Italian, Tex-Mex, Asian Fusion and pizza. While the main dining rooms do not require a surcharge, some alternative venues do. The for-charge restaurants on NCL's ships include the French Le Bistro, an Asian fusion eatery (usually with a name such as East Meets West), a sushi bar, a teppanyaki bar, and a steakhouse. NCL is unique in the cruise industry in that some menu items in specialty restaurants carry their own price. Thus in addition to paying the restaurant's service charge, you may also pay for food items as well. The prices range from $2 per order for sushi to $25 for a "surf and turf" dinner at a steakhouse. There are some deals, though -- some specialty restaurants cut their tariff in half on the first night of the cruise. Some of the specialty restaurants are open for lunch as well as dinner. While no reservations are required for the two main restaurants, they are strongly recommended in the specialty venues.

Oceania Oceania is a sort of luxury mass market cruise line, offering some amenities only familiar to those who sail the luxury lines. One of these areas is dining, which has no assigned seating. Each ship has a traditional dining room and specialty restaurants. All ships adhere to a "resort casual" dress code. The main dining room is on the open seating plan -- just show up and you are seated with your party. Specialty restaurants include the Polo Grill, which features steaks and chops, and Toscana, which offers Tuscan-style fare. There are no service charges for the specialty restaurants, though reservations are strongly recommended. Reportedly, Oceania's cuisine is a cut above the mass market lines, with many menus crafted by master chef Jacques Pepin.

Princess Princess is famous for its "Anytime Dining," offered in addition to traditional dining. Cruisers select their preferred dining format at the time of booking and can opt for this "freestyle" type dining if traditional assigned seating and dining times of 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. are not to their liking. Passengers can come to the dedicated Anytime Dining Room at any time within a set interval and will be seated with their own party. They can also make reservations if they want a specific favorite table at a certain time. Evening dress codes apply in both the traditional and the Anytime Dining rooms. Room service is also available around the clock, albeit from a somewhat limited menu during certain times of the day, such as late night. Most Princess ships have at least two specialty dining rooms. These restaurants feature New Orleans cuisine (Bayou Café), steaks and chops (Sterling Steakhouse or Crown Grill) and Italian fare (Sabatinis). All specialty restaurants require reservations and incur nominal surcharges (around $20 to $25 per person). Princess also pioneered "Ultimate Balcony Dining," where for a fee of approximately $50 passengers in certain categories of accommodations can have an entire meal served course-by-course on their balcony. Capacity is limited and reservations are absolutely required. Also offered is a poolside grill serving some of the best pizza at sea, plus hamburgers and other "barbeque" type fare. Finally, the Lido venue is casual all the time. Called Horizon Court, it offers buffet-style dining throughout the day and evening, and is an excellent alternative to dressing up for dinner on formal nights.

Regent Seven Seas Regent Seven Seas (formerly Radisson), an all-inclusive line, is a major player in the luxury segment of the cruise industy. The dress code is resort casual all the time; formal dress is never required in any dining venues. Dining is open-seating, with no set dining times. Each ship has a main restaurant where the food is a cut above the mass-market variety and service is far more personalized. Wine is poured and refills are generous and frequent. There is no extra charge for house wine or drinks, which are included in the cruise fare. There are also specialty restaurants on each ship, serving cuisine a cut above Regent's already high standards. Reservations are required, but no surcharge is ever assessed. Signatures, the only Le Cordon Bleu restaurant at sea, is found on the Seven Seas Voyager and Mariner, while its equivalent is called La Veranda on the Paul Gauguin. The cuisine, as you would expect, is classically French.

A casual dining venue is also provided on all Regent ships, including an area where passengers can dine al fresco, weather permitting; and 24-hour room service is available from a menu far more extensive than that offered on most other cruise lines.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line All Royal Caribbean ships operate on the traditional dining format, with a two-seating evening dining schedule in a main dining room. Breakfast and lunch seating is open. Traditional evening dress codes apply, with certain nights designated formal. The Windjammer Cafe is the line's casual buffet venue. Passengers can take their evening meal here if they don't care to dress up. It is open for breakfast and lunch as well. On some ships, Jade -- a special section of the Windjammer Café -- offers Asian-themed dishes during the daytime and fresh sushi at night.

Many Royal Caribbean ships have at least one alternative restaurant, the Italian-themed Portofino or the popular Chops Grille Steakhouse. Surcharges apply in these venues and reservations are required. As a more informal dining venue, some ships have an onboard version of the famous Johnny Rockets Restaurant, while others have its equivalent, the Seaview Café. Surcharges vary at these specialty venues; it's $3.95 per person for Johnny Rockets, though drinks are extra; the Seaview Café, however, carries no service charge for food; Portfino and Chops Grill carry a $20 per person surcharge, with drinks priced separately.

Around the clock sandwiches and other snacks are available from room service and the casual buffet venues, and so are pizza and deli items.

Silversea Unlike most other lines, Silversea is clearly a luxury product. Its all-inclusive pricing may seem high when compared to similar sailings by other cruise lines, but you get so much more on a Silversea cruise. Gratuities, port charges and alcoholic beverages (including wine at both lunch and dinner) are included in the cruise cost. Meals are served in an open seating format in the main dining room (and in all the onboard venues) with lunch available between 12:30-2 p.m. and dinner between 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Specialty restaurants include Saletta on the Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, and Le Champagne on the Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper. These restaurants offer a wine-paired dinner, operated in partnership with the illustrious Relais & Chateaux group of restaurants. The fee for this dinner is $200, which includes course-by-course pairings with rare vintage premium wines. Reservations are required, and can be had anytime between 7:30 and 9:00 p.m.

Recommended Articles