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Alternate Restaurants Onboard Are In Demand

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Sometimes they are referred to as “specialty restaurants”; some refer to them as “alternate restaurants”. On some cruise lines, they are included in the cruise fare; on some there is an extra cost to dine in them; on some lines there are both free, and extra cost choices. What is certain is these dining venues have become one of the most important amenities cruisers expect to find on ships.
There was a time when every meal was taken in the ship’s sole dining venue; the dining room, and there simply was no other choice. After that came an option for in cabin room service, which was included in the cost. And following that came the advent of the Lido Deck buffet, followed by pool-side grills, and separate pizzerias.

For quite some time the buffets were the most significant change in the industry for food services. They allowed passengers to have breakfast and lunch in much more casual surroundings, with a much larger window to decide at what time they would like to have their breakfast and lunch. Though today the option of breakfast or lunch in the dining room is still available, the majority of passengers choose to partake of the buffet instead.

Where originally the buffets were offered for breakfast and lunch only, Princess Cruise Line took the buffet a step further when they made the move to make their “Horizon Court Buffets” available 24/7. Shortly after that all the cruise lines began opening their buffet areas to offer casual dinner service, directed at those passengers who didn’t want to dress for dinner in the dining rooms. Though I personally don’t understand it, there are people who go on a cruise and never have a meal in the dining room.

My history could easily be wrong, but the first alternate restaurant that I recall hearing about was in the 1990s when Costa announced the choice of an alternate restaurant, requiring guests to pay a surcharge, over and above the fare they paid for their cruise. Several cruise lines did have alternate restaurants at the point, but though they required reservations, there was no additional cost to dine there.

I can remember the outrage on the cruise related internet message boards with regard to having to pay extra for food on a cruise. People were aghast at the thought of paying extra for food, because one of the major selling points in cruise line marketing was the promise of a virtual cornucopia of food available, and included in the price of a cruise.

Despite the protests it didn’t take long for most of the cruise lines to add an alternate restaurant choice, complete with extra cost, at first to all their new builds. And with their success, also began adding them to their existing fleet when the ships went to dry dock for any period of time.

Today is very unusual to find a modern cruise ship, which aside from the traditional dining rooms and buffets, don’t also have at least 2 alternate restaurants available as well. The most common combination seems to be a “Steak House” and an Italian themed restaurant.

When Norwegian Cruise Line introduced it’s innovative “Free Style Cruising”, which included a large variety of alternate restaurants, it changed dining forever, with most of the cruise lines rushing to follow suit. The wheels have been set in motion for a “gold rush”, with all the cruise lines adding or planning to add more alternate and specialty restaurants to their fleets. There are now ships sailing offering 10 and 12 different restaurant choices to their guests.

There are still some passengers who will still enjoy all their meals only at the ship’s buffet, and indeed some who still only have dinner in the ship’s cost included dining rooms.

However, rather than a roar of discontent, these days it seems passengers are clamoring to experience the alternate restaurant choices, and are demanding, and yes, paying for even more choices.

This is proven further by the additions by many of the cruise lines offering “Chef’s Tables” that come with a significant extra cost, and adding “wine pairings menus” to some of their most expensive specialty restaurants, to further upscale the dining experiences for their more “discerning foodie” guests.

To further enhance the reputations, and surely the satisfaction of the menus the cruise lines have beaten the bush to sign well known celebrity ships, to design interiors, galleys, and menus for these venues.

Where in the beginning, most of the specialty/alternate restaurants were still served from the main galley, today many of these more upscale restaurants are built with their own dedicated and specially equipped galleys. I assume, that even with the additional costs involved in creating these venues, the profits derived from these restaurants is making them a success.

And with the demand, and the apparent success, it appears we’ll see this program to continue to grow, and be innovated further, only limited by the designer’s imagination. This is at least one instance where the cruise line’s desire to maximize profits onboard has met with acceptance and even demand from the cruising public. Rather than labelling the restaurants as more “Nickel and Diming”, passengers are referring to them as ammenities.

– A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising –



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Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time February 9, 2011 at 6:47 am

These so called “amenities”, the additional dining venues, on the ships from cruise lines that notoriously have been charging up the whooozit for decades for mundane to serious items on board, are indeed reaping huge profits. Why for the life of me I can not understand.

Look at the basics of these venues. Steak, pasta, buffets, either in a lido format, or more formal, not by dress, but within a “special” area, with a food theme, and what do you have? The same dining experience that is available on every secondary highway in the USA and Canada. I will not mention chain reastaurant names, but you get the picture. Why WHY would anyone want the same food you can get in these chains? Not on a ship. BUT, then its all in the mentality of the passenger I guess. The ships in question, in fact the cruise lines, offered poor food for decades, with service to match. Menus that looked good, but did not deliver the goods. The alternate restaurant was born.

When microwaves first came to the general public, and every home has one, in fact, banks gave them away in the early 1980’s if you opened a new account, made there way into the mass market cruise lines, and thus, poof, and shazam, frozen food was catered and “cooked” in micros on cruise ships. I saw them for myself, and was told this by wait staff. Powdered eggs and OJ from concentrate were also passed off as fresh.

There were, and I have been assured by sources, that two major “luxury” hotel chains have STOPPED using boil-in – bag precooked entrees in their very chi-chi diningroom, and have resorted to hiring chefs to actully COOK THE FOOD!!!

Now, look at the bottom line of the mas market cruise lines. I have seen $19.00, $29.00, PER DAY per person, and up, for guarnteed rates for a cruise, with upgrades and just what can anyone expect from those rates? Hotdogs, a sloppy chili bar? Of course the additional restaurants will be extra priced. Pizza in cabin, extra, on some, room service, extra. There was a cruise line, short lived, called Easy Cruise, where everything was extra. Use of sheets, the soap, all food – everything was extra.

I guess the mass market lines think we’re all gullible, but, not stupid. Avoid the nickel and dimers, the charge extra for this and that, and they’ll get the message, maybe.

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